Malin Head is a must-do dive destination for those that appreciate wreck and technical diving. With stunning WWI and WWII wrecks such as the HMS Audacious, HMS Justicia and Empire Heritage, all in gin-clear viz at depth, this is wreck diving at its best.
My diving journey to Malin Head
I first heard about Malin Head some years ago, when Andris, one of the DLL tech pioneers recounted the harrowing conditions on his first trip. In the last year or so I'd seen some interesting pictures that twigged my interest - Sherman Tanks and the mighty guns of HMS Audacious - but I had always assumed it was something far out of my reach.
Having started technical diving in 2010 and subsequently joined the "dark-side" (CCR diving) in 2012, my actual diving experience was very limited due to logistical challenges (read: no car, "incomplete" set up, but mostly general laziness).
Then in 2014 my thirst for diving iconic wrecks was whet by a trip to Bikini Atoll where I got to dive such famous wrecks as USS Saratoga (an aircraft carrier), the HIJMS Nagato and USS Amsterdam (both massive battleships).
This was followed up in 2015 with a trip to Norway to dive some fantastic WWII wrecks such as the Ferndale and the Oldenburg. Norway was also my first proper experience of deep wreck diving in temperate climes. I followed this up with deep-wreck diving week in the Shetlands.
Plans to dive HMS Repulse and Prince of Wales in the South China Sea in 2016 were scuppered due to ongoing illegal salvaging of the wrecks. Plan B was trip to Palau to dive her WWII Japanese wrecks.
Then in January of this year I was cc'd into an email thread on a North Donegal Classic Wreck week being run by Barry McGill. There were 8 slots available. I figured I had a half a year to prepare and took a punt and said yes. There's a saying that goes "Luck is when Preparation meets Opportunity". There was the opportunity, I had some time to prepare. I got lucky!
The trip was fully booked within a couple of days - the coveted slots were taken by Andris, Nick and myself (all on JJ-CCR and Bikini Tools on Tour), Pete (Aurora Blue CCR), Paul (JJ-CCR) and Dave (Inspo) (dive buddies of Andris and Nick), and Geoff and Laura ("Team Hollis" and friends of DLL).
The journey there
It took the best part of a day to get there (and then another day coming back). We set off on a Friday morning with a van packed with kit, hopped onto an early afternoon ferry out of Holyhead, arrived in Dublin late in the afternoon, and finally arrived in Carrigart, our base for the week, late Friday evening but in time for a trip kick-off beer.
Day 1: HMS Audacious
Diving started on Saturday with a "checkout" dive on the mighty HMS Audacious (depth of 64m). What can I say. It was amazing. I had invested in a scooter this year (a Dive-X Piranha), particularly for the Malin trip. So this was the first opportunity to use it on a proper dive and I would say it was worth every penny. The Audacious is a super-dreadnought battleship considered unsinkable in her time. So she was hefty in size and full of interesting features like guns guns guns. She hit a mine and sunk in October 1914. Whizzing around on the scooter meant we we could visit the props, go hunting for the detached bow, and check out the other good stuff in between, including her iconic turrets and guns.
Day 2: U-89
The following day we dived the U-89, a German U-boat at 60m. We missed slack tide, and so I struggled pulling myself down the shot line in stonking current with stages, scooter and all other manner of equipment attached to me. It was hair-raising to say the least - so Nick and I canned the dive.
Day 3: HMS Empire Heritage
On our third day we dived Empire Heritage (depth of 62m), a tanker that was used to transport equipment in WWII. She was torpedoed and sunk in September 1944. While she's not the most eye-catching of wrecks, it's her cargo that's the draw. The experience of diving around a jumble of Sherman tanks and 20-ton war vehicles is absolutely amazing stuff.
Day 4: HMS Justicia
On the fourth day we dived the HMS Justicia, a passenger liner that was converted into a troopship in WWI. She was struck by a torpedo from a German U-boat and sank in July 1918. She is sitting mostly upright, 72m at her deepest point. We arrived at the bottom of the shot line to find the anchor had dislodged from the wreck and was lying on the sea floor. We got lucky with the weather and benign conditions for Malin. She is amazing to dive - there was loads to see - her iconic bow and anchor, 12 boilers, 3 props, long rows of windows/portholes, and loads of fish. With TTS (Time to Surface) going on 3-digits at 100+ minutes, it was a massive relief it was to see the sparkling strobes attached the the shot line as we looked to start deco.. The shot had moved. But luckily not very far. We found it. Phew.
If I had to choose one, I would say she was my favourite dive of the trip.
Day 5: HMS Hurst Castle
On the fifth day we ventured onto some deeper wrecks, beginning with the HMS Hurst Castle, a castle-class Corvette that served as a convoy escort in WWII. She was sunk in 1944 by a torpedo from a German U-boat. She was discovered by Barry in 2011! At depths of 82m it was quite dark on the wreck, but with clear viz, you could still enjoy the squids and squid launchers, boilers, guns, and the biggest fattest lobsters I'd ever seen, clearly living long and undisturbed lives.
Day 6: HMS Viknor
On the sixth day we did another deeper wreck, the HMS Viknor, originally an ocean liner and converted into an armed merchant cruiser in WWI. She is believed to have been sunk by a mine in 1915 with all 291 crew lost. She sits at of 86m and has some great features to dive such as a clipper bow, an engine standing proud 2 stories from the seafloor, and her props.
Day 7: Return to HMS Audacious
We returned to Audacious to visit the bow section.
In summary, we enjoyed an amazing week of diving. I would definitely recommend adding Malin Head to your bucket list if you are interested in wreck and technical diving.
Check out Barry's far superior pictures of these wrecks on the Indepth Technical Diving Facebook page.
Some key considerations
It's worth considering the following if you're thinking diving Malin Head:
- Malin Head is the northern-most point of Ireland. Most of the wrecks are a fair steam away from land (12 miles is the closest) so weather can be very variable. We were unusually lucky in enjoying 7 straight days of benign conditions. It's not unusual to be blown out on 1 or more days, and for conditions to be dicier.
- The season runs from June - August however in June expect a plankton bloom which results in darker conditions on the wrecks. In August conditions can be much lighter (once the plankton has eased off) but it could also be windier, so there are greater chances of being blown out.
- The wrecks are deep and big. So plan and prepare for longer runtimes/long deco runs.
- The use of shot lines and a deco trapeze is preferred by dive operators. SMBs should only be used as a last resort if you cannot find your way back to the shot line. With gin-clear viz this is less likely but the wrecks are large so getting lost is a possibility. The group had a healthy supply of strobe lights which made finding the shot line much easier.
- Finally and most importantly, it goes without saying - BE PREPARED. This is not easy diving. Ensure you have appropriate training, diving experience and equipment. Malin is a dive experience/trip of a lifetime. I would suggest treating Malin as a multi-year target you could build up to. My prep journey started in 2010 when I decided to go down the technical diving route. Contact us to discuss training requirements and options.
Dive Centre and Accommodation
We dived and stayed with Mevagh Dive Centre, a very well-run dive centre based in Carrigart, that offers dive boat charters, gas mixes including trimix, and B&B accommodations.
Donald and his family run a cracking dive operation and were willing to accommodate breakfast times to align to slack times, our choice of itinerary, and happily supported the healthy runtimes the group were racking up :).
We also enjoyed some first rate conveniences on the boat such as the trapeze and kit line they used to pull up deep bailout bottles and other big items during deco so that deco and exiting the boat were made much easier.
Technical Training in Malin
If you fancy doing technical training in Malin, Indepth Technical Diving, owned and managed by Barry McGill, runs technical diving courses.
Carrigart is a town in County Donegal, Ireland. It is a 3-hour drive from Belfast, NI, or 4-hour drive from Dublin. Both can be reached by ferry or plane.
The dive centre is a short 10-min drive to Mevagh port, from which the dive boat launched.
Carrigart is a small town, however we were kept well-fed and watered. Bars/pubs/restrauntswe visited included:
- P Logues - tasty pizzas, a BBQ night, local ales and gin selection on offer
- Carrigart Hotel - bar and resto with an extensive menu and Sunday roasts
- Singing Pub - traditional pub famous for it sizzling steaks and tasty seafood offerings
- Centra - in-town grocery store that had a decent selection of supplies for lunches and snacks
Certification Level Required
Malin has wrecks at recreational depths but appropriate qualifications are required to dive the iconic wrecks in 60m+ depths. CCR is recommended given depths and runtimes, but OC tech is also possible if you're happy to pay for gas. Most wrecks are very large and need a little exploration to fully appreciate so I would not recommend curtailing runtimes to save on gas costs!