From the ‘Stoke to Scapa – an epic journey
It was a cool and early morning in July. Instructor Kerrie and DiveMaster Bethan decided to meet early to travel from Basingstoke to Stromness in the Orkney Isle travelling in their trusty steed Tullulah the Transit, Ocean Turtle’s ever reliable van.
Tullulah was loaded with dive gear, cylinders and other supplies for the week and most importantly a handsome stock of “healthy” van snacks. Without too much fuss and delay (mainly due to severe tiredness) the girls were on their way to Inverness, their first stop, a mere 563 miles away!
In the run up to the trip a carefully constructed and soon to be creepy playlist was compiled for the journey and this came in to its own within moments of leaving. With the classic tunes and good banter in full force from the off, progress was soon being made. Even a cross country diversion through Cheshire didn’t dampen the spirits and it didn’t seem like long until the border into Scotland was reached.
As they continued on, the playlist began to behave in a most odd manner. For every piece of scenery or topic of conversation, it seemed to sense what was going on and plucked out a tune that was linked to the surroundings that were becoming more and more stunning the further North that they travelled until eventually arriving in the beautiful city of Inverness. After a long day of driving, an early night was required before the final push to the ferry and the crossing to Stromness the following day.
After an effortless drive to the end of the World the girls met with the first couple of guys that would be joining them for the week of diving at the Ferry terminal. There was a slight mishap with the booking as they had somehow managed to book it for the previous year but after a little negotiation they were free to board and made the crossing to their home for the week.
The first stop on Orkney was to unload all of the dive kit in the lashing rain onto the boat, the John L, a beautiful red former tug boat that was affectionately renamed Tuggy McTugFace by the Ocean Turtle crew before the big scrum for prime bedroom space in the accommodation. After settling in and getting introduced to each other, it was time for another early night ready for the start of the week’s diving on the Sunday morning.
The day started with a freshly cooked breakfast from the lovely Tracy who was there to look after everyone for the week and make sure that they were fed and watered for the day ahead. A quick walk down the narrow streets and it was time to board Tuggy for the first time. The entry onto the boat was a little daunting, with a ladder down from the harbour. This didn’t bode well for Bethan, the monkey girl, with visions of her deep dive fears returning. But with the stable platform of Tuggy below, everyone boarded safely and the excitement and anticipation of the day and week ahead was notable amongst everyone on board.
The skipper of the John L, Angus, was on hand to help us all as soon as we initially boarded. He was there to make sure our kit was OK, that we had the right gas and would be doing all of our fills and nitrox blends for the week. It wasn’t until we began to near the first wreck that his main talent came to the fore.
Angus’ hand drawn maps of each of the wrecks that we would be visiting were spectacular. All of the detail that we could need was on there and his explanations and descriptions of what we would be seeing and suggestions of how the dives should be structured was invaluable. After the first of these briefings, for the Dresden, everybody was full of anticipation for the dive ahead. It didn’t disappoint! The sheer size and scale of the ship was just awesome and there was so much to see and look at that it was hard to know which way to turn. The Dresden set the tone for the week with a huge amount of interest in terms of the ship wreck itself and an abundance of life and corals that has taken up residency since it had been sunk.
It seems appropriate to mention the group of divers that had come on the trip organised by Ocean Turtle Diving. It was an even mix of both BSAC and PADI divers. There was a concern during the run up to the expedition to Scapa that there would be a fierce rivalry on the scale of the Jets and the Sharks with the clash of these two organisations (may be being a little dramatic here) but it turned out to be the perfect mix! The PADI crew doing some inventive field repairs and adjustments to BCDs and bras and the BSAC boys spending money!
Back on Tuggy after an immense first day, that also included sightings of CatSharks everyone had quickly settled into their routine. On the second day, everyone was introduced to the rest of the crew, Angus had been holding back! Firstly there was young Cameron who was ever attentive to our needs helping with kit and making awesome cups of tea in between dives and then there was the most important crew member who certainly melted the hearts of both Kerrie and Bethan. Hector the Scottish Terrier! He would wander about the boat making sure that everyone was present. As Tuggy approached the dive site, he would sound the alarm and let everybody know that it was time to get ready and then count everyone back on the boat once a dive had ended. Hector’s presence (except on Thursday when he stayed at home to read the local paper) was a definite hit with everyone on board and it is surprising to note that he didn’t end up in anybody’s dive bag at the end of the week.
The diving on the wrecks went from awesome to brilliant and exceptional. Despite a few of the sites being from the same family of warship, each offered something different and had distinct characteristics. Some of the wrecks still have impressive guns on display, others you can see into the crew’s quarters and find a bath while others are a hotbed for life, covered in crustaceans, corals and seas of brittle starfish that would eat anything that passed including crabs and jellyfish (probably divers too if any had ventured too close).
The highlight of the week was a dive on the Tabarka. Although one of the more shallow wrecks within Scapa Flow it turned out to be a total jewel in the crown of what was on offer. The dive began with much anticipation, the tide had to be just right for a negative entry directly above the upturned hull of the boat. Tuggy, with Angus at the helm was slowly circling the entry point with all of the divers poised for entry like a parachute regiment waiting to jump out of a plane. When it was time, the horn sounded and each and every one plunged straight into the depths directly onto the wreck. An awesome piece of skippering from Angus!
The wreck itself was magnificent with wide openings so all divers would feel comfortable entering. In one half over the boilers were the twists and turns of all of the ship’s innards and at the bow there was a huge amount of light streaming through illuminating the whole area hiding a lot of life including crabs and eels. The ship was sat within a field of kelp which flowed with the movement of the water and provided protection for all of the marine life that had taken up residency in this most splendid of all the dive sites that had been visited.
Sadly, all good things have to end and after 6 superb days of diving on board Tuggy with Angus, Cameron and of course Hector it was time, with a heavy heart, to offload all of the equipment for the journey home.
That however, was not the end of the adventure.
Faced with the prospect of a depressing drive home after such a fabulous week, Kev “Lock Stock” Burns suggested a little detour around Loch Ness for a cheeky dive on the way back. Kerrie and Bethan decided that it would be rude not to as it would be PADI Women’s Day so changed their boat to a most unsociably early (and incredibly rough) sailing to make sure that this happened.
The girls in the Ocean Turtle van and Lock Stock in his made their way south on their Nessie hunt. It took a trip round the entire circumference of the Loch to find a suitable place to enter the water but they made it and got to dive with Nessie!!
Scapa Flow was a most epic trip filled with good times, banter and of course diving. New friendships were secured after a drift dive collecting a tonne of scallops which were BBQ’d and eaten al fresco with a few glasses of wine, many stories and so much laughter that muscles began to ache. An unforgettable trip with a fantastic group of people – bring on the reunion!