An American in Scotland
Diving is a very exciting sport in its own right. But what turns an average dive trip into an adventure? Add a brand new wreck 30 miles offshore into the dive plan and adventure is guaranteed. Earlier this year, I booked my place on Marinequest’s new dive boat Silver Sky, run by father-and-son team Jim and Iain Easingwood. We planned to dive the newly-found American cargo vessel SS Exmouth. I was really up for it and hoped the weather would play its part.
On the day of the trip I arrived in Eyemouth on Scotland’s southeast coast. The weather was fair and calm and the adventure could begin. At over 30 miles out into the North Sea, the Silver Sky would take up to three hours to reach the site. There was plenty of time to ponder the sketches made by the only previous group of divers to reach the site. Iain, who was today’s skipper, further whetted our appetite by telling us what had been discovered so far on the wreck. It was amazing to say the least, and I could not wait to get down that shotline.
The Exmouth was a massive American cargo vessel, 100 metres long and 4,800 tonnes. Much like a Liberty ship, 20mm machine guns were mounted in circular turrets among the superstructure. Larger calibre guns were found at bow and stern. On July 1944, Exmouth was sailing up the Firth of Forth. She was in ballast travelling from Southend to Methyl when she ran into the eastern defensive minefield that protected the Firth of Forth. Why this happened is a mystery and I have not found any further information about the incident. She struck a British mine and sank shortly afterwards. Nobody was killed in the loss of this ship.
Now above the dive site a slow swell was running, but conditions were near-perfect. Entering the water and dropping down the shotline, I noted the vis was around ten metres - the good weather had sparked the plankton bloom. Exmouth lies in 53m of water and there is even a scour to 58m. You don’t need to go that deep though, and I never went past the 50m mark. Soon the dark shadow of this massive wreck appeared in the green water. I noted I was dropping down the hullside, so I finned up and over onto the deck. She lies on her starboard side. Straight away I saw a large circular structure. This was one of the 20mm gun turrets. It was so heavily encrusted in dead man’s fingers it took me a second or two to identify what I was looking at.
I had landed just behind the bridge at a depth around 38m. I dropped down to the deck and finned aft along the shallower side of two large holds. Soon the aft superstructure and the stern castle came into view. My intention was to photograph the big stern gun here. Finning through the stern castle at deck level I spied the alternate steering wheel in pristine condition, protected by its covering of soft corals. I took a few images of this amazing feature and forgot all about the guns which were mounted a deck or two above my head. Taking the starboard companionway back out of the stern castle I passed a fire hose reel before re-emerging into the green ambient light. I finned forward past derrick cranes until once again I arrived at the rear of the bridge. There is so much to see here some of the divers hadn’t bothered moving from the bridge area.
Straight away I noted a tower with its circular turret and 20mm cannons, it was tilting over to the sea floor. I finned forward around the bridge and there on the deck below me was the brass compass binnacle lying on its side. This was certainly a first for me to see an artefact like that. Beside this was a telegraph, although this was made of steel. Further forward a massive porthole lay on the deck. It’s all there for the diver to look at and, hopefully, due to Iain and Jim’s policy of ‘look but don’t touch’ diving, it will all be there for a long time to come for divers to enjoy.
I drifted up the front of the bridge and noted some black-and-white tiles. Looking closely I saw the remains of the shower unit. Further back into the wreckage I saw the white of a toilet bowl and a sink. I presumed this was the captain’s quarters. Awesome! I was more than happy to explore further, but my bottom time of 28 minutes was up and I drifted up back to the shotline. The tide had picked up and plankton was being blasted along in the flow. I clipped on the jon-line starting my 40 minutes or so of decompression. Taking pictures of all the divers stacked above me on the shotline whiled away the time.
A beautiful wreck, completely intact and lying in a depth that is suitable for air diving or a light trimix mix. Protected by 30 miles of the North Sea, you know you will have been fortunate if you get the chance to dive the Exmouth, but you are guaranteed one fantastic adventure.
Back on the Silver Sky I was handed a cup of hot coffee and a slab of Mrs Easingwood’s world-famous carrot cake. I then relaxed on the journey in discussing the wreck with ten other very, very happy divers.