|As the boat moves along the steeply-sided fjord, it is apparent why people pay to come here and simply look at the scenery. Norway is a breathtakingly beautiful country, and I feel privileged to be able to see it from a new angle - from beneath the fjord.|
Our boat has moored conveniently onto the buoy attached to the mast of the Frankenwald; its just a question of jumping in and swimming a short way upcurrent to the shot.
The water here is cold and bottle-green, but wonderfully clear. Clear enough for me to spot and avoid the jellyfish drifting towards me. Clear enough for me to marvel at a huge, vibrant cluster of orange and white anemones beneath me, before I realise that this is actually the mast of the wreck.
The Frankenwald is sitting intact and bolt upright with the deck in 30m. If Walt Disney could have designed a wreck, this would be it. From the perfect bow, the swim-through accommodation, the upright masts and the railings at the stern, it is almost too good to be true.
This German cargo ship sank in 1940 after losing control and hitting a rock. At 100m long, there is plenty to explore, and everybody on my trip loved it so much that they insisted on doing a second dive here.
The only thing missing is fish - they prefer to hang out in the shallow kelp on the nearby rock pinnacle.I found this out while drifting past on an SMB after the boat had arranged to meet us down-fjord of the wreck.
If youre used to drysuit-diving in UK conditions, Norway will feel like home - but with consistently excellent viz. People come here specifically to dive the wrecks, most of which were sunk during World War Two. Norway was under occupation by the Germans, and frequent attacks were carried out by the British, aided by the Norwegian resistance.
A lot of the ships were sunk by aircraft as they sheltered in the fjords. Unlike the Frankenwald, most are hanging on the steep side of the fjord, providing a range of diving depths from 15m to 60m-plus.
This isnt exactly the case with the Ferndale. This cargo vessel hit a rock while crossing Sojnefjorden in December 1944, and the small support vessel Parat was dragged under when it came to assist.
Sitting on the deck of the Parat and looking upwards along the length of the Ferndale is a fabulous sight. Divers with brightly glowing torches glide and hang over the wreck in super-slow motion, silhouetted in green. If youre happy to dive to 55m, you can make your way down to the Parat , visit the props of the Ferndale in 40m, swim through the gangways and accommodation at the stern, explore the holds, and end up with the mangled bow in 8m, where the kelp takes over. A near-perfect dive profile!
These wrecks are accessible from Bergen, a thriving Norwegian city on the south-west coast with fairytale-cute buildings and a lively market selling reindeer meat, smoked salmon of many descriptions and every manner of fish product imaginable.
Norway is an incredibly neat and well-ordered country. It is the kind of place where neighbours will complain if you dont keep the front of your house freshly painted. The Norwegians take social responsibility very seriously, which is why everything here is very costly - why else would Norwegians come to Newcastle for shopping!
Government taxes double the price of most items, and as a result Norwegians have an unrivalled benefits and social system.
Norwegians usually speak perfect English and are friendly, but dont cause a mess, get rowdy or rip items off their wrecks. The Norwegian Coastguard closely tracks the movements of dive boats and will probably board yours during your trip. The authorities here are very proactive, will not tolerate any misbehaviour and the skipper of your boat will be held responsible - you wont be popular.
Way to the north, the city of Narvik, more than 100 miles inside the Arctic Circle, is famous for the huge WW2 sea battle that took place between British and German destroyers. In all, 55 ships, submarines, U-boats and airplanes were sunk in Narvik harbour and the surrounding fjord.
As this is a highly significant part of their history, the Norwegians are protective of these wrecks, and which ones they will allow you to dive will vary depending on the current mood - specific written permission must be obtained first.
The German destroyer Herman Kunne ran out of ammunition and beached in the fjord opposite Narvik during the British counter-attack in April 1940. At more than 330ft, you get plenty of destroyer for your money.
I drop down onto the intact stern at 40m and watch the mini-flatfish scattering away across the seabed as a cluster of divers arrives. The wreck is lying on a slope, on its starboard side, with plenty of interesting hatches, debris and gun-mountings to explore. At midships the vessel is broken enough for a look inside, with domestic items such as a kettle and the odd shoe lying untouched.
The ship disintegrates in the shallows, the bows having been blown off, and the twisted top of the wreck practically breaks the surface.
The water temperature here is, inevitably, cold. Expect 9Ã‚ÂC at the surface on a good day, 5C on the wreck. Youll feel it first in your hands - standard UK dive gloves arent really up to the job, and most Norwegian divers use gauntlet-style three-fingered gloves or drygloves.
Cold is undoubtedly a limiting factor on the Anton Schmitt, one of three German destroyers placed neatly side by side in 24m at the side of the fjord. Wilhelm Heidkamp and Dieter Von Roeder are just a short swim away, but with 400ft of each destroyer to explore, you will be pushed to make much impact on one dive! Your fingers will be throbbing with pain before you lose interest or run out ship.
In the harbour, we dive the 8000 tonne Romanby, a British cargo ship seized by the Germans. The seabed is at 40m, but the upright wreck stands a good 12m proud. The shotline is towards the stern, and I swim through the cavernous holds, making my way forward.
An enormous rip inwards, to the belly of the wreck, shows the violence inflicted by a torpedo. Light floods through the massive tear in the hull into the darkness of the hold. I hang in the jagged gap, dwarfed by twisted metal and the enormity of the ships superstructure. I feel that Im about to disappear.
These wrecks are typical of the diving to be found here - large and largely intact, swept clean of guns and debris, with lots of holds to explore and very visible signs of the damage that caused the ships to sink. The visibility here is not as clear as the more southern wrecks, but the dives are shallower and the wrecks more historically significant.
There is a certain thrill to diving inside the Arctic Circle. Waiting to jump from the boat, I gaze up at the snow-capped mountains surrounding the fjord. It takes my breath away, just as certainly as the shock of hitting the cold water.
A short, picturesque trip down the fjord takes us past the protruding wreck of the destroyer Georg Thiele - currently off-limits to divers. We dive the nearby wreck of a German Dornier seaplane, tiny compared to the huge ships we have become used to on this trip.
I follow an enigmatic string trail across the silty bed of the fjord, leading down over rocks. Glancing up the slope, the frame of the Dornier looks like a dark, fragile skeleton against the milky-green light. Theres something poignant about the wreck of a small plane, and the human scale of it, the vulnerability of the pilot, briefly touches me. Arriving divers swarm over the bones of the plane, overwhelming the wreck.
Ultimately, we are overwhelmed. The scale of what happened here is forcefully demonstrated by the numbers, the sizes, and the physical evidence of violence that destroyed these ships. Narvik is a small, modern town with fewer than 20,000 inhabitants, but its place in history is written large.
|Hatches on the Martha Fisser, Narvik. |
|The Loyal Watcher and whatever lies at the end of the rainbow |
|On the Frankenwald. |
|Wrecks tend to be large and intact|
|GETTING THERE: For Narvik, fly to Oslo, and then to Harstad, half an hours drive from Narvik with Scandinavian Airlines (www.scandinavia.net ). You can hire a minibus from the airport on the boat. On a separate trip, Louise Trewavas travelled to Bergen with a group in a rented van by ferry from North Shields, Newcastle (www.fjordline.co.uk). This is the best way to travel if you are taking a lot of gear.|
DIVING : Several UK-based liveaboards visit Norway, including Jane R (0777 585 1150, www.dive norway.com), mv Salutay (www.salutay.com, 028 9181 2081); Gaelic Rose (01967 421654) and Loyal Watcher (www.deepbluediving.org, 01752 491490). Boats will pick you up from Bergen for the southern fjords, or Narvik for Arctic Circle diving. In some cases you can board the boat in the UK and sail across. You could take a RIB on the ferry but are recommended to link up with a Norwegian dive club on arrival if you do.
WHEN TO GO : Any time, but summer and autumn provide the highest water temperatures, so are advised for Arctic Circle diving. You also get some daylight!
COST : The ferry to Bergen costs around £200 with a berth; flights to Narvik cost from about £300, with the transfer to the boat about £20 per person each way. A typical week on a liveaboard costs from £550.
FURTHER INFORMATION: www.diving-in-norway.com to find out about diving or 0906 302 2003 for general tourist information