Divernet


WHEN IT COMES TO DEEPER DIVING, I have to confess to being a bit of a hypochondriac. During my decompression stops, I constantly think about this little twitch here, or that little itch there. Is it decompression illness It helps to while away the time.
Then, back on the boat, I mentally examine myself for symptoms. Even a lack of symptoms gets questioned. After all, denial is the number one symptom of DCI.
This sets the scene for my state of mind as I climb back aboard Sovereign III, the last diver up from a long dive.
Shutting down my rebreather, I get a faint whiff of a familiar smell. Its an attractive odour, but one that shouldnt be there. It comes and goes, but I cant place it.
My mind goes into hypochondriac check mode. Phantom smells are a symptom of brain injury, perhaps cerebral DCI. Is that minor pain in my back just my normal post-dive backache Is the faint tingle in my fingers just circulation improving as my wrist seals come off
Is that really just an itch behind my shoulders where I cant quite scratch it
Returning to the cabin to change out of my Weezle, my twitches are soon laid to rest. Skipper Andrew Douglas is frying bacon for breakfast. He would have been working as the breakfast chef at the Lodge anyway, so as we had an early start to catch slack and skipped breakfast, he brought it with him.

THE HOT BACON SANDWICH is almost as enjoyable as the dive, or a coaster of uncertain name somewhere off Berwick-upon-Tweed. The surface water had been a little mucky, stirred
up by the previous days storm, then at some point on the descent it had improved to the point where at 60m it was clear enough to see across the wreck and more.
The shot was hooked nicely over the stern, the most intact and highest part of the wreck rising some 4 or 5m from the seabed. Forward, the sides of the wreck slowly broke away. The engine was just about covered, the boiler about halfway out of the wreck, then the remains of the wheelhouse folded down almost to the seabed, with a spare propeller resting in front of it.
It is hard even to date the ship. Similar coaster designs varied little from 1870 through to the 1930s. They even retained two-cylinder compound engines long after other types of ship had moved on to the more efficient triple-expansion engine, mainly because a compact compound engine left more room for cargo in the small hull.
The forward part of the wreck is a silhouette on the seabed, with a pair of winches between the two forward holds.
Traces of the coal cargo are scattered about, with one or two larger piles in the corners. The bow is obviously a bow, but pretty much devastated. Perhaps the ship struck a mine

MIKE FROM SUBAQUA DIVERS in Rotherham comes in useful, firstly for bringing along the helium, secondly for finding a coin. While some divers appreciate my way of visualising the big picture, I am always amazed at how others notice such tiny things as an encrusted coin and recognise it as more interesting than the other chips of debris that litter the average wreck.
Mike later discovers that his find is a 2 krone piece, issued in Norway between 1908 and 1917. It features King Haakon VII, Norways first king after independence from Sweden in 1905. We can be certain that the ship didnt go down before 1908.
The coin lay just aft of the boiler, close to the bathroom, and where the ships officers would have had their cabins.
Theres a good chance that either the ship was Norwegian, one of the officers was Norwegian, or perhaps it simply travelled to Norway regularly.
Another diver has given the wrecks name to Andrew as Serum. Only there isnt a Serum, and as far as I can find out there never was, not on this stretch of coastline. Then a trawl through the Shipwreck Index comes up with the Venus, launched in 1872 as Serantes, which sank in 1917 after striking a mine. The name is close enough to be a mistake, the listed position is within a couple of miles and, even better, the Venus was Norwegian-owned and heading for Norway with a cargo of coal.
Andrew already has another wreck identified as the Venus, but wrecks have been mis-identified in the past, so he double-checks. After a couple of phone calls, he discovers that the name came from the bell - but that it was Ferrum, not Serum. And there we are stuck.
With help from Ron Young and Bjoern Pedersen, I learn plenty about the Venus, but draw a blank on Ferrum.
Just to think, all that entertainment came from a filler dive - a wreck selected almost arbitrarily to fill a gap between the primary objectives of the trip.
The idea was to get away from the usual Farne Islands dives. Nice as wrecks such as the Chris Christenson and Britannia are, and not forgetting the always-entertaining seals and colourful walls of anemones and soft corals, I had wanted to try a few of the other wrecks along this coastline, from the sort of wreck just about everyone can do to those a little bit technical.

THE REAL OBJECTIVE of the deeper part of the plan is the next days dive, HMS Patia. There is no question about this wrecks identity as I head forward from the shot dropped across the number
1 hold to find the aircraft-launching catapult running out and over the bow.
The Patia was a 5355-ton steamship built in 1922 for Elders & Fyffes. In 1940, hired by the Royal Navy, she became the ocean boarding vessel
HMS Patia. OBVs were generally faster merchant ships, fitted with a couple of 6in guns and a selection of lighter anti-aircraft armament, and used to stop and check suspected enemy merchant vessels, so the speed of the Patia lent itself to this task.
Her speed also lent itself to HMS Patias next role, as a fighter catapult ship (FCS). These and catapult armed merchantmen (CAM ships) were a temporary fix for the lack of air cover for convoys in the middle of the Atlantic. Fitting a catapult with a single aircraft onto the bow was a quick way of getting limited air support.
When a German Focke-Wulf Condor long-range reconnaissance aircraft was spotted shadowing a convoy to guide U-boats in to attack, the FCS or CAM ship would fire the rocket-powered catapult to launch its single Hurricane fighter.
The Hurricane would either shoot the enemy aircraft down or chase it away. Then came the really brave part of the job. Out in the middle of the Atlantic, with nowhere to land, the pilot had to ditch the fighter and trust that one of the convoys escorts could pick him up.
HMS Patia never got that far. She was part of a convoy heading north off the Northumberland coast, on the way to be loaded with a fighter aircraft, when on 27 April, 1941 she was attacked by a German Heinkel He111 bomber from KG26, based in Norway.
On the killing pass, the Heinkel dropped bombs that broke the Patia open just aft of the superstructure, while the Patias guns also managed to hit the Heinkel, blowing it out of the air.
From the bow I swim back along the catapult and across the holds to the superstructure. In the excellent visibility I can see plenty of the ship by ambient light. Even so, my cameras auto-focus struggles in the monotone low contrast that is the norm at depth.
Thirty-nine officers and crew were lost, making HMS Patia a war grave, but just covering its length is more than enough to keep me occupied.
It twists over just aft of the super-structure, so that by the stern and the main guns the deck is well off horizontal. The other part of my plan was for a couple of shallower wrecks in the normal sport-diving range, yet I get only to one of them. A bright and breezy day with a strong northerly wind at the start of the trip had kept us in the harbour until early afternoon, by when our only option had been to seek shelter behind the islets known as the Blue Caps.
As it wasnt needed for day trips to the islands, we had dived from the larger Sovereign IV with its tail-lift.
With Andrew skippering, his brother Toby, the usual skipper, got to dive with us.
Quite a few charter-boat skippers started out as divers, but it is rare to see it the other way round.
After years of driving the boats, Toby finally got round to learning to dive and was working up experience on some of the shallower dives.
The rough sea didnt deter the young seals from egging each other on to dart in and catch
my fins or poke their noses right into my lens.
And it wasnt just the seals. Between dives a dolphin rode the bow wave, then on the second dive made several passes under water, though too fast and too far off the wall to catch on camera.
Thats one of the great things about the Farnes. Even the fallback shallow dive can be special.

WHICH LEAVES A BEAUTIFULLY CALM final day for an early start south to the wreck of the Acclivity. In January 1952, this small 369-ton coastal tanker was on her way from Thames Haven to Newburgh with a cargo of linseed oil when she struck a submerged object, damaging the hull and propeller.
An attempt was made to tow her to safety, but on 20 January she sank upright in 30m.
I dont get to see the Acclivity upright, because the wreck has since rolled onto its port side, digging almost to the centre line into the seabed and against a shallow reef. I know I should think of 30m as a deep dive, but after a couple of days of 60m dives it feels positively shallow.
The background is emerald green rather than monotone blue, and just enough colour penetrates to bring out the highlights of the nudibranchs munching soft corals and hydroids on the hull.
The central part of the wreck is broken open at both deck and keel, leaving an arch of the starboard side of the hull connecting bow and stern.
Its an easy dive on which to finish, both on the outside and the inside of the wreck. My hypochondria has gone, and back on board, the smell of frying bacon is no longer a mystery.


Inside
Inside the bow of the Acclivity
the
the anchor is still tight in the hawse pipe
seal
seal playing at Big Har Car
Monster
Monster anemone sheltered beneath the winches on the Ferrum

FACTFILE

GETTING THERE: From the south, follow the A1M and A1 north, then take the B3142 to Seahouses. From the north turn off the A1 on the B3140 to Bamburgh and continue along the coast to Seahouses. Once in Seahouses, follow your nose to the harbour.
DIVING & AIR: Soverign Diving - Andrew, Toby and Ailsa Douglas, 01665 720159, www.sovereigndiving.co.uk. Helium via Sub Aqua Divers, Rotherham, www.subaquadivers.co.uk
ACCOMMODATION: B&B with Sovereign Diving.