|The Royal Fusilier lies in 42-46m of water, and is swept by tides, so its definitely a dive for the experienced only. To make matters worse, the wreck is in an exposed stretch of water where conditions can change very rapidly, which makes calm weather essential. However, when conditions are calm along this stretch of coastline, a low-lying fog, or harr, can rapidly reduce surface viz to less than it is under water. Not put off yet Good, because similar difficulties are experienced by most British wreck divers who dive anything out of the ordinary. And an experienced hardboat skipper and GPS can take care of almost everything except stormy weather.|
The 2187 ton, 90m-long Royal Fusilier was built in 1924 by Caledon of Dundee. When returning from London to its registered port of Leith, the ship was attacked by German bombers on 3 June 1941 in the Firth of Forth. It started taking on water and was put under tow. The damage had already been done, however, and the ship developed a serious list and sank a couple of miles north-east of the Bass Rock, off North Berwick. Luckily, her crew of 27 were all saved. The intact wreck of the Royal Fusilier now lies on its port side, embedded in the sea-floor up to its centre line. But dont let this put you off, as it still has a lot to offer.
So why am I writing about a wreck that is deep, difficult to dive, tidal and half buried in the mud Mainly because the Royal Fusilier is in a fantastic state of preservation, its visible remains being intact right down to the parallel rows of port-holes (brass with glass) in the hull. The ship lies at a depth that makes it very difficult for wrecking gangs to strip it, and the structure is still very strong, so any removal is a slow process. It is also visited by a relatively small number of divers.
Once youve managed to reach the site, the descent down the shot line is filled with expectation. Viz can vary - if youre lucky it can be 10m with a green tinge to the water, but usually its dark with viz of around 5m.
Landing on the wreck, you immediately notice the profusion of orange and white plumose anemones that cover the structures even at this depth. Your priority is to orientate yourself on the wreck. As with wrecks in Scapa Flow, if you land on the ships hull its a case of swimming up it and dropping over the side to find yourself on the deck, which now lies vertically in the water. On my last dive on the Royal Fusilier, I was fortunate enough to have the shot line just forward from the ships stern. Here the wreck protrudes only 3m from the sea-floor, which is at 46m. There is a lot of superstructure around the stern, including the remains of a derrick crane. Finning forwards along the seabed, you soon come to a companionway that runs along the starboard side of the ship. Doors lead off from here into the ship, but to enter at this depth is asking for trouble, especially as part of the companionway has a trawl net draped over it. Emerging from the companionway once again, you will notice a lot of debris on the sea-floor and thousands of burrows that are home to Dublin Bay prawns.
What appear to be huge columns running vertically across the deck are in fact ropes densely covered in plumose anemones.
Yarrells blennies scuttle about the anemones and youll occasionally come across a large pollack. Just aft of the bridge, which juts out from
the deck with a smaller raised bridge on top, is an area worth further investigation. It looks as if it has received damage, maybe from the bombing that led to the ships demise, or from its impact with the seabed.
Finning further forward towards the bow, the hull sweeps down from the side of the bridge in a large curve to the lower deck level. Here youll pass another large crane, and the remains of the mast lying on the sea-floor. The side of the hull rises up as it forms the raised shelter at the bow. Here there is a winch and bollards. As the bow curves round, it sinks into the mud before the prow of the ship can be seen.
All this exploration will take about 12 minutes, and at this depth its time to think about returning to the shot line. This is a good opportunity to rise up to the side of the hull and fin back towards the stern. Youll pass over intact railings covered in vivid life and come to one of the most impressive features of the wreck. Parallel lines of large port-holes, with their brass still intact, line the hull as far as the eye can see. For someone like myself who has very rarely seen an intact port-hole on any wreck, its an awesome sight. Swimming further aft, passing over more anemone-infested railings, you near the stern area again. Here, as already mentioned, there is a large crane and the stern castle can be seen. I also noticed a large rectangular container about 3m long, 30cm wide and 20cm deep, with a brass-hinged lid at one end. I have no idea what it was or what it contained. I put it down to a wartime addition to the ship.
At this point, youve completed the tour of the wreck and are back at the shot line. It takes about 18 minutes on the wreck to complete the return trip to the stern. This gives a penalty of around 14 minutes of stops, which is another good reason to dive this wreck in the summertime. The jellyfish that drift by will keep you interested during your stops, especially if theyre lions manes!
The Royal Fusiliers sister ship also sank in the Firth of Forth. Called the Royal Archer, it lies five miles south-east of Kirkcaldy, off the Fife coast, having sunk after hitting a mine in 1940. It is broken in large sections that rise 3-4m off the sea-floor, which is at around 27m. The stern area is the most intact part of the wreck, with its companionways covered in plumose anemones and hand-rails still remaining. So, if you like the sound of diving wrecks in the much under-dived Firth of Forth, these two sisters make a very good pair with which to start.
GETTING THERE: From Edinburgh, cross the Forth Road Bridge and head east along coast to Pittenweem and Anstruther. For Dunbar, take A1 from Edinburgh.
DIVING: Cromwell Marine Dive Centre (01368 863354) in Dunbar has a dive shop and compressor (2 per fill). You can launch RIBs and hire local boats in Anstruther, Pittenweem and Dunbar.
ACCOMMODATION: There are B&Bs in Anstruther, Pittenweem and Dunbar, plus abundant accommodation in nearby Edinburgh.
DIVING FOR NON-DIVERS:Theres plenty to do in Edinburgh, plus beaches and castles around Dunbar.
HAZARDS: Weather conditions can deteriorate quickly and the area is prone to rapidly developing fog. Avoid the trawl net on the wreck.
BEST TIME TO GO:Mid- to late summer.
DIVING SUITABLE FOR: Those with advanced diving qualifications.
COSTS: B&Bs around Anstruther and Pittenweem charge£15-20 per person, boat diving costs from£15 per person for two dives.
PROS:Brass port-holes and intact superstructure. You can view the whole of the wreck in one dive.
CONS:The diving is usually in darkness, and the vessel lies half-buried on its side.