Wednesday, August 01, 2007

Wrecks of the South China Sea, April 12-15, 2007

A bunch of DIR divers got together and just completed a 4 day liveaboard trip to some wrecks in the South China Sea, the HMS Repulse and Seven Skies. 8 of us chartered the MV Mata Ikan ("Fish Eye" in Malay). 5 participants (including me) came from Singapore, 2 from Thailand, and one was visiting from the U.S. All divers were GUE Tech 1 trained or higher.

On Wednesday night after work, we all met in Singapore and boarded the van at about 8pm. The van took us across the Singapore-Malaysia border and up to the port of Mersing. We arrived in Mersing at about 11pm. We then used a small boat to transfer to the Mata Ikan, which was stationed a little ways from the dock. We were on board by midnight.

The MV Mata Ikan was a survey boat before it was converted into a diving boat. It sleeps up to 12 and given that we had only 8, we had enough room for all. It would probably be tight for more than 8 tech divers, though. The main drawback of the boat is the slow speed - about 6 knots. Because of its layout, it also has plenty of places to stub your toe or bash your head but otherwise is an OK boat for tech diving.

Then the fun began. The trip organizers had arranged for helium and oxygen bottles to be brought on board as the Mata Ikan only fills air. We spent the next few hours filling tanks and the last ones went to bed around 5am.

To ease logistics for the trip, we all dove stages and preserved the back gas as much as possible. After each dive, we would drain the stages and deco bottles and fill only those tanks. All dives were done using AL80s for backgas and stages and AL40s for deco. Bottom gas was either 21/35 or 18/45 and deco gases were 50% and 100%, as required. My dives were in the 40-53m range for roughly 20-25 min bottom times and 25-30 min deco times. Run times were approximately 1 hour.

The first stop was the HMS Repulse. The HMS Repulse is a battlecruiser that was part of Force Z, that was sunk by Japanese bombers in 1941 (see here). We motored all night and arrived by lunch time on Day 1. Because of the late night, we had a late start and started diving around 1pm. The first team tied into the wreck and everyone got a dive or two in. Vis was not great and for many of us, it was our first trip, so we took the time to get oriented. The Repulse lays on its port side at perhaps 45 degrees offset from being completely turtled. The top of the wreck is at around 38m and the bottom is close to 60m. It's covered in marine life because it has been down for so long.

Day 2 we all dove the Repulse 3 more times. Highlights were the 15 inch guns protruding from the sea bed and the props (which I did not get to see but others did). Conditions were excellent in the morning but progressively got worse, culminating in a screaming current on the last dive. It made deco unpleasant but all went according to plan and we started heading for the Seven Skies in the early evening.

Again we motored overnight and arrived at the Seven Skies in the early morning of Day 3. The Seven Skies is an 800ft long Swedish supertanker that sank under mysterious circumstances. Last time I visited the wreck was in 2005 (see here) and the current was screaming. This time was very different, with excellent conditions. Vis got better throughout the day and by the end of the day we could see the top of the wreck from the boat! That certainly made deco less boring. The wreck sits upright with the top of the deck around 40m and the bottom closer to 60m. It has a huge funnel that reaches up to about 24m. We tied into the funnel and started our dives. There was a serious thermocline around the top of the funnel that was interesting - passing through on the way down was a shock to the system and going back up on deco made the warm water feel like a hot bath. The Seven Skies is beautiful with lots of marine life. We explored some of the holds and the wheelhouse and did several rounds of the wreck. On our third dive we untied and began our deco. Deco went very smoothly and all teams ascended within a few minutes of each other. On our last dive, it was really cool to see 3 teams of well coordinated divers doing free ascents all within several meters of each other.

After leaving the Seven Skies, we headed back towards Mersing. On the morning of Day 4, we stopped en route and did a relaxing reef dive at a spot near Tioman island called Tokong Bahara. A rarely visited site, it was full of interesting marine life. It was really nice diving without the cumbersome stage/deco bottles and an excellent way to end the trip. Highlights included dueling triggerfish, 2 white eyed morays sharing a hole, lots of clown fish, a blue spotted ray, and a bumphead parrotfish.

After the dive, we headed back to Mersing. We were back on land by 2pm to start the long drive back to Singapore.

All in all an excellent trip. Good wrecks, great company, and smooth logistics. This DIR thing really works - it's amazing that a bunch of divers, some of whom have never met before, can jump in and do a dive as though they'd been diving together for years. Dive planning and gas mixing was a breeze as we were all on the same page.

Special thanks to Serko and Greg for organizing the transportation, gas delivery and logistics, liveaboard charter, tank rental, etc. Thanks to all for the team effort in mixing gas.

No comments: