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PROJECT FRASERBURGH








Everyone has heard of the wrecks of Scapa Flow but there's a lot more to wreck diving in Scotland than the German High Seas Fleet. A team of IANTD technical divers set out to dive some of the finest World War I wrecks that Scotland has to offer outside of Scapa Flow...


FRASERBURGH PROJECT
BACKGROUND



Twice during the 20th century the clouds of war hung over Europe; as an island nation the UK would have to rely on its surrounding seas to bring lifeblood to the country through the darkest days of 1914-18 and 1939-45.

The UK has relied heavily on imports since the early 1800ís and that reliance only increases during times of war when the raw material requirements for industrial output increase; and when the population swells with soldiers and sailors from around the empire and the other allied countries arrive on our shores in need equipment and supplies.

Looking at a map of the UK it is easy to divide us into East and West and our main ports the same; Bristol, Cardiff, Liverpool and the Clyde serving the West coast and Aberdeen, Rosyth, Sunderland, Newcastle and the Thames serving the East, not forgetting of course the South coast ports.

There is a very logical path into these ports whether vessels were coming from the southern oceans or the West Atlantic. One critical thing affected their approach to the UK though and that was defending the UK against seaborne attack. With the Dover straits all but closed and minefields laid around the UKís shores shipping would be very concentrated.

The East coast ports have always been very busy but with their Southern access through the Dover straits closed all shipping had to approach around the North of Scotland, through the Pentland Firth and across the Moray Firth to reach safety of port.

At the beginning of World War 1 the Royal Navy had been slow to realise the role the submarine would come to play in modern warfare; whilst it may have been seen as 'ungentlemanly' the loss of HMS Hogue, Aboukir and Cressy soon made them wake up to the fact that the submarine was going to be a very real danger to British shipping.

By the breakout of World War II, the development of long range bombing aircraft coupled with further advances in submarine technology meant that Britainís ships and shores were under a greater threat than ever before. This shipping now concentrated off the North East coast of Scotland would represent rich pickings for the German U-boat commanders and Luffwaffe aircrews.

Divers Stuart and Kieran enjoy a post dive hot drink after another successful dive!

Sal goes for a dive in Scapa Flow whilst the team wait for the weather to break...




FRASERBURGH PROJECT
OBJECTIVES



Planning a diving expedition to the North East coast of Scotland is easy, making it happen is a different proposal altogether. To say the NE coast is not dived would be a lie but it is entirely fair to say that it is not dived extensively, if you want to dive the wrecks offshore [by offshore we mean there are rigs between you and the land!] then the logistics become that bit more complicated.

With there being no commercial dive boats north of Aberdeen and South of Orkney looking to take a group of divers offshore it made sense to use one of the adventurous Scapa skippers and their liveaboard dive boat; the MV Halton.

The aim of the trip was always to base ourselves in Fraserburgh but that is a 10+ hour steam from the boats homeport of Stromness. Wherever we were going to get to, we needed everything onboard to make the week happen. I arrived early in Orkney to prep the kit for a tech trip; prepare the shotís and deco stations and get all the gas in place for a mixed team of open circuit and rebreather divers.

Our main target wreck for the week was the mark presumed to be the HMS Astronomer; the Halton had put a group on this wreck once 5 years ago but had found nothing conclusive, the mark had also been shared with another group but no feedback had been received.

With it being a 6 hour steam from Wick to this mark it was going to be a long day, the plan was therefore to dive this mark on the way to and from Fraserburgh where we could enjoy the more local wrecks and shorter days. This would also be a research trip to see what we could achieve and what we would need to venture to some of the huge number of wrecks further offshore in the same and greater depths.

The evening before day one saw us steaming across the Pentland Firth in flat calm conditions to meet the rest of the group in Wick. I spent the evening with a chart and Bob Bairdís book planning our week ahead.

Sal getting back on the boat after another successful project dive...

Fixing dive equipment 'in the field' is often necessary on project dives




EXPEDITION DIARY:
DAY ONE & TWO



DAY 1 - The tides worked well for a dive on the Clan MacKinlay just outside of wick so we headed there. This was my 3rd dive on this wreck and yet again didnít disappoint, clear blue water with light reflecting of white sand makes for pretty god diving conditions and with a 6000 ton ship at the bottom of the line it would be hard not to be excited. The stand out portion of this dive fo me was the stern section standing proud of the seabed, guns still in place with the ammunition ready use locker nearby and with some of the auxiallry navigation equipment on show it made for a great start.

DAY 2 - The next day looked like offering some wind so we decided to head back to Scapa for a day in the flow. Dives were on the Markgraf and Coln, I could spend all day writing about these dives but that is for another day; it was nice to still be diving though. A quick ask around the group and everyone was happy for a lumpy run back across the Pentland firth with a view to be gas diving again on day 3.
One of many ornate light fittings from the wreck of the Astronomer




EXPEDITION DIARY:
DAY THREE



An early start from Wick saw us heading for the wreck of the HMS Astronomer - now for me this wreck is the reason I started trying to get down this way to dive. Stu and a few others dived down here off the Halton a few years back and raved about the diving, with this wreck being the stand out dive of the week.

Now whilst a long steam it didnít disappoint; all I can say is that I have never dived anything like it before. Imagine diving a ship where whilst slightly collapsed everything and I mean everything is about where it should be. It was a big ship at 8000 tons and well fitted out, all I can say is it is simply stunning; the shot landed just back from the bridge, she lays with a good list to starboard and is very intact. My dive concentrated on the area forward of the boilers up until the main mast. The bridge can be found and is pretty obvious when you reach it, all around is evidence of the accommodation area with many of the items you would associate with this

area of a ship laying everywhere. The forward hold was also very distinctive with big coils of cables, concrete mooring blocks shackles etc.

The wreck is listed as probably the Astronomer on wrecksite, and other people had said to us that there was some uncertainty about its identity. The cargo would certainly marry up the Bob Bairdís description in his book that she was carrying boom defence gear for Scapa Flow and Jo Rawleyís picture of a plate with the correct shipping line for the Astronomer would seem to confirm the fact that it is the Astronomer, but something more conclusive may still be out there.

Plate from HMS Astronomer marked with the stamp of the Charante Steamship Company

Close up of the stamp of the Charante Steamship Company found on the plates




EXPEDITION DIARY:
DAY FOUR



After diving the Astronomer on the Tuesday it was into our holiday destination of choice, Fraserburgh; whilst not everybodyís first choice of destination it is well placed to access some great diving.

The plan for Wednesday was the Remura; she was a cargo liner and big at over11000 tons. A short[ish] run out of Fraserburgh put us onsite in very favorable conditions, descending down the shot it was obvious that we had got the vis back compared with yesterday. The shot had gone in just forward of the break in the boiler rooms; the first thing that strikes you is the size of this thing. Swimming over and between the boilers and out past the engine made for a great swim through and really put

the dive into scale. Heading round the deck side the ship has collapsed over to port (it is still 10m+ proud of the seabed) the intact portholes still sit in their respective places albeit at a slightly different angle, Iíd say I got just a bit further forward that the main super structure as I came across the remains of a mast/derrick and main deck features such as mooring bollards came into view. Stu ventured a bit further and came across masses of bones; she carried refrigerated cargo and was inbound from New Zealand loaded with beef (if I remember correctly).

Max depth was 65m and another cracking dive.

Bottles scattered across the seabed on the wreck of the Astronomer




EXPEDITION DIARY:
DAY FIVE



The plan for Thursday was mixed, some folk wanted to go back to the Remura and some wanted to try something different. The Remura is well worth repeated diving, especially if you like big ships (I like big ships!) but sometimes jumping in on something a bit smaller is that bit easier to get around in a dive.

We planned to go and check out a small mark near the Remura listed as probably the Trsat, a 1300 ton steamer being used for fish transport when she was sunk in WW2. If the mark proved difficult to find or looked unlikely then the Remura was there as a backup. As it turned out Bob had already run over and pinged the mark previously on his Olex so it proved easy to find. Having shotíed the Remura and Astronomer on the previous 2 days - both big targets - he definitely looked less than convinced by the trace showing up on his sounder. I put the lazy shot in at 24m and headed down the shot, it was clear that we had scored with the vis again!

As you would expect of a small steamer it is well broken, but a good chunk of the mid ships superstructure can be found; two boilers are

located a little further aft with wreckage to both sides, gantry and walkways found in a boiler room to starboard and some super structure to port with a bath and toilet in. laying between the boilers and the superstructure is what looks like the main mast and after a sort gap forward the remains of the bow with its winch gear in place can be found. Looking back to the shot and only seeing a couple of strobes still pinging away signaled that it was time to depart, turning the torch off and with your eyes now well adjusted it was possible to make out what remains of the bridge section and Jo happily snapping away with her new camera.

The wreck is still full of life but I donít think that will help much with confirming her identity (that is, of course, if it isnít already confirmed but not published). What is clear is that the coarse sand seabed is constantly moving and changing so next time there could more, or less wreck to look at.

One of many ornate light fittings from the wreck of the Astronomer

The still recogniseable remains of floor tiles from the wreck of the Astronomer




EXPEDITION DIARY:
DAY SIX



An early start on Friday saw us heading back to the Astronomer before the onward steam to Wick. The vis was a little lower this time, again only on the bottom 10m, I can only think that it was the trawlers in the area stirring it up. The shot was in

within a few meters of where it had been before so it was easy enough to get your bearings; Iíve not much to add on the description above except to say again that this is a stonking dive!




EXPEDITION DIARY:
MOVING FORWARD...



Back in Wick it was the great unpack and leg it down the A9. Thanks to Bob and the Halton for a great week and Mandy for some great food throughout the week.

The week was mostly CCR but with a 70m max O/C can easily be catered for and there were a couple of bubble blowers onboard, fingers crossed for next year all the cell issues will be resolved and peace and harmony will rein again, best pack that soldering iron though Simon!

Next year is already booked, 1st-6th July, first refusal on the spaces will go to those that came this year but any additional spaces are up for grabs, drop me a line if you think you fancy the diving out this way; if there is enough interest I have the option of a second week too.
GET INVOLVED!

The Fraserburgh Project is constantly looking for new team members with the right experience and skills to bring to the project. If you think you've got something to give to the project, get in touch with project coordinator Kieran Hatton: info@divingindepth.co.uk