KING EDDY REPORT 2006
By Paul Mee
PHOTOS OF DIVE and THE SHIP
Another year had passed and I found myself on the night run to catch the Scabster ferry early morning crossing.
When I arrived at the port most of the lads were already waiting by their vehicles, many of which were over packed as usual. The quay appeared busier than usual for this time of year. There were many groups of divers, some new to the experience, milling around their kit trying to keep everything together. Then there were the old hands, looking weary with travel and unfazed by the continuous rain dripping from their hats on to their faces.
Finally after unpacking the vehicles we made our way onto the ferry to begin the two hour crossing to Stromness, our base for the forthcoming week. As the year before we made the decision to base ourselves on the island due to the unpredictable weather around Pentland Firth. Here the weather changes very quickly and if unfortunately you are based in Scabster you may be stuck in the harbour for the duration. However, not to be disappointed as Stromness has everything you need for bad weather, as of course there is the flow itself and the great battleships.
As the ferry fired up its engines, it was not long before we found ourselves crossing the point of which lies the King Edward.
I first came interested in the eddy way back in 1999 when I read an article by a friend of mine Leigh bishop. He and his fellow comrade Chris Hutchinson had mounted the search for the eddy and dived it on open circuit back in the summer of 1999. In this article Leigh describes the demise of the once great cruiser.
[Quote From Leigh Bishops Article 990]
On Thursday 6 January 1916 the British battleship HMS King Edward VII left Scapa Flow for Belfast. At aprox 10.47am, in a position north of Scotland, latitude 58 degrees / 43N, a violent explosion took place under the starboard engine room. Zigzagging to avoid enemy submarine attack Captain MacLachlan moved his ship onto an altered course of 289 degrees and hit a mine laid by the German raider Moewe.
Amidst the proceeding mayhem the helm was immediately thrown hard to starboard with the intention of closing on land and beaching the ship if necessary. Below Decks the immense rush of water prevented any attempt to close the watertight doors between the engine rooms. Now with both engines stopped and flooded, force 7 gales blowing from the westward and with heavily rising seas, HMS King Edward VII tooka list of 8 degrees to starboard.
With pressure still on the main derrick captain Maclachlan considered it advisable to launch the lifeboats immediately and abandon ship. Later that evening reporting himself on board HMS Iron Duke at Scapa Flow Captain Maclachlan was informed that HMS King Edward VII had turned over at 8.10pm and disappeared beneath the waves. Launched by His Majesty King Edward VII on 23rd July 1903, it reported that in giving consent for the ship to bear his name King Edward stipulated that she should always serve as flagship to the Atlantic fleet. She had carried out this duty right up to the day of her loss when the flag had been temporarily transferred.
We arrived mid morning in the port of Stromness where we were welcomed by the friendly, smiling faces of the Jean Elaine crew, waiting to help us ashore. Over the years we had made this trip several times to dive the wrecks outside the flow, of which captain Andy Cuthbertson had found and researched. Each time we arrived he would make the special trip from the Ferry Inn to greet us, and then disappear back inside uttering the words “we will draw the weeks plan at the bar, so hurry up!”
The beginning of the week ended up just like the previous year, the weather was not that great and the chance of a good battering was on the cards. So we took to the Scapa Flow wrecks to warm up and make sure that all our equipment was up to scratch after the bumpy journey.
After a few attempts during the week to break out of the harbour early doors, we finally got some good luck with the weather. However, after previous experience we knew this window would only last around a day before it turned bad again. Most of the group were elated they were getting out of the flow, but disappointed that like the previous surveys the weather had limited the amount of dives we could do on the Eddy during the week.
The sail out to the wreck site was calm and the deck was busy with preparation for the dive ahead. All of our safety lines had been prepped before the week started and the plan was re-read so there were no questions near the jump time.
The team consisted of divers that had been on the Eddy before and also a few on their first trip. Veteran Eddy diver Ric Waring, “cheerful” Matt Philips , Duncan Keates, Greg “U-Boat” Marsh, and myself.
The task was to survey an area away from the debris field which we had already surveyed the previous year. This area was near to the stern of the ship as she lies upside down on a shingle floor.
The divers would be paired up, with Ric and Matt to go in first and tie into the wreck, followed by Duncan and myself with the deco station, and finally the remaining divers with the break gas for the station.
The run times for the dive were to be around four and a half to five hours with a bottom time between twenty two and thirty minutes dependant on the gas mix used and other factors.
Most of the group were running the same profile as last time as this seemed to work well under the conditions. The dive tables used were the Britannic tables and system setup by Geraint Fawkes-Jones. This used a gas mix of 6/72 bottom mix and a intermediate gas flush mix of 20/30 at 40m, all the way to the last stop which was done on 100% O2 in the loop, breaking on 20/30 every 20mins or at 90% CNS. During the breaks, fluids and high sugar sweets were taken on board to keep up hydration and energy.
On the last trip to the wreck we dropped down the shot line and met the wrecks debris field at 115m with a still but pitch black bottom. All around us lay artefacts that had spilled out of the ship as she had rolled over. Two of the lads, Kieran Hume and Marty moved towards the wreck and came face to face with the Eddy’s range finder telescope, which had fallen out of the ships spotting tower. Still on its stand and looking out to the sea bed it was in great condition. As me moved forward the side casement guns came into view with many port holes with there glass still remaining.
As we each in turn took our drop down the shot line and passed the deco jump line, set at 55m, the light from above slowly faded away and the only light remaining was the torch light from the man in front of you. The shot came into view up against the huge under side of the cruiser like a skyscraper covered in marine life. As I orientated myself with my surroundings I could see that we had landed on the wrong side of the ship and the super structure met the sea bed.
I looked to the right and I could see Ric had reeled off, and that Matt had gone right. I clipped on and headed after Matt so I would have someone to photograph in the back ground. It was not long before we came up to the other casement guns and a huge break in the side of the ship. I thought to myself thank god there was something worthwhile to see from the dive instead of just the side of the ship. Inside was a broken and twisted metal structure with lamps and shell cases everywhere.
With the amount of time it took to swim to the split in the ship my bottom time had expired and I made my way back to the shot line, which was conveniently illuminated with strobe lights showing the way home. At the shot Ric, Duncan and Greg had started to make the long journey back to the surface and the safety of the jump line, before the tides turned on us making it very uncomfortable to deco.
It was not long before I reached the jump line with Greg just above me. I was getting ready for the unclip of the line and my gas switch, when I could feel a tug on my fins. Looking around I expected to find one of the lads and was surprised to see nothing. I felt it again and could hear Greg laughing through his mouth piece. As I looked straight down between my legs and side tanks, I could see a baby seal looking at me and playing with my stainless D rings at 55m. Greg told me later that it had been there for a while with it’s mum, looking from a distance, but I had been too involved with my profile to notice.
The deco passed uneventfully with loads of piss taking to pass the time. As everyone departed from the water, with stories to tell, Ronnie was there with hot cups of tea and slices of cake, followed by the smell of one of Ronnie’s specials of guess what’s on the plate?!.
Topside we all gathered together in the wheel house and reviewed what we had seen and added it to last years notes. Ric had managed to get all the way to the stern and the propellers to take some shots with his camera. To this day he thinks the shots are no good because there are no divers present in the pictures to give it a size comparison, but they are the first shots of the Eddy since she was sunk and my shots were not much better!. Maybe next time, when we return, the shots will hopefully have more content and we will dive on the correct side of the wreck near to the debris field.
Making our way back to our equipment, to secure it down, the Orkney weather was closing in, cutting short the diving outside the flow. If any diving was to take place it would be inside the flow on the wrecks. We all opted to end our trip with a scallop dive. This ended another great week again on the Jean Elaine, followed by a few pints in the Ferry Inn before the long journey back home to the midlands.
Leigh Bishop for Pictures and text.
Ric Waring For Pictures.
Geraint Fawkes-Jones for dive tables and profiles.
Mark Brill for Pictures
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