It will surprise few of you to learn that we went back to the Victoria Star at the weekend. It’s not often you get to dive a wreck this new and we know from past experience that they don’t stay new for very long. Before leaving port we had a slight hurdle to overcome – Rob had left his ID card behind. There ensued a long discussion with the coastguard. We got around the problem in the end but be warned – ID’s (or passports) are needed to leave from Sharjah ports.
We had Saad back with us for the first time in a while and it was good to see him. He dived with us a couple of years ago but since then has been mostly diving with DSDC. Their buddy checks are clearly more particular than ours; after Saad had given Geoff a long and detailed description of his kit Geoff, tooled up for a thorough exploration of the wreck, turned to him and said: “I’ve got lots of shit”. Quite. This turned out to be prophetic but more of that later.
It was interesting to see what is happening to the wreck in a short time. Marine growth is already getting a grip and the ship was noticeably more encrusted than it had been last weekend. The name “Victoria Star” was less obvious on the stern and seems to have disappeared from the bow. The concrete blocks in the hold are becoming home to some fish and I can imagine this becoming a very attractive reef before too long. The viz was average rather than brilliant and I suspect this will never change that much being so close to the Palm dredging.
Not to worry – it was another excellent dive. Rob was so excited said: “It’s like a sweet shop – I saw one radar then I saw an even better one”. Actually these weren’t his exact words but discretion prevails. Mike A and Brian Lugg had a less salubrious experience working their way down a couple of levels to find the engine room. They got there but found that an effluent tank had been damaged in the sinking and they were swimming among a lot of floating turds ("turd in the hold"?). There followed a swift exit but at least they had a record of the crew’s last movements.
It seems almost an afterthought to mention the dolphins and the cormorant that came visiting during the surface interval. Neither came very close possibly because of the diesel on the surface. This is the less pleasant aspects of diving a new wreck. Although not on the scale of the Zainab which went down carrying Iraqi crude, it’s not nice floating around in a film of oil. On the way down get below the surface quickly and keep your reg in your mouth until the last moment on the way up. Cathy took this to the extreme and forgot to take it out even as her gear was being pulled out of the water nearly losing her front teeth in the process.
Back at the club the boat needed a lot of scrubbing to get rid of the oil but this was a small price to pay! So oils well that ends well!
There really wasn’t much discussion about the target for the weekend. Those of us who missed the first dive on the Victoria Star last Friday were keen to get out there and see it for ourselves. It’s quite close inshore which makes for a quick ride out there but does leave it close to the shipping lanes. It’s anyone’s guess whether the authorities will decide to buoy the wreck or destroy it – we’d obviously prefer the former – but something needs doing.
Anchoring took a couple of attempts but we hooked in before too long and got diving. The viz was adequate rather than spectacular – I suspect that being close to the dredged areas it won’t get much better – but I’ve seen far worse. Mike D and PJ came up in complete certainty about the anchor position:
“No the stern”
Armed with this priceless information me and Cath went for a look. It’s not often we get to dive a wreck as recent as this one (the Mariam Express was the last one) and it’s fascinating to tour round a boat that’s almost pristine apart from being underwater. It’s hard not to smile when you see a large sign saying: “SAFETY FIRST”. Someone was obviously not paying attention.
The wreck is about 80m long and sitting upright. The cargo of concrete blocks has tipped around quite a bit though it’s not clear if this was a factor in the sinking. It’s not an obvious deliberate sinking the way the Sea King 5 was and the way the Ajman Glory may have been. I can foresee a few more visits in the near future.
All in all a good day and I think it’s only fair to overlook such misdemeanours as PJ going over the side without his air switched on or Brian cutting the wrong line attached to his lifting bag.
This was the last dive (for a while) for Chris De Klerk who is returning home although he hopes to get back here in the not too far distant future. A pleasure to dive with you Chris and we hope to see you again soon.
Overheard on the way back to the club:
“Is the small boat behind us or in front?”
“Behind I hope”
“Why, is Mike towing it?”
“No, we are”
The photos (worth a thousand words) are by Polly Buckingham, and can be seen above. PJ's video will be premiered on Tuesday.
With hindsight it might have been just as well that we didn’t do too much last weekend as this one was hectic for all concerned. Some of us were on a two-day, two-night dhow trip in the Musandam of which more later but a diving party also went out on this coast, tempted by the recently sunk “Victoria Star”.
Brian Lugg tells the story:
Brian Lugg, Brian Larkin, Geoff and Chris had signed up for the Friday dive. We met at the club at 7am, and were joined by old time members Soren, and Brendan. The 6 of us loaded the boat and headed off for Al Khan slip.
Brendan who has not been diving for over a year was so eager to get wet that when he got to the quay side, he did a backward giant stride entry into the water fully clothed and overcome with joy from getting wet, he donated his sunglasses to a local hermit crab. Chris thought this was a good idea and sent his iphone in as well.
Once loaded we signed out with the coast guard and headed off for the new dive site but first a little background information courtesy of Geoff.
Ship Type: General cargo
Year Built: 1972
Length x Breadth: 80 m X 12 m
Gross Tonnage: 1485, Dead Weight: 2500 t
Speed recorded (Max / Average): 6.2 / 6.1 knots
Flag: Sierra Leone [SL]
Call Sign: 5IM646
IMO: 7111004, MMSI: 667054600
Vessel's Ex Name - Last Reported:
MCW ILSABE 1993-01-01
ORCHID MOON 1984-01-01
About half way out to the wreck, SP 312 got wind of our intentions and tried her best to keep the location of the Victoria Star a secret by decoupling the steering link at full throttle. This resulted in an impressive 180 degree turn to starboard, this time without injury. When asking “Does anyone have some tools?” well, you can guess the response. It was only 8 minutes later that SP 312 came to another grinding halt, but this time it was because we had arrived.
The seas were flat calm with a few ships anchored in near proximity and the search began. The report had a number of co-ordinates listed, all of which (especially the one near Abu Musa) were wrong. This is what 2 hours of searching for a wreck looks like on the chart plotter:
Just as we began losing all hope of a dive, we spotted a few fishing pots near us. On the premise that nothing escapes the local fishermen, we went to investigate. The pots were not on a wreck but the distinct smell of diesel in the air was a dead giveaway; we were close, and 20 meters away we found the cause – Victoria Star.
The bottom depth is 21.8 meters, minimum depth of 11 meters on the bridge. Her bow and stern masts have fallen over. Her cargo is insulated concrete blocks, she sits upright, and her cargo hold doors are open.
Geoff adds a few words:
While this was going on, PJ, John, Debs, Ian and Cathy were joining DSDC on a live-aboard trip in the Musandam. It’s an interesting thought that when the trip was first planned, the Victoria Star was still floating. Originally, we and DSDC had come up with the same idea for the same weekend, but with both struggling for numbers, it made sense to join forces. We duly convened at Dibba Harbour at 8pm Thursday evening –all of us that is apart from an unfortunate diver (Vic) who was unable to talk his way past the Emirati check-point, his details having failed to arrive. The rest of us boarded the “Yas” and settled down for dinner on the top deck, during which we left port and headed north.
On Friday morning we woke up with the dhow cruising among the islands at the north tip of the Musandam in the Strait of Hormuz. The first dive was on Abu Rashid island where the dhow anchored. A fast boat had been towed up and it was this that ferried the divers to the site. The currents can be strong in this area even on the neaps and this was a drift dive north to south. The viz was reasonably good and there were large shoals of jacks and snappers and a few barracuda. There were also plenty of triggerfish many of which seemed to be resting in some nook or cranny with only the tail sticking out. Most of the fish this far north seem to be bigger than their counterparts nearer to the population centres probably because they’re not fished as much.
After breakfast, the dhow moved on a short distance to Musandam Island where we were to dive a section known as the Ridges. The current was weaker at this site and we were able to dive up and down the reef, returning more or less to the starting point where the fast boat picked us up. We’d brought wet-suits with us as a precaution but it had become apparent that the water was not that cold, unlike the Damaniyats a few weeks previously, and the overalls or skin suits would be sufficient.
The third dive of the day was also the best. The dhow moved south to Mushroom Reef, a ridge that stretches between Red Island and Black Island about six metres below the surface. The entry is slightly unusual in that instead of descending the side of the rock, you simply go over the side and plunge straight down on to the ridge, following a shot line put down for the purpose. No sooner had we done so when an eagle ray glided into sight and came quite close before disappearing. Following the north side of the ridge, there were shoals of jacks and Indian Mackerel that seemed happy to let us swim among them. After about 25 minutes we crossed to the south side of the ridge and made our way back towards the shot line.
Before dinner but after sundown, there was time for a short night dive in the bay of Red Island where “Yas” was to anchor for the night. PJ returned to report a close encounter with a small cuttlefish, and a squid that attacked his torch!
After another excellent meal there was a short quiz provided by DSDC. It was fairly anarchic and the 406 contingent dipped out of the last couple of rounds. The quiz became much calmer after that – draw what conclusions you like! Oh well, we won one round at least.
In the morning, the party split in two. The first wave was to dive White Rock, which is usually an excellent dive although it can be prone to strong currents. On this occasion, the currents were certainly there but not that bad and easily manageable. We entered the water on the north-east corner and made our way round over the underwater ridge that connects the rock to the mainland. As we passed Steve and Tina Lockie, Steve was energetically flapping his arms indicating rays in the area. We headed down the ridge away from the rock but at nearly 30m we could still see nothing so we headed back. Steve later showed us video of a squadron of six or seven eagle rays, one or two of which came very close. So we missed out there but there were still large shoals of jacks and mackerel and very good viz.
Wave two dived Ras Khayseh, the bay where the dhow was moored. Peter and Debs came back enthusing about the fish life and the exceptional visibility of 20m or so.
The final dive was on Umm Al Fayarin or “Mother of Mouse” to her friends. Again this was done in two waves with the majority opting for the north side which is a shallow reef. The dive was scenic rather than exciting but nevertheless Peter and Debs had a close encounter with a turtle and there were a lot of trigger fish which by this time we were getting used to seeing. A relaxing end to the diving after which the dhow set of towards home and we got showered and changed. Wave 2 on the fast boat had elected to dive the south side of the island which is less scenic but carries the possibility of sunfish if you’re lucky. Not on this occasion unfortunately but apparently a good dive nevertheless.
The dhow anchored in the calm water just outside Lima harbour where the fast boat with the wave two divers caught up with us. After a bit of tidying up we sat down for lunch followed by the awards ceremony. The 406 divers managed to garner two accolades – PJ for dropping his weight belt over the side and Debs for hunting all day for her weights, only to find them in her dive bag. Clearly she had ignored the biblical injunction:
“Thou shalt not have in thy bag divers weights, a great and a small.” – Deuteronomy 25:13 (King James Version)
Actually I don’t think that’s what the Good Book really meant to say but why let that spoil a good quote?
A very good weekend all round and many thanks to the organisers and DSDC, as well as to boat skipper Saeed Al Dhahouri of Sheesa Beach Dhow Cruises and his crew.
After the uncertainty I’m happy to report that we got a day off on Thursday when the wise ones managed to spot the crescent moon through the haze on Wednesday evening and declared the Eid. I suppose we could have got a dive going but it was a bit late to start organizing and personally I was glad of a lie-in. Interestingly a piece appeared in Gulf News the following day, written by an Islamic scholar, suggesting that in the 21st century there might be a more scientific way of working out when the moon is going to appear. Yes there just might. Who knows – next year we might get more than a few hours warning.
But I digress. Friday morning we were up and out as usual and we welcomed back an old friend. Soren Kjaer was last seen at the club in September 2010 since when he’s been busy raising a family. Still he remembered the way to the club and even remembered to bring most of his gear (actually all of it if you don’t count the wrong fins) which is more than could be said of the day’s marshall who turned up minus some boots. Being nine in number, we decided to squeeze into one boat rather than take both out.
The first target was the Neptune and we made good progress out there on a reasonably flat sea. After last week’s miss, this time we scored a hole in one with the anchor which disappeared into a hole it was in no danger of coming out of accidentally. The Neptune is an upside down barge that sank after a collision. It is breaking up now and part of the forward section has collapsed completely. Although this has led to the loss of a couple of nice swim-throughs, others are appearing as the metal rusts through. Overall there are more ways inside than there used to be.
The second dive was on the Jumbo, a short boat ride away. By this time the current had picked up – it was a spring tide after all – resulting in a sharp deterioration in viz. We were able to stay in the lea of the current but all the same, the dive was a bit disappointing this time around although the fish life was better on the Jumbo than the Neptune as it usually is for some reason. After that we headed home for some well deserved refreshments. Despite the poor viz on the Jumbo, it was an excellent day. Soren had a good day out and hopefully we’ll see him again before 2016. Thanks to Geoff for running the dive.
Speaking of old friends, I got a message from Michelle and Peter Wright, now living in Australia and now proud parents of a young son. I don’t even want to think when they were last here but it was a few years ago now. Attached are a couple of photos of Peter and Michelle in their 406 days and the more recent photo they have sent me. They’re off to Fiji shortly to dive the great Astrolabe reef, apparently the fourth biggest in the world. The Barrier reef must be getting a bit boring!
After last weekend’s trip to foreign parts we were back on local turf on Friday – a trip back to the Ajman Glory. SP 125 was back in action with its trailer repaired (thanks Mike!) which was just as well because numbers were again healthy. SP 312 and its trailer have also had a bit of gentle TLC and now have a new winch and U-bolt, a new GPS and most importantly, a new bungee cord to keep the ladder secure when moving.
A group of eleven became ten on the way to the slip at Hamriyah when Derek’s car went on strike. Volker, his passenger jumped on board with John but Derek understandably stayed behind to sort the problem out.
The sea was flat calm and we made good time but unfortunately we didn’t hit the wreck first time and there was next to no current to give us an indication whether we’d hooked or not. This resulted in the first divers down getting a good view of sand but little else. Second time around we got the anchor into the wreck and we were able to go exploring. The viz was extremely average but at least the sea is warm on this side compared the water temperatures on the east coast last weekend.
The sea life wasn’t especially abundant compared to usual but there was a large shoal of jacks swimming around and the usual snappers. The batfish that used to hang around the rigging seem to be on vacation. We decided to do a second dive on the AG rather than move elsewhere thus enabling Brian and Rob to go fossicking.
After that it was back to the club for some refreshment and a meet up with PJ who had dipped out this week. Given the poor viz, I don’t think a video would have worked very well.
Ian Hussey and guest writers.