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Deptherapy’s Red Sea Wrecks – Part 5

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Part five of Gary Green’s account of the Deptherapy Red Sea Military and Forgotten Wrecks liveaboard expedition.

Days 7 & 8: SS Thistlegorm (Four Dives)

And so it was on to the Thistlegorm, a shipwreck that had been built up so skilfully in the medium of presentation by Dan Phillips, another of the programme members who suffers with PTSD. Regarding his injuries though, he refuses to be defined by them. He does, however, not mind being defined as a self-proclaimed geek. I am not but I did have a sense of real enthusiasm injected into me by his presentation; I think we all did as he amazingly built this picture up in our minds. He produced videos of the original launch, from the early forties, showing the ship being pulled from harbour; it was fascinating that this original footage was available, especially as the ship in front of our eyes was now beneath us.

The Thistlegorm is a war grave and to us veterans it hit a nerve. We all share that bond of war that stretches back to the first soldiers that fought for freedom. It would be the same as someone in fifty years returning to Afghanistan to places where I had lost friends in war; it puts a lump in my throat. The story was told of the sinking and I could see it in my head. I took a step outside and could picture myself standing on board as the bombers flew over, the chaos, death and fear that then ensued.

The wreck did not disappoint. The current was strong and we held tight to the shot line to avoid being lost in the water. The dive was incredible; the wreck itself had so many mysteries. The guns were still intact on the ship and it was incredible to think that at some point in time these would have had to be used to defend themselves. How unfortunate that they were not used when they were needed most; now they lay inert, a living submerged museum piece.

There were parts of the wreck we could penetrate. The WWII cargo still on board – motorcycles, trucks etc. – all still in the same place as when the ship sank. At the bottom of the shot line stood a big shell of ammunition, which I would guess was for the anti-aircraft weapons on board. However inert it may be, wet or damaged, it’s still not something you would want to be tampering with. The lads obviously made jokes about striking the percussion cap underwater, which certainly was a no-no. In total we completed four dives on the Thistlegorm, which you could say was still not enough to uncover all of its mysteries. We carried out two on day seven and another two on day eight before moving on to Abu Nuhas. To finish off the Thistlegorm, the most apt way to sum it up would not be my words, but the words of the newfound historian and enthusiast, Dan Philips, who says…

“The S.S. Thistlegorm is almost as it was before it was sunk (apart from the blast damage) which makes it easy to put yourself in the shoes of the men that were aboard. No museum or battlefield tour on land could bring you closer to the history of the era.”

A note from Richard Cullen, Founder & Chairman Deptherapy & Deptherapy Education:

ACT OF REMEMBRANCE

So two days on the famous SS Thistlegorm wreck. This amazing wreck never fails to impress. All those who had never dived it before were moved by the BSA motorbikes, the trucks, rifles, engines, munitions etc in lines as they were when the ship was sunk whilst at anchor by a German bomber in World War II. For most of the time we have been the only boat moored on the site and those that wanted were able to penetrate the decks of the ship.

Before we departed SS Thistlegorm we held a very poignant and emotional Service of Remembrance on the top deck of the Princess Diana. The programme members and the dive team formed a hollow square. The hollow square was lined by the ‘troops’ on three sides with the fourth side empty to represent those departed brothers in arms. Dickie Henderson called the square to attention.

We named and remembered the four crew members who died that night: Alfred Keen, aged 68, Joseph Munro Rolfe aged 17, Karl Sankando aged 49, Alexander Watt aged 21 and the five members of the Royal Navy gun crew, Arthur Cain aged 26, Archibald Gethin 19, Donald Masterson aged 32, Christopher Todds aged 25 and Thomas Woolaghan aged 24. We also remembered the friends and brothers in arms of our programme members who did not return home from recent conflicts. The majority of our programme members had lost friends and comrades in Iraq, Afghanistan, Northern Ireland and other conflicts.

Gary Green delivered Binyon’s Poem for the Fallen:

They shall grow not old as we that are left grow old, age shall not weary them nor the years condemn. At the going down of the sun and in the morning we will remember them.”

The Last Post echoed eerily across the empty Red Sea. As the notes faded away on the wind, Chris Middleton repeated those famous lines inscribed at Kohemi:

“When you go home tell them of us and say for your tomorrow we gave our today.”

The ceremony ended with the Gaelic Blessing:

“May the road rise to meet you.
May the wind always be at your back
May the sun shine on your face and the
Rains fall soft upon your fields and until
We meet again may your God hold you safe in the palm of his hand.”

Day 8: Abu Nuhas – SS Markus

After five dives on the Thistlegorm, we headed to the reef of Abu Nuhas. There are quite a few wrecks on this reef and many different stories. Some say that the reef had taken ships over the years, that the reef was notorious for sinking boats when the captain was caught off guard. The story that we were told was slightly different, in fact three of the wrecks had belonged to one man who had sunk them to claim back money from his insurance. I certainly am not informed enough to make a judgement either way but it was pointed out that we were out of the way of any commercial shipping lanes, which does induce some doubt into the nature of the ships sinking from any natural disaster.

Another story about this wreck that was strange was that one wreck was actually on top of another. The Markus has over the years been mixed up with the Chrisoula K. The maps that you pull for the Chrisoula K are in actual fact the Markus, which is also known as the tile wreck, named this because the cargo was tiles, which can still be seen on the wreck itself. The Chrisoula K was actually 55m below the Markus, so we were not actually diving it at all. Available information on both of these wrecks is misleading.

Inside the wreck of the SS Markus there is a tool room where the working areas are still visible. A pillar drill can still be seen, the drill itself still intact but the framework deteriorated over time by the salty seawater. The wreck, like all the wrecks, had been eaten away over time, the water eroding away the history, giving way to the marine life that has spawned an underwater circle of life; as the wreck dies, the sea life emerges. The wreck itself was easy to navigate. Holes in the wreck structure gave way to light which illuminated the passageways. A tool box still has tools in the open drawers; a reminder of the work – and life – that once used to take place on the ship.

Day 8: Abu Nuhas Reef (Night Dive)

The second dive at Abu Nuhas was a reef dive conducted as a night dive. The reef itself was actually in quite poor condition, which was a shame, although at night some of the colour seems to fade away until your torch beam lights up the way. The life on the reef given its condition was impressive. One of the Red Sea’s convicts gave me a fright; as I hovered a few inches off the sea floor I narrowly missed a scorpion fish. It could have left me with a nasty reminder of an absolutely once in a lifetime trip. Amongst the life that we saw was an absolutely stunning emperor angel fish My favourite fish has to be the clown fish (sorry, Red Sea anemone fish) but the sight of this emperor fish was close to taking the podium. We won’t include sharks in this as the competition becomes slightly one sided…

Read more next week: Gary’s blog concludes on Monday / Tuesday with Parts Six & Seven.

Donate to Deptherapy or find out more about their work at www.deptherapy.co.uk

Thanks to Dmitry Knyazev and Steve Rattle for the incredible photographs.

Gary Green is an author, team leader and PADI AmbassaDIVER. After being medically discharged from the British Army following an IED attack which left him blind in one eye and with PTSD, Gary was introduced to scuba diving through the rehabilitation charity Deptherapy. Gary is living proof of the healing power of scuba.

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Deptherapy returns to its Roots – Part 4

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Join Richard Cullen from Deptherapy for part 4 of his Blog about the charity’s recent expedition to Roots Red Sea, El Quseir, Egypt.

We are all back to the house reef today; the weather is lovely, the sea calm, the tide will soon be slack, so a great day’s diving in store.

A few yards away from the beach dive centre, on the Roots’ beach is their day time restaurant. It is where we take lunch when diving, and there is a continual supply of tea, coffee and soft drinks, and some marvellous lunches.  There are also male and female toilets and a fully accessible toilet for those using wheelchairs.

A few thoughts around working with amputees and those who have paraplegia. Firstly amputees – the part of the limb remaining is known as the ‘stump’, and we have worked with a substantial number of bilateral leg amputees (both legs), single leg amputees and single arm amputees.  The level of amputation can be above or below the knee or elbow, or through the knee. In one case the amputation was transpelvic and in another through the shoulder.  Some like Chris Middleton have one leg amputated above the knee and one below the knee.  This is rare, but each type of amputation offers a different challenge.

Many people think the amputation is clean and the skin neatly tidied up after surgery. Although that occurs in a few cases, in most the stump is rather rugged.  Elasticity of the skin around the stump is often exceptionally poor and can easily be damaged.  Some of our beneficiaries, as they were injured as young men, suffered from heterotopic ossification – this is where the bone tries to grow after amputation and often penetrates the skin, resulting in further surgery being required to cut back the bone and of course the stump needs to be restitched.  Very often stumps are sealed with skin from elsewhere on the body.

Swars kitting up

Few divers have never experienced a graze or cut underwater but such an experience for those with amputations can have serious consequences.  Stumps are more likely to get cut or grazed as the skin is so tight. We all know that there are lots of infections in seawater and if infected the cut or graze can cause very serious problems for the amputee.  Tailored wetsuits are one preventative measure, as are daily stump checks, making sure there is no damage and if there is, applying medication and or protecting the stump.

Those with paraplegia provide an additional challenge, not being able to feel their lower limbs they can easily damage them, so cuts, abrasions, and even sunburn can go unnoticed.  Donning a full-length wetsuit can be a challenge as toes can easily be broken and hairs pulled out of legs.  On the Deptherapy Education Professionals’ Course we show how to fit a wetsuit properly.

In recent discussions between our dive medicine advisor Mark Downs and our VP Richard Castle, who is a consultant psychologist, we have been looking at areas for further medical research in terms of diving for those with disabilities.  One area of suggested study is thermoregulation. The theory is that those with amputations and those with paraplegia suffer more with the cold as their body is unable to regulate heat. Certainly, in Corey’s case, he feels the cold more quickly than those diving with him. Chris Middleton can feel the cold more quickly than others with amputations but that may well be that Chris is muscle and bone where, to put it nicely, others have a more substantial covering.

Some AMEDs and Dive Referees will not sign off amputees as being fit to dive. That is their professional opinion and although we can show that even triple amputees are more than capable divers, capable of progressing to Rescue Diver standard even, they still refuse to sign them off. Last year Oli and Mark invited us to speak at the UK Annual Hyperbaric Medicine Conference in London where Josh Boggi, the world’s first triple amputee Rescue Diver and a Deptherapy beneficiary spoke about how amputees can become safe and successful divers.

Corey, Swars and Michael

For Corey, he wears full leg coverings and diving boots in the water; as he cannot use his legs there is no purpose in wearing fins.

Another point around amputations is that most of the general population make an assumption that a leg amputation is the result of a traumatic incident.  That is incorrect; by far the majority of leg amputations in the UK are the result of diabetes. Those whose legs are amputated as a result as diabetes are more likely to have poor healing of the stumps.  This also presents an issue of comorbidity that may well result in an AMED or Dive Referee declining to sign them off as ‘fit to dive’.  If signed off you would need to be very aware of the health of a stump; I certainly would not take someone with an open wound diving and the fact that they will be on medication for the diabetes.  You also have to be aware that they may well be on other medication to manage pain etc.

You need to be very clear with those who have paraplegia and other conditions that they must let you know if they start to feel cold.

Managing air – diving just using your arms for propulsion can, for many, be very tiring and a considerable amount of effort is required.  This, plus other factors, may result in enhanced air consumption by the diver.  This may increase if a current is encountered, even one which most divers who have use of their legs and dive with fins would not cause the least concern.

Within Deptherapy we very much work on the ‘rule of thirds’ – a third of your air to get you down and to see what you want to see, a third to get you back to the surface and a third in reserve.  This in most circumstances will ensure no ‘low on air’ or ‘out of air’ situations.

Say if we have 210 bar in a cylinder that means 70 bar out, so turn on 140 bar, 70 bar to return and to the surface so we should have 70 bar reserve at the surface.

We also work our students through SAC rates and looking at the air consumption of others in their team.

Checking the team’s air frequently during a dive is stressed to all our Pro team.

Keiron became very engaged with this concept as the result of the online RAID study for his Master Rescue Diver.

On expeditions we normally dive in small teams, a DM/TDM with three programme members.  They work as a team and understand each other’s air consumption. Of course, they also dive as buddy pairs.

Today offered perfect conditions for diving, and Keiron, Moudi, and this time TDM Oatsie were kitted up and in the water within minutes.

Pause for thought… those with paraplegia will have different toileting arrangements to those who do not have the condition. This also applies to some who have suffered traumatic limb loss.  They may use catheters for urination, some may have Stoma bags etc.  This all has to be planned into your dive schedule to ensure the safety and comfort of your student.  For young people talking about these very personal arrangements may be very difficult.  Those with Stoma bags may be embarrassed by people seeing them.  This is another part of seeing beyond the injury or condition – it is the person inside that you are dealing with.

Corey on the Roots House Reef

So, Corey, Michael and myself were joined by Swars.  Swars, although he joined the DM programme at the same time as the other guys, because of work commitments was unable to join us in September 2019 at Roots where we ran a DM introductory programme alongside the crossover of our Pro Team to RAID.  Swars has become a really good mate; he is a great diver, with an engaging personality.

Michael and Oatsie were a known quantity to me as they had been on the September 2019 programme and both have travelled to my home dive centre Divecrew in Crowthorne, Berkshire, to work on courses, pre-COVID.  During COVID Michael and I, plus a few of the guys from Divecrew, have dived at Wraysbury together.

Just as Roots is our base in Egypt, Divecrew is our base in the UK, and through this relationship, Martin (who owns Divecrew with his wife Sue) is one of our trustees. Together they have established a centre where pretty much 100% of the Pros are Deptherapy Education trained.

I asked Swars straight away to brief a dive for Corey. I gave him the briefing slate, a few tips and then ten minutes later he came back with a perfect briefing… and I mean perfect.  So, a great briefing under his belt; now to watch him work with Corey in open water. He looked the Pro, he knew what he should be doing, he understood his role. We assigned Michael as Corey’s buddy and said he would lead the dive. I was there to assess the TDMs and supervise very closely Corey’s skill demonstrations.

Again, it comes as no surprise that many beneficiaries in Deptherapy can move straight into dive management, as several were NCOs, as was Swars, and they are used to briefing individuals and teams.

We had decided that we would mix up the dives required to complete Corey’s OW 20 RAID dives with some general diving as trim and swimming arm action are all important. We also needed to concentrate on spatial awareness.

We agreed a signal for horizontal trim and Swars reinforced the swim stroke that Corey needed to do to get propulsion.  Every time Corey moved out of horizontal trim Swars was there reminding him about trim and reminding him of his swim stroke.

The Roots’ House Reef is amazing – at a metre you encounter a shoal of black Damselfish, at 3 metres a shoal of Unicornfish, there are Butterflyfish and all manner of other fishes in great profusion.  The coral is in great condition. It really is a place of beauty and tranquillity.

Oatsie and Swars relaxing by the Roots pool after a long day

Although we had problems getting Corey underwater again, once we got him in skill demonstration mode his anxieties disappeared.  We then took him diving. Steve Rattle, the owner of Roots joined us and was taking photos that provide a great record of the week’s diving.  Steve commented on the quality of Swars and Michael’s supervision and control underwater of Corey and gave them feedback on how impressed he was.

Meanwhile on the RAID Master Rescue Course, Oatsie who was in the same Regiment, same Platoon and Section as Keiron in Afghanistan was more than willing to be a very uncooperative victim for his brother-in-arms.  I think Keiron gave Oatsie some feedback about this!

For me this was a hard week, combining running the RAID OW 20 for Corey but also the assessment of our three TDMs.  A week underwater but no opportunity to dive for myself.  People often think Deptherapy Expeditions are holidays for the Dive Team; they are not, it is hard work and I mean hard work.

Tomorrow is Day 4 in the water Day 5 of our trip. We are on the House Reef again, and things are starting to come together. Join us back here on Monday 26th October…


Find out more about the work of Deptherapy and Deptherapy Education at www.deptherapy.co.uk

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Competitions

WIN an XDEEP Radical Frameless Mask!!!

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Yes, XDEEP have now officially called their excellent frameless mask the ‘Radical’, and in this week’s competition, we’ve got another one to give away!

The XDEEP Radical Frameless Mask is a large single lens dive mask with a soft silicone skirt and traditional strap. The frameless design brings the lens closer to your face so you get a wider FOV and less internal volume that you have to equalise and clear. The larger nose pocket makes the mask more comfortable and easier to equalise, even with thick gloves.

To be in with a chance of winning this awesome prize, all you have to do is answer the following question:

In a recent post on Scubaverse.com (which you can find here), we reported that you can join Reef-World and a panel of industry experts at the first ever Scuba.Digital for an open discussion on green tourism and how this might be shaped by a post-corona world. But when can you join Reef-Word’s Sustainable Diving event on the main stage of Scuba.Digital 2020?

Is it:

  • A) 3pm BST on Friday 23rd October 2020
  • B) 3pm BST on Saturday 24th October 2020
  • C) 3pm BST on Sunday 25th October 2020

Answer, A, B or C to the question above:

Nautilus Diving XDEEP Frameless Mask October 2020

Competition
  • Enter the country you live in
  • Terms and Conditions: This competition is open to all visitors to www.scubaverse.com except for members of the Scubaverse team and their families, employees of Nautilus Diving and their families, or XDEEP and their families. A valid answer to the competition’s question must be entered. If no valid answer to the competition’s question is entered, your entry will be invalid. Only one competition entry per entrant permitted (multiple entries will lead to disqualification). Only one prize per winner. All prizes are non-transferable, and no cash alternative will be offered. In the event that the prize cannot be supplied, no liability will be attached to www.scubaverse.com. When prizes are supplied by third parties, www.scubaverse.com is acting as their agents and as such we exclude all liability for loss or damage you may suffer as a result of this competition. This competition closes on 02/11/20. The winner will be notified by email. The Editor-in-Chief’s decision is final.

  • The following fields are optional, however if you fill them in it will help us to determine what prizes to source in the future.

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