Oct 182016

Deck gun on the HMS Russell

The HMS Russell was a WWI pre-dreadnought. Unlike the WWII wrecks that we dived first in Malta, the Schnellboot and the HMS Southwold, the Russell has been on the bottom for a century. She was launched in February 1902 as one of six Duncan-class ships with the new four cylinder triple-expanision engines. During the Great War the Russell spent time at Scapa Flow and on the Northern Patrol. After a stint in the English Channel, a refit in Ireland and supporting the Gallipoli campaign up to evacuation of troops in early 1916, she was waiting to enter the Grand Harbour in Malta in April 2016 when she struck two mines.

Two mines laid by the German U-boat U-73 the night before caused a fire in the aft of the ship, following by an explosion at one of the turrets. The order to abandon ship was given. She took over 20 minutes to sink and of the 750 people on board, 625 were saved. This included a number who swam the four miles to shore.

Under the deck of the Russell

The wreck has landed upsidedown on the seafloor, probably tipped over on descent by the weight of the armour and guns on her deck. The edge of the hull is sitting about a metre above the sand, allowing just enough space for divers to swim across the sand with the deck overhead. Unlike the two wrecks we dived initially in Malta, the visibility here was poor. Murky water made it both difficult to identify key features of the ship, and difficult to get clear photos.

We landed near the bow of the wreck and I swam out for a look up at her looming out of the dark. The Russell was 140m long and in 115m of water there was no chance of an end to end swim. Instead we headed along the side, checking out the large guns lying out sideways on the sand. She has been well and truly colonised by shells and sponges, and I got buzzed by a large John Dory fish, living beside the hull.

While this was an amazing dive for the history, the vis and the orientation meant there wasn’t as much to see. A dive on her stern end to see the damage caused by the mines would be interesting – maybe next time.

Gun on the HMS Russell


Oct 102016
2017 Calendars

2016 seems like it’s only just begun and 2017 is already sneaking up on us. With the end of the year in sight, my 2017 calendars are now on sale. Calendars come in both cave diving and ocean flavours with lots of space to note your important dates for the year. The caves side features a number of beautiful shots from the Timorese caves with a good mix of local and exotic. On the ocean front this year’s calendar is dominated by big animals in blue waters – whales, sharks, mantas and more. The photo pages are A4 (approx 12″ x 8″) with the dates grid on the page below. The calendars are ringbound with a punchhole for hanging. Even better, prices [read more…]

Oct 042016
Stern of the HMS Southwold

The HMS Southwold was a WWII British destroyer. Built during the war and launched in late 1941, she was sunk less than six months later on March 24th, 1942. She was tasked with escorting the crippled HMS Breconshire to Malta after leaving the convoy. As she attempted to pass a line to the Breconshire, she hit a British mine. The resulting explosion in the engine room killed five people on board. With her back up generator fired up and crew working to plug the leaks, the Southwold was taken under tow by a tug. Shortly thereafter her hull began to split in half and the remaining crew were transferred to another ship as she went down. The split in the wreck means [read more…]

Sep 202016
Torpedos on the S-31 Schnellboot

Built in 1939 and sunk in 1942, the Motor Torpedo Boat the S31 had a short life. She had a thin metal hull with a mahogany wood coating, to assist her in slipping through mine fields. With 3 diesel engines on board she had a maximum speed of 38 knots carrying her crew of 24. In the early hours of May 10th the S31 was one of 7 MTBs lying in wait for the Welshman, who was expected to arrive in Valletta Harbour. The S31 had just finished placing a new minefield to the north west when she collided with a mine. Less than 30 minutes later she was underwater with 13 men still on board. The Schnellboot lies in [read more…]

Sep 132016
Tanks in Cocklebiddy

I spent last week off the grid, merrily moving tanks from one location to another and back again. By the end of five days on site we had relocated over a tonne of dive gear from the east coast to the Nullarbor, from the vehicles to the water, and from the water’s edge to over 4kms inside the cave. The cave of course, is Cocklebiddy. The quick trip had a goal – to return to Toad Hall with my Dad, nearly 34 years after he was the first diver to surface inside it. It was a family trip with Mum, Dad and I joined by Steve and Ryan and a film crew. You can see our documentary early next year on [read more…]

Aug 172016
Underwater tank wrestling through Elk River

Our Elk River supply trips are now down to a fine art. Each push trip requires two or three resupply trips – removing the empty tanks from the previous exploration, taking in full tanks, plus caching other gear as required. We are now using a lot of carbon fibres tanks for the longest swim through sump 7. The carbon fibres are much, much lighter than equivalent steel or aluminium tanks and can hold higher pressures. The drawback of the carbon fibre tanks is their buoyancy characteristics in the water.We have placed kilos of lead weights at the diving gear up spot. Each 9L tank takes 6kgs of lead to sink it. We are definitely not carrying this lead backwards and forwards. [read more…]