The Sahara Challenge

The Sahara Challenge

Andy and Bex were due to join a team from Bailey of Bristol to drive his motorhome  and two off their caravans from the UK to the Sahara desert.

The journey was to take them across Portugal and Spain and through Morocco.

Andy had plans to freediving, SUP, climb and trek in some of the least visited areas on Earth.

However, the trip was due to leave just as the COVID 19 pandemic broke out and had to be postponed. It is hoped the trip will go ahead in 2021.

  • 14.03.2020

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North Gaulton Castle

North Gaulton Castle

Just off the coast of Orkney lies North Gaulton Castle. This huge sea stack balances precariously above a the crashing waves and is incredibly inaccessible. But in 2016 Andy and three other climber managed to stand atop the seasick, something only a handful of people have managed in the past. Previously helicopter had been used to drop people onto it but this time the team rigged a massive Tyrollean Traverse.

Two ropes where anchored to the top of a cliff on one side of a horse-shoe shaped bay. Then the ropes where walked around the cliff edge to be secured on the other side before being pulled tight. This left the ropes running across the mouth of the bay close to the foot of North Gaulton Castle sea-stack.

The team then climbed along the ropes, jumped onto the stack, climbed to the top, abseiled back down, jumped back on the ropes and climbed back up them to the mainland – whilst filming the whole thing along the way.

Andy was there looking at the geology of Orkney to explain how this influenced the Neolithic engineering and culture that grew up and helped explain why Orkney became a centre for innovative building techniques 5,000 years ago as the sea stack is effectively a giant rock core sample.

The film was part of the BBC series Britain’s Ancient Capital – Secrets of Orkney.

  • UK
  • 14.07.2014

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The Old Man of Hoy

The Old Man of Hoy

In a very wet summer of 2014 Andy was asked to cover Sir Chris Bonnington’s attempt to re-climb his famous route on The Old Man of Hoy, one of, if not the, most spectacular, remote and adventurous Trad climbs in Britain. Sir Chris originally made the climb in 1965 and again in 1966 for the BBC’s most audacious live broadcast involving a huge amount of crew, equipment and the British Army.

This time the climb was to mark Sir Chris’ 80th Birthday.  Chris was joined by his friend Leo Houlding, one of  the world’s top climbers with new ascent around the world including the Antarctic.

Chris and Leo invited Andy to be the 3rd member of their partnership. This was a chance to not only meet but climb with two living legends of the climbing world.

The Old Man of Hoy is a seasick of just under 500 feet that towers off the coast of the island of Hoy in the Orkneys. It’s a 5 pitch route, often damp and greasy and covered in Fulmars who hide on small ledges and puke on passing climbers (it’s a defence mechanism).

The weather window was 3 days and after 2 of constant rain and wind the team went for it despite the weather still being wet and windy. With the extra filming required it took most of the day to complete the 2-hour walk in, climb the route and make the 4 abseils down to the bottom.

The Old Man of Hoy was Andy’s favourite climbing route in Britain. It’s remote, rarely trafficked, wild, multi pitch and Trad. It represents the best of British Adventure climb. And to climb it with two greats of the climbing community made it Andy’s all time favourite climb.

The adventure became a two-part special for BBC1’s The One Show.

  • UK
  • 14.07.2014

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Cross Country Kayak

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Cross Country Kayak

In 2016 Andy became the first person to kayak the route that will become the UK’s first Long Distance Canoe Trail.  He paddled from the West coast of England to the East.

His journey took him from Liverpool to the Humber across the centre of England using the Leeds-Liverpool Canal network and the Air and Calder Navigation and finally the Humber Estuary.

The route is over 160 miles long with 118 locks to navigate including the Wigan Staircase. The journey took Andy 5 days of long paddling and including a number of filming stops as the adventure was filmed as a week long special for BBC1’s The One Show.

  • UK
  • 22.07.2016

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The Longest Line

The Longest Line

Most of Andy’s adventures are technical in nature. But sometimes he comes up with a very simple idea. Or in this case a question:

What’s the longest distance one can walk in a straight line in the UK without crossing a road?

It turns out it’s almost 80km. Across the Monadhliath Mountains in Scotland. And it’s not that easy.

You can read the details in the first and last chapters of Andy’s book – Extreme Adventures

  • Scotland
  • 18.05.2010

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Climbing The Needles

Climbing The Needle

The map of Britain’s geology is a great psychedelic, multi-coloured spread of streaks, slashes and blotches, each shade a different species of bedrock. You would assume by now we know what Britain is built on (apart from bacon butties and mugs of tea).  But there is a small collection of circles as yet uncoloured – The Needles.

These white fins of rock sit pierce the sea just off the Isle of Wight and a casual glance would reveal they’re Chalk, but which of the many types of chalk are they?  Although the British Geological Survey could hazard an educated guess, to prove it scientifically a sample was required. Queue the BBC.

I began presenting on a BBC programmed called Coast last summer and was keen to somehow shoehorn some climbing in.  The premise was I’d climb the middle Needle, bagging a new route on the way, retrieve a sample from the top and deliver it to the scientists waiting in the boat below.

Chalk sits within ‘esoteric’ climbing.  For those unfamiliar with the term it means basically you intentionally climb on rock people normally avoid.  It’s loose, fragile, crumbly and no hold or anchor can be trusted – all in all it initially sounds like a fairly unpleasant day out.

Our research could only produce two other routes on the middle Needle, both climbed by Mick Fowler in 1988 and never repeated.  We used one to ascend so Alistair Rickman, the rigger, and my climbing partner Dave Talbot could set up the rope for cameraman Ian Burton (of Asgard fame). Then I’d take a line that wandered between the worst of the blistered, vertical rubble on the  left hand edge of the South face.

Arguably the crux move was getting from the landing craft onto the base of the route.  A well timed Hail-Mary-leap in six foot swell onto slick, greasy ledges was required…I let Dave go first.

I was under instruction from the Producers not to assist in the rigging so that the new route would be my first on Chalk, or anything esoteric.  As I struck out on the lead I felt confident.  The rock, once past the sea-soaked slipperiness, seemed relatively hard and solid.  The problem is the wave-battered lower section has been thoroughly cleaned by the pounding sea and most loose stuff removed.  As I moved up everything became noticeably softer, nuts would slide out with a solid test-pull when the increasingly spongy rock would around them.  It was incredibly loose and carefully selected, solid looking hand holds would constantly crumble away as I gently pulled on them.  The most oft-used phrase of the day become “BELOW” as cascades of chalk, like crumbling cheese, pirouetted into the rolling English Channel.  The higher I climbed the looser it became.

It’s a strange experience climbing on chalk this loose.  You can’t trust any ledge, crack, pinch or crimp no matter how solid they feel.  Every move is tentatively taken and you feel constantly out of kilter and insecure.  It creates a very unsettling, confused feeling, your hands and feet, on huge hold, feedback that this is easy and all is good, but your head, knowing the trustworthiness of the rock tells a wholly different story.  You try not to pull or push on anything too hard, try not to put too much pressure on any hold, distributing your weight and pad gently upwards.  Unlike most other climbs at no time do you feel entirely in control, there is no solid rests or holds that allow some mental relief.  The chalk is also broken every few metres by seams of sharp, shattered flint – not the best medium to be running your ropes over. After pulling and kicking off would-be holds with unerring frequency I reached the final move, which is the, admittedly not technically difficult, crux.  Layback up a flake before mantling to the finish – easy.  Except the flake, about six feet high and wide looked alarmingly like it was stuck to the cliff by nothing more than encrusting salt.  I tried to layback without actually putting any force into it.  If the flake decided to pop off I’d be heading seawards comically holding a large piece of the Needles.  It was highly likely my last piece of gear, like most I’d put in, would not take the impact of a fall this big, especially as I’d be clinging to a six foot dinner plate of chalk.  But the flake stayed put and I scrambled over the edge.  I felt triumphant, a real sense of achievement, something I rarely experience after a climb.  The view, witnessed by so few, was spectacular.  I could see the lighthouse to my right, the top at eye level, the Needles flowing into Skeleton Ridge and the huge stunning white chalk cliffs of the Isle of Wight, all surrounded by a beautiful, sparkling sea.

Esoteric climbing is not a pleasant experience.  You never feel safe.  You are continually on edge and the whole thing is stressful and confusing regardless of how easy the route is.  But this last part is important.  I’m a fairly average climber, I’ll on-sight HVS with maybe the odd E2 on an exceptional day.  I’ve had other parts of my life where I chisel away to improve and achieve greater things and I admire those that dedicate whole seasons to overcoming a single route.  But for me climbing was always the one area I wasn’t trying to excel (potentially a decision made for me by my complete lack talent).  Most of the projects and expeditions I’ve done in the past have been exploratory or adventurous and it’s for these reasons I love climbing.  And that’s what esoterica offers.  You can experience the same rush, break new ground and take yourself to the, albeit very unstable, edge, just like those rock-ninjas without having to climbing at E11.  My route was one of the strangest, most unsettling climbs I’ve ever done but we only gave it MXS, on decent rock it would have scraped a Sever 4b – yet it gave me more satisfaction than a flashed E2.  There are few areas left in the UK as readily accessible with so much unclimbed rock at lower grades than the esoteric cliffs.  If you want to experience bold, pioneering climbing, and you can deal with the head game, the constant danger and the lack of any certainty, esoteric is the way ahead.  It’s a stressful, disturbing and unpredictable way to ascend a disintegrating piece of rock – and the most adventure I’ve had in climbing for years.


Epilogue: In keeping with the theme of Skeleton Ridge and our employer we named the route Brittle Bone Coast MXS.  The scientist confirmed that the Needles are Portsdown Chalk.  Although one of the (relatively) harder types of chalk it’s still eroding away so if you fancy bagging some new routes on the Needles you’ve probably got less than a few hundred years – so best get your skates on.

  • Great Britain
  • 02.10.2011
  • Climbing

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Diving A Blowhole

Ok I’m not going to try and explain where the idea came from but I’m currently working on a new concept for our sport – White Water Diving!

The premise is fairly simple – to go and explore those places or those conditions we would conventionally think of as off-limits – I’m talking waterfalls, deep rapids, whirlpools, active blowholes  – the usual sort of thing.

The inaugural outing was going to be a blowhole.  Believe it or not this wasn’t just an exercise in pointlessness endangerment.  The main aim was to shoot a promo film about wildlife living in extreme places. The intention was to show how these tumultuous places could be safe havens for certain species.  Creatures like crabs and prawns will brave the washing machine effects of an active blowhole as the fish that predate them can’t battle their way inside.  For them it’s one of the safest places on our shores.

The same cannot, however, be said for me.  The blowhole of choice was at Abercastle in Pembroke and on a calm day is a pretty little dive for the novice.  However, the conditions I finally plumped for were 25 foot waves and winds of 65mph.  The blowhole itself is effectively and ‘L’ shaped tunnel with the horizontal shaft submerged and the vertical tube rising out into the fresh air.  The plan was fairly simple; abseil off the side of a cliff to drop into the sea above the underwater entrance, get sucked into the blowhole.  Once at the point where the tunnel turns vertical I’d reach a line dangling down the shaft and climb back up to freedom – simples.

The first problem I encountered was equipment.  There is not a huge market for underwater armour. Fair enough really, it’s all supply and demand.  I started looking at helmets and designed a nifty extended mouthpiece for my second stage that allowed it to reach up and under the face guard of a motorbike helmet.  However, the initial pool trials soon made clear a motorbike helmet, being full of foam, is a tad on the buoyant side.  9kg of buoyancy to be exact.  Needless to say my giant stride turned into a near hanging as I danced the Tyburn Jig on the chinstrap of my helmet.  Adding 9kg of lead to the helmet sorted the buoyancy issue a treat but unfortunately left my head permanently slumped forward to rest on my chest.  Well I say permanently, if I’d tried abseiling in it I’m quite sure as I leaned back over the cliff past 45 degrees my head would’ve whipped back with enough force to send it rolling into the sea.  Something that is only amusing in the very short term.

In the end I decided my cave diving helmet with a cricket face guard to protect the Aga Divator full face mask was the best option.  I wore this mask in order to provide real time narration to the film (it had a built in mic)  but also to supply me with gas should I be knocked unconscious.  Over my wetsuit (bearing in mind it’s February) I wore full Motocross body armour, which, I have to say, makes you look very Dark Knight so was, obviously, the main motivation behind this entire enterprise.  I went with side slung 7s to give me bags of air at the 6 metres I’d be at for this very short dive.  This may seem like a lot of gas but I’d be swimming furiously against the full force of the sea and would likely choose to stay on my supply as I climbed the rope.  I positioned the cylinder so I could use my body to protect the pillar valves and first stage as I was being pummeled in the hole.  The final notable piece of dive kit was my self-inflating SMB, one of the huge things with it’s own air supply.  I knew that if it went wrong it was going to go very wrong and this has enough instant lift to get me to the surface, act as a mini raft should my strength give out and be a beacon if I was swept out to sea.

We (myself, cameramen and various Sherpas) arrived in the Pembrokeshire coast on a wet and windy morning.  With the abseil rope position down the cliff and the ascending rope dropped into the actual exit hole we were ready to go.  The conditions were much more powerful and intimidating than I’d imagined and after a team discussion concerning predictions on what the sub-surface water was doing I concluded that no-one had a clue.  This presented a bit of a psychological burden.  I have done a number of things in the past that may seem, and indeed may have been, very dangerous.  But in the majority of cases I was confident in my assessment of the risks and the mitigations I had put in place.  This time I hadn’t a clue.  I had no idea whether it would turn out to be incredibly easy a barely worth the hassle or supremely difficult and potentially beyond my abilities.  I was, however, confident in my ability to get myself out alive so decided to go for it….with one or two minor amendments.   I decided that it would be easier to deal with the surfacing antics inside the blowhole and the climb out if I took one cylinder and a standard second stage in place of the full face mask.  I understood this left me no redundancy but I decided to compromise this for maneuverability, dexterity and weight.  But this meant the cricket face guard press the regulator hard into my mouth, no bad thing you may think.  However, a face first contact with a rock would thrust the regulator back and was guaranteed to knock a number of my teeth out.  I decided to ditch the face guard.  This turned out to be a smart move as I took a number of hit, leading with my face, but my teeth, and head, remain intact.

I took a quiet moment alone to gather my thought and swung out over the sea before descending the abseil rope and into the churning white cauldron.  As I was thrown back and forth I felt the nerves melt away.  One tends to me anxious before an event but never when you’re in the midst of it, too much to do I suppose.  I unhooked the line and dropped to the seabed slipping my fins on as I descended.

The visibility, as you would imagine, was less then 20cm, just enough for me to spot the rocks before the hit me but not enough to actually avoid them.  In the poor visibility and rollercoaster sea I found it difficult to even locate the hole I’d dropped down on top off.  Eventually finding the entrance I tried to swim in.  The plan was to ride the insurge and cling to the rock as the flow blasted out, carrying on this motion until I was far enough in to surface.  I continued to lose my bearing as I was thrown around and when I was forced to ascend hoping to find the opening of the vertical section I in fact found myself outside the blowhole and out at sea some 50 feet or so form the entrance.  I tried and tried, working hard to fight the waters and whatever forces where thrusting me back out of the entrance.  It was now low tide and a few inches of the horizontal tunnel were exposed.  Exhausted I decided to try and swim on the surface in order to assist navigation.  The problem then became clear.  For some reason, which I still do not fully comprehend, the blowhole was sucking in for only a fraction of the time and strength it was firing out.  Again I tried over and over again to beat my way inside but to no avail.  At one point I jammed myself upright in the entrance and the force of water coming out against my chest was such that I couldn’t inflate my lungs.  My strength had gone and I decided it’d be too difficult to try and ascend the abseil rope.  Deflated and exhausted I started a 30 minute surface swim round to Abercastle bay, hanging on to my inflate smb like a shipwrecked mariner on a passing barrel.

Update – I returned the following year having learned my lesson. This time I abseiled into the blowhole and was shot out to sea – genius.

The full story makes up a chapter of my book ‘Extreme Adventures’ about some of the early adventure projects I did around the UK.

  • Great Britain
  • 01.02.2012
  • Cave? Diving

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Britain by Snorkel

Britain By Snorkel

In the summer of 2011 Andy left behind the mountain of cave, trimix and rebreather diving equipment and struck out around the UK with just a snorkel and a smile. He visited sites from Cape Wrath to Cornwall swimming with sharks, seals and otters, freediving through flooded mines, swimming into shipwrecks, high altitude lakes, low altitude lakes, rivers, rapids, waterfalls, caves, canals, offshore islands, night snorkelling, some classic shore dives and even a bog. He trekked, abseiled, kayaked, tombstones, deep water solo climbed, mountain biked and did an awful lot of driving.

Some sites where easy swim from the shore that anyone could do whilst others involved 2om deep free dives into offshore shipwrecks or diving into boiling rapids or waterfalls. Andy spent most of the summer sleeping in the boot of his car (converted into a mini-campervan) and had an amazing time exploring the underwater landscape of the UK that is within reach of a single breath.

The trip made up many articles in SCUBA Magazine and also became a chapter in my book ‘Extreme Adventures’ about projects in the UK.

  • Great Britain
  • 01.02.2011
  • Snorkelling

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Cave of Skulls

The Cave of Skulls

The depth of a Highland Winter may seem an ill-advised time to embark on exploring the submerged passages of Uamh nan-Claigg ionn, The Cave of Skulls, Scotland’s deepest cave.  But I had a lull in my diary and besides after dragging my kit down five vertical drops and numerous constricted crawls I’d be convincingly ‘out of the wind’.

Cave diving in the Scotland is like most of the UK, specialising in tight, serpentine crawls, long abseils and muddy water (or watery mud)… and the sites are normally a bloody a long way from the car.  There aren’t many fat UK cave divers.

We were filming this little jaunt for the BBC’s Adventure Show.  The plan was for Stu Keasley to film me up top and in the initial section and I’d self-shoot on a small hand-held inside the rest of the system.  I had to carry one of the heaviest rucksacks of my life – twin seven litre cylinder, side-mount harness, climbing harness, 105 metres of rope, torches, reels, abseiling, ascending and anchoring kit and my camera – about 60kg in all.  Fortunately it was only about a mile and a half from the end of the nearest road, unfortunately it was winter, the road was blocked, so it was two and half…uphill.

I’d investigated a few other sites the day before so, after Sherpa-ing my load up through the snow, I was gifted the opportunity to pull on a partially frozen wetsuit whilst simultaneously blaspheming enough to offend most major religions.  Finally kitted up it was time to descend into the underworld.  The entrance is large cavity in the ground, overarched by an eldritch, gnarled tree with beards and bunting of moss and lichen hanging into the icicle-encrusted darkness.  Once I abseiled down and entered the system I could feel the rise in temperature as the warm earth enveloped me. The first awkward bend and low crawl brought the reality of my predicament.  It was impossible to drag or push all my equipment in one go so I’d have to shuttle, re-doing each section four or five times.  The first crawl is followed by two abseils, with one the most awkward take-off I’ve ever encountered.

Up to this point it had been narrow rifts, low crawls and small spaces.  That all changed after the second abseil.  I sidled through a narrow crack and stepped out into an immense cavern; standing on a boulder-strewn ledge half way up it’s walls.  The roof soared above me, tapering to a point, as the ground fell away into a shallow plunge pool.  Anchoring the rope and strapping all my kit on I swung out into the abyss.  I find myself abseiling on a near-weekly basis but never with this much weight on. I treble-checked the anchor points before I took a deep breath and that first small step….

This vertical descent was followed by the House of Cards, so called because slabs of rock, shaped like giant playing cards, have fallen from above and become precariously wedged against one and other at convoluted angles leaving only a low, narrow space beneath.  As I heaved and slithered through the gravel and water I kept reminding myself that the chaotic structure above me had probably stood for centuries and wasn’t likely to move anytime soon…(”are you sure?” said the voice in my head “besides Torbet” he went on “I’m no expert in geology, so neither are you”).

Safely through, and having shuttled all the kit, I came to the last two abseils.  Not the longest but the most fun.  The first was down a short waterfall into a thigh-deep plunge pool and the second has you lowering yourself down through an hourglass effect.  It starts spacious enough before narrowing to a point where you’re forced to turn your head to the side and bounce to get your chest and backside through before flaring out wide again.  Finally you reach the bottom of the cave, but, if you’re a diver, not the end.

To reach the first sump required me to slide through an extremely low crawl.  Unfortunately this had been made considerably tighter by the gravel, silt and debris washed in over the winter.   The height was less than 25 cm and water covered the lower 15…and I am not built to cave.  Too many years rock-climbing and carrying large rucksacks up large hills means I don’t possess the wiry, whippet, racing snake physique of the hardened caver…so I got stuck.  Wriggling my way backwards I began excavating some of the larger rocks and gravel, trying to plough a furrow deep enough for me to squeeze myself through.  With people waiting for me at the surface and overdue on my return time I had to leave, having failed to even reach the dive site. Morale was low.  It was not aided by the thought of having to haul myself, and all that kit, back out of this hole.

On reaching the surface I was exhausted and the effort of bring up all the equipment on my own had done little to improve my mood. I had said I would dive the limits of the deepest cave in Scotland. Failure.

Fast forward to June.  Having driven through the night I find myself kitted up at the entrance once again.  Alone this time with no cameras or filming to slow me down.  I’ve exchanged my twin sevens for twin threes.  I have one day, this will be like an alpinist ascent; fast and light.  Knowing the layout and with only myself to worry about I fly through the cave and am at the passage that stopped me last time.  I dig and try to push through but keep getting stuck. I have to back out, dig more and try again.  Each time the cold water burns my ears as I twist my head from side to side trying to breathe.  Finally I can see the end, I’m sure I’ve done enough and force my way on.  Inches from where the crawl opens out I stop.  One push, a hard push, should see me clear.  I take a deep breath, plunge my face into the icy water and push with my legs, pulling with my arms… I’m stuck.  I push harder – nothing.  The voice was back “what are you going to do now Torbet?”

Then an epiphany struck…the kind that has you slapping yourself on the back for your intellect in solving your current dilemma only to realise a slap in the face would be more appropriate as the solution is so blindingly obvious the problem should never have occurred in the first place…I breathe out, forcing the last of my air away, feeling my chest contract…and slip through.

After lugging the last of my gear, bent over double, along a low tunnel I reach the first sump.  It’s a short, shallow U-bend and the silt washed in left me with only enough clearance to slip though on my belly.  The final stretch is a smooth, wet, low passage that opens into a larger rift just before the terminal sump.  I should have felt enthusiastic and excited at this point; to be honest I was just tired.  I wanted to get in, see how far I could get and start the long haul back to daylight. I forced myself to focus, slipped into the dark waters and immediately felt the space around me constricting.  I pushed less than a few metres in before the passageway narrowed and became impassable, forcing a feet first withdrawal.

I had been the first person to pass sump 1 since Alan Jeffreys first attempt in 1976 and the first to ever dive sump 2…at last – Success.

  • Scotland
  • 01.02.2010
  • Diving, Climbing

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Britannic Expedition

HMHS Britannic 2016

Britannic was a legendary ship.  Bigger, stronger and safer than her more famous sister Titanic.  Experts believe if Britannic had struck the same iceberg that sunk Titanic she would have fulfilled the great claim of ‘unsinkability’ and remained afloat.  Yet she never saw service as a passenger liner.  Her destiny was overtaken by the outbreak of World War One and she was conscripted into service as a hospital ship.  It was on this mission, heading for the sixth time into the Aegean Sea to pick up servicemen injured in the fighting in the Middle Easter Theatre, that an explosion near the bow caused her eventual sinking.


Britannic had struck a mine, laid by a German submarine, which holed her near the bow.  As the water rushed in doors, meant to seal the corridors workmen used to move between water-tight compartments failed to close.  No one is yet sure why this happened.  It may be the signal was never sent from the bridge or was but never made it to the men below.  It may have been the men below, in panic, failed to heed the command or they may well have carried out their duties but the doors where jammed due to buckling in the metal post-explosion.  Until we are granted access to penetrate deep inside the wreck to investigate we’ll never know.  Had these doors closed Britannic would have survived this attack so much improved was she over Titanic.


And she sits there now, in almost pristine condition 120 metres below the surface.  She was re-discovered and first dived by a team led by Jacques Cousteau in 1975 and since then has captivated divers.  I first read about the exploration in 1998 when the first British led project was launched and have continued to watch as other underwater explorers have carried out further expeditions.  Since then it has become one of the most sought after wreck for technical divers to visit in the world and has been on my top-to-dive list for 18 years.


2016 marked the 100th anniversary of the sinking and I was sent out to Greece by the BBC to dive and film the giant ship for a documentary on its story and that of the people who built, sailed, worked and were treated on her.


The waters on the surface over the Britannic where a balmy twenty degrees Celsuis and still a pleasant sixteen on the wreck four hundred feet below us.  Only weeks before we’d been filming near the bottom of a quarry in Wales – 100 metres in a dark six degrees – so this would prove much more comfortable.  And yet the logistical set up was more involved and impressive than any dive project I’ve been part of.  Our ‘liveaboard’ was a Maltese registered, Russian crewed research ship complete with a three-man and a one-man submersible, ROV, hyperbaric chamber and a wet bell.  The ROV had a video links to the boat so the dive supervisor and doctor could watch the dive team from the surface the entire duration of the dive.  But it was the wet bell that should’ve made the biggest difference to us as divers.  I’ve worked with wet bells before when doing deep commercial and military work but this was altogether more impressive.  Big enough to fit two divers in full kit (although it was a good idea to strip all but one bailout bottle off) and allowed your head and shoulders to be in a dry space.   A fantastic way to chat to the surface, grab a drink or, in our case, conduct an interview underwater.  But its main role was safety.  It allowed us to get an unconscious casualty into a space where they could breathe.  The doctor on the ship could then feed the most appropriate gas down to us via the bell’s umbilical.  The bell also acted as the storage area for the 50 litre cylinders, ranging from bottom through all the deco gases we’d need. So if our rebreather failed we had bailout bottles strapped to us.  Then we had the bailouts of the other three divers in our team. Then the bottles on the bell then the bell itself.  Multiple layers of redundancy.


We had just five days to complete the two dives and capture the footage we needed as well as the topside interviews, pieces to camera and general filming that goes into something like this.  The winds around Kea can be unpredictable and loss of diving days due to unfavorable surface conditions has been a constant issue on past Britannic Expeditions. Ours was to be no exception. By day four, apart from the obligatory, and essential, team shake out dive to check kit was still working after the transporting it across Europe or the Atlantic, we still hadn’t got wet.  This necessitated an extension of the trip but an extra day was all we were given.  Day five finally saw us getting a dive in…but not on Britannic.  The winds were still to high and we settled for the wreck of the Burdigala that sits in a more sheltered location.  This wreck still had strong links to the Britannic’s story as it too was sunk by a mine laid by the same German submarine and sits in only sixty metres so was a useful exercise to familiarize ourselves with the operations of the ship, bell, ROV and subs in more benign conditions.


The following day the weather improved and finally Britannic was on. However,  there was a strong current running in the first ten metres and it was touch and go whether the captain would let us dive.  This saline river rushing past the dive deck meant each individual had to enter negatively buoyant with as much air exhausted from drysuit and wing as possible, grab for the shot line and drag ourselves through the current into the calm waters below before we were swept away.  We sat anxiously in full kit, ready to go but waiting for the captain’s decision.  The minutes dragged by as the deployed the ROV to see how fast and how deep the current was.  The ROV was recovered and the dive supervisor turned to us looking grim.  The smiled and gave us the thumbs up  – we were on.


I always love the first part of a dive. The slow freefall into the gloom, surrounded by blue and the anticipation as you dive towards your objection.  Deeper dives are often the best as that period of anticipation is extended and the objective is usually unexplored or something truly sought after.


The first things that came into view was the bell, already in pace for us at eighty-five metres.  As I drifted towards the bell, a seemingly large object after the emptiness of the blue, my perspective changes as a truly immense shadow began to  materilise into the vastness of the great ship.  It was impossible, even in the excellent visibility offered us to see the vessel in its entirety.  From our location it stretched three hundred feet to the bow and another six hundred towards the stern it would be impossible to ever comprehend the scale of Britannic in one glance.

After a moment to take the in the view and the fact I had finally made it to Britannic it was back to work.  We had a job to do and a long list of shots to capture. In the mere thirty five minute bottom time allowed to us we had to locate the wheel house, Captain’s bathroom, medical centre, lifeboat davits, the seat of the explosion and the fireman’s tunnel.  Against the seemingly infinite ship with its incredible level of preservation it was near the seabed that I witness my most memorable sight.  As I looked up from the bottom of Britannic, lying on her starboard side, you can make out the port side thirty metres above you.  This metallic wall looming above me drove home the sheer scale of the ship and how much lies inside unseen for a century. We completed out tasks and tore ourselves from the majestic shipwreck to make the long journey back to the surface…but the adventure was not over yet.


The current had picked up considerably and now penetrated deeper.  Its strength was so great it spun our bell, which we had been forced to lash ourselves to in the increasing flow, tangling the steel wire used to raise it.  We were then obliged to spend almost six hours decompressing as we climbed the this twisted mess of cable in a fierce currents like flags in a storm.


But after a tiring ascent the team made it to the surface safely.  And on that day, the 11th of June, I finally dived the HMHS Britannic.  It was, coincidently, the birthday of two individuals who have dived Britannic – the first is Jacques Cousteau and the second…me.  Bon Anniversaire Jaques and Happy Birthday me.

  • 20.05.2016

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