|Chi Lee on the Argo Delos. Photo credit Martin Kerr|
July saw me off to Ireland
to try my hand at some of
the Big Name wrecks off Malin Head.
weather gods had other plans for us and we had to stay east of Malin Head, but
I’m happy to report that the consolation prizes are very fine indeed.
After flying into Glasgow Meeko and I weaved our way down to
Stanraer on Loch Ryan, a very picturesque part of southwest Scotland
Along the way we stopped at the memorial for
the cruiser Varyag, a very interesting ship in it’s own right.
Built in Philadelphia
and commissioned into the
Imperial Russian Navy in 1901, it fought heroically in the Russo-Japanese
After a fierce engagement in which
it was heavily outnumbered it was scuttled rather than allow it to fall into
Nevertheless the Varyag was
raised in 1907 and commissioned as the Japanese light cruiser Soya.
During World War I the Japanese, now allies
of the Russians, returned it to them.
the re-renamed Varyag made it’s way to the Clyde
for refurbishment, and was seized by the British government following the
It was sold for
scrap to the Germans in 1920 but sank while under tow near Lendalfoot, with a beautiful
memorial marking the spot.
Some day on
another trip I hope to have a poke about and see what remains.
Our trip was booked aboard the MY Salutay.
Al and Freda Wright run a
first-class operation all the way.
boat is neat as a pin, well appointed, well-skippered, and Freda’s cooking is
I do so love a trip where
you spend your deco dreaming about the lunch you are about to partake of,
especially the homemade desserts that graced both dinner AND lunch (if you have
never had banoffee pie, and especially Freda’s banoffee pie, then I regret to
tell you yours is but a sad stunted shadow of a life.)
The seas off Northern
can be a bit tricky to dive.
Because of the tidal flow it is necessary to
go in at slack tide, and the wind and tides need to align in your favor. Just to make things a little more interesting the
slack occassionally comes early too.
All the more credit to Captain Al then for getting us in the water every
The standard procedure is for the
captain to drop a shot, with the last diver in making sure it is clear of the
wreck for recovery.
After the dive we
would all bag off, either individually or in teams, and drift along like so much
flotsam for our decompression.
Our first dive was on the Castle Eden, a broken-up
World War II collier in 30 meters. The
visibility was outstanding, and I had a lovely time poking about the bits of
wreckage. Near the stern I found an
enormous lobster, a fat sassy female just ambling about in the sand. A blue lobster! This was a rara avis indeed, only one in five
million! I was without a camera, and because we were in Irish waters I couldn’t
bring her up. Topside my excitement was met with amusement though, it seems that over here blue is bog standard for lobsters. I don't care it was still very cool to see. We later spent a couple of days on the stern
section of the Argo Delos, a Greek cargo ship that ran aground in 1960. It is a wonderful dive, with an enormous
chunk of the hull lying turtled and creating a cavernous area ripe for
exploration. At one point I rested my
hands on the lip of a ledge and was rewarded with a sharp bite from a conger
eel. Fortunately he didn’t like the taste of rubber and released, and I now
have empirical (well, anecdotal) proof that my dry gloves are pretty goddamn
|Didier Slama on the Argo Delos. Photo credit Martin Kerr|
We tied up in port every night but one, and were able to
savor (make that savour) the cultural delights of Ballycastle
and Port Rush, Ireland
(translation: we went to a lot of pubs.)
Both are pretty little towns, and the latter in particular had a lovely
cliff trail above the beaches.
there for the 4th
of July and was treated/pestered by Bruce
Springsteen on a loop at the pub (I’m not a fan), and later we watched that
most patriotic of entertainments, Team America
I thought about reading aloud the Declaration
of Independence but thought better of it – that’s the kind of thing that can
start with “When in the Course of human events, it becomes necessary for one
people to dissolve the political bands...” and end with, I don’t know, more
Bruce Springsteen being played at me.
think perhaps my favorite part was watching Didier, transplanted from Canada
be teased about how this was his holiday too: “You know, Canadian, American,
it’s all the same thing, right? Right?”
|Photo credit Martin Kerr|
|Meeko and Wilkie. Photo credit Martin Kerr.|
The SS Santa Maria was my favorite wreck of the trip, an
American tanker torpedoed on February 25, 1918 by the U-19.
She lies turtled and surprisingly intact in
65 meters off Ballycastle, Northern Ireland
It was dark but clear on the bottom, with
lots of relief and swim throughs.
end of my dive I was joined by Wilkie on top of the wreck, who considerately
offered to shoot the marker bag while I followed.
I already had my bag and reel and it took a moment to restow them,
whilst Wilkie made very expressive signals that he was ready to go and his
offer had an expiration date of about 1 minute (squirt of air in bag,
significant look at me, pause, another squirt, another furrowed-brow
Somewhere within shouting
(really, whispering) distance of the end of his patience we made our ascent for
an hour of lazy drifting deco.
I like to
keep active on my deco so I swam circles around him, and was very bemused at
how, no matter where I was in the circumference, he was always pivoted around
to keep a wary eye on me.
Good thing he
didn’t have a bang stick with him.
cleared a few minutes before me and offered me his reel and bag when he
ascended, again with a very expressive mien that said “Come up with my brand- new
reel - or don’t come up at all!”
sign of how conditions can change the seas were now a good 2 meters with long ribbons of spray
blowing off the tops of the white caps.
The wind was also crossing the currents, with the effect that most of
the teams went one way while I drifted out of the bay.
It is never a comforting sight to see the
boat a tiny dot on the horizon but Al had it all well in hand, and after 15
minutes of bobbing like a cork I was safely back onboard.
| SS Santa Maria|
The final dive of the trip was on the Tiberia, which lies
just off Belfast Lough.
cargo ship was on its way from Glasgow
to New York
when she too was sunk by the U-19, one day after
it struck the Santa Maria
She sits intact and upright in 65 meters,
with a mast rising to 30 meters and a gun tub on her stern.
I was hoping to penetrate it but the amount
of silt on it was unbelievable, filling the stern quarters and cargo holds
nearly floor to ceiling.
I circumswam it
once then rode out my deco with the lion’s mane jellies, enjoying the warm water
and looking forward to returning some day…