As the home port of the MS Artur Becker is Greifswald, a town on the Baltic Sea in the far north-east of Germany, several teams competed for the title of longest journey. Points of origin were, among others: Zurich, Attersee (Austria) and Leeds. The winner was Viktor from Bratislava (Slovakia). He was, however, disqualified on the third day, when he told us that he had never heard of the Taucher.net and had only booked the last remaining place which was advertised on the ship's website by chance!
The first divers already arrived on Tuesday, in ordner to either have a look at the fairly famous island of Ruegen or the navy museum in Peenemuende. Thanks to Michael's accurate route description, everyone arrived safely, including Christoph who had come by motorbike and had braved the rain for 800km . He found a rather unusual way of sending his diving gear to Greifswald: he had put everything into a yellow wheelie-bin and sent it as freight to the ship's berth :-)
After the rain on the way up, the weather seemed promising to us landlubbers. Blue sky and the sun shining on the Artur Becker mooring at its berth. Horst, the ship's machinist, welcomed us aboard and gave us a brief tour of the ship. As one of the first to arrive I had the privilege of chosing my bunk. The Artur Becker, originally built as a lugger, has two cabins for twelve guests each. They function not only as rooms to sleep in, but also as lounge and mess room. Having an initial glance round the cabin, we only saw two power outlets - definitely not enough for all our diving lamps, cameras and laptops. A multi plug became an item of our shopping list for the next day.
Together with Klaus, Regine, Michael and his girl friend Sandra, my buddy Jessica and I went to a Greek restaurant for dinner and started exchanging anecdotes - not only about diving, but also about dentistry (Michael being a dentist)!
Next morning we were greeted again by blue sky and sunshine, just the right kind of weather for a trip to the island of Ruegen. But work comes before pleasure, if not for us then for our tec-divers who seemed to be of a slightly masochistic disposition. Their gas order, consisting of nineteen 50l steel tanks with a combined weight of two tons, had to be manually lugged aboard and safely secured, since the weather forecast predicted storms. This was hard to believe, considering the fact I was wearing sunglasses that morning, but then what do I know - I'm just a landlubber!
When everything was safely stowed, the majority of our group decided to go with Michael to visit the navy museum of Peenemuende, whereas Jessica and I decided to drive to the Isle of Ruegen to be ripped off by the locals. Had we known that for the next few days we'd be mostly in the vicinity of Ruegen, we could have saved ourselves quite a few euros!
In the course of the afternoon and early evening the remaining guests arrived, apart from three guys from Cologne who boarded the Artur Becker at midnight.
Our sleep ended shortly before 7 a.m.! We were jolted awake by the captain's voice over the PA, who greeted us with: "Goof mornig passengers, wakey wakey!. Please be informed that a safety drill will be held on deck at 7.30 a.m.. Following that, all dive gear has to be secured for storm travel !" SECURED FOR STORM TRAVEL - where are we, on "Das Boot"? What a cheerful wake-up call! More or less awake
Due to the storm we couldn't actually get to any wrecks on that day, but anchored in the sheltered bay of Kap Arkona, Ruegen. At least we could go diving there, although it proved to be spectacularly unspectacular with a maximum depth of 12m and the sea bed consisting just of mussel-encrusted sand and mussel-encrusted stones. The visibility was quite good, 15m, bit unfortunately there wasn't really much to see. The highlight of the dive was when our team found a huge anchor with a chain attached and we could see where it had dragged
The majority of us had decided to give the night dive a miss and go straight for the decompression beer. Be it tekkie or air aficionado - they all agree on the medical properties of a decompression beer! Once again it was proven that the Taucher.net people are a friendly bunch and although most of us didn't really know each other, it took only a few minutes (and some beer or coke) for us to swap stories and experiences. With Anke and Brian as "representatives" of Britain, one of the main topics was the differences in British and German dive practices. We particularly discussed the question, of why the use of Nitrox is less common in Germany.
Although the weather forecast for this day was, once again, not too optimistic, it was possible for us to go diving at one of the wrecks which had been scheduled for this trip. While we went to get our breakfast (which was both yummy and ample)
When we had reached the location, Michael and a group consisting of members of the Greifswald dive association and the crew dived down to the wreck to secure a marker buoy next to it. Meanwhile we gathered on deck and listened to captain Hanke's briefing. The Førkrat lies upright on its keel in about 45m of water, and the superstructure extends to a depth of about 35m. Following the shot line you reach the bridge, from where you can explore the ship, its cargo holds and superstructure.
Due the depth, the considerable swell and the current that is to be expected,
Finally our team, consisting of Jessica, Christoph and myself, got under way. We quickly descended along the shot line into the deep. Arriving at the Førkrat's bridge we took some time to orientate ourselves. Then we started to explore the ship. We had strong lights, expecting it to be very dark. However, at 40m it was still light enough to get a good overview of the wreck, something we fresh water divers were not really used to. The visibility was quite good, too - about 15m.
After lunch, which not only tasted excellent, but which also replenished strength and warmth, we decided to venture back down to the wreck. Our buddy-team, however got separated during the descent. When Christoph put on his dry-suit gloves, he didn't
When all of the divers had returned on board the Artur Becker, the captain set course for Arkona Bay again, to anchor there again for the night. After dinner most of us met at the bar. That evening Brian and Anke introduced me to the concepts of the "Incident Pit" and "Risk Analysis", both of which are not really known here in Germany. I found especially risk analysis as a means of planning your dive extremely interesting and have since adapted it for our club. Round about midnight we sank into our berths - exhausted from extremely interesting, but strenuous dives.
Bad news during breakfast: the weather had worsened overnight, so the crew
The briefing was held after the Greifswald dive crew had positioned the buoy next to the wreck. It was stressed in the briefing that the remains of the ship are extremely fragile and the necessary care has to be taken when diving the wreck.
As announced, the wreck was far from spectacular. Still, it was an interesting dive (and quite exhausting due to the really strong current) since we had lots of bottom time to explore the wreck from all angles and devote some time to a group of cod hiding beneath the deck. Ours was the last group to ascend, as planned well within the no decompression limit, since none of us were keen on having a prolonged decompression stop in that kind of current - it was strenuous enough to do the safety stop. Back at the surface we had to swim quite a distance back to the Artur Becker, which proved very difficult due to the waves and the strong current. Getting back on board via the big ladder was no mean feat, either!
The weather had worsened again during our dive, so a second dive was out of the question. In fact, Captain Hanke was happy when we were finally back on board and immediately set sail for the sheltered Arkona Bay. Despite the wind and the high waves breaking on deck, the ship didn't roll or pitch too much on the way. We weren't the only ship heading for calmer waters. As the weather forecast had predicted a full-blown storm, quite a few ships were heading towards Ruegen.
When the Artur Becker had anchored the crew started to prepare the highlight of the day: BBQ on deck during gale force 8 to 10!
Woken by a light roll of the ship, I hoped that we'd be on our way to the Jan Heweliusz, a wreck which was planned as the absolute highlight
When we all had finished breakfast, the Artur Becker had reached the wreck's permanent buoy (necessary, as it lies in shallow water in the middle of a sea channel with heavy traffic). We congregated on deck where Michael held the briefing. The Jan Heweliusz, a Polish ferry had sunk during a storm on 14.01.1993. 55 people had been killed when the ship sunk, most of them truck drivers (more information - in German - can be found in an article of the 6th edition of the TN-magazine. The ship lies on its port side at a depth of about 24 - 12 metres and its silhouette could even be seen from the deck. Due to salvage work a part of the hold is accessible from above without the need to penetrate the wreck itself.
After the briefing we got ready and then descended along the line to the stern of the ship. Visibility was fantastic and the wreck exceedingly impressive due to its sheer size. As the Jan Heweliusz lies in really shallow water there is enough no-compression bottom time to inspect the whole length of the wreck. We reached the part where the starboard hull had been opened und it was possible to dive to the sunk lorries. Like everywhere else, mussels had taken possession of the debris.
We therefore decided to postpone lunch, fill our tanks and do our second dive more or less immediately. Our team decided to do a special dive as our last dive: guided by Michael who knows the wreck like the back of his hand, we wanted to dive through the length of the hold.
After planning this dive we set off. We descended to the stern of the ship, dived to the stern hatch and inside the hold. Ahead of us the hold was in darkness, only partially lighted by our lights and the light streaming down through the starboard side hatches. Visibility was outstanding. In the light of our torches everything was clearly visible, the lorries covered in mussels; on the right side (formerly the floor) we noticed rails, at the end of it a buffer. Through the door openings we could catch a glimpse of the rooms lying behind them - a special dive indeed. However, the way out of the wreck was not for those fainthearted: unless we wanted to return and exit through the stern hatch or upwards through one of the starboard hatches, we had to dive down some stairs, then through a hatch,
We dived back to the line in a leisurely fashion and started our ascent. Back on board we stowed away our equipment and then had our lunch, which Udo, the ship's cook, had kept warm for us. Udo's food once again excelled in terms of taste and quantity - without his good cooking the trip would only have been half as enjoyable! While we had lunch, the Artur Becker hoisted anchor and set a course for Greifswald. We were just having dessert, when Captain Hanke's voice sounded over the PA: "Dear guests, it's a happy coincidence that we are crossing the course of the sister ship of the Jan Heweliusz. So if you are interested in what the ship looked like before it sunk,
The rest of the trip was uneventful, on the calm blue sea - the Baltic Sea as it should be. It would have been great if the weather had been like this all the time. But I don't want to complain - we dove at two exceptionally interesting wrecks and the dive at the Saja was interesting as well. The crew (especially ship's cook Udo) did a great job, which together with the support by the members of the Greifswald Diving Association, made for four great days. I therefore want to especially thank them all - after all the weather wasn't their fault. It was definitely a exceptional Taucher.net meeting, well organised by Jan who deserves extra credits for the idea and planning and execution of this meeting.
Back in Greifswald all that was left to do (after Customs had been on board) was to take the customary group pictures, afterwards crew and guests went home - which in some cases meant a really long journey.
So, what did we take home from this trip (apart from brilliant memories)?
For more information about the Artur Becker check this link (German): www.artur-becker.de