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New Zealand’s Virgin Wreck

Text by Sue Farley, images Eric Simmons

Virgin Wreck

An untouched wreck is hard to find these days. But this week we found one. Although, to be honest, the guys found it on the sounder a few months ago, but the visibility hadn’t been good enough since to go down and check it out. Sitting in a heavily overfished area just five miles off the coast of Tasman Bay our little wreck was so far untouched and unplundered.

There were no known boats missing in the area that had incurred loss of life so bodies were not an issue. But there had been several boats go down in this area over the years so we couldn’t be sure which one it was. On the deck of the dive boat excitement was running high. Three of us were going to go down and check out this little beauty – look for a name, measure her, take some pics, see what condition she was in and what she was made of, and try and work out how long she had been there.

Visibility was as good as it ever gets in Tasman Bay – on the murky side of five metres – so it was hardly tropical clarity. A shot line was dropped from the dive boat as we passed over so we had something to aim for. And with good navigation on the skipper’s part we landed on the bottom within metres of our target.

We reached the stern first. The boat was upright on the bottom, its edges blurred with a healthy growth of weed, soft corals and shellfish. Nudibranchs, soft grey slugs and a few tiny blennies moved in the shadows. We moved softly to keep the sandy silt from rising up and drowning out our wreck. Peering over the gunwales the deck was a mess of broken panels, steel beams, collapsed superstructure, and cables and ropes covered in a layer of silt and shells. Nothing had been moved since the day she sank.

While the guys began measuring the boat and drawing a plan on a slate I hovered around over the side, searching the hull for any telltale signs – a name, an MSA number, anything. But the thick growth covering the sides showed nothing.

Twenty minutes later the guys had finished measuring and were fossicking through the wreckage. The compass lay on the starboard side of the deck, beside some broken plumbing. The VHF was caught behind a steel beam, held by a single wire. The wheelhouse had disintegrated and panels of plywood lay scattered on the seafloor to the port side. Big chunks of window glass were lodged hard against the hull. It looked like the whole thing had blown apart as the boat went down.

One of the guys swam into the black, gaping hole that led down below. His torch beam lit up mattresses and bedding floating against the ceiling, but nothing to identify the boat. More broken plumbing lay on the port side of the deck and the twitching tale of a big grey conger eel hung out of a broken pipe, his head peering out a hole in the side of the hull a metre or more away. His younger brother was curled through a pile of rope on the foredeck. Bollards and fittings lay around, their screws long since dissolved into the passing seawater.

The boat had a wide beam and a flared hull that reared up before us as we swam around the bow. Hardly the Titanic, but it still looked impressive. There were no obvious signs as to what had happened to the boat; why it had sunk. Ropes and cables lay buried in the seafloor. But the heavy net it must have been trawling at the time it went down was lying beneath the hull, firmly stuck.

All too soon our deco time was up. As we swam the few metres back to the anchor I turned for one last look but the boat had already been swallowed up in the gloom. Like a ghost she was gone. But we had left her as we found her, with all the bits and pieces lying as they were. No souvenirs except some photos and a plan drawn on a slate. Technically she was still a virgin.

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