Great Wrecks of
The cold dark waters of the Firth of Clyde are a graveyard of shipwrecks. Those of the steamship Wallachia and the MV Akka are among the greatest in Scottish waters.
"Wrecks, wrecks and more wrecks, plus some pretty ones too"
The Clyde used to be one of the busiest shipping areas in the world importing and exporting goods to and from the five corners of the world. Much of Glasgow's prosperity was founded on tobacco imported from the New World. Nowadays the Clyde is not really navigable as far as Glasgow itself due to the lack of dredging in the upper reaches. There aren't the ships to go there now anyway as trade has reduced to a fraction of the heyday. But the legacy of Glasgow as a major port has been left to divers; some of the best shipwrecks in diveable waters around Britain.
There are quite a few books about the Clyde but the standard works for divers are Gordon Ridley's Dive West Scotland, which has a section on the Clyde, and Peter Moir and Ian Crawford's Clyde Shipwrecks. The former book gives a greater view of all diving in the area whereas the latter gives in depth coverage of the wrecks themselves with excellent diving information. Additional information can be found in past editions of Scottish Diver, the SSAC magazine.
Deep, dark wrecks are the Clyde's hallmark. As you descend it gets very dark, almost black by 25 metres. Many of the good wrecks are in the 30 to 40 metre range but feel a lot deeper in the gloom. Visibility varies in different areas, at different times of the tide and according to prior rainfall - the Clyde is the third largest river in Scotland and carries out a lot of fresh water. You need a big torch, experience and a good buddy. There is usually a good layer of silt on the wrecks so take care. I personally do not like entering wrecks and these ones give zero viz. very easily. Many of them are also getting very old and decrepit and liable to collapse so extreme care is needed. But they are adventurous and exciting. The area is also well worth seeing for its marine life with some superb plumose anemones on many of the wrecks and lots of other life.
Being one of the closest sections of well-known Scottish diving to England, many divers visit this area from down south. This coupled with the number of Scottish divers heading there has created quite a large dive market. Various commercial organisations are working the area to supply divers with their requirements. Coupled with the fact that this area is a traditional Glaswegian holiday area means there are all the requirements for a good dive trip on-hand. Largs and the Cumbraes are probably the most popular area but Inverkip and Dunoon also have good facilities. If you go to any of the places mentioned please tell them you read about them here. And let me know how you get on.
Largs is one of the diving centres of the Clyde as it is a good launching point, at the lifeboat slip 300 metres North of the ferry, and the place you catch the ferry to Cumbrae. You can dive from the beach but it isn't very deep or especially interesting however it is OK for drills and getting wet inside your drysuit.
Air is available at Largs Marina about a mile South of Largs itself from C & C Marine Services (01475 687180) who have the dive shop there. They also carry a good range of dive gear. You can also eat at Largs Marina where the catering is by Nardini's. But it is very expensive and not particularly good in my opinion. The beer wasn't excessive though. So take your own flask and sandwiches. Food is better priced at Inverkip Marina further up the Clyde.
Inverkip is another marina on the Clyde about 10 miles North of Largs. It is conveniently located for diving The Akka off Dunoon and the Greenock on the East Side of the channel. Air is available from Kip Watersports (01475 521281) they also have a dive shop there. Food is available.
Little Cumbrae is a private island and the owner does not like anyone landing there. It is the southernmost of the two Cumbraes and a lot of ships seem to have run into it. I assume when coming into port. There are quite a few wrecks on the western side worth a look but nothing that would set your pulse racing. It drops off on this side to over 100 metres. On the East Side is Trail Island. This drops in steps to at least 35 metres where, as with all the Clyde, it starts to get rather dark. There is usually quite a lot of life on the rock faces. There are often seals there, which are friendly and have been known to come close to those diving there. There is also often a small current, which makes far a pleasant drift dive.
Great Cumbrae is served by a car ferry from Largs. The telephone number of the ferry office at Largs is 01475 674134.
Great Cumbrae is the home of the National Watersports Centre. Here the centre itself runs watersports courses (not diving) and it is also used by both the BSAC and SSAC to run diver/instructor training courses. There are log cabins available for hire, which sleep 12 each and have a living room/kitchen. Meals can be arranged if required. In addition there are central facilities for changing, eating and lecturing. Air is available and the centre boats can be hired. This is an easy place to run a weekend diving or training from.
Millport is the main and only town on the island. It is a traditional seaside town on the Clyde with a faded Victorian fascination. There are plenty of pubs including the Royal George at the pier. There is an excellent Chinese restaurant in the main street. There is no licence so take your own drink. Pints are often carried through from the pub next door. On the beach in front here is the famous Millport crocodile. I wonder if the Salvation Army still plays there on Sundays in summer?
Millport is also home to the Marine Lab, which has an excellent set of aquariums. Much of the work there involves diving so they are a commercial/scientific diving unit. They are also a BSAC branch and have a private compressor and decompression chamber. Courses are run here for universities and they also sometimes organise or host marine life courses for clubs and the public.
The Catalina (ex) Flying Boat
The Catalina is probably the most dived wreck on the Clyde. This is almost certainly due to its relatively shallow depth, 22 metres, and ease of access. It is close to the ferry slip and easy to find and dive from the shore. Unfortunately more and more people are trying to dive it from boats and it is suffering badly from sinking shots and over-diving. The wings have now all collapsed and the fuselage is going the same way. Its history is now more interesting than the dive. At anchor one night someone left the door open. A chop got up filling the plane with water and down it went. Hughie Green, the TV quizmaster for those who can remember that far back, was stationed here as a Catalina pilot. I first dive here in November 1998 and have been back a few times since!!
The Wallachia sank in 1895 on its way out to India. Amongst its cargo was rather a lot of beer. This can still be found in the holds buried in the silt. The holds are full to within 2 feet of the deck so there is a lot of beer in there. The beer is still in the bottles and corked. When you bring it up it starts to "work" again as the yeast appears to be live. So they often blow out the corks! What it drinks like is another matter. There are at least two sizes by the way. I recommend that you do not leave the beer in your car during the day as the heat helps it to ferment and push out the corks. The smell tells you it is still beer but is a warning against drinking it! I dived the Wallachia on the 14th March 1999 and the visibility was about 4 metres. We were able to get a good idea of the wreck and also able to bring up a few bottles of beer.
The Beagle lies to the West of Great Cumbrae at the northern end. This was the first of the Clyde wrecks that I dived from the club boat and found it exciting. It lies at around 35 metres and although still shaped like a ship most of the decking and superstructure have gone. According to one of the boats that take fishermen out there is another wreck nearby. Anyone got any information?
The Akka is just off Dunoon and is a very pretty wreck. I saw at least seven different kinds of anemones and found two very large (3 to 5 inches) nudibranches. The wreck was covered in life and made for a very pleasant dive. Though I've dived the Clyde quite often this is the first time I've dived the Akka and I will go back. Visibility then about 3 metres.
I dived the Greenock, for the first time, on the 14th March 1999. It lies on the East side of the Clyde just North of Inverkip. It is a bucket dredger and it is still possible to get an idea of how it looked. The size is just right to allow you to swim the whole length and back in a dive so you can get a good idea of what a shipwreck looks like and can identify the parts of the wreck. Though it is roughly the same distance up the Clyde as the Akka it has a lot less life on it. I assume this is due to the difference in currents. Visibility about 3-5 metres.