Wednesday, August 21, 2013

Six become five

We all met up last night in the Boat the Rocks, a bar next to Scimitar Diving.  6 of us discussed exactly what we were going to do to get the video shots we needed.  We had a team for lighting, a camera team, and two beautiful models to lay line and look pretty.

On arriving at the dive shop in the morning, I was greeted by a rather sheepish looking diver, who explained to me that he'd taken the three days off work to come on the project, travelled to the UK to attend, and then left all of his dive gear in Bristol.  It's a small oversight, of course, to forget your gear on a dive trip. These things happen. Now we are five.

John lights up a Carley float mounting
The weather was gorgeous. Sunshine, and no wind at all. This is a refreshing change from the norm in the UK, so we (all five of us) were very excited to get onto the wreck. Smudge dropped the shot onto the stern of LST 531 and the new combined video/lighting team descended to get set up.  The shot had landed right on the stern gun tub. We were looking to shoot video on the port side, aft. This made it an easy job to orient ourselves. The visibility was probably between 3-5m, but it was dark as the plankton layers block out most ambient light below about 20m.  We fired up or selection of LED and HID lights, and try to get our eyes in.  Not too bad. John laid a line from the shot to our target area so that Pete and Duncan, who had not dived the wreck before, knew where to go.

Duncan lays line along LST 531
Pete and Duncan approached out of the darkness, lights ablaze and set to work laying line from the port gun tub, past the LCVP and on to the break in the hull. An important job well done.  We did manage to shoot some decent video too, and learned a lot about the positioning of the lights and lighting divers.

All too soon, Pete and Duncan needed to leave, so we bid them farewell and cleaned up the line.  I took the opportunity to shoot a little more video of John doing that, while Paul lit him up from above.

The weather was still nice, 80minutes after descending, and on the way home, we were treated to a display by the Red Arrows. I'm pretty convinced that they came just for us, but others suggested it might have something to do with the Weymouth carnival.  I guess we'll never know.

On our return, number six had returned with a box of dive gear and proclaimed his readiness to dive tomorrow.  The excitement mounts.

Tuesday, June 18, 2013

Visibility in the Channel

We got up this morning and loaded the boat, excited about what the days diving had to offer. The sea was very calm, although once we left Portland Harbour, the fog was causing a little concern.  It was warm already, so we figured it would burn off in due course.

We arrived on site at about 1130, and Smudge got the shot in in good time. Rich and Os planned a longer bottom time, so jumped in first to find a surprising amount of surface current. After a brief rest on the surface they descended the line and found that the shot had been pulled out in all of the exertion. It had fortunately left a nice deep score in the seabed though, so after tying in a line, they swam up current and connected with the wreck making the next teams job a little easier.  This was also done with 1-2m visibility and no ambient light, so the dive was starting to get difficult already.

The second team, comprising Paul Burgess, Michael Puz and Darren Morley soon arrived on the line but were unable to find the survey lines from our dives in 2010 and 2011. These were in place in 2012, so this was a big disappointment, as they make navigating the wreck so much easier. They headed off to work out where they were, soon arriving on the bow, and realising that this was not where they wanted to be as their job was to survey the break in the hull.  Turn around and head the 70m back.

Rich and Os' job was to look at the bow section and work out whether any vehicles could be seen from the entrance, as we've not managed to get inside much in the past. There was definitely a way on in this area and Rich tied in and started moving in, at which point his light failed.  In 1m visibility, inside the wreck. Os helpfully handed him a backup light and a few minutes was spent peering around to see what was going on. Access into further areas is very likely possible, and Rich fancied that he say a truck tyre at the end of his light beam.  Maybe, maybe not. Either way, they turned tail and fled as it was too far inside a wreck to be messing around on a back up light in poor visibility.

Heading back along the wreck, they passed the LCVP davits, propellors and engine. LST531 sank so fast that she was unable to deploy her LCVP's as lifeboats.  A large hole in the hull was also spied, which hadn't been noticed on previous dives. Paul, Michael and Darren had also come across the same hole, and it may well be the site of one of the torpedo strikes.

The poor visibility had made any kind of quantitative survey impossible, so unfortunately both teams returned with little more than stories and observations. No sketches, but despite that, we have been able to put together a small sketch of the site.

We were very privileged to be joined by Stew Waring from the SHIPS Project in Plymouth.  These guys have some very clever tools and techniques for surveying shipwrecks, and Stew was kind enough to share some insight and give us some advice on how to conduct or survey work.  After our discussions back at Scimitar Diving, we now have a decent strategy for surveying the break, looking in more detail at the torpedo hole, and also to photograph one of the 2.5 ton trucks.

Distances are one of the things we haven't paid enough attention to in the past, and most of are surveys are very qualitative. We aim to rectify this, and one strategy we use is to lay line, knotted at 1m intervals. Boring job, so we made Os do it.

Tomorrow, we will be joined by a handful more divers, and we will hopefully be more productive.

A great day, and more fun to come tomorrow!

Monday, June 17, 2013

2013 diving kicks off

June has come around quickly, which means we're all set to start diving on the project again for 2013. While it's been a while since we've been in the water on these wrecks, lots has been going on.  After a conversation with Mike Postons from 3Deep Media, we commissioned some 3D representations of LST 531 to see how they portrayed the wrecks. We have been very pleasantly surprised, and the images have also gone down really well at the talks that Rich has been giving around Europe.  Given this exciting development, we've decided to return to LST 531 which has more interesting artefacts around the site and to improve the quality of our survey.  The idea is to build up our 3D map of the wreck, and then add in our photo and video imagery to make an interactive documentary of the wreck site.  I'm pleased to say that Mike will be joining us this week to give us some advice and feedback on the way that we collect the data.

Despite looking nice, the weather was blowing hard
Another interesting development happened after a long chat with Nick Chipchase, who has probably dived more UK wrecks than anyone alive, and researched and documented many of them as well.  He has kindly lent us his file on the LST's which includes sketches, dive reports, correspondence with survivors and newspaper and magazine articles about the events and the wrecks.  A real treasure and we're very grateful to Nick for lending us this information.

Last night, five divers arrived in Portland (the first days are always a bit light, for some reason), and we were told that the weather patterns were extremely unpredictable, and that diving today (Monday) was unlikely.
Project plan starts to come together
We showed up ay 8am anyway, to have the news confirmed.  We seized the day, though, and spent our time building a project plan that allows for changeable weather, and also moving into or home for the week in Scimitar Diving's new premises.  We have charging facilities, a nice big computer for video and photo work.  And writing the blog of course!  The weather tomorrow is looking good, we're all filled with gas, and are ready to go. Ropes off is at 10am, and we're planning to put two teams onto the wreck to look at the bow section, and the break in the hull where we should be able to see more vehicles.

Tuesday, March 19, 2013

Project Update

It's been a busy winter behind the scenes at Project Tiger. I've been overwhelmed by the number of requests I've had for talks at dive clubs around the country. I've talked at the University of Edinburgh, Arbeia Dive Centre in South Shields, CPAS in Lisbon, Portugal and Cave and Wreck Night in Amsterdam, organised by my good friend JP Bresser. The talks are generating a lot of interest, and the feedback is that we're doing a good thing, and people want to get involved, and more interestingly, are starting to set up their own projects too. Great news for wreck diving as a sport, I think.

You'll have seen the sketches that I put up a while back of our survey efforts. Overall I was pretty pleased with our work on these, but I felt that there was more to be done. I came across a company called 3deep Media who have done some amazing work on the wrecks of Scapa Flow, making visual representations of these ships in a way that takes the whole wreck documentation to another level. I started talking to them about our project, and they seemed interested - good news.

I send Mike Postons at 3deep all of our survey data, some diagrams and plans of the LST's and let him at it. I went down to Cornwall a few weeks ago to see the results. I have to say, I was impressed beyond belief. Mike has created a 3d model of LST531, where it is possible to fly around the wreck site, navigating all of our finds and basically viewing it "as if you were there". I cannot think of a better way to record and conserve these wrecks, than in a virtual 3d space. What a resource for anyone wanting to research the history of Exercise Tiger, or to look at the final resting place of a family member that fought on this vessel.

A few screen grabs for your titillation...

Friday, October 19, 2012

Project Updates

There's not been any diving on the project since our efforts in June, but that doesn't mean we've not been busy.

Firstly, Richard Whalley has been pulling strings and negotiating for us to go and visit S130 in Plymouth. This is one of the Schnellboots that took part in the attacks on the LST convoy on that night in April 1944. It would be great to go and see her now, in her restored state.  It will add another dimension to the project, and add in to the story.  I'm very excited to make this trip and to report back on what we find.

I've given a few talks on the project, the highlight was to be asked to present at EuroTek 2012. This prestigious conference attracts some of the most renowned technical divers in the world, and the opportunity to speak could not be missed.  I didn't get the main hall, but my room was full, which is always a good sign, and I estimate around 70-80 people were there.  Lots of good questions were asked, and a couple of interesting points came up that might be worth investigating further.  Firstly, the Exercise Tiger may have been renamed at some point before, during or after the events.  This means that there might be more information out there to find.  I'm trying to find out the alternative name so that we can increase the scope of our research.  The other interesting snippet was that the LST's were captained by the Royal Navy, not the Americans.  Therefore there were likely British losses as well, and there will also be UK based records, of which we were previously unaware.

Finally, I've managed to draw our sketch maps into a more pleasing format. Essentially, I've learned to colour-in using Adobe Illustrator.  Below are the four sketches that we have now produced of these two  shipwrecks.

Sunday, July 1, 2012

2012 Project Summary

LST 507
Now that we’ve finished diving for the week, it’s worth going through the week and taking stock of what we managed to achieve.  A few statistics:
Diving days done - 4
Number of divers involved - 12
Number of “person” dives done - 34
Longest dive - 110mins
Gasses used - 18/45, 50%, 100%
Line laid - 200m 
Shot lines lost - 1
Longest distance travelled to attend - 1100 miles
The project looked this year at LST 507. We started out being pretty certain that 2010 and 2011’s work had confirmed what Nick Chipchase had said, and that our previous efforts had been on LST 531.  This year was to confirm that by diving the “other” LST.  The things we were looking for were a little more difficult this year. We wanted to confirm that there were no LCVP’s still in position on the bow of this wreck, as LST 501 had reported to have deployed these when abandoning ship.  
Ammunition on LST 507
Our first dives went pretty much as usual on these wrecks. We all ascended and scratched our heads not really knowing what to make of the wreck. Then we began sketching the things we’d seen, and making connections between each others observations.  This is a really powerful way of generating an initial wreck map, because the whole wreck gets covered on one dive. We deliberately send teams in different directions, with the result that they often meet up as they circle the wreck.  
After the discussions, we found that nobody had seen the very distinctive propellors, rudders or rudder guards which were present on Nick Chipchases survey. Perhaps we’d found the bow?  A few more discussions and we’d all persuaded ourselves that the large flat sheets of steel that we’d swam over were the bow doors and loading ramp.  Darren Morley was convinced that the doors had puncture holes in them. This was an interesting observation, as LST507 had been sunk by gunfire by the Royal Navy in the morning after the attacks, as she was adrift and a hazard to shipping.  Perhaps these were the holes from those very shells, puncturing the hull and doors before exploding deep inside the cargo decks.  Gareth Lock and Dorota Czerny had been busy all over this section too, taking some great photos of the wreck and the artifacts present.
A plan was hatched to return to the wreck and confirm that these were the bow doors, and then to have a look in the doorway to see if there was any evidence of vehicles left.  Another point of interest, which had become known as the “sticky up thing” also needed examination. This was very near the suspected bow doors, and extended a good 15m above the sea bed. Given that the wreck was upside down, and only 5m proud of the seabed, its presence was a bit of a mystery.  Andras and Kata were tasked to look at it and film it on their next dive.  Jack and Paul, always up for a bit of exploration, were keen to look at the other section, and try to confirm it as the stern, so their job for day 2 was to go there, and lay more line. Myself and Dorota Czerny went back to make sketches and look for more evidence of vehicles where the wreck had broken.  This left Christine Grosart, Darren and Joe Tidball with the job of confirming the bow was in fact a bow, and to look more closely at the shell holes.  
Bow section of LST 507. Doors and ammunition.
Tuesday dawned and we headed out to execute our plan. We were down to 9 on the boat today, and this made everything a little bit more spacious.  Smudge got the shot into the second section, and Jack and Paul set off to find the stern section.  They returned with empty reels, and big smiles. They had found props, and therefore confirmed that the other bit was the bow.  They were also convinced that there was much more to see on this piece than on the other, and a new sketch map started to take shape.  The bow teams also returned with good news. The doors were in fact doors, and they did have several holes along them, clearly punctures rather than deterioration due to rusting.  Another good result. Searches for vehicles like trucks, DUKW’s and Jeeps had proven a bit more elusive. Holds seemed empty, and no debris around the wreck was found, in stark contrast to LST531.  No matter, the sketch surveys were refined and developed, and plans laid to move the focus to the stern section.
Wednesday, and we were starting to get concerned about the weather. Friday was always going to be bad, and we were starting to wonder if we’d get out on Thursday. We needed to get some video footage so Christine and I went to shoot the prop area and whatever else we could find. The other teams went to build up the sketch map in the debris field identified by Jack and Paul the previous day. Best laid plans don’t always work though, and we jumped in to find the current running. Things did not improve as we descended, and after a few minutes on the wreck, we found ourselves all hiding behind the wreck getting spun around by the current every time we tried to move on. A good look at the break was managed though, as this was the hiding place!  Still no sign of vehicles, and no access into the holds was possible at the break as a solid bulkhead stood in our way. 
Reviewing the video, we found we’d captured a few nice shots, and also identified a few more places to investigate further on the next dive.  Chris and I were pretty sure we’d seen an engine block, and Darren also said he’d seen something. This was around the stern area. It was not the main engine of course, but about 1.5m long.  Possibly from an LCVP, but we hadn’t seen the tell-tale propellor or the loading door, which seem to survive better than the hull sections.  Gun tubs were also a possibility, but the majority of the debris field was very confusing and broken. Definitely time to look again.  At the close of play on Wednesday, we’d already taken the decision to cancel Friday, and just hope for the best on Thursday.
We all got up on Thursday with a slightly pessimistic outlook. I’d been listening to the rigging on the local yachts and flagpoles rattling all night, and a quick look at those flags in the morning showed the wing to have indeed picked up.  In my experience, that clink-clink-clink sound going through the night does not bode well.  Smudge, with his usual optimistic outlook, said “Lets just stick us noses out”, which is code for “we’ll try, but I’m not promising anything”.  Good enough for me.  Out we went, and to my amazement, and the others on the boat, the wind was up, but the water was flat. All the way around Portland Bill, and on into Lyme Bay. The waves never came.  We arrived on site, and started looking for the shot line, but it had come loose. Smudge did a great job of building another in rapid time, and dropping it right onto the wreck and pretty much the same place as the other one had been. 
Divers hit the water with strict instructions to limit in-water times to 70 mins in case the bad weather arrived while we were in the water.  Getting back onto the boat in a heavy swell can be challenging and even dangerous, so we didn’t want to run the risk.  Myself and Dorota shot video of the engine block, and even found the loading ramp of an LCVP nearby, fixing that theory. A nice find was on the other side of the hull - the kedge anchor.  This was used by the LST to pull itself off the shore after it beached and had unloaded its cargo. Not significant in the grand scheme of things, but a nice thing to see nonetheless.  Andras and Kata did some fantastic work around the break, got underneath a section and found a DUKW chassis, wheel and propellor just lying there and even managed to film it. Darren, Paul Burgess and Jack confirmed more about the gun tubs at the stern - one significantly bigger than the other, so most likely the 40 and the 20mm guns respectively. Both are upside down, and heavily compressed into the seabed so no further pictures or information was possible, despite some serious “wafting” of gravel.
We wrapped up the project on Thursday night with a beach barbecue, and a few drinks in the Royal Breakwater hotel, before all going our separate ways on Friday morning.  It was a great week, and we have learned a lot about the state of these wrecks today.  
We will be compiling the sketches, video and photos over the coming days into a set of results that you can all look at and enjoy. You should consider this work to be a digital memorial to the sacrifices made by the men of Exercise Tiger on 28th April, 1944.  It was a huge disaster, and the loss should be recorded and never forgotten.

Friday, June 29, 2012

Last day on LST 507

Final day on LST 507 - the gas station is busy at Scimitar Diving

                                                Paul Burgess joins the team - and adds style....

Andreas takes in the view around Portland Bill

The team get ready for their final dive this year on the LST

Chilling out while Smudge sorts the shot and the lift

                              Paul finally gets out of his pyjamas and into something more appropriate...

Help always on hand in an instant from Smudge and Una

Rich Walker organised the project and gives a happy smile after a successful filming dive on LST 507