We dived a wreck on the weekend after Scott Willan and I did a Sydney to Pittwater multibeam scan several weeks prior (almost 100nm covering all known wrecks). On Saturday 11th February Scott Willan, Victoria Parr, Grant Joslin and myself went out to dive several of the targets identified including an object approximately 2.8km South East of the wreck of the Birchgrove Park, at position 33° 38.938’S 151° 24.362’E (WGS 85 DD MM.mmm).
The wreck is in 56m and is a crane barge of approximately 25m by 12m with the main deck structure coming up approximately 1.5 meters and 2 elements of the old crane then come up an additional approximately 1.5m above the old deck line. We believe this wreck has found in approximately 2007 and subsequently dived, but the location was never released by the divers.
Conditions on the day were excellent with flat seas, great visibility and an abundance of fish life. The wreck site is well worth a dive, should be easy to find using standard echo sounders and is a great new addition to the shipwrecks in the area.
The only wreck on record that may fit the description is from the ‘Scuttled and Abandoned Ships in Australian Waters’, 1998 Parsons, CRANE BARGE No.4 Owned Maritime Services Bd. Scuttled 12m ESE of Sydney Heads, June 22, 1972, but the location is wildly wrong.
Cruising out of Sydney Harbour, it’d been one year to the day since our good friend lost his life whilst we were exploring the MV Limerick. It only added to our anticipation, as the 70m dive we’d about to undertake was a relative unknown. Armed with more government survey data procured by Scott Willan, we’d previously scanned the site with our depth sounder and had a target in the GPS.
We drop a shot line on the target, gear up and descended. Not much is said, we just get on with the usual business of diving. As we hit the bottom, visibility is only about 3-4m and it’s twilight dark. Squinting, we see the outline of a wreck just out of view which gives us that feeling of relief, knowing we haven’t just done another deep dive to a sandy sea floor.
Together, two of us struggle to drag the heavy anchor and chain of our shot line across the sand to the bow of the wreck. Once there, we shake hands and acknowledge what we’ve achieved, before getting on with business. For me that’s shooting video, for Dave that’s firstly inflating a balloon as a signal to open-circuit divers that we’re on a wreck and to come down.
The current on the bottom is strong, such that we were fighting to hold position as we swam to the stern of the wreck. We can’t see a propeller, or an engine for that matter so we think it’s likely a scuttled ship. Having wasted time with the anchor, we’re quickly at the limit of our dive plan of 40min @ 74m. Reality hits, and we’ve got 2.5 hours of decompression ahead of us.
On deco, surface crew were kind enough to throw down some beers for a little celebration. Although not in the tec diving manual, it’s a welcomed break from the tiny jellyfish that sting my face as they drift past. On the surface, more celebration as we share what we’ve seen and ponder what it could be. At the time, we named it “Andrea’s Wreck” after our lost friend. Subsequent dives and research suggest that the wreck is that of the SS Yamba, but I’ll always remember it as Andreas’ wreck.
Previously Published: Asian Diver No 136 Issue Jan 2015
Thanks to the tireless detective work of Scott Willan, we were fortunate enough to find and dive a new wreck off Sydney heads over the long weekend. The wreck, as yet to be identified is a small vessel that we guess is about 40m in length, now sitting in 72m of water. The hull is largely intact however the absence a boiler or engine strongly suggest the wreck to be scuttled.
Our initial dive was only 37min on the bottom, so we’ve more questions than answers at this stage. Conditions on the day weren’t the best, with limited vis and poor lighting. We did find small glass and porcelain artifacts, as well as coal on the site. Future dives to the site will allow us to measure the length accurately and hopefully use historical records to identify the wreck.
The site was reported to NSW Herritage this morning, and is located at 33 50.828’S 151 21.103’E (WGS 84 DD MM.mmm).
As we dived the wreck on the anniversary of our good friend’s death, and in lieu of a name we’re referring to the site as Andrea’s Wreck. RIP mate! Thanks to the whole team, Scott Willan & Dave Wood (divers) and Geoff Cook and Victoria Parr as excellent boat crew.
A story has also now been published in the Telegraph.
The unmistakable sight of a rudder and stern was the first glimpse we got of a vessel that has been forgotten for some 83 years. From our initial landing spot, we moved up through the twisted metal, coiled cabling, beams, plating, and on it went until we hit the pointed bow of the once 93m long ship. The signs were all there at that the ship had been scuttled, but who could blame me for a quick look for a bell around the bow.
Sitting in 67m, the dirty conditions made for a rather dark dive on the day. The 45 minutes we spent on the bottom gave us reasonable time to cover the length of the wreck and capture stills and video for identification purposes.
It took a team of maritime research boffins a week, and us another dive on the site to say with reasonable certainty that shipwreck is that of ex-HMAS Pioneer. A light cruiser originally built for the Royal Naval as HMS Pioneer, she entered the Royal Australian Navy in 1912, was stripped down and sold off by 1926, and finally scuttle outside Sydney Heads in 1931.
Identifying the shipwreck was an interesting affair. The very pointed bow and design of the propeller struts suggest strongly that the vessel had Navy origins. This reconciles with the fact that many ex-Navy vessels were scuttled off Sydney in the earlier part of last century. As usual, there seems to be a fair bit of Internet chatter about the find, petty squabbling by parties unrelated to the project, and some discussion about what the vessel might actually be.
Initially we suspected the vessel could be ex-HAMS Vendetta or ex-HMAS Pioneer, however an initial review of the images from the dive had led us to discount these two vessels due to the shape of the bow and position of the hawespipe. Subsequent dives on the wreck caused us to back track and ultimately we believe that she is indeed Pioneer. The bow appears to have been cut down one or more decks (presumably to salvage material), changing the appearance of the boat significantly. Also the rudder and keel design did not reconcile to the Pelorus-class arrangement plans that we had, however we eventually found dry dock images of Pioneer that reconcile we what we see underwater.
The size and direction of the shipwreck should provide an easy target to either shot or anchor on. The bow is facing south-east, with the stern towards the north-west. Bottom composition is mostly sad with some rock, so it is conceivable to snag a rock and not be on the wreck. My preference would be drop a shot mid ship (33 51.850’S 151 19.844’E – WGS 84 DD MM.mmm) and excursion from there depending on what you want to see.
We often shot wrecks or potential target in order to better manage in-water and surface operations on decompression dives. I put a few calculation matrices together to aid in shot usage (and anchoring for that matter), so thought I’d share them.
- Distance to Target – given a fixed depth and shot line length, the matrix provides the distance to original drop target from the current buoy position. Use this in conjunction with a GPS to determine if the shot is on target. Given the short some time to settle in, then position boat next to buoy; if you’re any further away from the original target on the GPS than the distance in the matrix the shot is off target.
- Shot Line Angle – provides the natural angle of the shot line off the bottom for various lengths and depths. Use this to determine how long a shot line you need/want. Optimum angle is subjective, but I prefer the steepest descent angle possible. I like 60-70 degrees in current to help the shot/anchor grab, but this is all relatively to chain length, line diameter, surface float shape/size, etc…
Click here to download the file.
- Adequate wind/current is present to allow the buoy to pull back completely.
- The shot line is linear, not bowed by shearing current, deco stations, etc…
- The shot weight/anchor is on target i.e. It did not get blown off on descent.
Descending rapidly to 107m, I found myself drifting further from the descent line and thought “I’m might not make this”, until of course the 140m long ship came into view beneath me for the first time in 70 years. With the keel on the upside down hull clearly visible, I thought I’ve finally succeeded after 12 months of planning and several failed attempts months earlier.
Since we discovered the MV Fairwind in 2009, I have been contacted by family members of all the Australian crew members. All have been understandably very happy to finally know what had happened to their brother, father, uncle, etc… Some identified with the Fairwind after the ABC’s 7:30 Report feature, and the others seem to have found my website through the power of the Internet.
I was quite surprised today to get an email from a guy in PNG, who’s great uncle was lost in the Fairwind tragedy. I was surprised as the crew list was published as 5 named Australians and 12 Papua New Guineans. Actually the newspapers of the day highlighted the social attitudes of the 1950’s and stated things like “12 blacks”, “12 niggers” and “several PNG natives”.
For the record, I’d like to add a named person to the crew list of the MV Fairwind:
Mr Cecil Himogo, Crewman, of Seasea Village, Milne Bay, PNG
Descending at speed on DPVs we pass 90, 100, 110, 120 metres; the pressure squeeze on my drysuit begins to exceed what I consider comfortable levels and the my power inflator, having been designed by an evil person, fails to keep up with the rate of descent. Like an inverted Polaris missile I reach for my wing inflator, which has of course has found its way into a position that requires shoulder dislocation to reach. After levelling out and getting my first glance of the bottom I thought, “This is a wreck for sure, look at all the plates on the bottom”, though at second glance I was disappointed to see it was actually plate shaped coral.