Diving the S.S. Thistlegorm

Holding on to the Thistlegorm against the current.

In May 1941, the British Merchant Navy freighter S.S. Thistlegorm left port at Glasgow and headed towards Alexandria, carrying a cargo of motorcycles, trucks, transport trailers, two light tanks, two steam engines, spare parts for airplanes and land vehicles, tires, rubber boots and more.  Sailing back up through the Red Sea, with her anchor cast in the Strait of Gubal and waiting her turn to pass through the Suez Canal, the Thistlegorm was attacked by night by four German bombers who happened to sight the ship by chance.  With her holds near the engine room struck by two bombs, the ship split in two and sank rapidly, but only nine men from her crew lost their lives, as the nearby HMS Carlisle came to the rescue.

The extraordinary wreck, sitting on a flat seabed at a little over 30 meters, was discovered by Jacques Cousteau in March of 1955, lost in 1957 and subsequently re-discovered by amateur divers.  It is remarkably intact and complete with much of its cargo.

Wreck of the Thistlegorm

On the 16th, we travelled south to Sharm el Sheikh so we could visit the Thistlegorm and explore her over two memorable dives: one circumnavigating its perimeter, starting around the stern and heading towards the bow, and one dive into and through her holds and cabins.

The currents during our dive were the strongest I’d ever experienced, and I understand they can also be stronger.  I was grateful for the drift dive training we’d received during the PADI Advanced course (even if, as fate would have it, our training “drift dive” went unexpectedly against the current.)

Holding on against the current on the Thistlegorm

All of my photos from the wreck are now posted on Flickr.  Here is a link to the whole set.

I have sad news: these are the last of my underwater photos from the trip.  The Sealife DC500 camera failed during my second Thistlegorm dive (which is why I don’t have photos of some of the other incredible cargo, including Bren Carrier Mk II tanks sitting intact on the ocean floor).

The camera powered on underwater, but wouldn’t respond to any input, including the power button.  By the time we got back to the boat, where I could power it down by removing the camera from the underwater housing and then removing its battery, the camera itself was very hot.  And subsequently, every photo I took with the camera came out extremely overexposed (as in, almost entirely white).  So something is definitely wrong with the camera, which is particularly disappointing because I was following all the precautions, including rinsing the underwater housing in freshwater after every dive, keeping it out of the direct sun, and inserting dessicant inside the housing to reduce humidity.

The good news, though, is that the camera’s video functionality continued to work after this incident, so it’s time for me to learn how to cut together a video from the clips I took during the rest of our dives!