In July 2009 3 members of the club joined a group of divers on the Loyal Watcher for a week of trimix diving around the northern coast of Ireland. The plan for the week was to dive the “classics”, that is the Justicia, HMS Audacious, Emprire Heritage and the Laurentic along with one or two others thrown in for good measure.
Once the crew had all arrived in Ayr and loaded the boat we left for a long overnight crossing to Loch Swilly. This would be our base for the week, assuming the weather was with us and we wouldn’t have to make a run for home earlier than planned. Sunday was to be our first day of diving and our target was the HMS Audacious, the first major warship casualty of WWI and an absolutely enormous wreck. Realistically (without a scooter) you can’t get round this wreck in a single dive as it is almost 600 ft long and at a depth of 65m, so the plan was to tie the shotline in at the stern then for us to swim for as long as possible before turning back to ascend the shotline and decompress on the deco station.
Arriving on site I got out of my bunk to find the weather was good with flat seas and a bit of sun and the water was the dark blue/black colour that suggests good visibility. After sorting a small rebreather problem just before I was about to kit up I was finally ready to jump in. On getting to the shot line and starting my descent I could see the visibility was excellent with the monstrous propellers looming into view in about 40-45m. Once my eyes had adjusted the viz on the bottom was over 20m – just spectacular. The stern of the ship is upside down so the props stick out allowing divers to swim around them. After having a look round here I started heading forward following the line of the ship along the starboard side to try and get to the guns, but there is so much to see on this wreck that I decided to just take my time and not rush. After trying to bag myself a nice little pressure gauge I carried on heading forward and finally got to the gun turrates, just as it was time to turn and start heading back to the shot line. They are a magnificent site with munitions lying scattered all over the place, unfortunately I just didn’t have time for a really good look around.
Heading back down the port side towards the stern I bumped into some of the other divers and before long came to the shot and started an uneventful ascent.
Monday’s dive was to be the Justicia, a wreck I had been wanting to dive for a very long time. She was one of the largest ships sunk in the great war at 32500 tons and make for a very special dive. Again the visibility was excellent as we descended to the bows where the shot was tied in. The bow section is very intact with the winch gear and capstans in place on the foredeck and anchors still in place. Even the railings at the very tip of the bow still in situ! She slopes back towards the 70m seabed before breaking into a flatter area. Here portholes lay around and the fireman’s tunnel is accessible. I had a good mooch about looking for artefacts but was mostly breathtaken by the size. Swimming back off the bow for this view is one of the highlights of my diving career. This is another wreck that is too big to get round in a single dive unless you have a scooter so I concentrated on the bow area and after an all-too-short bottom time started my ascent.
As always seems to be the way with UK diving trips the weather was to play its part. We were blown out on the Tuesday and Wednesday meaning that we missed diving the Laurentic and making a return trip to look at the middle section of the Justicia.
Thursday came and the weather had brightened so we made the trip out to the Empire Heritage, a WWII transport ship that at the time of it’s loss was carrying a cargo of Sherman tanks. I was first in on this dive so was tasked with tying in the shot. We had got used to the good viz by now (20m+ again…) and so after tying in took off to explore. The tanks are scattered about like toys and are remarkably intact. For me this was probably the best dive of the trip. There is just so much to see – tanks, engine, props etc and it is a more “doable” size than the Justicia or Audacious. We swam forward zig-zagging between tanks and ship machinery for about 10 minutes before turning back past the shotline to have a look round the engine and head to the stern to have a look at the props. Time went far too quickly again and it was time to ascend. Most of the other divers were only just hitting the wreck, so Rick and I had the shot to ourselves. At about 15m I noticed some movement just on the edge of the visibility, swimming about 2om away was the very obvious sillouette of a shark!!! I shouted through my mouthepiece to Rick who was a metre or two below be and pointed it out. I thought he had missed it until it swam in to have a look at us. It was a Blue Shark about 3m long and it swam between us, close enough to touch – quite amazing and a fantastic end to one of the best dives I’ve even done.
Post dive we started the trip back home. We tied up in Ballycastle overnight and on Friday dived a wreck in the Clyde called the Empire Adventurer in about 60m. Viz was only about 4m and the wreck was large, but that’s about all I could tell you. We had been spoilt with the viz on the 3 previous dives, so this one was a bit of a make-weight before returning to Ayr.
This week gave me 3 of the best dives I have ever done and should certainly be on every divers “must do” list. The dives are deep, but the rewards for making the effort are out of this world.