Bottom Time on the Wreck of the Zenobia

by B. N. Sullivan

This is a continuation of the story of our seven dives on the wreck of the Zenobia, a large ship that sank off the coast of Cyprus in 1980. In case you have missed them, here are the links to the previous chapters: Introduction; a Brief History of the ship (including a photo of what it looked like before it sank); and the story of our first dives on the Zenobia.

I mentioned previously that the Zenobia was some 560 feet long, and that because visibility underwater is more limited than on the surface, it was impossible to see the entire vessel at once. We had to explore the vessel section by section on successive dives.

We usually entered and exited the water at the mooring line that was attached to a structure a little astern of the Zenobia's bridge, but we did one dive a bit differently. This shipwreck was so large that in order to have a good look at the stern area and the propellers, we had to do a one way dive.

We were using single tanks of air, not doubles, and we were trying to keep our decompression times to a minimum. If we began our dive at the mooring line and swam straight along the Zenobia's hull to her stern, we would have had barely enough time and air to look at anything much before we would have had to turn around and swim back.

Ian, our guide, proposed that he drop us off right over the stern instead of at the mooring buoy. That way we could descend directly to the stern area of the ship, maximizing our time there. When we were finished looking around, we could make a beeline swim back to the mooring line and ascend as usual. This turned out to be a great plan.

We dropped into the water from Ian's runabout and descended directly to the stern of the Zenobia's hull. We had plenty of time to have a look at the immense stern doors, which, when opened, turned into ramps that the trucks on board used to exit the ship and drive onto a dock. Like almost everything else on the Zenobia, the stern doors had a thick coating of algae. We shined our lights on the surfaces as we moved along, and we discovered quite a few little critters living in nooks and crannies of the outer surface of the stern doors, mostly little crabs, and nudibranchs (snails without shells).

We descended along the stern doors to a depth of about 105 feet (32 meters) and then swam to our right. Remember, the ship was lying on its port side, so by swimming right, we were going in a direction that would have been down if the ship still had been upright. We rounded the corner at what had been the base of the stern doors, and immediately caught sight of the ship's starboard rudder, which was now horizontal instead of vertical. Just forward of the rudder was the starboard propeller.

The first photo on this page (above, left) shows what we first saw. The flat part on the left side of the photo is the ship's bottom. The rudder is the structure in front of the propeller. (If you click on the photo, it will enlarge and you can see these structures more clearly.) In case you are wondering, there were identical structures on the port side of the ship, but they were even deeper, of course.

A trick underwater photographers use to give an idea of the size of a structure on a wreck, such as a propeller, is to have a diver pose next to it, as a visual reference. We had done this any number of times, and this time was no different in that respect. We had agreed ahead of time that when we got to the propeller, Jerry would pose next to it.

I remember signaling to Jerry to go to the propeller, while I swam out, away from the ship, so that I could get a long shot. I turned around just as Jerry was settling onto the end of the propeller shaft, and when I looked through the camera's viewfinder, I did a double take. What was different this time was that when Jerry stood up beside the propeller, one blade turned out to be as tall as he is -- six feet. We already knew that the Zenobia was the largest shipwreck we had ever dived on, but now that fact seemed to register in a whole new way!

We exchanged a flurry of hand signals, telling each other the obvious: this was a really big propeller. Sometimes divers tend to get a little silly like that when they are excited -- and beginning to feel the effects of the nitrogen in their bloodstreams. (I'm sure that other divers reading this know exactly what I mean!)

We weren't so silly and excited that we forgot to mind our air supply and our dive computers. It was just about time to beat feet, er, fins back to the mooring line for our decompression and final ascent, but Jerry signaled to me that he had an idea for just one more photo.

That 'one more photo' is the final photo on this page: Jerry doing a handstand on the top of the propeller blade. (Applause, please.)

We're not finished with our Zenobia stories just yet. We hope you will come back to read the next episode, about what we saw on the several dives we did inside one of the Zenobia's parking decks, where all those lorries and their cargo now lay scrambled in a heap.


  1. This is amazing... how did you decide to dive this wreck in the first place? Who discovered the location of the ship? So sorry if this info is located in your other blogs, I'm just dying to know!

    Hugs and Fishes,

    P.S. Love the handstand :)

  2. more more more! :)

    i love reading about your dives - you've got a great sense of narrative, gorgeous pictures and it's something i'll prolly never get to do.

    thank you so much for sharing this with us!

  3. Wonderful image and story Bobbie, the blues are so lovely in this !!

  4. @ TwoTank - Your questions will be answered if you read the earlier posts in this series. The wreck wasn't "discovered," because there were plenty of witnesses to the Zenobia's sinking. This post has a photo of the Zenobia before she sank.

    @ Ender - You are relentless! :-D

    But thank you for your enthusiasm.

    @ Bernie - Thanks you. Glad you're enjoying the tale and the photos.


  5. Oops -- forgot to plug in the link. This is the post that has the photo of the Zenobia before she sank:

    Brief History


We welcome your comments and invite your questions. Dialogue is a good thing!

Bobbie & Jerry