Eyemouth Gas Week By Brian Goddard
Wednesday, 03 July 2013 14:47

For the third year in succession Peter baker had organised 5 days gas diving with Marine Quest in Eyemouth. As usual we travelled up on the Sunday afternoon for 5 night’s accommodation in MQ’s harbour side accommodation. Just as well the start was an early one next day, the target wreck was the St Briac.

The wreck is approximately 50 miles offshore and requires excellent conditions to make the trip possible. We awoke a little bleary eyed but hopeful and were greeted by good conditions. The sun was shining and the wind light, there was a small swell near to the inshore rocks, Skipper Iain Easingwood assured us we would soon leave this behind. Off we set on the three hour journey to the wreck site and as predicted the sea flattened. In excellent conditions we arrived on site and prepared to dive while the skipper placed the shot.

The St Briac was a passenger vessel of around 2200 tons, built in 1924, she had oil fired boilers and steam turbine engines, advanced for the time.

St Briac, Shell Cases

As we descended it was obvious the underwater conditions were very good. The shot had been placed on the largely intact stern section of the wreck close to the break in the hull. As this was our first dive on this particular wreck for all of us we decided to start by exploring the defined part of the wreck. The stern stands up approximately 6 metres from the seabed sloping down to the break approximately 40 metres further forward. In 15 to 20M visibility we were able to explore inside the stern house and the boxes of ammunition littered over the deck. Venturing over the seabed we made a tentative exploration of the break in the hull. Soon the boilers and more wreckage rose in front of us, surrounded by shoals of small fish. There was just enough time for a quick look around the boilers, and to admire two huge lobsters before it was time to make our way back to the shot.

St Briac, Shell cases

The ascent and trip back to shore was uneventful but the forecast for Tuesday looked less than inviting. What was certain  the weather would be better in the morning, deteriorating throughout the day. Another early start was on the cards this time it was going to be a 7.30 am start.

Tuesday arrived and the sea looked calm, we made the early start and set off to the north to dive the Auriac. During the hour long journey the sea gradually picked up but conditions were still reasonable when we arrived.  The shot went down and the first two divers went in to reconnoitre. For approximately ten minutes we waited with no sign from the two divers so we went in as the next set of divers. It was immediately obvious that all was not well the shot line was vertical and being pulled up and down as the buoy reacted to the surface swell. On the way down we met the first two divers returning up the line and aborted the descent at about 50 metres.  Back on the boat we decided on an alternative site but it soon became clear conditions were deteriorating fast requiring us to run for cover. We had breakfast in a calm anchorage close to Tor Ness Power Station intake before running for home. The skipper did his best to deflect assertions his ancestry had resulted in him being too tight to have a piece of string long enough to reach the wreck!

Undeterred the weather for Wednesday again looked good and Iain was keen to explore an as yet un dived mark. Off we set again, this time the start was not too early but it was going to be a long day, it was approximately 60 miles to the site. As we cruised to the site the weather cooperated and conditions improved. The sea took on a bright blue colour and conditions looked superb as the shot went down. As I descended the line it disappeared slowly into great visibility. Parts of the wreck started to come into view far below and in excellent viz the whole panorama of the wreck was laid out below. The wreck was covered by a dense shoal of small fish that swirled around us as we explored. The hull was upright with the upper works of the ship collapsed down. The triple expansion steam engine stood up, the high point of the wreck. However it was the line of three ceramic urinals, toilets, ornate sink and floor tiles of the gent’s toilets that were the outstanding feature of the wreck.

NJ Fjord, Gents' Toilets

There was so much to explore through the swirling fish, the contents of the hull were easily accessed through breaks in the wooden deck and it seemed portholes were laid everywhere. From the deck, debris from the wreck was clearly visible on the seabed 8 metres below. The bows were an impressive sight curving up from below; on the deck the anchor winch appeared buried in discarded trawl gear. Drifting with the current to the stern, it had been cut off, the rudder was completely missing and only the centre boss of the prop remained, minus the blades. This was a great dive in superb conditions and artefacts retrieved identified the wreck as the SS NJ Fjord. The Danish ship is famous for having brought together the opposing forces at the Battle of Jutland.

It was after eight by the time we returned to Eyemouth, it had been a long but very rewarding day.

Thursday morning we set off to the north again, the sea was like a mill pond as we arrived over our target wreck SS Halland.  A Cargo vessel carrying cement, she was bombed in 1940 and now sits upright in around 60M of water. I had dived this wreck on a couple of occasions previously, never in clear conditions. Arriving on the deck it was again quite dark, especially after the ambient light experienced the previous day. Turning on my main torch I immediately realised that the visibility was around 8-10M. With the strobe flashing away on the bottom of the line we set off down the port side to the stern. The rudder and large four bladed prop are covered in soft coral and stood out in the torch beam. We enjoyed a great dive, passing along the full length of the ship visiting the engine room and bridge along the way. The port side of the bow showed signs of damage, possibly where the bomb had found its mark. This was also a Danish ship in British service pottery off the ship bears the crest of the shipping line. Returning to port for lunch we at last had some time to relax ready for the final day.

SS Halland, Egg cup with shipping line logo

Perversely Friday was to be a late start, slack water had moved back as the week progressed. In excellent conditions once more we set off on the long journey to SS Exmouth an armed American liberty ship sunk by one of our own mines in 1944. This wreck is a stunning dive, the top of the wreck starts at 39M with a depth to the seabed of 56M. Again as I descended it went quite dark with visibility on the wreck 10-15M. The wreck has some fantastic features to explore and is covered in soft coral making it a super dive and just on the limit of deep air range.

SS Exmouth, AA gun

This was to be our shallowest but longest dive of the week, there is just so much to see, we had been on the wreck for over 40 minutes before we started our ascent. Despite this being my fourth dive on this particular wreck I will need many more visits before I feel I have explored the wreck completely. TWT for the dive was 112 minutes, above 10M the water was very warm and almost milky in colour. This had been the reason for the darker conditions below.

SS Exmouth, Auxillary wheel

It was just after 7.00pm when we returned to Eyemouth and started packing all our gear into the car for the journey home. Fortified by fish and chips consumed by the harbour side Pete and I set off at 7.45pm, it would be another late finish. During the journey there was time to reflect on what we both agreed had been the best gas week, to date.

Roll on the next trip.

 

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