dives, trips

Shetlands – day 4

My buddy Rob inspecting the conning tower of E-49

As we pass the halfway point of the trip, this day was a real highlight – a site so good, we dived it twice. This wreck was the E-49, a British WW1 submarine which hit a German mine in March 1917 and tragically was lost with all hands at the mouth of Baltasound. The life of a submariner must have been terrifying and heaven knows what those men experienced when the mine exploded. It is always sobering to visit such war graves and though some feel that these sites should not be dived, I think that these wrecks are a memorial to the bravery of our forebears. What struck me was how small the submarine is; this 55m tube must have been an incredibly cramped place for the 30 crew to live.

She lies upright in 32m on coarse sand, which provides stunning light and visibility. The bow section is blown off and lies a few metres away from the main wreck, which lies mostly buried in the sand. The conning tower is broken off and lies to the port side. The stainless steel periscope is clear to be seen and many other details of the gears which operated the ballast tanks, winches and hydroplanes are visible. The wreck tapers off into the sand, with the propellor just visible.

The bow section, which was blown off by the mine which sank the submarine
Much. of the. external plating has corroded away, revealing the pressure hull
The conning tower has broken off and lies on the sand
looking down the. conning tower
Wonderful to see the. whole wreck spread before us
Reluctantly ascending from the E-49

Having finished our pair of dives, we returned to Baltasound and got a taxi to see the amazing colonies of Skua, Gannet and Fulmar at Herma Ness and which also gave us a marvellous view of the light house at Muckle Flugga. This marks the northernmost reach of both Shetland and the UK. It was amazing to think that the was only the Arctic to the north and the whole of the Atlantic to our west.


dives, trips

Shetlands – day 2

The skipper’s briefing described our first site of the day as “Shetland deep”, in other words 40m, but in clear and calm water. I don’t often venture below 30m because usually there’s not much to photograph. My previous experience of wrecks at depth is that there is too little light to make pleasing images. However, our site this morning – Lunokhods-1 – was worth the depth.

Sunk relatively recently (1993), the Lunokhods-1 is a “klondiker” (factory fishing ship) which dragged its anchor and ran aground in a storm. Consequently, the bulk of the wreck is shallow, but the bow section sheared off and slid down the slope to about 40m.

The skipper put the shot bang on the bow, so we had an ideal dive profile – descending first to maximum depth to admire the view looking back along the bow with the divers visible in silhouette and their probing torch beams picking out details of the wreck. The clarity of the water meant that plenty of light penetrated to the sea bed, as well as providing great visibility.

After this highlight (sadly a short stay), we zig-zagged up the sloping debris field, so that by the time we reached 12m, our decompression commitment was spent. With additional time in the shallows, the safety stops were completed and it was time to send up the SMB and reluctantly return to the surface and the waiting Clasina.

We motored to the Out Skerries for the next dive. This group of small islands is so called not for being remote, but is derived from the Norse word for East.

Our second dive was under the lighthouse on Bound Skerry. The rocks slope steeply into the water and this contour continues under the water. Dropping into the clear water to 20m we followed the wall along to the point looking for crayfish (Palinarus elephas).

Along the way, I found a nice dogfish (Scyliorhinus canicula) sheltering in wide crack in the rock. After searching for a while in the kelp, we were rewarded by discovering a nice crayfish. Despite the yellow antennae, these impressive clawless crustaceans are surprisingly well camouflaged among the yellow brown kelp and purple rock. This fine individual tolerated both Rob and I taking turns photographing it.


<– Shetland trip Day 1

Shetland trip Day 3 –>


Greenends Gully

Greenends Gully is a site I first dived in the early 1990s and, although the shore access has changed much over the intervening years, it remains a shore dive which is emblematic of that lovely stretch of our coast. It is a deep gully that runs out from a small headland to the south of Eyemouth harbour and is stuffed with marine life – mostly crustaceans.

I dived it most recently en route for a ferry crossing to the Shetlands and having visited St Abbs only a few weeks ago in outstanding conditions, it was not so inviting this time due to the swell I could see a few yards off these rocks.

I dropped off the end of the concrete path, into a gully which led down and out towards the open sea. Although there was swell further out, the water was perfectly calm (though perhaps a little stirred up) within the gully.

This is an excellent site for several species of crustacean and I saw half a dozen lobsters (Hommarus gammarus) and many of the ubiquitous short-clawed squat lobsters (Galathea strigosa) in quite a short length of rock. The latter did not seem as nervous as usual and I was able to approach and photograph them. They are most often seen upside down, gripping the roof of their caves, most inaccessible for photography. I was able to capture several individuals and watched in one case, as it grasped the rock behind and elegantly turned itself upside down.

Short clawed squat lobster (Galathea strigosa) posing for its photo. Hang on, I’m usually…
… not this way round …
… but the other way up!

An aspect of photography I enjoy very much is to stop and spend time watching the behaviour of wildlife. On this occasion, I watched as a lobster manipulate stones accumulated in its burrow and bulldoze them out of the area. I noticed that of the half dozen individuals I saw, one had no claws and the other had a broken claw.

Lobster (Hommarus gammarus) cleaning its burrow of debris.

After 45 minutes, I decided not to outstay my welcome and return to my start point. I was caught out by how much the water had fallen and it was a bit of a scramble to get out of the water; I was very grateful to my buddy for being on hand to help me up with my kit!

A pogge (Agonus cataphractus) amongst the kelpGalathea strigosa