The making of a Wreck Tour
ITS ONE OF THE FIRST QUESTIONS I am asked by other divers on the boat: How do you make a Wreck Tour What they mean usually is how do you produce the finished illustration, the bit on which Max Ellis has worked his digital art magic.
This is the main part of a Wreck Tour, the part without which the description of the dive, the history and the fact panel would be homeless. So how do we create this illustration of a wreck
I can dream of using sophisticated multi-beam high-frequency sonar technology and computer-imaging, as the ADUS team employed to show the wrecks of Scapa Flow (Scapa Flow in 3D, January 2007), but the sheer cost of such technology is beyond the means of Wreck Tours. Limitations of the technology would also restrict its application for some of the wrecks we have toured in the past 10 years.
The sketches used as the starting point for DIVERs Wreck Tour illustrations have always been done the hard way - by me, diving with slate, pencil and camera, making notes, sketching and taking photographs as I dive.
After the dive, I review the notes and photographs to create a better sketch on a sheet or two of A4 paper. Sometimes I do it all myself; sometimes other divers help.
Back at my desk, I scan the pencil sketch onto a computer, then use PhotoShop to clean it up, make adjustments and add notes.
When the Tour is scheduled for publication, Max Ellis takes the sketch as
a starting point to begin painting with his digital airbrush. Meanwhile, Kendall McDonald gets to work on the history panel. For a well-known wreck such as HMS Moldavia (January), which we can use as an example, he doesnt need new research, though lesser-known wrecks sometimes call for his detective work.
Reference information plays a vital role, both before diving and when completing
a tour. Original photographs and drawings from guide-books such as the divEr Guides, the Shipwreck Index and the Internet come in useful.
If a ship is listed as having three boilers,
I need to find all three and place them on my sketch, so I need to know this before diving. Knowing whether or not a WW1 steamship was armed can save me a lot of dive time spent searching for a gun that may not be there to find.
At the same time, I cant place too much confidence in reference information. It could be wrong. The ship may have been extensively modified during its life. Items
of interest could have been salvaged.
After 100 years under water, the remains of a wreck could look very different to the original ship (though sometimes a wreck can be remarkably intact).
The process is best illustrated by an example. Sketching the Moldavia wreck is not typical, because its more complex than most Wreck Tours and involved a dedicated team over three days of diving, but it does show well how divers can contribute.
SKETCHING IT OUT
Since the Wreck Tours began, several groups of divers have invited me to come and tour their favourite wrecks, but for HMS Moldavia it was the first time I had gone looking for a group to help me.
I had dived this 9,505-ton armed merchant cruiser in the past, with boats from Portsmouth, Littlehampton and Brighton, so I knew that to get a good sketch I would need a few days diving dedicated to the wreck, and a team to help.
I sought the help of Andy Baker at Poseidon Adventures (www.poseidon adventures.co.uk), which specialises in building UK dive trips and expeditions.
Andy booked the boat and accommodation, gathered a group of divers, sorted out directions on how to get there, and handled the dive-marshalling on the day and gas fills each afternoon.
Channel Diver arrives above the wreck.
A lumpy ride turns to a more stable roll as the catamaran hull settles on the waves. Skipper Steve Johnson throws the shot in, confident that it is close to a gun that points up from the starboard side of the stern. Essentials out of the way, we have half an hour for final kit-fettling before its time to dive.
Like me, some have dived the Moldavia before. For others, it is all new. With another two days ahead of us, the first dive is really a reconnaissance while everyone gets oriented.
Even so, I hand out some questions to help focus the team. How big is the break in the hull Are there any signs of engines or boilers poking out through the keel Are there any other breaks Where are the masts Where are the other seven guns Placing the guns on my sketch is essential.
As Steve had promised, the shotline is within sight of the gun. While the other divers disperse, I go straight to the stern
to begin sketching my way forwards, photographing as I go. Some photos are taken because I think they will look nice, others because its another way of taking notes to add detail to my sketch.
Andy also heads forward, with his video camera. Video is a tool I have not planned into a Wreck Tour project before, though I have made good use of it from other divers when available.
After 50 minutes on the wreck I am the last to surface, but the work is not over.
I have borrowed a side-scan sonar, and we spend the next hour seeking an image of the wreck (see below).
On the way back to shore, I begin translating my notes into a proper sketch - an overview with a few key features plotted. Andys video is great for adding detail and getting bits in the right order.
The other divers contribute their notes. Some boilers are poking out through the break in the hull, but there is no sign of the engines. Cathy de Lara has photographed
a docking telegraph on the wall of the steering compartment at the stern, a small feature in a fisheye lens. We have found some of the guns and empty gun-mounts, but more remain unaccounted for.
Its another lumpy journey out from Brighton Marina, interrupted by a pod of dolphins just before we arrive at the wreck site. Steve circles slowly as the dolphins come in to ride the bow, but it is only a temporary diversion because they go back to looking for fish, and we have to prepare to dive at slack water.
Today my list of questions is more specific. We now know roughly where the remaining guns should be, but are they actually there and, if not, where are they How many boilers can be seen through the gap Where is the second anchor-capstan
The bow deck has split from the starboard side of the hull, but how does it fit with the port side and the port anchor There is a small ladder on the side of a cabin - does this tie in with lifeboat derricks above
Steves shotting of the wreck is precise, the line again in sight of the upward-pointing gun.
I begin by checking the recce reported from yesterdays dive, getting a close picture of the docking telegraph, then some pictures of the boilers as they have fallen into the split, all the while making notes to add detail to the sketch.
I also photograph the other divers, and Cathy photographs me. These tasks out of the way, I head off forwards again, looking for missed detail and, in particular, for guns and gun-mounts.
Back on Channel Diver, we have another session with the side-scan sonar. Reviewing photographs, video and observations from divers, we have six out of eight gun-mounts and five out of eight guns located.
All the questions are answered, except for details of the guns.
The sea is not looking so good. We will have a look outside the marina, but Steve warns that we may have to turn back.
Fortunately, the waves are short and sharp. A slightly offshore wind is backing, so should be behind us by the time we return. With the reputation the summer has gained for blown-out diving, we have been unbelievably lucky to achieve three days on neap tides on the Moldavia.
While Andy and I have been swimming lengths of the wreck, the other divers have not seen much past halfway, so this time we do it the other way round, and Steve puts the shot on the bow.
My list of questions is now pretty much reduced to the guns and the seabed. We have all four forward gun-mounts placed, but where is the fourth gun At the stern, we have two guns and mounts placed, but are missing the other two. One of these could well be buried in debris, but I want to make sure of the last gun and mount.
Having stayed on the deck for previous dives, this time I follow the seabed aft. This is the part of the sketch to which I still want to add detail. We add another of the aft gun-mounts to my sketch, but dont increase the gun count. The guns are either salvaged, buried or well clear of the wreck.
I now feel I know my way about the Moldavia as well as I would on the James Eagan Layne. With the help of the team I have a sketch complete enough to make a Wreck Tour.
It will never be perfect, but it has quite enough detail to guide divers around the Moldavia to see the important features. This is what a Wreck Tour is all about.
WHY I DIVE WITH A CHOPPING BOARD
I started making Wreck Tour dives using a simple divers slate, but it gave me too little space for my notes. A waterproof notebook worked well, but I wasted too much time turning pages back and forth.
I then bought a few reams of waterproof paper from AquaScribe, and found it convenient to rest it on a kitchen chopping board. For big wrecks, I can put a second sheet of paper on the other side of the board.
I used to use pump pencils, but now find twist pencils more controllable. They have more lead, and there is less broken lead wasted.
HOW MANY DIVES GO INTO A WRECK TOUR
For the vast majority of Wreck Tours, I can get everything I need in one long dive.
A single 45-minute bottom time is much more effective than two or three
30-minute dives, as long as I still have slack water. I can sketch most steamship wrecks in 45 minutes.
To get the duration for these dives, and to minimise the subsequent decompression, a rebreather is essential. When it comes close to the end of a dive and another 10 minutes could finish the job, it gives me the flexibility to do so.
The Moldavia took three dives on successive days, each with 45 to 50 minutes bottom time, with a team of divers to help me.
STARFISH 450F SIDE-SCAN SONAR
I have seen some nice side-scan images of wrecks, so getting a good image of the Moldavia could have been a useful input to my sketch. Tritech lent me a Starfish 450F system on review.
Our first use of it was not a good idea. We were using the system at the limits of its specification and getting a display with plenty of noise, lots of surface chop and no worthwhile returns. With a view to at least proving that the system was working, we headed inshore to a shallower wreck and mobile phone coverage.
A call to technical support sorted out that our problem was noisy AC power from an inverter. We moved to the boats DC power, but still had interference from other equipment, though eventually we got images of our 20m wreck. They were good enough to tell us that a wreck was there, but not good enough to add any detail.
Back at the Moldavia, we tried again. Eventually we traced the worst source of noise to the auto helm, so Steve switched off everything but the GPS and skillfully steered a straight course with a building sea from the beam, all on one engine so that we didnt get propeller-wash interfering with the sonar fish.
Again, after much trolling back and forth, the best we could get was a confirmation that a big wreck was there, but no good images of it. Disregarding the side-scan, we got better wreck detection from Channel Divers conventional sonar, set to wide beam.
We all liked the Starfish and associated software, and it would probably have been much better if used from a smaller boat in shallower water and a calmer sea, but on the Moldavia project it didnt add any value.
* Tritech Ltd, www.tritech.co.uk
Artist Max Ellis takes the sketch in PhotoShop and turns it into the finished illustration. He starts by building up the hull and deck, and working out the lighting on the wreck. When the overall structure is complete, he then starts laying out the items of machinery and ships equipment, adapting clips of winches, derricks, anchors, boilers and engines he has accumulated over the years.
Where new items are required, he begins with a photograph to create a suitable clip that he can add to the illustration. Photos of real parts of ships just dont work right when scaled down, so I generally look for a suitable bit of rusting farm machinery or old gate that can be adapted to my purpose, says Max.
These images are then used as overlaying textures, using filters and varying opacity. One of my best props is a rusty old sewing machine. I can position it to get the right lighting, and take a close-up to get a curved surface that I can turn into a section of hull.
I still have to create new parts for every wreck and build some things from scratch, but they all go into the bank of images I can draw from next time.
One of Maxs favourite parts of the job is setting the completed wreck into the environment. I love playing around with the lighting and seabed; I feel it really brings the image to life. As a special treat, I sometimes get rocks and a water surface to draw!
Of all the Wreck Tours, has he any favourites
I enjoy working on intact wrecks like HMS Scylla, says Max. The Scylla (Tour 64, June 2004) won a coveted British Illustration Award. More recently, HMS Patia (Tour 108, January 2008) was featured in the American Illustration Annual, an honour rarely achieved by non-Americans.
The Patia was interesting for the catapult at the bow, and the way the wreck broke aft, says Max. I also enjoyed the Caleb Sprague for similar reasons - the contrast between the intact and broken parts of the wreck (Tour 118, November 2008).
Max has been known to plant little surprises - did anyone notice the champagne cork on the 10th anniversary Moldavia artwork See more of his illustrations at www.junkyard.co.uk
I asked Kendall McDonald, who must have written more about shipwrecks than anyone else in the diving world, what kept him at it after all the years since his first wreck dive in Devon in 1953.
Any wreck diver will tell you that once youve dived a wreck, you feel compelled to find out everything about the sinking, said Kendall. As a journalist, I wrote not only for the national papers, for DIVER, but also put it all down in books. You see, there is nothing so interesting to people, not only divers, as the full story of a shipwreck.
Thats one of the major attractions of every Wreck Tour. I tell the story of her sinking, Max draws the wreck as she is today, and you do the serious work, marking out the major points of the wreck to help the divers who follow to get the best of it.
Did you have to do a lot of research into the sinking of HMS Moldavia I never seem to have stopped, but I was fortunate with this big ship, because her history is
so well recorded. Oberleutnant Johann Lohs of the First Flanders Flotilla, who sank her, was one of the most meticulous of the U-boat commanders in logging every part of every one of his missions.
WRECK TOUR - THE BOOK
The first 25 Wreck Tours are now available in book form. For an independent assessment we gave a copy to Gary Lee, PADI Master Instructor and a keen wreck diver
Wreck Diving is a passion of mine, and I love being guided by more knowledgeable divers through some of the great wrecks around the world.
Once in possession of Wreck Tour, I called a dive buddy and suggested that we use the book to dive some UK sites.
First we looked at the Wreck Summary section, which gives the location of each of the 25 featured Tours. Then we checked maximum depth, typical dive depth and dive level, which is rated one to five, one being sweet and easy and five for the most experienced divers.
We settled on three dives, the first being the Stanegarth tugboat sunk in Stoney Cove. It would be fun to revisit this sweet and easy wreck, armed with new-found knowledge.
We looked out for the sea-cocks, opened to scuttle the boat, and followed the tour through the hole in the engine roof, looking out for the propeller-shaft, ventilator hatches and ladders up to the chart-room. I wouldnt have dived through this wreck and seen so much without the guide.
Afterwards we talked about the site, revisited the Tour in the book, and decided that another dive on it was merited.
Our second Tour was on HMS M2 in Lyme Bay, Dorset. A submarine aircraft-carrier at between 25 and 33m deep and 90m long, this is rated a 2.
I would have loved to dive HMS Hood, which lies across Portland Harbour entrance but, as the book says, diving it is now prohibited by the port authority. Its good to see it included in the book, however, as it is always spoken about in the dive bars around the harbour.
Once again, we followed the Wreck Tour suggestions. Visibility wasnt terrific that day, but fortunately we had planned the dive from the book, and carried slates with appropriate points of interest to find.
I hadnt fully appreciated the M2s size until we dropped onto its conning tower and swam over the hangar entrance and along the launch rails.
Each wreck in the book carries Kendall McDonalds History Files over half a page or so, and reading the one on the M2 instilled in us the sense of respect this protected military wreck deserves.
Our final dive was on the Witte Zee, another tug but slightly deeper and with a difficulty level of 3. Each Wreck Tour offers information on who to call to arrange diving, air, launch and accommodation and, having never dived off the Isle of Wight, this was invaluable. Directions were easy enough, thanks to the satnav, and our skipper was in any case as knowledgeable as the book.
We were dropped towards the bow, and nearly through the collapsed wheel-house; thankfully we spotted this before it was too late.
Once we had found our bearings, we headed off in search of the winch and large holds towards the stern of the tug. Again, the visibility wasnt fantastic at about 5m, but following the diagrams we had copied from the book onto our slates we found everything we had set out to see.
Diving this tug would have been fun but not nearly as enjoyable as it was after reading up on it before the dive, and basing a plan on its guidance.
Well be off next to do two more South Coast tours from the book, the Maine and the Salsette. Thanks to the section at the end, Anatomy Of
A Shipwreck, well be able to envisage the ships former glory while touring, spotting parts of the wrecks we may well have missed otherwise.
I suspect that it wont stop there, however, and that Ill want to dive all 25 tours before Mr Liddiard brings out his next book.
The only thing I would have liked to have seen in this fantastic book is compass headings along the length of these wrecks. With visibility not always being up to scratch, it would have helped when dropping onto one or two.
Having said that, the skippers seem to have a pretty good idea, so take those headings before dropping down; plan your dive and dive your plan.
* Wreck Tour is available from Underwater World Publications, 020 8 943 4288, www.divernet.com