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HMS Port Napier

by Jan Siedlecki

Reproduced from in focus 5 (August, 1984)


Ever since my sojourn in the Red Sea in 1981, and my encounter with the photogenic wreck of the Yolande at Ras Muhamed, I have been itching to dive a similar wreck in British waters. Although the Yolande is certainly spectacular inasmuch that one could see and film the whole wreck complete with its quota of fish, it is bereft of any significant marine growth, unlike those round our coasts. Is it anything to do with the slow growth of coral?

Hopes of my dream being realised were raised last autumn, when I read Dr Sproul-Cran's article, complete with a picture not unlike the one that won Peter Rowlands his Gold Medal at Brighton. This had to be an answer to my prayers, for despite previous diving experience on James Eagan Layne, Kyarra, Hispania etc, nothing seemed to compare to this wreck from the photographic point of view.

HMS Port Napier

This summer, with a group of divers from my branch, who were wiiling to dive with those of us who used cameras, I travelled to Scotland. Between us we had four Eumig Nautica Super 8 cameras, two with cine lights, not to mention Leo Collier who was festooned with his own photographic gear.

Unfortunately, we did not bargain for the usual Scottish weather which, unlike the Red Sea, is not guaranteed. Although it had been the driest and sunniest May since records were kept, and June was supposed to be the best month for diving there, we had clouds, wind and rain with only the occasional glimpse of the sun.

The mine-layer, H.M.S. Port Napier, stationed at Kyleakin in Loch Alshe, Isle of Sky caught fire after loading its full complement of mines, on 27 November, 1940. Fearing explosion at anchor, the ship was towed out to a nearby bay, where it sank after an explosion mid ships. The mines, which did not explode, were subsequently salvaged by the Navy, but suspicion remains that some might have been left behind

The ship now lies in 20m of water with a 90 degree list to starboard. Its deck, containing the most interesting parts, faces north and consequently even on sunny days, is always in shadow. The bows and stern are relatively intact, but mid ships it is very broken, as a result of the explosion, and is very accessible. Furthermore, except at the highest tide, it is always visible above water. It is a very impressive sight, all 50Oft of it, but there is no way it can be shown on film in its entirety underwater.

One was reduced to picking out details with lights, which could not be related to any significant parts, such as a gun on the fore deck. To have the lights mounted on the same bracket as the camera was virtually useless because of the abundant suspension of particles in the water. which reduced visibility to 2m at most. Luckily BSoUP lectures were remembered and side and back lighting were employed. The idea of a diver moving with the light came too late to be used.

In the general excitement, unfortunately, other lessons were forgotten, and so my camera batteries packed up at the beginning of the second dive. Next time dude were discovered whilst still on the slipway, just before getting into the inflatable. Also the cine light batteries ran down during the dive ? I thought they were supposed to last 12-15 minutes or three films. How can one tell?

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