Orkney, a Viking archipalego where the Scots are a large and apparently unfriendly neighbour, where the sun, tides and gales are unpredictable and occur in strange combinations and where the Royal Navy faced the German fleet in two world wars. Orkney, home of beef, potatoes, cholesterol and green fields that put the Irish to shame. Orkney, inhabited by boat builders since before the pyramids were a dream of the ancient Egyptians...
Although I regard myself as a Wetpixie, friends in Digigreen (an upstanding body of cold, British photographers) invited me to join them north of John o' Groats, beyond the wild Pentland Firth, and photograph the remnants of Germany's High Seas Fleet, the technological pinnacle of early twentieth century warfare. I've failed to get images on three previous occasions, so naturally I agreed to more punishment...
Six hundred miles and a ferry crossing. Sleep.
Sunrise in Eynhallow Sound over the stones of a 2000-year old house. Later, I find MV Valkyrie: an immaculate converted fishing boat, that somehow has expanded to include a large lounge, dining room and six comfortable cabins, not to mention the galley where improbably good, and unfeasibly calorific meals are provided far too many times a day. Dump clothes in cabin, set up diving gear (twin cylinders and deco. mix), hang up my drysuit and eat on shore for the last time.
Set sail. We sail for an impressively short 45 minutes, stopping over the Karlsruhe, a greyhound-lean light cruiser scuttled on the command of Vice-Admiral von Reuter in 1919 when the failure of the British Officer in Command to discuss the Armistice lead the German Offficers to suspect that the impounded, but still German, fleet was about to be seized. Ship-shaped wreckage in 90-100' of light green water, and warm enough to avoid gloves (unlike some, I wasn't brave enough to leave off my wet hood!). Strobe photography with a Tokina 10-17mm (yes, I finally succumbed to the Tokinaphilia on Wetpixel) spoiled by backscatter from strangely large particles despite 30' visibility. No fancy deco. needed, and after lunch a more recent wreck, the Nazi escort F2, swarming with fish of all colours and sizes.
Windy: another pencil-thin cruiser, the Dresden, but no camera for fear of damaging it during a 6' leap from the Valkyrie, the wind too fierce to allow skipper Hazel to stop and lower cameras by the shot line. As a direct result, 60', astounding, visbility on an essentially intact WW I warship, lying on her starboard rail in 110'. A highly calorific lunch from Helen, crew and diving supervisor and cook and this and that... A second, mirror-image cruiser, the Brummer, after lunch. I risked my compact camera to shoot large anemones and a 5'4" gun.
70+ mph winds. No diving. Bright sunshine, clifftop walks and the ancient stone circle, the Ring of Brodgar, followed by a visit to the Churchill Barriers where the Prime Minister ordered the walling-off of the naval anchorage after Gunter Prien and his U-boat crew heroically and tragically entered Scapa Flow to sink the battleship Royal Oak in 1939. Italian prisoners built the Barriers and an ornate chapel inside an old military hut, now conveniently near the shop of an unexpected northern winery.
In the morning diving on the fourth cruiser to have escaped the tremendous salvage efforts of the 1930s, the Coeln. The Brummer, Dresden and Coeln justify deco. mix and Nitrox to spend as long as possible on exploration; rebreathers are becoming popular, though the diving isn't really that extreme and the Valkyrie runs "Scapa virgin" weeks for the faint-hearted. In a state of great trepidation I leaped into the water clutching my housing, but no strobes, to shoot atmospheric black-and-white (eventually the images may appear...). I repeated the leap in the afternoon to shoot on the tangled remnants of the battleship Seydlitz, left when the capsized leviathan of over 25,000 tons was crushed into the seabed. The huge weight of the 12" guns pulled the ships upside down as the sea-cocks were broken and the sea flooded in.
140'-150' beneath the battleship Kronprinz Wilhelm to see the last 12" guns to survive the Battle of Jutland. Even more impressive in the afternoon was 100' visibility on the 120-year old Gobernador Bories, a tough old steamer sunk in the early days of the Great War to restrict access through the excitingly tidal western channel of Burra Sound.
The Brummer: three guns on one dive! Followed by the Karlsruhe, and three more guns, plus the armoured control tower, wooden decking and anchor machinery, a wreckers paradise. Some of our party wanted a longer, shallower dive, and chose the V83, a smaller WW I destroyer and haven for marine life.
Sleep. Highland Park whisky...
Ferry, six hundred miles of British roads.
Go back to Burra sound to shoot the Tabarka, simply one of the most atmospheric dives in the UK!
Edited by tdpriest, 14 September 2009 - 08:27 AM.