Diving Scapa Flow: A Primer
There are seven ships of the World War One German fleet at Scapa Flow. These comprise of four light cruisers and three Battleships…
Cruisers are ships in the 3000 tonne range that have various roles, in this case, scouting for the battle fleet and laying mines.
Battleships were the most powerful ships of their time with the biggest guns and the thickest armour but achieved this strength at the expense of speed.
The four cruisers at Scapa Flow are in depths ranging from 26 to 36 meters. All are now in very poor condition, but as they lie on their sides many of their important features are visible if you can recognise them. The main features apart from bows and sterns are the guns and the conning towers, but the bridge structures and some masts still exist. Extensive damage has exposed some machinery. Penetration is possible but needs great care due to internal silt and structural weakness. Being on their sides means you can do a few lengths at different depths. Every year these wrecks deteriorate noticeably, so be careful what you swim under.
The three battleships are from the same class, so are nearly identical and displaced over 25000 tonnes. The Kronprinz lies in 36 meters and like her sisters is upside down but lying to one side.
SMS Kronprinz is a must dive, but due to her immense size it is vital to go down the “right side”. The good news is that the aft main armament is accessible and is usually buoyed — just about everyone visits the guns. Aft of the big guns the stern is very impressive, and if you can find it, there is a swim-through past the internal steering gear. It is practical to go from the rear guns and reach the bows but I would suggest only attempting this with a twin-set.
The Konig is in 42 meters and is the most damaged by salvage and as a result is the least dived.
The Markgraf is in the best condition of any of the German wrecks partly as she lies in 48m. Her front turrets are accessible and are only a short swim from her intact bow which is very impressive.
The battleships all stand about 20m from the seabed.
There are two British battleships on the bottom, both are banned from diving due to huge loss of life.
Out of 43 original block ships there are three regularly dived block ships which are all in the 15m range, however, these are very different from each other.
The Tabarka is largely ship-shaped but upside down. It is possible to swim from end-to-end completely inside her. She is wide-open internally, and has been described a “cathedral-like”. Another must-do dive for any first time Scapa visitor.
The Doyle is the middle block ship, and lies over to one side and has some excellent swim-throughs along the length of the ship. The Gobanador Bories is very broken and is in my opinion the least impressive of the three. There are some tapered tunnel like swim-throughs that get very narrow.
The block ships blocked a channel into the flow and have a huge current so can only be dived at slack. The current picks up very quickly which limits time. You can hide from the current by entering the wrecks. The Gobanador Bories is not so good for this, the Doyle is better but the Tabarka is the best — the whole dive can be completed inside. Leaving her once the current has picked up is lots of fun, especially if you leave it long enough — be warned your blob might not do as you expect!
##The Bayern Turrets.
These fell off SMS Bayern as she was raised and lie in 42 meters of water. They have sunk into the seabed and the 375mm (15inch) barrels are buried. The machinery of the turrets is largely visible and if you remember that they are upside-down, you can understand how they worked. It is even possible to drop down above the breaches below the level of the seabed. They lie in two pairs about 100m apart and diving all four is a big dive and a navigational challenge. In my opinion this is one of the most interesting sites I have ever dived.
##F2 and barge.
F2 was a WW2 German destroyer, sunk in a storm after WW2. Her bows are intact on its port side. Everything aft of the bridge is a shambles. Next to F2 is a wooden salvage barge used to salvage material from the F2. This sank in a storm and is upright and intact. There are to AA guns in her hold and it has a diving compressor. Dave might like to salvage it and install it in the K & E compressor shed.
##The James Barrie and others.
The James Barrie is a Trawler sunk in 1969 and is intact on her starboard side. She is in 42 m and rumour has it a wedding ring remains on a hook in one of the cabins. She has lots of oil inside but some people like her. She is a long trip to reach so would need an early start and lots of diesel.
There are numerous other sites in the flow including a German Submarine blown up with her own torpedoes and possibly another scuttled by her crew, the wreck sites of the salvaged ships, the remnants of some of the destroyers but these are rarely dived.
Scapa Flow is formed by the islands of Orkney and is 13 miles across. This means diving there is very different from the English Channel.
Firstly despite the flow filling and emptying by a few meters of tide the German wrecks are not affected by tide so can be dived at any time. You might notice some water movement but it is very small.
The block ships however are in the path of some of the fastest moving water around the British isles. This means that if diving the German wrecks you do not need to consider slack so every day you can leave at a convenient time.
Getting dives on the block ships is a different matter. Ideally these need to be dived in the afternoon, on a flooding tide before it gets dark which is early in October. An ebbing tide works but on average the visibility won’t be so good.
Many of these sites are very close together, so it is common practice to drop divers on different wrecks to suit tastes and interests.
Orkney is very exposed and has some very rough weather. As a result all the charter boats are old fishing boats. This means that it is possible to dive in much worse conditions than would be typical on the south coast. The skippers will shelter divers they are picking up using the boat which works very well.
Night life is somewhat limited in Stromness, with two pubs and a hotel and a few other places that are often closed.
In the event of being blown out there are a few places to visit, including a stone age settlement, a stone ring, Kirkwall (the capital) with its cathedral which houses the bell from HMS Royal Oak. There is a museum in Stromness, a couple of dive shops. The Italian Chapel and Churchill barriers built by Italian POW’s. Apparently there are some wrecks in a beach — but I have never seen these.