Inside a Sunken Battleship
Orkney’s Haunting Depth
I was 20 feet inside the German World War One shipwreck Markgraf and 120 feet below the water’s surface. I moved slowly — cautiously — methodically — to ensure the fine silt covering all exposed surfaces was left undisturbed.
I breathed in steady, measured, soothingly-rhythmic intervals, something that I had learned to control instinctively over the course of many years and numerous wreck dives. I expelled my air forcefully through my mouthpiece and my regulator’s exhalation ports; as it left the confines of the mechanical device that allowed my deep forays into shipwrecks, it formed silvery, expanding bubbles that disintegrated into hundreds of small spheres upon contact with the aging steel above me.
The bubbles dislodged rust coating the steel causing red and orange flakes to descend in slow-motion, in an underwater version of snowfall.
When the rust hit the bottom of the shipwreck’s compartment, or any of the machinery in the way, swirls of brown and black silt puffed upward, as if the wreck were blowing smoke rings. As I went deeper into the wreck, my exhaled air and the ensuing falling rust created a dark-colored fog behind me, in the direction I would have to swim to exit this steel hulk.
My focus now was not on what lay behind me, but on what I could see in front.
My light beam partially illuminated the darkness on the other side of a narrow doorway. Light juxtaposed with shadowy shapes to intrigue and beckon me onward.
As I pulled myself through the door and into a tight passageway, a fine, brown silt stirred around me. I proceeded down the passageway and through another doorway.
I was now 60 feet inside the wreck.
When I turned to find my way out, visibility had dropped to one foot.
I hovered motionless amid the brown silt. My light was worse than useless as it reflected off of the suspended silt particles, as if mirrors were flashing light into my eyes at odd angles. It was worse than driving through heavy fog with high beams on.