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.
Many thanks to Scott Willan for finding the shipwreck to begin with, and the team David Wood, Max Gleason and Geoff Cook (skipper).