Report by Ray Dawson
Pictures by Julia Clark
After a luxurious cruise from Aberdeen to Lerwick, well for 8 of us (the others slummed it in the bar), we arrived with the dive boat nowhere in sight. Fortunately Bob was more organised than Kate. He was parked around the corner whilst Kate went through her entire phone directory looking for him. Our rescuer arrived with a borrowed white van to liberate our gear from the livestock container. When we arrived at the Boat we met Mary, when Wardy asked if she was our cook for the week she replied she was a deck hand. Wardy asked her who would be cooking and she replied ‘You are self catering!’ After a few times saying ‘your joking’, Mary believed us and scuttled off to Tesco’s and returned laden with carrier bags in a taxi. 2 hours later we were in the water diving on the Pionersk, a huge rusting lump of metal at 20m. After an excellent lunch of soup and bread, courtesy of Mary, we set off to Noss.
Bob took the boat into the biggest gully to demonstrate what we needed to do as divers below. Three gullies and a cave. Kate could hardly contain herself. Down into the water and we could all see each other with viz of 20+metres. Lots to see, congers, fantastic lobster, scorpion fish and the colours were amazing. Back up to the surface to be greeted by a wall of smelly gannets. A great days diving!
A walk along the coast in Lerwick and we saw a large group of seals playing in the water. Then a visit to a local pub, the Captain Flint, for pre dinner drinks. Dinner was a great spag bol and apple pie. After dinner we did Kate’s postponed quiz and Jules was the close run winner.
Up for breakfast at 7:15 and in the water for 8:30. A little earlier than expected for some. Out of the darkness emerged the perfect wreck – upright and deteriorating gracefully. The shot was in position on the bow. From 6m above you got a panoramic view of the entire wreck, bow to stern and boiler between. A few people spotted the gun off to the side. At 38m just enough time to do the full length and back to the shot. Lots of life to see, notably angler fish, hermit crabs and Pollock. On the shot line we had the interesting jacuzzi of bubbles as 12 divers ascended at the same time and completed their deco stops.
We then headed north towards Unst (the most northerly of the Isles). There were much needed bacon and egg butties en route.
The second dive was the Jane. Descending through a huge shoal of coal fish that joined us in the dive, we came upon a truly photogenic monster propeller. The slowly rusting wreck was perfectly framed in the golden sand. Dogfish, wrasse, congers and little scorpion fish littered the broken structure of the wreck. Eventually everyone succumbed to the pull of the current and went with the flow in search of scallops, along the way finding more dogfish and a huge orange spotted plaice. Jules our resident cinematographer has video footage of an encounter with a john dory.
After diving we had a walk up to the tangoed bus stop, a bus shelter with a difference. Orange accoutrements including, curtains, chairs, cushions, soft toys and flowering marigolds. Given our exertions a short adjournment was called for on the return journey and Springer’s Bar (The most northerly pub in the UK) was in our direct line of travel. This was an opportunity to sample the locally brewed Valhalla ales. Mary excelled herself with a lovely Thai Chicken curry followed by an enormous Eton mess for afters. Still feeling energetic there was a further foray to the bar before retiring.
Anticipating a force 5 we were pleasantly surprised with merely a breeze and light rain. The first lucky 6 kitted up for the early morning dip. Descending down the shot, the water was clear, the elliptical shape of the E49 (UK WW1 sub), was an enticing silhouette in the white sand. Moving towards the conning tower the parting plates revealed the detail beneath. 20m away lay the remains of the bow, torn apart from the body by the force of a mine blast. The extremes of the wreck were shrouded in the gloom beyond the limit of the viz. Ascending up the shot line we reflected on the life we had seen below – the unusual blue tusk, the hiding ling, the small flat fish hiding in the sand and the numerous hermit crabs scuttling away. Whilst the first group dangled at 6m, the second group charged past, eager with anticipation. The second ‘ray’ of the dive was spotted hiding in the sand as the last group of divers ascended.
Making use of the surface interval, we mounted an expedition to the Unst Boat Haven and Heritage centre, where Damian gave us a knitting demonstration whilst appropriately dressed in a local granny’s costume. Kate, devastated that we wouldn’t dive the most northerly tip of the island demanded that we at least see Muckle Flugga. A short trip up the military road gave us a perfect view of Burra Firth and Britain’s most northerly lighthouse. Given the time we had taken we hurried back to the boat for a lovely lunch of soup and scallops.
The second diving opportunity was very limited due to the inclement weather so the decision was made to repeat the morning’s wreck. Even greater detail and wildlife was spotted on this second opportunity.
Restricted to staying in Balta Sound another visit to Springer’s was called for, where the majority of the group enjoyed a whale of a haddock and chips.
Up again expecting a 9am dip which somehow ended up as 8:30 again. Tonis Chandris was a broken wreck lying upslope. Kate, hallucinating again, thought she had been transported to ancient Greece and visualised the Parthenon amongst the vertical struts of the rusting wreckage. There was ‘a little swell’ so a number of divers took cover in the shelter of the overhanging plates. The kelp was tall and swaying leaving a number of the party feeling slightly unwell but the way back to the shot was easy. Just follow the drive shaft standing proud of the sea bed. The lucky few saw the octopus streaking away from Damian.
Wardy having taken the name of ‘curly tails’ and ‘fluffy tails’ in vain, cursed the Rayburn. So a cold lunch of sandwiches and accompaniments which had to be sought from the only shop for miles.
Braving the weather to go further south we headed to the white Lady of Queron and dived in some gullies with some lumps of metal remaining from the Bohus. Jill having tried to slash her wrists only succeeded in damaging her suit. This provided the evening entertainment (fixing the suit and convincing Jill that she would be able to go to the ball (Dive)!)
We enjoyed a hearty stew in the remote location of the Out Skerries. 26 families and the Mad Hammer Man (one of Bob’s tall tales).
Only 15 minutes to diving AGAIN. The ship whose name cannot be mentioned had a few long hollow cylindrical metal pieces lying in the sand. This was a vertical wall with crayfish found at 30m in the crevices. Lots of other crustaceans and dogfish hiding in the kelp.
We enjoyed a well deserved lunch of sausage, beans and fried potatoes, whilst steaming towards the Giants legs. Three passageways though a headland. Kate, our resident caver, and Jill were told the cave was very nice. This was a dive for the gardeners with lovely jewel and dahlia anemones, dead mens fingers and nudibrachs. The seals even came to play with some lucky divers.
We docked back in Lerwick with enough time for Damian and Gary to visit every shop to buy their appropriate love gifts. Meatballs, mash, peas and Mary’s tasty speciality of swede, sweet potato and carrot mash. The select few chose the cultural activity after dinner and enjoyed a slice of Island heritage with some fiddle playing in the local pub.
Apparently there was a glorious sunrise but only Mary was up to see it. We did however awaken to blue skies. After waiting for the channel to clear we made the shot hop to the Glenisla. Descending down the shot it looked very gloomy. Then the wreck appeared, sat upright on the bottom, waiting for us. Despite being down for nearly 100 years the detailed features were still clearly visible – engines, boilers, winches.
The adventurous had just enough time to cover bow to stern – the deco time quickly racking up at 40m. A cracking dive!
Then we had a choice for the afternoon dive. Being generous souls it was agreed we would give Kate and Jill the opportunity of seeing the cave at the Giant’s Legs. This necessitated a large amount of detailed instruction and guides to ensure they could find it ! Even more to see the second time around and the seal came out to play again.
Now the sad part. The diving was complete and it was time to pack up and head home. We must be more efficient than we look because we had everything in the container in lots of time for the ferry so had an opportunity to explore a little more of Lerwick. The cultural amongst us ventured to the excellent new museum where we just happened to enjoy coffee and cake as well. Diving is such a high energy sport !
Being more organised this time we managed to book the restaurant on the ferry. The fact it was full on the way to Shetland was a clue it must be OK. We were not prepared for how OK. It was excellent.
Rising bright and early with the docking at Aberdeen we collected cars and kit and started the homeward journey full of great memories and promises to return.