Bermagui - May 2011


The signs were worrying and all surf websites were excited, which wasn’t good news for The Sydney Project as 4-5m swells continued to roll up the NSW coast. A week out of heading down south surfers were excited about another pulse to come up from the Tasman.

With just two days to go weather reports gave some hope of the oceans calming down and by Friday 6th May 2011 forecasts predicted 2m ocean swell over the weekend rising again on Sunday. A perfect dive window for the Williams Dawes and WTF wrecks.

Dave Bardi, Sandy Varin, and Dave Hurst joined us on this trip out, and having dived NSW south coast wrecks previously were looking forward to the weekend. Sandy was awarded the Technical Diver of the Year Award at Oztek 2011, and first female to receive it, as a dive team, Sydney Project felt fortunate to be able to dive with Sandy and the two Daves. From Sydney Project we had Trip Leader - Dave Apperley, Jeff Hughes and I diving. Ange Jeffery supervised the surface with Craig Reeson jumping in as Support Diver.

As we were approaching the William Dawes site on Saturday, Keith noticed a Navy Frigate was standing over the wreck site. Radioing out to the ship to advise of a dive team heading out to dive the wreck, he was surprised (and a little amused) to be returned with “This is Captain speaking of Australian war ship HMAS Sydney, we are moving”.  As we approached William Dawes site, HMAS Sydney cleared the way for us.

Over the wreck we dropped the shot and hit the mark.

Keith has lovingly put together a deco station for the deeper dives from Binjarra and while at first we were apprehensive towards using the station instead of Sydney Projects station, our fears were put to rest, as the design is very similar to an earlier version of our own station. Though the station provided proved simple to understand, I still hold a preference for Sydney Projects deco station as it is designed specifically for our needs. With that said though, Keith’s station worked well for the day.

Getting six divers into the water needed a bit of coordination but was pretty much uneventful. Once in the water though I quickly realised my dry suit wasn’t remaining dry.

As it turns out, after jumping in to the water, my shoulder dump valve failed and at 30 metres it opened up like a tap!

My waterproof dry suit wasn’t very waterproof and I had more of Tasman Sea inside it than outside! I made a quick return to the surface, and found that it was a simple repair but it was too late for me to continue, as I was soaked well and truly through.

Conditions became perfect while the guys were on deco, and they all commented afterwards that it was the most relaxed dive they have done.

Water was 19 degrees Celsius on deco, and it was so calm that Sandy nodded off! On the surface we had many curious seals with a particular young one coming up to the boat without any real fear of coming in close. Keith’s dog Barney was having a blast barking at them.

The area of the wreck they dived seemed like one of two sections of the ship, with a big cargo hold that was full of trucks and jeeps. It was upside down with possible access inside, and Dave Hurst actually scootered into a cargo hold. It seems that this was not the main part of the ship, and we suspect that there is another section close by. This other section could be the stern of the ship, were Paul Garske saw a gun during a previous dive, and Dave Apps mentioning that is may be on its side.

After we left that day Keith sounded what could be the other section. This leaves us with a question mark as to how this wreck is laying on the bottom, and how many section there are? This is another little mystery to solve after we finish with WTF.

Returning back to port everyone was in high spirits after such a great day. It was already near dark and after unloading some gear we headed to directly to the pub for a meal before getting the gear ready for Sunday’s dive. Jeff Hughes had to drive back home after dinner, as he was to catch an overseas flight on Monday.

WTF Wreck - Sunday 8th May 2011

The next morning everyone was a little slower and a bit tired from the previous day. We boarded Binjarra at 0600 for a one a half hour trip to the WTF site.

Conditions were a little rougher and with stronger winds. Life on the boat was not the most comfortable heading out, but as the day progressed the weather improved.

On arrival we threw the shot in the water and waited for it to settle. Keith then drove his boat around to make sure it’s on the wreck. To our surprise it seemed to be some distance from the wreck. We scratched out heads to work out how was this possible. There must have been a current on the bottom, or mid water that kept the buoys further than it seemed. We decided not to take a chance, and try again.

On second throw we couldn’t believe that it was nearly doing the same, and was sitting only slightly closer. We decided to dive it.

Sandy and the two Daves were first to descend followed by Dave Apps and myself.

At 90 metres I was swimming hard and not gaining a lot of much depth, as I was the only one without a scooter. The line was way too long for the depth but I persevered. I hitched a ride with Dave the remainder of the way, hitting the wreck in 6 minutes and landing in the bridge area.

The current on the bottom was uncomfortable especially when trying to film. Dave was doing the lightening with his HMI light and after some shots of the divers we headed toward the bow.

I was yet to see the bow despite having previously dived the wreck five times. All the work we done to solve the identity mystery revolved around the gun on the stern. But since we gathered and confirmed all the information from the stern it was time to explore other parts of the wreck.

We found a small porthole stuck in the fishing net, which would have come from the accommodation quarters, located just behind the funnel. We filmed the cargo hold winches; Dave also observed the derricks for masts from that forward cargo hold.

The most exciting find was while swimming back towards the shot line we came across the curve in bulwarks near the bridge. This is a distinctive feature and gives us even more possible evidence for this wreck to being the Coast Farmer.

The deco was long as usual, but everyone surfaced OK. Sea conditions improved and made for a comfortable entry back on Binjarra

With this latest information gathered from both wrecks, we learned a lot more about both sites especially WTF. We know that we have some work to do on the William Dawes, to learn on how the wreck is positioned on the bottom, how many pieces it may be in, and what part of the ship is each piece. I was disappointed not to have captured any footage, but excited by the opportunity to going back.

With WTF our research is making me believe more and more that we are on the right track. Even other professionals out there think the same. We are now down to one final piece of the puzzle to identify it for sure. What we know so far is the Coast Farmer Built by Submarine Boat Corporation, Newark, New Jersey, 1920. 3545 gross tons; 324 (bp) feet long; 46 feet wide; Steam turbine engine, single screw.  Service speed 10.5 knots. 

Built for U.S. Shipping Board, in 1920 and named Riverside Bridge. Constantinople to New York in 1920 and 1921 cargo service. Chartered to A.H. Bull & Co. Sold to Additional Arrivals, in 1928 and renamed Point Arena. Pacific coast cargo service. Swayne & Holt Co. Sold to Additional Arrivals, in 1937 and renamed Coast Farmer. Also Pacific coast cargo service. Owned by the Coastwise Line. Torpedoed and lost in 1942.

Evidence we found so far is:

  • The wreck was measured to be 98m long, the Coast farmer was 102m long. Most others that known to have sank in the area are either smaller 80m or less or bigger 120m or more in length
  • The boiler is amidships
  • The Stern has a distinctive rise aft of the cargo hold, which matches with Coast Farmer profile
  • The Curve in the Bulwarks that was found on last dive is very similar, even the line of plating is in the same place
  • The hull is made of small plates, which are visible on the wreck same as the photo of Coast Farmer
  • The sides of the Coast Farmer amidships have a unique shape that matches on the wreck
  • The gun we found to be a British 12 Pounder, we yet to find records to tell was did the Coast Farmer had, but we know it had a gun on the stern. We also know that merchant ships used anything they can get their hands on, even captured Japanese guns
  • The Cargo Coast Farmer was carrying was of wood, asphalt, tin sheets, and general army stores. This explains lack of cargo in the holds, since all ships heading north were full of cargo
  • The damage is consistent of torpedo attack. The wreck is intact from the stern to the boiler, and blown apart from the bridge forward. Coast Farmer was hit on port side under the bridge
  • The rudder and shape of the stern is identical to the profile of Coast Farmer

Further research is being conducted with a few contacts in USA, and additional literature is being obtained that incorporates images of the Coast Farmer along with its; complete history.

We hope to return to both wrecks in the next two months, and bring back further images and evidence to help us identify WTF, and map William Dawes.

I would like to thank Sandy and the two Daves for driving up from Melbourne, Jeff Hughes, David Apperley; Craig and Ange for their support duties that we can’t ever be without - the work is hard and they put 200% each time.

To Keith and Jim for getting us there, and Barney for chasing those pesky seals away.  Thank you everyone for making it a memorable experience. We will be back to do it all again.

Images from the Trip

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