Crash Test Dummy dives Scapa
24th April to 1st May 2010 on Valkyrie.

Friday and Saturday
The problem with being an Engineer is that you can't help but fiddle with things. Let's admit it that few things work the way I know they really ought to work and I'm inclined to try to improve matters where ever possible. I did it to the Inspiration Rebreather over about eight years so the sixteen month old Sentinel is obviously just a work in progress. The only slight snag with doing things like this is that there is nobody else to test things on but yourself...
Well all my winter improvements had been checked out in the pool or the shallow inshore waters off Brighton but now it was time to take it away on holiday. I wasn't too confident because the wretched thing has given me trouble before when I have taken it away. However this time I had a spare rebreather in the car so if it all went wrong I had a fallback position.

by John Speede 1610 It wasn't the warmest weather but it was nice and sunny when I set off from Brighton on the Friday morning. It was planned as 'the driving day' to cover the bulk of the distance and, with over 620 miles from my home in Brighton to a hotel in Inverness, it did just that. I left home at nine in the morning and, with breaks on the way, I arrived at about nine at night which was pretty much as planned. As I got further north first the temperature fell and then the weather changed. By late afternoon and the Scottish Lowlands the sun had given way to rain and in the Scottish highlands that had turned to snow. It looked rather pretty but this just isn't too encouraging on your way to a scuba diving holiday.

When I got up the next morning the rain had gone and I left far too early for the Scrabster ferry as I hate deadlines. However despite my being two hours early I was still second in the queue but I still had the little café to myself for quite a while. It was a one man operation and he feed me a greasy cheeseburger to compensate for my not bothering much with food the previous day. He also suggested a walk up to the light house to pass the time.

Time past slowly but the ferry came, unloaded and we were called aboard so it was back to killing time for the crossing. I went and had a meal to try and get my tummy ready for the shock of Helen's helpings. At Stromness it was just drive off one dock and onto the one next along to find Valkyrie and, as it was low tide, I only moved the lighter items down onto the boat and found a cabin where I could get the bottom bunk because I know that I'll drive anybody mad if I get up three times in the night and tread on them every time. Once I had the kit out of the car I drove past the Pay-And-Display and put it in the long stay free car park on the other side of the road.

NB: the depths on the following dives are all taken from the VR3 so they represent what I did on the day not what you can do.
Also there are no pictures of me, except the occasional hand as I was holding, or wearing, the camera.

We started out just after nine for a dive on the Karlsruhe at 25m and it was fun. OK, I know I only take the Vee-Cam along to prove that the VR3 isn't quite the most perverse diving accessory ever and it somehow managed to delete the last section of the dive but I'm used to that now. Of course the Sentinel on Auto mode doesn't switch setpoint sensibly so I have to turn it to manual and push buttons and I end up doing the dive on a 1.31bar set point. I did feel that the work of breathing seemed a bit high and I couldn't seem to improve it by tipping myself so the counterlung was more level with my own lungs. It was diveable but the Sentinel has always been quite good on that front so I noted it as strange.

All in all however it wasn't bad. The vis was lovely and although the water was cold on your face as it worked into the hood it rapidly warmed up. The only real annoyance was that I'd forgotten to fill the DSMB cylinder and the trick of getting the wing inflator to fill it, that works quite well with a simple 'sealed' DSMB versions, was messed up by the weight of the empty crack bottle. Next time I do that I must just pull off the bottle and stuff it in my pocket. Conversely the new Kent Tooling reel was just boringly good and is a nice easy wind when I did get it up.

On the surface, as I was looking round, another blob popped up next to me so, since Hazel and Helen had divers in mid pickup, I finned away from it gently to simplify things. Summary - A good dive.

Helen then provided soup and a huge pile of buns, meats, cheeses and salady stuff. This is not good for my weight. I was only just into my target 11 stone something range when I left home.

I decided to put in a new scrubber fill as it was down to 60 something percent and I had done that in rather a lot of bits and pieces so I had the usual struggle to open up the canister and reassemble it. However the soggy stuff I dumped into Hazel's refuse sack probably explained the poor WOB. If you push a finger into a pile of used lime it shouldn't leave holes. Oh well.

The afternoon dive was the Dresden but I must have disturbed something as it hissed gently and it took a while to trace it. Once I had fought my way through the pre-breath screen it was down to 84bar and I'm not dropping off the boat where my main gas supply is 84bar in a 2L and I have a possible leak so it was an early shower.

The Flow was kind to us. We rolled more in port when the ferry left than we did at sea and the rest of the team seemed to rate the second dive as as good or better than the first.

Back to Stromness and then a decent break before more food.

We awoke to traditional Orkney rain but I didn't have to walk to work today so who cares? I can suit up in the 'tunnel' and just walk out to kit up in the full dry suit rig. I've never worked out why I don't like diving in the rain as I'm aiming to go and jump in the sea but I suspect it's just my natural aversion to having stuff fall out of the sky and onto my head.

I really meant to do the dive on the Markgraf but I just never quite made it. It was bouncy, probably not by Orkney standards but it was by mine, so I sat in the wheel-house and watched a Hazel eye view of a dive operation. I was quite impressed.

Lunch was a feast for 20 or so and the nine of us did the best we could but we had to admit defeat.

The afternoon dive was 15m on the F2, a WW2 German destroyer that the Navy lost in about 1946, and the barge they lost in 1968 trying to salvage it. I thought that would be a nice dive and would at least keep the one-dive a day count up. However if you modify diving gear then you are the crash test dummy. Firstly the leak of yesterday returned and this time it was obviously the gas feed to the BOV and although tightening it seemed to fix it it threw away a lot of gas first. Far worse was my back. After the dive I worked out what it was: as I strided in the rig must have ridden up on my back and the longer backplate hooked behind my weightbelt as it came back down. The net result of this was that the whole system went from being very comfortable and stable in the water to trying to put a right-angle kink in my spine a few inches above my pelvis. It hurt. It hurt a lot and it didn't change with my position in the water and no amount of pushing and pulling seemed to make any difference. If I had known exactly what the problem was slacking off my waist belt and probably letting go the crotch strap would have fixed it very easily but that's hindsight and at the time it just hurt.

However the WOB problem of yesterday was gone but I still blobbed off after a quarter of and hour and accepted the kind offer of Ibuprofen for the residual back pain. Back at Stromness I moved the bailout feed from the DIL onto the stage and did a dismantle/reassemble of the Poseidon reg that is the BOV. It worked afterwards with no nasty hissing but tomorrow will tell. The only remaining bug is to find a better way to tether the wing inflate hose which just seems to like to hide from my fingers.

Oh and the Vee-Cam seems to have stopped again, flooded or maybe died of some other cause. I can't say I was surprised. The first time I brought it to Scapa the head flooded on the descent on the first dive so after about three meters down the shot-line it was all blank. The second time I came it missed it as it was back being repaired from another fault and this is the third time. I plugged it in on its multi-purpose cable and the charge lights came on so I waited hopefully but it never came back. It has never managed three consecutive dives so far.

It was a nice calm morning with only a little drizzle. A nice Orkadian spring day.

We trundled out to the Kronprinz Wilhelm and I was using an old mask as I had lost my current one after getting back from the F2. Ten minutes into the dive I remembered why I bought the new mask. This old one leaked like a sieve. I mooched about down at 36m but the mask problem and not quite getting the ADV slider open rather sucked the fun out of the dive so when I noticed the shot line was handy I did a slow ascent back up it and cut the dive short. It is cold and it's beginning to get to me.

The thing that annoys me is that I bought two nice new masks at the dive show that were a really nice fit and I was just too busy, or was that too lazy, to get one sent off for some new lenses. Alternatively perhaps I'm lucky and I didn't loose the new one.

We lay over at Lyness and some people walked over to the museum once we had recovered from Helen's burgers. For the afternoon we dived the Brummer. I confess I was getting cold and cranky. The new mask from my kit box probably wasn't tight enough but wearing it under the hood makes it harder to tweak and I generally gave up at the first opportunity and blobbed off.

On the surface waiting to be picked up I was able to think round the other annoyance. My lovely 'horizontal' trim in the water uses rather a lot of lead to compensate for all the air in the hoses and the scrubber. This goes in the Sentinel's ear pockets but as soon as they stick out of the water they take offence and want to roll me onto my back with my fins in the air. This sucked as we had strict instructions from Hazel not to fin about when she was running tons of boat up to us because it never worked, you never go the right way and here I was having to flap my feet about to keep them below me and not have the loop try to dump its little pool of seawater into my mouth. I think I can see the weight getting rearranged once the new KT plate turns up.

It's rather disappointing. I like Scapa Flow and Valkyrie is as good a diving platform as you can get but somehow I always seem to have problems here. The list just seems to go on and on but for the rest of the year just doing boat and RIB dives off the South Coast things just seem to work while I'm diving and I don't miss dives on faults. I've tried to bring all the spares but some how the list of things going wrong just seems to be adding up. I think it might be the cold. I let it get to me and I get discouraged. Perhaps it's time to rethink the thermals especially the out of the water thermals. Conversely it could just be that I eat too much here and the shock of actually getting up and doing something is more than I can manage.

When I went to bed I was hot so I kicked off the extra blanket I'd been using but when I woke up at about four o'clock I was frozen. I didn't feel much better after some breakfast so I elected to pass up on diving the König and sat in the wheel house and asked Hazel dumb questions. I'm supposed to be RYA2 and BSAC Diver Cox'n qualified but my chart work and buoyage knowledge is pure book learning as the chart for Brighton is virtually a line, yellow on one side and blue on the other. We have a very tolerant skipper. I was a bit worried I was going down with something but chose 'denial' as the appropriate way to handle being ill on holiday. It seemed to work.

After lunch I went out on deck to check the rebreather and got a "Cell mV error" so I looked at the rather nice raw cell display handset and it showed one cell giving 0.02bar ppO2 so I assumed it was klutzed. Adding it up on my fingers it had done just over a year so I suppose I'd got my money's worth out of it so it wasn't going to get a second chance. I had four cells in my spares box so I kept the newest as a spare and unpacked the others.

Changing the cells on a Sentinel is a horrible job although I must admit the problems are all of the heavy heaving and not having four hands type. The cells screw into a flat plate rather than the Inspo/Vision round thing so at least they just do up rather than invariably cross-threading themselves. The cross-threading trick is exceptionally mean as the cells are made of a soft plastic with all the strength of dried toothpaste so the Sentinel wins that one on points. When I get home I think it all gets stripped and all the silicon grease that isn't actually on o-rings gets carefully washed out.

I stripped the scrubber and got off the head and wiped the condensation out with my dirty laundry (socks), changed the cells, reassembled it and did the full test sequence by that time the others were coming back from their dive on the Köln. I also cross topped my cylinders again but the 7s are getting a bit low so the DIL will need an air top tonight. I even adjusted the screws that set the ppO2 displays on the second handset which I normally forget. Rather than sit and sulk and annoy everybody I broke out the emergency chocolate from the bottom of my ruck-sack to console myself. It helped.

Stop press news. Plugging the Vee-Cam into its express charge cable seemed to bring it back to life. That's a relief. I was pretty resigned to it being full of sea water. I looked at the start of the one extra video file and then put it on charge to get the battery filled up before I download it. I wonder if I just neglected to delete the stuff on it and it ran out of space or if the battery went flat. I thought it had hours of battery and several batteries worth of memory (8Gb). Either way it gets downloaded, cleaned off and dived again. The whole annoying thing about it being so temperamental is that when it works the results are just lovely. Some of my best diving pictures are stills captured from its output. Shots you would never think to take but you just discovered them on the stream.

This started with a repeat call on the Markgraf. Since my Velcro patch got lost with my other mask Helen zip-tied the Vee-Cam head to my mask strap and I actually recorded a full dive - a first. I didn't bother to go right down to the sand but it was a good dive. I must have pushed the right buttons as it key-locked itself on schedule then recorded everything, including the boring bits, and finally stopped on cue back on the boat when I pushed the right button.

I mooched about the collapsing side of the Battleship for a while but didn't delve to any places that required a torch. Finally, since I wasn't fining much I started to get cold so I called it a day and found my way back to the shot for a simple minded ascent. My floaty feet on the surface problem is getting more annoying. The trouble is that on the dive I have the trim absolutely perfect and effortless so, naturally, I don't want to loose that.

We had a CO2 hit from a twisted Inspo BOV hose but the guy handled it quite well. He got off the loop, put up his blob and ascended. The ascent was a bit faster than he wanted as the loop doesn't dump automatically back to minimum loop when sealed but his blob beat him to the surface by over two minutes and there weren't stops pending. He had the sense to own up as he hit the lift and Hazel went into check out mode with precautionary O2 but he passed all the tests and just missed the afternoon dive. I though he handled it well because CO2 is nasty stuff. It takes your brain away.

We finished the afternoon with a drift over the dump in Gutta Sound. It was just a point where the navy threw their rubbish over the side but decades down the line what was once rubbish has now becomes interesting. It was about 20 meters with usual drift dive rules so I banged up the blob when I hit the bottom and went into rummage mode. I picked up a couple of intact bottles from the surface of the seabed but was running my fingers through the gravel and facing the tide so the silt moved away behind me. I found a crab doing that and he clearly didn't appreciate being dug up but waving your claws at me is just posing little fellow. Then I found something rectangular and it turned out to be a rather nice brass plate with instructions on it. I was really pleased. OK it was a worthless piece of junk so they threw it overboard but now it's my worthless piece of junk. A bit of vinegar will probably get the encrustations off and a toothbrush will shine it up nicely.
1GONGSTOP       I first assumed it was simple engine room signals
AHEAD       although EASE makes me unsure.
Incidentally the Vee-Cam ran for its second complete dive. It wasn't a very interesting video as it was pointing slightly the wrong way but I can fix that.

How nice to have a day without breaking something. The only point of note was that carrying the big 50% 12/300 as a bailout I wouldn't mind blowing a bag with if I found something really fun left me diving with the wing empty on neutral. I nearly popped on the extra thermals and that might have made me a bit too buoyant for comfort. I hate having to squeeze up the suit before an ascent.

I woke up feeling generally grotty and decided that it was a one dive day. First dive on offer was a repeat on the Brummer and although it's a nice dive the possibility of finishing the trip with a second rummage dive made it worth passing up on a Cruiser.

We had a bit of fun recovering a diver we had just dropped and substituting his blown off dry glove with his wet gloves and then put him back in. Interestingly Hazel commented that dry glove problems were the most common fault they see. This just tends to confirm my bias against them. I haven't had cold hands all week, cold head yes and I get generally cold after half an hour or so in 7°C water but my hands have been OK in tight 5mm wets with plastic undergloves to help slide them on.

The rummage dive was fun although I messed up kitting up and Paul and Helen descended on me and helped fit the missing weight belt etc. and help me restraighten things back up. I found a small shell case, a little intact plate with Admiralty markings which Hazel identified as second world war and another bottle for my collection. The plate looks as if it will clean up quite nicely with a bit of vinegar and the gentle application of an old toothbrush.

Well that was a good last dive and we ran off back to Stromness. I checked Hazel's view of the tides and planned to decant the kit when the tide placed the boat suitably level with the dock. I will try to just leave myself with 'walk off' luggage for the morning so I can be stupidly early for the ferry as usual but without much effort.

I dumped the final Vee-Cam dive, backed up the camera pictures and tweaked the trip report. It should be a nice, easy, one-hit upload to the website when I get back. Then I tidied myself out of the cabin and, as an added bonus, found my missing mask. It had dropped off the sink into the rubbish bin and I hadn't noticed it when I searched the room. That's good because I do like lenses in my mask although I admit I haven't missed them as much as I expected. What I did miss, however, was the super-velcro that sticks the Vee-Cam on. The new mask just didn't have enough flat bit at the side to mount it and the zip-ties just couldn't keep things in place so the camera alignment was a bit lacking. The plate shot here was just a lucky hit.

The last dive video has all sorts of nice bits so I edited out the boring stuff and here it is. Video. Maybe I should have made the two 'wipes' where I removed a chunk more obvious but it's a first try for me. It's about 10 minutes or run time but on my home line takes under two minutes to download.

Saturday and Sunday
Well Saturday was driving south day so I was stupidly early for the 9am ferry, drove 490 miles to the Wirral arriving at about 9pm. I stayed a night in a hotel and visited the section of my family that lives up there on Sunday but that's another story. However Jenny has shown her friends my web site and says that it's cool. What higher accolade can a grandfather ever get?

So how was it? How did I rate it? As ever the Valkyrie team delivered Scapa made easy. Hazel runs a good ship and a no-fuss operation. There is plenty of room, the entry point is simple and the diver lift is simple even in big swell. Problems, even when they were our fault, were managed simply, quickly and with good humour. Helen's dive deck has little details like hot water in the dunk bucket (a wet hood for a second dive has never felt so good). Having somebody hovering looking to see if you need help with stages et al really adds to the ease of diving.

Would I recommend them? Well not unreservedly. I don't think my cardiac arteries could take too many days in a year on Helen's cooking. I'd die happy but I want to postpone that ultimate experience for a bit yet.

It is deep diving. I'm always on trimix these days with the rebreather and I'm quite happy splashing off a boat with no plan into nearly 50 meters of water facing a big, dark wreck with interesting holes in it. This is not for everybody. If your idea of a dive is a single cylinder, even with a pony, probably much of Scapa Flow is outside your sensible limits. If you dive twins or a rebreather and dive wrecks with a clear idea of how to manage no clear surface and a brick wall silt out you'll do OK. Also I prefer to solo dive and even if I am diving with another diver that is a mentality that says I can give up and bag off at any time for no real reason. I always argue that if I cut short a dive for a silly reason I was obviously narked and ending the dive was exactly the right thing to do.

The other thing about Scapa is it consists of totally known sites. You aren't going to discover anything new so it's quite a good place to play. A favourite game is scooters and Hazel has a couple for hire. I might try that, or I might take mine next time.

The current plan is that I'll be back next year but later in the year might be better. I rather fancy one of Hazel's Shetland trips but I'd go for the shallower option given the choice. We shall see...

Pictures by Nigel Hewitt