7-14th July 2019 By Nic Faulks
Not strictly a club trip, but I thought it would be a good article to put on the website to enthuse divers about the opportunities that are out there. Since first donning a rebreather, Si and I have been wanting to dive the wrecks of Malin Head, the big Four being HMS Audacious, SS Empire Heritage, RMS Justicia and the SS Laurentic. But to do this, we needed to be competent and practised on our rebreathers, with a technical ticket allowing diving to a depth of 80 metres. This has taken a few years to achieve, but now we felt ready to undertake such a trip.
We were diving as part of a Jack Ingles trip, onboard the MV Rosguill with Skipper Michael McVeigh a very experienced skipper who always manages to land the shot perfectly! Si Fish and I travelled over in two vehicles, a camper van and a car in order to satisfy the crazy restrictions on ferries and compressed gasses. The limit is six cylinders, even when the cylinder is 1.5 litres! The other option was to pay extra again and take the camper van as a dangerous vehicle and put all our cylinders in it. Anyway, as it turned out, having the camper van and a car worked well for us and made the daily trip to the boat from the accommodation much easier.
On arrival on the Sunday, we all gathered together for a brief on the week ahead. The group consisted of eight of us, a Rich and his dad, Vince (who we know anyway), Stu from London and two lovely but crazy open circuit Italians (Fabio and Andrea). But by Monday morning we were seven thanks to a gall bladder issue! The set up at Rosguill is very good. Accommodation is bed and breakfast, set in a group of small cottages attached to the McVeigh’s house. The gas station and garage for kit fiddling is a couple hundred metres away, I a different building, but with plenty of parking. Each day, the drive was about 10 minutes, around the headland to get to the departure point to load the boat and set off on the daily adventure.
First dive was on the bow of the HMS Audacious, a very scenic wreck with so much light still reaching 64 metres depth. The Atlantic water really was living up to its clear blue reputation. The bow isn’t upstanding, but there are lots of gun turrets to see, and the two huge cylinders which make up the 13.5 inch guns – the classic photograph. Loads of marine life to see, including bib, conger eels, saith and many other things. We were down there for 30 minutes or so, but it felt like five. ?
The second dive was on the SS Laurentic (42m), as this wreck lies in a slightly shallower more sheltered area. The bow has broken off but is upstanding. The wreck is small enough that with a little bit of effort you can go from bow to stern in one dive then bag off. The wreck is nicely laid out, with bow, then bits of wreckage, boilers, engine, pistons, two long propeller shafts, then the stern and constituent bits, don’t remember a propeller though… The marine life on here is fantastic too, we found at least 20 crawfish – great to see them making a comeback. The deck gun was easy to find as it is large and stands proud of the wreckage, its twin is located close to Downings pier. This was a really nice dive and the first time I have done 50 minutes of decompression while under a DSMB!
The third dive as on the SS Empire Heritage (66m), with its Sherman tanks all jumbled across the seabed. The look like beetles, some upside down, some on their side, and cover a bigger area than we could do in one dive. The boilers and engine are also still present. With so much to see on this wreck, it can get a bit disorientating. With my camera in hand it was hard to decide what to take pictures of. As with the Audacious, there was still a lot of light reaching this depth, which did make it a really good dive.
The fourth dive was the classic of the lot, the RMS Justicia (72m) with the upstanding bow area. The wreck is slowly disintegrating, with plates having fallen off the hull and various other bits (capstans, winches and derricks) poking up what would have been the upper decking. The atmosphere at this depth was quite something to behold. Even my camera buttons stopped working…..
Even at this depth we were able to penetrate the wreckage and see inside the superstructure. Behind the bow is another upstanding part of wreckage, probably the bridge. It was covered with marine life and seemed to be guarded by a large school of fish. We returned back to the bow, took another circuit of it then headed up the shot line, for a mammoth session of decompression!
The fifth dive was a scenic one I the local loch due to the weather. We had the option of diving the Laurentic again, but with the rough seas, most people opted not to dive, so only three of us did the scenic reef. It was great, loads of live and a shallow easy dive. Si Fish found 30 + cat sharks/dog fish to herd, so he was happy. I played hunt the nudibranch and wasn’t disappointed. It was quite nice to have an easy dive in shallow water with no decompression, (shh, don’t tell anyone).
The sixth and final dive was on the stern of the Audacious. Most of the wrecks that lie of Malin Head are too big to dive fully in one dive, so for some a minimum of two dives are needed. So it was that we went in to dive the stern, it was as if we were on a completely new wreck. There are four propellers on the wreck. The Kin George V-class ship was powered by two sets of Parsons direct driven steam turbines, each driving two shafts. These are mostly collapsed now, but we did find one still upstanding and used it to stage a photograph.
Right at the end of the stern, behind the rudders a hatch could easily be seen, home to a 21 inch torpedo tube, of which the ship had three. When it takes two dives just to see the bow and stern of a ship, and not even the central section, you quickly realise how big these boats were.
I didn’t want to leave the bottom, but with hours of decompression wracking up, we decided to head up the line, photographing the Italians filming the wreck on the way. So, we had done it, a week of safe diving, on the famous four wrecks of Malin head. What next…? Well for us, a lovely pub dinner and lots of chatting about future adventures. A great week, with a lovely group of people and hopefully a plan to return next year.