This was to be my first wreck dive. As it turned out the first dive on the boat for the day would only have 1 very brief interior section, in order to allow those of us who had not done a wreck dive before (most of the boat) to get a feel for diving in a confined space. Then on our second dive we could be split into two groups the people who wanted to explore the interior proper and those who preferred to stay outside.
The dive began with a briefing designed to scare the crap out of you! Our dive guide made very sure we were aware of the fact the Thistlegorm has claimed the lives of more divers since she sank then she has crew. The area can have some very strong currents and can have poor visibility, and we were to do a five minute safety stop.
Having put the wind up us new boys the dive quickly revealed itself to be almost as good as you could expect, we had truly excellent visibility (20m) and a light current.
We began with a decent down the line, and after a quick check to see we were all accounted for and all calm and OK, we began a circuit of the ship. Our line was tied off at the prow and we began by passing across the deck before going over the side and gliding along the port side of the hull. About two thirds of the way down the terrible damage caused when she was hit could be seen in the form of a massive hole that had almost ripped the ship in two.
It is a testament to the quality of Tyneside ship building that she held together after such a fatal wound.
The ship was so solidly colonised by corals and so forth that it was often hard to see any steel (or rust!) for the vegetation and the vast range of fish life that was living in and around it. I had not expected the life to be as rich as this and it was a pleasant surprise.
The lowest level of the dive was as we rounded the stern and came face to face with the huge screws of the back of the boat That sight put this massive ship into perspective. Moving on we headed forward on the starboard side and up on to deck. This was beginning to feel a little odd. Swimming around the outside of a boat seemed just fine, but swimming along an exterior crew corridor encrusted with soft corals (and at least one small brown Moray) was very strange and made you realise that you were visiting a real lost ship.
The final part of the on-boat dive was our brief introduction to wreck penetration. We entered into the captain’s quarters where there is not much left now but the Captain’s bath.
This first dive was beautiful, far more vivid and alive than I had expected a wreck to be. It was a joy to dive and awesome in its size. Sitting as it was on a sandy sea floor, it was an absolute oasis for sea life of all sorts. It wasn't until I did my second dive, in the true interior that the human tragedy of the sinking really hit home.