The
The Skerries run parallel to the coast.


LIKE MOST TRIPS TO IRELAND, this one begins before my previous trip has finished. On a day out with Aquaholics at Rathlin we had got talking about other diving in the North. More specifically, that I had yet to dive off Donegal and Malin Head.
We go there from Portstewart, says Richard. How could I resist
It takes me a while to get round to it, but eventually I am driving in to Portstewart on a bright and sunny spring morning, following directions to look out for the hairdressers next to the chip shop on the right. Aquaholics shop is behind.
I have visions of meeting a boatload of extremely well-fed but nutritionally deficient divers with immaculate coiffures. But if hairdressers had to rely on divers for trade, they would soon be out of business. Many of the divers I meet have hair that suggests they have been at sea for quite a while.
We load up in the harbour at Portstewart and head out past Lough Foyle to the north-west, and Malin Head.
There are plenty of wrecks and rocks on the agenda, more than we could possibly cover in a few days, so Richard lets the weather dictate the diving. The conditions are nice enough to get offshore, but there is a bit of a groundswell that could make diving close to rocks awkward. Our target is the stern section of the Argo Delos at 46m, deep enough to be below the groundswell.
The Greek-registered, 10,392 ton vessel was travelling from Glasgow to Cuba when, on the night of 22 October, 1960, she ran aground on Torbeg, an isolated rock off Malin Head. In heavy seas, the ship soon broke her back.
The Royal Navy frigate HMS Leopard, Navy helicopters and the Portrush lifeboat rescued the crew. A salvage tug took the stern section under tow but it didnt get far, sinking the next day.
The shot is caught on a box section of wreckage just off the main body. Its easy enough to follow the trail of scraps past a big shoal of pollack to the stern. I say pollack, but they could be saithe. From a distance, they arent the easiest of fish to tell apart.
The Argo Delos turns out to be both very easy and quite difficult to navigate. Very easy, because it is upside-down with large sections of hull intact. Quite difficult, because the inverted sections of hull all look the same. It is not until I have been on the wreck for 20 minutes that I come across some obvious engine-room parts and the spare propeller, and finally manage to put everything else in context.
Of the main propeller, shaft and rudder, I can find no sign. Perhaps I simply didnt find them, or else they are off the wreck, or back at Torbeg. When the Argo Delos ran aground, the report said that the forward holds and propshaft tunnel were flooding.
Ripping the propeller and shaft out on the rocks would provide a convincing source for the flood.

A FEW DAYS LATER, Richard takes the RIB into Portrush to top up with fuel. The lifeboat crew are busy training, the engines warming up while the boats are alongside the pontoon. The modern Severn-class lifeboats are much bigger and more sophisticated than the lifeboats of 1960. The Portrush lifeboat coxswains were awarded medals for their work in rescuing the crew of the Argo Delos.
After the morning slack on the stern of that wreck, were off towards Malin Head again for the late-afternoon slack on the wreck of the Castle Eden.
This 1169-ton steamship was carrying coal from Glasgow to Lough Swilly when torpedoed by U110 on 4 March, 1918.
Richard drops the shot nicely by the engine, so I head off towards the stern. The deep Atlantic swell has taken its toll of the wreck, the remains half-sunken in the sand at 31m.
Crossing a bank of sand and broken shell where the aft hold once was, I pause to play peeping tom at an orgy of tiny decorator spider crabs. I almost regret diving with my usual wide-angle wreck lens.
The stern soon comes into view with the gun-mount partly upside-down, the polished elevation mechanism just about showing. Is the gun still there and buried I am tempted to dig and find out.
Like many wartime merchantmen, the Castle Eden carried a 13-pounder gun mounted at the stern, but the gun didnt see any action. After the torpedo brought the Castle Eden to a standstill, the crew abandoned ship. U110 waited until the boats were clear before finishing off the Castle Eden with the U-boats deck gun.
Aquaholics RIB is normally berthed in the marina at Ballycastle, but the dive centre is located in Portstewart and Richard is keeping the RIB in Portstewart harbour while we dive further west. In the meantime, he is in the process of opening a second dive centre in Ballycastle, with accommodation for 12 divers.
The wind is picking up, and there are clouds on the horizon as we head off again towards Malin Head and the wreck of the steam trawler William Manell. Inshore from the Castle Eden,
it is sheltered enough to dive in the growing wind.
William Manell served as a minesweeper and escort trawler with the Royal Navy in both world wars, working as a regular fishing trawler in-between.
Stories of the sinking are contradictory. One is that she struck a mine in 1945, a not-unusual fate for a minesweeper. The other is that she was converted back to a fishing trawler and struck the rocks at Glengad Head, was towed clear and sank under tow in 1946.
Seeing the wreck moderately intact and listing to port at 29m, I am inclined to agree with the second version. Most minesweeping trawlers that struck mines suffered considerably more damage than is apparent on this wreck.
There is damage where the upper works have broken and the trawl gallows have fallen to the side, but the line of the hull is intact, with boiler and engine still in place.
Another clue is that there is no trace of any minesweeping gear, no guns or gun-platforms, and no depth-charge racks.
A World War Two minesweeping and escort trawler would have at least been fitted with a deck gun and some smaller anti-aircraft guns. Its a nice wreck with all the usual trawler machinery, but nothing remotely military remains.
Like other wrecks in the area, the hull is covered in dead mens fingers and anemones, though there are no big shoals of fish like those above the Argo Delos.
A man-eating lobster is rumoured to live inside the bow. I couldnt find him.
One source of the confused story may be the wreck of the trawler Corienties, which lies a couple of miles further along towards Malin Head.
Again, the accounts available are inconsistent. That the Corienties struck a mine and sank on 23 June, 1917, is not debated, but some accounts say that the trawler was working as a minesweeper in Admiralty service, while others say she was fishing.
A further clue to possible confusion of the two trawler wrecks is that the Corienties is also known locally as Mickey Willies Wreck or Willie Mickeys Wreck, after a local fisherman. The nickname could have been confused with William Manell.
Richard tells me that the Corienties is considerably more broken, but unfortunately I dont get to check the wreck out for myself. A couple of days later, when we plan to dive it, the weather is getting too rough and we are forced to turn back to a local site.
After a first day of diving that calmed for the afternoon, the opposite becomes the norm. In the afternoon following our dive on the William Manell, we stay local at the Skerries of Portrush. The afternoon after that, after another dive on the Castle Eden, we again have to stay local on the wreck of the Towy.
The Skerries is a long, low reef running parallel to the shore a mile or so north-east of Portrush. With a steep chop building in the offshore wind, Richard keeps the RIB close to the rocks, cutting in and out and playing James Bond, so we are in sheltered water most of the way to the dive site.
There are actually several dive sites along the reef - shallow sandy bowls ideal for training on the inside of the reef, and steep slopes and walls on the outside.
Richard takes us to a section of wall towards the eastern end, where a few seals in the shallows look our way but keep their distance.
Under water a gentle current carries me along the wall at 20m. I could have gone deeper, but with the gloomy sky, a north-facing wall and consequent low light, 20m seems to be an enjoyable depth at which to dive, with dead mens fingers, patches of anemones and sponges.
Cracks in the rocks tend to be vertical, so all the crabs are wedged in on their sides. The seals dont come to play under water, but it is early in the season. In most places, seals are more playful towards the end of summer.
The Towy is an interesting wreck for a different reason. On 19 June, 1930, the 208-tonner was the last commercial cargo-carrying vessel to leave the harbour at Portstewart.
It ran aground soon after, and the next day was under tow to Portrush when it sank in the bay. Considering the size of the harbour, I am amazed that anything larger than an inshore fishing boat could have unloaded here regularly.

THE TOWY SITS ON A SANDY SEABED in 16m, broken into three - bow, boiler and engine, and stern, though the only part I can vouch for is the bow. The hold is completely collapsed and buried.
We have elected to try the Towy when the sea is too rough to head further offshore, but there is just too much surge and stirred-up sand to allow us to make the most of the wreck.
Under the conditions, it is not a pleasant dive. Yet I have dived small, shallow wrecks before and can see how, on a calm and sunny day, it would be the sort of dive an experienced diver could enjoy, and equally a nice easy wreck for training divers.
Falling back to dive the Towy draws an end to further trips to Malin Head. The early-season weather has flipped to make the sites unreachable and undiveable.
Among the wrecks that I dont get to dive are the bow of the Argo Delos and a couple of U-boats, but the site I was really hoping to dive was the Devils Cut.
This is a canyon between the headland and the rocks that is narrow enough to step across at the top, yet drops to 15m and widens at the bottom, with some small caves running off.
Its the sort of site that is undiveable in any sort of groundswell and surge.
Malin Head is now blown out, but that doesnt finish off the diving. Richard takes the RIB back to the marina at Ballycastle, and it would take pretty foul conditions not to find somewhere sheltered enough to dive on Rathlin Island or inshore.
East of Rathlin, the Lochgarry (Wreck Tour 85, March 2006) is always a safe bet in a westerly wind.
However, looking for a site I have not dived before, Richard suggests a wall tucked in beneath Black Head on the south side of the western part of Rathlin.
Its nice enough, but its the final dive that holds a special place in my memory.
It is 11 years since I dived the Templemore wreck, just outside the harbour at Ballycastle. Back then I had spent the whole dive photographing my buddies feeding the conger eels, and the reason the wreck is special for me is that these were the pictures that began my new career with DIVER.
This time round I work on a wreck sketch. There is so much to see that I didnt even notice the time I was distracted by that conger dance.

Leaving
Leaving the harbour at Portstewart.
No
No panic - the lifeboat crew were training as the Aquaholics RIB put in for fuel at Portrush.
Above
Above the bow of the William Manell.
The
The bow of the Castle Eden.
Spare
Spare propeller on the Argo Delos.
Pipefish
Pipefish at Black Head, Rathlin.
Beside
Beside the Templemores two- cylinder compound engine.
Low
Low pressure cylinder of the triple- expansion engine on the William Manell.
On
On the wall at the Portrush Skerries.
Divernet

FACTFILE

GETTING THERE: Norfolkline Irish Sea Ferry Services, Liverpool (Birkenhead) to Belfast, 0870 600 4321, www.norfolkline.com. From Belfast take the M2, A26 and A44 to Ballycastle, then the A2 along the coast to Portstewart, or the M2, A26 and A2 to Portstewart via Coleraine.
DIVING & ACCOMMODATION: Aquaholics, 0287 0832584, www.aquaholics.org
FURTHER INFORMATION: Admiralty Chart 2811, Sleep Haven to Lough Foyle. Admiralty Chart 2798, Lough Foyle to Sanda Island Including Rathlin Island. Shipwrecks of the Irish Coast, by Edward J Bourke. Shipwreck Index of Ireland, by Richard and Bridget Larn. Irish Wrecks Online by Randall Armstrong, www.irishwrecksonline.net