By Mark Lewis

By Mark Lewis

12th August 2021

It was Tom’s initial idea back in 2019 that he wanted to dive the “Highball Bouncing Bombs” that set us on the road to investigate the opportunity. He had read somewhere that in recent years, divers had recovered two bombs and that were on display at the Brooklands Museum in Surrey (home to a collection of Barnes Wallis artifacts) and the de Havilland Aircraft Museum in Hertfordshire (de Havilland Mosquito aircraft carried the Highballs). After a little investigation, Tom found a video on Facebook about a Dunoon based dive centre that had also discovered the location of some of the bombs. Coincidently it was my friends Jason and Claire of Wreckspeditions. The scene was set.
Our original plan was a three night stay in October 2020 as Covid restrictions were being relaxed in both Scotland and England, though with Jason having to isolate at the 11th hour as a diver on a previous trip had tested positive, we rescheduled for April 2021. The problem earlier this year was the borders were still closed between England and Scotland due to Covid and hence it was third time lucky for our August 2021 trip.

Logistics

Jason had explained that we simply needed to reserve accommodation in or around the Dunoon area and that we had to but ferry tickets. Slightly complicated with ever changing Covid rules with maximum family households in self catering accommodation, Tom and I opted for two single rooms in the Argyll Hotel in Dunoon and with our two cancellations, the hotel were more than happy and oblige our date changes. Jason’s tip was that we should book the Gourock/Dunoon crossings in advance online as tickets can be more expensive buying on the day. The good news is that the tickets do not have an expiry date, again making it easy for date changes.

Who Are Wreckspeditions?

I remember it was during a dive weekend in Swanage around 2017 to celebrate Jason’s birthday that Claire and Jason made comment that they were looking to purchase a RHIB and name it the Starfish Enterprise. It must have been later that year that they both moved to Dunoon and setup their Wreckspeditions business, a play on wreck diving and expeditions. Mad about boats and diving, Wreckspeditions is thus a new dive operation to the area focusing on scenic and indeed wreck diving in and around the Firth of Clyde estuary. And right on their doorstep along with the plethora of discovered and undiscovered wreck sites, the Highball Bouncing Bombs of Loch Striven!

Wreckspeditions - First Class RHIB Diving

Starfish Enterprise is a Redbay Stormforce 7.4m RHIB catering for up to 10 persons on board or up to 8 divers. She is fully coded to meet the MCA requirements for category 3 Restricted. She is kitted out with a new rigid dive ladder, tea & coffee facilities, a portable toilet and a seating/dive rack arrangement similar to those on most hard boats, making even the longest of journeys much more comfortable for all onboard.
Wreckspeditions - First Class RHIB Diving
Loving the comfort of hardboat diving, Tom and I were both probably a little reticent about diving from a RHIB but we needn’t have worried. Jason keeps the Starfish Enterprise in a ship-shape and Bristol fashion. There was plenty of room for us six divers on single cylinder, twinset and indeed sidemount.
The kit of each buddy pair is tied to the central rack behind one another. The divers with their kit nearest to the stern dives first with each buddy pair kitting up in turn. There is no rush and this is all very relaxed. When it’s your time to get in the water, Jason places the kit of each diver buddy pair in the “kitting up area” to the stern of the RHIB. An ideal height and everything you need is handed to you as you kit up. Once ready and buddy checks completed, it’s a backward or sideward roll into the water by each diver to each side of the boat.
Kitting Up On The Starfish Enterprize
Water Entry On The Starfish Enterprize
Getting out of the water could not be easier either. A bespoke divers ladder has been fitted to the aft port side, strong enough for you to board the RHIB fully kitted or you can de-rig in the water, climbing the ladder without your BC and cylinder. Jason will take your fins off when you are safely on board. Any stages or cameras can be handed to Jason before exiting the water and as a special mention to sidemount divers, you can don and doff your cylinders in the water. Perfect! And for those diving CCR, plenty of room and plenty of time.

Onto The Diving

Here lay the first of two problems. For some strange and bizarre reason, I had a painful left foot. It wasn’t a sprain, but something that materialised last Wednesday morning. Even though I rested it on Thursday, I think it became more inflamed while driving up on Friday and having explained to Tom my worries about diving, he told me to “man up”. Our first dive that Saturday was the MV Averella [+2005] in Loch Goil.
Jason told us to drive cross country to the Boat Shed Café at Loch Goil, where we would kit up and board the his RHIB at the pontoons at Loch Goil Cruisers. A pretty and scenic drive from Dunoon via Lock Eck and over the woodland single track road to the northern end of Loch Goil.

The MV Averella sunk in Loch Goil on her mooring around 2005. She is in perfect condition with propeller and rudder still in tact. The wheelhouse has small access where you can peer in and see all manner of safety equipment, paperwork etc. A really lovely dive with depths of 20-30m, with lots of amazing life to see and often good visibility.

Lunch was at the Boat Shed Café, Tom and I settling for haggis and caremilised onion toastie and Iron Bru!
Second dive of the day was “Colesys Crack”. Yup, another crack! However, more a wall than a crack with a steep decent to as deep as 40 metres. So this was a picturesque dive at a depth of your choice with an underhang and a plethora of wildlife.
Colesys Crack

Dining Options

I haven’t mentioned to the problems with dining, have I? With the restaurant at the Argyll Hotel being closed the night before and the kitchen at The Crown not open either, we decided to stop at one of the quaint pubs on the way home along Loch Eck. Our first was the Coylet Inn and all booked. The second being the Wistlefield Inn and again, all booked. Resigning ourselves to a sandwich, pork pie or tub of Pot Noodle filled by the kettle back at our room, the eureka moment was to telephone the hotel and enquire about availability. Table for two at 7.00pm, done!
The other four divers on the RHIB that day were staying at the Royal Maine hotel and with their own woes of dining, they joined us for a table of six at the Argyll Hotel for a little banter, biryani and beer.

Sunday's Disappointment

Sunday morning I simply could not walk. My foot was very painful the previous evening, for sure by stressing the injury by diving, driving and walking. Tom and I chatted the night before of a “what if” scenario and I had already given him my car keys. Texting Tom in the morning, I told him that my foot had swollen overnight and it was too painful to walk, let alone dive. I suggested to him that he can dive with the other guys as I settled down to a day in bed while cuddling a packet of Co-codamol.
The second problem was that Tom had a broken zip and having had difficulty opening it after Saturday’s dives, we we both agreed to abort Sunday’s dives. This trip was all about the bouncing bombs and after a cracking Scottish breakfast, Tom went for a touristic drive while I hobbled back to bed for some more research for my delayed Scilly Isles report.
The other four divers went off to dive the MV Akka [+1956] and the SS Wallachia [+1895] but reported the dives to be darker and murkier than yesterday’s Averella.
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For Tom and I it was back to the Argyll Hotel for dinner and an early night in preparation for our long anticipated dive to the Highballs.

The Highball Bouncing Bombs

Less famous that the cylindrical “Upkeep” Bouncing Bombs as used to destroy the German hydro-electric dams and made famous my the Dam Busters film, the Highball Bouncing Bombs were spherical in design and developed as an RAF weapon for use against the Tirpitz, anchored in the Norwegian Fjords. Whilst the Upkeep bombs were deployed by the larger Wellington Bombers, the Highball bombs were deployed by the smaller de Havilland Mosquitos.

Rather continue with writing, here are two YouTube videos, the first an interview recollection from Squadron 618 pilot Des Curtis DFC as told in 2016 and the second, what appears to be a Zoom, WebEx or similar video presentation in February 2021 and hosted on the BrooklandsMembersTV YouTube channel in which Dr Iain Murray from the Barnes Wallis Foundation talks about the bombs and how he raised them in 2017.

As Dr Murray explains in his webinar, the Highballs were never used in anger. The bombs that lay in Loch Stiven are not live, filled with concrete and cork.

Let's Dive The Highball Bouncing Bombs!

Well, it’s what we have come to do right? You have read this far and it’s why I’m still typing!
Jason did send a text the previous evening. Not dissimilar to the instructions for Saturday, we were told to drive to a place called Brackley Point. A popular shore diving site on Finstokes and wild camping area. Access was via a single track road around 25 minutes from Dunoon by car. We were told to be there around 09.00am as two other divers would be joining us from Glasgow that morning, arriving on the 07.50am ferry from Gourock.
While the majority of the UK was suffering from strong winds over the weekend and this Monday morning, albeit the skies were overcast and the chance of rain, we had little wind being in the epicentre of the weather fronts making an ideal dive day.
Scottish Weather

We arrived a little earlier around 08.15am and started to get our kit ready. There was not a lot to do straight off as our cylinders and boat bags were already on the RHIB. After we had tested our deco gas and collected all bits and pieces, there was just enough time to relax and take in what we both agreed had to be the most prettiest dive site in the UK. Recollecting newsreels and videos, trying to imagine the Mosquitoes coming in for their bombing raid practice.

The Most Prettiest Dive Site - Pano
The Most Prettiest Dive Site
Tom and Mark at Loch Striven
Jason Arrived Abourd The Starfish Enterprise
Jason’s dive brief was that we should descend the shot to the large anchor at around 30 metres. It is not know what vessel the anchor is from. He said to spend a few minutes around the anchor to view and bubble check. We would then swim along the chain where one Highball would be located. Continue along to two and then onward to a cluster of three. Jason explained that the depth would increase to around 36 metres. Both Tom and I had a 26% Nitrox mix as we had not dived the previous day. We planned a bottom time of 30 minutes or a TTS (time to surface) of 15 minutes, whatever came the soonest. We would bubble check at the anchor and swim along the chain to find the Highballs. Our objective was to photo and /or video the bombs as a memoir and memento.
Descending the shot, it was a green but light colour of around 4-5 metre visibility. Quite clean, though darkening around 20 metres. At 30 metres at the anchor, it was a dark 2-3m with a very dim ambient light. The bottom was very silty which mandated perfect trim if we wanted to take photos or video.
Settled, we started to swim along the chain. Loads of soft corals, squat lobsters, Queen scallops and crabs. It wasn’t long before we came across something, but it was a rock. Onward and a few minutes later we found our first Highball, exactly how Jason explained. Tom placed a video light in the silt and I lit the bomb with my own torch for some background lighting while he took video. It was at this point that I found my own video light was broken. Onward again and just off to the left was another Highball, again this one seemed all alone. Recalling Jason saying that there were more around the area, the darkness really made it hard to see anything further than a few metres. We stayed around the location of this second Highball to take some more video footage, noting that even touching the bomb, there was a fine layer of silt that did easily stir. We continued again, following the chain but no other Highballs were found.
Highball Bouncing Bomb - Loch Striven 1
Highball Bouncing Bomb - Loch Striven 2
Highball Bouncing Bomb - Loch Striven 3
It was about this time that we noted that we were 31 minutes into the dive and a TTS of 17 minutes. Time to deploy our DSMB and ascend. Upon deployment of my DSMB, Tom spotted that my cannister torch had become unclipped from my D-ring and hanging beneath me. Arguably the wrong time to try to fix, so we made an ascent to 21 metres and settled to switch to 50%. My next stop was 9 metres while Tom was a deeper 18 metres. Up to 18 metres and while I waited for Tom, my 9 metre stop disappeared, giving me a 15 minute stop at 6 metres and Tom a 13 minute stop at the same 6 metres.
Up to 6 metres and once settled, I could re-attach my dangling torch head. It was quite strange as even with some 150 bar in my stage, it seemed quite vertical, having to reach over it to dump gas from my wing.
Counting down the deco, Tom cleared two minutes before me and once I cleared too, it was a slow, 5, 4, 3, 2 and 1 metre ascent to the surface with a cheeky smile on our faces!
Back on board it was a handshake and hug to Jason while we talked about the dive, recollecting our thoughts and memories. I also found that the knot holding the lower bold snap on my deco stage had some off and it was hanging on by a thread, hence the more vertical position. Both Tom and I congratulated and thanked each other for a cracking dive while Jason made the tea and handed around home made flapjacks!

Dive Statistics

  • Dive Date: 9th August 2021
  • Dive Time: 09.43am
  • Cylinders: 2x12L Twinset
  • Dive Duration: 56m:51s
  • Max Depth: 35.00m
  • Ave Depth: 22.45m
  • Temp: 9degC
  • Visibility: 2-3m Dark

Tom's Highball Bouncing Bombs Video

In Conclusion

It conclusion, it was a cracking long weekend away. There were some gremlins such as a dodgy foot, food acquisition, broken drysuit zip, broken video light and deco stage lanyard but all trivial stuff. Jason was an excellent skipper and nothing is too much effort for him. I like the idea that we can drive to the loch dive sites. Dunoon is a nice Victorian town but it was quite quiet. I am not, but I guess that Covid rules are still playing a part.

Would I Dive The Highballs Again?

With only two Highball Bouncing Bombs on display in museums, all others are still under water in Loch Striven. So absolutely! There is so much else to explore as we only found two Highballs. Jason is saying he has a winter project to shot other bombs in the loch and enhance the diver trail. He says the best time to dive will is April as the waters do not get that cold over the winter and April is out of the windy winter and visibility is cleaner. Unless one makes a trip to Glasgow, there is no O2 in the area, so the next time I would four divers collaborate and bring a full twinset of O2. Tom and I have worked out that of a two buddy pairs join together and bring a twinset of 70% O2, that can be decanted over four twinsets and topped up with air to blend a 32% mix for future days.

So watch this space as we could easily see an Easter 2022 trip.