HMAS Swan - Fifteen Years Underwater
Although I am not a mad keen wreck diver, I was very much looking forward to diving the HMAS Swan out of Dunsborough with Cape Dive.
The wrecks I have dived so far have all been ones that have sunk by accident - think 'Yongala'- , generally in more shallow water and overgrown with all kinds of marine life. To go diving in deep, dark, cold water for the technical challenge is just not my thing.
The wreck of the HMAS Swan, however, was purposely sunk to form an artificial reef for both recreational wreck diving and marine loving enthusiasts. Personally, I was hoping that after 15 years on the ocean floor it would have attracted some interesting marine life.
After the HMAS Swan was decommissioned in 1996 it was readied to make it as dive-safe as possible. Large holes in the sides allow divers to penetrate the wreck more easily and certain areas considered unsafe were closed off. On the 14th of December 1997 the HMAS Swan was sunk not far from shore in the waters of Geographe Bay, Western Australia.
There are no big technical challenges and its generally dived on normal air. You obviously do have to keep an eye on your deco time, but at the end of the second dive I was happy with the time spent on and around the wreck.
The sun was out and there was hardly any wind, Geographe Bay was nice and calm by my standards… the locals were 'complaining' as it is normally even calmer.
With a maximum depth of just over 30 meters this wreck is accessible to the less experienced divers as well. Visibility is generally very good, but unfortunately we were less lucky with maybe 10 - 12 meters on the day. The milky water made it impossible to get the beautiful shots of the bow, the bridge and the crows nest like I have seen done by other people.
The lower visibility meant that while descending I could see the wreck slowly revealing itself to me, which I really liked. It made it all more eerie and mysterious, I thought. Would this be what people love about wreck diving? To see the wreck looming out from the deep like this.
Once we were on the sand it was just me and my buddy until much later in the dive when we saw the other 3 divers on their way up.
The HMAS Swan is 113 meters long and just over 20 meters high. An impressive sight. The irony that this ship used to be a war ship and is now providing shelter to life was not lost on me.
Most of the sedentary life can be found on the ship's deck. Several sponge species, some seaweed, Telesto soft corals and large ascidians cling onto the metal structures, sea urchins tucked away underneath ledges. There must be plenty of other critters hiding amongst all this and it would certainly be interesting to do a night dive here and see what comes out.
I managed to spot two different species of nudibranchs. There was the trusted, but never boring Chromodoris annae - so common in this neck of the woods - and a few Chromodoris roboi. I don't think I had seen the Chromodoris roboi before, in any case I was excited!!
Fish life is varied and the smaller reef fish such as Ornate Cowfish, Scribbled Leatherjackets, Old Wifes, wrasse, damsels and Zebra Fish duck in and out of gaps and dart around metal structural features. Inside the wreck Bullseyes amass and Western Blue Devils are staring at you from the safety of their hide outs. Larger pelagic fish such as the Samson Fish came in to have a quick look.
Underneath the stern Numbrays lie awaiting their prey and unsuspecting divers resting their hands or legs on the sand might get an unpleasant surprise!
As promised a large school of Globefish were hanging out at the bow. It was an amazing sight to see at least 100 of these fish hanging mid-water. As I tried to move in closer they decided to stay just outside of photographic range and turned their tails towards me; their large, bulging eyes following my every move.
At the end of the dive we were hanging out at the crows nest trying to spot the blennies. If you are patient enough, which is easy if you are doing a safety stop, you can get really close to them.
Ascending to our 5 meter safety stop we found some batfish keeping us company for a little while.
I surfaced all relaxed and excited at the same time and making a mental note that next time I should start off with exploring the inside of the wreck with a good torch, maybe doing the swim from stern to bow, and then concentrate on the outside on the second dive.
In any case, I had a great time, really enjoyed the experience and look forward to my next wreck dive!