Thursday, September 24, 2009

Diving the S.S Yongala (fish photo warning)

At the beginning of September as we made our way down the Qld coast I enquired with Yongala Dive as to their availability for a couple of dives on the famous S.S Yongala. They had one spot left on the day I was asking about. Did I want it? A quick conference with Payniac and a credit card to secure the booking and it was done.

*The beginning of my adventures on the high seas.

Now all we needed to do was find a nice spot to camp for the night. Unfortunately it was not to be with all bush camping options deemed unsuitable due to being too exposed, too swampy (=sandflies & mozzies), too smelly etc. And so began a 3 day unscheduled stopover in Alva Beach.

*Turtle snacking

Alva Beach is East of Ayr which is South of Townesville. It is the closest diving option to the Yongala. It's a tiny community with a caravan park, dive shop and a 'food shak' opened sometimes (not often). It's situated between a beach and a swampy wetland. The mozzies & sandflies were something else! It did have phone/internet reception so Payniac was able to do some work. Apparently the fishing is also very good. I was here to dive the wreck of the Yongala.

The S.S Yongala was a passenger and cargo ship on her way to Cairns in March 1911. A time before compulsory radios on ships. When she passed through the Whitsundays she never got word of the Category 5 cyclone they were heading into (Katrina was a Cat 5). All land communications had been lost and the Whitsunday lighthouse operator didn't know any different when he waved her through the passage.

On 23 March 1911 the Yongala sank to the bottom of the Coral Sea with all 122 souls on board, a prize bull and a stallion. The stallion was the only body that washed up.It is still considered the greatest Australian maritime disaster. The final resting place of the Yongala was unknown until the Americans discovered a "reef", a navigational hazard, in the 1943 during a minesweeping operation. It wasn't dived and confirmed as the Yongala until the Chubb safe was recovered from the vessel by an expedition in 1958.

*Fishscapes on the wreck itself. A very, very fishy dive this one.

Since then tens of thousands of recreational divers have been able to dive this piece of Australian history. It's considered to be one of the best wreck dives in the world.

The S.S Yongala sits in about 30m of open ocean 12 nautical miles from Cape Bowling Green. Nothing but sand for kilometres and oh, boy does it attract some life. With nothing around and regularly (and notoriously) washed with strong currents it supports a surprising amount of very large life.

*More fish. Heaps of soft corals and sponges just covered the wreck.

Diving the Yongala is one giant adventure From the 4WD trip down to the beach to the RIB being towed by a tractor into the surf to the exhilerating/bone shattering 35min ride to the mooring in the middle of nowhere and then the descent down the line when she looms up out of the gloom.

*A gigantic Maori Wrasse. Everything on the Yongala seems to bigger than average.

Dropping down to the sand we (my buddy for the day was Trevor) immediately saw olive green sea snakes, highly venomous but non-aggressive. Giant turtles, marbled rays as big as a queen sized mattress and a 4m tawny nurse shark resting inside the wreck plus a carpet of invertebrates covering every possible surface of the wreck. There was also a Qld groper the size of a small car. I quickly forgot my eneasiness about it being a grave and thoroughly enjoyed myself. Trevor and I managed two lovely long dives by swimming against the current in the protection of the deck and then drifting back to the mooring.

*Olive Green Sea Snake - again, oversized.

*An enormous turtle glides past.

My usual buddy, Andy, couldn't join me as it's an advanced or deep dive. Although he's an experienced diver he doesn't have the right certification. Besides it probably would have been too cold for him.

*Close up detail of some soft coral - so pretty.

That was my day on the Yongala. A fantastic day and well worth the effort if you're in the area.

That was way back in the beginning of September. We've grown tardy with the blog I'm afraid. There are at least 2 more posts but they will most likely be published after we get home. Our extended holiday on Fraser Island with limited reception and power (poor little us) put an end to blogging ambitions.

Today is our very last day of this round of our all Aussie adventure. We've learned heaps about ourselves, Australia, 4WDing and how not to cook a damper, and that sitting hammock style in the camp chairs is very bad for them. We've eaten countless ham sandwiches, weetbix and snags. We've been hot, cold, dusty, fly blown, infested by shield beetles, tired, stuck, frightened and loved almost every minute of it. It's hard to believe it's nearly all over. Looking forward to catching up with friends and family and looking back on this most incredible, awesome adventure with you Andy!

Stay tuned as we will have our run down the coast, the Fraser Island finale and probably some really cool statistics from the trip (like how few cakes of soap we've been through, most expensive case of beer in Oz etc).

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