And then there was Croatia

A little bay where we spent our surface interval

This was DLL’s first diving trip to Croatia and we headed out there to explore the waters with 11 divers.

We started with a horribly early morning start at Stansted airport. We had all just about managed to find our way through the maze which is the Ryanair website in order to book our flights. No thank you, we don’t want car insurance, travel insurance, priority boarding (well Tim might)….we just want to simply book a flight and print our boarding passes…oh, and a bit of good customer service would have been nice, but you can’t have everything!

As we queued up for the flight we counted our numbers, counted again, and realised that two people were missing – Adam & James! Once we’d landed we realised that they hadn’t made the flight at all. We all had a lot of fun coming up with theories as to why they hadn’t arrived (gimp mask anyone)? But it turns out it was a very innocent reason…Adam had enjoyed a few too many pints watching the England Euro 2012 game the night before and had slept through his alarm.

Rather than miss the whole holiday, they caught a flight to Venice and then arrived in the early hours, so they only missed one dive. Impressive work!

Our apartments and pool

We settled into our apartments and quickly enjoyed lounging by the pool with a beer. We met Maurizio, the dive centre owner. He’s a bit like Shrek in stature and friendliness. He took us all under his wing and showed us what Croatia had to offer, both underwater and on land.

Krnica Dive Centre

The Krnica dive centre was great and we were boat diving everyday. The water was crystal clear and blue, just like the Red Sea. We had a lot of fun between dives swimming around the boat and diving off the top. We discovered the Dean is a true water baby and likes to be in the water at every given opportunity.

So a bit about the diving. Well, for starters it was my first time diving in the sea for a very long time. I won’t bore you with the details but my ears have been giving me trouble, but I thought Croatia was the time to jump back in. And I’m so glad I did. The wreck called the Lina was incredible and really reminded me of the wrecks at Scapa Flow. It was quite deep, 27 metres to the top of the wreck, and so we couldn’t spend too long down there, but we were able to do a bit of penetration. It was sitting upright and had sunk because it had crashed into the reef, as such, once we’d reached our no decompression limit we were able to swim over to the reef and make our ascent on that.

It turns out that where we were in Croatia is probably more suited to tec divers as the wrecks are all pretty deep. So we spent the rest of our time diving on reefs. These were still interesting as there was some swim-throughs and caves to discover. On one dive, we all meet up in a cavern which you could surface in so we had a quick photo!

So a bit about where we were staying. The village has a population of 250 people. The main high street consists of two bars – interestingly the one playing dirgy music was favoured by the younger generations and the other one with the disco ball and UV lighting was full of old men! There’s a bakery where we bought chocolate croissants (or rather liquid chocolate with a hint of croissant) for breakfast and ate it at the bar restaurant with a cup of coffee. We’d then be picked up by Maurizio to drive to the boat. It was a lovely way to start each day.

The village square

We were lucky enough to be there for the Croatia Euro 2012 match and so we headed to the bar to support the locals. Unfortunately they lost but that didn’t stop them from partying hard. We staggered home, some more than others, at 2 am and the party was still in full swing. I won’t say too much about the evening to save red faces, but basically a lot of beer was consumed, an accordian played, a table danced upon, croatia shirts worn and a drum set played in the street (at 2 am)! I think we can safely say that the locals will remember DLL when we return. But luckily in a good way…as the next morning they said how much they’d enjoyed our company…and Mike had become their local hero!

Celebrating Euro 2012

The next day, Alex and David joined Maurizio for a tec dive on the Vis wreck. They went to 55 metres and said the wreck was in pristine condition. They’re really looking forward to going back and we think this location will be great for tec qualifying dives and gaining more experience.

Back on land, Maurizio organised a group meal out at an Agriturismo. We fed like kings on a four course feast which started with a grappa shot (seems to be the Croatian way)! We drank lots of wine and this was all for the sum of about £20 each! We’ll definitely be heading back there on our next trip.

We all had a great time and I don’t think anyone wanted to leave. To sum the trip up I’d say it was great company, good diving, good food, brilliant weather and lovely locals. As I’ve already mentioned, we think this particular part of Croatia is probably more of a tec destination and Krnica dive centre is brilliant for that. They have 25 twinsets! You just wouldn’t expect to find that in such a rural location. We will be on the hunt for another Croatian dive centre more set up for recreational diving…so watch this space for future trips!

Maurizio

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Dive Knives: Tooling up in the underwater world

Dive knives are probably one of the coolest early purchases that many (mainly male) divers make. If a loved one questions why you need to spend more money on dive gear you can hit them with a guilt trip about entanglement which has them reaching hastily into their purses. Plus most importantly you now have a legitimate reason to own a blade and carry it concealed on your person at all times (that last bit is not true).

However what is the best sort of weapon, I mean cutting tool, to own? Obviously the most exciting one to buy is a machete sized Rambo knife in black with a big serrated edge which you strap onto your leg. Many training agencies with a more military approach to dive training have been big proponents of prominently displayed death stilettos. How strange.

A diver prepares for his dive

The usual gearing up at an inland site pre-dive

The more modern approach and the one mostly favoured by men who have nothing to prove is that practicality is the most important aspect of your dive shiv and sadly this means smaller knives in less ‘look at how black ops’ I am places. Even more shockingly this sometimes means tools that don’t even look like knives. I know, I know, but please do try to stay with me.

Breadsaw sized knives strapped to an appendage may look cool but in actual fact they can sometimes create an entanglement risk in themselves and that dear reader is as best an example of irony as I could ever hope to come up with.

Smaller knives are easier to handle (although very small knives can become fiddly with thick gloves so don’t go too far down the road of proving how at ease you are with your manliness) and mounting them is much more a case of ease of access. Many smaller knives can be mounted on your BCD, either on the hose or even on the side of the pocket with certain designs. Other knives can be mounted on the webbing of a harness or even just put in a drysuit pocket.

What your knife is made of is also something to consider, stainless steel is the most common choice and the more expensive the knife, the better the quality of the steel. Cheap knives have a tendency to go orange and then not be much good. At the other end of the scale are titanium knives, these don’t corrode and are very light however they are more expensive and also can’t be sharpened (not that you should need to spend large amounts of time sharpening the edges of your knives…)

So the next thing to consider is why you would need to use a knife. The main reason is to fight with the animals of the deep.

A common shark attack

The standard exit from the water at the end of an enjoyable dive.

As soon as your head is submerged under the water the battle begins, sharks are innately tuned into the sounds of scuba and it drives them into rage fuelled feeding frenzy. Moray eels leave the reef like exocet missiles heading directly for the divers mask. Meanwhile vast shoals of Humboldt squid emerge from the deep intent on  stripping the diver to a skeleton in under 30 seconds.

Man vs shark

A man. Doing a high kick on a shark.

The correct answer is entanglement. This is more likely to be monofilament fishing line (not the stuff from sci-fi movies that cuts people into chunks) and is unlikely to be a foot caught in a giant clam or being enshrouded in kelp. It’s also possible you might need a knife to cut through line from a spool or reel in the event of a premature line explosion and to avoid embarrassment and laughter back on the dive boat.

So is a knife really the best tool for the job? Well a dive knife is a definite must as it can also be used as a tool to measure, pry, dig, cut and pound, (copywrite PADI Open Water Knowledge Review Chapter  2 Question 14) however a line cutter is a great secondary tool and may well be the one you’d reach for first.

An Eezycut Trilobite

A great example of a brilliant little line cutter is the Eezycut trilobite. Since they arrived on the scene we’ve sold loads of them simply because they’re just so good. Check out the video below to see them chopping their way through ever increasing sizes of rope.

They’re also super handy for tec divers as they can be used as a stop on a harness to prevent a pocket sliding forward and also as somewhere to tuck the long hose. OK, they don’t look like cool knives and they do actually come in pink as well, but they’re certainly my primary dive weapon of choice.

So in summary make sure your knife is sharp, easy to use and easy to get to. Then you can just pop it on your kit, forget all about it and go and enjoy your diving safe in the knowledge it will be there should you ever need it.

Focus on PADI Wreck Diver Speciality

Wreck

Photo taken by Chantal Brennan in Malta

There is something about wrecks, something about the looming shadow beneath you and the way the detail becomes more apparent as you descend down the shot line. To begin it simply looks like the area of water beneath is slightly darker than that surrounding it. As the shot line runs through your gloved hand and you equalise your ears the dark patch starts to take on a definitive shape, kind of long and narrow with even darker sections branching off. As you descend a little deeper you feel your heart rate increase slightly and the butterfly feeling in your gut as you realise there is something not natural down here, something that does not belong.

As you get deeper you start to notice the features on the uppermost side of the wreck, whether it’s the bridge with the windows missing from the increased pressure but the wheel still present or the railings encrusted with anemones and the dark doorways with corridors leading into the blackness. You start to realise the grand scale of the ghostly ship….you look to your left forwards towards the bow and it stretches off into the distance into the blue and when you look to your right the bridge structure towers above you but you can go deeper still…

The vast structure of this gargantuan vessel, which no one single dive can begin to give you the scale of, was once home to scores of people. You can swim through the crews’ quarters with the bunk beds still present but with the mattresses long since rotten away. You can imagine that the walls were once covered with photos of their loved ones and the floor once played host to games of poker and long days at sea drinking…

Although the above may read like a movie blurb, for committed ‘wreckies’ this is a reality on every dive!

Alex in a wreck

Photo taken by Chantal Brennan in Malta

In my mind there are 2 types of specialties. The ‘nice to haves’ and the ‘must haves’. The nice to haves are the specialities which don’t actually qualify the diver to officially ‘do’ more but serve simply to allow a diver to improve in certain key diving skills (peak performance buoyancy) or to better prepare them for situations they are likely to encounter (drift, boat etc.) or simply to allow a diver to get the most from the areas of diving they enjoy most (UW photography, UW naturalist etc.)

The ‘must haves’ actually allow a diver to dive in the areas concerned and demonstrate proof of experience. For example a deep diver certification proves that the holder of the card to go to 40m as this type of diving employs certain techniques that increase safety.

I would argue that there is no better example of a ‘must have’ for UK diving than the wreck speciality. But why is it such an important speciality to have for our blue and tranquil waters? And what does the course entail?

Being a war-mongering nation based on an island surrounded by tempestuous seas and rocky outcrops and once patrolled by war ships, submarines and hidden sea mines means that our coastline is reputed to be home to some 40,000 wrecks in varying states of decay.

The idea of the wreck speciality is to make sure that divers get the most from their experiences whilst diving in way that preserves their safety as well as that of looking after the wreck itself. We have to remember that the wreck could be an artificial reef that is home to scores of wildlife, or it could be considered a war grave where it holds the remains of the sailors whose home it once was or it could simply be of archaeological/historical interest and therefore removal of artefacts is forbidden.

The most important thing to remember when penetrating a wreck however is the fact you are in an overhead environment and a direct ascent to the surface is not possible. The comes with its own unique set of dangers and the wreck diver speciality seeks to make divers away of these and how to best minimise them.

Dive 1:

This is simply an orientation dive on the wreck, taking note of its position and any interesting features. The instructor will be looking for good diving practises such as good buoyancy and efficient and effective fin kicks that do not disturb the wreck. You will also need to keep your eye out for potential hazards and be able to use the layout of the wreck to navigate back to your ascent point at the end of the dive.

Dive 2:

With your buddy you will need to map the wreck which is not only good fun but will really allow you to learn the wreck in detail. It’s good to note hazards, depths, possible entry points and location of key and interesting features.

Dive 3:

This dive will teach the correct use of a penetration line (this is a line you deploy as you penetrate a wreck so you don’t get lost and can find your way out – think the Hansel and Gretel with the gingerbread house). You will practise deploying on the outside of the wreck first in preparation for dive 4…

Dive 4:

The penetration dive! The culmination of what you have learnt – you will penetrate the wreck deploying the line and having an exploration inside. However you will never be at any point more than 40 linear metres from the surface and with an instructor too.

If you’re interested in doing this speciality then get in touch. We can run them whenever we’re at open water, which is usually a few times a month.

http://www.divingleisurelondon.co.uk/courses/wreck

Wreck

Photo taken by Chantal Brennan in Malta

Wreck of the day 03 – The SMS Brummer

SMS Brummer

Displacement: 4385t (design) and 4316t (loaded)

Length: 140.4m (460’)

Beam: 13.2m (43’)

Draft: 6m (19’)

Propulsion: 2 shaft steam turbines, 6 boilers, 33,000shp

Speed: 28kn (52km/h)

Range: 10700km (6700miles)

Complement: 16 officers, 293 enlisted

Armament: 4 × 15 cm SK L/45 guns
2 × 8.8 cm (3.5 in) L/45 AA guns
2 × 50 cm (20 in) torpedo tubes
400 mines

 

A brief history:

An extremely quick build, she was launched on 11th December 1915 and commissioned on 2nd April 1916. She was a remarkable ship with an impressive top speed of 52km/h but despite carrying 400 mines she was not employed on mine laying duty.

However minelayers by their nature were not designed for defensive purposes and their modus operandi would be to steam into an area, lay their mines and use their light weight and high speed to make an escape.

An interesting thing about the SMS Brummer and the SMS Bremse was that they slightly resembled British warships of the aurora class which was a contributing factor in a successful raid they made on a British supply convoy to Norway in which 2 destroyers were sunk along with 12 merchant ships of which the British ships were escorting. This coupled with their high speed meant that the convoy were sitting ducks and the resulting massacre was proof of this – there were very few survivors.

The success of this operation (which was celebrated with champagne by Kaiser Wilhelm II) the German heads of Navy got excited and lined up the deadly duo for further operations in the Atlantic. However the Americans entering the war and the logistical difficulties of refuelling at sea meant the operation was cancelled.

 

Diving the SMS Brummer:

Laying on her starboard side with her bow at 32m and the stern at 33m and the top of the hull at 21m this wreck is a firm favourite amongst Scapa junkies.

Although luckily not raised for scrapping she was subjected to heavy salvage work around the engine rooms and boilers etc. The stern is in pretty bad condition but if you focus your attention further forward this is a brilliant dive!

Worth having a look at are the gun turrets which are cool because they are not covered which means you can have a peek inside and inspect the mechanisms and controls.

There is also a cool hole where the funnel used to be but unfortunately don’t go getting ideas about swimming your way through to the engine rooms as there are grates which protected against shells.

If poking your way around machinery is your idea of fun then head to where the salvage work has taken place as it is all exposed and you can check out all the complicated nuts and bolts etc. your heart could lust for.

A nice feature is the armoured conning tower where the well paid officers would hide and control the ship during battles and the slit windows in the front are reminiscent of a fortified castle.

There is a deck gun in front of this and if you have time make your way forward and check out the anchor capstans. Those appropriately trained can make penetration dives between decks and those qualified to use nitrox and/or do some cheeky deco will really get the most from this dive.

Wreck of the day 03 – SMS Dresden II

Name: SMS Dresden II

Launched: 25th April 1917

Commissioned: 28th March 1918

Co-ordinates: 58°52.98N; 03°18.37W

Displacement: 5620t (7486t loaded)

Length: 155.5m (510’)

Beam: 14.2m (47’)

Draft: 6.01m (19.7’)

Propulsion: 31,000 shp, 2 shafts

Speed: 27.5 knots (50.9 km/h)

Range: 10,000km at 12 knots

Complement: 17 officers, 542 enlisted men

Armament: 8 × 15 cm SK L/45 guns, 3 × 8.8 cm (3.5 in) L/45 AA guns, 4 × 60 cm (24 in) torpedo tubes, 200 mines

 

Brief History:

Sister ship to the Köln (also on the bottom of Scapa flow and discussed in a previous blog) and built to replace the Dresden I which was sunk off Chile in 1915. The SMS Dresden II was longer and more heavily armed than her predecessor and was considered one of the best in her class within the fleet.

She was attached to II scouting group which was sent on a mission to locate and destroy a British convoy en route to Norway. However, as the British convoy had sailed the day before it was not located and the German mission was called off.

In October 1918 she was assigned a mission along with the Köln and others to attack the British navy in the Thames estuary as a final stand in the final days of the war.  This was a last ditch attempt to secure Germany a better bargaining position no matter the cost to the German fleet. However several of the ships’ crews mutinied and the attack was cancelled.

The unruly crew of the Markgraf apparently pointed one their guns at the Dresden and refused to move out of her way after she was order to Eckernförde but eventually backed down allowing her to sail.

Once the order came to scuttle the ships in Scapa Flow, the Dresden II capsized violently to port and sunk dramatically.

Diving the SMS Dresden II

A good wreck for all abilities as it lays on a sloping seabed. The bow faces north and rests at 25m while moving aft will take you deeper to a maximum of around 37m. The wreck lays on it’s port side and has many interesting features.

Relatively unscathed from the salvaging that many of Scapa’s wrecks were subjected to the Dresden is in good condition. Pay good attention to the engine rooms which although have suffered blast damage from salvagers are still full of machinery and are definitely worth a poke around.

The officers’ quarters are fascinating and those with a keen eye may find a bathtub! Although the bronze propellers themselves would have been salvaged it is possible to see 2 propeller shafts in place with a single rudder. The stern is still intact itself and is a magnificent shape.

Notice the rear guns are still in place and facing ever so slightly towards starboard and also note how the forward of the rear guns is raised so to fire above the aft gun.

This is a nice dive to complement the Köln as they are sister ships and you can compare how both have fared to 93 years underwater! A particularly cool feature however of the Dresden II is the crest just aft of the bow which only the lead ship of a given class would carry.

What is a ‘beam’ and a ‘draft’ anyway?

So we are now 2 wrecks into our series but I deemed it a good idea to explain some common nautical terms regarding ships and shipwrecks.

All too common that a boat skipper or dive leader will be giving a briefing which to a wreck head is perfectly understandable, but for the common layman makes no sense whatsoever…indeed I think these folk derive a certain pleasure from the confused looks they receive when they talk about triple expansion engines and davits….

Plus I believe a wreck dive is all the more special when you know what you are looking at, for example what at first glance may appear as a mundane, barnacle encrusted piece of metal may to the educated observer be a lot more fascinating….

So to start with I will give some general ships’ terms and in future posts we will go into more specialised areas such as engines, weaponry and more…

Length: Come on guys, let’s not be silly…

Beam: It’s width at the widest point, the more narrow it is when compared to length generally the faster the ship was designed to go but with a loss of stability.

Draft: The distance from the waterline to the bottom of the hull. AKA: how much of the ship is physically in the water. Knowing this will allow the crew to determine the minimum depth of waterway the ship can safely navigate.

Displacement: The technically correct version of the ship’s weight. Actually refers to the weight of water the ship displaces.

Laid down: The date construction on the ship began. Derives from the traditional days of ship building when the length of the keel was ‘laid down’ first and then the rest of ship built around it.

Keel: Essentially the ‘spine’ of the vessel. A large beam that runs the length of the ship and forms a large part of structural integrity.

Launched: Pretty obvious…

Commissioned: The date the ship enters service, when launched they are often empty shells but are fitted out once on the water to allow space in the shipyard for new constructions.

Bow: Pointy end

Stern: Blunt end

Port: Left hand side when facing the bow

Starboard: Right hand side when facing the bow

Forward: Facing or travelling from the stern to the bow

Aft: Facing or travelling from bow to the stern

Davit: The structure used to lower items over the side of the ship. Mostly in our case will be life boat davits.

Complement: Crew

Anchor: Heavy object thrown over the side to prevent the ship from moving when at rest.

Winches: Mechanical device to ‘let out’ or ‘pull in’ rope or cable. (such as that attached to the anchor)

Capstans: Similar to the above. A vertically axled device to apply pressure to a rope or a cable, although a winch traditionally stores the rope/cable on a drum.

Scapa Flow – Wreck of the day 02 – Köln

Name: Köln

Launched: 5th October 1916

Commissioned: 17th January 1918

 Co-ordinates: 58° 53′ 32″ N, 3° 3′ 0″ W

Type: Light Cruiser

Displacement: 7,486 t (full load)

Length: 155.5m (510’)

Beam: 14.2m (47’)

Draft: 6.01m (19.7’)

Propulsion: 2 Turbines, 14 boilers, 31,000shp, 2 shafts

Speed: 27.5knots (50.9 km/h)

Range: 10,000km (6,200m) at 12 knots (22km/h)

Complement: 17 officers, 542 enlisted

Armament: 8 × 15 cm SK L/45 guns
3 × 8.8 cm (3.5 in) L/45 AA guns

4 × 60 cm (23.6 in) torpedo tubes
200 mines

History:

Although launched in 1916, by the time she was ready for service it was only 10 months before the end of the war. As a result she didn’t see action but was involved in several missions including one which involved escorting U-boats in the German minefields of the Heglioland bight.

As the end of the war began nearing she was one of few ships to remain loyal whilst other crews mutinied and she stayed at sea awaiting orders. However this order was for her internment at Scapa Flow. Leaky condensers meant that she was slow to travel and limped into the harbour behind most of the fleet although once the order came to scuttle on June 21st 1919, she was one of the first to obey.

Diving the Köln:

Considered the most intact and in the best condition of all the German wrecks in Scapa Flow, this makes a fantastic dive and is the favourite for many visiting divers.

Lying on her starboard side in 36m with her portside hull being 20 metres from the surface allows a degree of flexibility in how you plan to dive her. Those with the necessary qualifications and intentions to do some deco can explore the lower regions whilst the others will be able to enjoy the shallower sections.

It’s a worthwhile swim to head aft from the shot and look for the portholes and a doorway which lead to the officers’ accommodation and if you continue further aft still there you will find a large gun before swimming around the stern and checking out the rudder.  If you swim forwards you will come across the lifeboat davits and the 3.4 inch high elevation gun located before the main mast pointed horizontally forwards. The armoured conning tower and Command Bridge (minus the periscope) are also worth a look. The forward deck guns are missing but a large hole allows those trained access to what were once the crews’ quarters.