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Who Are You?

How do circumstances trigger something to happen in the future, which you may not necessarily realise at the time of it’s happening? I believe strongly that in life things happen for a reason, and this is just one small example of  this.

October 2004, a Sydney Project expedition to the wreck of the William Dawes on the South Coast of New South Wales, Bermagui, gathers a group of members, to meet the local fishermen, and present them with a framed photo of the wreck Bega, by Mark Spencer.

This was to show the local fishermen of our gratitude, and appreciation for sharing their knowledge of the location of local wrecks, that we now have so much pleasure of diving, and exploring.

This encounter was brief, but it did bring divers and fishermen closer together, and excited fishermen to reveal more locations, they know to avoid so that their nets don’t get caught in them. Of course the excitement is mutual after all, we all just humans who are curious to know what is down there in the big blue, waiting to be found.

In May 2005, Keith Appleby informs me that he has been on the water that day, north east of Montague Island. He has sounded what he believes is a fairly large wreck, or at least this is what a local fisherman known locally as “Rocky” has told Keith. The wreck, Keith tells me is in 120 metres of water, and on sand. There are no known reefs next to the site, so all signs were looking good that this may be one of these wrecked ships in the area: Wear, Kedumba or the Iron Knight.

News such as these are music to my ears, and of course a few calls and a few emails were exchanged, but as much as I wanted to jump in the car and start driving down south, this was not going to happen until December!! I had to remind myself, with only a handful of divers currently able to dive to depths below 100 metres, it’s always difficult to find the right people to do these trips at a certain time!

With a lack of people that were able to travel to check this site, we used the October 2005 trip to dive the Bega, which turned out to be the best diving on the Bega to date, see previous reports on www.sydneyproject.com.

With this site constantly on my mind, it was slow and painful to wait until December. Eventually the time came, we finally had the crew to do the expedition, and we were like little kids counting the time to start the drive down south. But first before the fun can begin, some homework needed to be made, to make sure everyone is ready to do the dive, which was going to be the first 100+ metre dive for Michael Kalman and Bernard Maegraith.

First part of the planning was to make sure we agreed on the gases to use on this dive, so that everyone is diving the same plan, and we don’t end up with a cluster of bailout cylinders full of different gases. Since we were all diving closed circuit rebreathers, logistics was going to be fairly simple; with the only gases staged on the deco station being 50% Nitrox and 100% O2. Bern staged one of his travel gases, but I opted to carry 3 stage tanks, all of them 12.2L in capacity. Some think this may be too much to carry, but what you need to keep in mind is these cylinders are full of Helium mixture, which makes them positive in the water! Yes steel cylinders will float with enough Helium in them.

Gases we used on this dive were 8/75 bottom, bailout gases 23/50 (first travel gas), and 31/40 (second travel gas) used to flush the loop at 30 metres. Then it’s up to 50% Nitrox and 100% O2. Software used to generate the plan VPM-B/E with +4 conservatism. Warning, using this plan may not be for everyone, and you should not attempt to copy it.

After a few emails back and forth between us we had the plan all worked out, and the fun part of mixing gases started. First, running around to collect cylinders from other people and organise a time for mixing, thanks to Kevin Okeby for the mixing of all back up gas for us. Then just when I thought everything was ready to go a week from the travel date, I found that the deco station needed some major work. After doing some more running around I finally had all the parts for the deco station, which was spread all over other members, and then do all the necessary modifications in time for the trip. This was completed with a day to spare, and it was getting all exciting.

The morning of 10th December we woke up at 5 A.M, and finally greet the guys that arrived earlier the night before. Our super support crew consisted if Sven, Ivo (German connection), and local to the area Josh. Everyone went about getting everything organised, and take off for the10 minute drive to the harbour.

The morning was spectacular, sun shinning nice and warm, sea smooth as glass and crystal clear. Yes this is South Coast at its best. The boat was loaded with all the gear and we set off into the big blue for the two hour trip to the site.

Sven being the supervisor for the day, made sure everything went smoothly, all paper work filled out, and our support divers Ivo and Josh, knew what to expect during the dive, and what they needed to do in emergency. I had to make sure the guys knew the ropes we were using, and also make sure everything was rigged to be deployed without any fuss or delay. This went so smoothly I couldn’t have wished for better setup on the day, and can’t praise the support crew enough for their work, without them these dives are impossible to do.

We reached the site in exactly two hours, and I could only watch in amazement at how clear and blue this water looked. We spent around 40 minutes making sure that the shot line Keith dropped the day before was still on the wreck. As we watched the sounder go over the wreck, I could see the steep wall of the wreck appear. Still you question if what we are seeing is a wreck or reef? But you just wait and hope that it is a wreck.

Once we were happy that the shot line was close enough to the wreck, the deco station was deployed, and the three of us started to get dressed into our drysuits under the hot sun. It was quite warm in these suits to say the least, just two minutes sitting in the sun felt like being in an oven. The only way you don’t pass out was by having the support crew pour water over your head to cool down, and the relief was just instant. After donning rebreathers, all stage cylinders brought were to us by support crew, and attached according to our instructions. Another reason to have cool headed crew is to help you in difficult conditions, like when you are cooking under the sun, and you have a lot of gear to handle.

Jumping into the water was the moment that seemed to take forever to arrive, but we were finally there, and the cool water wass bliss. Keith mentioned to us on arrival that there was no current. Maybe a slight current on the surface, but nothing at all from five metres. At this depth we stopped to do our rebreather sensor checks and relax. With five minutes passing, Michael and I wondered where Bernard was? We saw the big splash, and then he joined us on the line. With Bern running a little late, we decided to extend this stop to ten minutes, to give him time to relax, and do his tests. This stop time was not added to the bottom time; we try and make it an easy number like 5 or 10 minutes, so that if you don’t have a gauge that you can reset the time, you just add that time on top of your schedule.

The moment of truth arrived, and we start our descent to the unknown site. Will this be a wreck, or another virtual midget submarine covered in sand? We already had enough of these stories the week before, so I could only hope we had the real thing. The descent was quick; we did 30+ metres a minute, and reached the bottom in 5 minutes, the depth showing on our gauges exactly 120 metres. But we are on sand? Could this be just another sand dive? Michael was a few seconds behind me, since his ADV on his classic Kiss reabreather had a problem, he manually had to inflate the counter lungs.

I looked into the distance in front of me and then behind me, to see where it looked the darkest? Visibility dropped down to around 10 metres and it was very dark on the bottom with very little ambient light. My guess was to swim in front of me and with Michael attaching the reel to the shot line, Bernard behind me we swam towards what could be just reef. My heart started pumping harder as I saw a dark object in the gloom, the sand started to slop upwards slightly, covered with scallop shells, my thinking was it looks like reef, but the shells usually found around wrecks, this is the same thing gathered around the William Dawes, so maybe this was a wreck.

With every stroke of my fins I got closer and closer to the dark shadow, and looking around to see if it’s rocks or metal. Then in a split moment, after all the months of waiting and wondering, it appeared in front of me a metal object sticking out of sand. All I can do at this moment is turn around, look at the guys, and scream with joy. It’s hard to describe the feeling, but being on my fourth virgin wreck, it was still like the first. We started looking around, trying to figure out where we were on the wreck, and if there were any items or artifacts that may tell us the identity of the unlucky ship to sink in this spot.

I found a few large dinner plates, but none had any writing on them. We were on the bow and I could see the large winch, high walls of the side indicating a fairly large ship. According to Keith’s sounding of the site, it appears to be around 80 metres long. The section behind the bow damaged badly, another suspicion that this may be the wreck of a ship called the “SS Wear” , James Pater son & Co. Pty.; 191JL; J. Crown & Sons; 1,892 tons; 268x37- 9 x 1 7 -6; 205 n.h.p.; triple-expansion engines. The Australian cargo ship Wear sank after a collision with the Norwegian motorship Anatina, 4,986 tons, ten miles S. of Montague Island, N.S.W., on September 8th, 1944, while on a voyage in ballast from Melbourne to Newcastle, N.S.W.

Other items found were some old ceramic style bottles, portholes, and various brass fittings. There was some coal to be seen, which is what I think is the first coal hold. But still nothing to tell us 100% that this is the Wear or any other ship. This mystery will have to wait for another day to be solved. With time running out, the 15 minutes we had on the wreck seems to have gone in a flash, we made our way back to the shot line, and up to do the 4 hours of decompression.

With no current at all, we had no issues reaching the deco station in 60 metres.Once we were back on the deco station, it was set free from the shot line, with shark pod bar that was attached to one line, was then also attached to the other line to keep the two apart, and then the shark pods were switched on. We moved this bar with us during our ascent.

The long decompression can get boring at times, especially on the last few stops, but this wasn’t going to be the case on this dive. Little did we know that the pod of dolphins riding the bow of the boat earlier were back in huge numbers to feed on a bait ball just above the deco station. With this bait ball trying to hide under the boat the dolphins were everywhere, herding the school into a tight ball, and then going right through it feeding. The seals joined in on the action which made the sea surface boil with action. The dolphins and seals were around us the whole 4 hours, and this was anything but a boring decompression.

Another surprise that was waiting for us up the top was the gale force winds. With Ivo coming down to check on us, bringing drinking water, and collecting any cylinders not required anymore. He wrote on his slate that the winds are blowing hard, and we had no idea just how bad it really was. For us our priority is doing the dive, doing the air breaks, and other related stuff . Of course we had the company of the dolphins, so it was good and fun.

With decompression ending, Michael and I surfaced first, with Bernard a few minutes behind us, we were greeted by 3 to 4 metres waves, and howling winds. It was not a pretty site to see the 25 ton boat rocking and rolling on top of these mountains, as they seemed from the water line. First thought “How in hell do I get back on the boat?”. With the support on the boat throwing ropes towards us to pull us to the boat, as I approach the boat the stern would ride a wave above my head threatening  to drop on top of me, I drop the line and swim as far away as possible to stay clear until the boat was safe to approach again! This was not fun at all.

With the help of guys in the water, and others hanging to the side of the boat, they managed to bring us all back on board safely. Another great example of how good this support crew was. But the fun was not over and we had to pull the deco station back on board. With boat rolling violently it was not easy but we managed to finish the job. Everyone on board was sea sick, some worse than others, still they battled on to finish the job. The deck of the boat looked like an explosion just ripped through it, gear was thrown about everywhere. Tanks were secured for obvious safety reasons, everything else was just in a sorry state. Little could be done other than swallow more sea sickness pills and try to sleep the ride back home.

With Keith hugging the shore line for some protection against the swell and wind, we arrived back to Bermagui harbour three and half hours later. The steady feeling of the boat and then land was weird, after a few hours of this constant rocking motion, I thought my head was still rocking inside! It was a good feeling to stand under the hot shower, and then sit for a nice meal of Italian food, some beers and wine to wash it down. Finally we have achieved what we came to do, though the bonus of getting positive identification will have to wait for another time.

The most important and memorable part of the trip for me, will always be just how good the support crew we had on this mammoth task. Thank you to Keith Appleby for making another amazing discovery for The Sydney Project, and thank you again to the fishermen of the most beautiful town on the south coast, Bermagui.

 

Images from the Trip

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