Big vis big dives
Diver
Diver with a lions-mane jellyfish.

CAN YOU BELIEVE THAT A WRECKED AIRCRAFT-CARRIER lies so close to a major UK city, yet nobody seems to know about it HMS Campania is one of our most historically impressive and important shipwrecks.
Armed tugboat HMS Saucy may be less glorious than Campania, but it has a very sad history. And while a 60m dive may not be for everybody, especially when the pinnacle involved is topped by overfalls, Blae Rock makes a fantastic scenic dive - and you can choose your own depth.
There are more wrecks at Burntisland off the Fife coast, including an intact Grumman Avenger aircraft. The area is a diving goldmine, but very few people ever get there, which is crazy when you realise that its so near Scotlands capital city.
Why arent divers packing boats out here, as they do every weekend 40 miles down the coast at St Abbs Is it because they expect the visibility to be measured in fractions of a metre
The reality is an average vis of 3m, and in summer Ive been lucky enough to be on Blae Rock in 10m-plus, and 8m on the big wrecks. Big vis, big dives - if youre into wrecks you should be seriously interested in these sites.
To dive them with expert knowledge behind you, visit the Dive Bunker in Burntisland. Mark Blyth runs a fast RIB that can have you out to the Campania in two minutes flat. Its magic!

HMS CAMPANIA
This is one of the most famous shipwrecks you will ever dive. Designated a special site of interest, at present only Mark has a licence to dive it. Its history is immense, and I could hardly wait to get down that shotline.
The water was green and clear until 14m, when it turned black. The Campanias maximum depth is 30m, rising to 14m.
Landing on the seabed at around 24m, I saw a wall of steel rising at an angle above me. The wreck is broken but generally lies to starboard. Up on the wall portholes appear, posh pads for lobsters. Dead mens fingers, sea urchins and brittlestars adorn the hull sparsely here.
This changed as I rose to deck level, where railings and everything else was carpeted in plumose anemones.
I couldnt tell masts from guns, as the structures were so big and encrusted.
I could however identify smaller items such as bollards, portholes and sections of anchor-chain.
Monster lions-mane jellyfish make a nuisance of themselves in the summer months, so watch out for them.
My eyes were by now adjusted to the dark, and the upper parts of the wreck were bathed in natural light. I ventured down the angled remains of the deck to the seabed. Massive structures rose up, but again the anenome encrustation meant that I couldnt identify them
with any confidence. I did see cranes, however, and was fairly sure I was looking at the remains of a funnel.
The wreck is just under 200m long, so you would need a number of dives to get the big picture. It started life in 1892 with the Cunard Line as RMS Campania, and at 12,884 tonnes was the first of the luxury liners as we think of them today.
Campania was the first Cunard steamship to be fitted with twin propellers. She made her maiden voyage from Liverpool to New York the following year and on the return leg gained the Blue Riband for the fastest Atlantic crossing. Campania and her sister-ship Lucania dominated until Germany started flexing its muscles in 1897.

CAMPANIA REPRESENTED CUNARD
at Queen Victorias Diamond Jubilee review at Spithead in 1897. But her record of fast, reliable Atlantic crossings was marred in 1900 when she collided with the barque Embelton, slicing her in two. Eleven men died as the bow section sank.
The advent of wireless communication in 1901 brought another first, as Campania became the first vessel to be fitted with a Marconi wireless telegraph.
In October 1905 a huge wave hit the ship, injuring 29 passengers and causing five passengers to be swept to their deaths as the wave burst through the steerage compartment doors.
By the time World War One broke out, the ageing Campania would have been heading for the scrapyard had not the Admiralty stepped in with a visionary plan to transform her into the worlds first aircraft-carrier. She would later become the first carrier to launch a plane from the flight deck while underway.
Campania missed the Battle of Jutland in 1918, even though she was anchored in Scapa Flow. She was too slow to catch up with the rest of the fleet, a cruel twist of fate for this once fastest of ships.
She headed south to Burntisland, and on 5 November, during a terrible storm, dragged her anchors and ran across the bows of a battleship. Its identity is unclear, though three names keep cropping up; Royal Oak, Revenge and Glorious.
Fatally holed, Campania started to settle by the stern. She had missed surviving the war by four days, and suffered an inglorious end for such a magnificent ship.

HMS SAUCY
From the massive Campania to the little Saucy, the contrast is not only in size but in the fact that while Campania is broken up, Saucy is intact for a full three-quarters of its length. Only the stern is missing, after being blown off by the mine that sank her.
I really like this wreck, as it is very scenic and smothered in life. Its coloration is either orange or white, depending on which colony of plumose anemones is winning the fight to colonise the wreck.
Nowhere does this battle rage more fiercely than in my favourite area, the impressive bow gun. White is winning the breech, while orange has a firm hold of the barrel. Moving forward, past a spray desk, the bow looms and cuts a straight line down to the seabed at 23m.
Here the tidal streams that sweep the wreck have carved out a large scour. Two massive anchors flank each side of the bow, again covered in anemones. The scour enables more intrepid divers to swim beneath the bow.
Back up on deck and finning aft passing the gun once again, the remains of the wheelhouse rear up, with a companionway on the port side. There is an entrance here but, out of respect for Saucys dead crew, I declined to enter.
The 550-ton tugboat, launched in 1918, the year Campania sank, was recommissioned as a search and rescue vessel before the next war. On 4 September 1940 she hit a German
mine and sank with the loss of 26 crew. Attending a funeral at Seafield Cemetery recently, I asked the curator if she could show me their graves, as I knew they were there.
So on a beautiful but blustery day, I found myself standing over the last resting place of eight of Saucys crew. Many more were never found.
The graves in Seafield Cemetery may have been immaculate, but the Saucy itself provides a beautiful resting place for those brave men who went down with the ship.
Moving aft again to the rear of the wheelhouse, you will see a large reel of cable. There are also brass portholes, still intact.
Stairways lead down into the wreck, half-choked with mud. Further aft, the wreck begins to break up. An opening here offers a good view of the engine workings. Lobsters and edible crabs abound here and all over the Saucy, as do schools of pollack.
After two such great wreck dives, are you up for a third If you have the gas, dont miss Blae Rock!

BLAE ROCK
This dive should get your pulse racing.
A pinnacle the size of a football field rises straight up from more than 60m to within 12m of the surface. Its a massive obstruction to the flow of the tide. The big tankers that ply the Firth of Forth give it a wide berth and so do yachties, as the tide does strange things here.
It is therefore a slackwater dive and Mark Blyth will keep you right. If you dive it with any tide, you will either be pushed off the cliff or sucked over the drop-off. Its very tiring or exciting stuff, depending on how you hit it.
Down on the top of the pinnacle at slack, brittlestars and dinner-plate-sized dahlia anemones of every colour decorate the scene.
Heading west, the top drops off and gullies lead you to the cliff face. At around 20m the wall just falls straight away and big basalt columns run down to the seabed.
Cracks and crevices provide homes for lobsters, edible crabs, squat lobsters, Yarrells blennies and big cod. The cliffs are a mass of dead mens fingers.
In good vis, its a stupendous sight.
At 30m, an undercut runs along the wall, offering more shelter and hiding places for wrasse and velvet-backed swimming crabs. Big prawns can be found here, their eyes glowing amber in torchlight.
All too soon the computer alarms sound and you start rising up the wall.
Coming into the shallows, the pollack schools intensify again. Big moon jellyfish drift by, as well as the lions mane variety.
The pinnacle is back to brittlestars and anemones, though the terrain looks ideal for anglerfish and octopus.
Ill be taking every opportunity to have a further look at it.

GRUMMAN AVENGER
The aircraft wreck in the area is far too modern to have run down the flight-deck of Campania. Based at Crail airfield, it was on a training flight in 1945, after the end of hostilities, when the engine started giving the pilot cause to worry.
Ditching in the Firth of Forth in December must have been very unwelcome, though I am fairly sure that the crew survived. The wreck is not classed as a war grave.
The Grumman Avenger TFB-1B was initially named the Tarpon. Heavily relied upon by the Fleet Air Arm, it replaced the Barracuda and Fairey Swordfish on Royal Navy flight-decks.
Today it lies in 12-14m, looking much bigger than I had expected. Two propeller blades rise up out of the mud, and cylinders from the radial engine are clearly visible.
The wreck is extremely well preserved. Only the fuselage is missing, perhaps lost in the rush to get out of the aircraft. The wings spread out over the mud, and marine life thrives on the wreck.
The machine-gun blister lies off the wreck, removed when the gun was raised to help identify the wreck. It went to the Museum of Flight, just east of Edinburgh, while a compass found a home at Burntisland Museum, both artefacts declared to the Receiver of Wreck. Today a strict no-touch policy applies on this fragile but historically important wreck.

THE DIVE BUNKER
Burntisland is a pleasant seaside town with a funfair throughout the summer and an excellent swimming pool. Its a 30-mile drive from Edinburgh and offers plentiful accommodation.
All the dive sites mentioned are fewer than five minutes boat-ride from the Dive Bunker, with its 9m Northcraft RIB with 300hp two-stroke engine. Its a very fast boat.
Divers get suited up at the centre and place their gear in the useful stowage system on the RIB. They are then towed on the boat to the slipway, 300m away.
The Dive Bunker shop has one of Scotlands largest diving compressors, giving air fills to 340bar. Nitrox and trimix are also available. Contact Mark Blyth, 01592 874380, www.divebunker.co.uk

Mooring
Mooring bollard on the Campania.
Diver
Diver on HMS Saucy, with the bow gun visible behind.
Exiting
Exiting a swimthrough on Saucy.
Diver
Diver at the bow of HMS Saucy.
Diver
Diver on the massive pillars of Blae Rock.
The
The Dive Bunkers RIB