HMNZS Wellington

By Dave Moran

Diving the Cumberland

Diving the Cumberland

The champagne corks were popping at 3.25 pm on Sunday 13 November as the

HMNZ Wellington’s

hull sprayed salt water high above the waves for the last time.

In just one minute 50 seconds after an explosive thud resounded through the waters off Island and Houghton Bays on Wellington’s South Coast, the F69 Charitable Trust had good reason to pop the Champagne to celebrate the successful conclusion of six years of dreaming and hard work.

I’m sure the thousands of spectators that lined the South Coast road, The Esplanade and others clinging to the surrounding hills had mixed emotions when a shore cannon shattered the silence with three blasts of black smoke. This signalled the count down for the Telecom mobile ‘Push the Button’ competition winner Jo Smith from Auckland to press the button which would blast 14 large holes through F69 hull sending her crashing to the sandy sea floor 26 metres below.

I was very privileged to be aboard local dive shop, Splash Gordon owner Bill Keddy’s new 7.5 metre dive boat

Southern Comfort

to witness the spectacular on-board pyrotechnics just prior to F69 sinking beneath the waves to become New Zealand’s newest artificial reef for recreational divers. She is the third ex New Zealand Navy ship to be sunk in New Zealand to form an artificial reef for recreational divers to explore.

The two previous are the

Tui

and

Waikato

off the Tutukaka coast in Northland.

Marco Zeeman, the mastermind and driving force behind Sink F69 Charitable Trust, excited voice crackled from

Southern Comfort’s

VHF radio, ‘You’ve got a world class wreck, make the most of it’.

The ship’s white bridge beckoned only five metres below us, it was time to explore!

It was fitting that

Absolutely Positively Wellington’s

mayor Kerry Prendergast whose council under-wrote the project, was one of the first to dive the wreck after police declared the wreck safe for divers. She was accompanied by councilor Rex Nicholls, The Dominion Post editor Tim Pankhurst and journalist Nick Churchouse. A cameraman representing National Geographic also dived to retrieve two cameras that recorded the sinking for a future National Geographic documentary titled

Sea of Steel.

He also recovered Darren Bradnock’s camera that was used to record the sinking for Splash Gordon and other interested parties including National Geographic. I can’t wait to view the ships final dive!

What I love about diving a new wreck is that it is new!

The ship’s superstructure is gleaming white, all is crystal clear, it’s easy to recognize fittings such as ceiling fans, electrical switches, warning notices and all manner of fittings that will slowly become unrecognizable as mother nature begins her make-over wizardry in the coming months.

As I swam down the starboard side against a slight current the fading sun danced off the bright metal surfaces reflecting light into welcoming passageways and rooms to explore. Marco and his team have done an excellent job in ensuring that the F69 is as safe as possible for divers to explore. Numerous holes have been cut into the hull and through various internal walls ensuring that no matter where a diver is on the wreck an exit is always visible.

I soon realized that this ship is a big sucker and to explore her many passage ways and venture down into her cavernous engine room, I would need to return to Absolutely Positively Wellington.

Next time I will also add in some extra time to visit Plimmer’s Ark gallery on Queens Wharf and also visit the old BNZ bank building along Lambton Quay where the Ark’s bow still remains. It’s not every day you can see a ship’s bow under a Bank a few hundred metres from the present shoreline! (See issue O/N 05, #90)

As my plane headed for Auckland I had to chuckle at a comment that cracked us all up on

Southern Comfort

. Marco’s right hand man and the project manager Graeme Anderson was a little confused as to his correct title after F69 was no longer visible above the waves. All afternoon it was F69 to the Coast Guard, police etc – F69 calling – F69 to… Then after the sinking he commented, ‘I’m not sure what to call myself now, F69 is not there any more!’ Congratulations to Marco Zeeman for having the dream and his dedicated hard working team that assisted him to realize that dream of having a world class wreck on the door step of New Zealand’s capital city, Wellington.



F69 details:

(Visit: www.divewreck.co.nz)



HMNZS Wellington

a Leander Class batch III, Frigate.

113.5m long. 13m wide.

Displacement: 3.100 tonnes when in service.

Powered by twin screw steam turbine driving two shafts delivering 30,000 hp. Top speed 30 knots. Cruising 15 knots.

Her forward deck still supports her twin 115mm guns.

When at sea she had a complement of 240 officers and ratings.

She served 18 years in the Royal New Zealand Navy after serving 12 years as

HMS Bacchante

in the Royal Navy UK.

After a three-year refit she was re-commissioned on 21 August 1986.

Her bow is pointing south at a depth of 26 metres.

She is approximately 800 metres off shore between Island and Houghton Bays on Wellington’s South Coast.

Four permanent buoys will guide divers down to various sections along the ships length.

Only 10 minutes from central Wellington City, making her one of the most accessible wrecks in the world.

© Copyright 2004 www.Divenewzealand.com


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