by B. N. Sullivan
This is part three of our series about diving on the wreck of a ship called the Zenobia, at Larnaca Bay, Cyprus. If you have not done so, you may wish to read the introduction to this series, and the brief history of the vessel and how it sank before reading about the dives we did.
Jerry and I made a total of seven dives on the Zenobia. Our guide for all of those dives was Ian McMurray, owner of the Octopus Diving Centre in Larnaca, who pioneered diving on this wreck. Our friend Joe joined us for three of those dives. That's Joe in the photo at right, checking the settings on his camera as we set out on the first of our dives. [Click on any of the photos to see an enlarged version.]
Each day, we boarded Ian's runabout at a dock in Larnaca, and zoomed a mile or two out to sea to a mooring buoy. Once the runabout was tied up at the buoy, we 'kitted up' and entered the water. We descended to the wreck by following the mooring line, which was attached to a structure on the wreck's starboard side, astern of the bridge, at a depth of about 16 meters (53 feet).
During our first few dives on the Zenobia, we surveyed the exterior of the vessel to orient ourselves. According to the notes in my dive logbook, the sandy bottom was between 42 and 43 meters deep (roughly 140 feet), but for those first dives we stayed at depths of 30 meters and above (100 feet or less). There was plenty to see.
The ship lies on its port side, so all of the structures on the vessel are at a 90-degree angle to what they had been while the ship was still afloat and upright. What had been the starboard side of the hull now faced upward, looking like a long, wide deck. The ship's radar mast jutted out horizontally from what had been the top of the superstructure, and it now resembled a perch for a large bird.
Entrances to the interior of the ship from the outer decks were now horizontal, too, so they looked like oversize mail slots rather than doorways. Stairways and ladders also were horizontal, so what had been up was left, and what had been down was right, and so on. It takes a bit of getting used to.
It was very sunny on the surface, so there was a good amount of light shining down through the water onto the wreck. However, after 12 years underwater, every surface of the Zenobia was completely coated with algae. Tiny pieces of algae constantly flake away from surfaces and hang suspended in the water column near the wreck, along with other bits, such as plankton, that occur naturally in sea water.
Limited visibility can be a problem for divers trying to take in the scene at a wreck. On land, we are accustomed to being able to see as far as the horizon, unless a building or some other obstruction is in the way. Since sea water is a much heavier medium to look through than air, visibility underwater rarely will be more than 100 to 150 feet, even when the water is crystal clear. More frequently, underwater visibility is quite a bit less than that, due to plankton, sand, silt or other particles suspended in the water. These deflect and scatter light and reduce visibility underwater, just like smoke, smog, and fog reduce visibility on land. (And that is why one of the first things divers ask one another about a particular dive site is, "How was the viz?")
According to the notes in my logbook, during the week when we did our dives on the Zenobia, horizontal visibility ranged from about 50 feet, to about 75 feet. This means that if you looked straight ahead, you could only see clearly things that were within 50 to 75 feet in front of you. Beyond that distance structures look like shadows, at best. Since the Zenobia is well over 500 feet in length, this meant that divers could only see a fraction of the wreck from any given point along the hull. It also meant that, even with a wide angle lens on my camera, I could not capture more than a small chunk of the vessel in any photo.
The Zenobia's crew had been brought ashore hours before the ship slipped beneath the surface, but her cargo of more than 100 big lorries was still on board when the vessel sank. The lorries in turn were still laden with whatever goods they were hauling when they were driven aboard the big ferry. The Zenobia and her cargo had never been salvaged, so we knew we would be able to see some of those lorries.
The lorries had been driven aboard the Zenobia at their departure point in Malmo, Sweden and secured for the voyage on the ship's several parking decks. Most of the lorries were still inside the ship, but a few that had been near the entrance to the upper parking deck had tumbled out as the ship listed sharply and finally sank. We got to see a few of those during our first survey dives around the exterior of the wreck. Later we would see more of the trucks and their freight when we entered one of the parking decks and swam through it.
The last picture on this page shows the first lorry we spotted outside the wreck. Others had landed upturned on the sandy bottom. Their axles and tires looked shadowy -- barely visible, since they were about 50 feet below us. Fortunately for us, this one lorry was in the open, and at a depth of about 27 meters (88 feet), making it very accessible. The window glass was gone, so it was possible to wiggle part way into the cab to look around -- which we did.
I remember noticing that the metal gearshift knob in the cab of that lorry was very shiny, while everything else was covered with algae and silt. I mentioned this later to Ian, and he told us that just about every diver who visited the Zenobia had done what we had done -- poked part of their body through the side window of the cab to look around, and most of them had touched the gearshift knob. A few even had tried (unsuccessfully) to unscrew it. As a result of all that touching by gloved hands, the knob stayed shiny.
Well, this is more than enough storytelling for one post. Next we'll take you on a tour around the exterior of the ship. We'll show you some more of the superstructure and the exterior of the ship's bridge; the starboard anchor, still in place behind the bow; and the starboard rudder and propeller. After that, we'll take you inside the wreck and tell you what we saw there. Hint: It was colder inside, and very dark, but that's where we saw some of the most amazing things we've ever seen underwater.