John
John Chatterton and Joe Porter search the Caribbean seabed with underwater metal detectors.


ARMED WITH NOTHING MORE than an APD Evolution rebreather, an O-Three shortie and a mask, diving in the Caribbean seemed to me like a welcome to heaven, compared to the deep wreck diving I usually do.
A couple of months earlier, American wreck-diver and TV presenter John Chatterton had called to ask if I was interested in joining him and his colleague Joe Porter to look for wrecks.
I jumped at it. Our destination was Santa Domingo, in the southern Dominican Republic.
The reef we had chosen for the days search was a mile or so west of Pirates Cove Dive Centre at Juan Dolio, 20 minutes drive from Santa Domingo, and the quantity of life on the reef surprised me. It was very colourful, with huge fan, stag and black corals, and funnel sponges big enough to stash a diver inside. One coral bush I saw was easily the size of a car.
Using a Garrett underwater metal detector, I listened excitedly through the earphones for signs of frequency interference suggesting metal on the reef. In 40m of visibility I could see
John in the distance, waving Joe and me across to the edge of the reef, and what appeared on approach to be two huge anchors.
They were indeed anchors, and very old ones at that. So old, in fact, that hundreds of years of reef growth had made them almost unrecognisable. We spent the next hour or so scouting for any signs of the ship, but with no luck.
Back at Pirates Cove, legendary US treasure-hunter Sir Bob Marx (knighted by Spain for sailing a replica of Columbuss boat Nina from Spain to San Salvador many years ago) greeted our return. On hearing of our find, Sir Bob suggested that the anchors may have been jettisoned from an old galleon caught in a storm and desperately trying to clear the reef.

WRECK WEEK AT PIRATES COVE, organised by John and Joe, was the first of its kind, the idea being that any level of diver could enrol for a weeks diving, and learn from the experts.
Just about every manufactured rebreather was available to try out. Kevin Gurr had brought his Ouroboros unit from the UK, Canadian Kim Smith of Jetsam was there with a Kiss, and a Silent Diving representative had both Inspirations and Evolutions in its role as North American distributor for the British CCRs.
Instructor Ron Micjan of the USA had brought a Megalodon, and Paul Raymaekers his all-new Revo unit from Belgium.
Divers could obtain expert advice on all aspects of the sport, including improving photographic skills, and Deep Sea Detectives underwater cameraman Evan Kovacs was available to help those with video cameras.
Anyone who wanted to play with serious hardware in the shape of ROVs could link up with Video Ray from the USA, and the Pirates Cove staff were able to add side-scan equipment into the mix.
The workshops and seminars were soon in full flow under the coconut trees at Pirates Cove. Relaxing after dinner every night, guests could enjoy a range of presentations with the focus on Caribbean pirate and treasure ships, such as the Port Royal famously excavated by Bob Marx.
The relatively new and well-equipped dive centre is owned by US East Coast wreck diver John Mattera. I had brought my own rebreather cylinders, only to find an entire rack of them for customers use. In fact I could have travelled with one rather than the two 23kg-allowance bags I had brought. There was trimix, nitrox and buckets of Sofnalime for the rebreather divers.
German Uwe Rath runs Pirates Cove with a local staff who are among the most hardworking and enthusiastic I have met. I dont usually allow anyone to touch my rebreather, but after seeing the care these guys took with everyones gear on the first day, I soon caved in.
Most of the crew speak only Spanish, but their supervisors speak good English, so there was no difficulty in communicating, whether ordering gas for the next days dive, or loading your rig onto the boat.
The 12m Galleon Hunter, the biggest vessel, has plenty of deck space, seating and a nifty system for securing tanks or rebreathers.
Wreck Raider, the next size down, can take 10 divers with ease, and a smaller vessel will take handfuls of divers wherever they want to go, whether its a reef dive or our search for pirate ships.
There are several wrecks to enjoy within a half-hour boat ride of the dive centre, in depths ranging from 14-60m. On day one I dived a freighter named Tanya V, a well-preserved sugar-carrier sunk in 1999 for divers about eight minutes from the dive centre.
Fifty metres long, the wreck lies on its keel in 33m with some big guys aboard, including huge green moray eels and the biggest grouper I have seen.
The explosion that sank Tanya V is more than obvious on the starboard amidships hull, where the hole is large enough to allow a diver to enter and examine the inside of the sugar tanks. The sun throws its rays down through the many open tank chutes overhead.
Bearing only a few years of Caribbean growth, Tanya V looks very much as she must have looked the day she sank.
Many of the gantries and walkways still have their safety rails, and the wreck has an abundance of marine life on the outside as well as inside.
A couple of New York divers had brought along their own side-mount rebreathers, and what better a place to test such gear than on an excellent little wreck in cracking visibility, about 35 minutes from the centre
Alto Velo is a tugboat wreck that lies to starboard in only 14m, between the towns of Juan Dolio and Boca Chica.
Sunk seven years ago, it is now beautifully covered in corals and soft sponges. The odd gauge remains visible inside the bridge, and you can still read some of the instruments.
So many fish swarm around that sometimes they obscure the entire wreck. Again we enjoyed frequent encounters with resident green morays.
The guys testing their side-mount rebreathers managed to get themselves stuck in just about every tight hole leading into the wreck, backwards, forwards and upside-down, and even John Chatterton couldnt resist joining in on the fun.

OFF THE SAME SECTION OF COASTLINE close to Boca Chica lies another intact artificial reef. The much-larger tugboat Catuan, once of Santa Domingo, lies in 20m, again listing to starboard, and again makes for an excellent dive both inside and out. The name of the ship is clearly visible around the stern, and the surrounding seabed is alive with delicately preserved coral gardens, huge funnel sponges and coral fans.
You can double up here by doing a good-quality reef dive and finish by making your way up and around the wreck to the dive boat.
One site that will interest technical divers is that of an old diesel ship in 60m that looks as a shipwreck should. Galleon Hunter anchored up not far offshore, and as we entered the water we could see the reef clearly below.
Uwe had told us to follow it down along a natural roadway that led off into deeper water. The path was more than obvious, and several rebreather divers swam along its clean white sand until we met the edge of the reef at 50m.
The sand disappeared into open ocean before dropping off a ledge into deep water.
Ahead of us lay the most perfect-looking shipwreck I had seen in years. Had it sunk just a few metres further out, we would have been diving a wreck off the ledge in about 120m of water!
The wreck remained completely intact and upright, even after Hurricane George devastated the island in 1998.
The masts, safety rails and funnel still stood in place. This was a great wreck to get inside, and the view from the engine-room of light penetrating the skylights was incredible.
This was a wreck that deserved a name, and I felt like providing one there and then - Perfect Lady! As we followed the path back, some of the divers ascended across the reef to decompress surrounded by beauty.
Even from 40m the dive-boat was always visible. It was bliss to do a two-hour-plus dive in a shortie with no hood, and to surface to an ice-cold cola.
There were several wrecks I didnt get the chance to dive, such as the Hickory, the famous find of treasure-hunter Tracy Bowden, and the Limon, which Im told is one of the best preserved in the La Caleta underwater national park.

CHRISTOPHER COLUMBUS DISCOVERED the large island that would become the Dominican Republic and, to the west, Haiti in 1492. He named it Hispaniola, or Little Spain, and its capital Santo Domingo became the nerve centre for the burgeoning Spanish empire in the Western Hemisphere.
Many pirate ships tried to fight their way into Santa Domingo and ended up outside its harbour walls.
On several days Galleon Hunter went off in search of new such wrecks using the side-scan and ROV equipment. Nothing of significance turned up, unfortunately, but it was still exciting to dive possible targets.
If you dont go you dont know, and Im sure that on subsequent Wreck Weeks discoveries will be made.
But in any case, John Chatterton and Joe Porter came up with the idea of Wreck Week as a way for divers from all corners of the world to meet, share experiences and make new friends.
If you are interested in joining them for the next one in April 2008, visit www.johnchatterton.com or go direct to Pirates Coves website at www.piratescovedivecenter.com

Hundreds
Hundreds of years of growth had made two old anchors almost unrecognisable.
Veteran
Veteran treasure-hunter Bob Marx with Leigh Bishop.
Talking
Talking rebreathers
A
A diver peers down one of the sugar-loading flutes on the deck of the Tanya V.
Diver
Diver Michelle Desloge had come from the mid-USA to dive wrecks such as
Divers
Divers on the wreck of the sunken tug Catuan.
The
The bow of a wonderfully intact diesel wreck at 60m dubbed the Perfect Lady.
Canadian
Canadian Marty Viilma enjoys the deep wreck dive.
A
A diver emerges from the staircase.

FACTFILE

GETTING THERE: Flights to Santo Domingo Las Americas airport with American Airlines via Miami. Flights are also available via Madrid. A tourist visa costs US $10.
DIVING & ACCOMMODATION: Pirates Cove welcomes divers for Wreck Week or at any other time, www.piratescovedivecenter.com
WHEN TO GO: Diving is year round but because of the hurricane season late autumn through to summer is the best time to visit. Water temperature 24-26C.
MONEY: Peso
PRICES: Guests on the 2007 Wreck Week paid for flights plus US $1995 for full-board hotel accommodation and transfers and the programme itself. The only extras were special gas blends, additional technical courses, and rental equipment. The price for 2008 (11-21 April) is expected to be slightly higher there will be more days and more events.
FURTHER INFORMATION: 020 7242 7778, www.dominicanrepublic.com