SS Wear - May 2008

Leap of Faith

“What is that that just jumped out of the water?” I look up over shoulders of Sydney Project Team members gearing up and follow the direction that Keith Appleby is pointing towards. Off over into the distance I witness a mako shark of around two and a half metres in length jump straight out of the water; barrel roll and splash back down…

We are positioned over the wreck site of the SS Wear. The Wear was an 1892 ton steel single screw steamer that was wrecked near Montague Island on 8th September 1944 following a collision at night with the Norwegian freighter MV Anatina.  The vessel was struck amidships close to 1:00a.m and almost cut in half. During the 40 minutes it took the Wear to sink into 120m of water, many of the crew jumped into the sea still wearing their pyjamas. All but Newcastle man Harold Pring survived.

Almost 45 years after her demise, the SS Wear is now part of a mapping project that the Sydney Project is currently working on. The mapping project will attempt to bring to light the current condition of the SS Wear through film, photography and site sketches.

On this particular trip to the Wear three teams of two divers will be tasked with retrieving particular information. Due to the depth of the shipwreck, the teams must work efficiently within small windows of bottom time to complete their tasks.

The scooter team comprising of Kevin Okeby and Fil Gray will be covering length and breadth of the wreck to provide sketches of a wide-angle view of the site including positioning of the wreck. The photography team has Mark Spencer and Frits Breuseker who will be responsible for capturing aspects the SS Wear with Marks renowned photography skills. Our third team are Mark Eaves and Tony Kean capturing the wreck on video for later review.

Our last trip out here was pretty rough. Today the weather was perfect. It’s nice to actually be able to walk around the deck in a t-shirt and not have to brace for fear of falling over each time a wave lurched the boat sideways in large swell.  Days like this are yearned for and as a tech diver far out to sea with warm, blue water and no current, it is like a kid with candy!

Montague Island is renowned for marine wildlife and today is no different. The water was teaming with ever present seals circling the Binjarra. Later a pod of common dolphins were to greet the divers on the deco.

This trip the team is trying out a new approach to putting divers in the water as well. There is always the risk of needing to abort dives due to current. To avoid having the entire six divers abort the dive if the current is too strong we are dropping the first team of two in to check conditions during descent. Mark and Frits are up first. With the drag of Marks camera and housing equipment it would be a good test of current. If Mark and Frits were to encounter a current during descent that posed a safety risk they were to deploy a marker survive buoy without a line to indicate they are aborting. If within the time it would take to descent to the wreck and there is no marker to be seen, then we know they made it to the bottom without any struggle. So the next two buddy pairs are deployed.

Once the last dive team left the deck, Sydney Project Team support divers sprinted into deploying the backup staged gas. Andy Del was first diver into the water attaching safety gas and a shark pod. Our second shark pod battery was found to be faulty but remembering our leaping toothy friend earlier, it was best to have at least one than none. As it was no diver saw the shark in the water! But did it see them?

Fifteen minutes into the dive Mark Eaves and Tony Kean surface with a disappointed look on their faces. Tony encountered a problem his O2 injection on the rebreather. The decision was made and rather than continue to manually control the O2 it was best to abort the dive and come back another day.

Mark Spencer and Frits (as model - keep on practicing that blue steel look Frits!) concentrated on the bow section of the wreck taking some quality shots. Mark used a tripod to steady the camera for half second exposures; the longer exposure providing brightness to the wreck. Mark commented later that the challenge was find an even surface area for the shots. He also experienced intermittent electronic problems with his MK15.5 rebreather which took some attention from photography.

On the other side of the wreck Fil and Kevin where scootering around, as they moved towards mid wreck Kevin didn’t notice that a line from a reel had become loose and snagged on some wreckage. The reel kept unwinding as he scootered along,  oblivious to the line slowly twisting around his feet, like a cocoon of a silk worm, it was only when Fil stopped him to remove the line did he become aware. You just can’t take old people anywhere! Due to the scooters though, not all is lost. Fil and Kevin both achieved some mileage over the wreck and are now putting together their overall site sketches for submission. Unfortunately, cutting line from Kevin ate into the scooter team’s bottom time meaning that they had run out of time to release the depth accelerant from the shot line – something that would need to be dealt with a bit later on retrieval.

With the time passing by lazily on the surface, the weather only became better and the seas didn’t falter. As the bottom divers began to ascent up the deco station Ivo (support diver) jumped into action relieving bottom divers from any unwanted gear and taking down water bags for drinking … and Fil Gray’s book! Maybe FHM magazine is not exactly reading material, but he would argue otherwise!

Once all bottom divers had completed their deco and were back on board it was time to retrieve the deco station and the shot line. With the depth accelerant still attached, the shot line was just slightly bloody heavy and the last few metres were good exercise!

The trip back to Bermagui port was nice and comfortable with time to stop and sound the wreck site for the Lady Darling that the team was diving the following day – except for me that was, as I stayed in bed with a nice case of food poisoning. The Royal Dolton was never the same!

Diving on the Lady Darling allowed our support divers a day of relaxation and diving proper as much of their time is spent supporting Sydney Projects bottom divers. The Lady Darling wasn’t all that was expected though as there doesn’t seem to be much of the wreck to see. The stern section and boiler are the highest two features on the wreck along with the healthy fish life. Previous divers to the site have reported and photographed large Sun Fish but was not to be on this day. Ivo did spend fun some time enjoying Fil’s baby – the Silent Submersion scooter.  The day on the Darling was a good finish to a fantastic weekend on NSW south coast.

The week-end tasks for the SS Wears mapping project came through with strong results and I would like to say thank you to everyone on the trip for putting 200% into achieving our goals.

Until next time …

Expedition Team
  • Diver Supervisor
    • Samir Alhafith
  • Support Divers
    • Ivo Starski
    • Andy Del Riccio
  • Bottom Divers
    • Photography
      • Frits Bruseuker
      • Mark Spencer
    • Scooters - Site Sketches
      • Kevin Okeky
      • Fil Gray
    • Video
      • Tony Kean
      • Mark Eaves
Skipper   Keith Appleby
Boat        Binjarra


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