Divernet

MIRANDA ITS PETER. I HAVE SOME GOOD NEWS AND SOME BAD. The good news is that youve got the job. The bad news is that youre going to be busy filming over summer. Dont book any holidays!
     That was the initial phone call from the series producer, telling me that I was going to be presenting Wreck Detectives, the first presenter-led series about shipwrecks on television.
     Id had an interesting screen test; the weekend before, Id done a Beckham and broken a bone in my foot. I turned up on crutches, feeling stupid auditioning for a diving job which started in two weeks when I couldnt even walk properly.
     In fact, the crutches probably got me the job. They broke the ice and raised a few laughs.
     Naturally, I was very excited when Wreck Detectives was recommissioned in 2003 after the success of the first series. I had had such fun diving some of the best wrecks around the UK coast, and I was to spend another summer doing the same.
     Having one series under our weightbelts meant that we could be more adventurous second time around. From the beginning there was talk of doing things bigger and better - deeper dives, more tekkie kit and a turquoise drysuit!
     The first series had focused on some of the better-known sites, well-preserved wrecks like the Stirling Castle off Ramsgate and, on the whole, fairly easily accessible.

For the new series, the research team has had to work a bit harder to find our subjects. Not only do we have to consider the story and the appearance of the wreck and associated artefacts, but as we have only a short amount of diving time on each one, we need reliable weather and viz, a site not too far offshore, a willing and helpful licensee who is happy to dive with us and to be interviewed, and some interesting scientists who have links with the site and its story.
     The first step was to get more training. As a diving presenter you dont have to be that well-qualified a diver, but all the other divers on the team had extensive training, so it was time to get some more letters after my name.
     First step: basic and advanced nitrox. We had had various comments after the first series about the limits on our bottom times - why werent we using nitrox to lengthen our dives Time to put that right.
     There was also talk of a 60m wreck, which meant trimix. Along with the dive team on which I rely for safety and backup under water, I needed to get technical - which was a bit tricky, as the schedule over summer was full on and I had just finished filming on another project.
     We managed to squeeze in an intensive course, with three of us training to be nitrox and normoxic trimix divers. Thanks to a great instructor, Phil Bullen, we were all passed fit to dive to 60m.
     The summer of filming started off gently. The first shoot was in Barmouth, on a wreck site at just 6m in Cardigan Bay. You could see the site over the side of our boat - huge lumps of white marble stranded on the seabed for the past 300 years.
     Our mission: to work out where they came from and where they were going. Could they have been destined for St Pauls Cathedral I hadnt dived in waters this inviting in the UK; Barmouth has miles of sandy beach and in the bay the water is so shallow, clear and warm, you could almost be in the Med. Our licensee told me that they even get triggerfish there.

Liverpool Bay, our next stop, could not have been more of a contrast. No wonder there were wrecks in the rivermouth - the conditions were terrible. We were diving an 1865 paddle-steamer found by Chris Michael, a local diver and physicist. He had warned us that the weather was unpredictable, but that hardly prepared us for the few days we had up there.
     It was tough just getting into the water because of the sea conditions. I did so only twice, whereas on an average shoot we would hope for six to eight dives. On our only good dive we decided not to use our restrictive umbilicals, which was a blessing, as we could weave in and out of the spokes of the paddle-wheel. I didnt want that dive to end.
     The enormous wheel remained upright on the seabed, still in position and smothered in plumose anemones. I remember surfacing and talking non-stop in superlatives about what a stunning a site it was.
     One of the last wrecks we filmed was a WW2 vessel off the Normandy coast. We had filmed on HMS Lawford in the first series, and that story was so good and so poignant that it seemed appropriate to tackle a similar wreck.
     Its one thing studying a wreck thats a few hundred years old, but its a different experience when you have someone aboard who was on the ship, telling you the names of his crewmates and what it was like as the ship went down. We dived on HMS Pylades with a wonderful war veteran called Stan Parker watching our every move on the monitors on the boat.
     Sometimes you can forget that men lost their lives when the vessel youre finning around sank, but Stan was a constant reminder of those men who gave their lives to help Britain win the war.
     This trip was also memorable for a more unsavoury reason - the terrible heaving of the boat and of the stomachs on board.
     We were a long way offshore, the weather was not in our favour, and Stan, the director, cameramen and even one of the divers were very green for a few days. You just cant get the staff!

I am often asked which is the best wreck to dive. Well, the best experience I had last summer was on UB65. It was the deepest dive I had done at the time, so the most challenging for me and the team. We were lucky to dive this one on scuba - no Aga masks, no umbilicals, no communication with the surface, and the major emphasis of this trip and of the final programme was on the diving and the safety.
     Innes McCartney, Mr Sub, had discovered an unidentified U-boat at 60m off the coast of Padstow. He invited the Wreck Detectives team to help him identify the wreck and work out what it was doing there. There were no known U-boat wrecks in that area, so we had a real mystery on our hands.
     The water was crystal-clear at depth and we could see practically the length of the sub. Youll probably be able to see the fear on my face at that depth, aware as I was that this wasnt just a relaxing dive but that I also had to work.
     Because of the limited time over the summer, we dived this wreck immediately after qualifying as trimix divers, so we were not that experienced.
     When youre doing something unfamiliar and have so many other things to think about, your brain goes into overdrive and the adrenaline flows fast. Trimix diving was all still new to me.
     I was trying to work out what a new computer was telling me to do (my old one just bleeped at me all the time and told me that I was bent); aware of new kit that we had been encouraged to safety-check throughout the dive; and, as we were filming, I had to be constantly aware of where the cameraman was.

After the initial dive, things got easier. I calmed down and just enjoyed being at that depth and not being narked. Trimix is a wonderful thing!
     I bet most of you are reading this article wondering what all the fuss is about and why I make presenting underwater sound so difficult. But you wouldnt believe how different it is from a normal scuba dive.
     First, there are so many of us in the water - yours truly, the licensee, the cameraman and a safety diver, double the number on an average dive and double the trouble. Theres potential for a lot of silt to be kicked up whenever we move, much to the cameramans disgust, never mind that at least three of us are on umbilical lines which get tangled. How many times have I wanted to get my knife out and cut those damn things
     So why umbilicals Because we wouldnt be able to speak to the viewers or to the boat and relay information back and forth. Also, our underwater communication system is far more reliable using umbilicals, as the sound is transmitted directly to the surface and recorded.
     Then theres the safety aspect. At shallow depths, we can be pulled out if there are any problems, and the boat always knows where we are.
     But umbilicals create problems, the first of which is spaghetti. Three of us moving around each other (especially the cameraman, trying to get different angles) are likely to get tangled. We often have to perform underwater ballet on our ascent to get untangled before emerging, and on deck things arent easy, with all the metres of line being fed in and out.

Second problem is current. Umbilicals drag a huge amount, so timing the dive for slack water is even more important than normal. There have been situations in which we ditched our umbilicals because of a running current so that we could stay down for a few more precious minutes and continue filming, but without sound or communication with the surface.
     What next The Aga masks, which I also loathe. Its fantastic to be able to speak under water and to communicate with topside, but after you talk, you need to breathe. This makes a noise, so you cant hear what others are saying. This creates a timing problem - you have to speak, wait, listen, breathe, wait, listen, speak and so on. If things arent going so well, substitute shout for speak and add a few expletives.
     The outtakes video (distributed to the crew only) contained an awful lot of swearing, caused by the immense frustration that working under water brings!
     Aga masks bleed air unless the seal is really tight around your face, and come in only one size. Our diving dendrochronologists job was to saw wood under water, which uses a lot of energy and so a lot of air. But he guzzled gas because his beard broke the seal, and Aga masks work under positive pressure.
     We offered him a razor, but he declined the offer, being rather attached to his facial hair. So we ended up putting him on normal scuba.
     We dived last year with a very eminent archaeologist, Colin Martin, who did us the great honour of cutting off his beard to use the Aga mask. Sensible chap!
     We have to plan shorter dives because the Agas use a lot of air and our talking uses even more. Our depth is also limited by the length of the umbilicals, especially if not anchored directly over the site, hence the attraction of doing shallower dives.

Then theres the multi-tasking of monitoring your dive time, air, depth and so on while trying to interview someone under water; maintain neutral buoyancy; hold your breath while you listen to commands from the dive boat; try not to touch the protected wreck youre filming; try not to kick up silt and frustrate the cameraman; watch for vicious conger eels; and make sure theyre filming your good side. They say that women are good at multi-tasking and I think they might be right!
     Enough negativity. During the filming of the past two series of Wreck Detectives for Channel 4, Ive had the privilege of diving 16 of the finest wreck sites in the UK and surrounding waters. Many are protected, so we were among only a few people allowed to dive them; others have become protected because of our research work and filming, raising awareness of the fragility of these precious sites and preserving them for future archaeological work.

So whats new in this series Why are you going to watch us again (Why wouldnt you) Well, sadly weve lost Jason, the underwater cameraman, but weve gained Dan Burton, whos nifty with the old camera, though hes not on camera himself.
     So its just me and Jeremy Seal fronting the shows. He still doesnt get wet, although off camera we did throw him in the water with basking sharks near Padstow. One day, I really think he should try swapping jobs with me.
     I cant describe every wreck here, but other treats in store include the raising of an engine from a Sunderland flying boat, diving on the first manned submarine and a Wreck Detectives first: diving with our first female diving contributor in Ireland in zero viz. Are there any more of you out there
     To find out what happened tune into the series this autumn. We hope to be out detecting more wrecks this summer.
     COMING SOON: Miranda Krestovnikoff reports for Diver on freshwater ice-diving in Russia

kitted
kitted up, including the detested Aga mask
Jeremy
Jeremy ventures into the water - to snorkel with basking sharks off Padstow
post-dive
post-dive chat at the HMS Pylades site in Normandy
the
the new trimix divers prepare to dive the UB65
Miranda
Miranda and Jeremy try out the Wreck Detectives recompression chamber.
Cornish
Cornish dive base