SS Cumberland - Feb 2007

Expedition Date: February 17th & 18th 2007

The Sydney Project dive team comprised Samir Alhafith, Kevin Okeby, Mark Spencer, Fritz Breuseker, Phil Gray, Mike Wynd, Michael Kalman, Tony Keen, Mark Eaves with Barry Brock (a neighbour and friend of Kevin’s) providing valuable and appreciated assistance on the boat.

Saturday’s dive started out early with 10-15 knot NE winds and moderate NE seas making for a pitching and rolling 3 hour journey south to the wreck in Keith Appelby’s charter boat. The divers had targeted the stern of the Cumberland as their dive site because it sits high and is an impressive site. Samir elected to be dive supervisor for the day, so between 10.30 and 11 AM, seven divers entered the water.

With the water green and murky on top, no-one expected blue water and probably 40m of visibility that extended all the way to the bottom from just 9 metres below the surface. Mark Spencer and Kevin Okeby had dived the wreck before and never appreciated the stern like we did this day. The whole stern section was entirely visible and the flattened aft hold region (caused by the salvage work of Risdon Beazley in the early ‘50s) left the unsupported stern leaning at about 45 degrees to the starboard. This had the effect of lifting the port-side propeller well off the sand, making it a dramatic photo target. I took several pictures of Kevin modeling near the propeller for a sense of scale. The resulting images (taken with a digital D200 camera with 10.5mm F/E lens in a Seacam housing) turned out well, although the photographer was disappointed he didn’t shift the composition a little more to the right to capture the complete curved cruiser stern of the wreck.

Fritz Breuseker joined Kevin and myself, and we all briefly explored the hold area just forward of the stern before our nominated 20 min BT came along too quickly. Looking forward along the flattened hold area, we could just see the outline of the remaining more intact mid-section of the shipwreck. The water was cold – very cold – at 10 to11 deg C on the bottom. The top murky layer was not much warmer, varying from 13 deg at 9m to 16 deg at the final 4.5m stop. The water temperature with the long in-water decompression commitment was the only thing that stopped us from extending our bottom time to say 25 mins.

As usual, the long shallow stops caused all 7 divers to be somewhat crowded on the otherwise excellent deco-station. In addition the lumpy sea conditions made the final 4.5m stop a long, drawn-out affair. The day’s designated dive assistants saw some less-than-polished entries to the boat in the rough water – your’s truly being one whose entry was rather demoralizing to say the least. Some lengthening of the sling bottle clips was made for the following day to avoid that situation again.

All went well on the day, despite the mentioned imperfections. The only mis-hap was after the first couple of divers entered the water. The skipper managed to run over the dive tender’s rope, which wrapped tightly around the propeller shaft. Mark Eaves attempted to unravel the mess while holding his breath wearing a dry suit (not easy). The rope needed cutting, so I grabbed what weight-belts I could find around me, attached a deco sling bottle to the top of my weight belt shoulder harness, and spent an exhausting 5 minutes or so cutting the tightly wrapped rope off the shaft. Just what you need before a deep dive!

The following day promised even better sea conditions, so we all prepared for another blue-water dive on the stern. Kevin and I were going to improve the stern photo and Samir would undoubtedly have pulled-off some excellent video footage to complete our documentation of this magnificent wreck. The usual 3 hour journey got rougher and the radio reports indicated the wind was going to pick up to 25 knots around mid-day. After traveling the whole distance to the wreck, the boat was being pitched about rather violently and it promised to get worse. As hard as it was, the decision was wisely made to abort diving for the day. We recovered the shot line and buoy and returned home.


Images from the Trip

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