Friday, September 10, 2010

The Lady Davinia

Do you remember the little wooden pleasure boat which used to be painted in a garish red Kit-Kat colour scheme? That was the Lady Davinia.
It’s hard to believe that the little ship had three lives. It’s first was as HMS Greetham in the Royal Navy as a mine sweeper. She was commissioned in 1955 as one of 93 ships in the Ham class. Each vessel was named after a British village with the ‘Ham’suffix.  She was built out of wood and non ferrous materials, so as you can imagine, she is quite an interesting wreck.
She is 32.5 metres long with a beam of 6.4 metres. The crew complement was 15, but rose to 22 in wartime. She was powered by two Paxman diesels, rated at 550bhp and generating a top speed of 14 knots. You can still see the engines, but more on that later.  
HMS Greetham was loaned to the Libyan Navy in 1963 as part of the country’s first Navy. She was transferred permanently in 1966 and was renamed the Zuara. Information is limited, but she seemed to be used for coastal patrols. She was decommissioned in 1973 and after languishing in dock, she was acquired by a Maltese tour operator. She was renamed the Lady Davinia and was perhaps best known for the red Kit-Kat scheme.  From 2007 onwards, she was laid up at Sliema Creek, then one day, after a few days of storms, she simply sank at her moorings. No one knows for certain when it was, someone just realized that she was missing.
The dive itself is easy enough, she can be found at 17 metres on a sandy bottom. But viz is pretty bad and it can get a bit disorientating.
My buddy and I plumped for entry just below the Fortina Hotel, where the steps down to the sea are and there is a ladder which you can use to exit. It did not take us long to find her. You simply swim straight out and there is a large metal chain on the bottom which was her old mooring. As soon as you find it, you just follow it to the wreck.
If you hit the Davinia nose on, she sort of jumps out at you. The water has a greenish turquoise tinge and its one of those “Is it? Isn’t it?” moments. All of a sudden, her outline becomes clear and out of the murk, you spot her. With her having sank at her moorings with all sorts of ropes and chains around her, she has a dense covering of vegetation, but you can clearly see some of the old colours underneath.
The Lady Dav is a very odd wreck. The first thing you need to realize is that she is not a purpose sunk wreck. If you are not careful, there are plenty of pitfalls – closed hatches, jagged screws, rotting wood… Your really do need to watch what you were doing. The wheelhouse, which has blue exits either side, is a time capsule and it literally seems frozen in time and space. You could almost sit down and sail her off.
Once you tour the wheel house, you can have a look in the small galley and have a fiddle with the knobs on the cooker. From there, it’s a trip down to the poop deck and you can descend through a hatch to the engine room. It is tight, so be careful. You must also be careful in which hatch you enter. One is through a flu, the other is a proper hatch. I’m a very slim guy, but I could barely squeeze in the flu and decided against it after getting half way in. We did, however, enter the other hatch and have a look at the engine room, which is immaculately preserved. Being made of wood and plastics, the Lady Dav is a in pretty bad way. I doubt if she could ever be raised and resunk as a diving attraction as she would probably break up. Do be very, very careful. In hindsight, we should have realized. My buddy and I were heading back, but we seemed to be making no headway whatsoever. We were stuck at 12-metres and we were drifting into each other. We swam for a good 15 minutes and realized that we must have got caught in a current. We decided that the best bet would be to surface and see where we had ended up. We purged some air and slowly rose to the surface. We were a good 400 metres off the side of wreck site and a little further out than we should have been. That’s a current for you. We decided to make our way in at the surface. All in all, a great eventful dive. Have a look for the kiddies’ chair on the sea bed just before the great chain I mentioned – great photo op J

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