By Mark Brown
I arrived in Perth to rain, winds and general bad weather; good start! For the next two and a half days I didn't even leave the hotel so the weather wasn't a problem. Monday Kim and I made our plans for the rest of our holiday.
We did the sight seeing thing around town, down to the water and out to Subiaco. I contacted DavidM to touch base and let him know I had arrived and was free to dive, if he was doing any. As it so happens he was diving that night, but it was too short a notice without a car or extra gear organized. I bowed out and we made arrangements to catch up Tuesday night for dinner.
Part 1We met at "The Witches hat' backpackers, a great place to doss for a few days. Clean, simple and close enough to town and right in the middle of the gourmet restaurant district. David and Gita took us to a vegetarian restaurant that was fantastic and we chatted and chatted, we moved on after dinner to a coffee house for coffee and desert.
David offered me his Oceanic Semi dry and a soft weight belt for my trip south, so after picking it up Wednesday morning we were on our way to Albany. The road to Albany, once out of Perth, is in good condition and simple to follow. The trip took four and half hours + lunch. We drove straight into town, down towards the water and stumbled onto "Albany Scuba Diving Academy".
I had made booking for diving and accommodation with Ron Moore so we waltzed into the store to introduce our selves. Tanya was holding the fort, while Ron was out in the boat. Tanya made us feel welcome and gave us the tour of the store as well as showed us some diving videos of the area and the wrecks while we waited for Ron to return.
The Albany Scuba Diving Academy's store is well laid out with a wide range of brands and just about any equipment you might want, even the odd bits and bobs. i.e. canister lights, Dolphin rebreather, twin tanks and stages not to mention dive scooters.
Ron arrived back and made arrangements for us to check into our accommodation, The Jacaranda Lodge, two blocks up the road. The owner of the Bed and Breakfast is Wayne Okeefe and as coincidence would have it is also nick named "Wiz", so need less to say we got on like a house on fire. The Jacaranda Lodge is specifically decorated and styled for divers. The dÃ©cor is fresh and bright with clean, airy rooms over looking the bay. The garage has been converted into a divers storage, wash and drying area, complete with wash bath and drying racks. The kitchen and dining room is huge with an ample supply of breakfast foods as well as teas and coffee.
After settling into the lodge, we moseyed around town checking out the shops and visiting the sights, Albany is a beautiful place with a relaxed atmosphere. Two dive masters from the Albany Scuba Academy, Ken and Tok were also staying at the lodge so after our sight seeing and dinner we made their acquaintance and chatted about mutual friends (SA_Dave and DavidM) and divning. Wiz (the other Wiz) came home and we continued our chit chat late into the evening. Tomorrow was a diving day and the continuation of my wreck run with planned dives on the ex HMAS Perth and the Cheynes III, so I dragged myself away to bed to be up bright and early.
6.30am and I was up and ready, no breakfast for me as we are boat diving. My gear was pre-packed the night before and ready to go so thanks to Ken and Tok, I got a lift down to the store. Ron arrived soon after as well as the rest of the divers. 6 divers, 2 Dm's and Ron means that the boat is not too full, leaving us room to move and gear up. We received a dive briefing from Ken, detailing the two specific wrecks, as well as diving procedures for the day, we then loaded the boat which was parked out front of the shop with all the gear and when ready we made the very short trip to the marina.
With the boat in the water and everybody on board we headed for the ex HMAS Perth. It is a short ten minute ride in the 8m rigid hulled ex Navy chaser. This is a very fast but comfortable boat, easy to get in and out of. After mooring above the Perth we received a conditions specific dive brief and given our buddy pairs. One of the big differences between the Perth and the Hobart (the Brisbane as well) is that the Perth has its mast, crows nest and upper super structure still intact. The top of the mast actually sticks out of the water with an "X" marks the spot..
Part 2Jason and I were first into the water and after a quick bubble check we descended the mooring lines and then the jump lines to the aft stack. We dropped down slowly, over the port side facing the stern to start the tour. The top 15 or so meters had 8m viz but below 20meters the viz shrunk to about 2 or 3 at best. Down the side to the bottom where the silt lies in wait for the buoyancy challenged, I peeked into the cut outs on my way to the stern. The viz was so awful down deep that we came back up to the stern rail and made my way over the aft deck to the rear stack, from here we followed the hand rail down the port side towards the bow.
The Perth, as to be expected, has substantially more growth than the Hobart, combine that with the low viz and you get that wonderful ambience of "wreck discovery". You can imagine coming across this mysterious hulk of a ship, not knowing what to expect or what secretes lie hidden. Okay, okay, a vivid imagination or narced you choose, but it was a wonderful feeling. I nosed around the "equipment" room with lots of equipment left behind to gander at and play with.
We then made our way up to the bridge, where I attempted to take some photos and sit in the captains chair. (tourist!) I ventured behind the bridge into the cabin directly behind and then into the radio room for a good look. I am glad so much stuff is left, it really adds to the atmosphere of the room and helps tell the story.
It was now time to move higher to appease my M1 DC, so we exited the bridge and made laps of the stacks and upper super structure. There was a lot of fish life, but all but the big schools and the odd fish stayed on the edge of the Viz. Safety stops were completed on the mast and I took the regular self portrait to say I had been here.
Doing my regular thing I clambered back onboard gear and all and assisted the others as they arrived. While the viz was poor the weather was just dandy, hardly a swell and no surface chop with only a hint of a current. (A man can get very envious of these diving locations that don't need to be dived "on the tide".) With everyone on board we made our way over to Frenchman's Bay for a toilet stop. Frenchman's bay is on the other side of the bay, next door to the old whaling station and is a picturesque little hideaway that also offers decent shore diving.
When we were ready we headed for the lee of Michaelmas island for a snack as lunch would be a full on affair back at the store. Tea, coffee, soup, cake and of course â€¦â€¦. The snakes. On route to the island we came across several pods of dolphins, two different species. The first pod played with the bow wave for 7 to 10 minutes, with each of us taking turns to ogle and take photos, while the second pod was content to swim along side and have a look. With the snack stop complete we got ready for our second dive, the Cheynes III. The Cheynes III is one of a fleet of whaling boats from the area. The Cheynes III was gifted with the specific intention of creating a diving wreck. The wreck was prepared by locals and was the first diving wreck to be sunk in Australia.
With not as much ship sinking knowledge as is around today the Cheynes was loaded with a lot of explosives and subsequently a very large hole was blown in the side. She sank just fine but because of the large amount of damage created the wreck has not weathered so well over time. The Cheynes has been down for over 20 years, combine that with shallow water and significant explosives damage and you will understand why the she has aged significantly. Don't get me wrong the Cheynes is still mostly intact but it has eroded edges and collapsed sections and is for the serious adventurer to get deep inside and poke around.
Jason and I were again buddy paired, so we kitted up and rolled over to start the dive. It was apparent right from the start that the viz was even worse than before, about 5m max. We swam down the mooring line and followed the line of wreckage across to the Cheynes. The wreckage leads you straight to the huge whole, torn in the starboard side which allows access to the aft/bow section of the hull. Jason and I slid in past the jagged edges to look around the nooks and crannies. This was as far as I go without far more preparation, and even then I am not sure. Outside again we drifted up over the starboard rail and made our way aft to the stern and around back up the port side to the bridge.
The Cheynes III lies in about 24 m listing to port and has substantial growth all over the wreck. Lots of growth and resident fish life as well as the big blasted hole in the side make this a wreck with real atmosphere. Not just something with a top side history, but with true underwater character Two large blue devil fish that protecting their home as well as a large cod and jew fish were not phased in the least by us large, bubble blowing intruders. After scrounging around in the wholes and windows it was time to safety stop on the mooring line.
Back on board Ken and Ron took our dive details and we headed for port. The viz hadn't been good but the dives were fantastic and I wouldn't have missed them for the world. The reason for the bad viz was due to the storms and lots of rain the previous weekend which was still clearing up.
On the ride back Ken asked if I would like to meet some Sea Dragons, I must have looked dumbfounded (no that is not my usual look) as I comprehended Ken's offer. Once I recovered it was lots of yeses and head shaking. We got back to the marina, unpacked the gear and went back to the store for lunch and to replenish the air supplies.
Ken took Kim and I out to a special spot renowned in the area for Weedy Sea Dragons (NB leafies are the ornate ones and the weedies are the more plane ones) It was a shore dive, from the rocks with about 8-12m viz. It was an easy entry but with significant surge to combat as you glided over the carpet of soft corals, sea sponges, grasses and rocks. The concentration of growth and colour was amazing, not what I was expecting at all. Where the rocks and growth stopped the white sand began. We followed the rocks around to the start of the beach where I encountered my first dragon (6 in all). Not the "Reign of Fire" kind but one of the most delicate, well hidden fish kind. I was so in awe that I forgot I had my camera with me, still so in wonderment was I that I still forgot to take some video footage. The photos are included but are far from worth keeping, except that they are of my first Sea Dragon. (NB I have intentionally omitted the name of the place due to poachers that come to visit the advertised places. If you want to know the name, either call Ron or Ken of Albany Scuba Diving Academy or drop me an email) Not wanting to really scare the dragons I reluctantly moved on and we travelled along the rocks up the beach to the exit point minding the strong surge.
Part 3We packed up everything and made our way back to the shop just in time to start loading the gear for our night dive. Ron had arranged an unscheduled night dive, I am not sure if it was because I had travelled so far and could only spend one day in Albany or because I was so besotted with the area or because he just wanted to show off some more wonderful dive sites here in Albany. The night dive was on the ocean side of Michaelmas Island with far better viz and a whole honeycomb of caves.
Two locals, myself, Ken and Tok were to dive the caves in about 24m of water. We all had canister lights and backups and all experienced divers with me being the newbie to the area. Ron would "live line" us, following the light from the torches and our bubbles. We received the dive briefing and geared up as we got to the site, which allowed us to do an "on mass" entry so we could all stay together.
This was an exciting experience. There was a slight current but good viz, so I followed close enough as we descended and made our way to the wall face. The walls were covered in growth, I mean covered, not just with algae and flat growth, but with big sticky out and brightly coloured long-time growth. We made sure we were all together and headed off in search of the caves. When I say caves I actually mean swim throughs, lots of exits, mostly top exits, mostly wide enough to easily swim through. We started with some deeper ones and moved onto shallower ones, finishing, funnily enough at our deepest point. The two M1's were warning of their impending deco obligation, so we all ended the dive and started our free water ascent, at night. Nifty.
The Mares M1 dive computer has the nifty feature of backlighting. It is a soft blue light, which can be turned on for a 15 second period or turned on to stay on. This is a great feature and one that I know the other divers wished that had as they routinely had to torch their DC's to see what they were doing, while trying to hold the required depth for the safety stop.
Once we were all back on board, I turned into blabber mouth, " did you see that,, did you see this, man that was amazing", I am sure they were glad to be rid of me back at the store.
Man what a day, two wrecks, some Sea Dragons, dolphins and caves by night. Do yourself a favour and make sure you spend some time in Albany when you visit Western Australia. Ron and Ken also teased me with the 40-70m reef wall SHORE dives. I will return and spend several days enjoying the WA southern coast.
After cleaning and washing the gear it was time for home, where I found Wiz was hosting a diving party for some new lodge guests, I stayed up as late as I could but a full day had taken it's toll. In the morning, Kim and I packed the car, went down to the store to make our goodbyes and pay for a fabulous day. We left Albany about 11am and headed for the Whaling station for lunch. The whaling station is full of whaling heritage from the area as well as Cheynes specific memorabilia. The Cheynes IV, the Cheynes III's sister ship, is on display for visitors to roam across and through, which is great to have a look at if you are diving the Cheynes III.
I had made arrangement with David M and Gita to meet at the "Three Pines YHA backpacker' in Dunsborough this afternoon so we couldn't take the scenic route along the coast and up through the Margaret River region. The roads were pretty good once again and we made good time despite the extra traffic that Easter long weekend brings.
We arrived safe and sound and booked and started planning for the next few days worth of diving. Gita is also an avid diver but had decided to take the Saturday morning off to spend it shopping etc with Kim, which left David and I to dive the ex HMAS Swan with Cape Dive and a boat load of Deco Procedures students.
After dinner and sorting the gear it was time for bed and a good nights sleep. (still recovering from Albany and a days worth of driving). David and I headed down to Cape dive to book in and sort out payment. I had paid for my booking before leaving the Gold Coast but there had been some changes so Shelley (the owner) gave me a refund for the difference and a discount for diving with Albany Scuba Diving Academy.
The Cape Dive store is large and spacious, they have lots of merchandise on display as well as lots of diving stock out to touch and feel. There is a large classroom and loading area out back where the boats and utes are parked. Apart from assembling your gear, everything else is loaded for you onto the boat ready to board. David and I roamed the store looking at all the kit.
[Somewhere, sometime in our roamings, my dry bag was picked and my wallet stolen. I didn't notice that it was stolen until I returned from the dive back to the store. At first I had thought I had dropped it so we skirted the store and where we had parked to no avail. Oh well, stuff happens, and I still had all my dive gear. Dive on.]
Part 4The plan was to drive to a beach close to the Swan dive site where the boat picks us up from the beach and we then head out to the wreck. A great idea, divers have only a short boat ride and the dive boat saves time and money on a light load for most of the trip.
The boat is a semi rigid inflatable with the centre stands for tanks and gear. Geoff and Cat were our skipper and DM for this trip, with Cat staying on board and Geoff leading one diver. Apart from David and myself the rest were students doing their Deco procedures ocean dives with twins and stages the lot. The boat was pretty full, not to mention packed with techy gear. David had his Ikelite housing and strobe setup as well as my camera so we were very anxious with all the stages and tanks being moved about.
We received the dive briefing and some do's and don'ts for diving the Swan and diving with Cape Dive. David and I were nearly last into the water and we made our way down the mooring line and across the jump line to amid ship. We dropped down over the port side and looked into all the holes along the side as we traveled to the stern. This was a get to know you dive, for David to see me and me him as well as orientate myself on the Swan. The viz was great at about 15 or so meters. As we were looking in the cut outs, we could see the Deco students traveling along the passage ways inside.
After rounding the stern and traveling along the starboard side we lifted up onto the aft deck. We crossed over to the port side and followed along the hand rail to the bridge. I played the tourist thing again and stuck my head into the bridge windows and then rolled in through the hole in the roof so David could take a photo of me inside. David joined me inside and we took some more photos and then swam through the rear access hatch to the rooms behind. There are lots of access hatches and companion ways around the Swan and all of them easy to navigate especially with good viz.
Even the buoyantly challenged should be fine in the Swan as there is very little growth or sediment/silt. The Swan is a smaller vessel than the Perth/Hobart/Brisbane ships but is impressive none the less. It has far less growth than the Perth or the Cheynes III which maintains the clean, sharp lines of a navy vessel. Penetration is easy, very easy with daylight visible from all but a few places. The ability to swim along the passage ways for the length of the ship makes it feel even longer.
With a lot of diving just over 24 hours ago my M1 was signaling me that Deco was immanent, so I signaled David to let him know it was time to do laps further up. (David actually had to look at my computer, he was so surprised that I was at the edge of Deco so soon, we had a 10min difference.) We made our way above the bridge and onto the upper superstructure where we milled about with the schooling bull's eyes and fellow divers from other boats doing their safety stops.
With our safety stops completed we did a mid water swim back to the boat. I clambered back over the side in full kit with Cat looking on in amazement. Back onboard we only needed to wait 7 more minutes for the deco students to arrive. Everyone onboard and we did the hop back to the beach where we loaded the cars and went back to the store.
After packing the gear away, (and searching for my wallet), we drove up to Bussleton and caught up with the ladies for a late lunch. We told them the bad news and made plans to get by for the rest of the trip. We had planned a night dive on the Swan with Bay Diving and Adventures so after a leisurely lunch we headed back to the backpackers to get washed up and get the gear ready again.
We headed down to Bay Diving and Adventures at 6.30pm to rig our gear and book in. Bay Diving and Adventures is a much smaller store than Cape Dive, but with heaps of atmosphere. Dan the new owner is very enthusiastic and keen to lift the profile of the store and the diving area around Dunsborough. There is a pool in the store with a closed loop running through the ceiling out into the restaurant next door and back. (for those that know the old Mike Balls Townsville store it is similar.) Bay Diving and Adventures has nitrox available, it is through, I think, a membrane separation system which delivers between 30% and 33% O2. Our tanks for the night dive analysed at 31% just perfect for the Swan. I left my dive computer in air mode just to give an extra safety margin for this and tomorrows dives.
Once again we headed to the beach, where the boat was moored to load and store the gear for the trip out. The Bay Dive boat is big and spacious, we only had half a dozen paying divers with 3 or 4 DM's or instructors out for a dive. The weather was beautiful and the water conditions were amazing. The water surface was mill pond flat and the swell was barely rolling. The viz was still about 15m which meant it was going to be a very pleasant night dive.
Dive briefing completed, Gita, David and I geared up quickly, each of us with an Alpha canister light and backup. With a not so giant stride off the back duck board I headed up to the front to wait. Once gathered we made a check and descend along the lines to amid ship on the port side. We went all over the ship from front to back, up and down, in and out, it was an amazing dive, soooo peaceful. While David was exploring through one cutout Gita and I spotted a baby conga eel that didn't like all the bubbles and lights, so it was snaking its way up the side of the hull into the next cutout to get away. A little later we entered through a hole in the aft deck to find a much larger conga eel threading its way around the walls and down the hall way.
Part 5Yet again, the M1 spoke and we obeyed, so we started exploring the upper parts of the bridge and superstructure. After a lazy relaxing time doing the safety stop we followed the lines back to the boat. Boarding was very easy with nice big ladders and just about still water conditions. We packed and stowed our gear and enjoyed the ride back to shore. Once on shore we transferred the gear to the cars and made our way back to the backpackers for food and sleep.
Morning dawned and we rose kind of late because I received a phone call saying "um, where are you?" from the dive store. Lucky we were already packed, so we rushed around to Cape Dive again to rig and load the gear as well as receive a very full dive briefing from Cat. (there were lots of OW and first timers to the Swan on the boat) Gita, while listening, found our eels from the previous night in a fish ID book. Once briefed, we boarded the bus and traveled to the beach mooring again to load the boat.
The weather was still pretty good and the water conditions had only picked up a little. 15 or 20mins later we were on site, receiving the last of the instructions. Gita, David and I were first in to avoid the hoards. With David in the lead we headed straight for the stern on the starboard side so we could get in under the hull and rudder to show Gita the very large Woobygong shark David and I had seen the night before. He even had a large cray holed up behind him, a snack for later no doubt.
David led on further, this time with most of the time spent inside the wreck, poking around the rooms and gliding along the passage ways. Man this wreck diving is great. There are lots of spiny sea urchins around the openings, so you had to take it steady and carefully. For a change I was coming close to my planned deco air reserve so I informed Gita and David that I would meet them on the super structure and that they could spend some more time milling around.
They met me in time to do our safety stop together and travel back to the boat for lunch and a surface interval. Back on board we changed tanks and got cleaned up ready for a scrumptious lunch of focacia sandwiches and soup, cake, tea and coffee, hey, no snakes, what's up with that. There were about 20 odd people including DM's skipper and divers. By the time we had all eaten and cleaned up the SI was up and we could dive again.
Gearing up was simple but this time we had to wait for some of the others to get in first, man some people are dilly dalliers. When it was our turn we were in and down to the jump line and over to the wreck, heading for the inside again. We tried to stay more shallow on this dive to give us a bit more time. David led again and Gita and I followed along taking our time to inspect this and that. The Swan is a very easy going and straight forward wreck. We saw a lot more of the other divers this time, mainly because we were shallower and one of the last into the water. After a good look around the insides my M1 spoke again letting us know it was time to take me for his safety stop. We loitered on our way up reveling in the sun shining through the surface waves above us. It was a very pleasant safety stop circling the super structure, looking at all the macro objects. There was a special little blue, half striped fish that was living inside a hole on the mast. It was very shy but with regular breathing and no fast movements I won his confidence so I could watch him come and go about his business.
Next thing I know David is motioning me to come along. The boat was busy with people boarding so we lingered under the boat circling at 3m for our turn. (not unlike planes flying a flight path waiting to land). Back on board we were experienced enough to not only un-rig our gear back to pack it up ready for disembarking when back to shore. Heidi had some trouble with the bus, something about the transfer shift not be in either high or low. Back at the store I washed my gear, and some of Gita and David's. (but don't tell them)
We had planned on night diving the Bussleton Jetty/Pier, but we (I) was pretty worn out so we opted for dinner at the noodle bar and a walk along the Jetty. Man the Jetty is long. We saw lots of fishermen, ladies, men, boys, families, some successful some not so. On return to the start of the pier we came across some boys catching small shovel nose sharks, just for the fun of it. They didn't want to eat them or sell them, but they didn't want to put them back either. If they hadn't been bleeding profusely I would have thrown them back myself.
We tried to obtain some ice cream on the way home but it was just too late for an Easter Sunday in Dunsborough. Monday morning it was time to pack the gear into the cars and head back to Perth for David M and Gita but onto New Norcia for Kim and I to visit and stay over night at a Benedictine Monastery, but that has nothing to do with diving.
That ends my Southern Wreck run, April 2003. Not as many dives or wrecks as I would have liked, but way more than sitting on the couch. Kim and I have met some wonderful people on this trip. We made some friendships that we look forward to fostering, and visited some places we look forward to returning to.
Kim and I would like to thank everyone we shared time with for helping to make our trip so memorable.
SA_Dave thank you for your unbridled hospitality and SA diving wisdom. (you know where we live)
To DavidM and Gita, thank you for your gracious company & sharing your Easter weekend away from family.
To Ken and Tok thank you for your assistance, advice, company, and Dragon spotting skills.
To John and Jane thank you for sharing your enthusiasm for travel and your outlook on life.
To Ron Moore and Tanya of Albany Scuba Diving Academy, thank you for going the extra mile for a tourist from the Gold Coast. A level of service not often reached.
To Wayne (Wiz) of Jacaranda Lodge, thank you for your warm and inviting home not to mention all the awe inspiring stories of your diving travels.
To Cape Dive and Bay Diving and Adventures thank you for helping make our trip smooth and safe with your professional yet friendly service.