I HAVE RARELY BEEN SO relieved to find a wreck at the bottom of a shotline as I am when I get my first glimpse of the armed trawler Clifton. Success is never better than when it is plucked from adversity.
Following some of the best April diving weather I can remember, I had arrived at Kinsale at the start of May, in the middle of a week of south-easterly gales. After three days harbour-bound,
I was almost resigned to writing the diving off, though Kinsale is a colourful place where every building is either a pub, was once a pub, or looks like a pub.
Beware wandering into a brightly painted pub-like building with hanging baskets and asking for “the usual please”; you could end up with a haircut, a tattoo, a few pounds of sausages or buying a house.
Meanwhile, the Ocean Addicts liveaboard Embarr is a comfortable boat on which to stay, an ex-RN fleet tender that owners Graham and Anne have fitted out with the diving luxury of an enclosed kitting-up room.
With wi-fi in the hotel bar, I have spent the past three days hard at work writing up the rest of the year’s Wreck Tours. This close to the brewery in Cork, I have been enjoying the Murphys.
Finally, the weather slackens off a little and moves far enough west for us to go diving. Graham leaves Embarr at the quayside, and we head out of the estuary in Oisre, a custom-built Excalibur RIB, just short of 9m long and capable of carrying 10 divers.
For diving in the Cork and Kinsale area, Embarr is used more as a floating B&B, whereas further afield it ranges as a true liveaboard dive-boat around the south and west of Ireland.
On the wreck of the Clifton visibility isn’t great, but that’s to be expected after a week of south-easterly gales. With the prevailing weather coming from the west and south-west, any silt on the rocky seabed along the whole coastline has been systematically shifted into nooks and crannies sheltered from the west.
A prolonged south-easterly stirs all that up again, so my hoped-for Irish 15m average visibility is now down at about 5m.

EVEN SO, TO DIVE ON A WRECK in 5m visibility is a relief. Earlier in the day we had hugged the coastline west of Kinsale to dive in a sheltered bay tucked in behind the Old Head. Describing the underwater visibility as 50cm would have been outrageously optimistic.
Local instructor Adrian and I had stayed down long enough for me to check that everything was working before we aborted and returned to the boat.
Above us, on the neck of the headland, the Lusitania memorial remembers the Cunard liner torpedoed 11 miles out to sea by U20 on 7 May, 1915.
The main part of the Old Head is now a golf course, and Graham regales me with stories of dives among anemone-lined walls, ending up with pockets full of golfballs.
U20 was not the only U-boat operating off the Cork coastline during WW1. The south coast of Ireland was a common route for ships crossing the Atlantic and Cork is a major port, so its coastline was patrolled by German submarines throughout the war.
On the Allied side, Queenstown in the outer part of Cork harbour had been a Royal Navy port since the Napoleonic Wars. Until 1849 it was known as the Cove of Cork, but renamed Queenstown in honour of Queen Victoria. When Ireland became a republic the name reverted to Cobh, the Gaelic spelling of Cove, though it remained a Royal Navy base until 1938.
Destroyers, Q-ships and armed trawlers hunted the U-boats, and the armed trawlers also swept the mines they laid. On 18 February, 1917, while sweeping a clutch of mines laid by UC33, HMT Clifton struck one of them and was blown apart.
This was one of the first ships sunk by UC33 – over seven patrols it would sink 36 ships before being rammed and sunk by RN patrol boat PC61 in the St Georges Channel in September 1917.
Graham’s shot is among the remains of the bow, one of the strongest parts of any ship. On Clifton it is completely broken and dispersed, showing that the trawler must have run almost straight into the mine.
Further aft the main gun, trawl-winch, boiler, engine and shaft are all in place along the line of the wreck, though any structure has decayed and broken down close to the seabed after almost 96 years of storms and groundswell.
A depth of 34m makes this small wreck ideal for open-circuit divers to get round on a no-stop dive, using nitrox from Embarr’s on-board membrane compressor system.
Another mine-laying U-boat operating off Cork was UC42. During its similarly short six-patrol period of service from January to September 1917 it sank 13 ships by mine and torpedo. The wreck of UC42 made the diving news in 2010, when it was rediscovered by local divers.
A theory that the U-boat struck one of its own mines seems unlikely, as the wreck, while damaged, is nowhere near as broken as would be expected in such circumstances. The damage was more likely caused by depth-charges dropped by TB055 and HMT Sarba on 31 October, 1917.
However, UC42 set out on its last patrol on 1 September that year, so when TB055 spotted a trail of oil and dropped the first depth-charge, everyone on board the submarine would already have been dead for at least a month.
The Admiralty made such a comment when hardhat divers identified the wreck from a brass plate on the conning tower. Official records give the date of loss as 10 September.

WITH BOTH MINE AND DEPTH-CHARGE damage unlikely to be to blame, I study the hull for any sign of ramming, just in case UC42 had been run over by another ship without realising it.
There are holes in the pressure-hull, but I can find no indentation, as would be expected from such a collision.
The conning-tower is now broken from the hull in an unusual orientation, but is otherwise intact.
With the hull rolled 90° to port, the starboard propeller-shaft is perhaps one of the highest points on the wreck, and the bronze propeller has been nicely polished of marine growth to reveal the U-boat’s identity stamped on the boss.
Near the bow, the mine-laying tubes are open. Some are empty. Some contain the rotting remains of mines, the exposed balls of high explosive looking like foam buoys with chunks bitten out of them.
Even if this were not a war grave and also protected by Irish law, this is not a wreck that anyone sane would dare attack with a lumphammer.
Which brings me to think more of the loss. Perhaps it was just an accident rather than any sort of explosion. Submarines launching mines or torpedoes are subject to sudden changes in buoyancy for which a skilled crew have to compensate as the weapon is launched (think of divers learning to release a delayed SMB from mid-water).
There are plenty of tales of early submarines, and even of more modern ones, losing control and porpoising or diving when they got this wrong.
In water as shallow as 28m, UC42 would have little room for error when laying mines while submerged.
Perhaps such a loss of control caused the U-boat to strike the seabed and lie damaged at such an angle that escape for the crew was impossible. After all, it now rests on its port side.
My final WW1 wreck of the trip is the Aud, Libau or Castro, depending on which of this 1062-ton steamship’s names you consider most valid. She was the Castro with the British Wilson Line, then seized by Germany at the outbreak of war while transiting the Kiel canal.
In 1916 she was disguised as the Norwegian ship Aud to run guns to the Irish uprising, intercepted by a British patrol and ordered into Queenstown.
Rather than risk the cargo falling into enemy hands, on 9 April, 1916 the German crew scuttled the ship.

THE WRECK IS AGAIN AT 34M. Graham drops the shot by the boiler, and my first surprise is that the boiler has been unusually twisted across the wreck. Everything else is much in line with where it should be, as would be expected of a ship scuttled so cleanly.
Some of the wreck will have collapsed with age, but most of the damage is from depth-charges dropped by the Royal Navy to render the cargo or arms unusable, then by the Irish Navy to disperse it as a hazard to trawler nets.
Ammunition is easy to find. Rotting bullets are piled almost everywhere in the hold areas. But it is only after I have swum the length of the wreck twice that outlines within a clump of debris in the forward hold finally click, and I recognise them as a mass of rifle stocks.
The real Norwegian ship Aud, which the German gunrunner was impersonating, was sunk off North Cornwall on 20 April, 1916, by gunfire from UB18.
Ireland has signed up to the UNESCO convention on underwater heritage, which applies to all wrecks over 100 years old. In a few years’ time all three of these wrecks will be covered by the convention, as will many other WW1 wrecks in Irish waters.
Fortunately for divers, being protected by the UNESCO convention in Ireland is less restrictive than a historic protected wreck site would be in UK waters.
Already covered by the convention is the last wreck I dive, the bucket-dredger Sento, also known as Sante or Sente.
I suspect these variations come from a Japanese name that has been translated phonetically. Sento is the name in the Admiralty database, though that doesn’t mean it is correct.
Recently completed in Renfrew, the Sento was in transit to Taiwan, which in 1900 was a Japanese territory and called Formosa. Passing through St Georges Channel she got into difficulty, taking on water and developing a list.
The captain headed for shelter in Cork, moving most of the crew to two lifeboats towed behind. Approaching the shelter of the harbour, just after those in one of the lifeboats had climbed back on board, the Sento capsized and sank. It was Christmas Day, 1900.
Why an unstable ship like a bucket-dredger should undertake such a journey in the middle of the winter is a mystery. After the Irish Sea and Western Approaches, the Sento would have had to cross the notoriously rough Bay of Biscay before heading into the safer water of the Mediterranean and the Suez Canal.
Perhaps some civil servant in Formosa with no understanding of the sea passed an order and everyone jumped to bring him his dredger on time, rather than waiting a few months.
Visibility is steadily improving, though still far short of the beautiful conditions local photographer John Collins has shown me in his photographs and video. It’s a good job, because the Sento proves a tricky wreck to navigate.
Graham drops the shot on a mound of debris at the head of the bucket-chain, where huge gear wheels and sprockets stand 2-3m above the general 29m level of the seabed.
From here the bucket-chain leads off in one direction, while the engine and boiler lead off in another, and the propeller-shaft twists and turns before heading off in yet another direction. While capsizing, I suspect that the Sento also broke her back.

WE STARTED ON A SHALLOW SCENIC DIVE in awful conditions, but the sea state has now improved enough to head seven miles offshore to Ling Rocks, the Cork equivalent of Hand Deeps, though not rising as shallow.
I could easily have copped out, but I’m glad that Graham talks me into it.
He drops us towards the north of the reef, and I follow canyons and crevices deeper to an impressive wall beneath the kelp line.
This far out to sea, the water at 30m is considerably clearer, though shallow water remains murky and settling particles leave the dark deeper water subject to backscatter.
I had deliberately chosen to join Ocean Addicts for a week of local diving round Cork and Kinsale because I wanted to see wrecks that I hadn’t dived before, but the scenic diving at the end proved equally as good.
Further west, Graham and Anne have some wider-ranging liveaboard itineraries that take in more wrecks and scenic dives, with the convoluted west coast offering plenty of variety.
Taking advantage of the Swansea-Cork ferry route, now operating again with Fastnet Line, a Cork-based co-operative backed by local businesses, I ended up driving fewer miles than I would have for a trip to Plymouth and returning with a full tank of Irish diesel.
Most crossings are overnight in both directions, so I just boarded, had dinner and a pint or two, watched a movie and woke up at the other end.

FACTFILE
GETTING THERE: Fastnet Line runs overnight crossings from Swansea to Cork, returning on alternate nights, www.fastnetline.com
DIVING & AIR: Ocean Addicts operates the fleet tender liveaboard Embarr for up to 12 divers along the south and west coasts of Ireland. In addition to full boat bookings, it also has mix-and-match schedules. For dives local to Cork and Kinsale, the 8.8m RIB Oisre can take up to 10 divers, www.oceanaddicts.ie.
FURTHER INFORMATION: Cork diver Tony O’Mahony runs www.corkshipwrecks.net, with a wealth of background information on these wrecks and many others.