When Timo Ahomaki suggested that UKRS might like to come to Finland Digs and I
jumped at the prospect. It didn't take much pushing to get the necessary six
takers and the trip was under way. Diving in the Gulf of Finland off southern
Finland has two things it is famous for: Ice (no, not in August thankfully) and
wooden wrecks. The thing is that old Toredo Nevalis, the ship worm, just
doesn't live here so wood just sits on the bottom of the sea in a way that even
steel doesn't back home.
The party consisted on Digs and Rob, Cliff and John plus Adrian and me. That's
three rebreathers, one twinset and two singles all on air or nitrox. Timo
thought that there are only seven other rebreather users in Finland including
the people he obtained Sofnolime from for us.
Brighton. Alarm clock set for 5am. Leave home before 6 to drive to Heathrow.
Guess Terminal One for no other reason than convenience and strike lucky. Leave
Adrian with the luggage and put the car in long stay at 14 quid a day. Get back
to Adrian who is already well up the queue. Get weighed in and billed £360.54
for 44 kilos of excess baggage. The flight was uneventful but had at least 40
empty places so why the vindictive baggage charge when I'm only paying £139 a
Divers please note: British Airways hates you - avoid!
The only complication was when the oversize baggage people spotted the
cylinders on the X-ray and wanted to confirm the valves were open. So much for
explaining to the ordinary check in person. I bounced
around full of cooperation but my cutters and spare zip-ties were in my other,
already checked, baggage. Did they have something to cut it with and to
re-seal it? No. However they did have a supervisor. I was impressed. He looked
at the X-rays of steel cylinders and pronounced them empty.
We found Cliff when we got out of passport and baggage claim and he had Timo's
mobile number and called him. Timo had already found John from his earlier
flight and everything fitted in Timo's trailer so he took us first to his
club's lock up garage to fill and assemble kit and then to our Hotel.
Timo was seriously organised. He had a compressor, two J's of oxygen, tanks,
weights and two kegs of Sofnolime for us. I filled the rebreather and guessed
the weights and everything, compressor, Js and all went back in the trailer. I
did notice the J's did not have the UK standard bull-nose fitting.
Digs had booked us into the Hotelli Ava but the signs out side said something
that looked like Institute so we wondered if it was attached to the Helsinki
Business School that was almost next door. The flat was comfortable, designed
as three twin rooms sharing a kitchen and two bathrooms.
Once we were settled I decided to fix my torch. Now I bought myself one of the
Halcyon Proteus 10w HID 6AH canister torches hoping that the life expectancy of
HID bulbs had improved and encouraged by the 'virtually indestructible' quote.
Sadly there is nothing 'virtual' about Nigel and the bulb came back from my
Malin Head trip trashed. A quick call to www.dirdirect.com on the Friday and 13
quid for special delivery for Saturday and I had the refurb kit in my luggage
so bringing 4 kilos or so of torch and charger at £8.19 a kilo excess baggage
was all going to be worth while. Well it might have been if the Proteus 6/10
refurb kit didn't have the 18W bulb in it. Totally the wrong shape for my unit.
I was mad at dirdirect for shipping wrong and mad at me for not checking. OK
when I got back they were very appologetic and offered a quick swap and to
refund my special delivery charge but it was a bit late then.
Digs and Rob were arriving on a different flight after a four hour layover part
way so we went for a coffee and a walk. Timo had provided us with street maps
with the hotel and boat marked so we didn't get lost. We went looking for food
and discovered that this end of Helsinki is dead on a Sunday night and we ended
up is a Turkish run (we think) Pizza and bar place. We translated the menu by
guesswork and didn't do very well. My 'Paradise' was a thin base with a topping
that seemed to be mostly pineapple and the nutritional value of wet cardboard
and John ordered the longest name on the menu, ate it because he was hungry and
pronounced it horrible. Timo arrived bringing Digs and Rob and they ate there
too (sorry) and Adrian, as the young presentable member of the team was
accosted by one of the locals on the adjacent table to the merriment of all.
Well except Adrian who said if she had been younger and blonder he might have
been more interested in the exposition of Finnish words like "hug" with
demonstration. We unanimously decide not to go back.
This is fun. We are going diving by bus. Timo has marked the bus stop on the
map so we go and pay our 2 euro fares and phone him when we 'cross the bridge'
and sure enough he is waiting on the bus stop for us. We detour via the
supermarket and buy the makings of lunch and some bottled water and then walk
on down to the yacht club to meet Ila and the boat.
Ila is not diving at the moment as he has some wrist damage but he is our
skipper for the week. We move the kit from Timo's trailer into the boat and
discuss the diving. We are relying totally on Timo's local knowledge but we
really want a check out dive to get our weights right and to see we haven't
broken anything to vital. The choice falls on the M/S Chrysant over two hours
east, E25°377,19' N60°12,47' so I down a sea-sickness tablet and off we
We take the route through the 'archipelago' of islands where Southern Finland
slowly slides into the sea. We hear that this is a favourite winter dive too
but you don't need the boat then. You park by the Emäsalo Pilot Station, walk
over to the wreck bringing a big ice saw with you.
The Chrysant is a pretty standard bulk carrier built 1927 sunk 1981, 40m long
standing upright in about 17m of water with the rear superstructure relatively
collapsed but the hull intact and two open holds. Cliff and John went first,
Digs and Rob kitted up but Rob's suit inflate gave trouble - no OPV on the suit
inflate bottle, the first stage leaked and the injector popped, so Digs dived
Adrian and I went last and swam round to the shot. Now I was weighted by guess
work using lead blocks from Timo's floor and a recommendation to use fresh water
weights in the brackish Baltic. It was a pig to get down. I promised my self
at least 2Kgs extra for next dive and let the suit squeeze and did a exhale
holding, counterlungs flat descent to about three meters and then dropped
slowly. We made the grapnel and then AJ signalled the direction to swim and we
bumped into the stern - in fact we were under the stern so we made our way back
up and examined the rear superstructure. The wreck sank over twenty years ago
but there was virtually no marine growth on it and no fish. What is more when I
put my hand on a winch wheel near the bow it turned in my hand. This is not
like the seas of England.
Aside from that it was not a complex wreck. We didn't feel like going inside as
one hold full of silt looks pretty much like another and wound up after half an
hour and very gently started an ascent. "3 at 5?" asked Adrian. "OK" but I did
wonder if I was going to be able to stop. We knew there wasn't a significant
amount of weight on the shot but we went up it all the same and I did manage to
hold at 5. Getting back into the boat was not fun. There is a spine ladder
which is long enough but that runs onto a little plate too small to stand on
without turning your finned foot to point seaward so you end up doing a rather
undignified roll over the bar. Well Digs and I did undignified. The rest seemed
to manage better - longer legs probably.
For a second dive Timo had selected the Martta, a wooden wreck sunk in 1917 at
E25°34,43' N60°13,78' off Emäsalo but I was getting a bit seasick and opted
for the spectator role. The wreck had a permanent buoy but a well compacted
gravel bottom so the boat dragged its anchor in the wind and those diving had a
quite serious surface swim. Thankfully there is no tide so it was just an
irritation. I snuggled up on one of the bunks in the bow and missed out. We did
the run back through the Archipelago and finally tied up where we started
Timo was using the shed of his sailing club to unload the compressor and Js so
we did fills and hung up the drysuits on the sail hooks and finally headed back
for the bus.
We asked at the hotel desk for somewhere to eat as the local area seems dead
after about 8ish and got 10-15mins walk directions to a Chinese restaurant.
It wasn't very good but we got food and those that wanted it beer. Home and to
I slept well but felt a bit trashed by the time we finished breakfast. Off on
the bus again and gather our suits from the shed and we're off again. We are
diving "Jaala" at Syskonen, a wooden wreck flattened on the seabed just off the
island it wrecked itself on. It probably just slipped back into the sea. I
dived with Adrian and Timo and after a quick inspection of the timber frame I
had a low battery and as I did seem to have rather a lot of cold Baltic in my
suit so I signalled bye-bye and left. I didn't do the slowest ascent ever as I
was still a bit underweight but from 18m it wasn't a problem although the 50m+
swim back to the boat was. Getting back in was easier the second time and even
Digs felt she made a more deliberate go at it after handing off her fins and
My undersuit was wet but probably only a couple of cup fulls. My neck ligaments
again I suppose. Remember to pull the seal up higher and add another lump of
lead so the suit stays more inflated. I was perhaps a bit too mean with the
suit inflator after the day before.
Timo's planned second dive is the Crown Prince Gustaff Adolph sank in 17
something and classic wooden hulled, three masted man of war. It has been
excavated and guide lined by the University and even apparently has signs so
you know what you are looking at (in Finnish). Wet or not I'm replacing the
rebreather batteries and kitting up for this one. Sadly when we arrive on site
it is too rough and we start back in to work on a plan B. Plan B surprised us
all. We are passing a defensive fort and see one of the three submarines the
Finish navy has ever owned on display. Somebody asks if we can visit it. Timo
and Ila discuss logistics for a moment and say "Yes". Ila drops us at a
convenient jetty (avoiding the inconvenient one when at the last moment we
noticed it wasn't connected to the shore) and moves off to park somewhere he
won't get charged and Timo takes us to the Submarine.
3.5 euros and it is a guide yourself tour not a guide but a lot of the signs
are also in english. It was fun. We all mentally fitted ourselves in the
torpedo tubes in scuba gear, we all agreed that the 'keep it onboard' loo can't
have been nice and like most submarines provision for the crew was virtually
nill. Finally Timo lead us back down past the dry dock that is used for
restoration jobs and to hide the tall ships from ice.
Sailing through the Archipelago you realise that no tides means you can have
waterside jetties that are of riverside proportions. Two feet of wharf and then
grass, coffee shops and parked cars. All very civilised. It does look like
everybody in Helsinki owns a boat and this is surprising as they have to be out
of the water by November and stay out until the ice clears in April. The
descriptions of how the wind packs the ice up and it is responsible for
breaking the wrecks that lie in less than 10m of water. Back at the flat much
earlier we decide we wil try the 'German' restaurant that is local but,
according to its window, shuts at eight.
A quick shower and we can go. Digs and Rob were too quick into the shower and I
had to go down stairs and get the girl on reception to come back up and passkey
them back into their room so they could get some clothes and the their room
The German place was shut although you can see set tables through the window
so we admitted defeat and got on the bus for town. Even in the centre of
Helsinki there did not seem to be much choice but we found a restaurant
offering a selection of menus and risked it. I will admit it was a bit strange
but Adrian and I were both quite pleased although several of the others were a
bit disappointed. After eating we broke up and AJ and I went home, he to his
video DVD player and me to the computer to get things written up before I
forget the details.
The weather forecast is that the wind should die down but that inland
temperatures might hit zero. The sea might soon be the warmest places to be and
we are off to Tammasaari where we will be staying for a few days.
A long run with a dive on a wooden wreck part way. Timo identified it as the
Stor Träsko 1 dating from about 1789 and also know as the Admiral
Tjitjakoff. The gude book showed it as more intact than I remember but
there was not much vis but enough for some pictures. The dive had to end when
Adrian's computer started calling for stops, he was diving air and, since we
had no reserves aside from my Dil that was time to end. Again a serious
thermocline and above 8m it felt much warmer.
On to our cabin/house at the boatyard on Skörland. The house was large, 35x8m,
and built in the edge of the forest. There is a shop nearby but the resterant
was closed. We bought some food to cook and planned a local dive.
In the end Adrian and I stayed ashore and loafed about while the others dived
the S/S Eggo. Steel, 32m deep E23°18,06' N59°50,91'
Once they got back we had eaten Ila fired up the sauna. Adrian and Rob risked
the heat and Adrian made it into the sea up to his knees for a cold
Sadly the weather promised too much wind the next morning so Ila played
water-taxi and took us up the inlet to Tammisaari so we could get food to cook
for the evening and sample the old town in the rain. By the time we arrived
back I was tired and declined a local dive, the Eggo again, and fell asleep.
The others dived and noted oil escaping so they reported it. The Finnish
authorities take responsibility for this and have steam injection tricks to
remove even thick bunker oil.
For a second dive they ran out to the Aspharu wreck "The Rum Runner".
Apparently a lot of alcohol was recovered from this wreck but it dates from a
period when there was prohibition in Finland. This is assumed to be the reason
why it is relatively undocumented.
Ila cooked Reindeer and mashed potato, apparently traditional fair, and it was
different but quite pleasant. He also prepared a beef and vegetable stew for
the next day. Again they heated the sauna and this time Adrian managed the
leap into the sea.
We set out for the two hour run to the Elisabeth Osbourne. This is a wooden
freighter with intact hull, decks and bowsprit. To me this was the high point
of the trip. An intact wooden hull, the masts are gone but the bowsprit is
still there and there was a figurehead but it is currently in a Helsinki museum
being restored. Two big holds and a tiller post not a wheel. The decking and
the deck edging is a bit broken but the hull still holds its shape.
pictures by Timo
We followed this by a stop over on a sheltered Islet where 17th C sailors had
scratched their ship names. Then on to a well broken wooden wreck found by
chance by Ila on a training trip referred to as the Häggharu wreck. Home to the
stew and fills (my scrubber was well soggy) and they fired up the sauna again.
Ila's wife Annalise arrived by car and ate with us and stayed on the boat with
We started by cleaning ourselves out of the house and packing the kit to go by
car and by boat. The plan was to dive the Allia, 12m tall in 48m and over 100m
long, but as we started to come out of the shelter of the Archipelago the seas
started to mount and recovering divers began to look like a problem as the
Allia was five km further out.
We tried to divert to the Eggo again but the permanent shot was gone and the
wreck is in amongst huge rocks and notoriously hard to locate so after several
passes of the GPS co-ordinates with no solid echo sounder trace we went back to
the boatyard and decided to run back to Porta (roll the R seriously for the
local pronounciation), part way.
Adrian and I rode with Annalise in her car taking the ferry off the island
while Digs and Rob went with Timo so the boat could make better way. Naturally
the cars got us to Porta first so we sat in the Cafe and waited.
On offer were two small wrecks but AJ and I opted for the ride in back to
Helsinki and caught the bus into town and walked round. As a capital I was
expecting London scaled down but it definitely wasn't that, Brighton scaled
down? No. Maybe Worthing scaled up.
Apparently they never found the first wreck but it was surposed to be the
Amatus, about 20 meter long single masted cargoship sunk in 1898 located at the
lee of the island Salmö outside Porkkala and they found the Alko, a wooden
single-masted cargoship sunk 1880 for which Timo, efficient as ever, provided a
pointer to a
sidescan sonar image.
The others arrived back at the hotel after we had returned and Cliff and John
wanted to go find a beer but the rest of us just stayed home. I used the
Hotel's business centre (a PC with a web connection) to check my web-server at
home was still alive and went to bed.
In the morning Cliff and John still hadn't arrived home but we
assumed they were in jail or something safe like that and didn't worry. Time at
the boat was set for 11am so nothing needed to rush. Sadly we got a text from
Timo that the wind was way up so the four of us bussed over, packed our kit and
paid the bills for the boat and the gas. Timo with the trailer and Ila drove us
back to the hotel where we found John had made it back and was sleeping off the
night before. The theory on Cliff was uprated to include Russian gangsters and
a watery grave in the harbour. Anything less was considered unacceptable after
leaving us to pack his kit and haul it back to the hotel for him.
Timo invited us to dinner in the evening on a we feed you but bring your
own beer arrangement so Digs and Rob went sight seeing to pass the time
while Adrian was reunited with his portable DVD player and I got out the laptop
and started preparing this trip report.
Cliff arrived back at 3.50pm apparently none the worse for wear and he and
John went out looking for a bank to give them money.
Adrian and I ordered a taxi and put Timo's address into the driver's hands and
we ended up in the right place. Timo has a wife and two little children and
barbequed four kilos of pig for us, Ila and his wife and two other divers. We
talked boring diver talk and Ila sang a traditional song while both children
and Cliff fell asleep. Finally we ordered a six seater taxi and went home to
No hurries day. All our flights were in the afternoon so we were mostly killing
time trying to find interesting things in Helsinki. Adrian and I walked a route
that crossed Cliff and John twice and ended up putting us past the university
and some important public buildings with statues of emminent Finns. It took two
large mini-bus type taxis to get us and all the kit to the airport and once
Finnair had liberated 480 euros in excess baggage from me Adrian tried to buy
a Play Station 2 but they had all sold out.
Finnish as a language has too many ks, too many vowels and far too many
words with more than twenty letters in them.
The Baltic is cold and colder if it gets in your suit.
Most midges that expressed a prefference ate Digs.
Everything they say about wooden wrecks is true.
Eating out in Helsinki will not be the highlight of your trip.
Excess baggage charges at this level are unjustified.
DirDirect need seriously better stock control.
Timo is a hero.
Timo and daughter
Timo's own Web site.
The Wreck book (in Finnish)
Hylkyjä, Suomenlahdella ja Saaristomerella.
Päivi Vaheri, Jari Hyvärinen, Jukka Saari
The Wreck Web-site in Finnish. http://www.hylyt.net/
The pictures can be accessed by clicking the thumbnail but they tend to be 900K+ files
Pictures by Nigel Hewitt
Thumbnails by Easy Thumbnails
by Nigel Hewitt