ON THE STERN SECTION OF THE SAN TIBURCIO, I am settling in to my usual wreck-diving routine. Have a look around, take a few photographs, sketch a bit, move on to the next interesting feature. I find the gun and its mount fallen over to port, the steering at the stern, then a pile of shells below where the gun mount would originally have been.
This is all a bit ironic, because one of the Navys reasons for blowing open the stern of the San Tiburcio was to recover the ammunition from the gun and dispose of it.
Whatever the clearance divers actually achieved, they did leave enough shells lying about to make a nice photograph. I line up my camera, press the shutter release, and hear a dull click that stops pathetically before the whirr of the motor winding onto the next frame. The batteries have just died.
Do you ever get the feeling that a dive site is jinxed On two previous trips to Scotland, my attempts to dive this 5995-ton tanker from RIBs had been blown out with unseasonably bad north-easterly weather - the worst direction possible for the Moray Firth.
Today is a typically nice summer day. It started with a few small waves and then calmed down to even better conditions. The sun is out. It isnt raining. I am diving from a nice stable catamaran hardboat with lots of deck area. Then my camera has a flat battery. And the day had been going so well.
We had begun with the wreck of the Verona, a steam yacht taken over by the Admiralty in World War One.
Skipper Bill Rucks wreck file contains illustrations of a classic yacht with fine lines. In fact the Veronas speed was one of the reasons this luxury yacht had been taken over for wartime patrol duties, and at 39m the wreck was an equally beautiful dive.
Fitted with deck guns fore and aft, the Verona had spent the first two years of the war patrolling off Peterhead before moving base to Cromarty in 1916 to patrol the Moray Firth. Then, in February 1917, she struck a mine and sank (Wreck Tour 71, January 2005).
The Verona is one of those dives that I can sum up in one word - inspirational. Its the sort of dive that keeps my enthusiasm bubbling, the sort that can make a trip worthwhile all by itself.
Not to suggest that the rest of the Moray Firth isnt worthwhile. Even while cursing a set of camera batteries that are prematurely flat, vowing to give up photography forever and take up knitting, I am having a dive that is almost as inspirational as the Verona on the San Tiburcio.
From the stern, I follow a line across the break to the forward part of the tanker, the break being just aft of the amidships superstructure.
While the stern part is relatively dark and atmospheric at 35m to the seabed, the forward part is a bright and sparkling garden of dead mens fingers at 25m to the top of the superstructure and catwalk and about 3m deeper to the main deck. I float above the deck in perfectly slack water, trying to make sense of the maze of pipes, valves and tank-hatch covers.
Back aboard Top Cat, skipper Bill Ruck enquires about my dive and then characteristically looks at the bright side.
For tomorrows main dive we have a choice of going east of Lossiemouth to the wreck of the 438-ton steamship Moray, which sank in 1893, or coming west again and diving the T-class submarine Tantivy, scuttled as a sonar target in 1950.
My desire to repeat the San Tiburcio for photographs makes the decision for us. So tomorrow will be the Tantivy followed by the San Tiburcio, as opposed to the Moray followed by the steel trawler Unity.
Back in Lossiemouth, its a pleasant sunny evening. Tornados from the nearby RAF base are flying circuits. Across the river from the harbour, families are building sandcastles on the beach. And under the back of the boat, Bill and Jim are trying to loosen the starboard propeller, which is jammed on its shaft.
A few days previously, Bill had clipped a rock leaving the harbour at low tide. He had hammered the blade straight, and Top Cat was running well without excess vibration from the shaft, but he had wanted to get it properly repaired as soon as possible.
There is plenty of choice for dinner. Mixed between the straight streets of granite houses, it seems that every other shop is a bistro or takeaway of some sort. I observe that shops in-between are all hairdressers and beauty salons. My conclusion is that the residents of Lossiemouth must be very well-fed, with elaborate hair and blemish-free skin as soft as a babys bottom.
Next morning on Top Cat soon puts an end to that theory, as a typical mix-and-match group of divers from the local club arrive. Most are well-fed, but they certainly hadnt been to the hairdressers last night. Start time is the usual 8.30 for a 9-ish get away, followed by a dive at whatever time we get there. Tides are not strong enough for slack water to be a consideration.
Sea conditions are good again, and two hours later we are above HMS Tantivy. This submarine wreck is owned by local divers George Brown and Bruce Greig of Moray Firth Diving, who bought it 20 years ago to keep it safe from salvors for leisure divers.
On reaching the conning tower I cant resist finding a patch of bare metal and polishing it with a finger.
While the hull is made of welded steel, the conning tower is reputed to be made entirely of non-ferrous metals and I just have to make sure. I raise a yellow-white shine with minimal effort.
The structural strength of a submarine combined with a controlled sinking mean that the Tantivy is a remarkably intact wreck. Like any intact submarine, the interesting bits are the deck, the bow and the stern. The rest of the hull is just relatively featureless steel covered in marine life. Diving close to low water,
I record 30m to the top of the conning tower and 38m metres to the seabed at the bow.
Its a remarkably well-armed submarine. Having just finished reading One Man Band by Rear Admiral Ben Bryant, about his time commanding HMS Safari, the T-class seems to have rectified many of his criticisms of the S-classs armaments.
At the bow there are no fewer than eight forward-facing torpedo tubes, six internal tubes with two more above, mounted externally between the pressure hull and the deck.
Then there are three rear-facing torpedo tubes, all external - two of them saddled either side of the deck just aft of the conning tower, and the third at the top of the stern.
Taking our time between the Tantivy and the San Tiburcio, Bill serves up another lunch of his famous curried spud. Just out of interest, I ask whether he serves other lunches. He has experimented from time to time, but divers only complained that they wanted the curried spud, so that is what he sticks with. It is a good diving lunch.
On the San Tiburcio I catch up with the photographs I had missed yesterday and check some details for my sketch.
Above 15m on the line there is a bit of a current in the murky surface water. Below on the wreck it is slack and,
if anything, even more colourful than before. I follow pretty much the same route, beginning on the stern section before crossing to the forward part and ascending the bow. Just behind the forecastle are two mine-hunting fish, one on either side.
They are broken up, and it takes me a while to assemble the mental jigsaw and work out how they fitted together.
When I get to the bow, I have time to dip to the seabed and inspect the anchors. Reports about the port anchor vary between it being buried to hanging and clanging against the hull, digging a hole in the bow.
Today it is resting on the sand, though it looks as if it was recently covered. The amount of scour below the bow must vary from year to year.
It seems that most of Top Cats divers visit the San Tiburcio at least twice.
While I made two dives from end to end, the usual format is to make one dive on the stern part and a second dive on the bow part.
Having dived the Tantivy and repeated the San Tiburcio, diving the Moray just doesnt fit in with other plans. But I do get to dive the trawler Unity, a nice easy dive at 24m to the seabed.
It is only a few miles out from Lossiemouth, and we are only just out of the harbour when the cry Dolphins! goes up. The Moray Firth has a large resident community of bottlenose dolphins and they are quite a common sighting off Lossiemouth. In between diving and angling charters, Bill also runs dolphin-watching trips.
The action begins with the occasional fin breaking as the dolphins circle the boat before they start riding the bows - in addition to a big stable deck area for divers, a catamaran with its two bows offers twice as much room for the dolphins to play, and the whole width of the bow for divers to lean over with cameras in hand.
Moray dolphins are much bigger than the usual bottlenoses, though not as big as killer whales. They accompany us halfway to the Unity before turning back inshore.
As I have come to expect, Bills wreck file already has a sketch of the Unity, by local diver Simon Few. Its an easy starting point for the dive so I can relax, concentrate on taking photographs and just make a few additional notes.
I note the odd detail, like the vice on the starboard rail and where the wreck has settled and decayed at the stern.
With plenty of no-stop time remaining, I chill out with the big shoal of poor cod at the bow, watching them line up and then swirl around above the anemone-covered railings.

The
The propeller of the Verona is part-buried at the stern
also
also partly buried is this gun near the stern of the San Tiburcio
rudder
rudder of the submarine Tantivy
Fish
Fish shoals above the anemone-covered bow of the Unity
Bottlenose
Bottlenose dolphins are sighted
Divernet

FACTFILE

GETTING THERE: Take the A941 from Elgin to Lossiemouth. In Lossiemouth, follow the waterfront along the west of the river, past the first part of the harbour, then left to the second part of the harbour. Top Cat is berthed at the end of the pontoon on the north side of the basin.
DIVING & AIR: Moray Diving, Top Cat, skipper Bill Ruck, 01309 690421 or 07775 802963, www.moraydiving.com.
ACCOMMODATION: Aberdeen & Grampian Tourist Board, Elgin, 01343 542666, www.agtb.org.
FURTHER INFORMATION: Admiralty Charts 115, Moray Firth; 222, Buckie to Fraserburgh; 223, Dunrobin Point to Buckie. Ordnance Survey Map 28, Elgin & Dufftown. www.jacksac. freeserve.co.uk. Tantivy, George Brown 07979 811736


CURRIED SPUD
- THE RECIPE
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Some devious divers try and steal GPS numbers from skippers. Here I break an even more closely guarded secret - Bills recipe for curried spud.

Ingredients
6 large (567g) tins of Tescos (finest new) value potatoes
20g mild curry powder
10g medium curry powder
Vegetable oil
3 large (420g) tins of Tescos value baked beans
Serves 12

Preparation
• Pre-heat oven to the max - its hard to tell with baby ovens on boats.
• Oil large baking tray and heat in oven.
• Drain potatoes, add to baking tray and roll in hot oil.
• Gently sprinkle both mild and medium curry powder onto potatoes while continuing to roll until covered evenly. Cover with further sprinkling of curry powder to taste.
• Return baking tray with potatoes to oven and leave to warm through thoroughly.
Warm baked beans in saucepan over medium heat, stirring gently.

Serving
• Spoon curried spud into one end of foil disposable trays. Pour beans into the other end.
• Garnish with further sprinkling of curry powder.
• Best accompanied by large mug of tea