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Thread: Scapa Flow May 2007

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    RBW Member robinfante is a glorious beacon of light robinfante is a glorious beacon of light robinfante is a glorious beacon of light robinfante is a glorious beacon of light robinfante is a glorious beacon of light robinfante is a glorious beacon of light robinfante is a glorious beacon of light robinfante is a glorious beacon of light robinfante is a glorious beacon of light robinfante is a glorious beacon of light robinfante is a glorious beacon of light robinfante's Avatar
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    Scapa Flow May 2007

    note: there are several dozen pictures from this trip, in an album at http://www.wreckvalley.com/gallery/v/world/Europe/Scapa+Flow/

    UK divers have it good. Really good. Wrecks everywhere, dive sites everywhere, and then, for a change of pace, nip up to Orkneys for the cream of the Kaiser's Navy. It's the good life, and I got to share it for a week. Our original destination was the U-92 and the U-102, First World War submarines in the North Sea that were only discovered last year, and have yet to be dived. Mother Nature had other ideas though, so as a consolation prize we spent the week diving the German High Seas Fleet in Scapa Flow.

    Scapa Flow is a natural basin, 15 miles in length and 8 miles wide, with an average depth in the 130' range. During both World Wars it was the home to the British Navy, providing protection from both the elements and the enemy, as well as access to the North Sea and Baltic. The armistice at the end of World War One was basically a cease fire, while that highly flawed document, the Versailles Treaty, was drafted. Under the terms of the Armistice the German Hochseeflotte was to sail to Scapa Flow for internment. There it languished through the long winter and spring, with the crews becoming more embittered and even treasonous, having been thoroughly penetrated by the Communist party (the commander actually had to flee his flagship!) The peace talks clearly pointed towards a vengeful Victor's Peace, and the grim prospect for Germany that, with the Hochseeflotte in their possession, the Royal Navy would be unstoppable. The culmination of the all these tensions was that, on June 21st, 1919, Admiral Ludwig von Reuter gave the order to scuttle the entire fleet. Out of 74 ships, 52 sank completely, with the balance being either grounded or seized by Royal Navy boarding parties. During the next several decades the overwhelming majority were raised for salvage, the largest such project ever attempted, and an amazing story in itself. In one of life's little ironies, the steel thus recovered was sold on the open market, where a significant portion of it went towards re-arming Hitler's Germany - Mark Twain would have loved it. What is left is 14 German warships, as well as an enormous number of Blockships, so called because they were used to block submarine access to the Flow through various sounds (perhaps Barndoor ships would have been more fitting, since they were placed after the U-47 had snuck in and wreaked havoc.) The same topography that made this a brilliant harbor for the Royal Navy makes it ideal for diving as well, with all sorts of shelter from the ever-present wind.

    But first I had to get there. I took an 8 pm flight from Newark, changed planes in Edinburgh, and I was in the Orkneys by 11 am the next day. British Airways gave me a minor coronary by sending my bags on the evening flight, and my cab nearly ran over a pedestrian on the ride in ("Everyone knows I'm a mad bugger!"), but really, it was a piece of cake. I deliberately came a day early, which was well spent enjoying Kirkwall. The 12th Century St. Magnus Cathedral dominates the town, with a 14th Century Renaissance palace across the street. The Orkney Museum is here as well, covering 5000 years of human presence in the islands. Neolithic carvings, Pictish art, all the way to modern times, it is impeccably curated. Flanking every window in the streets of Kirkwall are two small holes, which are used to board up the windows for the Kirkwall Ba. This event, the Middle Ages predecessor to football, is played using the entire town as the field. Massive crowds from each side (Uppies and Doonies) battle it out all day long, up and down the streets, through houses if need be, to put the ball in their respective goals. There was even a Women's Ba, Christmas Day 1945 and New Year's 1946, but it was not repeated as it was deemed too violent! Considering these were folks who had just fought the most horrific war in history, I can't imagine what those ladies were doing.

    The next morning I rode down to Stromness with John Thornton, the captain of the MV Karin. The Karin is a big sturdy vessel, lots of deck space, wood hulled so its forgiving in rough seas, and with a feature that makes it a luxury yacht amongst dive boats: a diver lift! Nothing but nothing is better at the end of a dive than to kick over to the lift, stand up, and be raised the 6' up to the deck. With the midafternoon ferry from Scrabster the other divers came aboard, a mixture of Scotsmen and Englishmen, and we all went into a flurry of setting up and checking our gear. All told we were Ian Davis and Steve Harding on Evolutions, John Nicolson, Gordon Meek, and Barry Baloo on Classic Inspirations, Jason Flather on a Classic Kiss, Lorne Thomson diving independent doubles, and me on my Meg, with Allen Stanger crewing, cooking, and generally being a helpful fellow.

    It's a fine old nautical tradition to get drunk as a lord the night before sailing, a tradition not neglected on the Karin. Fortunately I don't partake, or for sure I would have been run over the first time I tried to cross a street - I never realized how deeply ingrained driving on the right is for me. There were sessions going on at the local pubs, with folk musicians reeling away, and the night ended in a late night feast of Yorkshire oatcakes from Jason. Mighty tasty, in a uncooked bacon kind of way. John's nickname is Ding, so called because everything he cooks ends with the microwave sound, and his assistance was crucial for keeping trichinosis at bay.

    Day 1

    Our first dive was on the 28,600 ton battleship SMS Kronprinz Wilhelm, 575' long x 96 feet wide. That's incredibly beamy, considering if you look at the Iowa class battleships they were nearly the same at 108' wide, but 875' long. As with pretty much all battleships she lies turtled, pulled down by the weight of her 305mm (12") guns. Conditions were very comparable to New Jersey, 51 degree water, visibility in the 20' range (though it often is much better.) At 140' deep there was plenty of time to poke about and make my acquaintance with the wreck. Urchins were everywhere, as were sunstars, 13 legged cousins of the starfish, while silvery Pollack cruised the wreck, and conger eels peeked out of the debris. Most surprising were the wrasse, who in their brilliant neon plumage looked like lost vacationers from the Caribbean. Barry works as a commercial diver up here, so he spent his dive filling a bag with scallops. These had rippled shells, as opposed to the smooth shells I’m used to seeing. Also different is that up here they eat the orange guts, which he referred to as the roe. I had some in a restaurant the next day, not bad, but not my first choice. Like I tell my kids though, you don’t have to like it, but you do have to try it.

    For our surface interval we pulled into Lyness. At one point it was the main fueling station for the British fleet, with a capacity of 100,000 tons of oil. It now hosts the Lyness Interpretation Centre. This museum, dedicated to the presence of the Royal Navy in Scapa Flow, is filled with the kind of artifacts divers hyperventilate over. Visitors are greeted by a 150mm gun from the SMS Bremen, which was actually recovered by a dive club! Also present is the propeller from the HMS Hampshire. This wreck is famous in the UK, as the so-called Iron Duke, War Minister Lord Kitchener was traveling aboard it to Russia when it hit a mine and sank (the U-102 that we had hoped to dive laid the mine.) Kitchener perished, along with 643 of 655 aboard. Inside the museum are various vehicles, torpedoes, small arms, portholes, diving helmets, anti-aircraft guns, uniforms, scale models, etc. Present too are the brass letters from the Royal Oak, which were stolen by a Canadian diver (the site is closed as a war grave), but returned 15 years later. One of the above ground oil tanks has been turned into a movie theater, and had a short film on the history of the area. Chances are good that Scapa Flow has come to you at some point, since the steel salvaged here, being pre-nuclear, is well-suited to medical instruments and other sensitive applications that are intolerant of radiation. In fact, as pointed out in the film, the Voyager spacecraft is built with steel from Scapa Flow. Globalization indeed. Out behind the museum is a sadly well-populated cemetery, with casualties from the Battle of Jutland, the HMS Hampshire, the HMS Royal Oak (victim of the U-47), HMS Vanguard (blown up in an accident), as well as numerous German airmen.

    For the afternoon we headed to the SMS Dresden. This light cruiser, 5600 tons and 510 feet long, lies in 120’ on its port side. It is remarkably intact. After descending the line I headed to the stern, and did a series of limited penetrations. I knew they had lobster here, so I checked everywhere in NJ there would be a bug, but to avail (I was later told they don’t really live in the Flow proper.) I came face-to-face with the same enormous conger eels we have at home, which seem to unnerve the divers over here much more. Perhaps they are more aggressive this side of the pond. A dogfish darted away from me, 6' long and with a beautiful camouflage pattern on its back. Plumose anemones adorned the wreck, but with much longer stalks than I’ve seen before. Finning down the wreck, I was able to dart in and out of holes in the decking, including a large one at the bow. The anchor chain disappeared off in the distance, so I followed it for several hundred feet to a large and impressive anchor.

    That night several of us ate at the Royal Hotel in Stromness, which was lovely, followed by pints at Flatties Bar, which was horrible and mercifully brief. Within 5 minutes of arriving I was deafened by fat drunken Scottish girls braying along to Bon Jovi – is there any signal in nature that more clearly indicates Run For Your Life!

    Some observations about UK diving, and being in the UK in general:

    -Not since I was in Russia have I been so glad that I don't drink, because there is no way I'd want to compete with these guys! Best to not even pick up the gauntlet.

    -Those of us from New Jersey cannot simply refer to it as Jersey, because they have the original and it’s confusing.

    -Bailout/stage bottles are universally steel; I had about the only aluminum tank onboard, and that was a dry suit bottle.

    -Generally speaking you kit yourself up entirely, including hooking your stages on. I usually need help with these, and felt like a needy pain in the ass.

    -Bagging off at the end of a dive is much more common, though the preference is for you to come up the shot line (a term which is used interchangeably for either a shot that is thrown in, or a permanent mooring.) The boats do not tie in, leaving them free to pick up anyone who fails to come up the shot.

    -Very popular are lift bags with their own .1 or .2 cubic foot bottles. They’re a bit heavy, but I picked one up anyways for the safety factor since they are simpler to operate, are less chance of an entanglement risk, and you are assured of a fully inflated bag.

    - Dive boat captaining is a rough trade over here, as evinced by a photo of three skippers with their hands on the bar, faux fingernails painted onto their various stumps. Best of all was John Thornton talking about how whenever he is in the Karin’s engine room he pokes about a bit to see if he can find his long-lost digit! Remember that the next time you’re sitting around a campfire and need a scary story.

    -On a completely different note, the milk doesn’t get refrigerated, leading to some clumpy horror scenes in the galley. I did appreciate how there was still a sense of bewilderment and shocked outrage (“Ach, the milk’s gone off!”) All I could think of was a friend of mine, who gets a facial tic if the milk sits on the table for more than two minutes. AMF, don't go near Scotland.

    Day 2

    The SMS Markgraf, in 140’, is the sister ship to the SMS Kronprinz Wilhelm we dived earlier, and also to the SMS König we dived later on. There were four ships in the König class, but the SMS Großer Kurfürst, which sank with rest, was raised and salvaged in 1933, a herculean feat of engineering. My drysuit, which had been seeping for much of the trip, now began to leak in earnest. The immediate effect was that I moved with a purpose, since I wanted to see as much as I could before getting cold. Apparently my moving with a purpose equals most other folks full sprint, since Meeko, Jason and John nearly lost their dsv’s when I jetted past them to the bow, and then zipped back again to the stern.

    For the afternoon dive we visited the UB116. A coastal U-boat, it made a suicidal attempt to enter Scapa Flow two weeks before the war ended. Unbeknownst to it, the British had put in underwater hydrophones. After checking the schedule, and seeing that nothing was due, they detonated a minefield in the seabed and destroyed the intruder. It remained reasonably intact into the 1970’s, when it was decided that having a wreck full of torpedoes in an area frequented by oil tankers was perhaps not such a great idea. It was gingerly towed to a more appropriate area, and then, with clarity of purpose, the torpedoes onboard were used to eliminate the threat of the torpedoes onboard. What is left is quite an impressive pile of ur-uboat bits, but part of the conning tower is still recognizable lying on its side, as well as various bits and bobs.

    John has a blessed device onboard the Karin, one which proved indispensable to my happiness: a tumble dryer. I thus had a sad little routine for the first couple of days: pull off gear, remove drysuit, squeeze out water, hang up drysuit, and by the time it's dry we're onto dive 2. Fortunately Scapa Scuba in Stromness has a service without parallel: show up in the afternoon with your leaky drysuit, and for 20 quid they patch it and drop it off at your boat in the morning. In an attack of hubris I had attempted to patch it myself the night before, but now saw the error of my ways and let the Honorable and Esteemed Ben work his craft. Winston Churchill once said you can always count on the Americans to do the right thing, once they’ve exhausted all the alternatives, and I guess in the same vein I eventually wise up.

    Day 3

    The MV James Barrie was the only non-warship we dived. In 1969 she ran aground in Pentland Firth, was refloated, and then sank for good while under tow (nearly taking her benefactor with her.) In what was becoming a ritual, I asked for beta while gearing up. Meeko gave me the very sound advice to avoid touching, upon pain of dissolving gear, the very oily ceilings. The ship lies intact on its side, and I was able to swim the length of it and make several nice penetrations into the holds. Sure enough the ceilings were studded with thick gloppy chunks of oil. Despite my best precautions I even managed to pick up a little bit, but fortunately only on a buckle, and it was easily wiped off.

    Later we went to the turrets of the SMS Bayern, the namesake for a class of battleships. She was raised in 1934, but her four 600 ton, 380mm (15") turrets remain in 120'. They are a magnificent dive, with the shafts rising 35' proud, as they say there. Enormous ball bearings like bowling balls still sit in their chases. Near the base of one turret I found an opening, and dropped down below the sea bed. I was surprised to see there was an anchor in the opening, a little forward of the guns massive breech. Apparently all manner of junk falls down when you flip a 28,500 ton vessel upside down (the consensus was that it came from a steam pinnace, as a similar one has been seen on the Markgraf.)

    That night gale force winds rocked the harbor. It was amazing to see white caps behind the jetties. Hats off to the pilot of the ferry boat, he slid that thing in pretty as can be (we had our cameras out just, uh, cause we wanted to record him doing such a good job.)

    Day 4

    I had missed the 150mm gun deck on the SMS Markgraf the first dive, so I was pleased to hear we would be returning to it. This time I paid more attention as I descended, and was rewarded with a leisurely tour past several of them. Dropping to the bottom I scouted about a bit, then squeezed into the wreck to poke about, with the massive deck for a ceiling. On the ascent I decided to swim to the other side of the keel, but lost my nerve - its such a broad featureless plain, you'd never believe it was a ship if you didn't know. My favorite part was the millions of brittle stars carpeting the hull, densely packed and waving their arms like in the flow.

    The afternoon’s dive was the SMS Brummer, in 115'. This was an interesting ship, a high speed minelayer designed to get in, lay 360 mines, and then outrace any pursuit. It now lies on its starboard side in 110’, and while parts of it are trashed, quite a bit is still intact. I had to cut my dive short as I was low on oxygen, but not before taking a whirlwind tour of the bow and superstructure, with a few penetrations along the way. The bridge retains a cage about it, and what looks like a radar array but is actually from a searchlight.

    Day 5

    SMS Konig was a sister ship to the Markgraf and Kronprinz Wilhelm, and in fact they are all in a row on the bottom. On each of these dives I enjoyed swimming down them and grooving on their enormity. It was also possible to swim at various depths and see different things - the hull, the gun deck, the superstructure smashed off into the sand. I also did a few swim-throughs - is still a swim-through if your tanks clang away when squeezing in? After that I spent my time playing about in the superstructure. There was a brief Oh Shit moment when I wandered off looking for scallops, but I was able to relocate the shot.

    Without too much conscious thought I played things very conservatively on this trip, with relatively limited penetrations and shorter run times than I would normally do (45 minutes-1 hour, versus 1½-2 hours at home.) Part of that was the leaky drysuit, part of that was some issues with the electronics on the rebreather. A big portion goes to me taking a dcs hit the month before, which had my wife pretty nervous about this trip, and truth to tell, me too. I don't consider myself a brash diver, but I'm often the one going deeper, staying longer, penetrating farther, and this time I had no urge to be that guy.

    The SMS Brummer definitely merited another dive (or 10). I had thought I'd swum to the stern the first dive, but this time, when I penetrated and swam from the inside, I realized it just keeps going and going. It was like a really sharp, really dirty playground, where you twist up and down, over and around the pipes and sharp metal bits. Towards the end I felt a tweak in my left arm, which probably was nothing more than the gradual decomposition of my body as I age, but it still kind of freaked me out.

    As the trip wound down, it was time for me to face the Demon. I love food, and I love all food - sea urchin gonads, beef tongue, sweetbreads, there's very little I don't like, and even less I won't try. You know where I'm going with this, don't you? Haggis, for the breezily innocent, is a sheep's stomach stuffed with the heart, lungs, and other organs, with a little oatmeal for texture. Mmmm, sounds appealing, doesn't it? They had it at the local Chippy aka the Fish and Chips shop, and it was my day of reckoning. At Meeko's suggestion I ordered a Haggis and a smoked sausage. "Would yeh laik yer sa'sage battered?" the countergirl asked. I'm not sure if it was an invitation for rough sex, or the culinary equivalent of dioxin, but either way the answer was an unqualified NO. In the final assessment, I have to say the haggis was pretty tasty. Not perhaps the sort of thing to have all the time, and I preferred the sausage, but I'd take it over gumbo any day.

    Day 6

    The last dive day was clear and warm. We had put off several times going to the HMS Pheasant, since it is a tricky dive under the best conditions, but today's looked ideal. Lying in 230', it requires careful planning, and perfect timing from the skipper due to a raging tidal flow through the area. The methodology for such dives is to drop the shot, and then attach a deco bar to it, aptly referred to as the Trapeze. This stays at 20', suspended by buoys, with a line that runs down to 180' or so. The last person up either unclips it, or cuts the line, and then all decompression is done drifting with the current.

    All night I went back and forth as to whether or not I was going to make the dive. Several factors played on my mind: Would the latest patch to my drysuit leak? If I was wet it would be a miserable, possibly dangerous 90 minutes. Would the electronics on my rebreather fail, as they had done the previous dive? I don't mind flying it manually, except that now I had no backup. What was up with my arm the day before? Was that something, or was that nothing? Last of all, why did a voice in my head keep saying, Don't do this dive?

    I didn't do the dive, but not for the sensible reasons above. As I was literally about to step off, the HUD on my rebreather went down, which meant not only was my primary suspect but my backup was gone. There's a difference between being concerned and being stupid, and diving a semi-functioning rebreather puts one squarely in the latter column. It was the first time I've ever called a dive, and the first time I've had gear fail me like that, but there's a first for everything and I was at peace with it.

    I'll tell you what does prey on my mind. See, there are these two U-boats in the North Sea, and nobody has dived them yet... Hmmm, methinks I'll be back in Scapa sooner than later.
    Last edited by robinfante; 12th June 2007 at 01:09.

  2. #2
    I'm working on it! Bobmac will become famous soon enough Bobmac will become famous soon enough Bobmac will become famous soon enough Bobmac will become famous soon enough Bobmac's Avatar
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    Re: Scapa Flow May 2007

    Great report. I've been wanting to go to Scapa for ages and now I want to go more than ever!

  3. #3
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    Re: Scapa Flow May 2007

    Quote Originally Posted by Bobmac  View Original Post
    Great report. I've been wanting to go to Scapa for ages and now I want to go more than ever!
    Scapa is worth every penny. I went for two weeks of diving and was great. The sooner you go, the better. GOOOOOOOOOOOOOO............

  4. #4
    All IMVHO obviously... Ben Field has a reputation beyond repute Ben Field has a reputation beyond repute Ben Field has a reputation beyond repute Ben Field has a reputation beyond repute Ben Field has a reputation beyond repute Ben Field has a reputation beyond repute Ben Field has a reputation beyond repute Ben Field has a reputation beyond repute Ben Field has a reputation beyond repute Ben Field has a reputation beyond repute Ben Field has a reputation beyond repute Ben Field's Avatar
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    Re: Scapa Flow May 2007

    Very good report- sums Scapa up very nicely.

    Our club generally goes up every other year, last time with 24 divers and 2 charter boats! (Yes its that popular)

    I'd avoid the UB-116 though, pile of crap and we have far better U-boat dives elsewhere in the UK (U-1021 off Newquay in the South West for example) Also despite the snobbery its worth diving the shallow block ships (only 12-18mtrs deep) but as they are in the channels between the Flow and the Sea the viz is often as not 30mtrs+

    Lastly- Self inflating SMB's rock, wouldn't dream of diving without one :D

  5. #5
    RBW Member Nemo1957 is an unknown quantity at this point Nemo1957's Avatar
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    Re: Scapa Flow May 2007

    Nice job summing up Scapa. I ve been three times since 2000 and will go again.

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    Clearing debt to buy a RB bigfeller is an unknown quantity at this point bigfeller's Avatar
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    Re: Scapa Flow May 2007

    Excellent report!! :D Must book next years trip. I'm craving for a pint in the Ferry Inn just thinking about it! ;)

  7. #7
    Third Class Snorkeller DonalWalsh has a spectacular aura about DonalWalsh has a spectacular aura about DonalWalsh has a spectacular aura about DonalWalsh has a spectacular aura about DonalWalsh has a spectacular aura about DonalWalsh has a spectacular aura about DonalWalsh's Avatar
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    Re: Scapa Flow May 2007

    Great write up Rob- of course all UK divers aren't as psychotic as Meeko:p He has schooled me well in the art of self rescue (and since he borrowed both my 7l Alis last year where the heck are they???)
    Last edited by DonalWalsh; 12th June 2007 at 11:17. Reason: poor spelling

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    Re: Scapa Flow May 2007

    Glad to hear you had a good trip Rob. Thanks for sharing and, even with the location changes, sounds like a worthwhile time.

  9. #9
    RBW Member ding is an unknown quantity at this point ding's Avatar
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    Re: Scapa Flow May 2007

    The new dive lift on the Karen is great for the extra weight

    And the psychopath himself

  10. #10
    RBW Member Leigh is an unknown quantity at this point Leigh's Avatar
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    Re: Scapa Flow May 2007

    Hi, cracking trip report on Scapa, glad you had a good time! Sorry you didn't get to dive the subs (but not too sorry, 'cos we've been looking at them since August last year and were a bit disappointed when the MCA made an announcement in November!) And waiting for the weather.....
    We had good conditions on the 5th June. There were ten of us up for the week with skipper Andy Cuthbertson on the Jean Elaine, although only four of us were planning on diving the subs, myself and Paul Bell on Inspirations, Paul Jackson and Paul Hassett on O/C.
    When we arrrived at the wreck site of (hopefully according to all the research!) of the U102, the tide was running strongly. The tides here are unpredictable and as Andy deployed the shot both buoys immediately disappeared! The first buoy appeared fairly soon, but then there was a nail- biting wait to see whether the second buoy would come up.....
    Eventually it appeared and there was a mad scramble to finish kitting up, helped by our mates who weren't diving but who seemed as excited as we were. And then we were in the water.
    At first, as we descended the shot line, the vis was a little cloudy and the water was dark until our eyes adjusted.The vis soon cleared up and as we approached 60m, the sub began to materialise below us, on clean, white sand.
    Andy was spot on with his shot, it was right next to the conning tower! The vis was excellent, 10-15m and the sub is sitting upright on the sea bed in 84m. As I approached the deck at about 76m, the wreck appeared to be intact and remarkably free of sea growth. Paul Bell and I swam over to the stern where the other two Pauls were examining a remarkably long gun. We dropped over to the stern to take a look at the props and then swam forward towards the conning tower, the winter garden still intact. A long way forward of the conning tower was another gun, shorter than the stern gun, but obviously a bigger calibre (105mm). As I was looking at the gun, Paul dropped down to look at some ready to use amunition cannisters on the sea bed. Forward of the gun, the bow is broken up. All too soon it was time to turn the dive and head back up the shot line.
    Back on the boat, to congratulations all round, and fortified by one of Ronnie's famous breakfasts (anyone who's eaten his deep fried fruit cake with their fry up will argue that this is the best thing about Scapa diving!) we re-examined the plans of U102, U92 and UB127, the only three possible identities for the sub. The presence of a second gun immediately ruled out the UB127, as it had only one gun. The distance from the conning tower to the forward gun also ruled out the U92, as the gun we had seen was much further forward. We also learned later from Michael Lowrey that the unusually long gun on the stern was a very rare 88/45 gun, instead of the usual 88/30, and that this was unique to the U102.
    The weather continued to hold and Andy was able to put three divers, Steve Slater, Paul Warren and Ric Wareing on the other sub the following week and they confirmed this was the U92. (there's a write up by Steve Slater on Andy's Scapa Flow Charters web site).
    We putting together a couple more trips around Orkney and Shetland to take a look at some other bit and bobs a bit later in the year..... You can always PM me.......

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