In August 2012 the BSAC 18 collective had such a fab time in Shetland that there was only one option – Go again!
So it was on a lovely sunny Saturday in August 2012 that the team gathered at Aberdeen Harbour in great excitement to board the ferry. As we were early and the kit was loaded into the cargo crate we retired to a local hostelry for refreshments.
The ferry was boarded and finally we were on our way. Being of the mind that the holiday starts as soon as you leave home, we had agreed to eat in the posh a la carte restaurant on board. This proved to be an excellent call. The smoked Salmon and Gravlax was excellent, the lamb cutlets were Gorgeous, the prawns wrapped in haddock was delicious and the fillet steak was the best I have ever had! This was just the best way to start our holiday, which also was doubling up as “Jill’s hen do with her diving friends”.
We retired to our cabins at various times in various states of inebriation and met up again for breakfast.
The excellent project management of our leader Richard Ward meant that we were met by a minibus taxi to take all our kit to the MV Halton which was to be our home for the next 6 days.
Bob Anderson, skipper of the Halton, welcomed us with the news that as soon as we had sorted kit we would be diving the Pionersk. This was the same first dive we did last time and was every bit as good.
The thing about diving in Shetland is that there is so much to see and you can actually see it, because the viz is astonishing! Not just 10m type good but easily 25 metres and gin clear! We dropped down the shot line to meet the wreck at 10m; a perfect shake down dive. The wreck is huge with lots of fish canning equipment and spread over a wide area so on our dive my buddy and I only met two out of the 10 other divers on there. There were two large shoals of coalfish, plenty of little scorpion fish, a fair few ling, a conger and lots of macro life. The golden tin lids reflected the sunshine perfectly and we felt that this was indeed a gold medal dive! Everybody returned to the Halton excited about the stunning viz and having had a fabulous dive.
Pionersk wreck details : Klondiker ,fish factory ship, sunk 31.10.1994. Depth 0-22m
Location: SW tip of Trebister Head, ran aground on unicorn rock.
After a tasty and welcome lunch of soup and bread and cheese we prepared to dive the giants legs. Another favourite scenic dive site with a cave and two gullies teaming with anemones. The cave has lots of bits of metal and a long tube which causes a fairly alarming noise when banged, according to Frankie. We also witnessed a galaxy of marauding starfish feasting on a dead dogfish. This caused a lot of discussion!
The two gullies have a wealth of stunning dahlia anemones and an orgy of seahares mating! So basically on our first day we were subjected to wildlife porn.
After the die we sailed in sunshine back to Lerwick to enjoy a dinner of tacos, salad and home made rice pudding courtesy of Sorrel, our chef for the week
Monday 20th August:
Early start and breakfast before kitting up for our dive on the Gwladmena.
Gwladmena ; Steam ship sunk 02.01.1918 on South side of Breikwick, outside of Lerwick. Coming into Lerwick with a cargo of coal she collided with another steamship, the Flora. 22 crew all saved.
The shot was positioned just to the stern of the two huge boilers which became visible from 15m. A good amount of daylight meant that the visibility was excellent (20m + ) and we all did the total tour from shot to stern, back to bow and back up the shot. No current at all and the wreck was covered in fish and other marine life. Lots of edible crabs, tiny hermit crabs and Frankie befriended a ling. The wreck is still very ship-shaped with lots of places to swim through, and so the team spread out nicely to enjoy this scenic wreck.
Later we steamed North East to Outskerries to dive a scenic wall famed for it’s collection of crayfish. The crayfish were keen to show them selves off and as a bonus we also came across some old rusty canons and canon balls. When we returned to the boat we discovered that these were from the wreck of Wrangels Palais which was sunk nearby in 1668! In the meander across the kelp we came across many lesser spotted catsharks upon which Matt demonstrated his ability to charm them by stroking.
We tied up for the evening at Outskerries and went for a walk until dinner, the views were stunning but no-one managed to find any mobile phone coverage. Like so many remote places the people that live here are amazingly resilient and we enjoyed a conversation with two local ladies who gave us some insight into what it means to live in a community of 70 people.
Tuesday dawned and our plan to dive the Jane on the way up to Unsk was scuppered by fog. Since the Jane is tidal and the divers are likely to scatter then this was well understood. Instead Bob proposed that we steam up to Unst and dive the submarine E 49. This was met with enthusiastic agreement.
E49 details , Submarine, sunk by german mines on 9th March 1917. Depth 29-33m. location: Baltasound, Unsk.
Bob had given us a detailed briefing on the wreck which lies on white sand and is visible from 10 m. The bow is completely blown off and resting about 10m away from the rest of the wreck. It lies party buried in sand and is home to 3 resident Tusks – these are fish from the cod family but distinctive by having a single dorsal fin. These were all spotted by our team and renamed Bob, Terry and Sorrel, after our friendly boat staff. There was also a reported sighting of a conger, which was confirmed and subsequently named Frankie. This is only a small wreck so to ensure that everyone enjoyed it as much as possible we split into two teams of 6 to dive it. Everyone returned with reports of an enjoyable dive, appreciating the detail on this fascinating wreck. When the weather conditions and fog had not improved, we agreed to dive it again for the second dive. A pleasant surface interval was spent walking from the jetty at Baltasound and a visit to the Unsk community bus stop. This is world famous! A legend in the world of customised transportation terminuses! The locals take great pride in making their bus-stop into a tourist destination with a different theme every year. Two years ago when we visited it had a distinctly orange theme. This year it has a diamond jubilee theme; including some lovely regal memorabilia, thrones, crowns and even an Olympic torch (made from a traffic cone). It is excellent and well worth a visit.
We moored up for the night back at Balta Sound and spent the evening “having Jill’s Hen do” at the most Northerly pub in the UK; the Balta Sound Hotel. This was a totally empty bar with a TV showing football when we arrived but we loaded up the juke box with some decent tunes and had a few polite beverages. As it was a hen night we really did require some sort of male stripper or exotic male dancers, unfortunately none was available at short notice. We have all seen enough BSAC 18 naked male flesh so a contest was devised to see who could do the sexiest wiggle. The competition was fierce! Matt definitely has an alternative career if the garden design takes a downturn, and Wardy should never ever rely on a second career as Brad Pitt’s bottom double. The “Chocolate Starfish” being a sighting that we really could have all done without!
Jill returned having enjoyed her alternative hen night and struggled to get into her bed as she found it full of balloons.
Wednesday 22nd dawned to slightly more fog than we had hoped! The original plan was to dive Muckle Flugga, the rocks that are the most northerly point of the UK, but the fog put paid to that plan so we dived the Jane instead.
Throughout our trip so far we had experienced flat calm seas, amazing viz and next to no current. The Jane was to be the exception and there was a surprising amount of current on the shot line. This caught Stuart and Huw out and they lost contact with the shot and experienced the joys of a sea bed dive.
For those who made it to the wreck, the current had not subsided at all so we hunkered down inside the wreckage to take a better look. The Jane is home to lots of very hungry wrass ( harwrassment???) and the most enormous lobster any of us have ever seen. The propeller is extremely impressive and Kate experienced it in the company of a free swimming Conger eel.
The Jane details: 198 foot long Swedish Steamship, sank 19th July 1923 with 475 barrels of herring on board, ran aground pilot error. Depth 20m
For some reason this was the one dive where Stuart didn’t hold a film show afterwards to relive his dive as recorded on his go-pro camera. Apparently the video resulting from his seabed dive was event less interesting than Bobs 1000 picture film show of birds attacking other birds.
Some people opted to finish their dive on the Jane and return to the surface via the shot-line, others opted to go for a scallop dive and gather some tasty sea food for lunch.
Wednesday afternoon’s dive was Noss head. This offers the opportunity to tour one large cave, a smaller one and a swim through. Several seal encounters were reported and the caves were fascinating. This site has a wealth of sea life and out side of the caves the walls have horizontal cracks which act as shelves supporting a host of crabs, squat lobsters, scorpion fish and shrimp. A pleasant bimble along these are we ascended before swimming out into the blue to surface nearer the Halton. Many of us had a long surface swim and then an even longer one as the Halton moved away just as were within two strokes of it. Nevermind! the exercise was definitely needed as this week the food had been plentiful and highly calorific!
We stayed overnight at Lerwick and set off early on Thursday morning to dive the Glenisla in Bressay Sound. This steamship was built in 1878 , sunk 24th November 1917 in collision with steamship. Depth 39-46 m upright and intact. It is situated in a shipping lane so it can only dived with permission of harbour master. This was simply stunning. The wreck is ship shaped, upright on the sea bed, with lots of open holds that make amazing swim-throughs. There is so much to see and the main instruction in the dive briefing was NOT to recover anything from the wreck, especially the white blocks of material that look like cheese, these are in fact white phosphorus, used for armaments. Phosphorus is safe enough when immersed in sea water, but when it is removed from water and dries out it spontaneously combusts, not a good thing to happen on a wooden boat.
Everyone enjoyed this dive and Wardy was pleased to see that the donkey boiler still looks like a nuclear reactor (????), not sure what gas he was breathing last time he dived this!
Our final evening meal was delicious Lamb and apricot tagine with vegetable cous cous. After dinner Kate introduced us to Frankie, a sock puppet that looked exactly like the conger Frankie identified on the E49. Frankie the sock puppet conger was destined for a great dive tomorrow!
We did two dives on our final day. The first one was Lunokhods, a Latvian Knodiker that was driven ashore during storm dragging it’s achor, 9th Nov 1993 below Kirakister Lighthouse. It is broken with a large bow section at 40m, a debris trail and a shallow section lying up the wall. The shot was on the bow section and this is cleanly severed and on its side so you can see the multiple deck levels. The plan was to dive this section then head slightly east of north across the debris field to the shallow section. Kate and failed to find it and had a good 20 minute swim seeing some debris , clocking up a lot of additional decompression obligation along the way. In the end we gave up! It seems we were not the only ones to fail in this respect. Those that did find it said it was rusty, kelpy and interesting. Frankie the sock puppet decided to stay here, so if anyone returns to this wreck please look out for it.
Our final dive was the Fraoch Ban, A small fishing vessel that only sank in 1999. It sits at 25m on a sandy bottom which is home to loads and loads of flatfish! These are extremely friendly and seem to like divers. They were truly hilarious to watch and at one point there was a feeding frenzy with a host of them attacking an orange anemone, but this looked very much as though they were playing football with it! Seriously hilarious, made worse I suspect by narcosis. Even though this was only a 25m dive we clocked up a fair bit of deco as there was a huge amount of macro life to photograph: tiny scorpion fish, interesting decorator crabs and various anemones. This was the dive that sounded least interesting but was an unexpectedly stunning experience and a fantastic way to complete our trip.
When you have had a fabulous trip previously often it is hard to recreate the same magic but on this occasion it was agreed that this was even better than last time. The weather was excellent all week, the seas flat calm (astonishing when you realise how far in the middle of no where Shetland is!) and everyone pitched in and made it a fun time.
Many thanks to Bob Anderson, and his crew Terry and Sorrel, for a fantastic week.