Minnehaha – Wreckdiving in the Irish Sea
Already in 1998 Tauch- & Reisewelt Mönchengladbach (now BTS Europe) started a challenge for the partizipation at a wreckdive expedition. Goal of this expedition was to dive the already 1917 by a german U-boat torpedoed Wreck of the Minnehaha. The Minnehaha was built by Harland and Wolff in Belfast and belonged to the class which was built just before the Titanic, Britannic and Olympic class was built. The dimensions of that ship were not that gigantic like their successors, but an overall length of 184 m is not that bad at all. Furter details of the goal of the expedition: depth 85m, position of the wreck about 9 nautical miles southwest of Fastnet Rock in the Irish Sea, only dived once before.
For the announcement of the expedition about 800 potential wreckdivers from all over Europe registerd. To the final selection at Mönchengladbach only 50 of them were invited. Criteria how the selection was done were, diving expierience, theoretical knowledge about wreckdiving and mixed gas diving and practical challenges like gas switching and a ride at a pressure chamber to 50m to simulate nitrogen narcosis and write an exam.
After the selection the teab consisted of 7 members, but the teammates should change twice. At the end the team consisted of Guido Floren, Thomas Spiegel, Finn Thode, Hardwig Feuerstein, Rainer Sieberns (all from Germany), Christian Gritsch and me (from Tirol). Further members at the journey to ireland should be Thomas and Horst Dederichs from Tauch- & Reisewelt, Max Hahn as specialist for the decompression, Kurt Amsler as potographer and a TV-team from the Westdeutscher Rundfunk, a journalist from the magazin Fit for Fun and as personal assistant for Guido went Christiane Zielke to Ireland ;-)).
The preparation and set up dives were done in the year before the expedition and lead the team to lake Konstanz, the Walchensee in Bavaria, the Achensee in Tirol and to Croatia to train dives and team prozedures.
Finally in May 1999 we met all together in Mönchengladbach and started the journey to Ireland. With van, tender and about 2,5 tons of equipment we went via Holland, France, ferry to Great Britain and across GB to the ferry to Ireland. The needed gases were already sent in advance by Messer to Ireland.
In Ireland we started to adapt to the irish diving conditions with some set up dives and increased the depth of our dives. Unfortunately the weather conditions were not that good at all and we had to struggle with 3 to 4 meter waves or diving wasn´t possible at all due to the rough sea. Altough the both chartered boats were built for high sea fishing and wouldn´t have any problems with the rough sea, the divers were not built to stand the conditions with about 100 kg of equipment on our back to get into the water and to get out of the water after the dive. Beside that, the risk to loose a diver out of sight die to current and high waves, was to high.
At last, as we wanted to di the first dive at the wreck of the Minnehaha, it happened that the rope of the shotline broke after we unwinded it with the anchor weight. A bad sign. Due to the tide window of about only 20 minutes for the bottom time at the wreck, we couldn´t make another line clear. Later the tidal current would have been too strong for a safe dive. With mixed emotions we went back to the harbour. For the next day, bad weather was approaching, and it was more than doubtful in we could dive. On top of that our time in Ireland was getting short. For the next day, Thomas and Horst decided to do a bounce dive to the wreck, to get at least a successful expedition, if the conditions shouldn´t get better. Despite worst conditions, they reached the upper deck of the wreck.
As if a spell was lifted, the weather changed and the next three days were very nice. During these three dive days the teams Guido and Thomas with Max, Finn and Rainer, Christian and me could make twice 15 minutes and once 20 minutes bottom time at the wreck.
The shotline was sent by Colin, the captain of our boat, in the bow section of the wreck. Also there was the torpedo impact, which caused the sinking of the Minnehaha. Due to that it was very chaotic there and because of the limited visibility it was not easy to orientate and to get an overview. As well some fishers nets were cought at the wreck and we had to be very careful. Christian and me could send at the first dive some soda bottles with our liftbags to the surface. The ascent at the shotline and the deco at the deco rigg went flawlessly. The current began to get strong at the 30 m stops, but as soon as the deco rigg was released from the shotline and went along with the current, the rest of the deco was fine.
At the next day we decided to swim along the wreck to the bridge and to make some videos. Guido did the camera job and got some good scenes. Unfortunately we couldn´t reach the bridge, becouse our bottom time was limited to 15 minutes and 5 minutes for solving any problems. Thsi five minutes were nearly needed as Max cought a net with one of his fins. But luckily enough he could free himself.
The third dive at the wreck should be our last, because we hat to go back home after. Just like ordered the sea was smooth as oil. Dive teams were Guido and Thomas S. and Christian and me at the wreck. Guido and Thomas S. could recover a piece of pipe cover, which gave an impression of the luxury of the ship. I also wanted to bring up a good souvenir of this dive and found an isolating valve which was propably loosend by the detonation of the torpedo. After our bottom time was running short, I signalized Christian to swim back to the shotline. Behind his mask I could clearly see his dissatisfaction, because he hadn´t found a souvenir. Grumbling he was looking for someting worth to bring up to the surface, but he couldn´t find nothing. As we were reeling back to the shotline, we were directly swimming across a porthole, which was on top blast out the hull of the ship by the detonation. Christian lost no time and started immeadetly to make his liftbag clear. Unfortunately the porthole was too big for the net where Christian wanted to put it in and our bottom time of 15 minutes was already over. Christian let the net flow away with the current and hooked the liftbag itself into the frame of the porthole. The liftbag was filled and the frame of the porthole begann to lift. The glass itself rested still at the bottom. By now our bottom time was coming to an end, but I didn´t dare to stop Christian! Not sooner as the 50 liters liftbag was full, the porthole began to ascent. We went immeadetly to the shotline and began our asent after exactly 20 minutes.
The deco itself took nearly no end, becouse we didn´t know if the liftbags came without problems to the surface and if the boatcrew reckognized them and could bring them in the boat without problems.
As we ascended after 2,5 hours of runtime, and the two of us were back on board, were all goods in secure and Colin could confirm us, that the porthole was one of the later built in models by Harland & Wolff. These were originally built for the class of Titanic, Britannic and Olympic. But as the Minnehaha went to the docks after a average, these port holes were built in. So now Christian has an “original Titanic port hole” at home. For collectors this should have a value of about 20.000 GBP, as Colin told us.