Ship shape

THE SKIPPER PROMISED me a wreck, so it must be down here somewhere. If the vis was better, I might even be able to see it. Maybe the atmospheric gloom adds to my anticipation.

I follow the clues: occasional sticky-up bits, shoals of fish, the torchlight of other divers… OK, I see a boiler. I’m diving on a boiler in a debris field.

It might be a wreck of a wreck, but I’m loving it anyway. The marine life are loving it too, which means there’s no shortage of entertainment.

My first wreck-dive was on the Dredger in Portland. It still looks like a mangled piece of agricultural machinery that’s been tossed against rocks by an angry giant. I mostly remember the impressive size of the spider crabs.

I generally dislike the trend for “Top 10 Wrecks” listings but I’m as nosy as the next person to find out how many of the “top” wrecks I’ve dived. I might scorn these lists but they provide clues to what many people like in a wreck-dive:

Size: People do seem to love a big fat wreck. Size impresses and bigger ships are often more glamorous and better-known. Plus you can also do your best Kate Winslet impersonation at the bow in photos.

Largely intact: How wonderful it would be to find the portholes still in place and the pots, plates and cutlery stacked neatly in the galley. Dream on! The less damaged, salvaged and pillaged the wreck the better. Shipshape wrecks in pristine condition are fleetingly rare. Even without interference, a wreck is constantly deteriorating. Just like humans.

Upright: Always helpful. Wrecks have an unfortunate knack of falling over. Any diver visiting Scapa Flow knows that warships with big heavy guns tend to turn upside down as they sink. You’ll get a tad bored finning around on an upturned hull, so head straight for the seabed and explore from there. Big wrecks can also get pushed onto their side by currents and storms. Amazingly, the Spiegelgrove (Florida Keys) got pushed upright by a hurricane in 2005. Result!

Back story: An interesting history or famous connection adds kudos. These days celebrity status is everything. The more “known” the wreck, the more divers it attracts. The more that people dive, photograph, talk and write about it, the more alluring it becomes. It also needs to be…

Accessible! Everyone would be diving the Titanic if it was in 30m and half-an-hour offshore. The most popular wrecks are always those that divers can reach with relative ease. But not too easy. Or there would be nothing to brag about.

DIVER October 2021

THAT’S WHY THE Top 10s are largely meaningless. Most are a list of well-known wrecks that divers name-drop to sound impressive.

But popularity can be problematic. The Dredger isn’t ship-shaped, though I suspect people will still enjoy diving that mangled old wreck long after the highly-rated Thistlegorm succumbs to the hazards of mass diving. It’s at risk of being pulled apart and scavenged into rubble.

“Shipshape and Bristol fashion” used to mean neat and tidy, though these days Bristol fashion conjures images of statues being torn down unceremoniously and dumped in the harbour.

Times may change and meanings alter. But you’ll still remember loving those wreck-dives forever.