The
The Halton moored at Out Skerries.

AS I SANK SLOWLY BENEATH the glassy surface, my eyes eagerly sought the long shape of the E49, sunk off the coast of Unst in 1917. It seemed only moments before the wreck began to appear, its dark outline clear against the gleaming white sand.
This was the sort of diving I had come for, and I had not yet been disappointed. I had heard about the clarity of the water in the Shetlands, and it was living up to its reputation.
I had joined mv Halton and its skipper Bob Anderson for a couple of weeks to dive the waters along the eastern coast. In addition to his usual dive sites, and with true pioneer spirit, Bob was hoping to find new cave and scenic dives, among other things. It promised to be an adventurous and exciting trip.
My diving odyssey had begun in Lerwick. This is Shetlands only town, and so the most northerly in the UK. As the mainstay of Shetlands economy is the fish and oil industry, Lerwick has become a busy cosmopolitan seaport, although it would still be considered relatively small by mainland standards.
It is here, early each morning, that the huge roll-on, roll-off ferry docks from Aberdeen, which is the main passenger and freight route from mainland Britain.
Many wrecks are within a stones throw of Lerwick but none are as dived as the Glen Isla and the Gwladmena.
The Gwladmena, which lies at around 40m, was a 928-ton iron steamship built in Hartlepool in 1878 and sunk in 1918. Arriving in Lerwick with a cargo of coal, she was involved in a collision with a Danish steamship. As a result of the collision and subsequent sinking, the engines and boilers have become totally exposed and lie on top of the wreck at around 34m.
The steamship Glen Isla is, at 1263 tons, a much larger affair, and was sunk a year before the Gwladmena. She was lying at anchor in the middle of Bressay Sound when the Glenelg, which was under tow at the time, collided with her.
Although the Glen Isla lies more than 40m down, like the Gwladmena the wreck sits upright, so divers do not need to reach the seabed to get a good dive.
Three boilers and a large engine provided her power, and these now lie redundant and exposed, as most of the decking has rotted away. The mast and a gun are among other pieces of wreckage that lie around on the sandy seabed.
Another local and very popular dive is the massive Latvian-registered Klondiker Lunokhods 1. She dragged her anchors and was blown ashore during
a severe storm in 1973. Propelled and thrust by the turbulent sea into a gully under the cliffs, her bow then broke away, sliding to rest at just over 40m.
Its size makes this a very impressive wreck when viewed from the seabed. After swimming up and into its holds, you can follow a trail of debris and wreckage to find the stern, which still lies stranded in the gully in around 18m of water, just below the Kirkabister lighthouse that marks the entrance to Lerwick Harbour.

OPPOSITE THE HARBOUR lie the islands of Bressay and Noss. Nature has helped to carve and shape the coastline round them, and there are many caves and caverns to be explored - some stretching back hundreds of metres.
A popular dive is the Giants Legs on the southernmost tip of Bressay. It comprises huge stacks of rock with currents flowing swiftly between them, bringing nutrient-rich water and encouraging the growth of many filter-feeding plants, including dahlia anemones the size of tea plates!
The floor of the Bards Cave on the most southerly point of Bressay is, like many others here, littered with sea-stars and urchins. These seemed to have consumed everything else, apart from dozens of velvet swimming crabs, their gleaming red, satanic eyes picked up in the beam of my torch.
Then my light picked up the sudden movement of dozens of squat lobsters, as they swiftly reversed their bony backsides into what seemed to be every crack and crevice available.
Swimming out of these caves and exploring either left or right, you come across colourful walls splashed with the warm, ochre colours of hundreds of soft corals. The bright pinks and purples of anemones are scattered about, growing alongside the spiky domes of the numerous urchins present on every dive.
Hiding in among this artists pallet can also be found tiny bloody henry sea-stars, waving their minute legs as they bravely clamber around. Sometimes cushionstars can be seen, with their luxurious, velvety red and gold colours, and occasionally a scorpionfish lying in wait, totally concealed and camouflaged by this gaudy environment.
Shetland is a birdwatchers paradise, and one of the major seabird breeding and feeding areas of the North Atlantic.
Nowhere on Shetland is this more evident than when you view the eastern side of the tiny island of Noss, to the east of Bressay.
The island is one of Shetlands bird sanctuaries, providing homes and a breeding ground for thousands of birds.
However, what was breathtaking was the sight of thousands of gannets taking off and landing on every available space on the guano-smeared cliffs that towered 180m above our heads.

BOB SKILFULLY STEERED HALTON close to the cliffs and almost into the entrance of the cave, not only to drop us off but also to allow enthusiasts to take some superb shots of these birds, and the rest of us to gaze at this incredible sight.
Once in the water, the wheeling and diving birds provided a constant shower of white blobs pattering onto the surface around us before slowly sinking into the green murkiness through which we descended.
Once clear of this gloom the water again became clear, and I headed down what quickly became a barren tunnel, strewn with massive rocks and boulders.
Diving this cave for the first time, I was in the water well ahead of many of the others and had reached the end of the cave. Turning, I expected to see lights coming towards me, but no pinpricks of light pierced the velvety blackness that surrounded me. It must have been then that a seal slipped by, invisible in this cloak of darkness.
When I did eventually pass an incoming diver, he later remarked that it had been amusing to watch the seal that was almost touching my fin-tips, with me oblivious to its presence.
Ironically, this had been the only occasion on which I hadnt spotted a seal. They were often around these caves, darting past or eyeing us up from a distance before streaking off into the gloom. Common and grey seals live around the waters of Shetland in large numbers, and I saw many both fromthe land and in the sea during my visit.

AN OVERNIGHT STOP and a dive in the tiny harbour of Out Skerries produced a huge quantity of scallops. Avoiding the kelp that fills much of the harbour and keeping on the sandy seabed that runs down from the beach, there are scallops galore, and certainly enough to feed a boatful of hungry divers.
The treacherous seas around Out Skerries have been the undoing of several ships in the past, most notably the Wrangels Palais in 1687. Although the wreck lies in only 15m of water, a Danish warship under sail is quite rare, so this is now a protected site.
A total of 15 East Indiamen went missing in the Shetlands. Although not an obvious route, the old achter on (north about) route was popular with these fleets.
These unwieldy ships required plenty of space in which to manoeuvre, and the North Sea was better than the confines of the English Channel, which at times was not safe for the ships of the Dutch East India Company.
Several exploratory dives were on Bobs agenda for this trip. He uses charts and images of the seabed built up by his Olex computer, combined with his excellent knowledge of the seas around Shetland and an uncanny instinct, to identify which sites may reveal a good dive. He then gets a group of divers to jump in, investigate and report back.
Diving a site that has rarely if ever been dived before, not knowing what you may find, is incredibly exciting.
Muckle Skerry was one such dive, and although not the best of the new sites explored, there were many sightings of two marine creatures that are common to Shetlands waters.
The puppy-dog eyes of large dogfish belies their true predatory nature, which is given away by their sinuous bodies working their way back and forth across the seabed, seeking their next victim.
The other fish was the beautiful ling, frequently seen free-swimming, its silvery-white body and fins tipped with blue. I saw one winding and snaking along until it became aware of my presence and shot into the first hole it could find, sheltering from this black-clad, bubbling creature.
Heading towards the most northerly islands in the Shetland group, past Fetler, is the wreck of the Jane, an iron steamship that ran ashore in July 1923 through a navigation error.
Many dogfish are resident here, and you can see them hunting in and around this attractive wreck, or lying in wait, cleverly concealing themselves among the bits of kelp growing on the seabed.
The engine is smothered in dead mens fingers and other tiny creatures. Sea-spiders and minute sea-stars cling determinedly to the bright yellow and orange fingers, defying the swift currents that sweep away the silt, where snake pipefish and dozens of sand gobies lie concealed among the pebbles and pink merle covering the seabed.

SLIGHTLY FURTHER NORTH lies the Tonis Chandris, a Greek steamship with a cargo of iron ore that ran aground in 1940. Although fairly broken up, with the shot tied onto the end of the propshaft it is easy to follow and find many pieces of identifiable wreckage.
The final dive of that day was another of Bobs exploratory sites, Stack of Muckle Head. Jumping into this unexplored area, I once again felt that buzz of excitement as I sank down towards the bed of kelp.
Making our way towards what might be a cave, we encountered a number of different-sized gullies and, through the kelp, I could already see huge clusters of brightly coloured jewel anemones. Finally, like the others, I discovered the deep gully or cut, which seemed to lead round a large rock stack and return us not far from our starting point.
The presence of many filter-feeding plants indicated the currents that must come swiftly flowing through these gullies - bringing with them nutrient-rich water. Huge shoals of juvenile fish came and went, and I was delighted to find a pogge (or hooknose), defying the current, quivering in its efforts to lie concealed behind some weed.

STILL HEADING NORTH, the aim was to spend the night at anchor in the beautiful Burra Firth, right at the top of Unst. However, first we were to dive one of the most scenic dives I have experienced in the UK.
Just north of Unst is the little rocky outcrop of Muckle Flugga. There is nothing here except a lighthouse sitting on the barren rocks. Then, to the north and like a full stop marking the most northerly limit of the UK, is Out Stack.
Although it was a bright, sunny day, the remoteness of our location was not lost on us as we watched the water crash and surge against the tiny, rocky island. This particular site was another of Bobs discoveries, and what a gem!
Dropped in on the north side of Out Stack, passing over the kelp and descending, you encounter the most fantastic gully imaginable. A profusion of colourful filter-feeding plants jostle for space, smothering almost every centimetre of the gullys walls, and indicating that the currents must come whistling through here like a steam train.
Gradually dropping to the bottom at 32m, my camera never stopped clicking as I worked my way along the bottom, finding jewel anemones of every conceivable colour, and huge dahlia anemones growing closely together like enormous bouquets of flowers.
Large shoals of fish sweep up and down the walls, while dogfish hunt in search of prey.
A white, fluffy nudibranch caught my eye, and plucky velvet crabs waved their claws fearlessly. Reaching the end of the gully, I felt the gentle pull of the current, so retraced my steps, beginning to work up the wall, chasing my no-deco time.
Finally, reaching the kelp line and knowing it was time to leave, I fired off my DSMB and slowly ascended, leaving this amazing underwater garden and sincerely hoping that one day I would return.

The
The wreck of the Jane.
Rich
Rich display of dahlia anemones at Out Stack.
Lobster
Lobster in a cave at Noss Head.
Divers
Divers explore the E49.
Deck
Deck of the Gwladmena.
Urchin
Urchin in Out Stack Gully
common
common sea star and crab at Scaw Head.
Jane
Jane Wilkinson
Divernet
FACTFILE
GETTING THERE: From Aberdeen to Lerwick use Northlink Ferries, www.northlinkferries.co.uk. You can fly direct from Stansted to Shetland with Atlantic Airways, www.flyshetland. com or from Edinburgh, Glasgow or Aberdeen with Logan Air, www.loganair.co.uk
DIVING: Charter-boats that serve the Shetlands include mv Halton, www.mvhalton.co.uk, 01856 851532 and mv Jean Elaine, www.jeanelaine.co.uk, 01856 850879, or contact local club Zetland SAC, 01806 588261
ACCOMMODATION: Fort Charlotte Guest House, 01595 692140; Alderlodge Guest House, 01595 695705. Both are in Lerwick.
WHEN TO GO: Summer, though year-round diving is available. Water temperature peaks at 14°C in late summer.
PRICES: Aberdeen-Lerwick ferry from £21 per person, 87 for a car each way. Guest houses charge around £27 a night.
FURTHER INFORMATION: Shetland Tourist Board, www.visitshetland.com; Scottish Sub Aqua Club, www.scotsac.com/home