As I drift down to the gloomy depths of 35 meters below the sea, slowly out of the murky darkness looms the ghost of what was once a mighty ship, master of the seas. Devoid of one type of life to make way for another, coral and fish abound in this underwater novelty, making every twisted, broken nook and cranny their new home.
We explore the curvature of the hull at depth, playing around with a machine gun turret designed to protect the boat against being here in the first place. Surely some nitrogen narcosis was in effect when our dive master signaled “okay?” And swam into a port hole small enough that he had to twist sideways to drift through. I could not hold in my excitement at the thought of entering those dark, silty, cramped ruins with nothing but a flashlight and my own abilities to solve whatever problem I may run into inside.
As I enter the boat I begin to realize that every twitch of a fin counts in these closed quarters, with twisted metal shards pointed in stark contrast to their original form, ready to snare the unwary diver. Truly this was a test of personal confidence, fine motor skills, and self reliance. Our dive master went first, followed by each of us in turn. There was no room for turning back to help your buddy for meters at a time – if something went wrong down there, you would have to be the one to fix it. Making mental notes of the last large opening we saw just in case we had to make a quick escape became routine as our instructor led us through what was seemingly the most cramped and technical areas of the ship. The almost callous attitude of our instructor seemed to indicate total confidence in our abilities, which was not unfounded – gladly so! If we had a diver less advanced or confident on our team who succumbed to panic in the wrecks, it surely would have ended poorly – not only for the panicked diver, but for anyone on the other side of what ever bottle neck passage was being navigated at that time.
The dark and silt was so complete at some spots that it was all you could do to keep your dive buddies fins in your flash light beam without him taking your mask off with them! Up, down, around sharp corners, through holes and reams I never thought a diver could fit through, trying to remain conscious of my air consumption and breathing, yet surprisingly I am totally calm for the entire dive, revelling in the meditative like silence and in awe of all I am seeing around me.
While remaining a challenge unlike any dive I have ever attempted before, this underwater wreck also provided some of the most spectacular vistas of colourful coral and abundant sea life – an interesting dichotomy between the terrible after effects of war and the sublime peace beneath the waves. Torpedo holes in the hull of the boat allow bright turquoise sun beams into the darkness we swam through to illuminate clouds of thousands of miniature fish who have taken up habitat within the protection of the wreck. All sorts of coral have attached themselves in and onto the boat, creating their own vibrant ecosystem.
We exit from a cargo hold on the far side of the ship, slowly swimming up through a large opening to view the most magnificent sea garden flowering on the deck of the sunken war ship, with a family of lion fish lazily guarding what is now theirs, what is no longer a home for humanity. I look up and see the bubbles from my trapped exhalations reflecting the sunlight that awaits me at the surface, shining pockets of gas that are as out of place down here as me.
Nature never frets over the end of one thing – it may just be the beginning of something better. And our Mother is never one to let anything go to waste.