Where History and Diver Meet: Wreck Diving in Narvik
Guest article by Petra Pruden
Cool, clear waters provide exceptional conditions for preserving shipwrecks, and a one-of-a-kind opportunity for divers seeking to explore them. There is one particular location in Norway, near the city and fjord of Ofotfjord, Narvik, that, due to its ideal conditions and historical significance, make it remarkable for diving. Not only are the landscapes spectacular, but during WW2, three significant navy engagements took place there resulting in 16 wrecks accessible to divers today. It’s no surprise that divers such as Australian diver and wreck enthusiast, Edd Stockdale, have been drawn to this location to discover and learn about the wrecks left behind.
Diving with a Story
Located just north of the Arctic Circle in Norway, the coastal city of Narvik offers ice-free access to the North Atlantic. Narvik was a particularly important location in years past as iron ore from Sweden could be shipped there by train, loaded onto ships, and distributed. The city’s strategic foothold caused tension between the British and Norwegian navies and German forces, and they eventually fought to control the transport of iron. From April to June in 1940, three major battles were waged in this fjord resulting in many lives lost and numerous sunken ships. Today, the Narvik fjord is a popular wreck diving site, as the pristine, yet chilly, waters of this protected harbor offer divers and tourists alike an unforgettable, historical experience.
Edd Stockdale and His Trip to Narvik
One such diver who found himself drawn to the history and wonder of Narvik is Edd Stockdale. Edd first picked up diving as a boy, and his passion for the sport quickly turned into a lifelong career. Originally from Australia, Edd followed his love for cold dives and made Sweden his new home. With over 5,500 dives in his logbook, 20 years-worth of diving experience, and his name gracing the cover of several prominent training course manuals (RAID instruction manuals), Edd is the kind of guy to take you on a true adventure. Given that his home in Sweden is (relatively) close to Narvik, this last year he made the drive to the famous location to discover some of the wrecks for himself.
Once Edd reached the harbor, he was joined by a group of Swedish and Finnish wreck divers, explorers, and historians aboard an old Swedish minesweeper, the Galten. “Our days generally consisted of getting up at a reasonable time, having breakfast, and getting our rebreathers ready for the day’s diving,” described Edd, then further adding, “We dropped a shot-line at each wreck we visited, then staggered the entry teams to allow time for decompression. Each dive took between 2-3 hours, and after we were finished and the shot-lines recovered, we got to enjoy a relaxing evening on the ship, which, in true Norwegian form, even included a sauna.”
The Erich Giese
With as many as 16 wrecks in the vicinity of Narvik, it’s difficult for divers, Edd included, to choose a favorite dive. “On past dives, I enjoyed visiting the Erich Giese, a German Z class destroyer that sits in about 65 meters of water,” recalled Edd. Back in the late 1930s, the Erich Giese was part of Nazi Germany’s Kriegsmarine, or, in other words, the German navy. During the early stages of the Norwegian Campaign, this ship engaged in naval combat with two British destroyers as it tried to make its way out of Narvik Harbor. Although it was temporarily successful in defending its escape, narrowly dodging five torpedoes fired by the British, it was eventually reduced to a burning wreck after enduring as many as 20 turret shots.
Apart from diving the Erich Giese for the first time, Edd was also able to explore the D/S Landego, which he described as “stunning to see up close, with many of its details remaining intact, if not for the Arctic marine life that has taken to living onboard.” The Landego also shares a rather intriguing war story. According to Norwegian reports, the ship was requisitioned by the Germans and used to lay cable for military communication purposes. However, as it turned out, the exact spot chosen by the Germans for laying the cable was an active minefield. The Landego struck a mine, exploded on impact, and cost the lives of 9 men onboard. Today it sits approximately 300 meters offshore and provides divers with an extraordinary diving experience.
If Wrecks Could Speak
It seems the more you look into the history of each wreck in this area, the closer you come to understanding the difficult circumstances many of these men were forced to endure. For Edd, learning the stories of the wrecks he dives has become standard practice. “As with every dive we go on, we are briefed beforehand on the history of the site, which we can then use to compare with the photos and videos we later capture on our dive. This provides our trip with extra meaning, especially in a place like Narvik, where such a large naval conflict was carried out in a relatively small body of water.” It’s interesting, yet also harrowing, to think that a German invasion from 1940 ultimately turned into what is today seen as one of Europe’s top wreck diving destinations.
After learning about the ships’ backstories, Edd and his team are eager to get in the water and start exploring. Edd dons his Liberty sidemount rebreather which allows him to better pass through some of the smaller doorways and access points of the wrecks. Once in the water, Edd and his team take their time searching the sunken ships, combing over details such as torpedoes and bullet holes, and comparing what they found under the water with what they had learned during the briefing. They also take care to document everything they see with their underwater cameras, and even go so far to share videos of their experience on YouTube. This is the perfect way for Edd to relive some of the moments of these dives, while also providing newcomers with some insight on what to expect before getting in the water.
Plans for the Future
When asked if he would recommend Narvik to fellow divers, Edd replied with enthusiasm, “Basically, if you like brilliant wreck diving, clear water, stunning scenery, and impressive, historically-relevant dive sites, Narvik is the place for you.” He then went on to add, speaking as a professional diver, that one of Narvik’s greatest advantages is that many of the wrecks sit in 10-30 meters of water, meaning even shallow range divers can discover these remarkable WW2 shipwrecks.
Plus, with so many wrecks located in one fjord, Narvik is the ideal location for divers to make return visits. Edd is already planning his next trip to the area, adding, “Narvik is one of the greatest places to go and teach wreck penetration courses. And, given that wreck photography is a hobby of mine, there’s no better place for me to keep visiting and get all my amazing shots in one place.”
A Destination to Dive
For most divers, just the fact that 16 accessible shipwrecks can be found within such close proximity of one another is reason enough to visit this unique spot. Plus, with the striking landscapes of the Norwegian fjords, the rich history to be discovered, and need we mention the saunas, it’s easy to see why Narvik could command the top slot on divers’ bucket lists. If you’re ready to see for yourself what Edd Stockdale and his team have been so enchanted by, pack your gear and head north to this unforgettable place. Perhaps you could even join Edd there!
Edd Stockdale is an Ambassador for Divesoft. Find out more about the CCR Liberty at www.divesoft.com/en/products/ccr-liberty
Jeff chats to… Christopher Bartlett, MD of Indigo Safaris, about scuba diving and safaris in Africa (5 of 5)
In the last in this exclusive series of five videos, Jeff Goodman, Scubaverse Editor-at-Large, chats to Christopher Bartlett, Managing Director of Indigo Safaris, about their diving and wildlife adventures, and four of their top destinations. In this episode Christopher talks about Africa.
For more information, please visit www.indigosafaris.com
Rather listen to a podcast? Click on this link to listen HERE.
Philippines Fun-Size: Critters and macro life
Guest Blog By Cath Bates
Instructor and Sales Consultant Cath, from Dive Worldwide, gives a rundown of some of the top areas for macro life in the Visayas region of the Philippines.
The volcanic and tectonic activity around the western Pacific Ocean has formed a nutrient-rich environment for some of the strangest marine critters to call their homes.
The Visayas region is within the central part of the Philippines – a colony of islands that are very easy to get around, with Luzon and Mindoro to the North, and Mindanao to the South. Although many divers rave about this being Big Fish Country (thanks to the thresher sharks of Malapascua and the whale sharks of Oslob and Donsol), it is also a macro diver’s paradise.
The diversity within this area of the Coral Triangle means that within a few days you can go from diving steep walls, being cushioned by sea grass beds, hovering over sandy plateaus, or getting lost amongst hard coral heads, to suddenly being cuddled by lush, fluffy coral colonies.
Pygmy Seahorses, Mandarin Fish and more in Bohol and Anda
Anda (on the eastern side of Bohol) has a coastline that is 15 kilometres of incredible biodiversity. Dive sites are between 5 and 45 minutes away from your resort house reef. Seahorse Point and Pygmy House dive sites are home to Pygmy seahorses that balance delicately on their bendy sea fan hosts. No bigger than 2.7 centimetres in length, the pink Bargibanti and yellowish Denise are protected by the Pygmy Seahorse Code of Conduct, displayed in all good dive centres.
The island of Bohol also has nudibranchs on steroids and carpet flatworms patterned with psychedelia that would make even the most open-minded hippy have a weird trip! Night dives reveal sea pens, swimming crabs, sand eels and egg cowrie.
At dusk you can enjoy the Mandarin fish courtship dance. This is a flamboyant event with two of the most colourful fish in the sea, whose names come from the dress of the Imperial Chinese Mandarin. The female Mandarin fish is joined at the pelvic fin by a male that she has deemed worthy of her attention. At rocket speed, they swim from their rubble or staghorn coral habitat high up in the water column to release hundreds of eggs and sperm.
Out-of-this-world Shrimps, Crabs and Lobsters in Moalboal
The Tanon Strait connects the Visayan Sea to the Bohol Sea. This is where you will find the island of Moalboal (meaning bubbling water). Best known for the dramatic drop offs of Pescador island and local sardine baitball, Moalboal also has a vast array of macro dive sites.
At Copton Point, Peacock mantis shrimps scuttle about, changing direction the way Austin Powers drives his luggage cart, and Kasai Wall’s hairy orangutan crabs duck and dive in bubble anemone like they are in a child’s ball pool. Masters of disguise, the crinoid shrimp and squat lobster cling motionless to their spikey homes, avoiding being dive-bombed by hungry reef fish.
At Fish Feeding (where they don’t of course feed the fish) Tozuma shrimp and Xeno crabs adorn whip corals like bosses, and punkish candy crabs decorate themselves with broccoli coral hats.
Masters of camouflage in Dumaguete/Dauin
Negros Island has the Sulu Sea to the west and Cebu to the East. This is a mountainous province, and Negros Oriental’s capital city Dumaguete is known as the “City of Gentle People”. There is a narrow channel between it and the island of Cebu, as well as the deep Negros trench. Such topography can only mean good things for divers! The Dauin coastline boasts some of the best critter diving in the region.
At Secret Corner in octopus season (October to December) you can expect to see blue ring, Mototi, wonderpus and algae octopus crawling stealth-like over the sand. These are camouflage masters who occasionally flash colour and cut some textured shapes to warn or to decorate. You may even be lucky enough to witness mating within this period.
During Frogfish February you can see all the usual suspects like painted, hairy and sargassum as well as pin-head sized juveniles. The Atmosphere Resort and Spa house reef has a vibrant yellow guy who has even been filmed for television!
Shaun the Sheep is a loveable name given to the Costasiella kuroshimae sea slug. Not much bigger than a grain of sand, the likeness to a certain plasticine animation is uncanny. They graze on a leaf-like algae, containing chlorophyll, and are otherwise known as the “sap-sucking” sea slug because of this. Take a magnifying glass with you to catch a better glimpse of these cute creatures.
Colourful Critters in Malapascua
Famous for its larger “shoals”, Malapascua also has some exquisite reefs and seamounts that are teeming with macro life. Along the white sandy coastline are hidden muck sites that many pelagic-lovers wouldn’t even know were there. Even on the shipwrecks around Malapascua, you can find the world of the tiny: shrimp patrolling the holds, schooling glassfish shielding gangways and bright mauve Hypselodoris laying their egg skirts.
The pinnacle known as Bugtong Bato is home to various types of frogfish, nudis and carpet anemone, keeping crabs and anemone shrimp safe from the current.
Chocolate island, to the south-west in the Visayan Sea, is a popular night dive location where double-snouted spindle cowrie, flatworms and banded boxer shrimp clock in for the night shift on a background of pulsating soft corals.
Gato Island is a grassy seamount poking out of the sea 45 minutes north-west of Malapascua. The island is well known for its swim-throughs and overhangs where you can expect to find Pharaoh cuttlefish, thorny seahorse and broad-banded pipefish. It also sounds like a cake, which is a winning formula for most divers!
Diving holidays for macro, muck and critter lovers
Below are some inspirational trip ideas from the Dive Worldwide website for getting to the best macro meccas in the Philippines. Not all the dive sites are beautiful to the eye at first glance, like muck and rubble, but what lies within them are some of the most vibrant and fascinating creatures you ever did see!
Discover the Visayas
This popular itinerary includes dives in Malapascua, Monad Shoal and the Moalboal peninsula.
Access some of the best diving locations in the Philippines by liveaboard, including Dauin, Balicasag, Pescador and Malapascua.
Island Hopping Dive Safari
A stress-free diving adventure exploring stunning islands in the Visayas. An excellent choice for viewing macro life and pelagics.
Magic Dive Experience
Experience the magic of the Philippines! This trip combines two dedicated dive resorts in the Visayas – expect superb reefs, turtles, and exceptional macro life.
Dive Into Luxury
A luxury island-hopping itinerary, spending five nights in two of the Visaya region’s finest dive resorts – Atmosphere Resort & Spa and Amun Ini.
If you are interested in any of these trips, please get in touch with the friendly team of travel consultants and diving experts at Dive Worldwide or call 01962 302 087. You can also subscribe to Dive Worldwide’s regular enewsletter.
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