Diving the HMS M2

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The Maldives were lovely, but there were no wrecks. It was time to do some real diving… The M2 is WW2 submarine with the unique feature of a hangar and her own sea plane, a kind of submersible aircraft carrier. She was one of three M-class submarines built for the Royal Navy and after the accidental sinking of her sister, the M1 she was pulled from service and retrofitted with the hangar. Sadly the M2 also sunk shortly after in 1932 after what is believed to have been a failed launch exercise off Chesil beach in Dorset. The wreck lies in around 32 meters of water and sits perfectly upright making it very easy to make out key components of the boat.

We launched around 9am on Saturday morning in pouring rain, of the many dive boats in Portland Harbour we were the only dive boat going out - which was a little alarming. The journey out wasn’t too bad, there was some swell as we travelled down the eastern part of Portland Bill. The sea picked up considerably once we were unprotected from the south-westerly winds and everyone including me got a little bit sick!

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This was a big dive for me, since passing my PADI Tec45 I have bought my own twinset, regulators and wing, a significant equipment investment. It had taken quite a lot of logistics to make sure that I had everything for this particular dive, but thankfully everything arrived in time. I was a little apprehensive since I had not dived this particular rig before, but confident that everything was working as it should.

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Once we were above the wreck the skipper threw the shot and a short while later we were getting kitted up. I buddied with Art, a technical trained diver who I had dived with before at Vobster Quay in the UK. We were planning for a 30 minute bottom time before heading back up the shot which should take around 20 minutes, giving us a planned 45/50minute run time. Art was to run against his deco plan I was to copy, relying on my computers for if I were to lose Art. Art was running 21% back gas plus a 50% deco mix and I was on 21% back gas for the entire dive.

We dropped down to about 5 meters where I checked my equipment was all in order, Art hung slightly above to confirm. We reached the wreck in just a few minutes after a steady decent, the visibility at the bottom was good, at least 5 meters, which given the weather was surprising. There was some current but this dropped away once we reached the bottom.

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At the bottom of the shot the submarine emerged, the hangar was right on the line. I adjusted my equipment and buoyancy and checked my backup regulator was still working correctly. We headed off towards the bow on the starboard side, the wreck has deteriorated after all these years and there were a number of holes on the side of the hull. On the top of the boat there were the visible catapult tracks for the aircraft, leading out of the hangar and steel chains could be seen through the tracks. At the bow there was a lot of sea life, all cosied inside the wreck, protected from the elements.

We headed round to the port side and swam back towards the stern. A number of crabs were crawling on the side covered in barnacles, experienced in evading fishermen! We reached the hangar and swam around the conning tower. This was my favourite part, the ridges on the circular tower just above the hangar can be made out in the picture, looked identical underwater. The tower still had many of the antenna and steel masts, many of these had remnants of lines tied on by boats or other divers. Rounding the tower we descended slightly again and went inside the hangar, we penetrated maybe 3 or 4 meters before being faced with a huge bank of silt which I didn’t want to go near(!).

Backing out of the hangar we called the dive and agreed to head back up the line. We followed Art’s deco plan well and at 20 meters he switched to his 50% mix. Ascending slowly we worked our way up and at 6 meters Art threw up an SMB. We both continued up and after a slow ascent I was left with only a few minutes at 3 meters. We surfaced just off the shot line to a choppy sea and all other divers on the boat. I had about 108 bar left in my twins with a consumption of 17.3l/min so probably could have extended the dive but was happy to keep it short and safe.

Back on board we all spent the next half hour talking about the dive and what we saw. Brett and Jayne had followed around to the stern and were able to see the two horizontal stabilisers, which would have been an interesting sight - perhaps next time! We powered back to harbour and were relieved to reach calmer waters on the eastern side of the bill. A fantastic dive, my new equipment worked a treat and I don’t think I can recall a more comfortable dive. I was warm, had good natural trim, perfect buoyancy and had enough movement to reach valves and gauges. I was far, far more comfortable at 32 meters than I was sitting on the boat!

Lower Upnor Through the Years

I came across some old photographs of Lower Upnor the other day and wanted to share them online. I'm not too sure when the older pictures were taken or by whom, but perhaps somebody will be able to help. They show an fantastic glimse into how upnor has changed over the last 70 or so years.

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This first picture (above) is the most recent, taken in 2006 by Alan R. Fuller of Albion Place. Not a huge amount has changed between then and the present day. The things I notice are that the pontoon at the bottom of the picture has been removed, the bushes outside the sailing club have recently been removed in order to install a disability ramp and the tree outside of the Waterfront is no longer there. There is a small yacht stored for decorative purposes on the hard area outside of the Pier which has been thre now for some time. It's difficult to be certain but I believe the covered boat on the bottom left, stored in Patman's Wharf is still present, or has been replaced with a similar looking boat.

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This picture I'm unsure on the age but it's certainly after 1955, which was the year Courage Brewery merged with Barclay, Perkins & Co to form Courage and Barclay - this can be seen painted on the side of the Ship pub. The most significant change from this picture is that the houses north east of the Pier and behind the Ship are no longer there, replaced with the present Brissenden Close and Margetts Place in the late 80s.

Patman's yard is a little different, with a mound of what appears to be some kind of aggregate piled up. Some of the present day concrete yard is yet to be built but some of the yard must exist as it has been there a very long time. The photographer is also presumably standing on the (now dismantled and removed) travelling crane.

The cottages between the Waterfront and Ship have changed too, although I don't believe they have been rebuilt completely. Certainly the doors, windows and even chimney stacks have changed. From what I can recall, the inside upstairs of Upnor sailing club is resonably old, with visible beams supporting the roof.

The village green can be seen with a structure of some kind too, which I believe is a shelter. The concrete base for this still exists but not sure why it was removed.

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This is my favourite picture, I think that it is from around the same time as the second. The thing that I love is that you can just about see where our house now sits, to the left of the Ship.

The shelter can be seen more clearly, on the village green and the two barges give upnor a much different look. Surprisingly the dinghy park is still present although the ramp has since been converted into a pontoon.

The number of houses that would have been demolished to make way for Margetts Place and Brissenden Close seems quite mad too, it must have been quite a controversial development at the time.

Train to Turkey - Leg 6 - Zagreb to Belgrade

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With an hour before our train we didn’t have much time to spend in Zagreb and we were very keen to make sure we don’t miss the train. We left the station and headed towards to city in search of supplies for the trip ahead. We failed, but probably went the wrong way or something. The parts of the city we did see were good, a very different Croatia to that in Dubrovnik. Giving up on our quest for food we walked back to the station and managed to find a small convenience store, there were a few other backpackers here too which was a good sign. With limited options we stocked up on beer, bread, cheese and salami.

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After a short wait on a buy platform a train turned up which looked like it could be ours, it was longer than I expected. We were waiting in the wrong part of the platform, all the rear carriages were on their way to somewhere in Austria and only the front two carriages were headed to Belgrade. We figured this out after seeing our two Canadian friends boarding there. Also boarding were a 30-strong female dance troop, much to Owen’s dismay.

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On the train we found ourselves searching for a compartment, both carriages consisted of 6-seater compartments with a sliding door - very old school. We settled into a cabin with a Slovenian guy who had bagged the best seat, facing forwards and by the window. The group of girls were frantically searching for somewhere to sit until about 10 minutes in they decided that they had reserved several of the compartments and kicked people out. Our friends who had sat in an adjacent cabin were among the victims and ended up sitting with us.

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The train set off under electric power with a big red locomotive at the front and before we knew it we were out of the city and heading across Croatia. It was quickly getting pretty warm, and we opened the window to get some air in our small compartment. The bloke who was already here wasn’t too happy and insisted that we only have a small part of the window open. Owen was pretty hot and made a bit of a cake of it, sure it was warm but it wasn’t like we were in the Sahara desert or anything. As the countryside passed us by we saw sunflower fields, corn fields and rapeseed oil plants too. It was field after field after field, the land was flat and the track felt like it was built by the romans, straight as an arrow. Thankfully this meant that the engine got some speed up and there were times where it was recalling making some pace.

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It was a long journey, we managed to enjoy it for the most part, drinking some beers, eating our sandwiches which we constructed on the train and of course smashing out some blogs too. We spent time sharing stories with Tony and Helen who we later learned had taken a similar journey in the 1980s where before they had met had even crossed paths(!). The best story they told was during a camp when a black bear had stuck his snout on their tent, which was a frightening thought!

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The train itself was good, the journey was nothing to complain about and made good headway. The toilet wasn’t ideal but we had some water so were able to wash our hands. Since it was a straightforward drop onto the track there wasn’t much to go wrong, although I wouldn’t have wanted to be a girl! Seats were comfortable and the cabins covered into three beds, the girls in the adjacent cabin had a bit of a party in theirs and were having the time of their lives! The music could be heard when the door was open but otherwise wasn’t a problem.

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At the Serbian boarder we had a ‘Papers please!’ Situation, a Croatian policeman checked passports as we left the train then moved into Serbia where we were boarded once again for another check, this time we were stamped but again a very painless process. We had accumulated late-ness on our way and arrived into Belgrade about 60mins late, which wasn’t really a problem. The last stretch into Belgrade was painful, it was slow and since we knew we were close took an extra long amount of time.

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We pulled into Belgrade Centre Station which still seems to be under construction, mostly by China Railways. This wasn’t the station I was expecting and with no mobile data proved to be a bit of a problem. Luckily there was a city map printed on the wall so we were able to find a route towards the hotel. A Hot and sweaty 4km walk later we found ourselves at the hotel. It was a pleasant sight, we were tired, hot and in need of a shower!

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This was the first decent hotel of the trip, we were staying at the Mercure Excelsior at 70 euros a night wasn’t too bad either. We dragged ourselves out in search of food and walking down the main shopping street found lots of small bistro restaurants. A beer was £1.30 the food was equally cheap and we had no complaints. We had made it to Belgrade.

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Train to Turkey - Leg 5 - Munich to Zagreb

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We were ready for a good sleep after the adventures of Munich and a day travelling across most of Germany. I have to admit, a sleeper train at this point wasn’t terribly appealing, the knowledge that we were going to end up in Croatia and that we did have a bed was fine enough to make me want to jump aboard. We waited on the platform for our train which arrived on to the platform about an hour early. The train was very long and it seemed that the carriages were all heading to different destinations, this was pretty confusing as the train information boards just said Budapest and Rijeka and not Zagreb.

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Climbing aboard we were shown to an available cabin, the whole thing was a little different to the pleasantries of Jean in Penzance. The guard explained to us that we should go to bed, lock the door and that at about 7am we would be woken for the police checkpoint when crossing from Slovenia into Croatia. The passport check was necessary since Croatia is still in the process of joining the Schengen Area. The train was filling up fast with an interesting mix of people, mostly toting backpacks but some asian tourists too, with suitcases. Bedding down the train left relatively on time and I fell asleep without any problem. There was a lot of shunting in the night, I assume where the carriages needed to be moved to different locomotives, it wasn’t the best nights’ sleep but honestly it wasn’t bad either. The bunks were reasonably comfortable and the cabin was bigger than that of the Penzance train.

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I woke about 6:30 and eager to know where we were in the world got up to scout things out. It seemed that everyone was still asleep and the only person I found awake was an elderly lady right at the front next to the toilets, she seemed to have kept her cabin door open throughout the journey and for some strange reason had a cardboard box on a trolly which was full of salad. I was surprised to see that our carriage was now directly behind the locomotive, which wasn’t the case earlier in the night, we were also travelling in a different direction too. The train was Swiss which was different to the one which brought the train into Munich. Eventually the guard saw me and explained that we are 75 minutes delayed and told that I should go back to bed. I said I’m up and in need of coffee which after an hour or so he brought to me. It was awful coffee but it was free, so I can’t really complain.

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The views from the train were fantastic, we were passing through Slovenia along the River Sava, following it’s banks for almost the whole journey. Unfortunately the carriage windows were very dirty so all of the pictures I took are pretty poor, the train was also going at a reasonable pace and my iPhone doesn’t manage that too well! I was joined in my hallway spot with our cabin neighbour, Tony who was also travelling from London to Istanbul with his wife, recreating the orient express route. He was Canadian but spoke fluent Slovenian which for him was pretty handy. We had a chat for a good few hours as our breakfast arrived and we passed through the border.

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At the border the train was stormed by police, a Slovenian and Croatian police men checked each passport and in Tony’s case stamped it as leaving the Schengen zone. We were soon on our way again and as the topography flattened out had arrived into sunny Zagreb. We were late but had an hour before the next train which Tony and his wife were also joining. We packed out bags up had a quick wash and said goodbye to our train guard. Four countries in one night, one of which we didn’t even see! Not bad.

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