HMHS Rohilla
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An Account Of A Dive On The Rohilla

The following transcript relays a dive undertaken on the Rohilla by a relative novice, indeed the student begins by telling readers it was her first real dive. Like many novice divers here in Whitby or the surrounding area the wreck of the Rohilla is the most logical choice as it is the closest large wreck to the harbour. From my interpretation it would seem that Viv and her husband had made this a shore dive? If this is indeed true then Viv has done extremely well, it is no easy feat to reach the Rohilla by walking, especially knowing how heavy the equipment is.

By Viv Young

My first real dive - on the deck of the hospital ship 'Rohilla' off Saltwick Bay. We walked out to the edge of the Nab at low water on a calm but cloudy afternoon. This was to be my first dive straight down to 15 feet, previous dives having been from a shelving bottom, and my buddy was my husband who has painstakingly taught me first to swim and then to dive over the past few years. Air on, mask and fins fitted, a final check and Martin stepped off the edge into the water, and, apprehensively, I joined him. Here was my first problem I seemed to stay suspended in the water just below the surface. Martin took my hand and pulled me down gently. Once on the bottom we exchanged OK signals and I found that I had no difficulty in staying down as I took a good look around. We had dropped into a steep sided gulley which Martin had told me leads directly to the wreck. The rocky shale bottom was littered with starfish reminiscent of a clear star-studded night sky, and small edible crabs scuttled away as we approached them.

My early fears and apprehensions soon disappeared as I adjusted to my weightlessness and tried to take in everything about this new world unfolding before my eyes, silent except for our bubbles. The loneliness of it all struck me as I swam along, being unable to talk to Martin except by sign language. It is all so different under the sea that you feel the urge to point out and discuss all the things you see, as you would on the surface, but you have to be content with just thinking about them. A porthole, small parts of the brass still shining was suddenly visible on the seabed, the first sign of the wreck.

Visibility was about ten feet as we approached the wreck, the grey metal plates, silt covered, seeming to blend in with the surrounding shale. Once again a profusion of starfish, with hermit crabs of varying sizes fascinating me as they scurried away from us. Sea urchins clung here, there and everywhere, and suddenly we were confronted by a shoal of small fish, like soldiers on parade as they wheeled left and right en masse. We stopped, and to my surprise the fish did not dart away, but ventured closer until our exhaust bubbles startled them and they moved back almost as one.

It was impossible to take in the enormity of the wreck strewn along the sea bed as we moved along. It seemed to stretch endlessly, a mass of tangled metal plates and struts covered in silt. By now we were at a depth of about 25 feet, my deepest dive to date, and looking at my contents gauge I saw that I had used less than half of my air supply. I was now completely engrossed in my surroundings and really enjoying this dive, feeling more relaxed and at home in this alien environment than ever before.

After exploring further along the wreck to the huge boilers we ascended up a sheer cliff about 15 feet, the cliff sides being littered with small crabs, each sitting in its home, a small pocket in the cliff. The water became warmer as we came to the top of the reef which was covered by a beautiful carpet of underwater flora in shades of pink and mauve. There was more light at this depth which accentuated the fantastic array of colours. After some minutes the visibility deteriorated here and we dropped back down the gulley.

By now I was beginning to feel the cold, having been submerged for some 25 minutes, and as I began to wonder where we were, there was that first porthole we had seen on the way out. Martin had told me that there was no fear of getting lost as he knew every feature of the gulley, and he was quite right, although I must admit to a sense of relief as he pointed out the porthole to me. I tried to convey to him by sign language that I was feeling the cold. Message received, we turned into the gulley which leads back to the Nab, past the myriads of starfish and anemones again, and at last slowly up to the surface, remembering my training and breathing out as I ascended. I climbed out onto the scar and immediately felt disorientated with the sudden return to gravity after 30 minutes of weightlessness. A few minutes to accustom myself to the change and we made our way back to the beach, eagerly exchanging views and experiences now that speech was once again possible.

Diving is like a passport to a new world, enabling me to go back in history and to explore the wonders of undersea life. It is full of a mixture of feelings at first, wonderment, elation and sometimes fear, but I am now eager to make my next dive.

All this took place many years ago and it is not known if Viv Young carried forward the enjoyment of her first dive on the Rohilla, as ever I will do my utmost to find out, watch this space.

Copyright © Viv Young