Shore Diving at the Churchill Barrier Blockships
Diving at the Churchill Barriers is for everyone and the Blockship wrecks provide the best shore diving sites (as far as wrecks are concerned) in Orkney.
Guided dives on the wrecks at this fantastic site are for anyone PADI Open Water or equivalent, with or without previous dry suit experience.
The wrecks lie in a maximum depth of 12 metres wreck making it an ideal place to run the PADI Dry Suit Specialty course for those keen to dive in Scapa Flow.
It is also here that we run our ever popular ‘try a dive’ half day course. The shallow waters here make it a perfect site for beginners.
Of the four barriers, the best and most accessible wreck dives are at the second and the third Barriers.
On the second barrier, nine wrecks remain. Of these, the Lycia, Ilsenstein and Cape Ortegal are the most enjoyable dives. All 3 are Single Screw Steel Steamers sunk in 1940 in order to replace or reinforce the original Blockships sunk in WWI. At the third barrier, the three wrecks, the Empire Seaman, Martis and Gartshore are all Single Screw Steel Steamers. The Empire Seaman is possibly the most enjoyable to dive of all the barrier Blockships. She remains relatively intact and as such provides numerous swim throughs and points of interest. The Martis is in similar condition to the Empire Seaman supporting a vast range of sea life. The Gartshore is a Blockship from WWI, she is very broken up yet the propeller, rudder and prop shaft can still be distinguished.
All the wrecks provide homes and shelter for copious numbers of animals and plants. Fish such as Saith, Pollack, Wrasse, Cod and Ling are in abundance as are numerous other species including crabs, anemones, starfish and sea urchins frequently sighted.
The History of Churchill Barrier Wrecks
The Blockships were sunk during WWI & WWII to close channels created between the four south Islands.
If left open, access to the Grand British Fleet anchored in Scapa Flow would be effortless. At the time it was thought the Blockships would give sufficient protection to the British Fleet. Yet on October 14th 1939 they were proved inadequate.
On this fateful night, a German U boat managed to squeeze between the Blockships sunk in Kirk Sound. The result was the tragic loss of over 800 lives when the Royal Oak was torpedoed.
In response to this tragedy, Sir Winston Churchill commissioned the building of the Churchill Barriers to completely block the channels. Italian Prisoners of War, who were held captive in Orkney, were used to help build the barriers. It took 4-5 years to complete the building of the barriers, by which time the war was over.
After the Second World War a number of the Blockships were heavily salvaged or removed, yet the majority remain on the seabed in some form or another. Unwittingly, Churchill had given us a series of ideal wreck diving sites within easy swimming distance from the shore! Further to this the Barriers have prevented fast tidal currents that previously raced between the islands and give the dive sites excellent protection from the weather.