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Scuba Diving in Scapa Flow, Scotland, UK, Europe
Dive Site: Coln
Location: 58°53.83N; 3°08.45W
Description: 5600 ton light cruiser
Length: 155 metres (510 feet)
Depth: 19 - 36 metres (62 - 118 feet)
Visibility: 20 metres (65 feet)
This remains my favourite dive, and its going to take a lot to beat! The most amazing wreck I've ever dived, the viz was fantastic, but the best bit was the shear volume of straightforward penetration that is possible. The masts remain intact, and the wreck lies just off of the horizontal. There is an immense network of rope, beams and other debris that you can stare up at for ages. There is torpedo storage, guns that must be about 15 foot long, immense cogged wheels that I don't know the use for (possibly gun platforms) and a plaque commemorating a diver who died there in 1999. For some bizarre, reason there is a for sale sign too! There are smaller guns too, but these must still be 8 foot long! You can also make out distinct features such as steps and doorways and the main mast is still intact. The penetration is brilliant due to the ease of access, with the opportunity to get out of the wreckage wherever you are inside. The space deteriorates eventually, but with warning and it is easy to retrace your steps without kicking up any silt. It is possible to work your way back along a higher level. If you end up by the hull rather than the deck by mistake, keep an eye out for the hole used to sink the boat.
The Coln is different to the other light cruisers resting on the Scapa Flow seabed, being one of the most photogenic of these wrecks and seems to be in a unique position to capture an interesting variety of filter feeding marine creatures. The wreck is ideal for macro photographers with many brittlestars, small crustaceans, nudibranchs and sea hares amongst the rolling fields of sea beard (nermetesia).
When dived in June 2008 the shot was in the best place right next to two arching boat davits amidships, port side, at around 17m. These davits curve majestically into the depths below, and are completely adorned in colourful swathes of orange and white plumose anemones. Dive this at the right time with the sun accessing the upper works and it's superb.
Turning right will go to the stern, and left to the bow. Towards the bow, which feels distinctly deeper, the long portside arches slowly and deepening gradually. Below this much of deck structure can be found and some of the main armament forward guns.
Proceeding aft is a different matter as the dive goes over the side passing the curvature of the davit and slightly inwards. The wreck is wholly over on its side, or so it appears, so presents a vertical wall. The main deck contains symmetrical gaping holes where funnels used to be, long gone. The area becomes darker so moving out a little at 26-30m reveals a tangled web of the aft bridge areas and perhaps a rear fire control. It's difficult to tell as this area looks salvaged. Around this area is the stern windlass but ascending around this point the twisted metal seems to have been peeled back and onto the port side hull - it's confusing! Perhaps some armoured box with square cut holes.
This is an ideal wreck for nitrox however with its profile akin to that of the Brummer rather than the Karlsruhe, it's a good time to ascend the port side where just below is a fine example of a 4in gun, the light cruiser's secondary armament. Further, the hull arches and rows of porthole holes are revealed in the decreasing depths. Some current could be encountered at this stage. The area is covered in sea beard and masses of quartz tube squirt colonies with a mix of feather stars and clusters of plumose anemones on any hull works to be found - quite indicative to other Scottish wrecks in similar current-lessened areas. The building of the Churchill Barriers almost certainly altered the current flow and therefore the marine life in the Flow, to imbalance it, with more currents from the north western openings.
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