Scapa Flow - The End of the Line?

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Scapa Flow - The End of the Line? - Blah Blah - by Simon Campbell

After 1800 or so dives I have never been to Scapa Flow. Duncan, one of our club members, arranged a trip for June 2008; how could I resist. For the uninitiated, Scapa Flow is a body of water in the Orkney Islands, Scotland sheltered by the islands of Mainland, Graemsay, Burray, South Ronaldsay and Hoy.

<img src="{filedir_2}Tabarka.jpg" alt="Inside the Tabarka" title="Inside the Tabarka - © Chris Sugden" width="570" height="428" />

At 140 square miles, with a sandy bottom and being relatively shallow (maximum depth around 50m), it is one of the great natural harbours/anchorages of the world - with sufficient space to hold a number of navies. For further details on what happened during the World Wars, go to the "wikipedia article.":

Now on with the tale...

Following the excruciatingly long road trip from West Marton to the ferry terminal at Scrabster we drove our well packed LandRover Defender on to the ferry. We arrived at Stromness 90 minutes later.

The boat brave enough to house our motley crew for the seven days was the Sunrise, a 20 metre converted trawler built in the 40's. First impressions of the vessel were not particularly favourable, it having a very low aluminium covered, 'dive deck'. At the bow end the height available for divers kitting up was around 5' and towards midships around 5' 8". I know this as on numerous occasions during the week I concussed myself resulting in my seeing stars and shouting profanities. Yes indeed; a dive boat built for the vertically challenged... Other than that the Sunrise was tired but comfortable, with plenty of food and a kettle always on the boil. Dougie the skipper was skilful and Bruce the 'crew' very helpful.

Anyway, lets talk about the diving.

In the 'flow' the wrecks are big and at times impressive but I am afraid well past their sell by date. They are understandably falling to pieces, so if you are thinking of going, make it quick...

The impression was certainly tainted by the poor underwater visibility we experienced. It was between two and three metres horizontal in the 'flow' and around eight on the block ships. The difference being the latter are well washed by fierce tides twice a day with clear water from the ocean. Ships that big are best experienced in better 'vis'; we were unlucky.

The depths make it perfect for effective use of trimix / nitrox, which combined with rich 'deco' mixes, will give you good bottom times with minimum decompression. The size of the wrecks also lend themselves to bagging off (ie deploying a delayed surface marker buoy) as opposed to returning to the shot line.

Being my first trip I hadn't a clue about the state of the wrecks and the accessibility for serious penetration. We therefore tended to stay outside, occasionally delving into holes and passages as they appeared. Any return journey will see me lining off and 'scruggling' around inside the beasties.


Although well broken up the Karlsruhe II had plenty of war gear (guns, armoured control positions etc) and nautical stuff (bits, capstans etc) easily accessible.

To my surprise, following the dour write-ups and my colleagues memories, the Kronprinz Wilhelm was also an interesting dive. The vessel, lying bottom up on the seabed, was engaging as the denuded collapsing hull resembled rock gullies. Investigation into the many holes revealed the humongous 15" stern guns and the rangefinder on the mast.

The F2 and barge were quite interesting, the barge being the highlight encrusted with life and sporting a workshop and 20mm recovered from the F2 in the salvage attempt.

To me the best of the diving was had on the block ship Tabarka which was very beautiful and totally encrusted in marine life. The light penetrating through the skeletal framework of the ship was in places breathtaking. If you are of a mechanical disposition, there was also lots to see, with boilers, engines and loads of mysterious pipe-work. Although lying in around 14m, this wreck has a very short tidal window and the skipper limited us to 30 minutes head down to head up. Due to popular demand we dived it twice.

The Orkney Islanders were very friendly indeed with hospitality far exceeding many of the remote Scottish Islands I have visited in the past. The islands seem to be a stronghold for fine food and the arts with galleries and organic delicatessens in evidence in Stromness. The only culinary blip occurred when we visited a curry house in Kirkwall on the last night when the chicken meal contained the limb of an animal that walked on four feet as opposed to two (and a pair of wings).

The Islands do captivate you and I would return just for the sense of place. I suppose the question is, will I return to dive? Perhaps... but there is so much in the world that has been undiscovered and undived - it seem rude not to get out there and find them... 

When I have sorted my boat and am passing by...I am sure I won't resist.


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