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Wreck Festival in Lodz - report

Last Saturday, 25 February, the 3rd Wreck Diving Festival took place. This was one of those events where the Divers24 team couldn’t miss, as we feel quite strongly about this type of diving. A group of well-known and very experienced wreck divers, not only from Poland, gathered that day in the building of the Technical
Published: February 27, 2012 - 18:25
Updated: July 22, 2023 - 06:11
Wreck Festival in Lodz – report

Last Saturday, 25 February, the 3rd Wreck Diving Festival took place. This was one of those events where the Divers24 team couldn’t miss, as we feel quite strongly about this type of diving. A group of well-known and very experienced wreck divers, not only from Poland, gathered that day in the building of the Technical University of Lodz, which was another treat. After all, it’s not often that you get to listen to lectures given by such greats as Leigh Bishop and Richie Kholer.

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We were one of the first on site at 8.00 a.m. With two hours to go before the opening, we could set up our stand and do a little reconnaissance of the surrounding area. Time passed quickly with coffee and conversations, so that we did not even look back when the opening ceremony took place in the lecture hall. The organizers of the festival – Piotr Wytykowski and Roman Zajder, entrusted its conduct to Marcin Jamkowski, who perfectly fulfilled this role.

For a good start, the gathered participants of the festival could listen to Adam Wysoczański, who prepared material about his expedition to the wreck of a beautiful Italian ship – Andrea Doria. This instructor of many organizations and experienced technical diver, visited the resting place of Doria in 2006, in an expedition organized to celebrate the 50th anniversary of her sinking.

He began his talk by outlining the historical background of post-war Italy and the creation of this 212m long liner. Apart from the most important information, he added many interesting facts, as well as photos and film clips, emphasising how important and beautiful the Andrea Doria was. He then focused on the fateful voyage to New York, which was already coming to an end off the coast of the USA, when there was an unexpected collision with the much smaller Swedish liner Stockholm.

wysoczanski

As a result of this incident, after 11 hours, the pearl of Italian shipping disappeared under the surface of the water. During his presentation, Adam Wysoczański highlighted the excellent rescue operation and the very good administrative decisions that made it possible to minimise the extent of the tragedy. Out of almost 1300 passengers and 600 crew members, 46 people died. He concluded his lecture with the presentation of 2 films, showing diving in this location.

After a short break, the next 2h belonged to Dr. Piotr Nykiel, who was one of the participants of the first Polish research expedition to Gallipoli. The Dardanelles, during World War I, were the site of many military operations, the remnants of which are hidden in the waters there. Those who attended this lecture had a unique opportunity to learn more about this subject, which is not often discussed.

In the first part of his presentation, Dr Nykiel, gave the historical background, presented the political situation in Europe at the time and talked about the preparations for the Gallipoli expedition, which took place in 2011. We were able to find out what prompted the English to attack Turkey and what the reasons for their failure were. The military operation, which was to be the springboard for Churchill’s political career, turned out to be much more difficult to carry out than expected.

The Turks’ enormous firepower and the poor preparation of the Allies, as well as their disregard for the enemy, could not but end in total defeat in all their attempts to breach the defences. The British attempts to demine their own blockades failed, the attack from the water brought enormous losses, as did the landing. The huge concentration of Turkish artillery mercilessly inflicted losses on the Allies.

nykiel

In the second part of his presentation, Dr Piotr Nykiel, presented the results of the research work carried out by the team of divers taking part in the Gallipoli expedition. Some of the wrecks they visited had been seen for the first time since they were sunk! During their dives, the members of the expedition carried out measurements, investigated the state of preservation of individual vessels, and collected photo and video material.

Although they did not manage to dive everywhere they planned, this did not prevent them from making many important discoveries and findings. The effects of the work of Polish divers enriched the available scientific material and clarified various issues concerning individual vessels sunken on Gallipoli. In the end, the premiere of a documentary film edited from the material collected during the expedition took place.

As time went on, more and more listeners gathered in the auditorium. No wonder, because the next speaker was Richie Kholer, one of the main stars of the Wreck Diving Festival in Lodz. His first lecture – “In pursuit of the shadow”, was highly anticipated by the gathered guests.

Richi, who spent the whole week in Poland, started by thanking for the warm welcome and summarized in very positive words his impressions of the stay and the places that Piotr Wytykowski and Roman Zajder – the organizers of the event – took him to. Then he moved on to a prepared presentation, which was in a way a description of his beginnings with diving, but also the beginnings of wreck/technical diving in general.

Richie

Going through the years, as his skills grew and the reasons for diving grew, Richie told a very interesting story about himself and the people he dived with. He talked about his inspirations and goals until he came to the point where a submarine wreck was found in a hard to reach location at a depth of 70m. The consternation was immense as the origin of the vessel was unknown. American sources had not recorded the loss of any of their ships in the area, but no one had heard of any German U-boat venturing off the New Jersey coast. The case fired the imagination and needed to be investigated.

The story of the exploration and gradual discovery of the truth about U869, is one of the most important adventures in Richie Kholer’s life. In addition to fulfilling his dream of identifying the wreck, he gained a lot as a diver and as a person, and was able to visit 17 families whose loved ones died on this ship and personally tell them the whole story, and in the process learn the identity of the victims. A very personal lecture, showing the story of a man whose passion became diving, and who, through persistence and passion, was able to turn a hobby into a style and way of life.

The person of Leigh Bishop is well known to those who are interested in wreck diving, as well as underwater photography. He appeared at the Wreck Festival for the second time, but considering how many wrecks he has dived on, he could give lectures on this subject at several subsequent editions. This year, the first topic he touched upon in his lecture was virgin wrecks and their exploration.

Leigh talked about his beginnings, how he went from cave exploration to diving, the dive groups he took part in, the advent of trimix and the first rebreathers. An interesting fact worth mentioning is the search for wrecks around the UK itself. Well, there is something called the Wreck Information Service. This is an information guide, published by the Hydrographic Office. According to Leigh, after buying such a book we will no longer need sonar.

Leighb

During his lecture, the experienced wreck diver was eager to share the secrets of his explorations. He talked both about what is the easiest way to identify a wreck and about the specifics of diving in the north of the British Isles. Since most of the dives he conducts are large wrecks below 100m, he says that it is very important to know the layout of the rooms in the explored part.

After the Briton, Richie Kholer returned to the microphone, this time talking about the RMS Titanic. The audience might have been a little shocked when Richie stated that, contrary to popular belief, the cause of the sinking of the ocean liner was not a collision with an iceberg. This is what the researchers concluded from their examination of the wreck during one of their most risky missions.

The risk, however, was not due to difficult conditions or depth. It turns out that no one decided to finance this expedition, so the divers, in secret from their families, cleared their accounts, mortgaged their homes and paid for the $400,000 operation themselves. The beginnings were not promising, but fortunately among the members of the expedition there were people who directed the bathyscaphe team to the right track.

Investigating the bottom of the Titanic, proved to be a shot in the arm, but they had to carry out another mission to be absolutely sure that the ship broke before colliding with the iceberg, as a result of design flaws. When Titanic sank, Britanic was still under construction. Therefore, if the builders knew what had really happened (and there were indications that they did), they should have examined the bottom of the twin vessel, how it was put together and compared the results. The lecture ended with the screening of a little known film from this expedition – Titanic sister Britanic – a Greek tragedy.

gardener

The penultimate presentation of the day was made by Bogusław Ogrodnik. A participant of a very interesting expedition to the Bikini Atoll. Together with Leszek Czarnecki and Krzysztof Starnawski, they visited this wonderful place in 2006. A very interesting story about a beautiful archipelago, which the US government turned into a testing ground for nuclear missiles.

Those who still haven’t had enough certainly haven’t regretted it. The Bikini Atoll is one of the least visited diving sites in the world, and currently inaccessible at all, because… the only plane which could get there broke down. While the radiation itself is no longer a threat to visitors, the ships sunken there are unfortunately a real ecological bomb.

Sunk as they came there, today, as the tooth of time has severely gnawed at their structures, they are beginning to destroy the environment, releasing deadly chemicals and fuel. Although the inhabitants of the atoll returned to it after being displaced, today the place is deserted. It was uninhabitable again and all it brought to the natives was disease and suffering. In addition to the history of the atoll, Mr. Bogusław also talked about the research that was conducted on the atoll. He summed it all up rather sadly, because the wrecks have been robbed of everything they could carry, and there is nothing interesting on these islands except for them.

team

The lecture, which closed the substantive part of the festival, was the second presentation prepared by Leigh Bishop – Black Star Diving. Under this ominous sounding name, there is a diving group, of which Leigh is a member. Together they explore very deep and difficult locations. Their favourite wrecks are transatlantic ships, large cruise liners sunk during wartime.

Among this group of shipbuilding colossi that crossed the ocean en route to New York, he presented the silhouettes of the vessels: Tuscania, Justicia, Transylvania, Andania, Amazon or Flavia. This lecture was truly impressive and the presenter himself was like out of a movie. Each of these explorations could have ended fatally, but not only did he return from each dive unscathed, but also with a set of photos and videos. In addition, during these explorations, he had time to test new methods of deep-sea photography.

Bishop, also outlined Black Star Diving’s plans for the near future. These include diving and exploring the following wrecks: HMS Victor, Carintha and Empress of Britain. The Calgarian, which the group, despite their efforts, cannot hunt down, is still waiting to be found.

endfestivalwrak03

It was finally time for the long-awaited auction and prize draw. Festival participants now had the opportunity to show their generosity, each to the best of their ability. The items up for auction were extraordinary (a fork from Andrea Doria, sand from Bikini or photos autographed by Richie Kholer and Leigh Bishop). The aim was noble, because all the money went to the account of Lodz Hospice for Children. As usual, the divers did not fail and collected quite a decent sum! Afterwards, valuable prizes were drawn, among them a Santi heater or a Tusa vending machine! There were also sweatshirts and T-shirts and a whole bunch of other stuff.

The festival has to be summed up as a huge plus. The organisers have made a huge step forward since last year. They took the event out of the local range, for a very narrow group, into wide national waters. The preparation was definitely better than last year and the level of lectures was very high. Errors and shortcomings did happen, but they were received with understanding and leniency, such as in the case of the translation, which at times posed problems. For their efforts, time and work put into the organisation of the festival, but above all for the results of the expeditions they led (expedition to Gallipoli), Piotr Wytykowsi and Roman Zajder, were honoured to be accepted into the ranks of the elite The Explorers Club, which we sincerely congratulate them on!

The last point was the diving party. As announced, everyone who decided to participate in the closing part of the Wreck Festival could freely, in an intimate atmosphere, talk to any of the festival participants and get answers to their questions. The next day, we returned home very satisfied with our stay. We hope that next year we will be able to raise the level of the event and it will gain more and more importance in the calendar of diving events!

Source and Photo: Divers24

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About author

Tomasz Andrukajtis
Editor-in-chief of the DIVERS24 portal and magazine. Responsible for obtaining, translating and developing content. He also supervises all publications. Achived his first diving certification – P1 CMAS, in 2000. Has a degree in journalism and social communication. In the diving industry since 2008.
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