A NIGHT DIVE ON A CLYDE WRECK, have you ever heard the like In all my years of diving I had not.
So when Elaine Watt of Clyde Diving Charters invited me over to dive the Greenock, I was certainly up for it.
It would, however, take me a full year before we could get together to make the trip. The day we planned did come around eventually, and my day at work passed quickly. I headed out along the M8, hoping to miss the worst of the traffic.
I pulled into Inverkip Marina at 6 oclock on the nose. It was late October, so the last of the days light was almost extinguished. For this trip, the Clutha dive charter boat would remain at her moorings and we would dive from the Clyde Diving RIB, skippered by Elaines partner Drew.
I had travelled on charter boats by night but not by fast RIB. The electronics that led us to the site were the only source of light. This felt like James Bond stuff.
Once above the site, the shot was carefully dropped and Elaine ensured that it was in the wreck.
We went over the side. After ensuring that the luminous faces of my gauges and computer were brightly charged up, the torch was turned off and we started our descent.
In the darkness, descending into the black waters of the Clyde - and the torches are being turned off This was at Elaines behest and it was worth it, because the bioluminescence was fantastic. Electric green explosions of light erupted all around us whenever we moved our hands. It was a good show but I was getting concerned about grounding my camera gear into the deck of the Greenock, so was relieved when Elaines torch lit a couple of bollards just forward of the stern.
The Greenock is now quite a difficult wreck around which to orientate yourself, especially as the Royal Navy had to detonate the two mines that had rested against her hull since World War Two.
In the resulting explosion, the mine at the stern broke the little dredgers back and destroyed a lot of the stern.
That area is a little confusing, but further forward the wreck is intact and its features are easily identifiable.
The first place a diver will investigate is the bucket gantry, a large structure that has now collapsed over the starboard side of the wreck. You can still see the rows of large dredging buckets. The supports for this system have collapsed onto the deck, which is where you can see the immense cogs that powered the device.
After investigating this, we moved over to the starboard hull and the broken stern. There is apparently a sident conger eel, although on this occasion it was nowhere to be seen. It was at this stage that I noted the difference in diving this wreck at night. It was not in the water clarity, which was as good as during the day at around 4m. In daytime very little ambient light penetrates to the wreck, so even then a torch is necessary.
What struck me had everything to do with the marine life. Wherever I shone my torch, I saw its golden reflection in the eyes of prawns.
These 10cm specimens in turn drew in the fish - large schools of pollack that meandered around the wreck.
Some of these fish appeared to be sleep-swimming. They would bump into sections of the wreck and swim into the sea floor. There were a many examples of these sleepy fish, though most were finning around looking for prawns.
I had never seen so many fish on a Clyde wreck, and at one point we were engulfed by the school of pollack. Other good finds included a big scorpionfish and some luminous green Devonshire cup corals. These I was very pleased to see, as they are reliable indicators of good water quality.
Featherstars and crinoids also covered every square centimetre of the wreck, creatures that are far more visible at night, with their arms raised to feed. This wreck was certainly an oasis of life in an otherwise barren sea of mud.
From the broken stern we finned over the now caved-in deck. After the mine blast broke the Greenocks back, this section was opened up a good deal.
I managed to miss, or failed to recognise, the spare prop, engines and boilers - but I can confirm from previous dives that they are all there. They are said to be easier to see with the deck blasted away.
From here, we finned forward along the port hull, and the intact wall of steel soon resumed to an impressive 5m off the seabed. Crinoids, starfish, soft corals and sea squirts adorn this scenic part of the wreck, using it as a surrogate cliff face. You can find more prawns nestling here, with marauding velvet-backed swimming crabs.
Before reaching the bow, we rose back up to deck level to take in the huge deck winch that dominates the bow area.
This part of the wreck is also a little more exposed to the tide, and I was blasted around the bow before getting back into the shelter afforded by the forward end of the bucket gantry.
From here it was an easy fin back along the line of buckets, noting a big old edible crab in residence in one of them.
I finned back to all the cogs and drive machinery atop the wreck. Just over on the port side the two bollards came into view, and the shotline beckoned.
My night of exploration was over and the engines and boilers along with the prop would have to be examined another day or, even better, night.
The dive was not over, however, as the bioluminescent firework display helped to while away our deco stops.
Researching the history of a wreck always makes the diving experience all the more enjoyable.
But I was surprised to find that there was so much to learn about the Greenock. She was making headlines even after she hit the bottom.
Late on a Tuesday, the Greenock was heading down the Clyde to dump her days dredgings. 18 November, 1902 was no different from any other day; she and her sister-ship Gourock operated in this area, ensuring that harbours and channels were kept deep enough for the big boats to come up the Clyde.
As the Greenock was nearing the prominent landmark of the Cloch lighthouse, the steamer Ape was noted on an inshore course from the dredger. Nothing looked untoward until the two vessels were abreast and the Ape veered towards the Greenock, slicing through her hull right up to the bucket gantry.
The collision damage can still be see to this day. It was a tragic accident, and the chief engineer lost his 16-year-old son in the collision.
The wreck was located but then forgotten until the war years arrived. The Clyde, with its important shipbuilding yards, was a tempting target for German raiders.
Although a surface vessel would find it difficult to gain entry to the estuary, there was a real threat from U-boats, so it was prudent to stretch anti-submarine nets and a defensive boom right across the Clyde, from the Cloch Lighthouse to the small town of Dunoon.
With U-boats in mind, the wreck of the Greenock was given some special attention. It would, after all, make a perfect place for a brave U-boat captain to hide his boat, biding his time to get through the defences. So the Royal Navy placed a mine at the stern of the wreck and another off the port side of the bow. Any arriving U-boat would get a nasty surprise.
But the war years passed uneventfully for the Greenock and she remained of no real interest until sport diving began to take hold.
Soon lots of divers were visiting the site and viewing the mines that still lay on the seabed beside it.
It was in the mid-1990s that an intrepid wreck-diver is said to have revealed his prize in a local pub.
A long brass bar that turned out to be a mercury contact switch had been gently removed from one of the mines with the aid of a mash hammer. I bet a chill still runs up the spine of the culprit every time he thinks back on the event.
Eventually the news got back to the Navy, and in 1996 a demolition team destroyed the devices. The bow mine did little damage but the other severely damaged the Greenocks stern and broke the ships back.
A big drive cog
Dahlia anemone on the Greenock.
Also on the wreck was this velvet-backed swimming crab.
Crinoid- covered wreck
Another Greenock resident, a short-spined scorpionfish
Luminous green Devonshire cup coral.
GETTING THERE: Inverkip Marina is a 30-minute drive from Glasgow.
DIVING: Clyde Diving Services runs the charter-boat Clutha and the RIB used for the night dive (01475 522 930, www.clyde-diving.co.uk)
WHEN TO GO: Diving is all year round, as the area is protected from the wind.
PRICES: Diving from the Clutha costs from£11 a dive..
FURTHER INFORMATION: www.ayrshire-arran.com