|HOW DO YOU DEFINE NEW - as in we dived a new wreck If you were at, say, 70m-plus and spotted an intact freighter that the dive guide didnt tell you about, then chances are that you have found a new wreck of your very own. |
On the other hand, if you were bimbling around a well-dived 10m site and came across such a wreck, its a fair bet that everybody else had already seen it and the dive-guide simply didnt mention it in the brief. You cant cover everything in a brief - it would take too long. Thats why theyre called briefs.
Somewhere in between these two extremes, however, are a whole slew of wrecks that are known - in the sense that someone you met on holiday claimed to have once met somebody else who dived it years ago - and which appear regularly in different guidebooks, often under different names.
I can think of three or four such wrecks in the northern Red Sea, where wrecks are a very serious commercial proposition. Youre not likely to dive them, however, because nobody has any idea exactly where they are.
Very few make the transition from myth to dive-briefing, because tracking them down is less important than taking clients to known wrecks. Few holiday divers will give up a day of their week on the off-chance of finding a new one.
There is, however, another in-between category of wreck: those for which GPS numbers are available but which are seldom dived because they lie outside the usual routes.
Everyone knows that northern Red Sea liveaboard trips last a week and will offer four dives a day. Guaranteeing that means diving known sites. In any case, travelling divers arent likely to have heard of these other wrecks. Most people prefer to dive wrecks that are familiar.
Visitors to the Red Sea, for instance, have always heard of Thistlegorm and will expect to dive it (even if theyre in the southern Red Sea, but thats a different article). Suggesting that you miss it is akin to suggesting that you take up child-molestation.
Also, the northern Red Sea has plenty of wrecks, and good wrecks at that, so there is no necessity to visit new sites.
On the other hand, wrecks deteriorate over time, and deteriorate even faster if diver-traffic is high. That makes new wrecks very welcome, so long as theyre not too far off the currently beaten track.
Anyway, Malin Svedberg used to be the dive guide on Whirlwind, flagship of Tony Backhurst and Tornado Marines liveaboard fleet, and her boyfriend Steve McEwan remembered once diving a little wreck somewhere to the north-west of the Rosalie Moller.
So far, so ambiguous, but the skipper of the boat from which Steve dived had the GPS numbers, and he was willing to share them with his friend Mohammed, who currently skippers Whirlwind.
This was promising, but then the March weather intervened.
Not possible in wind, Mohammed said, pointing at the rolling swell and the white horses breaking around the top edge of Gubal, but as we sat over the Rosalie Moller the following day the wind dropped slowly. By late afternoon it was verging on being calm, and the following morning it was even better.
We took a risk and dived Ulysses - a definite known wreck being better than a complete unknown, even if we were as certain of seeing the new wreck as we could be before we actually dived it. The weather stayed good.
We go now, said Captain Mohamed, switching on his personal GPS, and away we steamed for 90 minutes or so into the rarely dived waters north-west of Gubal, not knowing what we would find there.
Thats the other thing about these almost-undived wrecks. The stories you hear from those who know someone who once did them can be wildly inaccurate. A nice wreck in shallow water can mean almost anything. After all, if the wreck is big enough the top can be in 15m and the keel in 50m, and even intact can simply mean the bit I dived looked pretty much like a ship.
GPS is supposed to be accurate to within a few feet, and as we got closer to the marks a couple of dark patches in the water ahead showed shallow areas - or perhaps they were patches of seagrass.
Mario Vitalini, current dive-guide on Whirlwind with his partner Caroline Worley, kitted up and jumped into the RIB. Hes a good lad and he didnt mind when I jumped in as well. Bless im, he even zipped up my drysuit.
SECONDS LATER, WE ROLLED OVER the side into the clear blue water to find... a lovely and almost entirely intact little freighter lying in just 12m of water on a flat sandy bottom, which reflected the bright sunshine back upwards and made the wreck seem light and airy.
The first thing we saw was its stern, with a single propeller and rudder. Its bottom was almost flat, with just a pair of tiny stabilisers running the length of her hull. When the vessel was afloat it must have been, er, lively in anything but a flat calm.
Swimming around the stern we covered the wrecks length, which we estimated at 40m, give or take.
The funnel had broken just above deck level and fallen from the wreck, lying on the seabed directly beneath the place it came from.
The bridge area was clear and open, and the single small hold lay forward of it. At the bow was what was probably a paint and cable locker, and the remains of an oil-lamp rested in the silt on what was now the bottom - it was the port side when the vessel was working.
First impressions formed, Mario headed out of the water to brief the rest of the party, and I turned the camera on.
The bow compartment didnt run to the keel. There was a compartment below, so I popped my head inside and found myself eye to eye with a grouper the size of a small horse.
There were lots of small fish on the wreck, but nothing of even medium size, so perhaps this was the grouper that ate all the pies. I left it to its daytime rest and pressed on.
The forward hold was full of what looked like pipework or metal frames of some sort, though Tim later suggested that these were pre-fabricated narrow-gauge railway track sections, like some sort of giant train-set ready to be assembled wherever it was needed.
LOOKING AROUND THE AREA above water there were plenty of oil-rigs nearby, so perhaps the cargo was destined for one or other of these, or for one of the nearby shore installations.
However, the wreck looked to have been there too long to have been involved with an industry that started just 30 or so years ago.
The bridge area itself was open and clear, with no sign of instruments or controls, only a bare shell, although there were intact brass portholes complete with glass and the necessary turn-screws to dog them shut.
Just behind the bridge was the boiler, a huge affair, seeming much larger than necessary for such a small vessel, bigger than the boilers on Dunraven in my memory - though perhaps that was the excitement. The engine itself was entirely intact, and I mean entirely -
all the pipework, all the instruments, everything, though covered in years of concretion.
It took some time to work out that the engine was a triple-expansion unit, with the largest cylinder apparently in the centre. It was difficult to get a good view given the small size of the wreck, the limited space surrounding the engine and the mass of pipework running everywhere. The portholes here were also intact, and some stood open.
The best parallel I can give is the wreck of the tugboat at Abu Galawa in the southern Red Sea. Our wreck had less coral growth but was pretty similar in size and layout, and in better nick.
So far, so good. It was time to get out of the water. While my cylinder was refilled I grabbed a cup of tea and changed the wide-angle lens for a macro, because the wreck itself is only the first half of the story. The second half is that it was Nudibranch Central.
Mostly these were the pyjama slugs familiar to anyone who has dived in the Red Sea, but there were other species as well. It wasnt the presence of a few nudis that was so surprising, however, it was that the wreck was covered in them.
Everywhere you looked there were pyjama slugs, sometimes three or four in a small area. So many, in fact, that they rapidly stopped being interesting enough to notice, which freed the eyes to take in the pepper morays, of which at least five were visible in broad daylight. This wreck must make a superb night-dive.
HOWEVER, TO RETURN to the original question, is this a new wreck
No, of course not. Tim, proposer of the railway-track idea, had dived it before, and a discarded four-hook anchor like those used by dive boats lay on the sand near the bow. That could have come from a fishing boat, of course. A particularly vicious-looking squid-shaped fishing lure was tangled in the hard coral on the top rail.
On the other hand, it was new to me, though a quick Internet search later turned up a reference to the vessel, suggesting that it was built in 1900 and was indeed carrying narrow-gauge railway-track sections, possibly for use in gun emplacements at Aqaba. There was no mention of a name.
My initial reaction is that it is not that old, as its hull seemed to be welded and not riveted, though it wasnt that new or its engine would have been a diesel. However old it may be, it is clearly one of the thousands of tiny tramp-steamers that once took cargoes round the world.
I just hope that the diver traffic on this wreck stays light, and that the boats that do make it far enough off the beaten path to see it dont put lines into it and rip it apart. Its a little gem, and it would be nice if it were to stay that way.
|in the engine-room |
|pyjama slugs (Chromodoris quadricolour) are present |
|a broken funnel, with the hull in the background |
|The freighters superstructure |
|The engine-room. |
|This mimic blenny has made its home on the unnamed wreck. |