999Exp: #107 – Scuba dive a famous shipwreck
Scuba diving is one of my great pleasures in life. I have dive all over the world and have seen many a fantastic thing. I must admit, that one of my firm favourites is wreck diving. My greatest experience to date yet has been diving the Truk (Chuuk) lagoon in November 2013. However, there’s nothing like your first proper wreck diving experience, and the vote for that one must go to our dive of the SS Thistlegorm in the Egyptian Red Sea during 2012.
There’s quite a bit of a story attached to this dive – and one I’ll never forget for these reasons.
We arrived at the site of the Thistlegorm late afternoon during out Red Sea Trip. We were going to do five dives on the wreck, one the evening we arrived, and then four more the next day. For this first night dive on the wreck, we were given strict instruction not to penetrate the wreck and just skirt its top for the entire dive. We dove down as the sun was setting and it was a magnificent experience to see the wreck in all its glory as the night fell.
My buddy and I had a relatively casual dive on top of the inner cargo holds until one of the dive guides signalled my to follow him to observe some or other rare nudibranch. I should have known better when my dive buddy refused to follow. I on the other hand followed the dive guide into the wreck – quite far – to see the little critter. Realising that my dive buddy shot off into another direction and was nowhere to be found, I decided to abandon the dive guide and go and have a look for him. When I came out of the wreck there were divers everywhere and it took me a second or two to find my buddy. At first I thought was trying to get my attention when he waved his flashlight furiously in my direction – but then it dawned on me that the guy was trying to signal an emergency situation.
I swam over at speed and determined that the poor guy was hanging on for dear life to the wreck. He had gotten his weight belt stuck on the wreck it later turned out, and he ripped it lose. The weight belt fell deep into the wreck and he was struggling to maintain buoyancy. He was also getting very panicked and sucking his cylinder dry. Being a rescue diver, and having been in various emergency situation before, I am thrilled to say that I did all the correct things. I positioned myself next to the man, deflated my own BC grabbed a hold of him and spent a couple of second calming him down. The two of us hanging onto one another was able to stabilise our collective buoyancy and started the swim back to the anchor line. We made a slow and safe decent. As we surfaced, there were another 20 odd divers just behind us, wide-eyed, thinking the man was surely going to bend.
My buddy was quite shaken after the ordeal and the two of us started drinking quite hard on the deck of our livaboard, recollecting on our ordeal and having a proper post-mortem of the events. The drinking got heavier and heavier as the night progressed, and several other divers joined in. I was in trouble. It was one o’clock in the morning and I was not able to leave the group. Eventually I said I was going to fetch some more ice and disappeared to bed.
I cannot sleep in when I have had too much to drink. It’s just the way it is with me. The next morning around five with way too little sleep, and way too much alcohol I stumbled on deck to find some coffee. Three divers were busy kitting up. Two friends of mine wanted to get an early start on everyone else with their new rebreathers, and a third was going to join to take some pictures. They promptly invited me along since I had a proper video camera.
I should have known better to dive being this tired and having drank so much the previous night. Diving down to the pristine wreck that early I was determined to keep my heart rate way down and try and keep up with the rebreathers okes for as long as possible. It turned into an epic dive. The Thistlegorm is one of the most famous wrecks in the world, and on most days there are lots and lots of divers on the wreck, kicking up silt which makes the visibility quite poor. Being first and this early meant that everything was quite undisturbed and pristinely beautiful.
The dive went along fantastically and me and the other buddy on open air managed to keep up quite well. However, we kept on pushing it and pushing it further until I had less than 20 bar left and had some deco time accumulated. When we eventually abandoned the dive to head back, we were faced with quite a serious swim against the current. I had to clear my deco, swim hard and keep my air consumption to a minimum! I started getting a little nervous I must admit. We were cutting it very very fine.
When we surfaced, there was not a single breath of air remaining in my cylinder. I finished my deco countdown on my computer with less than 20 seconds to spare, and my buddy was in exactly the same position! I do not recommend ever breaking the limits of diving – it’s dangerous and bad things can happen quite quickly. Having said all of this – surfacing within five minutes of the rebreather guys was great!
When we’re kitting off, my buddy on open air said: “Nice dive, empty cylinder, angry computer and a serious pucker up!”
That was my Thistlegorm story – a truly memorable dive and highly recommended to all divers.
See the video I made of the dive.