National Geographic Endeavour
From the Endeavour in England
Fair Isle, or to the Vikings the Far Isle, this outpost of sandstone battlements among the waves, is a study in contrasts which evoke all of the greatest beauty of northern Scotland. It rises from the sea in towering cliffs, layers of ancient seabed now folded and upthrust into crenellated walls whose bases are under constant assault by the swells and spume. But atop this bare escarpment rest peaceful rolling meadows, grazed by sheep, home to a few gentle people and thousands of seabirds. The ever popular Atlantic Puffins live just at the juxtaposition of these disparate worlds, burrowing into the edges of the sod for their nests, and when they leave them, lingering on the sward for a few minutes before launching themselves out, over the abyss, on frantically beating wings. While most of our ship's company went ashore to encounter these delightful creatures and to have tea with the hardy local human inhabitants, I took a Zodiac a couple of miles south, bouncing over the confused swells in search of an historic shipwreck. El Gran Grifon was the flagship of the supply fleet of the Spanish Armada; after the defeat of the armada she rounded the northern coast of Scotland and came twice within sight of the Irish coast, but was beaten back by terrible storms. Finally she fetched up on the rocks on the southeast coast of Fair Isle and was lost on September 27th 1588, pinned in a narrow gully so close to shore that the crew were able to escape by climbing up the rigging when one of the masts collapsed on to the rocks. Information about this wreck is scanty at best and I had only a very rough map and description of its location, but with the encouragement of Expedition Leader Tom Ritchie I was determined to make an attempt to locate it and dive on it. With my dive buddy Lisa Trotter, I entered the water and descended to the bottom of a gully that resembled the one described in the account I had read. The floor of this rocky submarine canyon was at about 40 feet and I understood that the remains of the wreck were considerably deeper, so we swam out and down, scanning carefully along the way. Though we could not locate any sign of the wreck at first, marine life was profuse and I used our underwater video camera to record the low kelp forest, crabs, worms and fish we encountered. Finally our air was beginning to run low and it was time to start back to the Zodiac; I signaled Lisa and we made our turn, and there right before us was the great anchor of the Gran Grifon! We had to move quickly, but I was able to get some excellent shots of the fifteen-foot long anchor laying among the boulders while Lisa examined it. We were thrilled to find this artifact, a remnant of one of history's greatest fleets, which had lain there on the bottom of this cold sea for over four hundred years; it seemed a very fitting event for the first dive on the inaugural expedition of Lindblad Expeditions' M.S. Endeavour . On our return leg to the ascent point we also located two of the cannons from the Gran Grifon, cemented into the bottom and difficult to recognize after four centuries, but nonetheless exciting. The opportunity to explore such a remote and significant dive sight, and to share our discoveries immediately with the guests onboard the Endeavour through our high tech digital video cameras, is a great thrill for me. It opens up new worlds and new contrasts around a fair island I have long loved.