Divernet

AFTER 40 MINUTES ON THE ALMOST INTACT WRECK OF THE STEAMSHIP VIGSNES, I spend my decompression stops mentally kicking myself for leaving it so long before returning to Anglesey.
I have not been to the area since dredging for the Conway tunnel was completed. A handful of early-season weekend trips in the 1980s had been characterised by foul weather, zero visibility and horrendous traffic. I can remember an Easter Monday traffic jam while returning along a badly flooded A5 somewhere between Betws-y-Coed and Telford, boat-trailer suspended beneath a floating boat.
Yet today is a pleasant July day. The previous evening I timed my drive to Menai Bridge to avoid the worst traffic and enjoyed quite an easy journey. Today I am having a cracking dive. Visibility is a grainy but acceptable 6m or so, slack water is perfect and the wreck of the Vigsnes is covered in a good assortment of marine life.
Looking at things more analytically, early-season trips to Cornwall with bank-holiday traffic, poor weather and silt dredged from Falmouth harbour being dumped too close to the Manacles have never put me off going to Cornwall. This time in Anglesey I have already concluded, on the basis of this one dive not yet completed, that the trip has been well worthwhile.
The Vigsnes was torpedoed by U1172 on 23 January 1945 while carrying a cargo of coal from Cardiff to Liverpool. It now stands upright, a good 10m clear of the seabed at 46m.
My host is Scott Waterman of Quest Diving Charters. Before the dive Scott has shown me photographs, original blueprints and his own sketch of this 1599 ton freighter.
I love it when people make things so easy for me. All I have to do is descend and make notes on the current disposition of the wreck, snapping photographs as I go.
As a wartime freighter, the Vigsnes had been fitted with a number of guns. None of these are still in place, but the remains of gun platforms and mounts can be found at the stern and collapsed above the midships superstructure, with quantities of small-calibre ammunition partly buried by debris and silt.
Coal from the holds is scattered about the bow deck, though that in the holds is now well buried beneath silt which has settled into the holds over the years. One anchor remains, interestingly dangling on a metre or so of chain from its hawse pipe. At the stern the propeller has been salvaged and the rudder removed, presumably to facilitate access to the propeller.
loose buddy
The divers for the day are from all over the place. Chris Boardman is my loose buddy for the trip. I use the term lightly, because by mutual consent we just do our own thing and bump into one another every now and then.
Andy Shears is Scotts co-author for their recently published dive guide to Anglesey, Scubapro representative for the north and NAUIs UK representative too.
Then we have Bill actor Mark Wingett, getting in some warm-up dives for a documentary he is working on with local marine archaeologist Mike Bowyer.
The Vigsnes is a World War Two wreck, but the waters of Anglesey are home to a plethora of wrecks from all eras. Mike is archaeological licence-holder for the Resurgam, an early submarine that sank under tow on 25 February 1880. Our second dive is on this historic submarine, so that Mike can check anodes placed to reduce corrosion of the now-delicate hull.
Its not much of a wreck, just a ships boiler with cones riveted on either end to give an overall length of 45ft. A small conning tower protrudes amidships and there are the overgrown remains of a propeller at the stern. It takes only a few minutes to swim round the wreck and see everything.
Even so, the chance of seeing such a historically significant submarine makes it a well worthwhile second dive.
The hull is plastered in big white and orange plumose anemones, so the only bare metal is the anodes and clamps holding them in place. The anodes are in remarkably good shape, but this concerns Mike, as it indicates that they may not be doing their job of protecting the wreck from further corrosion.

hands-off descent
Being based at Menai Bridge makes a lot of sense. Depending on the weather, we can head for whichever side of Anglesey is sheltered, offshore, inshore or, in the worst case, in the Straits itself. Next day the good weather holds and Scott heads south down the Menai Straits.
The visibility had been good enough to the north of the island, but he is hoping it will be better to the south.
Its a lazy 2.5 hours to the wreck of the Segontium. We have 30 minutes to slack water, which turns out to be useful as it takes several tries to get the shot hooked into this small wreck. In the end, the first pair of divers make a hands-off descent and tie the line into the railing alongside which the shot is dragging.
Chris is diving again, but the rest of the group today is a club from Leeds. We slip into the same ocean buddy system of the previous day, bumping into each other a couple of times on the wreck, not through any intent but because it is a small wreck.
Perhaps a better description would be a perfectly sized wreck. This mussel trawler foundered about 20 years ago on its way to be scrapped. It rests upright and intact with the deck at 28m and the seabed just past 30m - ideal for the average club dive, where everyone can have a decent time and see all the wreck without getting into too much decompression.
Visibility is better and brighter, but still a bit scummy from plankton in the water. With a rebreather I manage a 40 minute no-stop dive, taking my time to work round the wreck in detail.
The Segontium foundered on her way to be scrapped. I find, partly obscured by more enormous plumose anemones, a dinner-plate-sized hole in the starboard bow close to the seabed, and a considerable dent in the port bow. Could she have hit something But the dent may have been old damage, and either dent or hole could have been the result of the many trawls that seem to have struck the Segontium since she went down.
With all the machinery, masses of marine life and comfortable depth, I can see why this is such a favourite with local and visiting dive clubs, and that makes it an obvious candidate for a Wreck Tour - read all about it next month.
Scott heads the boat inshore to the wreck of the Kimya, a tanker which sank on 6 January 1991. The Kimya originally capsized further offshore in a storm. The hull was righted by clearing the superstructure and towed inshore, where it was beached to prevent the cargo of sunflower oil leaking.
This was an exercise of dubious success, as the Kimya has since been the subject of a number of scientific studies on the effect of sunflower-oil spillage on the marine environment.
The Kimya now rests on a sandy 10m seabed, with the bow breaking the surface at low water. We arrive just after the bow has disappeared below the virtually flat sea.

munching starfish
By the time we have had lunch, the bow is 3 metres under. Considering the shallow water, I am amazed at how intact the wreck is. The anchor winch and part of the catwalk above the tanks now rests just off the port side, but everything else is there, as far back as the superstructure.
Here it is more broken, with most of the upper works gone and the diesel engine exposed. The prevailing marine life is a mussel bed which has grown over the wreck, with the accompanying predatory herds of starfish munching their way across. Nevertheless, even this shallow there are plumose anemones under overhangs on exposed corners.
For my remaining two days, we stick with the north side of Anglesey. The divers are a mix of small groups from clubs, regular midweek divers and locals. Chris misses the last day as he has to do some coaching work for the Commonwealth Games cycling team.
For first dives we explore the wrecks of the Ardlough and Chacabuco. For second dives Scott drops us in near the seals at Puffin Island and on the wreck of the dredger Hoveringham in the Menai Straits.
Some of the divers also have a stimulating drift over ledges in Puffin Sound, a dive I elect to miss as the shallow washing-machine effect is not pleasant to endure with a rebreather.

feeling funny
The Ardlough was a modern freighter that struck the dock wall when leaving Liverpool on 25 September 1988. The damage was at first thought to be inconsequential, but that night the holds flooded to the point at which the crew had to be evacuated by helicopter. The Ardlough sank 16 miles north of Great Ormes Head in 42m.
It takes me a while to settle down on this dive. I cant put my finger on anything specific. We have slack water, improving visibility and reasonable natural light. My rebreather is working perfectly, with a fresh scrubber canister. I had only one Guinness the night before and a good nights sleep. I just feel uneasy.
As a consequence, even though I can see that the Ardlough is a spectacular wreck, it is 15 minutes or more into the dive before I really begin to enjoy it.
Its funny how on so many older wrecks the superstructure collapses but the hull survives intact, whereas on a more modern ship the big steel superstructure might survive, but the holds collapse.
The Ardlough is typical of this. The stern and bow are virtually intact. The stern lists slightly to starboard, the superstructure rising as shallow as 22m and the propeller and rudder hidden in a scour at 43m.
The bow is upright, both anchors in place and a stub of mast rising above the deck, damage to the starboard side most likely a result of the collision which sank the ship. As usual, everything is covered in enormous plumose anemones.
In between, the holds are devastated. I cant find one bit of hull that is still standing upright. The sides have fallen both in and out of the holds, the coamings broken into sections and the deck a mess.
I find only a few containers just off the starboard side. Accounts of the sinking mention containers breaking loose and floating round Liverpool Bay for days.
Both the Kimya at 997 tons and the Ardlough at 998 tons are awfully big wrecks for their stated tonnage compared to many older wrecks. There must be some funnies in the way the tonnage of a ship is estimated which have changed over the years.

double-header
The Chacabuco is an altogether different kind of wreck, with the broken remains well scattered and partly buried by a 2m-high bank of sand. This 999 ton steel-hulled sailing ship sank in a collision with the steamship Torch on 1 March 1873, making it an even older wreck than the Resurgam.
What strikes me about the Chacabuco is the sheer number of fish. Huge shoals of bib virtually obscure the bow and much of the sand banked up behind it. Further out, pollack cruise in looser formation.
After the collision the Torch was taken under tow and subsequently sank a few miles away in 20m. On a day with the right tides, it is possible to dive the 30m-deep Chacabuco on one slack water and then the shallower Torch as a second dive.
The tides didn't work out for me, but its worth bearing in mind as a novel theme for a day's diving.


Gun-mount
Gun-mount above the remains of the wheelhouse on the Vigsnes.
Steps
Steps to the gantry above the Kimyas main deck.
Dense
Dense shoal of bib above the Chacabucos bow
The
The Resurgams conning tower, showing the anode placed to slow corrosion
a
a photographer on the wreck of the Segontium
the
the Resurgams ventilator

FACTFILE

GETTING THERE: Follow the A55 across North Wales to Anglesey. Once over the bridge, take the slip road and turn right to Menai Bridge (the town, not the bridge itself). Turn towards the waterfront by the newsagent and post office opposite the HSBC. The boat picks up from the pontoon in front of the harbour office.
DIVING & AIR : Scott Waterman, Quest Diving Charters (01248 716923)
ACCOMMODATION : Quest can put you in touch with local accommodation, ranging from B&B in the pub by the harbour office to camping outside town.
FURTHER INFORMATION: Anglesey tourist information 01407 762622, www.anglesey.gov.uk/english/
tourism/tourinfo.htm. Its worth referring to Anglesey Wrecks and Reefs by Andy Shears and Scott Waterman.