WE MADE THE 370-mile journey north, landed in Port Charlotte, got the compressors running, pumped the 15-litre tanks and launched the boats.
The weather forecast looked good, dry with sunshine and an 8mph south-west wind. The Otranto is very exposed to anything westerly but as long as the wind stayed below 14mph we would be OK.
The first divers descended the 15m and fastened the buoy-line close to the 6in forward gun. Visibility was such that it was possible to see the RIBs outlined at the surface as kelp was cleaned from the barrel.
Two more divers were put in by the propeller-shafts and fastened a second buoy at the stern – the two fixed points would give access to all areas during the week.
The very broken wreck covers a large area of about 100 x 100m, bigger than a football pitch but heavily covered in kelp, known locally as tangleweed.
The second wave of divers continued to strip the kelp back from around the gun until it was clear enough for the flags to be fastened. As they flew in the current, it was a moment to pause and reflect. It was an honour and a privilege to be part of the raising of the flags.
The team spent the rest of the week scouring all areas of the wreck. The thick kelp would sway in the swell and occasionally waft across our masks and blank our vision.
We concluded that when Otranto had been stranded on the reef her bow had been facing north. She had broken her back in two places, forward of the front boilers and behind the back boilers, the bow and stern swinging to the east in the mountainous swells and turning towards the shoreline, almost meeting each other. This was supported by the debris we were finding.
We started naming the areas: Bow, Stern, The Pit, The Boilers, Engines and Cordite Alley. Four large intact boilers towered 5m over the seabed, the lower parts free from growth, perhaps because they had been rocking in the winter swells. The engines were less clear to see, but behind the kelp con-rods, cylinders and the block were visible.
Large sections of the hull inner and outer bottom could be seen, and shining a torch inside revealed narrow passages as far as the eye could see, and twin steel prop-shafts almost a metre in diameter.
By the stern section the massive steering A-frame stood 4-5 high, and at its side lay the huge rudder.
We saw many live 6in shell warheads, two deep in places, and small-arms ammunition concreted in 100 years of sand and sediment.
A gun breech.
In the bow area two 6in guns sat on their pedestals, barrels pointing into the open water. Below them lay large steel hull-plates, some bent by the force of storms, with their rows of portholes.
Two securing bollards sat upright, and there was general debris everywhere – broken and rotted timbers, wiring, what looked like floor tiles and many 2in hexagon wall-tiles, originally white.
Over in the Pit was debris from where the bow, stern and amidships areas had merged, with small arms munitions and occasionally soldiers’ boots, rotted but clearly identifiable.
Two 6in gun-barrels lay side by side in the kelp, with trunnions pointing skyward and, 6m away, another 6in gun next to several of its warheads.
There was evidence of the toilets and washrooms in the shape of broken sanitary-ware A massive deck-winch sat upright amid broken superstructure, with hull- and deck-plates everywhere.
The good weather allowed us all to complete our two dives a day but the forecast south-westerly Force 10 Storm Hector would, we knew, halt diving by the Thursday.
So we recovered the flags and removed our lines and buoys, leaving nothing but memories to share.