Bristol Channel Divers
Following our usual custom of escaping these (English) shores for the festive season, Megan and I went to Cyprus with the expressed intention of diving the Zenobia. Diver magazine rated this one of the top four wreck dives in the world (the others were Thistlegorm, Saratoga and President Coolidge). So we had high hopes for the quality of diving here.
Cyprus in December is pretty much devoid of the "Brits on holiday" contingent especially in Larnaca which doesn't seem to be much of a holiday destination at the best of times. In fact it seems to be largely oil refinery! However, we weren't here to see the sites above water. I had been in touch by e-mail with Octopus Diving who had been recommended by a few people on UKRS and they gave the impression of being very accommodating to my various requests for twin-sets, Nitrox, stage bottles of deco gas and repeated diving on the Zenobia.
Following advice from Octopus, we booked into the Daniandry Apartment which is a 5 min walk from the Octopus shop where we met each day before diving. This area is about 5km North of Larnaca on the road to the Dhekelia base. The apartment was OK although there was a major amount of building work going on during the off-season. When this work is completed, I can imagine that these apartment will be excellent for anyone diving with Octopus.
But what of the Zenobia? She is a Swedish Ro-Ro ferry which sank in 1980 due to operator error/computer problems in 42m about 5 mins boat ride from Larnaca marina (in the Octopus dive boat anyway!). She lies on her port side with the decks pretty near vertical. She had 104 lorries (and 1 Lada) on board when she went down. There are permanent lines on the wreck on the bows, amidships and on the stern which make finding, mooring and diving very easy. A significant amount of damage was caused to the wreck by the recent storms which meant that we were able to see areas not previously revealed.
Due to the depth of this wreck and the fact that we wanted to maximize bottom time, we opted to dive on twins of Nitrox. We took our own twinning bands, etc and Jon very ably mixed us Nitrox to our requirements. Typically, we used a 26% mix in the mornings to allow us to explore the full extent of the wreck down to 42m and 30% in the afternoon for a shallower dive to 35m. During our stay we did 13 dives on the wreck and feel we did her full justice. There's plenty to see on this wreck and lots of penetration if that's what you're into (which we are). The highlights for us were furtling around in the restaurant, exploring the lorry decks and checking out the sea bed where much of the cargo of lorries now lies.
It is very easy to get into the bridge area and see where the captain would have performed his duties and it is also possible to get into the navigation or radio room on the port side at depth. However, the most interesting part of the superstructure had to be the restaurant which can be accessed in a number of ways. We mainly entered through the front starboard door where you are met with a spectacular view out of the front windows and a disgusting tartan carpet! Still to be seen are the coffee machines and drinks dispensers on the self-service counter. We also saw many artifacts including glasses, cutlery, crockery and bottles of beer and coke.
Further back from the superstructure are the lorry decks where many articulated lorries can be found. Some hang precariously, still secured to the deck with chains. Others have fallen to the sea bed and have shed their cargo. Items we saw include: army sleeping bags, "planks" of marble, medical ampoules, bones and eggs(!). We had have never dived a site littered with articulated lorries so this was quite a novelty. Due to the angle the wreck lies at, the cargo seems quite precarious and I've no doubt that this wreck will rearrange itself quite a lot over the years to come so you need to dive it with care!
A highlight of the trip is to enter the upper lorry deck through the large opening where the lorries would be driven in and swim forwards through this cavernous, dark space examining the cargo as you go. On this trip, you are surrounded by darkness so a good torch is essential. This picture shows Megan entering this deck. After a while, a small amount of light becomes visible (described by Jon as a TV screen). Eventually, this turns out to be a door out to the front of the ship where you can make your exit with a bit of a squeeze. We both felt much more comfortable doing this dive knowing we hadfully redundant twin-sets.
We also explored the lower lorry deck which included going into the port side engine room through a hatch in the deck. A 1980s diesel engine is not as interesting as the usual expansion steam engines we tend to see in UK waters but it was still a fascinating experience to see the gantries and ladders around the room and, of course, most of the fixtures are still in place.
As I said, we did 13 dives on this wreck. We also made a trip a bit further East to dive HMS Cricket which is a 1st World War River gunboat. She lies upside-down in 30m and reminded me somewhat of the Hood in Portland although the vis was much better. There's some interesting swim-throughs and it makes a nice dive but one is enough to see everything on this wreck including the huge octopus living in a hole the keel amidships.
The top of the Zenobia is at about 16m so there is something for everyone although the interesting stuff is at 30m and below. I'd say you need to be pretty comfortable at 30m+ and happy to go inside if you want to see all this wreck has to offer. Nitrox is a definite advantage giving you extended bottom times especially on the afternoon dives.
I'd like to thank Octopus Diving for being very flexible and letting us do our own thing (after being checked out of course). They seem to be the leading dive operator if you want to dive the Zenobia and are well kitted out to accommodate whatever you want to do. I'd recommend them to anyone.
p.s. All pictures on this page were taken with an Olympus C960-Z digital camera in the PT-006 waterproof housing.
Respect Our Wrecks!