By Col Gelder
Well it was a long time coming, but the hard work and constant searching payed off. The Miss Shoalhaven finally gave up the location of her watery grave.
On the 17/05/03 five of the Gladstone dive group armed with 5 sets of marks from the local Trawler Gang headed North from Port Cutis to search for the Miss Shoalhaven. The weather was perfect and the boys were confident of finding her. First stop was the Linda Jane to catch the high slack water, an awesome dive was had and then we thundered to the search area of the Haven.
On arrival things looked really promising with birds working, bate fish being chased to the surface and heaps of fish on the sounder, but alas after 2 hours of searching nothing on the sounder was coming off the bottom to indicate a wreck. The boys with sad faces gave up the search and had to settle for a reef dive at Rundle Is.
On the 05/06/03 armed with a new set of marks obtained by Paddy who had done some great detective work and bargaining, the boys again thundered North to the search area of the Haven. On arrival things looked really promising again. Col readied the shot line. Owy circled around and around and then finally up she came on the sounder. Owy said "drop the shot" Col said "are you sure" Owy said "drop the shot!" Col said, "Are you sure!" Owy said "drop the f@@king shot!" Col dropped the shot.
Bingo! a bullseye. There was no wind and it was neap tides we were sitting straight above the sounding. Well I reckon it was the fastest I have ever seen 4 divers put their gear on. The water looked crystal clear. Splash, splash, splash and splash in we went. Five metres down the anchor rope we could see the wreck on the bottom 32mtrs below. Owy with toolbox in hand lead the way. I could see the big smiles through the regulators of my dive buddies as we approached the wreck.
The (Big) marine life on the wreck had obviously not seen divers before, it was a bit scary at first to see who was going to bluff whom but after blowing a heap of bubbles we got the upper hand. We were exploring the wreck with a thousand eyes watching us.
The wreck had obviously been ripped a part by other Trawlers hooking up to it. Most of the timber had been eaten by worms or was buried. The fuel tanks, water tanks and gallows were easily recognizable. We found the large prop and followed the shaft to the Gardner engine, forward of the engine we found the toilet bowl. We kept heading in the direction of the bow till we came across the remains of the wheelhouse. We had a quick dig around but time was running out. We had some large anchors and brass nuts and bolts to take to the surface.
Loaded down with treasure we had to fully inflate our BCD's to get off the bottom. Already into 5mins deco it was going to be a long pull to the surface. On the deco stop it was tiring hanging on to the anchors and chains and brass nuts and bolts but we could look down and see the wreck and marine life 32mtrs below which made the minutes quickly tick by. We completed our deco stop and headed for the duckboard.
Back on board the boat after the first dive the atmosphere was electric with "did you see this" and "did you see that". "Look what I found" and "look what I got". Plans were made while sucking on some icy cold beers and sunbaking to recover some more treasure on the second dive.
Two fantastic dives were done with marine life, which included, large schools of Barracouta, Cobia, Red Jew, Amberjacks. There were Red emperors, Coral Trout, Lion fish, Banded Sea Snakes and of course the huge Qld Groper. This was coupled with 30 to 40mtrs water visibility. What more could we have asked for!
This was a very special day; an unforgettable day, which will last forever in the memories of those who were on the dives the day the Miss Shoalhaven lost her virginity.
Many thanks go to my dive buddies and boat crew Owy (Toolbox) Dyer. Nick (Anchor Boy) Wriede and Ray (Dead Calm) Bottomley. Who helped make this discovery possible and of course a big thanks to Paddy (Wobbegong) Tormey who came up with the final set of marks which helped nail her. I love them all.