The U-861, Malin Head (IRE) - U boats and U turns

Dive Site: Malin Head (IRE)

Dive Type: Boat Dive

Dive Attraction: “U-861” : WW2 Submarine

Depth: 43m

Experience: Experienced / Technical

Malin Head is the reason I decided to seek technical dive training. All of 2011 has been spent preparing for this type of diving. In Feb I completed my TDI Advanced Nitrox and Decompression Procedures, to form the base level for the technical diving range; and in July attended TekCamp to fine tune my skills with the best instructors the UK has to offer.

Since then I have spent many hours on local dive sites playing with stage bottles, rehearsing gas switches, smb deployment and buoyancy control. It may have been overkill on my part, but when I dived Malin Head I wanted to make sure I was capable, safe, and able to enjoy every bloody minute of it.

On Sunday 2nd October 2011 i got to visit the U-861 and all my training finally paid off.


Malin Head is situated as far north of Ireland as you can get; although not actually part of Northern Ireland itself. This is an interesting fact, of that I am certain; however, another much more interesting fact is the amount of shipwrecks in the area.

The coast of Malin Head is littered with the most amazing diving; especially if you are partial to a little wreck appreciation. Any avid scuba diver will recognise names including, HMS Audacious, SS Laurentic, RMS Justica, SS Empire Heritage and the boat in question; German submarine, U-861.


The U-861 was an IXD (D2) type undersea vessel, used by the German forces in the Second World War. The boats were designed in 1939-1940; this particular version was commissioned on 2nd September 1943 to Captain J├╝rgen Oesten.

She stayed in service until 9th May 1945 when the boat was surrendered at Trondheim, Norway.

The U-861 was then transferred to Lisahally, Northern Ireland on 29 May, 1945 for “Operation Deadlight;” code name for the scuttling of most of the unwanted German U-Boats the allies managed to get their grubby little paws on.

In short, the U-861 was target practice; successfully being hit on 31 December 1945 and sinking to the depths for the rest of time.

The 87m long wreck now rests on a stony bottom, 43m deep, in visibility exceeding 20m to be enjoyed by coral, fish, crustaceans, scuba divers and most importantly; me.


I was invited to dive the U-861 by some fellow Irish divers after discovering the internet forum I only recently joined the website and I have found its members to be extremely friendly, happy to share experience, dive sites, and most importantly; they actually go diving.

Wifebuddy and I were kindly invited by "Dave" to join some of the guys on a one day excursion to the U-861.

What a fabulous idea.


The days leading up to the dive were spent eagerly lubing zips, sorting stage rigs, charging lights; basically sorting our kit out.

After the gear was sorted we needed to plan our dive. Due to being poor I don’t possess a dive computer that performs gas switches, so our dive would be conducted using a slate and bottom timer; very old school.

We ran through various mixes and decompression options before creating our plan using Decoplanner desktop software;

The Gases

  • Back Gas: 26% nitrox 
  • Deco Gas: 50% nitrox 

The Plan

  • Max Depth: 43m
  • Max Bottom Time: 25mins 


  • Buhlmann 30/80 gradient factor

The Tables

Depth    Time    O2    Start   End     PPO2

43          25        26     2          25       1.38

21          1          50     27        28       1.56

12          1          50     28        29       1.11

9            3          50     29        32       0.96

6            13        50     32        45       0.81

0                                             46

I have to admit I thoroughly enjoyed all the planning aspects of the dive. The software is very clever and it was fascinating to play about with; especially working out lost decompression gas scenarios. I would still like an OSTC 2n though. (I am open to endorsements)

So, with kit and planning all done we were ready to do the dive, albeit with my dodgy home made wrist slate comprising of a CD slip case, come bungee and military all weather notepaper.

It's awesome.


We arrived at Malin Head on the Saturday evening and met the skipper, a lovely fellow named Geoff; who also doubled as the landlord for the night, as we would be staying at his rather large, diver friendly accommodation.

 The rest of the guys would be arriving around midnight, so we opted for meeting them in the morning and attempting to get some sleep.

I awoke to the bleating of Wifebuddy’s iphone at 6am. As per usual I couldn’t get up until Kerri finally talked me out of the comfy bed.

Wifebuddy and I stumbled into the kitchen where we received a warm reception from the Dublin contingent. The guys were really friendly and quickly eradicated the pre-dive nerves we were feeling the night before. It was great to finally put faces to names from the forum and facebook.

We hadn’t a clue where to go, so Tom, the leader, kindly agreed to lead the convoy with us in tow. Tom appeared to be 'The Leader' as he proudly took the head of the breakfast table, owned the big van that brought everyone, and, upon reaching the dive site, appeared to loan out the majority of his kit.

The pier was only a 2 minute drive and quickly the bunch were assembling stage cylinders and twin sets accompanied by friendly, yet mostly crude, banter. Kerri and I followed suit donning our dry bags and transporting our kit down to the pier edge. I decided to join the tradition of borrowing something from Tom, settling for stealing his trolley and moving the twin sets down to the boat. 

I have to get a trolley – what a splendid idea.

The kit was forming an orderly line alongside Geoff’s boat; a blue ballooned, rib type affair with a cabin. As the gear and divers boarded it became clear the alternator had died. As a result Geoff’s trusty Volvo was drafted in for a jump start. 

Engines running, everyone and everything aboard; we headed out to sea.

The journey to the dive site was surprisingly short, soon we were directly over the sub and Tom prepared to shot the wreck; you see? – Tom is ‘The Leader.’

I had been chatting to Dave on the way out about gas planning for the dive, along with various other diver things, and hadn’t realised Wifebuddy had gone extremely quiet.

I glanced in her direction; Kerri wasn’t well. 

I knew almost immediately it was all over. The sea was calm, but there were huge swells/surges every now and again that obviously sent poor Wifebuddy’s inner ear to a very bad place. Within a few minutes Kerri called it; she wasn’t fit to dive. I knew she had to be properly sick in order to bin this one; and she certainly was.

Any diver can call the dive at any time – that’s the rule. So, no questions, no queries; we weren’t diving. I was totally gutted for her, and I could tell she was dreadfully upset. Just as she began to lean over the side of the boat and begin her 90 minute vomiting session, she quickly declared – “You go. Do the dive.”


I felt awful, but I was on the boat, and really wanted to dive more than anything else in the world at that point. I turned to my new best mate Dave; “Wanna be my buddy?

Dave had planned to dive in a team of three, but was happy to change and dive as two pairs; excellent.

We quickly ran through our gas plan. Dave was on a leaner mix than me, so if we stuck to his deco schedule, of 20mins bottom time, I knew I would be safe. I also made a mental note to stay ever so slightly shallower, to add an additional safety factor; and conduct my planned decompression anyway.

Kitted up and a buddy check later we hit the water and began our descent.

I was a little nervous. My experience of shot line descents is very limited, and I had never descended straight to 43m. Dave led the way, periodically giving me the ‘OK’ signal as we fell into the darkening blue. I kept myself switched on, and within minutes we hovered over the sea bed. I could feel the excitement brewing.

I did a sanity check, deployed my light, signalled to Dave I was ‘OK’, and he led the way to the wreck. This was just as well as I hadn’t a bloody clue where the sub was. I figured the shot line was on the wreck; obviously not. Dave is an experienced trimix diver and had dived on the U-861 before, so I was happy to follow him about.

Within minutes Dave found the wreck; what a fucking legend. 

The visibility was unbelievable; at least 20m which allowed my new EOS light to really earn its stripes; I could see forever. The sky was overcast, so the dive was darker than I expected, but this just added to the experience. 

The prop came into view and I soaked in the eerie silence. I checked my gauges; all was well, so we progressed along the wreck. It was phenomenal; all my diving had led me to that moment. I can’t describe how amazing i felt. It was simply fantastic to be diving something like this; I mean – a German submarine from the Second World War; it was breathtaking.

I followed Dave’s lead, explored the broken up section, moved towards the coning tower and finally to the bow; I think. I found it difficult to orientate myself, and couldn’t decide what end was what; perhaps narcosis was taking its toll.

Our planned bottom time arrived exceedingly fast, and before I knew it Dave signalled it was time to go. I was devastated. I could have spent another hour exploring every piece of her. The U-861 is quite broken up, which was fantastic; in my mind I was performing a mechanical autopsy.

We moved off the wreck into the open water, but with bottom time hitting 21mins, and the shot line nowhere to be seen, I was becoming more aware that a free ascent was going to happen. I hadn’t done a free ascent from 43m before either. Shit.

I signalled to Dave, with the generic shrug of the shoulders; “I don’t think we’re going to find the shot line.”

I could tell he was feeling the same thing, then from nowhere I spotted the line. I had my light firmly fixed, but Dave was all over it, and already en route. We reached the shot and were joined by the other pair of divers and began our ascent.

I tidied my cannister light away, got myself trimmed out and inhaled deeply to kick off my journey to the surface. 

It was a bit wobbly, but in control, straightening vertical to dump air from my suit, and alleviate the paranoia of a feet first rapid ascent. It was fine, but I do need to work on it.

We followed the shot to 21m and Dave signalled the gas switch. We checked our depth, Dave switched first and I followed. The switch went well and we followed our decompression profile. 

By our 6m stop the current was picking up and with four divers present, the shot line was a little busy.

I opted to hold back from the line for my 13 min stop, but after 9 minutes I realised I was beginning to over exert myself; deco stops are not designed to be tiring. I had to fin really hard, but finally made it to the shot and grabbed hold.

On the line I could relax a little and hung out for the remaining obligation. Finally Dave and I agreed we were clear and thumbed the dive. A nice, slow controlled ascent over the final 6m followed and we broke the surface. 

Skipper Geoff had his ship within 2m of the shot; marvellous. I finned over to the rear of the boat, where I was quickly greeted by Mike, who took my stage bottle from me and talked me through re-entry. Having never dived from Geoff's boat before it was brilliant to have someone guide me through step by step.

Back on the ship, the guys helped me remove my twinset and I chatted to Mike on the journey back to shore. 

Kerri continued to vomit over the side. Poor love.


Upon return to shore, the pack quickly removed gear from the boat and everything was stowed in Tom’s van. Kerri was still rather ill. All the guys came over to see how she was, offering condolences for the lost dive and possible solutions to her on-going vomit problem.

Everyone was heading straight home; so we said our goodbyes and hit the road for the journey back to the cat army.

It was a truly amazing dive; unfortunately marred by the severe lack of Wifebuddy by my side. Nevertheless, we have plans to defeat the sickness and get back to Malin Head as soon as possible, and visit the U-861 once more.


  1. Awesome awesome awesome. Dude.

    What a great story and I must say I love your lighthearted writing style.

    Subs are a big part of my diving future too and Operation Deadlight really is a handy thing isn't it.

    All your subs are belong to us...

  2. Glad you enjoyed the post Susanne, Diving is too much fun to not be lighthearted anyway!

    I've only dived one sub so far, but I plan to get onto another one over the summer in the south of Ireland.

    Be sure and post on Facebook or twitter when you do your first sub dive!

    Safe diving.

  3. I'm finally getting around to reading your past-posts (on Chrome). This is a classic Andy-post, nice one!

    I hope you realise just how lucky you are to have such awesome wrecks so close to you.

    Did you ever work out which end was which?

  4. I do John, we are lucky!

    I kinda worked it out; but only just! :D


Thanks for commenting, I appreciate it!

Safe diving buddy.