One
One of HMS Repulses 4in gun turrets



THE RISING SUN WAKES ME from my mattress on deck. I am relieved that the sea has moderated since last nights departure from Salang, and our captain has not had to turn back. With just over two days available for diving from Tioman Island, timed towards the end of the season, I dont have enough slack in my schedule to cover for bad weather.
We have an hour or two to go before arriving at the wreck of HMS Repulse, the history of which is described overleaf. I spend the time checking my equipment. As with many locations involving deep dives, the kit is a mixture of bits I have brought and rental gear, in this case from the technical cupboard of my host, B&J Diving.
Each piece of kit is good stuff, but the collective configuration is almost virgin. Almost, because I had managed a quick dip beneath the jetty to sort my weight out the previous evening.
Just a few metres down, I can already see the shadow of Repulses starboard side, the yellow of Bens cylinders and scooter bright against the dark torpedo hole where he is tying in the shotline.
The descent is easy, on perfect slack. The spare line on the shot just floats.
As Martin later admits, this is partly planning and partly luck. Current and slack water is not as predictable as it is in the English Channel.
First there is the general circulation of the South China Sea and Gulf of Thailand, driven by the monsoon seasons. Then there is the effect of the tides, at the moment the big springs of the Equinox. Sometimes the tide cancels out the ocean current. Sometimes the ocean current overwhelms the tide. Sometimes the ocean current fades, and slack water actually matches the tide.
HMS Repulse rests on its port side, tipped over slightly so that the deck overhangs the superstructure and guns, but far less upside-down than most battleship wrecks.
Is this a consequence of Repulse being a lighter armoured battle-cruiser, or a dynamic of the sinking
Beneath the torpedo hole, we follow the gap in the superstructure where the seaplane catapult spans the deck, then turn forwards just above the centre line. The route takes me past one of the anti-aircraft pom-pom guns, then past a triple 4in gun turret.
Guns that remained firing on Mitsubishi Betty torpedo-bombers right up to the last explosion caused Repulse to capsize, and the abandon ship order to be given.
Both sets of guns are broken from their mounts, exposing drive mechanisms surrounded by small piles of ammunition. With 513 of the crew of 1309 lost with the ship, HMS Repulse is a war grave, and divers should not venture inside.
Yet the damage causes me to ponder just where inside starts and the outside stops. I draw a mental line over the wreckage; a border I wont cross.
Another border on this dive is between good and bad visibility. While the water to just short of 50m is sparklingly good, below that its soup. All the murk that could have been diluted across 55m of water is concentrated in the bottom 5m, like a cocktail neither shaken nor stirred.
Beneath the 4in guns, the armoured wheelhouse and mast bend into the murk where the mass of the hull has twisted it to the side. Forward again and I venture to examine the 15in main guns, then settle for the backs of the turrets that are just above the clouds.
Its the sort of dive that I might have done on air, perhaps with a hot mix for decompression. Nevertheless, the clarity of a weak 20/25 trimix with 50% and 75% decompression gases is a luxury I enjoy.
A few hours later, fed, watered and decompressed, a second dive takes me to the stern of the wreck. The current has picked up and the murk is now diluted across the lower 25m of the dive - enough to bathe the wreck but it is possible to see through it. To save gas, I hold Martins fins for a tow behind his scooter as far as the propellers.
There is more damage to the hull, from another torpedo or perhaps a bomb. Repulse took five torpedo hits, mostly on the port side that is now against the seabed.
Its hard to tell the extent and shape of the damage beneath the jungle of soft corals. Sections of armour have popped loose from the hull, only 7.5cm thick here compared to the 22.5cm of armour further forwards. It looks as if a propeller fouled against the broken plates, though there are no reports of that happening, and certainly not to the same extent as on fellow Force Z victim the Prince of Wales, which suffered enormous flooding as a result of a propeller shaft being bent by a torpedo.
Having taken the easy way to the stern, I have plenty of time to swim slowly back to the shot amidships. While maximum depth was planned to be shallower than my first dive, the change in distribution of the visibility results in a deeper average as I drop behind the aft turret to follow the centreline forward past more of the triple 4in gun positions.
I head back to the seaplane hangar and catapult areas, then up to the shotline and decompression stops.
On my first dive I had just floated beside the line. No such luxury now - the current building across the wreck creates some interesting turbulence, though by no means the 3 knots divers have reported in the past.
I tie in with a luggage strap borrowed from my bag, an improvised Jon-line.
I dont want to risk a shoulder-shake bend from hanging on in the current.
Its 9pm by the time we unload at Salang. My body clock is so screwed up from jet lag that I have slept through most of the journey. I dont have a clue what time it is. I drop my camera off in my bungalow at the Pusaka resort, then head out for a couple of celebratory beers. The next day is planned for easy local dives while gas is being mixed.
Divers gather at B&J Divings shop on the waterfront. Kit is loaded onto trolleys and rolled down the pier to the waiting boat. I ask Martin to show me the best sites, and he has no hesitation in recommending Tiger, fewer than 30 minutes away off Sepoi Island.
The geology of Tioman and the surrounding smaller islands is predominately granite, a bit like the Similan Islands off the peninsulas other coast or, closer to home, like most of the scenic diving in Cornwall.
We descend to a swim-through between a pair of granite humps. A moderate current and rich water feeds a lush array of gorgonians. Over a figure eight round the humps and numerous smaller blocks of granite, I soon lose track of the sheer mass of fish, soft corals and reef life. Anyone who has dived the better-known Richelieu Rock in the Similan Islands will know what I mean.
I am diving with a medium zoom lens, good for the larger nudibranchs at one end, through fish to gorgonians at the other end. But choice of lens isnt important; I could as easily have dived with any lens from extreme wide-angle to super-macro and had no trouble finding subjects.
We continue the day with a pair of wooden fishing boats sunk as artificial reefs at Soyak Island, just outside Salang Bay. Both had been caught fishing illegally, confiscated and sunk.
Its a measure to combat illegal fishing that Im sure would engage common sympathies between both divers and fishermen back in the UK.
The term artificial reef is apt. Neither wreck could be considered a wreck dive in its own right, especially compared to HMS Repulse, yet both are home to a full spread of marine life.
While Tioman Islands local dives stand alongside any in South-east Asia, for me they are simply a fill-in between technical days. Making Repulse my first choice of dive site had not been a difficult decision. It is the second choice that presents a dilemma. With the next day effectively a half-day due to flight timings, should I go for a long boat ride and a single dive to 65m on the distant Prince of Wales, or use the early start to fit in a couple of closer wrecks in 50-55m
We plan for the latter, a Dutch submarine and a British minesweeper, WW2 casualties just over an hour away.
But its a case of being all gassed up with no place to go. The wind picks up and diving is restricted to local sites again. At least I get a few extra hours in bed before we set off for Tula Island.
Here we dive Fan Canyon, a narrow, appropriately named canyon that winds through the granite, and Batu Malang, a collection of granite and hard coral reef, chosen primarily because it is shallow and can follow soon after the first dive. The translation is Unfortunate Rock, though I dont consider myself unfortunate to have dived it. Perhaps boats have run into it in the past.
For my last night, I transfer from the diving convenience of the Salang Pusaka resort to the luxury of the Berjaya Beach and Golf Resort at the opposite end of the island, more convenient for the airport. For those who want the luxury, its not inconvenient for the local diving, but wouldnt have worked with the early starts of my offshore trips.
I stay with Berjaya for the first half of my journey home - it operates the puddle-hopper flights to Kuala Lumpur, then I have an overnight in the Berjaya Time hotel before continuing to London.
I enjoy a lazy morning by the pool, then an evening that begins with sunset at the Petronas Towers, once the worlds tallest, and still the tallest twin building.
Its a clear, calm day, marred only by my frustration that the weather didnt come a day earlier. I might have dived that submarine, or the minesweeper - maybe even Prince of Wales.
Looking on the bright side, it does give me an excuse to return.

By
By the armoured bridge of HMS Repulse
Petronas,
Petronas, the worlds tallest twintower block
Drive
Drive screw from one of the turrets
Ready
Ready ammunition for one of HMS Repulses guns.
Soft
Soft corals and featherstars at the Tiger site.
Salang
Salang Bay, Tioman Island.

FACTFILE

GETTING THERE: Malaysia Airlines from London to Kuala Lumpar (www.malaysiaairlines.com), then a taxi to the regional airport and Air Berjaya to Tioman Island, www.berjaya-air.com
DIVING: B&J Diving, Salang, www.divetioman.com
ACCOMMODATION: Salang Pusaka Resort, www.salangpusakaresort.com. Berjaya Tioman Resort, www.berjayaresorts.com.my
WHEN TO GO: The diving season runs from February to October, with the best time to dive HMS Repulse being February to May and October.
MONEY: Malaysian ringgit, currently MYR 6.72 to the£.
PRICES: Return flights to Kuala Lumpar£626, taxis£20, return flights to Tioman about£70. Salang Pusaka Resort chalets cost from about£10-25 per night. Berjaya Tioman Resort chalets from around£27. Local diving is about£20 for two boat dives. HMS Repulse costs around£170 for two dives (minimum two divers to run). Prices include cylinders and air with 50% and 100% decompression gasses. Helium is priced at around 5p per litre.
FURTHER INFORMATION: Force Z Survivors Association, www.forcez-survivors.org.uk. Tourism Malaysia, www.malaysiatrulyasia.co.uk.