IS THE BOAT AT THE END OF THE MENAI BRIDGE pier a big orange hardboat that thinks it’s a RIB, or a big orange RIB that thinks it’s a hardboat
Either way, it looks familiar. Skipper Scott Waterman tells me that the hull was once Protector out of Portland, though a fair bit of work has been done since. New instruments, new tubes and new transmissions last season and new engines this season, new racks and kitting-up bench, and the toilet is now in a cubicle accessible directly from the deck.
As we edge out from the pier and into the northward flow of the Menai Strait, the perfect reflection of Telford’s classic suspension bridge is disturbed only by the ripples from our wake, then broken with white foam from that wake as Scott opens the throttles.
We get a similar reflection on a glass-calm Menai Strait a few minutes later as we pass Bangor pier, then again as we pass Beaumaris.
The hull of the capsized dredger Hoveringham forms a wake where it just breaks the surface, then our final reflected landmark is the Trwyn Du lighthouse, as we cut through the channel by Puffin Island.
North is the right direction in which to head. Despite some of the last good weather of the summer, visibility to the south of Anglesey has not been good, so perhaps we’ll find cleaner water further north. Taking this direction also puts the tide behind us, a few knots extra
for the start of our journey, then a few knots helping us when we return after slack water.
With the midweek regulars half-filling the boat, and such easy conditions, we make good speed and arrive above the wreck of the Delfina with so much time to spare that we spend five minutes just lazing about. Then Scott lines up the wreck on the sounder and throws the shot. The first attempt drags clear, so up it comes. The second drop hooks in.

I MOVE TO GET READY, on the basis that by the time I’ve donned my drysuit and kitted up it will be time to dive.
Scott looks at the wake behind the shot and suggests that I leave it for a few minutes. The official time of slack water is only 15 minutes away, but today’s slack is sure to be late.
Eventually the first diver jumps in, with the task of securing the shot near the top of the wreck.
Five minutes later, a small pill pops up to signal that all is ready.
Among the regular divers, Graham has a full skipper’s ticket. Even though the tide is still running it means that he is the next diver in, so he can be back in time for Scott to get a dive on the trailing edge of slack.
Watching Graham tow a big video behind him, I loiter a little longer for the current to drop before taking my turn.
In his briefing, Scott described how some parts of the wreck were well broken, so it comes as no surprise when I find the line tied to an angled section of wreckage that stands out of a bank of sand at 39m.
What does surprise me is that it takes a good five minutes of swimming about, peering at more bits of wreckage, big and small, before it suddenly clicks.
Then I get the line of the ship, and know that I am on the amidships superstructure.
From there to the bow, the hull is pretty much intact, though the sandbank is encroaching over the port side of the deck. At 3096 tons, the Spanish-owned Delfina was a fair-sized ship, and I am 15 minutes into my dive before I am back amidships, working my way past a deep hold in the centre of the superstructure.
As the tide has slackened, visibility has steadily improved. Back close to my starting point, I can now see the top of the engine and port boiler poking out of the sandbank that has subsumed the middle of the ship.
Navigation further aft becomes tricky again until I am past the next hold. Here the hull reappears from the sand, and the line of the wreck continues towards the stern.

ON THE WAY FROM MANCHESTER to Swansea in ballast, the Delfina struck rocks close to the Skerries on 16 December, 1928. Holed and flooding, she drifted off back to the east and took time to sink, as the pumps failed to cope with the incoming water.
The liner Huntsman stood by while the first officer and most of the crew rowed across in the Delfina’s lifeboat. When asked to row back and collect the rest of the crew and the captain, those at the oars proclaimed it too dangerous, so volunteers from the Huntsman rowed the lifeboat back to rescue them.
I release my delayed SMB from the stern, eventually surfacing to find myself only a few hundred metres from the shot-buoy. I am barely back on board when Scott surfaces next
to the buoy, and I realise that he has pulled the shot and used the line as a drifting decompression mark.
Back in Menai Bridge, local teenagers are jumping and swimming from the end of the pier. Not as high above the water as one might imagine, because it floats with the tide on a big pontoon secured between towers. It’s good to see that they have the sense to stay well away from the boat as we come in, though perhaps sense isn’t the right word for it.
When one of the boys calls one of girls gullible, for reasons unknown to me, she asks me what the word means.
If she needs to ask, I reply, it means she probably is.
It may be a long ramp to the pier, but at least all the divers are parked right next to it. Parking is restricted to those with permission from the harbourmaster and Scott has permits for his divers’ cars. I settle down to the usual post-dive maintenance of rebreather and camera, decanting gas and making sure everything is ready for the morning.
Word must get round quickly in Menai Bridge. Many locals out for a walk, from pensioners with dogs to a mum with the little ones, stop by to say hello, ask if I am the photographer from DIVER, and wonder how the diving is going.
The trend continues in the Liverpool Arms that evening, when I get chatting with one of the marine archaeology staff from Bangor University.
I also meet a group of divers from further away in North Wales, stopping off for a quick drink after a night dive beneath the pier, timed to coincide with slack water.
It’s a dive that I would like to do in daylight one day – Scott assures me that it’s a great little dive – but on this trip I have bigger dives to think of, and definitely not at night.

FOR THE NEXT DIVE we have a full boat; again a mix-and-match of midweek regulars, both local and from farther afield, to dive the wreck of the 1417-ton steamship Albanian, with some sense of déjà vu.
Over a previous couple of trips to Anglesey I had dived the sailing ship Chacabuco and the steamship Torch, a pair that sank nearby following a collision on 1 March, 1873. They featured in our double Wreck Tour of November 2009.
On 18 November, 1877, the Albanian collided with the 834-ton wooden barque Nydia, both outbound from Liverpool with full cargoes, and both sinking only a couple of miles apart.
Reading a bit of background from the Shipwreck Index, I note that the Albanian was built in 1870. Steamships of that age display a diversity of engineering. Shipbuilders were being creative with “new” technologies, but the engineering had not converged to the extent it had only a decade later.
The notable feature of the Albanian was an inverted compound engine.
The crankshaft is still at the bottom of the engine, but the upright pistons are driven from steam entering below them.

WITH SO MANY DIVERS on board, it takes a little longer for us to get sorted out and into the water, mostly limited by space on the kitting-up benches, especially as most of the divers have twin-sets, and a fair number also have a separate deco gas. Not that a technical approach is compulsory; some divers are on single 15-litre cylinders.
Scott has plans to build more benches, but is taking time to consider the details before going ahead.
As before, Graham enters early so that Scott can get a dive on the tail-end of slack. I descend somewhere in the middle of it all.
The shot is draped nicely across the rather square-section hull, above the engine at 31m. Unfortunately for my engineering curiosity the deck here is pretty much intact, so I can see only the top of the cylinders, and none of the pipework below.
Sticking to the main deck means that those on single cylinders get a decent dive while others go deeper.
The Albanian is a wreck of two halves. I head forward to find that the hull suddenly breaks and drops 10m to the seabed at the stoke-hold bulkhead.
I follow the line of the keel across a mound of sand and debris to the bow, though there isn’t much of it.
The stern half I find much more interesting. The two aft holds are stacked full of a variety of cargo.
Some parts of it, like barrels, glass jars, metal pipe and bales of cloth, are more easily identified than others.
I am back at the engine when Scott and buddy Paul arrive down the shot.
I watch them follow it over the side to what looks like a boiler on end.
I descend for a closer look. It can’t be one of the main boilers, because I have already checked that they are still in place, so perhaps it was a donkey boiler fitted above the main deck level.
I have changed by the time Scott and Paul surface. They bring with them a lobster and a few souvenirs bundled in a mesh goodie-bag – blue-glass jars in remarkably good condition, though we have no idea what they contained.
Were they the finished product, or general-purpose containers used for transporting a liquid or powder that would have been broken down into smaller measures
As for the other victim of the collision, the barque Nydia, there is reported to be a fair amount of structure left for a wooden wreck, but I don’t get to dive it on this trip.
With a leisurely pace and impeccable weather, I have already settled into a routine. I spend the rest of the afternoon by the pier, cleaning and preparing my rebreather and camera for the next day, looking up to say hello to locals out for a walk that I met the day before.
I snooze while reading my book, then, in the evening head to the pub, where discussion of local shipwrecks, mostly those of archaeological interest, goes on over a couple of pints of Guinness.
With the tide slipping back each day, we have another leisurely start. Telford’s Bridge continues to give a flawless reflection in the glassy water of the Menai.

WE TRAVEL A LITTLE FURTHER WEST, to the WW1 wreck of the tanker Derbent. Because of its size, I ask Scott if he can get the shot as close to the bow as possible. This way I can see it all while swimming one length without having to retrace my path.
It takes a few attempts to hook in. The Derbent is over on one side, so there’s a lot of smooth hull for the shot to bounce along if it doesn’t catch straight away.
Again, the easy conditions mean that we have time to spare. While waiting for slack we tuck into a cake baked by Nadine, who used to help skipper the boat for Scott before she gave up to start a family. She turns out to have been the mum on the pier who had asked me how the diving was going.
At the bow of the Derbent I don’t actually see what the shot has caught on, because I leave the line as soon as I see the twin lights of Graham’s video camera swooping along the hull below me. As usual, he has entered first, so as to be up in time to take the helm while Scott dives on the tail-end of slack.
The 3178-ton Derbent was torpedoed by U96 on 30 November, 1917, while carrying fuel oil from Liverpool to Queenstown. U96 survived the war, only to be broken up in 1919.
By coincidence, U96 was also the number of the U-boat on which Lothar-Günther Buchheim’s book Das Boot was set. It was subsequently filmed as a TV mini-series and also edited as a feature film, though the U96 it featured was a WW2 type VII-C boat, and unconnected with the torpedoing of the Derbent.
I don’t get to dive many tanker wrecks, perhaps because tankers were less common in WW1, and in WW2 the U-boats operated further out into the Atlantic. With the wreck lying on its starboard side, I can swim along the centreline 5m above the 42m seabed.

VISIBILITY HAS BEEN STEADILY IMPROVING over the past few days.
I can look down to see debris on the seabed, and up to see the port gunwale, following this path all the way to the stern and round to the propeller.
I then follow the port side of the hull up to see the gun.
Lying on the port side of the hull is an unusual place for a gun to be, but Scott has previously given me the story and told me where to look.
A local fisherman and diver decided to have a go at salvaging the gun, using a method successful for hundreds of years. Having fixed a line, the buoyancy of his boat and the rising tide would lift the gun and take it to shallower water.
On the next tide the line would be shortened and the cycle repeated, until the gun was on a beach above the low-water mark.
All went well until the gun pulled loose from the wreck, allowing its full weight to bear on the boat. The boat started to pull under. The unlucky salvor then had to cut the lines to save his boat, while the gun dropped back onto the hull of the Derbent, where it remains.
Back at the boat, I again ride the diver-lift up to deck level, reflecting on my original question.
I am inclined to conclude that this is a hardboat with tubes.

FACTFILE

DIVING & AIR: Quest Diving Charters operates from Menai Bridge, 01248 716923, www.questdiving.co.uk.
ACCOMMODATION: Anglesey tourist information, www.visitanglesey.co.uk<.
FURTHER INFORMATION: Admiralty Chart 1977, Holyhead to Great Ormes Head. Ordnance Survey Map 114, Anglesey. Anglesey Wrecks and Reefs, by Andy Shears and Scott Waterman. The Essential Underwater Guide to North Wales, Volume Two, South Stack to Colwyn Bay, by Chris Holden. Shipwreck Index of the British Isles, Volume 5, West Coast and Wales, by Richard & Bridget Larn.