Since 2018, I have an objective to dive the ships as sunk by Johannes Lohs in 1918. An abysmal accomplishment to date, having only dived the HMHS Kyarra and Clan MacVey on the anniversary of their sinking in 2018. This long weekend was an opportunity to tick off three more, diving from Brighton with Steve Johnson of Channel Diving. You can read more about Johannes Lohs and U-Boat UB-57 here. The plan was a long weekend of three dives to the RMS Moldavia, the SS TR Thompson and the SS City of Brisbane. All sunk in 1918, the City of Brisbane being Lohs’ final kill on 13th August 1918 before UB-57 was sunk by mine on 14th August 1918. We were a party of seven to join five other divers on board Channel Diver on Friday, then we had the charter to ourselves on Saturday and Sunday of ten divers.
We would arrive in Brighton on the Thursday evening for an early ropes off for the Moldavia on Friday, most staying at the White Horse Hotel at Rottingdean. Gas refills would be organised with Newhaven Scuba. The plan was simply to load the boat on Friday morning and other than cylinders, all other kit will remain on board each night. I and one other diver would take all cylinders to Newhaven on Friday evening, Saturday evening and indeed Sunday afternoon. This would negate a convoy of cars travelling for gas fills and simply I would pay the final bill, with other divers reimbursing moneys later. This kept the operation simple for Newhaven Scuba too.
Diving Holland No5 from Eastbourne the previous day and never dived from Brighton before, I would recce Brighton Marina to make sense of Steve’s joining instructions. I would then meet and pass details to the other divers to co-ordinate a plan for loading the next morning.
Friday’s weather had changed, a little more gusty that would unfortunately put pay to the Moldavia, a change of site being the “North Easter”. One of the party had to withdraw due to a positive test of Covid earlier in the week and two more late cancellations due to a change in personal circumstances, our group dropped in numbers. We had one replacement diver on Friday only and one diver who was only on board for Saturday and Sunday. Our complement for all three days was 7 divers, plenty of room to skin a cat.
A Littie Mischief
Having driven from Eastbourne via Newhaven Scuba and Brighton Marina, I arrived at the White Horse Hotel around mid afternoon. Not as hot as the previous “2022 Heatwave” days earlier in the week, it was still petty warm and trading Asics and socks for naked toes and Havaianas, I sat at a table on the outside veranda overlooking the sea. I would treat myself to a couple of cold beers before the others arrived.
Whether it was pure laziness, a remnant of a past Covid era, staff shortages or whatever the excuse, the menu said I had to order drinks from an app. This was cemented as the young lady waitress blankly ignored my gaze to capture her attention to order as she served other tables food and drink. With free WiFi available, I was only ordering for myself and not wanting a fuss, I downloaded the Greene King app. Not as complicated as past Covid track and trace systems that demanded apps record names, addresses, phone numbers and email addresses, there was a simple guest checkout and face recognition payment with Apple Pay. Ta da! One pint of cold San Miguel was delivered to table 109.
This gave me an idea. What if I could post that photo to social media and invite friends to buy me a drink? Is it feasible? Is it possible? Would the app be clever enough to recognise that any potential buyer is nowhere near Rottingdean? There’s only one way to find out. Do it!
Posting the picture with my drink and table number and purchase instructions, within a few minutes there was disgust at my cheekiness together with a bit of banter. A short while later a pint of San Miguel miraculously appeared with a whisky chaser, courtesy of a friend in the Channel Islands. Eureka!
Confirming a pictured receipt to my generous Facebook benefactor, another San Miguel arrived, another one from my daughter, a Jägerbomb and even moving to a smaller table so a family could eat, more beers and a large Malbec! Thank you one and all. A little tipsy when the other divers arrived, it was a discussion of logistical car transport planning and then an early night for me.
Friday 22nd July : The North Easter
Having confirmed last night the Moldavia was off today with Steve, he said we would dive a similar profile shipwreck called the “North Easter”.
I had researched a number of online resources for the North Easter during the previous afternoon’s mischief and posting it to our weekend’s WhatsApp group, Jamie was quick to state that I must have misheard the “Ny-Eeasteyr”. Still a bit of a mystery, the Ny-Eeasteyr not listed on Wrecksite.EU and any reference in Google, pointed to New York. However, the British Newspaper Archive came up trumps, an article from the Liverpool Echo in July 1983 that a fishing trawler skipper was being charged for sinking the Ny-Eeasteyr in December 1980.
So, we’re going to be diving a trawler in some 50m of water? Surely that still can’t be right and flicking through my copy of Kendall McDonald’s “Dive Sussex – A Diver’s Guide”, the description read “A British MFV sank December 1980 en-route from Great Yarmouth to the Isle of Man. Stern badly damaged in 26m on a mud seabed. Warning of nets over the wreck”. Pardon the pun, but something fishy is going on here and then Jamie admitted he was being a dickhead! 🙂
So what is the North Easter? We still do not know. Asking Steve when on board, he replied “It’s an unknown wreck known locally as the North Easter”. Now, most unknowns go by a name associated with the cargo or what is found there, such as the Glass Wreck, the Lead Wreck or the Pin Wreck by example. So what’s the North Easter? With a cheeky smile, Steve proclaimed “It’s called the North Easter because it’s north east ‘er the other wreck!” Hook, line and sinker FFS! 🙂
All on board and kitting up, catastrophe! Just five minutes to ropes off and Malik’s SPG blew! But with Louis to the rescue, it was “Run Forrest, Run!”. The pair of them running back to the multi-story car park for Louis’ spare SPG. All back in time and good to go.
The North Easter was situated just past the Rampion Offshore Wind Farm, an approximate heading south east from Brighton Marina at a depth of 48m and standing 8m proud. My buddies for today were David and Pete. The plan was do descend, swim around and come back up the shot. My back gas was 28% and an off 53% deco gas.
David was on air and 53%, with Peter on air and 50%. Planned bottom time was 30 to 35 minutes with our ascent commencing with a computed Time To Surface (TTS) of 15 minutes. Estimated run time of 50 minutes.
Visibility on the descent was pretty good, but as soon as we passed the 30m depth it got very dark. It was a pretty quick descent and within a 3 minute run time, we were on the seabed. Depth 44.6m and with a PO2 of 1.53, my dive computer was alerting of a high PO2. It appeared that the shot was a few metres from the hull and upon finding the side of the ship, we ascended to the gunwale at an optimum 40m. We continued along the wreck between 38.8m and 41.3m, over what appeared to be a break in the ship, either by explosion or collision. I suspect the forma. With a run time of 24 minutes and TTS 14 minutes, it was back up the shot.
With varying deco stops at 12m, 9m and 6m, we switched to our 53% at 18m and by 42 minutes run time, I was clear. David and Peter however needing another 8 minutes at 6m. Signalling me to surface, the pair stayed the remaining 8 minutes. Obviously that 28% back gas saved me 8 minutes of deco.
Back to the marina and it was time to hoof the cylinders into my car. With a smorgasbord of gas requirements for the next day, Pete and I drove to Newhaven Scuba where the shop was closed. This allowed Pete and I to chew the fat of our UB-57 weekend while we waited, Pete excited to announce he dived SS Unity (another ’57 kill) earlier in the month and show his spoon video!
Gas fills took a little longer than expected, initiating a number of “Where are you?” text messages from the rest of the group. Back to the White Horse and with no shower for me and Pete, we sat down to a cool San Miguel and dinner. Lasagne for me and a cheeky bottle of Chilean Shiraz followed by an early night.
Saturday 23rd July : SS TR Thomson
The SS TR Thomson is located around seven miles south of Newhaven at a depth of around 32m. Back gas for this dive was 31% and the same 53% deco gas. The plan was that we would descend the shot, head right to find the stern gun for a group photo and then circumnavigate the wreck. Planned bottom time around 40 minutes and same TTS of 15 minutes. My buddy for this dive was David, while Pete wanted to do his own stuff.
The TR Thompson was a British Cargo ship built in 1897. She was 3,538 ton vessel and at the time of her demise, carrying 5,000 ton of iron ore from Algeria to Middlesborough. She was sunk on 29th March 1918 by Johannes Lohs and UB-75. Of her 36 crew, only the survived! Here’s a cracking Meridian Divers Adopt-A-Wreck blog, which is a fantastic read.
For David and I, we descended to 25m to the stern area. What was immediately apparent was a lot of monofilament fishing line. Meandering around, David signalled that he found the stern gun and with no other diver with us, it was a scenic shot down the barrel.
There was a small current which started to pick up, so David and I decided to go with the flow; as it were and 44 minutes of run time, we were drifting off the bow of the wreck. DSMBs deployed with a 7 minute TTS and 5 minute stop at 6m. A relaxing dive with around 4 to 6m hazy visibility. Here’s Pete’s YouTube video.
A cunning plan was conspired for this evening’s gas fills. With the City of Brisbane a shallower dive and being we would need to offload all kit after the dive, we would not take any deco stages. Indeed, we would offload these cylinders tonight. With around 100 bar of 32% in our twinsets, we would simply top up with air to around 26%.
But then I remembered. I had a 15L of 100% O2 in the car and with memories of our Dunoon trip, it was back to the White Horse for some car park gas blending. Topping my and David’s cylinders to 117 bar with said oxygen and then top with air, we could obtain an optimum 32% back gas. Peter and Malik cottoned on to this idea with pleas of “and me please!”. This meant we would as planned ask Newhaven Scuba for air top ups, but this time the air diluting to a 32% back gas mix and a quicker fill time.
This evening’s dinner was a vegan (I know!) pie thingy with the remainng Chilean Shiraz.
Sunday 24th July : SS City of Brisbane
Completed in March 1918, she had a short life. The City of Brisbane was Loh’s final sinking on 13th August 1918 before he and the total crew of UB-57 was killed the next day, 14th August 1918, supposedly sunk to one of the first British magnetic mines off Zeebrugge. The Brisbane was en-route from London to Buenos Aires in ballast. A 7,094 ton 451 ft long by 57 ft beam steamship. She now lays around 1.5 miles SSW of Newhaven in 25m of water.
The plan for this dive was to find the gun for a group photo opportunity as yesterday’s objective failed miserably. As aforementioned, a back gas of 32% and no deco gas. Run time would be 50 minutes to an hour to include no more than 15 minutes TTS and no accelerated deco.
As we arrived to site, there was a RHIB already in situ and we were allowed to use their shot. Ascent would obviously be by DSMB. As we descended, shit, was the viz shit! Awful and worse than I expected. We arrived at the wreck around 20m to a ‘tangle of divers’. The new collective noun? It was a toss up which way to go and we headed left into what can only be explained as a twisted pile of metal. The sea was a cacophony of RAL green hues as the sun was penetrating the surface, but with the (as we found out later) sand in the water, a very hazy 2m to 3m.
At 2m I could just make out David’s white twinset and at 3m, nowt!
Bimbling around, we got to 48 minutes and decided to end the dive. I think we had seen as much as we wanted. Total run time was 59 minutes and funnily enough, a very relaxing dive. SAC rate at 0.61 Bar/Min and RMV 14.68 L/Min.
Here’s Peter Eastland’s video.
A Cracking Few Days
All in all, a cracking few days. Lots of laughs, lots of beer and the odd Jägerbomb. Out of all three dives, I think the North Easter was my favourite dive, but that does not take away from the objective of diving two of Loh’s kills. I think David’s sums up the whole few days nicely!
Channel Diving has an excellent operation and probably the best biscuit box on many a dive charter. My recommendation to any new diver out of Brighton Marina is to do a recce the night before, not an hour before ropes off. There are multiple areas to drop off kit and albeit trollies on the West Jetty, not the best to park/wait if there are no spare loading spaces. It is also a longer walk. We preferred the taxi area as it is a shorter walk but without trollies, it can be a hike. I would recommend bringing your own sack barrow. Be mindful of the multi-story car park as there is a 1.95m height restriction and they state a maximum 3 hour stay. As Tom found out, his Ford Transit Custom was too high and ended up parking in ADSA. Steve pointed out that the multi-story maximum stay is not enforced, but do consider what vehicle you take. We did find out that larger vans can park in the ASDA car park and although a similar restriction, if you visit Customer Services with your registration number, they will allow a longer stay.
I would also like to make a special mention to Glenn, Steve and Mike of Newhaven Scuba for being very accommodating to us. I have not personally dived with Newhaven Scuba, but I know a number of buddies who have. RHIB diving is not my cup of tea, but if you more nimble than me, I will certainly recommend.
Finally, a quick mention to David, Pete, Malik, Tom, Tom, Louis and Jamie for a fun weekend. Until next time!