Wreck diving is my passion, whether deep
or shallow. As a child I would visit naval dockyards on their yearly open days,
and explore huge battle ships as much as time and energy allowed. When I learned
to dive, my interest grew even more, as now I could explore huge ships from
propeller to mast without breaking a sweat!
Diving for a living means I’ve explored literally hundreds of wrecks. I pretty
much enjoyed every one of them, from deliberately sunk “artificial reefs” to
war ships lost in battle. The most memorable ship I dived was the SMS BADEN, the
flag ship of the German Navy in World War One. This Bayern class Battle ship was
near 180m long and coincidentally (also unfortunately) rested in water 180m deep
in the English Channel.
I dived in the area of this wreck many times and new the location better than
anyone. I was contacted by divers who sought to dive the deepest wreck as some
kind of record attempt, and would like me to video tape their antics. I did
three practice dives in the area down to 180m with my video camera and felt
pretty confident. It’s one thing diving deep, just free descending down,
it’s totally another trying to drop onto a fixed position in an area with some
of the biggest tidal movement in the world, not forgetting being in the middle
of the busiest shipping lane on the planet!
“big day” where I would film the deepest wreck dive, the other guys looked
pretty uneasy, it was lucky for them that a series of events meant that they
would not be diving (deeper than 6 or 7 m anyway!). I had invested time and
money in doing this dive, so simply dropped down to the wreck, with the phrase
“time and tide wait for no man” in mind and filmed myself breaking records!
The current had started to run a little, and on this day of the dive the slack
tide would be only 10-15 minutes. This wreck is so huge that when the tide was
running at full strength you could see the tide on the surface being affected. I
descended the anchor line with my five diving cylinders and video camera. This
is like juggling six 15kg lumps of steel in slow motion with the wind blowing a
hurricane in your face, the wind in this instance being the strong current.
If you dive to these depths, regular air cannot be breathed. My scuba tanks
contained a mixture called Trimix, which has lots of helium in it. One of the
downsides of breathing Trimix is that your whole body gets tremors and shakes as
you descend to deep depths. These tremors, started near the bottom, and as the
wreck came into view, 150m down, my video footage had started to look very shaky
arriving at the wreck, I felt pretty good, considering the depth. The water
temperature was 5 degrees centigrade, the huge shipwreck’s hull was shrouded
in darkness and a blanket of very thick soft corals. My anchor line had got
wedged into one of the many holes in the wreck side. The Battleship Baden had
met its demise not in conflict, but used as target practice for allied forces at
the end of world war one. Typically these monster battle cruisers turned upside
down as they sink, caused by the weight of the enormous deck guns. The Baden
carried 8 gigantic 15” guns. These had certainly fallen off the ship as it
sunk. These gun turrets would have made some great video but going on a search
mission by torch light in 180 metres depth would have to wait for another day!
I took a seat inside one of the huge propeller tunnels, the propellers had been
removed before sinking which was a shame, but the area was free of coral life
and would be a good feature to record. After 12 minutes I had ventured far
enough from the anchor line as I dared and started my return to the surface. I
had three friends acting as support divers. The first one came into view at
around 60metres down, We swapped my empty scuba tanks for fresh ones. My journey
back to the surface would take over 4 hours and need many different gas mixtures
to help with the decompression stops that were necessary.
When I surfaced finally, the many boats that had been there when I left, had
returned to port to avoid the darkness. All the television film crews and
reporters that filmed the surface events had retired to the nearby port of
Alderney. When we arrived back, I was greeted by camera lights and well wishers,
I was too tired to carry my own mobile phone, but grinned appropriately and
answered the questions for an hour or so. That night, as soon as my head hit the
pillow, I was sleeping the sleep of a 180m deep wreck diver.
4 years later, this dive is still the deepest wreck dive ever completed on
SMS BADEN, in action.
later, I dived the BADEN again for much longer using the RGBM "crash
test dummy" algorithm...heres the text
Gradient Bubble Model Baden
I got my version of Abyss dive software April
2000, having used Proplanner and Zplan etc
before. I phoned Chris Parrett at Abyss for my registration code and spoke of
the dives I had planned, Chris mentioned the RGBM algorithim they were working
on , saying it would revolutionise my deco’s. One year later I have the new
software , Its dramatically different to anything else ( except its counterpart
the Variable Permeability Model). I looked for divers who had used it , but
outside of the USA cave community,
there wasn’t much being done. I emailed some extreme deep divers, who were
very sceptical and would rather wait and see. I read the theories behind it,
emailed a plenty, decided to test my body against it and worked a dive plan.
A dive project to the Carpathia was on the cards and I thought this the
perfect test bed. (Also the dive boat had a Recompression chamber on board and
this may come in handy!). I worked
out tables constantly and checked them with the authors, they said its all good.
I checked the schedules with other software I had used, they all said deco
should be 3 hours longer!
When you deep dive, you need to have freedom of doubt, it was hard to get
confidence in some numbers generated on a supercomputer in an office in the
states. It was impossible to find other deep divers who’d tried it. From what
I could translate from the gobbledegook RGBM theories it seemed that if your
decompression stops started very deep and were for 30 secs ish
at a time, then you would let the bubbles you had in you offgas
much faster because they
were still very small and easier to eliminate , and
you would in theory arrive shallower with much less to
offgas . Traditional deco plans had stops much shallower for longer and
these were effectively letting you “bend” then unbend you with forever in
the shallows. Still the other software said 3 hours longer !
I figured I would do the complicated schedule as well as I could , but if
it started going “pear shaped” I
would simply revert to a back up
traditional “bend me/unbend me
“ deco plan. Sorted
Carpathia trip was curtailed by some lumpy weather. I was disappointed because I
had not tried the deco plan, deep wrecks I had done before.
I got back to Jersey, checked the tides up in the wreck alley called the
Hurd Deep, off Alderney . The plan
was to dive 160m for 12 minutes bottom time plus 4 mins descent.
I chose the wreck of the BADEN (large German Battleship at 180m to seabed )
because A: it was deep enough and B: I knew where it was ! The Hurd Deep
runs roughly East to West, the Tide runs S/W
to N/W ish
, Its not deep everywhere and quite narrow. The Wreck site looked a good
idea , but the weather wouldn’t play , good tides with bad weather,
then spring tides with perfect weather. Sadly it had to be the latter.
I drove up in the RIB with Ben lumsden (support diver) and Rob Meier (boatman)
,the 50 miles of flat sea was nice.
We found the wreck after a short while, but the tide had
started to turn. I put on my doubles of Trimix 8/67 with a 3rd
cylinder of Trimix 14/33 on my back. Each
side I had a 12 litre , one of Trimix 20/30
and the other Nitrox 50. I sorted out the video camera and comedy hat
full of lights. Rob dropped me on
the down line…over I went.
Dropping at 40m a minute, meant total darkness soon. A plankton bloom stifled
the light below about 20m. I went in breathing the Trimix 20/30 first, I felt
good, the current was worse than Id hoped, but the weight of the kit helped the
pull. At 60 m I switched to the Trimix 14/33 to check the regulator, all good,
then to 100m switched
to Bottom mix , it came easily . ApeksTx
100’s with 67% helium meant easy breathing for me previously at 180m, they
instilled confidence now. The current was getting harder, it was 140 m, I
estimated the tide at 2 knots , I felt the shot weight/anchor slip , maybe this
was good . Safety was becoming compromised by the tide strength. If I drifted it
would be easier on the hands. Holding the line with bear hands in the 5
centigrade water was a chore but my mind was elsewhere! By 150 m I could feel
shot weight jumping of the sea bed coming down and jamming hard (it was sandy
ish before) I could abort , ascend the line , risking coming off the line, or I
could descend unclip shot weight and
drift, this I tried. At 158 m the upturned hull shot past like a video game, it didn’t look clever. The shot weight jumped around like a
bouncing bomb, I didn’t fancy an encounter with it at 160m!, so out came very
sharp dive knife, and I cut the line. Once cut through I felt more relaxed and
drifted along for the rest of the dive, It was unpleasant, I considered my
reasons for doing it again. I liked the challenge, the sense of accomplishment
etc. Next was the tricky part. I
free ascended up the loose line to 135 m for a 30 sec stop, then 126 m for
another 30, then 120m for another, then the others came fast and often. The deep
stops I thought had been carried out OK, so I stayed with the RGBM deco all the
way to the surface. 30 sec’s here, 1 min there.
Ben arrived at 50 m with
backup gas, I took a cylinder from him, gave him camera and bump hat . Ben brought me some gloves, they had shrunk to
action man size! , I stretched them on. Gas
switches and stops took me to the final hurdle, only 35 minutes on oxygen!
I did feel anxious as my back up deco schedule asked for almost 120
minutes on oxygen! I did the
shorter time, took 5 minutes to the surface and waited for the bends , every
niggle and ache concerned me, was I warming up for a knockdown bend ?
I felt unusual (difficulty concentrating maybe) for a few minutes after, so
stayed on the oxygen. The plan was for an immediate re descend if I felt bendy.
I would try to in-water recompress first before calling the cavalry. It could
have been a drastic situation, and they called for drastic measures.
I felt fine minutes later, and continued surface oxygen for 30 minutes.
Maybe it was a sinus imbalance or something, I did feel “snotty” on ascent.
The journey back went fine, we had actually drifted over 8 miles towards
home in the 2 hours 20 minute dive!. I made some phone calls, one telling the
chamber guy I’d pre briefed, it didn’t look like Id be needing his services
2004- I have since become VERY
familiar with RGBM decompression software. When you consider just how little
work has been done to validate this algorithm, its amazing how equipment
manufacturers seem so eager to promote it. I would certainly never use any RGBM
diving software again. Its developer and marketeers should stick to things that
don’t incubate massive injuries on deeper dives.
Dive Safe, Dive Educated