Divernet

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LOOKING AT BROKEN PLATES AND LUMPS OF METAL on an unrecognisable shipwreck fails to hit the mark for me, any more than bland scenic dives with few focal points to capture the divers imagination.
It is only when a wreck is intact and interesting, or when a scenic dive is washed over by nutrient-rich water that feeds vast, colourful colonies of life that my pulse starts to race.
Now, if that intact wreck ends up being so colonised that you can hardly see the bare metal, and you add to this a school of fish and plentiful crustaceans, were getting somewhere.
I have started from the bottom and worked my way up, so strap your fins on and see if you agree with my choice of Scotlands top 10 scenic wrecks.
If you disagree, write in and I will dive your favoured wreck to see how it stands up to the competition.
I have scored the wrecks out of 5 in four categories:

A: How intact/exciting it is
B: Numbers of fish
C: Amount of other marine life
D: Average visibility/conditions



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A diver exits a door on the Saucy.

10 HMS SAUCY (max depth 24m, deck 18m)
A: *** B: **
C: **** D: *
Total: 10/20
HMS Saucy is a little-known wreck with a tragic history. An armed tug, it settled on the seabed of the Firth of Forth after hitting a mine in 1940, with 21 deaths.
This is a small wreck and only the bow half is intact, and in an amazing state of preservation. The bow cuts a straight line up from the deep scour at its base, and the intrepid diver can fin under the bow here.
Looking up, the colonies of plumose anemones branch out in a colonising forest all the way up to the prow 8m above. They dont stop there; the whole wreck is densely covered. In fact, on the gun barrel a battle rages for dominance between white anemones and their orange neighbours.
The Saucy is plastered with life, but after the bridge section things deteriorate as the wreck collapses and the muddy sea floor encroaches. Average vis is around 3m, so pick a good day to really enjoy the scene.


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A mooring point on the Akka.

9 AKKA (max depth 40m, deck 25m)
A: **** B: ***
C: *** D: *
Total: 11/20
The Swedish motor vessel Akka, which sank in 1956, causes a massive obstruction in the Firth of Clyde. Its the largest diveable wreck for sport divers in the river.
It is intact right up to the ladders leading up to the bridge. All that is missing are the two uppermost levels of the bridge, which have been wire-swept away.
The prop was also removed, controversially, which loses a point for this great wreck.
There is, however, a magnificent opportunity to fin around the sterncastle companionway. Marine life is amazing, and there are large schools of big fish. Most of the wreck is encrusted with large orange and white plumose anemones, giving the diver a big hit of colour.
It is only in the companionways that this wreck silts up a bit and beds of brittlestars take over, with only a large colourful dahlia anemone for company. Vis is usually around 5m. The Akka is definitely the best scenic wreck in the Clyde!


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Divers pass gun breech and barrel.

8 HMS PORT NAPIER (max depth 24m)
A: ***** B: **
C: ** D: ***
Total: 12/20
If points could be scored for above-surface scenery, the Port Napier off Skye would do well with its surrounding mountains and sea lochs. It doesnt, but its still one of Scotlands best wrecks.
The merchantman was converted for mine-laying, and was loading mines at the Kyle of Lochalsh in 1940 when fire broke out on board.
The big wreck bristles with interesting features, lying on its starboard side on a seafloor of clean sand, which makes a very pleasant backdrop when the sun is shining. The water here isnt that fast-moving, so there can be some silting, but the bow, railings and gun-turrets are covered in marine life. Huge fronds of kelp waft in the gentle tide, having colonised the shallower part of the wreck such as the intact masts.
The sand is home to a lot of life, too. Big pollack and families of ballan wrasse flit around the
superstructure. Its a massive, magical wreck but I feel there just isnt enough water movement to make this a contender for the scenic wreck title.
The vis is there, however - a whopping 10m being the average.


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One of few fish, a ballan wrasse, on the Thesis.

7 THESIS (max depth 34m, deck 28m)
A: *** B: ****
C: ** D: ****
Total: 13/20
The Sound of Mull is a raging torrent of Atlantic water funnelling through a mile-wide channel. Its certainly an area in which to expect a scenic wreck, and it provides a few beauties.
The Thesis, an iron steamer that sank in 1889, can be a dark dive but when I dived the wreck a second time the vis was 15m, and I couldnt believe I was on the same wreck.
The bows are the most visually stunning area, with great struts of decaying steel adorned with plumose anemones, evidence of the massive tidal streams that feed the residents. There is plenty of small stuff as well, with nudibranchs abounding in the dense coverings of carpeting marine life.
I did find the relative lack of fish life surprising, with only the odd wrasse flitting about the bows. Recent reports suggest that these bows are becoming unstable, which is a real shame, as they make a fantastic sight.
The wreck is generally intact all the way back to the stern, where the covering of marine life is only marginally less dense.
The Thesis is a beauty - though not the best the Sound of Mull can offer.


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An ornate toilet bowl on the Verona.

6 VERONA (max depth 42m)
A: **** B: ****
C: ** D: ****
Total: 13.5/20
The Verona in the Moray Firth was once a luxury yacht, and even after being press-ganged into the service of the Navy and mined in 1917, it still reveals touches of class, from the tip of its crumbling bowsprit (now crashed to the sea floor) to its ornate toilet bowls.
The addition of guns increases interest levels, and the massive single boiler looks out of all proportion for the size of the wreck, thanks to the wooden structures rotting away. Rows of intact brass portholes still decorate this war grave and raise the enjoyment factor of diving the Verona even more.
Fish life has been disappointing whenever I have dived Verona, but it is plastered in marine life, and the bed of clean sand on which it lies enables divers to view the wreck in a very pleasing light, even at 42m. Vis is usually above 8m.


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Cod and pollack by the engine-block
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mooring bollards

5 GLANMIRE (max depth 33m)
A: ** B: ****
C: ***** D: ****
Total: 15/20
The Glanmire lies off St Abbs Head, so expect amazing quantities of marine life. Youll find lobsters, octopuses and hordes of plumose anemones and dead mens fingers.
Abundant fish life engulfs this wreck, mainly schools of small pollack, while the big ones hide inside it - cod, ling and wolf-fish.
Vis is usually very good, at around 10m, and the wreck is kept clean by the strong tidal streams that blast away any silt.
The steamship sank in 1912, though her 15 crew and 22 passengers were able to reach safety. The days of the wreck are numbered, however, which is a great shame. Time, tide and perhaps diver erosion have all taken their toll. Gone are the rows of portholes. The bow,
now draped with a large net, is crumbling and starting to flatten. Last time I dived here, my fingers went through the metal at the bow.
Its not all doom and gloom, however. The boilers, engine block, propshaft and magnificent four-bladed prop, all carpeted with life, still make this a majestic site.
The queen is dying but there is life there yet.


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Diver in the Hispanias companionway.

4 HISPANIA (max depth 30m, deck 22m)
A: **** B: *****
C: **** D: ****
Total: 17/20
Were back in the Sound of Mull, and the wreck of a Swedish steamship sunk in 1954 that most people would call a contender for Scotlands outright best. A few years ago I may have agreed, but time is telling on this once-prettiest of wrecks.
Tide-blasting is finally tearing it apart - or is it all the divers hanging on for dear life after missing slack water Perhaps, as scenic wrecks are the pinnacle of diving, they can be compared to the flame that burns the brightest only to be extinguished first.
The once-massive mast that pointed up to the surface has keeled over and is now slumped across the starboard side of the ship. The inside of the bridge seems a little less intact; the captains bath is long gone. But Im being too negative and sentimental.
The Hispania, though ageing, is still an amazing scenic wreck. Ask any diver the colour of the Hispania and the answer will be orange, due to its complete colonisation by plumose anemones.
Fish life is profuse - this wreck is a haven for marine life and, in often-magnificent 10m-plus vis, you can enjoy the spectacle.
The wreck has a multitude of features to excite the diver, from the spare prop in the stern hold to colourful companionways leading into the bridge, which is lit by the row of now-empty portholes. This is the best the Sound of Mull can offer.


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Anti-fouling paint does its work at the bow

3 FAIRWEATHER V (max depth 30m, deck 25m)
A: ***** B: *****
C: **** D: ****
Total: 18/20
Up in the Summer Isles, the small wreck Fairweather V is the big attraction.
This modern fishing trawler sank in mysterious circumstances and I have dived very few wrecks that are so intact. By that, I mean sailing manuals in the wheelhouse, CDs and TV in the lounge and a tin of Andrews Liver Salts in the galley cupboard.
This wreck is only half-covered in marine life but in this case its no disappointment - just the bright red anti-fouling paint still doing its stuff.
Above this, however, the wreck is densely populated by large plumose anemones. Fish life is impressive, as the boats former prey now use it for shelter. Large schools of small pollack fin all around the wreck.
Conditions are usually excellent and you can expect vis of 10m on average.
If you are equipped and qualified to go inside, expect to see the wheel and throttles still in place in the wheelhouse, small fish darting around the engine-room and, yes, this wreck does have a kitchen sink. Just watch out for those reels of nets in the hold.


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Huge wheel on the San Tiburcio.

2 SAN TIBURCIO (max depth 32m, deck 25m)
A: ***** B: *****
C: **** D: *****
Total: 19/20
Back in the Moray Firth we find the oil tanker San Tiburcio, which deserves the number 2 spot as it shades out other fantastic scenic wrecks in the area such as the Verona.
The San Tiburcio is monstrous, with mooring bollards three times as big as you would expect to see on a wreck.
A wartime loss in 1940, there are remains of mine-sweeping equipment on the deck of this steam tanker, alongside massive wheels and valves.
There are also huge A-frames and a flying walkway that, when the vessel was fully laden, connected the bridge to the bow and stern. The wreck is split in two just aft of the bridge, but a line takes you to the stern section.
Every piece of this sculpted mountain of metal, apart from the captains bath in the bridge, is covered in plumose anemones.
Fish life is good, with large pollack dodging about, though there were fewer fish than I might have hoped. Perhaps that has to do with the minke whales and pods of bottlenose dolphins that frequent the area.
Conditions are usually good and 10m vis is the average. Its a monster of a dive, especially if you are visited by a minke whale - it has happened.




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Divers inside the Tabarka

1 TABARKA (max depth 15m)
A: ***** B: *****
C: **** D: *****
Total: 20/20
Top prize goes off the top of Scotland to the Orkney Isles. In fact Burra Sound itself could have had a number of contenders had the Inverlane not broken up, and the Gobernador Bories is also worth a look.
But these two, like all that have gone before on the countdown, cannot compare to the Tabarka, which earns its 20/20 marks.
A blockship put down in 1944 in Burra Sound translates to an intact wreck broadside on to the massive tidal stream. Make sure you forget the High Seas Fleet for a day to enjoy such a fantastic scenic wreck.
The Tabarka has turned turtle, but dont let this put you off. You dont have much chance to enjoy the marine life on the outside of this wreck, as the tide is too powerful. Only small stuff lives outside, and the outer hull is covered in mussels and dead mens fingers.
You need to be inside this intact wreck. The decks are covered in small anemones. Green water lights the dark scene from the breaches in the hull, and outside massive schools of fish swarm around the wreck, unperturbed by the massive tide that whips the kelp into a frenzy. Sometimes these fish enter the wreck and explore the huge caverns inside.
The wreck itself is interesting, with its massive engines and boilers covered in dense coverings of marine life, despite the darkness.
Fin down the long walkways that connect various parts of the wreck. Breaches in the hull can afford an exit at various stages, but a redundant air supply is a must if youre to dive safely inside this wreck. Once you have seen enough, find an exit hole or retrace your fin strokes. You will just have time to look back at the wreck as you are carried away in the tide.
The Tabarka is a magnificent mix of marine life, fish and the odd seal. With gin-clear vis of around 20m and the added excitement of diving inside an intact wreck, the Tabarka rightly claims the prize as Scotlands best scenic wreck.