USS William Dawes - Apr 2008

Friday 18th of April saw 6 bottom divers, two support dives a supervisor and deckie drive on down to Keith’s property – Dybara.

Most of the team arrived to settle into two of Dybara’s units, which are really more like small houses and were completely asleep by the time the SS Samir docked outside at 11:45. A good thing too, as the alarms were set for 5:00 am to meet Keith at Binjarra to set off from the wharf by 6:30am.

With all hands at the wharf by (almost) 6:00am, 6 rebreathers, 16 stage tanks, 4 scooters 2 sets of OC gear and food for 11 was soon loaded. The Binjarra left the wharf and headed out to a bumpy ride to the 130m curve and the SS William Dawes. Stage tanks and scooters were tied down, rebreathers laid out or tied to railings and bags ‘n’ tubs sitting pretty in the middle of the deck.  Everyone was kept busy tying gear down tighter and moving stuff about as the seas tried to rock and roll everything on deck.

After an hour’s steaming, we arrive at the William Dawes site. The shot was prepared and thrown over on Keith’s command. As luck would have it, it’s a perfect throw we’re in! Frits’ hard work designing and redesigning the deco station saw a slick piece of art; SS rails, rope, hoses, clips and swivels drop effortlessly into the sea. A brisk southerly running current pulled the station out from the shot, with the crossover line eventually discovered to be at 22m!

The next task is to get 6 divers into the water. All with two stages, 4 with scooters and 1 with a video rig! Luckily (for the support crew, Dave Apps fell victim to the seas, deciding not to dive. Now we had five support crew to gear up five bottom divers in a rocking boat.

Although Binjarra was pitching to 3-4m swell, our five divers managed to enter the water in reasonably good time. With that task done, it was time to get the support divers into the water to set the deco stages and shark shields on the deco station.

Easy, eh? Not really, as the pitching boat made it hard for them to gear up. Of course, a brain melt by support saw Jeff dumped up current on the shot line, rather than the deco station. Not to be outdone, Jeff swam himself down the shot line and out of view of the boat crew!

Some anxious minutes passed on the boat with all eyes keeping a lookout for him, when a head bobbed up on the shot buoy. It was Paul Garske, who after being hit with a blocked ear at 60m, thumbed the dive….still no Scooby though. Some very long minutes later, Jeff eventually surfaces with little gas, mission accomplished and tanks in place.

To give Scoob a breather, Ivo was dropped onto the deco station to set the shark pods.

Sometime later, the support divers where back in the water to look for our bottom divers due on the deco station.  Support diver Ivo made quick work of relieving them of stages and scooters. (Tough swimming a scooter or two through a current isn’t it? Or maybe one could use the damn thing…) Scoob also gave assistance to get stages and scooters securely tied up on board by the time the divers returned.

The day’s result was: Pops and Steve (on his first sub 100m dive no less) scooter all over the wreck. Frits and ‘Steady-as-she-goes’ Samir got to within about 10m before running out of bottom time. Samir’s thoughts on the day:

Going out in flat seas to do a big dive is something you appreciate as a technical diver, and take in every moment you are on the water. But on a day such as this weekend it was anything but flat, and my dive started by sliding off the bench sideways when a big wave hit the boat and stopping abruptly on the floor face down while fully kitted to do 135 metre dive! It was not an ideal start.

About the only encouragement was the fact that the water was dark blue colour, indicating amazing visibility is on offer. After Frits and I managed to get in the water we encountered a pretty strong current. After our quick checks, we started to descend down very slowly struggling against the current. At around 60 meters we met Paul on the shot line and he was having problems equalising his ears and decided to abort the dive. I checked my rate of descend and it was very slow which concerned me at this stage, because Frits and I were nominated to cut the depth accelerant of the shot line at the end of our dive, and we needed to reach the end of the shot line to do this.

As we continued on in the crystal clear water we could see that the line was at a very shallow angle, and we were swimming as hard as possible without sinking much. At this stage I was certain we would not be spending any time on the wreck, and lucky to even reach it at all. We continued on for as long as our bottom time allowed and managed to reach the top of the wreck, but could see beyond the hull where the debris field is but this was the end of our bottom time and time to turn around.

With the deco cross over line sliding all the way up to 30 meters, from the usual 70 metres it suppose to be at, we had to endure the increasing current until I was able to release the deco station from the shot line, but not before having a struggle with it to release it, which at the end I had to cut it loose and such was the strength of the current. The deco was business as usual with a playful seal keeping us company by tugging on everyone’s fins and then staring in the face at arms length away.

The support crew did their magic as usual and looked after all the gear that were not being used anymore by the divers, and kept a watchful eye on everything. Later getting back on the boat was quick and efficient process, and with everything put back in its place we headed back to port happy that despite the marginal conditions, we managed to get at least two divers to have a good look at the wreck, and record some vital information for our mapping project.

The trip back to Bermagui was rocky, but with good spirits for an uneventful, yet rewarding day on the ocean.

Drinks followed at the Bermagui Beach hotel. Pops, after a few beers thought better of normal crowd control and decided to surf it to the bar. Who says those in their 70’s, (Oh, 60’s is it?) crowd surfs. Luckily, SP Video productions get some footage more interesting of the result of drink spiking by Samir. Look on Youtube for ‘Sydney Project’ or ‘Elite divers, my arse!’ to see what we mean!

After the excitement of crowd surfing grandpas, and drink spiking unsuspecting daddies, a quiet drink in the rain around the fire (boosted by an O2 tank) was a good way to end the day. The following morning we convoyed back to Sydney, via Cooma and Canberra.


Expedition Team

  • Diver Supervisor
    • Andy Del Riccio
  • Support Divers      
    • Ivo Starski
    • Jeff Drury
    • Ange Jeffery (deck support)
  • Bottom Divers
    • Frits Breuseker
    • Dave Apperley
    • Kevin Okeky
    • Paul Garske
    • Steve Loneragan
  • Video
    • Samir Alhafith

Skipper   Keith Appleby
Boat       Binjarra


Images from the Trip



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