SS Laurentic, Malin Head (IRE) – Meet the Internet

SS Laurentic 1908

Dive Site:
Malin Head (IRE)

Dive Type: Boat Dive

Dive Attraction: “SS Laurentic 1908”: White Star Ocean Liner

Depth: 38m

Experience: Experienced / Technical



Those who follow me on Twitter or Facebook, will be quite aware that I have been attempting to dive The SS Laurentic for quite a while.

However, as the shipwreck is located at the bottom of The Atlantic Ocean, to dive it requires a journey on a boat. Journeys on boats are best conducted in certain conditions; conditions that chose not to present themselves for a matter of weeks.


Last weekend however, after numerous cancellations, Poseidon must have got laid; the sea flattened and the dive was on.



To the Laurentic!


SS Laurentic : Biography

[source: Irish wrecks online : wiki]


The SS Laurentic was a British Ocean Liner of the White Star Line; aka Titanic fame.

Built in Harland & Wolff of Belfast, she was launched in 1908 to serve between Liverpool and Montreal. When World War 1 kicked off, The Laurentic was commissioned as a troop transport for the Canadian Expeditionary Force.

In 1915, the 14,892 ton liner hit two mines off Lough Swilly of the north of Ireland; sinking inside 45 minutes. 52 officers and 316 ratings were saved.

At the time of sinking, SS Laurentic was carrying 3,211 gold ingots. Needless to say, The Royal Navy made efforts to recover the cargo between 1917 and 1924; leaving only 22 bars unaccounted for.

It took the Navy 7000 dives, and a lot of explosives, to locate the majority of the gold; some of which were 10m below the sea bed.



BUDDY REPLACEMENT


In my previous Malin Head trip, to dive the U-861, Wifebuddy became inconsolably sea sick. Since then we have tried numerous, but completely unsuccessful, solutions. Unfortunately, the only method of preventing Wifebuddy from hurling a month’s worth of dinners over the side of a rhib; is to not go.

With Wifebuddy out of action for Malin Head diving I had to resort to ‘DIR Dave’ as my dive buddy; sorted.



THE INTERNET COMES TO LIFE

Dave arrived from Dublin on Saturday afternoon, and we made the journey from my place, to the big house where all the divers would be staying.

The Divers House


We arrived late evening and headed down to, what had to have been, the emptiest pub in Ireland on the St. Patricks’ Day weekend. We wandered in, and were immediately subject to one man and his half tuned acoustic guitar; which was, for no good reason, amplified through a PA.

Dave got the pints in, and we joined a table of divers who had been up for the entire weekend. This turned out to be excellent craic, and extremely informative.



Despite having never met the guys before, I knew them.

I admit this appears paradoxical, but the reason is simple – the internet forum. Technical Diving IE is an Irish online resource for divers to talk diving, gear and arrange trips; hence my recent excursions to Malin Head.




It was great to put faces to user names, and one of the guys happened to be the creator of the site itself; Stephen McMullan.

I also ended up chatting to Barry McGill, an extremely experienced rebreather diver and Malin Head veteran. I am now quite educated in bail out options when diving deep on a rebreather.




At this point I began to feel a little out of my depth, as i soon learned the dive boat the following day would be stuffed with highly experienced technical divers, and a smattering of rebreathers.



After a further few hours of chat, continued acoustic guitar annihilation, (and amazingly) not very many pints we headed back to the accommodation for a more civilised pot of tea; this was mainly due to Mike being unable to tolerate any more “traditional irish music.”

Dive talk continued into the early hours, which was fantastic, and the guys really put some of my nerves at ease about the pending dive.



DIVE DAY

I woke at 8am, and over the next 4 hours, an army of divers arrived up for the planned exploration of SS Laurentic, not to mention the aptly named ‘Spidge’; Ken and Jane’s little Jack Russell.

"Spidge"


Breakfast and pots of tea followed, along with introductions to even more internet personalities. It was soon apparent I was the only diver in attendance that hadn’t dived the wreck previously; and with the aid of breakfast condiments, I received detailed information of the wreck layout.

It resulted in a very definite dive plan; Dave and I would drop down the shot line, onto the croissant where the boilers would be, fin to the yogurt to investigate the big gun, and if time permitted visit the banana in the hope of foraging for ammo shells.


Simples.



THE BOAT TRIP


Eventually, we all departed and ventured to the pier for kitting up and boat loading process.



I have very limited boat diving experience, and the prospect does make me anxious. Coupled with the fact it was a relatively ‘big dive’ (for me), having not executed a proper technical dive since my last visit 6 months prior, I was feeling unnerved.

A brief chat with Stephen alleviated some of the jitters; he explained time pressures would be alleviated as the rebreather guys would go in first, and be out last. Their extended bottom time would give Dave and I plenty of time, and space, to kit up and go diving. 


Once on the boat I felt a bit better and a boat ride later we were over the site.



THE DIVE SITE

The boat journey was bouncy. I distracted myself by chatting to Mike, who offered further tips on managing gear in the bobbing swell. I felt pretty good and the excitement finally started to kick in.

The Swell


The conditions at Malin Head are quite unique compared to the other Irish boat dives I’ve been on; it’s all about ‘swell.’ Despite the skipper’s proclamation about being ‘calm’ – it was soon clear I needed to reassess my sea conditions scale.


The small rhib heaved up and down at least a few metres on the surface; as divers struggled to don twinsets, stages and rebreathers. 

It makes one feel very small and insignificant being tossed around on the surface of The Atlantic Ocean, but there is a vivid adrenaline surge in accompaniment; coupled with the feeling i was about to undertake a dive that an average diver does not.


THE DIVE

Dave and I decided we would go in last; sacrificing an early plunge for more space on the boat to get our kit on. With a little help from the Geoff the skipper, I was in my twinset and stage; as soon as the backplate pressed against me - my nerves abated.


I was ready to go diving.


Dave rolled off first and I followed. We quickly finned to the buoy and descended down the shot line onto the wreck 38m below.

At about 30m the SS Laurentic loomed into view. The visibility was around 10m – 12m, poor by Malin standards (apparently), but great compared to what I’m used to.



Upon reaching the sea bed I gave myself a once over, switched on my posh light, signalled OK, and we were ready to rock.



THE BOILERS 

The boilers were situated just were we landed. They were HUGE. I was reminded of big farm sheds; it was incomprehensible just how humongous they were; and the vastness of, what was once, an ocean liner was immediately apparent.



Dave descended slightly below me and was obviously scanning the debris, possibly in the hope of finding gold; who knows? 


Once we drifted between two of the boilers I found myself at a bit of a loss. I was overwhelmed by the scale of the wreck; it just wouldn’t compute. I simply hung about 5m from the sea bed, smoothing my posh torch from left to right, in awe of the wreckage.



Iron girders, steel plates, big cog things, random machinery part, cables, pipes, all lay as far as my light beam could penetrate. It was breath taking.




The navy certainly made a mess searching for the gold, it was flattened; and I pondered what she would have looked like intact, as I couldn’t quite get a ‘ship-shape’ into my head of what I was looking at.



Dave and I skulked about as I continued to snap off some dreadful photos. I wasn’t even focusing on anything particular; I didn’t want to miss something, so I just held out my camera and pressed the button sporadically as I glided across the steel wasteland.



THE BIG GUN

We headed north, as instructed by Stephen McMullan, in search of the yogurt. After several minutes Dave gave me a shrug when I signalled ‘cowboy guns’ at him; then within seconds a huge barrel protruded from the murky green water. 



It was the remaining gun from the bow. (The second gun is on display on dry land in Downings, Ireland.)


I made a distinct effort to get a photograph that was remotely in focus, and finned about the huge weapon. It was amazing.

Again, I found myself hovering around just staring at it. It was eerie; despite all the devastation, it sat completely upright - ready to fire. It was a superb sight.







TURN AROUND TIME

As per the dive plan, turnaround time (and pressure) advanced. I was really sad to leave the SS Laurantic behind me; I couldn’t get over how quickly the 25min bottom time passed by.

Dave led us back between the boilers and illuminated the shot line. We stowed our lights, Dave gave me the big thumb, and we began our ascent.



Gas switches were conducted at the 21m mark, as i chuffed down some 50%, and Dave switched at 18m as he enjoyed his 52% nitrox.

There was a bit of a current, but a firm hand on the shot kept us right; and we completed our decompression obligations without issue.



THE ART OF SURFACING

We broke the surface ‘bang on’ our scheduled run time and I clung to the trail line from the buoy scanning the horizon for the boat. Geoff, the skipper, was located perfectly down tide from us, I was instructed to let go and I simply drifted down to the rhib; an impressive display.



YOU APPEAR A BIT WHITE

As the last open circuit divers in, Dave and I were the last out, so there were plenty of hands to grab stages, camera, and generally help us back onto the boat; for which i was eternally grateful.

As we waited for the rebreather guys to finish their extended bottom time I began to feel a little rough. On the move was fine, but hanging about in the “calm” swell was proving a little too much for my delicate disposition.

Once the rebreather-ers were recovered I enjoyed the journey back as my pallor returned; but not without a little gentle gyration regarding my skin transition from white, to green, to white, and finally to a more acceptable state.

Me receiving the look; "You not well son?"




CONCLUSION

What an amazing weekend. 


It was fantastic to meet the internet; the guys from the forum are a phenomenal resource, know the sites at Malin back to front, and freely offered invaluable advice.


I’m also thrilled having survived a second dive trip to Malin Head. The conditions are definitely challenging, but I’m slowly getting to grips with it. A little more practice on the boat, a sea sick tablet or two and I’ll be sorted.



I am totally ready for another dive on SS Laurentic; it’s a fucking brilliant day out.



To the Irish Contingent: Sincere thanks to Dave for buddying up with me, and navigating once again! A special hail to all the new faces I met as the weekend progressed; I hope to get another dive with you all soon!

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Safe diving buddy.