|FOR REGULAR WRECK TOUR FOLLOWERS expecting the Ashford, sorry, youll have to wait a month. With the UKs newest wreck sinking successfully and on time on 27 March, we had to fit a tour of the Scylla into the schedule as soon as possible. |
What with the London International Dive Show and a spell of bad weather, it was almost two weeks before I managed, on Good Friday, to get to the Scylla with Plymouth Diving Centre. Every dive boat from Plymouth seemed to be on the wreck, though by fortuitous timing most were just finishing and I saw only a few other divers under water. Nearby, one boat was taking advantage of an empty James Eagan Layne on a bank holiday - that must have been a first!
There are three marker buoys on the Scylla, at the bow, the stern and on the superstructure, the bow being furthest to the south-west. Descending the bow buoy at low water, the chain dips over the side of the wreck before looping up and across to a shackle screwed into the centre of the deck (1). There is a just-perceptible slope to starboard, which is apparently what the National Marine Aquarium (NMA) was aiming for.
At the bow (2), three heavy chains lead out to the moorings that held the Scylla in place as it sank. One runs through the anchor hawse pipe on either side; the other through the tip of the bow.
While much of the Scylla still displays the remnants of the original Royal Navy grey paintwork, with patches of rust showing through, the railings have what looks like a fresh coat of silver primer. Also notable are the rounded edges to the deck, designed to shed water on a ship that could hold station in the roughest seas with deck awash.
ÂÂÂÂ Heading back from the bow past three pairs of bollards, the area of deck that would have held the anchor capstans has been cut open to leave a wide hole down into the forecastle (3). Bolted to the deck beside it are bright yellow warning signs about the dangers of entering a wreck, and reminding divers that they enter at their own risk.
Further back, the bow deck slopes down to the main deck rather than stepping down, as one would encounter on most merchant ships. Meanwhile, on the centre line a raised section (4) used to be the mounting for a Sea Wolf missile system. Now there is a square plate welded to the deck with five sections of steel pipe splayed upwards from it - the mounting for the pyrotechnic display when the Scylla was sunk.
ÂÂÂÂ Either side of the Sea Wolf platform are pairs of latticed square channels (5). These are the mountings for Exocet anti-ship missiles in their square-section launch containers.
The next part of our route zig-zags up and down a bit. I wouldnt expect a diver to follow a route this literally, but it is a more convenient way to describe features of the wreck than spiralling round it.
At the top of the superstructure is the wheelhouse (6). This can be entered through the open windows, through a hole cut in the roof, or from the corridor behind it via the open hatch to the bridge wing on either side.
ÂÂÂÂ The inside has been largely cleared out. While the NMA has left a lot of the fittings and equipment in place throughout the Scylla, the wheelhouse would have been too crowded for divers had everything been left.
Still remaining are the steering binnacle, though without compass or wheel, and the chart table against the rear bulkhead.
Behind the wheelhouse, a wide compartment leads back to a big hole cut in the roof just forward of the stump of the main mast (7), with a wire ladder hanging from it. Just behind this is another of those square plates with five sections of splayed steel piping,
ÂÂÂÂ Below the wheelhouse, another open hatch (8) leads into an area of cabins. Somewhere around here is the captains cabin, and a safe in which the dockyard workers left some glossy entertainment for the hardcore technical divers. I looked but couldnt find it - I am obviously just a lightweight tekkie.
Below the main deck here are plenty of holes cut in the side of the hull; many more holes than can possibly be explored on a single dive. One deck down and just aft of the wheelhouse, a pair of holes (9) lead in to compartments full of radar and sonar plotting consoles, circular displays and big buttons all over them.
Back on top of the superstructure, the base of a pedestal with a solid surround (10) was, I suspect, the mounting for a light anti-aircraft gun.
In the centre of the superstructure, the funnel has been cut right down (11) to leave a raised outline on the deck and a hole blocked by thick gratings. Either side of this are wedges on the deck to support the ships boats (12).
Just aft of the boat mounts, another pedestal base and solid surround is identifiable from photographs as the base for a chaffe launcher (13) - rockets that would launch clouds of aluminium foil to confuse enemy radar. These are followed by more wedges on the deck from a smaller boat or life-raft (14).
The rear part of the superstructure is dominated by the helicopter hangar, two decks high and spanning almost the entire width of the ship. From the superstructure, the simplest way in is through a hole cut in the roof (15).
Inside it is big, much bigger than the seaplane hangar on the M2 submarine. Even so, there cant have been much elbow room with a Lynx helicopter inside. On the walls are equipment racks, control panels and, with the proximity of aviation fuel, lots of fire-fighting equipment.
Exit is easy through the open hangar door (16) onto the flight deck. On either side the railings that surround the rest of the ship give way to hinge-out sections of netting. In the centre, a white ring (17) still marks the landing target, now occupied by the last of the square plates with steel pipe for the fireworks.
ÂÂÂÂ The stern is asymmetric. The flight deck extends all the way along the starboard side, while the port side drops down one deck level (18). In the centre are two more holes cut in the deck to provide access to the compartments below.
This is more than enough for an hour-long dive, so our tour ends ascending the buoy at the stern. A grey galvanised chain lies across a grey painted deck, so the buoy line (19) is not easy to spot.
Save for a few diversions inside, our tour has covered a beginners dive on the wreck. A 2500 ton frigate is much more complicated to explore than a similar-sized merchant ship. There are many more compartments open to divers through the superstructure, then three levels of decks below the main deck accessible through holes cut in the side of the hull (20).
ÂÂÂÂ My only regret is that, in the interest of safety and, critically, liability, the engine room has been sealed off by filling it with concrete (21). Thats a shame, as Leander-class frigates were the Navys last traditional steam-powered warships.
Thanks to Emma Knapman, Juan Ramero.
|A SMASHING TIME|| |
|Her pennant number was F71. She was launched from Devonport Dockyard on 8 August, 1968, 2500 tons of broad-beam Leander-class frigate and the the fourth warship to be christened HMS Scylla since 1809, writes Kendall McDonald.|
On 14 February 1970 she joined the Western Fleet in the Med with her 263 crew, reaching her top speed of 28 knots from her 30,000hp geared-turbine engines in trials near Gibraltar. She carried Seacat missiles, a Lynx helicopter and 4.5in guns.
In 1971 she joined the Far East Fleet in Australia, Japan, Singapore and Hong Kong and then the Beria Patrol, returning to Plymouth in February 1972. In January 1973 she collided with the Torpoint-Devonport ferry in fog. No one was injured but her captain was court-martialled and found negligent.
Playing bumper cars with Icelandic fisheries vessels in the Cod War of 1972-1976, Scylla earnt a reputation as the toughest RN fishery protection warship. In June 1973 she was accused of helping two British trawlers to ram the Icelandic gunboat Arhakur.
Scylla claimed merely to have stood by. Six days later, however, she did take positive action after being rammed by the gunboat Aegir. She rammed much harder back and the gunboat limped away.
Scylla later seemed to be everywhere - entertaining US President Jimmy Carter aboard off the Leeward Islands, in the Channel to scatter the ashes of Cruel Sea author Nicholas Montserrat and, in 1980, helping the victims of Hurricane Allen in the Cayman islands. In 1986 she was on Gulf Patrol duty and in 1992 was given the freedom of Aberdeen.
December 1993 saw Scylla paid off. And on 27 March 2004, the 372ft frigate, with a beam of 43ft and drawing 19ft, was placed on the seabed in 21m in Whitsand Bay - not far from Devonport.
|A mooring chain disappears down a hawse-pipe |
|Consoles in the operations room |
|warning signs are bolted on prominently near most openings into the wreck |
|steel tubes used for the pyrotechnics display when the Scylla was sunk |
|fire-hose reel in the helicopter hangar |
|spotlight on the bridge wing |
|inside the wheelhouse |
GETTING THERE: Follow the A38 into Plymouth and follow the signs to Queen Annes Battery and the National Marine Aquarium.
TIDES: The Scylla can be dived at any state of the tide.
HOW TO FIND IT: The GPS co-ordinates are 50 19.64N 03 15.20W (degrees, minutes and decimals). The wreck lies with its bow to the south-west, marked by three yellow diving buoys and a data buoy.
DIVING & AIR : Plymouth Diving Centre, 01752 263900 www.plymouthdivingcentre.co.uk. Air from Sound Diving, 01752 670674.
LAUNCHING : There are large slips at Queen Annes Battery and the Mountbatten Centre.
ACCOMMODATION: Rooms are available at Mountbatten.
QUALIFICATIONS: The shallower parts of the wreck can be dived by beginners.
FURTHER INFORMATION: Admiralty Chart 1900, Approaches to Plymouth. Ordnance Survey Map 202, Torbay and South Dartmoor Area. Scylla Reef Guide - National Marine Aquarium, 01752 600301, www.national-aquarium.co.uk.
PROS: More than enough to keep a wreck enthusiast happy for several dives.
CONS: There isnt any marine life on it - or not yet.