Site: SS Coogee in Bass Straight
Dive Time: 32 mins
Max Depth: 31m
Max Deco: 4 mins
SAC rate: 17.4
So before I get into all the dive report stuff, and a bit of history to keep your interest, check out the above dive profile. All good? Good.
I’d never dived the Coogee before. Which is weird because it’s a pretty common charter amongst dive boats in Melbourne. So that’s fine. There’s plenty of shipwrecks in the bay and out in the straight but this one’s pretty common. Either way I was a little bit excited and spent the night before on the Internet, between beers, just reading about it. Part of what attracts me to wreck diving is that as soon as the vessel is scuttled and sinks beneath the waves, it’s essentially forgotten to most. Most.
So the SS Coogee was built in 1887 in England and was actually called the ‘Lancashire Witch’ until being purchased by Melbourne owners in 1888 and renamed. What’s with the sexism associated with referring to boats as ‘she’ and ‘her’ ? Does anyone mind? God I feel so vulnerable and sensitive.. ‘it’ sounds funny, so I’m gonna keep using the lady ones. Is that okay?
She was about 68m.. and looked like this, it’s an imagine I stole from the Internet:
Now let me make it really clear that given she was sunk in 1928, in the middle of one of the most treacherous passages of water in the world, forgive me if I don’t go identifying specifically the bits of the wreck as above because there’s like next to nothing of her left.
She’s got this terrible reputation for just fuckin bumping into shit. And it’s not funny, people died.. the CAPTAIN died.. in 1903.. ON CHRISTMAS DAY. Poor Captain Carrington.. in shitty foggy conditions he plowed the Coogee into a sailing ship called ‘Fortunato Figari’ (damn immigrants amiright?) .. where the bow spirit came crashing down, right into the bridge structure and pretty much on top of Captain Carrington and helmsman Frank Gollys heads. Not funny guys. They died.
But that’s not it.. in 1914 she bumped into the ‘Bombala’ in the Yarra River.. and a few days later bumped in the ‘Uganda’ in Corio Bay! Fucken hell guys. They had bloody orphans on board at the time. Like 150 of them, from Geelong Protestant Orphanage.. they were on excursion too.. to Port Arlington.. a beautiful spot. Way to ruin an excursion. Crash the ship.
So she was put out of her misery in 1928, scuttled in bass straight, send beneath the waves to her watery grave in about 30 meters of water.
So finally I go take a look. Bex and I stride from the impeccable Red Devil, as part of the Red Boats charter group, and get under pretty quick. And it’s nice.. waters 18c and maybe 10 meters viz in the first few meters. Taking this time to descend slowly, adjust lights, air in the suit, air in the wing, wriggle a bit into position, clear mask.. and before I know it I have a brown filth heading up to me.. there’s this layer of murk fast approaching. I’m still following the shot line down and the re-breather divers in front of me start to fade into the mess.. Bex is still behind and slightly above me, and we descend after them. I reckon viz drops to about 5 meters. I can make out shapes and jiggered pieces of wreck but it could almost be reef. That’s cool. There’s no surge and the waters pretty still, so we press on.
There’s a weedy sea-dragon here that immediately grabs our attention. These guys are pretty special, and whilst you might see an abundance of them at places like Flinders Pier, it’s really unusual to see them out this far, and this deep.
Then we see the dual boilers, like two rounded mounds, in the murk. You could swim between them, motorboat around for a while, it was kinda nice.
So then we fang around a bit over parts of the vessel (hey I warned you..) circling up a bit to some towering, jutty looking bits (omg.. I know.. I’m so sorry) .. Bex, master of all things spotting weird and unusual creates points out what looks to be a scorpion fish. I know these from my tropical diving days, as a fish to stay away from, because they look angry and shitty with you and if given the chance to spine you, can really fuck your day up. So leave them alone. What he was doing out here, sitting on a jutty bit? I don’t know. At this point, Bex calls out through the reg and I dip down and around to swim through a broken part of the hull. A boarfish joins me and I selfie it to hell. Here’s the vid:
At this point I have deco debt of about 4 minutes. We look at each other, shrug and thumb for the ascent. Up we go.
The ascent is great. Any diver will tell you it’s a small source of anxiety, particularly for new divers and new technical divers, because this is where there’s chances of uncontrolled ascents if shit like not venting your drysuit or wing becomes a problem.
But we glided… nice and slow, popping the surface marker at 14m. Winding up to 6m, hanging out our deco for a bit in the nicer, bluer water, not feeling any surge typical of dives outside the heads.
Deco clears and we thumb to ascent. Big tussle to get back on the boat with 60 kilo twinsets with a bit of surface chop but nothing worth complaining about and dirty boat dimmy as a reward. Nice dive. Sorry Captain Carrington, but your ships really lovely to dive, I’m sorry you never got the chance. Maybe as a nautical ghost you could haunt it, keep us on our toes a bit, in the meantime just be careful, stop running into things.