2004 marked my third year in Shetland and a number of mistakes have now been corrected and the routine honed so things are a little more efficient.
- Getting to Shetland
Up till this year, I ran trips starting and ending in Stromness. The journey time Stromness to Lerwick is around 16hrs, an onerous steam especially when trying to schedule diving and an often narrow weather window for the passage.
Meeting groups there made a big improvement, avoiding the long steam and maximising the time actually spent in Shetland waters. The Northlink ferry runs overnight from Aberdeen to Lerwick, arriving first thing on the Saturday morning so co-ordinating with divers is not a problem. Air links with Shetland are good too, if a little pricey. It was easy enough for the divers to travel overland from Lerwick to Scalloway if the boat was on the west side.
In future, I will aim to do all changeovers in Shetland. This will mean block booking a group of provisional dates in the diary over a number of consecutive weeks Unfortunatly this narrows the choice of weeks available but means that I do not have to return to Orkney. Also, these weeks are popular so that early booking is a necessity. I am not in Shetland in 2005 but am planning time for 2006 at the moment (12/04). If you are interested, please get in touch as soon as possible.
- East vs West
The greatest concentration of wrecks lie in the approaches to Lerwick harbour so divers wanting predominantly rust should aim for a week in Lerwick. However Lerwick is exposed in the quarter east through to south with even relatively mild conditions from this direction potentially preventing diving.
The west side is predominantly scenic but sheltered from the east. (I do not use scenic dives as a poor excuse to throw you in the water: the flora and fauna is superb but I do accept that it is not everybody's cup of tea) There are wrecks but they tend to be more broken. Atlantic swells can persist on this side also limiting diving.
I usually set an rough itinerary depending on the preference of the group and then make changes according to the weather at the time. Flexibility is the key: I cannot guarantee an itinerary the same way I can in the Flow and this understanding should be in place from the outset.
That said, the unplanned dives often turned out to be the best.
Half the time I have no idea of where we are going or what we are doing!
I have a good selection of known wrecks and dive sites that I can and do offer but with Shetland the size that it is and so little known, I have found that intelligent interpretation of a chart and the spirit of adventure turns up much more rewarding diving. In 2004 I set off to dive the Highcliffe three days in a row but never got to her as something more interesting turned up enroute.
I try to leave the wish list as a decision that largely rests with the group.
Many of the dives in 2004 were done off the inflatable, short runs from the Halton to the dive site and back. It is easy to get the Zodiac into a cut or cave, unthinkable for the Halton that draws 3m, saving time spent swimming or opening up areas that would otherwise be unobtainable. The safety aspect also comes into play as I can provide surface cover much better (even in a cave).
Again I accept that working off a zodiac is not everybody's cup of tea (kitting up is a pain) but the benefits often outweigh the hassle.
- Liveaboard vs dayboat
I do not offer day boat charters in Shetland. Many times the boat was anchored up in a voe overnight to save a long steam: piers and harbours can be well interspersed so to return to the same place every night would limit diving. Likewise, although I do try to get ashore somewhere each night, there are times when it is a necessity to cook on the boat. Liveaboard places the least limitations on the diving itinerary.
The boat is kitted out to cater for 12 divers. However it is better to limit the group to 10 for Shetland trips. The extra space and reduced workload pays dividends leading to a better week.
Divers need to be reasonably experienced, preferably Sports or above, and carry an SMB at all times. Shetland is not novice territory.
In summary: the diving is superb in Shetland waters but, as there is so much unknown territory, it is hard to work a schedule or itinerary. The weather is the main factor deciding sites, but if divers are happy to go with the flow, then a lot of ground can be discovered. I do not try to dictate the diving that you can or can't do and try to meet what is requested as much as possible but at the end of the day, I hold the veto and will not put you in the water if conditions are dangerous. It can be a complicated consultation process, but a compromise can always be reached to get the best possible diving from and set of factors! These points may seem overly harsh but I think that it is better to make them at this stage rather than in Shetland when you are a long way from home.
Coming into Lerwick
Links and more info
Most of the photos on these pages were taken by Ian Potten who can be found at www.ianpotten.btinternet.co.uk/. The others were taken by divers on the boat, or my crew Angus and Mary. I would like to extend my thanks to them for their use and also reiterate that copyright remains with the photographer so that any further reproduction would require their express permission.
I have used Bob Baird's book "Shipwrecks of the North of Scotland" (ISBN 1841582336) as my main source of reference to document the wrecks. Published recently this is about the best reference for Shetland wrecks that offers a clear and easily read account of most of the diveable wrecks. Well worth the £25.00 price tag.
Harder to find but interesting none the less, is the small pamphlet written by the Shetland Sub Aqua Club in 1989. I am not sure quite where you could source a copy, apart from a bit of legwork on the net or direct from Shetland SAC.
For a more comprehensive list of wrecks (and at 60 odd quid, expensive) try "Shipwreck Index of the Scottish Isle, Scotland, Vol 4" by Richard and Bridget Larn ISBN 1900839016. More of a trainspotter's guide though a good starting point for research.
The Halton in Lerwick Harbour.
Info on the wrecks in Shetland is generally sparse on the internet but the following links show some of the potential:
Bob Anderson: firstname.lastname@example.org Tel:(01856) 851532
3 Ness Road, Stromness, Orkney. KW16 3DL