As the summer has been getting into swing the wreck divers were out in force with Mike Ward on board the Hurricane Getting Wrecked.  Here is his latest trip report.

Divers dropping down to start the wrecktastic week

“I like Hurricane. She’s steel-hulled, stable and comfortable, with the best dive-platform I know. It’s almost at water level, so photographers can even get housed cameras into the water without needing any help -though help is always available -and the rest of us can step easily into the sea or a zodiac as required. The team aboard this week were guides Sameh and Oliver and skipper Captain Salah, and it was, as usual, a pleasure to see them all as we climbed from the transfer coach.

There was, however, a problem. Nothing serious, one of the zodiacs had been damaged the previous week and needed repair work that would take a little longer than a single day to complete, but we needed to change the itinerary a bit to cope. Personally, I think you can tell the quality of an organisation when things go wrong, and after a quick discussion we simply switched the itinerary around a little and started with the check dive at Ras Caty, where we moored to a pretty little pinnacle and hit the water for a relaxed potter. A couple of hours later Saleh motored Hurricane closer to the marina and we kitted up to dive Karaba, aka Ras Peter or the Tanks. They’re not tanks, they’re Universal Carriers. I’ll even allow Bren Carriers, but they aren’t tanks. Sorry.

Tanks???

Anyway, we climbed into the working zodiac just as the repaired zodiac was being delivered back, then motored the short distance to the site, dropped in directly above the jumble of vehicles and headed down to the depths. Ah, rusty metal! There’s nothing like it. There certainly isn’t anything like Karaba as a site, and if you closed your eyes you could still hear the noise of the Israeli naval forces going ashore on the nearby invasion beaches during the Six Day War of 1967. Nowadays the only noise on those beaches is made by Italians doing aqua-gym under the watchful eyes of their hotel Animation Team, but we were at sea on Hurricane and the hubbub wasn’t reaching us. Did I mention Hurricane is looking very spiffy after her spell in dry-dock, with new carpets and re-done bathrooms? Third dive of the day was at Dunraven. More rusty metal, as is the intent of Get Wrecked. The clue is in the name, really. Although to be fair there’s plenty of reef alongside Dunraven, and the fish life this week was prolific. Charlie and I did the night dive together, and were just a bit naughty, popping down to take a look at the remains of Emperor Fraser before coming back to the reef and pottering about in four or five metres of water.

Next morning we headed for Thistlegorm, and dropped in to find the water absolutely still and the visibility stunning. From the bridge it was easily possible to see the fo’c’sle, and t’other way around, and it doesn’t get much better than that. It couldn’t last, and by the time we dropped in for the second dive the tide was running bow to stern. The vis is never as good that way, but at least it was a half moon this week so there wasn’t too much by way of current. I took Mike and Mark on a dive to the stern section and through the holds, and I would like to take this opportunity to apologise for the size of some of the holes I used…..

The iconic Thistlegorm

Anyway, the third dive was just as much fun, though Jon and Nick had asked me to show them the secret galley under the folded back deck and insisted on squeezing in to have a look at the cooking range, not a lot of fun in a room built to house the cook, the galley range, and not much more.

And then it was the night dive, briefed by Oliver, who suggested making the dive without using a torch and then proceeded to lead a group of eight around the wreck, none of them using a light of any sort. Respect. It’s an idea I fully intend to pinch and use in future. We were the only boat of divers on her and the experience was magical.

Once again it was possible to stop thinking rationally and simply imagine what she was like back in the day, swinging at anchor as she waited her turn to proceed through the Suez Canal until the faint sound of aero engines could be heard at the very limit of hearing, and then louder and louder until they were masked by the sudden eruption of high explosive and the decks were red hot, shards of metal were raining from the sky and Thistlegorm was screaming her agony as the hot metal slid beneath the cool water.

In fact, everyone had enjoyed the Mighty T so much that we did another early morning dive on her at the start of day three. I took the opportunity to explore a little way off the wreck, and headed maybe a hundred yards from her stern. The current was running gently from stern to bow so the vis was superb, and it was an ideal opportunity to have a look for some more bits of wreckage. Wherever you swim around the wreck there are pieces of plate or ventilator cowls or simply bits of twisted metal, its original purpose unrecognisable, but mute testament to the huge forces unleashed by that German bomb that fell neatly and detonated in a hold packed with munitions.

Curious reef resident

After all that heavy metal it was time for a change so we headed to Kingston at Shag Rock for a swim around the wreck followed by what turned out to be a fast drift along the reef. It’s not often that we make this dive when the current is really pumping, it’s very much down to chance, but today we were in the water at just the right time and were whisked along the reef without effort. We even had a friendly turtle saying hello.

After crossing to Gubal, across a long, rolling sea that made even the steel-built Hurricane roll a bit, we did Ulysses. Alfred Holt’s baby lies on the outside of the reef and can be difficult in the wrong weather, but not today, and the vis was absolutely superb once again. We even had dolphins come play with us and, as Tony said, if one of them had got any nearer Sean he’d have had to marry it.. Following that was always going to be tough. Once again Oliver, sorry, Oli, suggested diving without a light, and once again he was bang on the money. It’s a totally different experience, and you feel the dive site more without the distraction of sight.

Personally, I found Oli’s lightless briefings particularly reassuring; it’s nice to know there’s someone else out there who likes to explore without artificial light. Then it was time for bed and a good night’s sleep, because very early the following morning, only shortly after it became daylight, the engines fired up and we headed around to Rosalie Moller. I have to say that the straits behind Gubal didn’t look inviting when Sameh dropped in to tie the lines. There was a fair wind blowing and that was producing a long, rolling swell with little white horses dancing on the tops. It looked tricky, but once below the surface of the water all was, as usual, calm and quiet. We streamed a swim line on the surface but nobody used it, being happier to swim at a couple of metres if it became necessary to transit from bow to stern lines. Vis on the wreck wasn’t that great, but we’d had our fantastic vis for the week on Thistlegorm and what we had on Rosie was good enough, especially as we had British divers aboard. Oddly, and probably because she hasn’t been much dived recently, the interior vis in the holds, the top of the engine room and the bridge was much better than the external vis, which hovered around 10m maximum. Mark and George, a father and son team, were first to hit the water on each dive on Rosie, and suspiciously close to being last out. I’m only guessing, but is think some mandatory decompression may have been incurred. The more I dive her, the more crooks and nannies I seem to find, and this week was no exception. On the first dive I led a team around the interior of the stern, through the top of the engine room, around the base of the funnel and through the bridge before lack of time and bleeping computers sent us up the line and back in time for breakfast. For the first time I noticed the captain’s bath and toilet in the bridge. I’ve no idea how many times I’ve swum past them. Two more dives followed, covering the vessel from stem to stern. Well, from stem to after mast, at any rate. I always leave this wreck wanting to get straight back in and explore some more. Anyway, two hours later, as the sun was setting, we tied up at Abu Nuhas and briefed the team for the night dive. Spanish Dancers, maybe? Three of them, in the event. Not bad at all. Next morning the wind was still blowing and the waves were rolling onto the face of Abu Nuhas at the front end of a rolling, ten-foot swell that made the zodiac ride to Chrisoula K quite exciting. Oddly enough, however, once we were in the water everything was calm, there wasn’t even much swell around what’s left of her bow, and we were able to explore without let or hindrance. We were even back to the superlative 40m vis of earlier in the week. Once again Mark and George were in the lightless depths of her engine room, as were Mike and Mark, and Colin and Chrisi. Tony reckoned she’s the best merchant wreck he’s ever dived, and since he’s been diving since 1974 his opinion carries some weight.

Which bit of the wreck is this?

Next dive, for some, was Carnatic, but the first zodiac ride had been enough for others so – not for the first time this week – we flexed the itinerary to make sure everyone got the diving they wanted, and did the same next dive when half the team did Kimon M and the rest the face of the satellite reef a few yards to the south of Abu Nuhas reef proper. Everyone seemed to enjoy the dive they did, which was nice, and Steve and Richard were particularly happy with their lot as zodiac rides were not involved. Last dive of the day was a night dive on the reef, and Nick and Mark reported the mother of all morays. Apparently the larger the moray, the more likely it is to be female, female moray eels usually being larger than males. Which means that George at the barge is probably Georgina. And there is no other way to tell the sex of moray eels!

Giannis D is at her best dived either early in the morning or late in the afternoon, and this week she was the first dive of our last day, again in that stunning 40m vis. Mike had asked me what the square ‘box’ cut into her stern was for, so we went for a look. There’s a hawse fro an anchor chain, but no chain and no anchor. I imagine that when it became clear they were about to hit the reef the stern anchor was let-go in the hope it might arrest the forward movement of the ship and avert the upcoming disaster.  It didn’t.

The crossing back was a bit rock and roll, but not overly so, and we dropped into almost still water over Shark reef to find a big shoal of snapper waiting for us. Very nice, and we had that stunning vis again as we rounded Shark and headed up the slope of Jolanda reef and the most stunning coral garden you’re ever likely to see. The colours were just so intense, the anthias a vibrant orange and the boxfish a stunning electric blue against the even deeper blue of the sea behind. I’ve always though of turtles as lumbering, slow beasts, but the one that swam by me was showing off and zipping along like a spotty youth with a back-to-front baseball cap and a souped up hatchback.Seventy minutes after hitting the water our heads broke the surface and the diving was over after a superb trip.

Thanks to all of you who were with me, and I’ll look forward to seeing you again!

Safe  diving,

Mike!