THE WEATHER DICTATED that we needed to head back to the Plus on the last morning before an afternoon of kit-drying. I had struggled to envisage what I was going to do after having such a great dive on it on day one, but after a week of diving and now having my Baltic eye in, it turned out to be even better second time around.
Diver with the bell on the Balder.
The phrase “It’s Baltic over there…” doesn’t exactly instil a warm feeling, but we were all pleasantly surprised by the conditions we found.
We had gone fully prepared for very cold conditions, but visiting in August really helped with water temperatures.
The surface to approximately 12m was 14°C, then from 35-40m it was 8°C, and 4-5°C below 40m. So warmer water than expected for deco was a massive positive, but the trade-off was that the water was greener than it might have been, and the vis more like that we’re used to at home.
Arriving at the bottom of the shotline in 50m to dive the Balder, I knew that coming to the Baltic had been a good idea. The shot was tied off to the fallen aft mast, and immediately visible was the balustrade that separated the cargo area from the crew area, with the steps into the cabin below in place.
The aft deck is the signature area of the Balder, with the main helm still upright and intact, and the bell sitting on deck nearby. Most of my dive was consumed here with my camera, leaving only a little time for a quick swim around the forward accommodation area, where there are still chairs, trestles, bottles and the remains of the navigation lamps.
Time was up all too quickly; though not as quickly as heading back for port at 54 knots, the fastest I’ve ever been in a dive-boat. It was a great day!
The wrecks benefit from the very still, almost fresh anoxic water. Creatures that would normally destroy wood, and oxygen that would encourage rusting, are in short supply. Where the savage Atlantic can roll the boilers of a once-grand ocean liner around the seabed, these wrecks are left in peace.
The other danger to wrecks is, of course, from divers. All Åland wrecks are “look only” – there is no removal of artefacts, and this is not a new policy.
Compared to, say, Portland, diver numbers are very low, and the wrecks have been no-take for as long as anyone can remember. The government is keen to protect its heritage and its tourism.
Notung was a first for me – I’ve never dived anything sunk by Russian action before. She was making her way from Turku during WW1 when she was surprised by Russian bombers. They attacked with bombs and torpedoes, one of which struck her stern and sank her.
The crew took off in lifeboats and came under machine-gun fire, but legend has it that they escaped across the ice and snow, hiding beneath white sheets when necessary.
The wind was in a bad direction from our home port, so skippers Mattias and Fredrik suggested hauling the boats out and launching them on the other side of the island, where we would be able to dive in more sheltered conditions. Winner!
It would be fair to say that the Notung blew my mind. This steamship, built in 1882, is similar to hundreds sunk around the UK – except that the wreck looks as intact as the day the vessel sank.
It sits in an area of poor visibility – I would estimate it at 1-5m, depending on the part of the ship – and is very dark.
Time spent swimming around the wrecks of Truk proved invaluable here, and I was able to get my bearings quickly and head for the bridge.
Which is like a museum, with compass, helm and rudder-indicator in place, the bridge bell fallen to the deck and the telegraph (complete with face) to the side.
Moving aft from the bridge with some difficulty, we could see the upright funnel and the steam-whistle in place.
Immediately in front of the funnel is the signal-room, another compass and the aerial on the roof, and to look into the signal-room you just open the door.
Blow my mind? I’ve had to pour a calming gin as I type this!