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Book Review: Diving the Thistlegorm

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Diving the Thistlegorm – The ultimate guide to a World War Two shipwreck by Simon Brown, Jon Henderson, Alex Mustard and Mike Postons.

A Review by Jeff Goodman

It’s a real pleasure when I get great books like this to read and review. This book takes the reader on a historic and fully comprehensive journey of the Thistlegorm. A brilliant in depth guide to the wreck and all it’s facets, all illustrated by superb photos and graphics. The detail of research into this ship is impressive and portrayed to the reader in an easy to read style and layout. It is obvious how much hard work has been done to make this book enjoyable to read as well as be educational.

When I first dived the Thistlegorm I knew very little about the wreck except for the brief safety dive talk given on our boat prior to entering the water. I truly wish I had had this book to read before hand. It would have given me such an important insight to what I was diving on and looking at. My dive would have been even more enjoyable. I can only hope that every boat heading out to the wreck in the future has at least one copy on board.  We need more books like this.

I remember the first dive I ever had on the Thistlegorm. It was fantastic. The water was clear, there was an abundance of wildlife and the wreck itself was awesome. Gliding over the decks and the cargo holds, filled with machines and items of war, was an experience never to be forgotten. I didn’t really know just how lucky I was. So you can imagine how happy I was to know a few years later that I was to dive it again. I awoke early on the Liveaboard and eagerly looked off the open stern to the wreck site. Instead of the clear blue open sea I had seen before just a few years previously, there were now twelve to fourteen other Liveaboard dive boats all moored up to the wreck and already discharging divers into the water.

My dive on the wreck this time was truly not an experience I wanted to have again. There were more divers than fish. The decks were busy with criss-crossing people and the holds were choc-a-block with divers who seemed to have little care either for the wreck itself or other people. I was often pushed from behind, had a few fins in the face and lights blazed directly into my eyes.

With this memory in mind it was with a little trepidation that I started to read ‘Diving the Thistlegorm’. Was this simply going to draw more divers to the wreck with no consideration for careful diving practices? To my great relief, the second section of the book was titled ‘Wreck under threat’ and addressed my very concerns about the Thistlegorm being systematically ruined by careless and unregulated mooring of dive boats on the ships superstructure, as well as disregard of the wrecks contents by many divers. The section didn’t dwell too long on this, but the points for wreck preservation were strong and well made.


About the authors of Diving the Thistlegorm

Simon Brown is a photogrammetry/3D reconstruction expert who has documented underwater subjects for a wide range of clients including Historic England and television companies such as National Geographic Channel and Discovery Canada. He is currently teaching police forensic collision investigators the use of photogrammetry for evidence preservation.

Jon Henderson is Reader in Archaeology at the University of Edinburgh where he is the Director of theUnderwater Archaeology Research Centre. With specific research interests in submerged prehistoric settlements and developing underwater survey techniques, he has directed underwater projects in the UK, Poland, Greece, Italy, Egypt, Jamaica and Malaysia.

Alex Mustard is a former marine biologist and award-winning underwater photographer. In 2018 he was made an MBE in the Queen’s Birthday Honours list for “Services to underwater photography”.

Mike Postons pioneered the use of digital 3D modelling to visualise shipwrecks, as well as the processes of reconstructing original ships from historic plans. He has worked with a number of organisations including the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, Historic England and the Nautical Archaeological Society.


Diving the Thistlegorm – The ultimate guide to a World War Two shipwreck is available now from Divedup.com, online and from retailers. ISBN 978-1-909455-37-5 | 240 pages | 160 × 21 × 240 mm

Jeff Goodman is the Editor-at-Large for Scubaverse.com with responsibility for conservation and underwater videography. Jeff is an award-winning TV wildlife and underwater cameraman and film maker who lives in Cornwall, UK. With over 10,000 dives to his credit he has dived in many different environments around the world.

Miscellaneous Blogs

Book Review: Last Man Off (2014)

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It was his first job after graduating as a Marine Biologist. Matt Lewis joined a deep sea fishing trawler, the MFV Sudurhavid, in Cape Town as an independent observer. His job was to sample whatever they caught on their long line – a three kilometre length of rope with thousands of baited hooks attached. In his own words he was ‘a university upstart recording the conduct of hardened fishermen.’ (p.6) He was also performing his work thousands of miles from land in the notoriously turbulent and cold Southern Ocean between Cape Town and the South Pole.

Matt vividly describes the daunting sea conditions; Force 8 winds and driving sleet, ten metre swells and sub zero sea water. In detail he recounts the exhausting monotony of eating, working and sleeping on a boat ‘rolling and pitching like a rodeo bull’. (p. 78). By any standards the working conditions were appalling as men were swept off their feet by ice-cold cascading water only to find themselves awash in the blood and guts of processed fish.

On 6th June 1998 the over laden MFV Sudurhavid began taking on water. Hatches and chutes designed to protect the workers and boat had been ‘modified’ to speed up the work. It allowed seawater from mountainous waves to penetrate the boat. Drains became clogged and pumps failed as the boat was pummelled by massive waves. Requests to cut loose the long line to help manoeuvring… warnings and then pleas to the captain and senior officers to stop fishing and seek shelter were ignored. A deteriorating situation rapidly got worse. Matt asks: ‘How could the most experienced men on the boat just ignore what was going on?’ (p. 92).

In a minute by minute, hour by hour account Matt Lewis describes the unfolding disaster. He provides a vivid account of the mounting chaos and selfish actions of individuals, the lack of leadership and how poorly prepared crew had to abandon ship in terrifying conditions. Thirty-eight men took to life rafts but many wouldn’t survive the bone chilling cold. Inside a flooded life raft Matt explained how he was ‘…balanced not on the floor of the raft, but on the corpses of colleagues, but I was too cold to care.’ (p. 159)

Few of us will have experienced the fury of a storm in the Southern Ocean. Probably even fewer of us have experience of deep sea fishing or survival in ice-cold water inside a life raft. However, the account by Matt Lewes will bring you uncomfortably close to the real thing. He acknowledges that his account of the sinking of the MFV Sudurhavid, years after the event, is a compendium of accounts from other survivors. However, this doesn’t detract from the impact it provides. The crew lists, pen portraits of crew members and numerous photographs makes their survival and deaths more poignant.

Accurately describing life and work inside a long line deep sea fishing trawler isn’t easy. Recounting the dramatic event of it sinking and harrowing events in a life raft is a personal challenge. It is one that Matt Lewis achieves with some skill. His provision of glossary of terms, boat plans and maps make the account both credible and readable. Furthermore, the forty colour photographs visually take you to these places. They bring people to life and acknowledge their death. Matt Lewis wanted his book to be an honest memorial to those on board the Sudurhavid when she foundered. It may not be the most comfortable reading but it is certainly worth the effort.


Last Man Off (2014)

  • by Matt Lewis
  • London: Viking
  • 229 pp
  • ISBN 9780241002780

Matt Lewis lives in rural Scotland near Aberdeen with his wife and children. His daughter, Camila, is named after the Chilean fishing boat, the Isla Camila, which saved his life.


Find out more about the reviewer, Professor Fred Lockwood, who is also a published author at www.fredlockwood.co.uk.

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Freediving Blogs

The BiG Scuba Podcast… Dive into the future with Blue Abyss

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The BiG Scuba duo, Gemma and Ian chat to John Vickers and Emma Farrell.  John is the Chief Executive Officer of Blue Abyss and believes passionately about connecting our marine evolutionary heritage and future space exploration.  Emma Farrell is one of the world’s leading freediving instructors, author of the book ‘One Breath, a Reflection on Freediving’ and owner of Go Freediving Limited and a freediving consultant for Blue Abyss.

Have a listen here:

Find out more at: www.blueabyss.uk


Find more podcast episodes and information at the new www.thebigscuba.com  website and on most social platforms @thebigscuba 

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Egypt | Simply the Best Itinerary | 04 – 11 November 2021 | Emperor Echo

Jump on board the latest addition to the Emperor fleet and enjoy diving the famous sites of the Red Sea with this fantastic special offer. Great value for money and perfect for small groups of buddies with a ‘Book 5 and 1 dives for FREE’ offer all year round.

Price NOW from just £1275 per person based on sharing a twin cabin/room including:

  • Flights from Gatwick to Hurghada with 23kgs baggage
  • 7 nights in shared cabin
  • 3 meals a day, soft drinks, red wine with dinner
  • 6 days’ diving, guide, 12ltr tank & weights, Marine Park fees and port departure fees
  • Free Nitrox

Subject to availability.
Alternative departure airports available at supplement.

Call Diverse Travel on 01473 852002 or email info@diversetravel.co.uk.

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