Leigh
Leigh Cunningham, decompressing over Yolanda Reef after his 160m dive. Photo: Adam Butler

The ship sat precariously on what is now Yolanda Reef, off Ras Mohammed, from 1981 to 1985. She finally slipped off during a storm which managed to snap massive steel tethering cables.
On 26 May, Cunningham found the wreck's forward section, at a depth of 145m running down to 160m on a 45-degree slope. It is almost completely buried in sand. The rest of the ship, probably further broken, has to be even deeper at sub-170m.

Cunningham acknowledged that he had not positively identified the ship, but thought it had to be the 72m Yolanda, which carried bathroom fittings when wrecked. Lavatories and other items still litter the reef where the ship first grounded. “To my knowledge no other ships have sunk in this exact area, ¬ he told Divernet.  “I would say it is highly unlikely the wreck is not the Yolanda.

The find came during a six-day diving project organised by Cunningham and Andrews. The pair previously trained together for a scuba depth record attempt at well over 300m, which was shelved in 2003 on health grounds.

“We started with two days at Far Garden, getting used to big rigs, said Cunningham. He carried six 12-litre aluminium tanks, Andrews five.  “Then came four days at Yolanda Reef, progressively increasing in depth, with two deep mix dives to 150m then 160m.

“We found wreckage on our first dive on the reef, and several large ship containers from 60m to 83m,†Andrews told Divernet. On another dive, he noted a deep scour starting at 92m, and that from 102m the seabed got steeper. The ship must have “built up speed here¬ before ploughing to a halt in the sand.

Cunningham made the two deep mix dives alone. “Unfortunately Mark picked up a stomach bug mid-week, and made the hard but correct decision to skip the deep mix dives,†he said. He located the wreck on the first descent and, the next day, “stood on the deck, looking up at the bow at a depth of 160m. The dives allowed about five minutes of bottom time, for in-water times of “a little over two hours.

Of ten support divers, eight came from Sharm's Ocean College and Colona dive centres. Colona's 25m vessel Diavola was used, and all gas mixes were prepared by Mix Unlimited. Sharm's helicopter rescue and hyperbaric facilities stood by for any emergency.

Cunningham and Andrews plan to return to the Yolanda in August to dive even deeper in search of other parts of the ship. They would like to map and film the wreck.

Cunningham works at Ocean College as a TDI Instructor Trainer. Andrews is Technical Director at the London School of Diving.