Tuesday, February 2, 2010

My dive story (2) - HMAS Swan Wreck dive

Finally after an enjoyable camping trip to the Margaret River and this and that, I am now sitting down and writing about my experience diving the HMAS Swan Wreck.

I drove to Dunsborough with a few friends on 15 Jan (Friday). Dunsborough is a beachside town about 3 hours drive south of Perth. The main reason for my visit was to dive the HMAS Swan Wreck. The former HMAS Swan was a huge warship (113-meter long!) that was decommissioned and purposefully sunk as an artificial reef and dive site in Geographe Bay, off Dunsborough. Now, the wreck is sitting on a sandy bottom in 31 meters of water.

My double-dive was on Saturday (16 Jan). Surface conditions were choppy that morning. The dive shop (Cape Dive) reckoned that entry and exit at the dive site would be a tricky business. So the dive was delayed by about two hours until the surface conditions improved. Other than that, everything just went beautifully - I suffered no seasickness; my buoyancy control improved; and the divemaster Luca and skipper Tracee were very helpful and friendly. Also, I finally managed to take some photos that are presentable enough to show on my blog.

For both dives, I was in a group of six divers led by Luca (the divemaster). We used descent and ascent lines for easy entry and exit. Both dives were fantastic. On our first dive, as we were descending towards the main deck, an eagle ray swam out of nowhere to check us out. I was too slow with my camera and didn’t capture a shot.

We checked out the exterior and interior of the ship, descending to the depth of 25 meters on our first dive, and 20 meters on our second dive.
There were lots of algae, soft corals, ascidians, and sponges growing on the exterior of the wreck. There were also a variety of fishes hanging around the exterior of the ship, e.g. old wives, footballer sweeps, stripeys, moonlighters.

Sponges and corals on the exterior of the wreck

Sea squirt and corals

Footballer sweeps (Neatypus obliquus) hanging around the deck

A moonlighter (Tilodon sexfaciatus) swimming past the side of the wreck

The interior of the ship looked pretty eerie. It was not completely dark but I found it useful to have a torch. It was an amazing experience to shine your torch in the direction of hundreds of bulleyes hovering silently in some dim passageway/room in the wreck. We swam into the bridge and Luca went to sit on the captain’s chair. I found out later that it’s a popular photo spot. We also checked out the bathroom and Luca who led the group sat on one of the three toilet seats while waiting for the rest of us to come in. Both times, it didn't strike me that I should take some photos. If I have the opportunity to dive the same wreck again, I must get another diver to take some photos of myself sitting on the captain’s chair and the toilet seat :)

I only took a few photos inside the wreck and they didn’t turn out well. Most of the time, I was too busy following the divemaster Luca, making sure that I won’t lose my way and wasn’t left behind in any of the confusing passageways and rooms.

At one point, one of the divers in the group apparently lost his way. I remember we all came out from the hull of the ship and Luca realized that one of us was missing. He signaled to us to stay put and stay in a group before he swam back into the ship to look for the missing diver. So we just hovered in mid-water (about 20 meters deep) to wait for him. I remember he wasn’t successful on his first attempt. Neither was his second. But fortunately after a few minutes the missing diver came out from one of the holes in the hull. Happy ending. What a relief.

The only "accident" I had was that one of my fins went loose, came off and started floating away right before my eyes! FORTUNATELY we were all in the bridge and it wasn’t a large room. One of the divers caught my fin and gave it back to me. So, no drama whatsoever. But if that were to happen in open water, and I lost my fin, apparently I would have to abort my dive.

During the dives, a few times some divers started to ascend to the surface too fast or too early (?) and Luca quickly went to pull them down. I thought that was funny!

Overall, I have enjoyed my double-dive at the HMAS Swan wreck and would LOVE to do it again some day in future. And when I do it again, I am sure I would be better prepared to enjoy the dive and take better photos.

The crow nest, in about 6 meters (?) of water, was where we did out safety stop at the end of each dive.

As we moved towards the crow nest at the end of one of the dives, I saw two divers on the crow nest. Thinking that this would make a fantastic shot, I took this photo. It didn't turn out to be as clear as I hoped it would be.

There were a school of batfish hovering near the crow nest. I took a few shots but unfortunately this is the only one that turns out alright.
See those bubbles? There were a few divers beneath the fish. At this stage, when diving, I am still having trouble picking the right moment to take a shot.

The divers in our group waiting at the crow nest during our safety stop.

Instead of sitting in one place during the safety stop, I explored the crow nest a bit and took this photo of an orange sponge.

Luca, the divemaster.
I took this shot when I thought he signaled to me to take his photo, only to realize immediately afterward that he wanted me to stay put : )
At the end of the dive, he guided all others in the group to return to the boat first. Then he came down again to give me a short, surprise lesson on how to fine-tune my buoyancy. Even though I didn't quite pick up the skills as quickly as he expected, I was grateful for the free lesson.

A final note:
I hate to think that I am bordering on advertising for the dive shop but I must say this. We set up our scuba equipment for the first dive at the shop before we headed to the beach. When we were doing it, Luca told us to take our time to get familiar/ comfortable with our gear. I really appreciated that. Not all divemasters do that. After we set up our gear, Luca also took the trouble to check everyone’s gear to make sure we got it right. Also, unlike other dives I have been to, instead of expecting you to just rely on your mutual buddy checks, Luca and Tracee (skipper) also took a final look at our scuba gear before we took our giant strides into the ocean. That’s FANTASTIC customer service!