Wednesday, 09 July 2003 00:00

Wizbangs Southern Wreck Run 2003 - Part 1

By Mark Brown

This journey starts with a train trip from the Gold Coast to the Brisbane airport for my 8.30 am flight to Adelaide. With Adelaide half an hour behind Queensland, the flight was a sneaky two and a half hours. I packed all my dive gear and clothes into a standard suitcase, weighing 26.4 kg at check in.

SA Dave met me at the airport and greeted me with restrained friendliness, reserved for those occasions when you know someone, you don't really know at all. We were soon chit chatting about the weekend's plans and recent Dive-Oz discussions. SA Dave's good fortune of accepting a new job with Virgin Blue meant that our planned solid week of diving needed re-arranging.

Part 1

We dropped into one of Adelaide's 10 dive stores to hire a wetsuit for me and to top up some tanks for the weekend. Coming from the Gold Coast's 24-26C water temp, I was anxious to know if my hired two piece 5mm would keep me warm enough for our trip around South Australia (expected water temp 19-20C).

The new plan started with a jetty tour of the Yorke Peninsula, starting at Edithburgh. Edithburgh is on the eastern side of the peninsula and as part of the Gulf St Vincent is protected by Kangaroo Island. Four hours after leaving the airport, we were surveying the Edithburgh Jetty, checking the viz and current. We decided to take an onsite van for the overnight stay, luckily, someone had cancelled that morning, so we booked in, plugged in the alpha lights to charge, and then it was back to the jetty to gear up and get wet.

My wife says "I have a lot of scuba gear". But SA Dave has A LOT of scuba gear. SA Dave was diving twins on his scubapro S-Tek and semi-dry, while I had my trusty blackarts BP and wetty. We chatted a bit about each others kit to make sure we knew where things were and how they worked. Gear and camera all ready, it was time to get wet. We walked out along the jetty with the usual quizzical looks and entered via the stairs a quarter of the way along.

It was fresh, a couple of deep breaths brought the breathing under control and away we went. The water was green with a cloudy effect reducing viz to approx 8-10 meters. I haven't (hadn't) done much jetty/pier diving and so it was really interesting to see the growth on the pylons and the surrounding structures. The first thing to strike me was the vibrant colours of the coral and sponges - pink, red, yellow, green; bright, almost shocking.

SA Dave was doing his best impression of a floating log. SA Dave's bouyancy skills are pretty darn good, while mine on the other hand with a two piece 5mm with hood (yuck) and a tonne of lead was up and down and all around through the pylons. SA Dave kept pointing out the smaller, discreet animals and items of interest that my warm water eyes were not yet accustomed to picking up.

I snapped a couple of pics of SA Dave in mid float and a few of the local flora and fauna. After 70 mins we walked back up the jetty ramp as two creatures from the deep, me with a huge smile. While getting out of our kit, SA Dave gave me the names and details of the stuff we saw but all I could think about was the night dive to follow. We dried off, got dressed, packed the gear away and headed for one of the most important features of a good dive site - the local pub, which is a whole 200 meters walk from the jetty.

The Edithburgh Pub is an old stone two-story building, which has been well looked after, as is the case with a lot of Adelaide's and South Australia's buildings. Inside it was warm and welcoming, with the drinks cold and the food delicious. We ordered the marinated kangaroo steaks and it came out perfect.

We lazed about savoring the serenity until it was time to get ready for the night dive. Back at the caravan, we grabbed the charged canister lights ready for our foray into Edithburgh's nightlife. I was concerned with a drop or two of water around the seal of my new camera so I left it behind to be checked in daylight.

Once again down to the jetty, geared up with more interested onlookers, we entered via the jetty ramp. I was using the remainder of my last tank 80 bar of a 12l and Dave had 180 bar of his twin 10.5's, so the plan was for me to use Dave's long hose for a while and then switch back to mine to make the dive last 30 mins or so.

55 mins later and after much light sabering we exited the way we went in. SA Dave was doing a fine Neville Coleman impression, much to the detriment of a few dumpling squid and worms, etc. which felt the direct effect of the Alpha Hid. Viz was about 5m or so.

Walking back to the car several fishermen quizzed us on the light we were using and what we saw. After we finished packing the gear, we changed into dry clothes and headed back to the Edithburgh Pub for non-salty refreshments and pool to discuss another outstanding dive.

Part 2

The formentioned colours were almost glowing under the HID's beam and while it stunned the odd small fish, I found myself following SA Dave's beam instead of my own because of the truer colours and depth of penetration.

I graciously lost to SA Dave at pool and at closing we headed back to the caravan for a shower and some sleep. Sunday morning we were up early'ish. We checked the camera and housing, the car and repacked our wet dive gear. With Innes NP our destination, we grabbed some breakfast and headed for Rhino point and Stenhouse Bay.

We called in on Sean, the owner of the Rhino's Tavern to get the low down on charters, etc. With no boats going out, we decided to do the tourist thing and follow the scenic route through the NP. The Innes NP is a harsh, uninviting landscape, broken by frequent bays with jewel like seas and spellbinding views of the islands and coastline. SA Dave explained the islands and coves and where the better Cray diving was.

Shipwrecks (unintentional ones) abound in this area and with a coastline that takes the full brunt of our southern storms it is no wonder. We stopped to look at a few that had descriptions of the vessel and its story.

Sightseeing done, it was time for some more diving. Stenhouse jetty is under considerable renovations. Mostly the decking has been replaced but to minimize materials they have decided to halve the width of the jetty, cutting loose the pylons on one side. Such a shame. SA Dave explained that although they may leave the pylons in the water, the wave action and sand will stop long term growth on them.

The slipway gate was locked so we would have to walk in full kit, up and down the hill. Dave, doing his third dive on his twins, wasn't looking forward to the walk back up the hill. Just to top it off, the jetty ladders were either missing or not trustworthy, fully kitted. The ritual begins again and soon enough we were spitting in our masks, ready to giant stride the three odd meters into the water.

On hitting the water, I realised my mouth piece had separated from my reg leaving me with a mouthful of water and that my harness waist buckle had let go. Three meters or so is a good test on your gear. I sorted things out and watched SA Dave swan dive, twins and all off the jetty.

Just as we started the dive I saw a rusting small boat anchor which I was later told SA Dave collects. Doh!! With the renovations there were lots of new rubble as well as lost tools, i.e. 8m tape measure, three pound sledge hammer, knife. With viz at about 5m, tool and nudibranch spotting was the order of the day.

There is an overturned car at the end of the jetty with serious growth. SA Dave spotted a well hidden Cray but even his experienced hand could not secure us lunch. There was lot of growth, with fans, sponges and anemone all competing for space. SA Dave explained that the pylons are shaved every so often to help protect the pylons and that before the last shaving several sets of three pylons formed walls, with growth stretching from one pylon to another.

With no ladders or stairs we trusted, our plan was to exit via the rocks, skirt the wall using the goat track and climb over the guard rail then troop back up the hill to the car park. With that mission accomplished we loaded the car and headed back to The Rhino Tavern for lunch overlooking Stenhouse Bay and Rhino Point. Lunch was a huge affair of Hawaiian Veal Schnitzel and veg. With sated appetites we headed for Marion Bay for air fills and a tour of the holiday village. Twenty minutes later we were on our way up to Port Victoria for yet another of Yorke Penninsula's many, many jetties.

Port Victoria can easily be described as quaint with many stone buildings and general ambience in abundance. The jetty is nothing special but walking out along it we soon realised it was going to be a special dive; the water was blue and clear.

We used the stairs halfway along the jetty with a small audience asking "what are you doing?", "Do you need all that gear, what about the sharks, we get them here!" The viz was about 10-13m, with no surge and no current. We could have stayed here all day. This area must not get much attention from the weather. All the rubble, etc, underneath had good growth with very little sand covering things.

SA Dave collected the usual squid jigs and sinkers while I spotted a children's folding camp chair and posed for a photo or two. (Spoiling the viz with my excited antics to get into position). I took several macro photos of star fish nudi's and brightly coloured sponges as well as a sleeping spotted shovelnose ray. The water was so clear and there was so much life it was hard to leave even after nearly an hour.

Back to the stairs, the car, load up and start the trek back. We stopped for fuel and an ice cream which revived us for the journey home. On the way back we discussed the ways to get me onto the various wrecks I had come to dive. Week day trips are not a common practice and with the addition of the wrong tides and mixed winds, we had our work cut out for us to organize anything.

SA Dave had a tentative booking for Wednesday to the Hobart as long as we could fill the boat. In the April edition of Dive log, I saw a new advertisement for "Lets Dive". On Monday I gave the number a call and spoke to Andrew who listened to my plight and pleas for assistance and I got "leave it with me! I'll call you back."

True to his word, Andrew called me back with a booking to dive the Hobart on Tuesday. Talk about miracles and rabbits from hats; the Diving Gods were smiling on me: kind of!

SA Dave arrived home from his new job tired and weary only to be greeted at the door by an excited kid on red cordial, yapping on about diving the Hobart tomorrow. SA Dave and I decided on a counter meal from one of his locals but due to the smoky atmosphere and dry diving eyes, I developed an eye irritation which developed into a head cold. I was into bed early, praying my ears and throat would be OK for tomorrow. I packed my gear into Dave's car ready for the trip through Yankalila and onto Wirrina Resort Marina, after taking SA Dave to work (sorry Dave).

Part 3

It was an easy drive down to the marina which is a few years old now, with the infrastructure still being developed. I met Greg of Dolphin Dive, Normanville and he welcomed me and introduced me to Phil, our captain for the day. The Fleurieu Star is a fantastic boat for diving. Twin diesels and lots of room for the nine of us (eight divers). I loaded my gear and tanks aboard into their correct spots and donned my wetsuit in preparation for the trip. I just finished signing my life away when Andrew popped his head in and introduced himself and asked me to sign some more papers for him.

I met my fellow Hobart divers Ken and Jacki from Leicester, England, David and Greg from Dolphin Dive, Debbie from Dive and Snorkel Brisbane (small world), another gent from Melbourne and Andrew of Lets Dive. "Lets Dive" is a new business catering for groups and individuals wishing to visit Adelaide and South Australia for diving. Accommodation, food, gear and transfers can all be organized by Andrew.. (Kind of like SA Dave and David M) Andrew was enthusiastic and organized and I am sure many more divers will find his services invaluable.

When we finished loading the boat we got the obligatory safety run down for this particular boat, marina and dive site. I thought the weather was pretty good with only the odd gusty wind and bright blue day, but I was told no other boats were going out because of bad weather. About 12 minutes it took to steam out to the Hobart's moorings, so within 15 minutes the boat was lying at rest, amid ship of the Hobart (just off the rear funnel).

Greg and his party were to be first in so Jacky, Ken, David and Greg geared up while Andrew's group got busy with the little things. Jacky had some troubles in water and returned to the boat with Ken to sit it out. (bummer). Andrew's group pulled our kits on and waddled up to the starboard hatch. There was a mild current (1/4 knot) so we made our way to the moorings and down to 5 metres to wait for the group to assemble.

Once we were all gathered, we followed the jump line from the mooring to the rear funnel. This, our first dive, was to be a guided tour by Andrew, to see what we were like as divers and to see what conditions were like below. With viz at five metres (seven metres at best) objects loomed out at you rather quickly. The current had eased a bit and you could find lee spots in and around the wreck.

We dropped to the rear deck, aft of the rear stack but forward of the hole that was the missile launcher. We then followed Andrew over the port side and down to the stern, constantly pocking our heads in all the cut-outs. The props are gone, but the shaft tubes and rudder are still there. A piece of equipment has fallen overboard and now lies directly behind the Hobart, so I snapped a photo of it just in case it disappears.

With such low viz photos were limited to close-ups of people or equipment. We rounded the stern to the starboard side and rose up to the rear stack where we crossed to the port side and followed the hand rail to the forward gun. Greg took over the lead of David and myself while Andrew stayed to keep an eye on Debbie and Buddy with the video camera.

Greg led me up to the forward gun and on to the viewing port with the windscreen wiper and reflective window. I took several photos, for what they are worth. We then made our way back to Andrew and the others by which time it was safety stop time. So back up the aft funnel across the line and a three minute safety stop. The current had firmed up and it took more than a two finger hold to stay on the line especially with the increased surface chop lifting and dropping the boat.

Back on board, we dropped the tanks into the rack and stowed the rest and it is time for lunch. Soup, coffee, tea, fruit cake, Tim Tams and of course, the obligatory and ubiquitous snakes.

Forty five minutes of surface interval (sorry, lunch) and we started to gear up again. The wind had stayed and maintained the surface chop but the tide was at slack water. Andrew had some sinus problems and decided to sit this one out, so Debbie and buddy would dive together, and Greg, David and I would be another group.

Part 4

Geared up, in and down to five meters to wait for the others. With and David not far behind, we followed the lines as viz was still five to seven meters. After crossing the jump line between funnels we dropped down to the bridge and glided through the doorway.

One of the weird things about wreck diving is the feelings and emotions that you experience. Here I am looking at the brain box of an ex-Australian navy defence ship. A place filled with custom and honour, a place of work for men and women defending our island nation. It makes me feel small, not small as in the ship is so big but because the ship has so much history that it dwarfs me in comparison.

I played daggy tourist and jumped into one of the captains chairs to have my photo taken. I played helmsman at the controls while peering out to see (or is that into sea). We then swam through a door in the back of the bridge and passed a small ante-room before entering the operations room. A lot of equipment and control panels have been left to maintain the atmosphere of an intact ship, not to mention so us divers can have a fiddle.

We swam back to the bridge and caught up with Debbie and buddy doing some filming, so rather than stir up more silt, we exited starboard side and glided up to the outside of the windows to act as video models. Diving on wrecks and walls, etc, can give you that Peter Pan feeling. Here we were floating three to five meters above the deck with our heads in the bridge windows, something almost impossible when the ship was topside.

We moved on past the forward guns and onto the bow, where I controlled myself from doing the Titanic (King of the world) thingy. Some photos of the anchor grooves and we dropped down the starboard side to see the famous 39 emblazoned on the side. It is big but even after only six months; the growth has started to hide this ships identity.

We swam along the starboard side peering into several of the large cutouts, entering one cutout to be greeted with a long row of toilets and washbasins. From here we went to what must have been sleeping quarters with several sets of bunks three rows high. It was terribly hard with my building excitement and enthusiasm to see everything and maintain good buoyancy and not stir up the silt. From here, we went to the galley with stainless bench tables and swivel chairs and a huge hole in the centre of the floor. With only 90 bar remaining the dark beckoning engine room below would have to be for another dive.

Rising up, we made our way to the forward funnel and to a small jut out on the top front lip (similar to a crows nest) where we did our safety stop (5.2 meters). The current had picked up considerably so apart from the odd photo we just hung in the current like a flag in the wind. Our safety stop finished, we crossed the lines and drifted in the current to the back of the boat. Once Debbie and buddy were back on board and all the gear secured, we headed for a scenic tour of Rapid Bay, the headlands and Second Valley. Back at the marina we transferred the gear to the cars and gave our thanks and goodbyes.

I called in at Dolphin Dive, Normanville to fill my tanks and to have a spot of lunch. Greg and his wife were both friendly and helpful. We chatted about the area and the beautiful stone building they were in, as well as the Hobart and diving in the area.

The drive home was quick and I was soon discussing my diving day with SA Dave over dinner. Tuesday nights is the Sea Wolves Club meeting night so after dinner we were off to have a drink and a chat with a keen group of divers. The Sea Wolves Club is a very active club with lots of socials and diving outings on the calendar. The evening was filled with personal stories of past and planned trips and the confirmation of details of future club trips. It is always good to be around other dive loving people and I would eagerly join the Sea Wolves Club if I lived in Adelaide (if they would have me).

With my sinuses and ears playing up, I cancelled my tentative booking on Wednesday for the wrecks of the Sea Wolf and the Lumb. SA Dave and I had made plans to dive Rapid Bay Jetty Wednesday night after work if my sinuses had improved. Sadly it was not to be and the same for my last opportunity for Rapid Bay Jetty on Thursday morning.

Thursday night was indoor cricket and 10 pin bowling and we had a great night. Friday morning saw me flying out of Adelaide for Perth. With seminar obligations Friday, Saturday and Sunday, I prayed that my head would clear for the second half of my Southern Wreck Run.