There is a lot more to a six day liveaboard diving trip than exploring rusting hulks and chasing marine critters. In fact, during this year’s Orkney trip, over the six days and, assuming an average dive time of 45 minutes, each of us only spent 9 hours underwater. Of course, some of us – notably your humble author, spent quite a bit less than this, but more of that later.
So, what else diverts us during the remaining ninety six hours or so – the time remaining that we are not asleep at night?
Eating and drinking, as in all trips, or indeed any holiday, is of vital importance. Let’s face it most holidays are merely filling in time between meals. We were blessed with food of the highest culinary standard provided by the efficiently delightful Rachel. She provided tasty, yet balanced meals catering for the varied capacities and idiosyncratic tastes of the assembled diners. Of course, the carefully crafted and balanced diet was totally undermined by the large quantities of sweets and biscuits eaten in between those meals.
Drinking is a vital pastime which, it goes without saying, was indulged to strictly moderate levels – unless it was your birthday. However, it is essential to oil the wheels of social interaction and ensure, for the older members of the group, a regular and vital exercise regime through the night. The quantities of cans and bottles deposited in the various recycling bins, clearly evidenced the commitment to the pastime.
The old traditionalists
There is also ample time, for some, to pursue a strict exercise regime and for others to strictly not pursue any exercise regime. For most, gentle evening strolls enjoying the beautiful Orcadian sunsets was sufficient to maintain a modicum of physical fitness. However, on one occasion, the desire for an evening libation, spurred the group to a furious route march to a far-flung hostelry.
In between dive sleeping and reading was another favourite pastime. Usually it was more of a case of reading then sleeping rather than any lengthy retreat into the fantasy of prose.
Of course, the nine hours under the water involves support and ancillary activities such as kit fettling, nitrox analysis – for those willing to pay for it, and equipment repair with the help of the of the very efficient overnight service of the dive shop in Stromness.
This trip brought new innovations. We had the newly devised MOTD Awards which were nothing to do with football and actually meant Muppet of the Day (perhaps it was about footballers?). There were several, variably deserving recipients of the award who I will not embarrass by naming here. The sloppy grin and pinkness of your author’s cheek, gives away my identity as one. It was possible that I might have received on more than one occasion but a sense of fair play on the part of our revered leader meant the award was more widely shared out. An overall weekly winner has yet to be announced.
More excitingly, there were new DIVE BRIEFING innovations (this has to be in capitals as it always must be shouted very loudly).Bob delivered his first 3D model some undersea pinnacles called “Nipple Rock”, using a handy blanket. Whether the model was meant to allude female mammary glands only Bob can say. It was a tour de force and left us all open mouthed in admiration. However, even this momentous new innovation was eclipsed by application of the latest cutting edge technology in the form of a 3d printed version prepared by Ainsley and Rachel. It was of a separated item of wreckage photographed on the sea floor then rendered into vibrant orange three dimensions. The only disappointment was the actually item of wreckage proved not to be bright orange as the model suggested it would be.
Another first was that Bob abandoned ship for two nights and a day and left us in the youthful but very capable hand of Ainsley and Rachel. Ainsley proved to be a master steersman and professionally overcame the elements to extract The Halton from a quay in strong winds. Rachel delivered more traditional dive briefings with a thoroughness and a great deal more beauty than is generally available from Bob. We were suspicious of Bob’s reasons for time off but were too polite to mention them.
Undersea Beauty I
Undersea beauty II
And the diving? Divers go to Orkney for the remaining wrecks of the scuttled WWI fleet and often never venture from Scapa flow for the entire week. We are more intrepid and venture out to the other island and this time tied up in Burray in the west and Westray in the north. We also managed a couple of hours for late breakfast and love gift purchases in Kirkwall. We also made an attempt on a much lauded site well out into the Atlantic called North Shoal. However, the sea state was against us and after 5 hours bobbing about there was concern over retrieving divers and a general lack of enthusiasm to dive. Round we turned and eventually dived in the shelter of the islands. Typically, our nauseous author spent the whole time in his bunk.
In the flow we enjoyed the variety of diving that is characteristic of Scapa Flow. We dived a battleship (Kron Prinz Wilhelm). All the three battleships in the Flow turned turtle when scuttled and only brave and intrepid divers venture in the dark recess to see the juicy bits partially buried in the silt. The cruisers (Karlsruhe, Coln, Brummer and Dresden) are much more rewarding as they lie on their sides making the most interesting deck paraphernalia available for exploration.
Tabarka -the undersea cathedral
Extreme scallop preparation on the Barge
There is plenty of other diving with block ships (Tabarka) and, possibly your author’s favourite, the F2 and barge.The irony of the story of these two wrecks is that the barge sank whilst part of the salvage attempt of the U boat, the F2. It sits there on the bottom with a couple/three of the U boats guns which will never again see the light of day.
The beauty of diving in Orkney is that there is diving for all tastes whether you are a young techy or an old traditionalist. This trip typified this and with generally benign weather, sociable company and the professional and, mostly polite, care of Bob and the crew of The Halton. We all sped home tired but fully satisfied with our experiences. Actually Karl and overnighted in Edinburgh and found ourselves the only the only westerners in a Chinese restaurant.
Our sincerest thanks to Richard Ward for organising yet another successful trip.