Malta – Technical trip 2016

Malta – Technical trip 2016

Fife renegades Malta 2016

David and Callum from DSAC joined up with members of the Fife Renegades, Nick from Wales and Jeremy from England  for a deep technical week in Malta based out of St Pauls bay and using TechWise Malta for boats, gases and any other equipment we didn’t bring with us, and we brought a lot!
In total with our added sports allowance, we had 65kg, rebreathers aren’t usually lightweight so some careful packing was required to get everything packed without going over the 20kg per bag max weight.

We arrived in Malta quite late after a 3.5 hour Ryanair flight and met up with Allan and the Techwise pickup truck in the car park, loaded up our bags and then dumped them all at TechWise HQ. The next morning was spent rebuilding all the rebreathers and making sure everything still worked. Once everything was rebuilt and checked everyone had a short dive in the Techwise house reef to make sure we were weighted properly and try out the bailout cylinders for trim.

Here is a summary of the equipment everyone was using going from left to right in the photograph above.

Callum Mckay – AP Classic Inspiration
David Millar – JJ CCR
Jeremy Wall – Open circuit (Twinset and stages)
Stewart Braisher – AP Classic Inspiration
Nick King – Sentinal
Andrew Knox – AP Vision Inspiration
Peter Keelan – AP Vision Inspiration
Steve Haddow – AP Vision Inspiration

 

HMS Hellespont

HMS Hellespont

HMS Hellespont

Later on, after lunch, it was decided our first proper dive would be on the HMS Hellespont a WW2 wreck sunk in the Grand Harbour of Valletta during an air raid on 6/7th April 1942. After the war, as the harbour was being cleared, the wreck was lifted and scuttled off Rinella, 2 miles outside Grand Harbour, where she now lies.  She sits upright on a sandy bottom with a maximum depth of 41 metres and a minimum depth of 35 metres. Hellespont was a steam-powered tug also known as the Paddle Steamer. She was 46 metres long, and the wreck is intact except for 15 metres of the bow section which was completely destroyed and is now missing from the wreck.

Our group had mixed opinions about this wreck, some thought it was pretty interesting once you were able to identify some of its workings but others thought it was a dull, boring wreck and only spent 15 minutes on it. You can’t please everyone!

 

Gozo ferry wrecks and the Inland sea

inland

A few beers, some food and sleep later and we’re off to Gozo to dive the Inland sea. The short ferry crossing to Gozo was made a little less dull as a film crew was filming the captain and two tanned leggy girls wearing the shortest shorts ever pranced around.
The Inland sea is a small lagoon connected to the sea through a small opening/tunnel in the limestone cliffs. We didn’t pick the best day to dive the Inland  sea as the wind had picked up and it was pretty choppy in the tunnel. The tunnel is used by fishermen and tourists on boat rides so once in the tunnel it’s not a great idea to surface but today only we were stupid enough to go inside. The surging current made the swim through the tunnel pretty hard work but as it gradually slopes down it gets easier and once you’re through and into the sea it gets very calm. This sea part of the dive is basically a big wall dive (50m) with lots of big boulders creating swim throughs.

Next up after some lunch at the Inland sea, we headed for the deliberately scuttled wrecks of  the Karwela, Cominoland and Xlendi. We were told the Karwela was the most interesting and that the Xlendi was upside down and not worth doing so everyone decided to dive the Karwela (40m ish) . It’s a popular dive spot and we joined lots of other divers in the ample parking area. Rebreathers are heavy so the long walk down the steps to the entry point wearing a drysuit in the baking sun was not very enjoyable. Most of us kept the run times to about an hour and everyone reported a good dive. The Karwela is stripped bare but the engine room is pretty interesting and you’re able to swim around the engines and have a good nosey.

 

MV Le Polynesian

z__le_polynesien

Finally, we get to dive the sort of wreck everyone came on the trip to do, the Polynesian! Le Polynesian is 150m long and was built for the shipping line La Compagnie des Messageries Maritimes at La Ciotat in France. Between 1891 and 1914 it operated over a number of routes covering the Far East, Australia and the French colonies. In  1914 she was taken on by the French Government as a troop transport ship and fitted with the deck guns which you can still see on the wreck today. On 10 August 1918, the Polynesian was attacked by UC22 and sank within 20 minutes with the loss of 10 lives.
Once the shot was placed everyone made their way down to the wreck which was hard work due to the strong currents which seem to disappear you pass the 20m mark. This wreck is huge and lies at an angle on its port side. It’s still full of cargo and plates and vases are scattered everywhere. One of the holds had hundreds of car and motorcycle tyres. We were told it’d be impossible to go from bow to stern in one dive so we did it just to prove them wrong. You would need a week on this wreck and many dives to explore it fully. On the way up a Brazilian diver decided to entertain everyone with his unusual DSMB deployment….

 

 

HMS Southwold – Bow & Imperial Eagle

HMS Southwold was a Type II British Hunt-class destroyer built for the Royal Navy during World War II. She served in the Mediterranean for a few months until she was sunk off Malta in March 1942.
The Bow of the Southwold is pretty broken up but there is still lots to see. Ammunition shells litter the seabed all around and a toilet block can be seen inside of the wreck.

A lot of our group chose to sit the Imperial eagle out as they thought it was a bit bland but a few of us still went in and it’s a great little wreck for penetration and everything is quite open. It lies not far from a huge underwater statue of Jesus Christ.

 

 

MV Le Polynesian (again)

So good we did it twice!

 

 

Um El Faroud

The Um El Faroud was a 10,000-ton Libyan-owned single screw motor tanker. Following a gas explosion during maintenance work in 1995, she was scuttled off the coast of Malta as an artificial reef and diving attraction.
Almost everyone on this trip had done the El Faroud before but five of us spent an hour on her having a good look around without the gas limits of open circuit. Getting through some of the narrow passageways and hatches was a bit of a challenge due to the bailout cylinders we were carrying but we still managed. It’s a fair swim out and back to the Faroud but your decompression stops can be done in the bay near the entrance point which is usually full of girls in bikinis having a swim, unaware of the bubbless perverts below.

 

HMS Southwold – Stern (75m)

We saved the best until last, the Stern section of the broken in two HMS Southwold was amazing. This excellent video by Steve Haddow of  Shadow Marine gives you a great look at it and points out some of the best bits.

 

Thanks to Peter Keelan for organising the trip and to Lee Stevens from  TechWise Malta  for putting up with us for a week!

 

 

 

 

 

Posted in Technical diving, Trip Reports, Videos | Tagged , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

SS Meldon & Aird Na Cuile 16/04/16

After the very successful club trip/training weekend at the beginning of April we decided to leave the boat stored at Puffin Dive Centre for a couple of weeks so we could have another day’s diving in the area without having to tow the boat all the way there as well as back. So on the morning of the 16th Ken, Veronica, Alberto, David, Les, and I met up bright and early at Puffin.

After all arriving on time, getting the boat and everyone’s kit ready we were ready set off on time until we discovered the brakes on a couple of the trailer wheels had decided to completely seize! Thankfully we had all the tools needed and a spare set of brake shoes with us so after 40 minutes we had the boat in the water and were on our way out into the Sound of Kerrera.

We had hoped to make it to the Garvellachs and the great scenic diving on offer down there but with the N-NW wind forecasted to build gradually all day we didn’t really fancy the long trip back going against the swell. Instead we opted to head down towards the wreck of the SS Meldon in Loch Buie where the Island of Mull would provide some shelter from the winds on the trip there and back. The Meldon is a fantastic shallow wreck which sank in 1917 after running into a mine field laid by the U-78.

The 14nm journey down to Loch Buie was pretty straight forward with no real swell to speak off and as the sun was out we were treated to some great views of the Mull cliffs to the west and the Garvellachs to the east. While getting organised at Puffin we had seen the Peregrine from Lochaline Boat Charters pass by and sure enough they were on the SS Meldon when we arrived, they had 12 divers on the wreck but were just starting to pick them up so by the time we were kitted up and ready to go they were all out of the water and on their way. They had very helpfully advised that while the wreck did have a shotline it had become tangled around the stern post (which breaks the surface at LW) so the buoy was actually underwater.

Getting ready to dive the Meldon

Getting ready to dive the Meldon

After approaching very carefully the buoy was located  just under the surface so David dropped the first of us in. Ken and Veronica were first in followed shortly by Myself and Les. The first part of the wreck you see is the stern standing upright on white sand in only 8m, while the top of the stern is covered in kelp every inch of the underside is covered in soft corals,  sponges, and anemones. Continuing down you come across the intact prop and rudder which is turned hard to port and these too are plastered in soft corals and anemones.

Stern of the Meldon

Stern of the Meldon

After spending a bit of time looking around the stern and prop, we all made our way towards the bow. The wreck becomes more broken and scattered the closer you get to the bow but that doesn’t detract from the dive at all. The prop shaft is visible nearly the whole length of the wreck and there are dense kelp forests covering the collapsed plates with numerous massive pollack swimming about keeping an eye on you. After a quick look around the bow (at only 13m) we made our way slowly back towards the stern where we stopped for another good look before surfacing. On previous dives here there has been a large conger spotted living in a pipe near the bow but this time it was spotted by Ken in amongst the wreckage near the stern. The top of the stern in only 5-6m makes for quite a pleasant safety stop! A very nice 43min dive with a max depth of only 13.7m.

Meldon Stern

Meldon Stern

Following our dives, David and Alberto also enjoyed a nice dive on this stunning wreck (after a little weight trouble). Once everyone was back on board we moved into sheltered water outside Loch Buie to refuel the boat before starting on the trip back north.

Loch Buie

Loch Buie

Thanks to the strengthening N/NW wind the trip back was a little bumpy, particularly when crossing from Mull to Kerrera, the decision to skip the Garvellachs had been a good one! Thankfully in the Kerrera sound things were much calmer so we were able to dive Aird Na Cuile.

Tay Explorer

Tay Explorer

Veronica and David decided to sit this dive out so Ken and Alberto went in followed by Les and I. David dropped us off at the southern tip of the cliff face where we descended straight onto the wall before making our way north, keeping the wall on our right.

 

 

The wall here drops straight down to almost 40m in places and moving north changes between vertical drops, boulder slopes, and sandy slopes. The rock faces were completely covered in life, with sagartia anemones, dahlia & horseman anemones, soft corals, elephant hide sponges all a common sight and spaces inbetween crammed with feather stars. Below 20m we also came across a number of the less frequently seen celtic feather stars.

Celtic Feather Star (Leptometra celtica)

Celtic Feather Star (Leptometra celtica)

Sagartia elegans var. venusta

Sagartia elegans var. venusta

After spending quite a bit of time going along the wall at 20m we started to move up shallower and into the edge of the kelp at about 10m before sending up a DSMB and going with the current before surfacing. Another really nice dive at 31mins and max depth of 23m. Ken and Alberto surfaced just after us so once we were all back on board it was only a short trip to Puffin to recover the boat. Another great day diving off the club boat.

 

For more pictures go to the Gallery page or here.

Posted in Trip Reports | Tagged , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Isle of May 19/03/16

A break in the miserable weather we’ve had so far this year allowed us to make the first trip of the year to the Isle of May on the club boat, Tay Explorer. Six divers made it out for this trip, Ken, Lewis, Joe, Graham, Myself, and Ryan.

After an easy 08:30 launch at Anstruther we made our way over the island, although there was practically no wind to speak of there was a larger than expected swell coming from the northeast. As we made our way around the south tip of the island and up the east side towards the first planned site, the boilers of the SS Island, it was quickly apparent that it was going to be too rough to safely drop off and pick up divers here. So we carried on to do a full circle of the island back to the Alterstanes landing area where it was perfectly flat!

Isle of May, Alterstanes

Isle of May, Alterstanes

The first dive of the day then was the small wreck of the Anlaby which lies well broken up on the boulder slope in 10-15m depth, just SW of the Alterstanes landing. The main features of the wreck are the prop and rudder at 15m with some large plates and remains of the keel/ribs following the slope shallower from there. Lewis and Ken went in first followed by Ryan and I. Graham and Joe stayed onboard and went in as the second wave.

Considering the time of year the visibility was surprisingly decent at about 4m. On our dive Ryan and I quickly found the scattered wreckage then followed the ribs and metal plates down to the small pile of wreckage at 15m which includes the rudder and prop. After a  look around here we moved off the wreck and followed the boulder slope back up to the shallows before sending up a DSMB at the end of the dive. There wasn’t  a huge amount of life about other than the usual urchins, common sunstars, and dead man’s fingers but a nice surprise was the number of sea hares on the boulders at about 12m. A nice first dive at the Isle of May for the year, and Ryan’s first dive off the club boat, albeit a little chilly at 6.5°C!

Dead Man's Fingers on the wreckage

Dead Man’s Fingers on the wreckage

Sea Hare

Sea Hare

 

Once everyone had completed their first dives we stopped for lunch on the island, tying the boat up alongside the tender for the NLV Pharos which was there to service the island’s lighthouse.

NLV Pharos

NLV Pharos

With the swell preventing diving on the east of the island we had to chose another site on the sheltered side. Ryan and I decided to try one of the large caves in the cliffs towards the southern end of the island while Lewis, Joe, and Ken opted to try and do the wreck of the Primrose as their second dive.

In the past I had done a number of dives along the boulder slope on this side of the island and always found it pretty bland so was looking forward to trying something different and we weren’t disappointed.

Large cave in the cliffs

Large cave in the cliffs

We dropped off the boat at the mouth of the cave into a fairly wide steep sided gully in 7m depth, the walls of the gully were covered in dead man’s fingers, sponges, plumose anemones, sagartia anemones, colonial squirts, along with a couple of very well camouflaged scorpionfish. The gully gradually got shallower and narrowed as we continued in, eventually we got to 3m depth with just enough width for one diver before turning round to make our way out. It was really calm thanks to the conditions but I’m sure in a westerly swell this would be very different! After leaving the cave we headed south to find some huge boulders covered in more soft corals before heading down the steep slope which turned to sand at 20m. After a short stay here it was back up the slope before again ascending on a DSMB. A really nice dive with a total time of just over 30mins and max depth of 20m.

Gully Walls

Gully Walls

Huge boulder reef

Huge boulder reef

 

 

 

 

 

 

Back on the boat we made our way over to the marked position of the Primrose wreck. The wreck is marked on the charts and we also had a position taken off wrecksite.eu which was basically right on top of the charted position. Despite this we just couldn’t pick it up on the sounder so unfortunately the others didn’t get the wreck dive they were after, instead they decided to dive an unexplored area off the SW of the island looking for lobsters.

Searching for the Primrose

Searching for the Primrose

Following the final dive of the day it was an easy trip back to Anstruther in the sun and going with the slight swell. Although we didn’t necessarily get to do the dives we had hoped, the Anlaby was a pleasant dive and the cave was certainly worth doing. We will need to go back and explore the caves in the cliffs further to the south.

For more photos go over to the gallery.

Posted in Trip Reports | Tagged , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

My Conversion to a Rebreather Diver

In the very distant past when I was doing my Ocean Diver course, the only question I recall asking was “Isn’t there a more efficient way of using the air in the bottles on our backs?” after being told that we only actually utilise 4% of the air that we carry. In my mind, before I had even gone into open water I couldn’t understand why a system I was being taught that was so inefficient. At that time, rebreathers were very much in their infancy and so little was known about them.

Over the years as I progressed from a single 12 Ltr, to a 15ltr with pony then on to twin 10s I started learning more about Closed Circuit Rebreathers (CCR) and Semi-Closed circuit rebreathers (SCR). The former seemed like voodoo to me and very complicated with most of them using sophisticated electronics. The thought of sophisticated electronics and salt water made me unduly nervous. I’d seen CCR dive buddies tinkering with the sensors in their units in-between dives and this made them look prone to failure; the real problem was that AP Diving had produced a bad batch of sensors so this tinkering was not normal behaviour.

SCRs were a different kettle of fish. I loved the idea of a system that had reduced bubbles, warm air, more efficiently utilized the chosen gas I carried and yet had no electronics. This combination excited me and my research led me to the Draeger Dolphin. A beautifully simple constant injection SCR using Nitrox. In September 2015 I eventually bought one of these units with the aims to learn to dive it.

Draeger Dolphin

Late in 2015 I started to look for someone to train me on the SCR and I came across Ian Reid of Northern Technical Diving. Ian had a similar interest in the Dolphin as I and was willing to train me. However, before we could start training he offered to buy my Dolphin from me and train me on the AP Inspiration Classic. What could I say? I jumped and the chance and bought myself an AP Inspiration Classic with integrated Shearwater Predator computer that monitors my 3 cells. This is a beautiful piece of equipment.

AP Inspiration Classic (CCR)

My training was completed by Ian with Gavin Anderson as my buddy during the two weeks over Christmas and leading in to 2016. You are probably thinking “Was this not when we had all the severe storms and flooding?” Well, yeah, it was. We were hit by Storm Eva and Frank. They were a pleasure to drive through on my way to the West coast and I came across flooded roads on my way but with my masterful driving and with my car that is absolutely suitable for the conditions (a Mazda 3 Sport) I made it the dive sites.

Floods at Loch Earn #stormfrank

Only one day was cancelled due to a large landslide at the Rest and be Thankful. Needless to say that the diving conditions and overall visibility of all training dives were what could only be classed as zero visibility night dives.

Coming into the CCR course, everyone who had been before said that my buoyancy would be all over the place due to a CCR having a fixed volume of air in the system and therefore taking a deep breath or exhaling doesn’t change the volume of air. Therefore, fine buoyancy control is entirely different to when you are using open-circuit. Secondly, my weighting would be out too.

Prior to starting the course I had read through the AP Inspiration Classic manual a couple of times and it prepared me with a lot of useful information. Subtle things such as your aim is to preserve the air in the system and be as efficient as possible. If you come across a big rock, swim around it rather than over it so save adding and removing air from your closed system. Other tit bits included putting some lead in the pocket at the top of the rebreather case and an indication that people can find it useful to initially do a duck dive to get underwater initially.

For our first dive, we went to the A-Frames, a place that is will known for its excellent visibility even when Storm Frank isn’t battering it. I setup my CCR with the help of Grant. He taught me how to do a negative test; this involves squeezing the hoses so they are tiny and sucking the air out of the system and closing the mouthpiece. It’s quite an art trying to get the hang of this! The system is left in this way for many minutes to see if the hoses are still compressed afterwards. If they are then the system has no leak.

As is the case when you get a new unit (I came from a twinset with lots of hoses), and especially one with lots of hoses, you spend a reasonable amount of time routing all the hoses to places where they are comfortable for you and then figuring out where all the straps go. With my Inspiration I have front mounted lungs that need to be clipped down so there’s another couple of new straps to fit. It takes a few dives before you figure our the best arrangement for all the new hoses and straps and I ended up using coloured cable ties to colour code my different straps so I knew which ones matches where.

Ian discussed the plan for the first dive. It was a simple plan, get in the water, duck dive to get under if necessary and swim around to get comfortable with the unit before doing some initial exercises.

Remove and replace mouthpiece / Clear water from loop using exhalation

Because you have a closed loop with a rebreather that circulates your breathing air, you can’t simply remove the loop from your mouth as you want to prevent water getting into the system as it could eventually work its way to the electronics and that would be bad. Therefore, when you remove the mouthpiece you need to close it first before removing and then when putting it back in you breathe into the mouthpiece as you open it up to prevent water getting in.

Remove loop and stretch over head to drain water from loop into counter lung

The rebreather can take water on board and still function but if you have water in the loop you can hear it sloshing or making you feel uncomfortable when breathing. To resolve this you can remove the loop from your mouth and hold above your head to encourage the water to flow down into your unit’s counter lungs.

Recovery of loss of loop from mouth

This is similar to the technique we do for open-circuit where we recover a lost regulator.

When we all got into the water I initially struggled to get under. Due to the nature of a rebreather, you have more sources of air in the system that need to be emptied before you get under. For open-circuit your two main buoyancy sources are dry suit and BCD. With a rebreather you have those two plus two counter lungs strapped to the front of your chest. Therefore on your first dive, you are trying to expel air from all these places and do a duck dive!! Fun.

Once under we went for a little swim through the murk. The trickiest part here was keeping someone within view as the visibility was so limited. My buoyancy at this point was so bad because of this new way of doing things that my dive profile probably looked like the flight profile of the Wright brothers on their first few attempt at flight.

The next couple of training dives were at St Catherines (Loch Fyne) and the weather was suitably miserable again with doses of sleet and snow. This training session involved learning how to fill my scrubber. The scrubber is the part of the system that removes the CO2 from the air you expel by using lime. Packing the scrubber is very important as it needs to work efficiently to be able to remove the CO2. Packing it involve carefully filling it with lime bit by bit and to a particular level and so the lime is packed to a certain firmness. After a dive, if you put your hand on the scrubber you can feel a lot of heat from the exothermic chemical reaction.

The third and fourth dives introduced the fact that my weighting was all wrong and really struggled to get underwater. Once there,  we went to sufficient depths and tested the alarms on our rebreather handsets and computers. We tested the low and high oxygen alarms. The later needs to be done at a few metres as on the surface you can’t get sufficient concentration to trigger the alarm. It was an interesting experience triggering these alarms under the supervision of our instructor and listening to the alarms going off and the computers telling you everything was wrong!

We also got taught the most important of techniques; the Diluent Flush. If you are ever in doubt that your system isn’t reporting the true state of the content of your loop you do a diluent flush to get rid of the air / o2 currently in the system and to replace with new air and o2. It’s an odd technique, as you tilt to the side and then pull the dump valve on one counterlung while putting dilutent (air) into the other counterlung.

The final training dive was at The Slates and involved techniques relating to continuing to dive with a unit that has failed due to various scenarios. We covered the following:

  • solenoid stuck open so the unit has o2 constantly streaming in – here you manually open and close the valve while monitoring the setpoint on your handset
  • solenoid stuck closed – manually add o2 using the counterlung manual addition valve
  • Simulate no oxygen by closing tank valve
  • Unconscious ccr diver rescue

After all these training routines we had about 30 minutes to enjoy a simple dive with no training routines. This was the first time since using the rebreather that I actually felt really comfortable and had full control of my buoyancy; my days of doing impressions of bouncing bombs were behind me. When you choose a depth on a rebreather and get your buoyancy set for that depth, life is fairly easy as the volume of air stays the same so you stay level. While enjoying this dive at around 28-30 meters I had the realization that I no longer need to acutely monitor my air usage with respect to my depth as with a rebreather no matter what depth you are at you are using up the same amount of diluent and O2 – cool or what?

One of the other things my buddy and I found during my course was that we saw a lot more critters as we finned around and we were able to get right up close to them without them flinching. I’m guessing the lack of bubbles really helps with finding the underwater life.

Posted in Technical diving | Tagged , , , | Leave a comment

Island Magee wreck dive.

We’ve been talking about going back to this wreck with the club boat (Tay Explorer) for a while now after some of us didn’t get to dive it last time. It was a cargo ship owned by the Tay sand company that sank in 1953.

 

 

Large Winch

Large Winch

Dave & Callum inside the wreck

Dave & Callum inside the wreck

 

For more picture click here or the Gallery page

 

Posted in Technical diving, Trip Reports, Videos | Tagged , , , , , , | Leave a comment