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Ross Kemp spooked on UK wreck dives

Ross Kemp
(Sky History)

After an Easter weekend spent out diving for treasure or hunting for eggcases (Divernet, 11 April) you might want to settle down to watch another diver exploring some intriguing British shipwrecks on TV. The UK premiere of the four-parter Ross Kemp: Shipwreck Treasure Hunter can be seen at 9pm on Monday night (18 April) if you have Sky History. 

The former EastEnders actor and documentary presenter undergoes training before embarking on the dives, but filming wasn’t all straightforward – even on what UK divers might think of as less-challenging wrecks.

“Me and Mallory [Haas] tried to dive on the James Eagan Layne off the Cornish coast and the shotline had gone down to what we believed was the actual wreck,” says Kemp. “We knew we were going into the hold, but the visibility was so bad that we missed it. 

“We didn’t know we’d missed it until I looked at my depth gauge and realised that we were at 33m, and we should have landed on that deck at 20m. That doesn’t sound like a big difference, but then you suddenly think about how much air you start consuming the deeper you go and… I couldn’t see something that was two and a half, three storeys high.

Ross Kemp on the James Eagan Layne
Ross Kemp on the James Eagan Layne (Scott Tibbles / Sky History)

“By the time we’ve got into the hold, I’m going: ‘I want out of here’. I don’t like the fact that I am now in a metal box, and I can’t see further than the end of my hands. 

“So it’s interesting that even though you train that hard… one slight thing can start playing on your mind. If you see that episode, you look at my face after I come out. Most of the time, I’ve got a smile of relief, thinking ‘that was enjoyable, that was exciting, what did we find?’ This time? ‘I want to go home’.”

Kemp turns out to have a long-time fascination with UK seafaring history and it’s personal – his great-grandfather Arthur ‘Popeye’ Chalmers survived being shipwrecked three times in the merchant marine during World War Two, while the sailor’s two nephews both died aboard HMS Hood in its 1941 confrontation with the Bismarck.

A picture of Ros Kemp
Ross Kemp (Sky History)

For the new series Kemp is joined by four other scuba divers: maritime archaeologist Mallory Haas, Scapa Flow guide Emily Turton, dive supervisor Neil Brock and safety diver Mark Culwick. The first episode, U-Boat Terror, sees him complete his scuba training and head for Scapa to dive wrecks including German scout ship the F2 and the Tabarka.

Episode 2, The Kaiser’s Sunken Fleet, requires further training at Scapa to explore the broken-up Karlsruhe cruiser, before heading south to dive 1920s experimental British aircraft-carrier submarine the M2

Episode 3, Slaver Ship Secrets, takes Kemp to dive the steamship Iona II, which sank in the 1860s with a “mystery cargo”, and a newly discovered wreck off Plymouth. 

And the final episode Gun Runners sees Kemp on the 36-gun Nelsonian frigate HMS Amethyst, where he manages to make “an incredible find” using an underwater metal detector – as well as making that bad start on diver favourite the WW2 liberty ship James Eagan Layne in Cornwall.

TV Show – Hold Your Breath.

Very different but also new to watch on TV is Hold Your Breath: The Ice Dive, a 40min Netflix documentary directed by Ian Derry. It’s about an attempt by Finnish freediver Johanna Nordblad to break an under-ice women’s distance record without thermal protection or fins.

Finnish freediver Johanna Nordblad (Fulmarke)
Johanna Nordblad (Fulmarke)

Nordblad started freediving in 2000, but in 2010 almost lost her leg in a downhill cycling accident. In recovery she didn’t enjoy the prescribed coldwater treatment – but has since gone on to embrace under-ice dynamic apnea, among the toughest of underwater challenges.

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