Book review: Dive Scapa Flow

Centenary edition of definitive guide to diving the legendary High Seas Fleet

Author: Pat
22nd October 2017
 

Dive Scapa Flow front cover of book

Global explorer and extreme technical diver Rod Macdonald has written a series of books recently on diving far-flung locations like Palau and Truk Lagoon, but in 2017 refocused on closer to home – his native Scotland.

Rod’s definitive guidebook ‘Dive Scapa Flow’ has been thoroughly revised and reimagined for a new generation of divers, some of whom were not even born when he originally started compiling it in 1988.

The trademark illustrations remain, supplemented by sonar pictures and some fabulous new photographs

At the time of the scuttling of the German High Seas Fleet in 1919 at the British anchorage in Scapa Flow, these were the most cutting edge war machines yet built and almost 100 years on, it’s testament to their heavy engineering that much survives. A huge salvage operation removed many of the wrecks or parts of them, leaving a select pool for divers to visit today. Even so, this unique underwater museum continues to attract divers from around the world.

Rod has many admirable attributes, including a reputation as a diligent historian. Dive Scapa Flow is one of his earlier texts and the new edition benefits from his additional years of writing practice. As with his Palau and Truk books, there’s plenty here for fans of military history to get excited over, as he sets the scene nicely for the armistice scuttling on 21 June 1919.

Sonar scan of the Markgraf

Although the history and story behind them hasn’t changed, the wrecks themselves are in a constant state of deterioration, and the revised book brings the wreck diver up to speed on what to expect when they hit bottom. Technology has played a part, and Rod has sensibly bolstered the book with multibeam sonar renderings of the wrecks in their surrounding debris fields. The trademark illustrations by Rob Ward remain, supplemented by the sonar pictures and some fabulous new photographs. While technical diving has quietly come of age in the 35 years Rod has been diving the ‘Flow, underwater photography has undergone an explosive revolution of its own. Scuba lovers are as keen as ever to tick Scapa off on the ‘bucket list’, and they’re taking pictures to prove it. The images in this latest book are of much higher quality and really help open up the wreck (my dog-eared existing copy has older photography that looks far more foreboding, possibly caused by the less powerful underwater lighting of the day.)

Documentarians will want this book as a historical narrative, but divers can treat it as a straightforward guide book: each wreck is tackled from the presumption that the reader is planning a visit, with advice in some cases on where to kit up, tidal hazards, skills required and what to expect when they hit the bottom of the shot.

A dive in Scapa Flow

There are a couple of bonus entries: there’s an additional section on the war grave wrecks of Scapa, which you and I won’t be diving but make for fascinating reading nonetheless. And better yet is the section born of Rod’s recent visit to the wreck of HMS Hampshire. This infamous battleship was carrying WW1’s chief moustache-bearer Lord Kitchener when it sank in 1916, and Rod is one of the lucky few granted special permission to dive the site for the hundredth anniversary of the sinking. His knowledge, findings and eyewitness account from the deep, remote location off Orkney make up a fascinating last chapter of the book.

Put together, all of these elements make the centenary  edition a must-read for anyone thinking of diving the wrecks of Scapa Flow. Is the 2017 edition his final? Something tells me this won’t be the last time Rod dives here.

Dive Scapa Flow by Rod Macdonald is published by Whittles Publishing , RRP £30. ISBN 978-1-84995-290-3

Dive Scapa Flow book cover

 
 
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