I finished my Advanced Open Water PADI Course with one of the most interesting dives so far- and one of the coldest. Diving in the North Sea is never warm, exactly, but meandering about in murky water on a shivery summer evening in rather choppy water can make you regret your choice of location- until, that is, you finally catch a glimpse of the secrets that this sea has to offer. Beneath the bottle-green waves lie two WWII wrecks; the M/S Oslofjord, a 16,000 ton passenger liner and the Evgenia Chandris, a Greek steam cargoship. It is hard to judge their size from their mangled remains, especially in the gloom of the half lit waters, but both were vessels of sheer enormity in their heyday, and both came to unfortunate ends of the coast of the South Shields port.
The Spellbinder picked us up at the port and we set off through the gaping mouth of the Tyne and into open water. As we geared up and approached the dive site, I was filled with apprehension- I had no idea what to expect from this site, having never explored a wreck before. I had images flashing through my mind of scenes in horror films involving abandoned ships filled with sea monsters and eerie creatures of the deep- plus, I was surrounded by pretty experienced divers who were all obviously a lot more proficient than me! Nevertheless, I managed to summon the courage for my giant stride into the frigid waters. On surfacing, I struggled to stay completely calm; the shock of my sudden plunge into what felt like a turbulent bucket of ice mixed with my uneasiness of what lay below meant I had to concentrate on not allowing myself to hyperventilate and to calmly manoeuvre my way towards the buoy marking the entrance to the wreck site.
We descended slowly down the line into the darkness. After my eyes became accustomed to the dim light, I immediately became more confident and felt a sense of excitement and eagerness to start our exploration of the site. We set off in our buddy pairs and meandered out way around the mangled wrecks, eyes peeled for any treasures lurking in the shadows. I had been told of toy soldiers and china horses waiting to be discovered, but this time I wasn’t so lucky; however, it was an amazing sight to see shells strewn over the scattered remains of what had once been two mighty ships.
There wasn’t an awful lot of wildlife that I could see, but I did see my first red lobster peering up at us from underneath a sheet of rusted metal, and a few fish flitting in and out of the ships’ compartments. I was rather startled at one point when I discovered a large Lion’s man jellyfish floating silently just by my right shoulder, and I quickly signalled for my buddies to examine it. It was a marvellously comical sight when we gently blew it towards using a free-flowing reg to keep it out of harm’s way- and to prevent it from establishing its sharp sting on an unwitting diver…
It was an eerily beautiful sight to see the orange, pink and white plumose anemones smothering parts of the wreck- it was almost as if we had strayed into some derelict underwater garden.
I practised my navigation skills (which are still rather rudimentary, much as I try!) before I realised that I had started to shiver despite wearing pretty heavy duty wetsuits, so we turned the dive and weaved our way through the wrecks to our exit point.
All in all, this was an extremely exciting dive which allowed me to gain more experience in less comfortable conditions, and to meet other diver from whom I can no doubt learn from.
Site information: History of the wrecks
The Oslofjord, accompanied by the destroyer Vimy, struck a mine on December 1st, 1940. Whilst this did not initially cause her to sink, it did cause significant flooding of the starboard side, and an order to prevent her being towed into he port was issued due to the fear that she would obstruct the passage of less injured vessels. She was soon beached and abandoned by her crew, including the captain who had been ferried to hospital with crushed vertebrae as a result of the explosion.
Source: Norwegian America Fleet Line list
The Evgenia Chandris collided with the steamer Exmouth, and was then victim to the beached Oslofjord on March 13th 1943. Estimates say that she carried 4874 drums of Trichloroethylene and 573 cases of ordinance, copper and aluminium ingots. salvage work in 1990 cleared much of the remaining cargo and confirmed the wreck site of the two ships.
This dive was organised by Aquanorth Diving Centre, and transport was the dive boat Spellbinder.