FOR US BRITISH DIVERS, there are a few things in which we can justifiably claim to be world leaders. We shouldn’t get too carried away here, however – let’s face it, the French invented scuba, and the east coast of America is largely seen as the birth place of technical diving. But there’s one thing that we are really very, very good at indeed.
In fact, dare I say it, but we do this better than anyone else. Our particular skill – unmatched on the global diving circuit – is scrabbling around in low visibility in water that is really quite chilly.
OK, so there are places that are colder, and I’m sure there are one or two places that have worse visibility, but as a combination of the two we’re right up there.
I speak, by the way, as an absolute champion of British diving. Some of my very greatest diving memories come from trips off our own coastline. When it’s good, it’s really, really good.
Is there anywhere on Earth to compare with our vast array of historic wrecks I think not. Is there anywhere on Earth with such a resolute and indefatigable diving community I doubt it.
It’s just that for a fair few of our dives the vis is less than crystal, and the temperature less than tropical. Still, we soldier on.

SO THE GREAT LAKES, from where I type this missive, is actually not quite as much of a challenge as you might think.
Sure, the temperature on the bottom of Lake Huron is a somewhat parky 4°C, and the dives we’re doing are two hours in duration because of depth and decompression penalties, but as British divers we are well equipped to deal with the vagaries of both time and bone-cracking frigidity.
If I had been writing this column 10 years ago, I would have mentioned appalling visibility as well, but thanks to the inadvertent introduction of zebra and quagga mussels into the lake (pumped out of ship’s bilges, apparently), the visibility is now fantastic.
This makes me sad as a biologist – invasive species are invariably bad news – but happy in a rather guilty way as a film-maker, because the wreck we’ve come to see deserves to be viewed in all of its eerie, panoramic glory.
We’re here to dive the Cornelia B Windiate or – as our director has brilliantly termed it – “The Ghost Ship of Thunder Bay”.
This does mean hanging around in the aforementioned 4°C for very long periods to get all the filming done.
And so, just out of interest, I thought I’d mention what I’m wearing to stay toasty. First layer: my lucky pants (obviously, all divers have lucky pants). Second layer: Montane silk longjohns and long-sleeved vest. Third layer: a Thermulation heated vest.
Imagine, if you will, halfway through a dive someone walks up behind you and wraps you in a warm, fluffy towel straight off a piping hot towel rail. Well, that’s what this vest is like.
The first time I turned it on during a dive, I made such extravagant noises of approval that my buddy thought a humpback was in full song nearby. As we were in Vobster at the time this would have been unexpected.
Fourth layer: a Halo undersuit. Fifth layer: an O’Three drysuit. All topped off with a 7mm hood and mittens.
All of this means, of course, that you can’t actually move, bend any portion of your body, or do anything at all with your hands, but at least you’re warm (bordering on hot).
All you can do is swivel your eyes and waggle your fins, but that seems to get me round the wreck just fine.

WHY GO TO ALL THIS TROUBLE Well, the Windiate just might be one of the best-preserved wrecks on Earth.
Lying in 60m of frigid lake water, she sank perfectly upright in a terrible storm in 1875 in Thunder Bay.
No trace of her crew was ever found, and all manner of riddles remain about just what happened to the vessel.
Why was she so pristine as she sank Why did she settle so perfectly upright What happened to her crew
Why was she found in Lake Huron, when she was thought to have sunk in Lake Michigan
And why, as historical records indicate, did she set out into the teeth of the November storms so heavily overloaded and with such an inexperienced crew
Here is a vessel that basically committed suicide, and now lies as a silent monument to the folly of pursuing profit over people.

WE’RE HERE TO TRY TO ANSWER some of those questions for the upcoming television series, and as I type these words I’ve just returned from our first dive.
I must say that all the hassle, all the thermal protection, all the palaver of visiting Cornelia B Windiate in her watery grave became instantly worthwhile the first moment the wreck materialised before me.
Some things require that little bit of extra work, that little bit of extra grit and determination, but pay off spectacularly once you reach journey’s end – surely a fitting mantra for British divers and diving.