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Wednesday, August 5, 2009

Scuba diving on the M2

The jinx is finally over for two Yam Yam scuba divers.

Yep, we finally got to dive the M2; me after three years of waiting, Jono after about eight failed attempts where he has been blown out, sick, and chased off by sharks (not really).

And here are the pics to prove it.

In 1927 HMS M2 became the world's first undersea aircraft carrier, a submarine carrying a small two-seater seaplane in a watertight hangar.
The seaplane, which had folding wings, was launched by catapult off a runway on the deck.
The M2's crew was proud of the speed with which it could launch the little floating plane but it was this speed which proved their fatal undoing.
It is thought in an attempt to beat the record, the hangar doors were opened before the sub had fully surfaced, flooding the hangar and taking the boat to the bottom of the sea, taking all 60 crew with her on 26 January, 1932.

And now she has become a magnet for scuba divers. Her very name will resonate with most; those who have dived her will reminisce, those who want to dive her will listen intently.
But at about 34m-ish to the seabed, she is a challenging deep dive where air consumption and bottom time have to be closely monitored.

We dived with Scimitar Diving, based on the harbour edge of Portland Harbour that offered hardboat diving - and a lift to get your tidy body out of the water at the end.
The great thing about the outfit was that you simply book your spot and turn up on the day joining in with a mixed party in much the same way as holiday diving abroad.

M2 lies in Lyme Bay, about an hour's chug around Portland Bill.
The shot-line had been dropped right across the conning tour dropping us in a perfect spot to begin the dive.
The deck sits at about 27m-ish and we followed it northwards to the sub's spectacular bow with its famous knife-like razor edge. Visibility was about 5m and the wreck disappeared ghost-like into the distance as we peered along its sleek lines.
Heading back we followed the tracks that once fired the seaplane off the deck, leading us to the hangar. One or two huge conger eels are said to have made this their home but they must have been out Saturday afternoon shopping when we visited.

Moving beyond the conning tower, we headed sternwards to the propshafts, keel and rudder which are covered in anemones.
With time running out we made a quick swim back to the conning tower. And this is where the reality of what we were doing hit me.
Peering into the tower bridge, where a small shoal of fish were loitering, I was reminded that 80-odd years ago, the sub's crew would have stood here among the jutting mass of periscopes that now rose towards the surface.
From that very spot the captain would have proudly surveyed the vessel; the crew would have watched the plane take off and land and said goodbye to the blue skies as they finally prepared for a stint running silently beneath the waves. Sadly they never returned to the surface.
Wreck diving, particularly military vessels, offers wonderful diving opportunities - but also a poignant slice of history with the vessel standing in solemn tribute to the brave.

The M2 was a wonderful dive but it nearly ended so tragically for divers on another boat. As we surfaced following 30 minutes underwater, the Coastguard's rescue helicopter was hovering overhead winching a stricken diver to safety.

It would appear she had a problem in the first stages of the dive. By the time she was back on the boat she was unconscious and not breathing. The chopper crew raced her to Dorchester Hospital and managed to get her breathing again, an amazing example of their skill and never-give-up attitude.

Minutes later a second diver hit the surface in a panic after a rapid ascent when he realised - 20 mins into the dive - that his pressure gauge had stuck on 200bar.

This is a challenging dive and I would urge anyone looking to do it to think long and hard about their own experience and expertise. Please don't try it until you are ready, it will wait for you.

I know this is somewhat gratuitous - but after a hard days diving, it was nice to relax and watch some bikini-clad ladies playing beach volleyball. I would have offered to help clean the sand off after the game but I doubt this missus would have been too happy.


Anonymous said...

Really interesting post and great pics. Enjoyed it a lot

Absolutmark said...

Anonymous, thanks for the kind comments. perhaps a little too kind over the pics (unless it was the volleyball player you liked).
Hope you stick around to catch some of the other stuff.