What Brutus the Great Barracuda Saw

by B. N. Sullivan

In the previous post I wrote about a Great Barracuda named Brutus who liked to follow Jerry around the reef at Puako. If you read that post, you'll recall that after a few experiments, we concluded that the big fish actually was attracted to the yellow sleeves on Jerry's wetsuit, probably because the color stood out so well against the background, compared to the black and dark blue suits the other divers in our group were wearing.

Today I was looking through some recently scanned photos, and by chance I came across this nice shot of Jerry with a school of Horse-eye Jacks. I took it with natural light -- no flash -- at Providenciales in the Turks and Caicos Islands. Looking first at the thumbnail, I thought, "This looks like a Right Blue photo." But when I enlarged it on my monitor, I knew instantly: "THIS is what Brutus saw!"

See what I mean? (Insert 'big grin' emoticon, heh heh.)

Horse-eye Jacks (Caranx latus)[Click on the photo to enlarge]

Remembering Brutus, the Great Barracuda

by B. N. Sullivan

You would think that after doing thousands of dives at hundreds of dive sites around the world, we would not remember encounters with individual fish. Who knows how many different fish we have seen in our long years of diving? Yet there are a few individuals among the masses that do stand out in our memory. One of those was a big silvery fish that hung out near our home reef at Puako, Hawaii for the better part of a year.

Great Barracuda (Sphyraena barracuda)That big silvery fish was a Great Barracuda (Sphyraena barracuda), just like the one in the photo at right. I photographed that one in the Caribbean, but we have seen this species all over the world, and have had many close encounters with them. Most of our encounters with barracuda were unremarkable, until we crossed paths with the one we came to call Brutus.

Brutus the Great Barracuda was 'great' in more ways than one. He was great in size: we figured he was about five feet long and probably weighed around 70 pounds. He also was a great companion: if he spotted us from a distance he'd hurry to us, and then follow us around for most of our dive.

Seeing a big barracuda like Brutus underwater can make the hair on the back of a diver's neck stand up and prickle, but Brutus never harmed us, nor did he ever give any sign that he wanted to do anything more than watch what we were doing. In fact, he could be downright nosy.

Usually Brutus followed us at a respectful distance of, say, 20 to 30 feet. But there were times when we'd stop to look closely at some tiny little creature, and that distance would close until we'd have Brutus looking right over our shoulders. I don't know why he did that. Maybe he thought we might have found something good to eat, and he didn't want to miss it. What I do know is that sometimes we'd turn our heads, and there would be this big barracuda face with the gnarly-toothed grin right there!

When Brutus first started to follow us around, we thought maybe we were imagining it. We thought maybe the big fish just happened to be going where we were going, and was not really following us at all. So, along with our friend Dan, we cooked up an experiment: We agreed ahead of time that if we saw Brutus and he started to follow us, we would reverse direction, swim past him, and see if he then turned around and stayed behind us. He did. After a few more rounds of this we concluded that he really was following us intentionally, and not by chance.

Then we noticed that Brutus seemed to prefer Jerry to Dan and me. When the three of us were diving together, it was our habit to swim more or less parallel to one another, but about 15 or 20 feet apart. We noticed that when we fanned out like that, Brutus would watch all of us, but seemed to follow Jerry more closely. So, we planned another experiment. On one dive, Jerry would be positioned in the middle, with Dan and me at either side. On another dive Jerry would take an end position, and either Dan or I would take the middle spot. Sure enough, regardless of which position in the line-up Jerry took, Brutus would be right behind him.

What was it about Jerry that attracted this big barracuda? The probable answer came one day when I stopped to look at something, while Jerry and Dan swam ahead. When I looked up to see where they were, I spotted Jerry right away. He was wearing a wetsuit that had bright yellow sleeves, and had on yellow fins, too. The yellow was very visible, even from a distance. I couldn't see Dan until I got closer. Dan's suit was all black, just like mine. It was one of those 'lightbulb' moments. "Aha!" I thought. "That's it!" It probably was the yellow in Jerry's dive attire that attracted Brutus.

Barracuda are believed to be attracted to shiny things, probably because much of their diet consists of little silvery fishies. It occurred to me that, while Jerry's fins and wetsuit were not shiny, the yellow color definitely stood out in contrast to the background. You know what's coming, I'll bet. One more experiment.

The next time we went diving, Jerry and Dan swapped suits. Jerry wore all black, and Dan now wore the suit with the bright yellow sleeves. Along came Brutus. We fanned out across the reef, with Dan in the middle, dressed in Jerry's suit. Just as we had hypothesized, Brutus now followed behind Dan. When they switched positions, Brutus still followed Dan. We concluded that it was indeed the yellow in the suit that had attracted the barracuda. After that, we referred to that suit as Barracuda Bait!

So, if you're diving in waters where there are Great Barracuda about, and you don't want to attract their attention, do not wear a high-contrast outfit underwater. Wear a suit that blends, not one that stands out. Don't be barracuda bait.

Crinoids - Also Known As Feather Stars

by B. N. Sullivan

In the previous post, about our final dives on the wreck of the Zenobia, I mentioned that we saw crinoids inside the shipwreck. As I wrote that, I realized that many readers, and especially non-divers, probably had never seen or even heard of crinoids. They're strange creatures, and I was hard pressed to describe them for that story, so I thought it would be a good idea to show readers of The Right Blue what a crinoid looks like.

The photos on this page show a crinoid known as Klunzinger's Feather Star (Lamprometra klunzingeri), a species found commonly in the Red Sea. This is not the species we saw inside the Zenobia, but these photos should work well to illustrate what a crinoid is like.

Crinoids belong to the same phylum (Echinodermata) as sea stars and urchins. The phylum name means "spiny skinned" and most members of the phylum do have some kind of spiny structures on their outer coverings.

The crinoids have feathery arms, which are jointed. They can (and do) bend every which way. The arms have rows of protrusions, called pinnules, which run the length of the arm, making them resemble feathers. The crinoids catch their food by extending their arms like a fan. Bits of plankton are caught on the pinnules.

These creatures also have a set of appendages, called cirri, that serve as feet. They can move along on the cirri a little bit, but they also use their feathery arms to propel themselves. Sometimes they bend their arms down in a sort of arc, and use them like extra legs to skitter across sand or other flat surfaces. They use their cirri to hold on tightly to whatever they decide to perch upon.

There are teeny tiny hooks on their ends of the cirri, which help them to grab onto their perch. We have seen these actually puncture a sponge enough to leave a scar. I should also add that, on occasion, we have attempted to move a crinoid from one location to another. It's fairly easy to put a gloved finger next to a crinoid's little feet, and nudge it to perch there. The trouble comes in getting the crinoid to release its hold on that gloved finger again!

Lamprometra klunzingeriSome crinoids, including the species pictured here, are nocturnal creatures. They fold themselves up into a ball and hide in crevices in the reef during daylight hours. They usually emerge from their hiding places at dusk, and situate themselves on a favorite perch -- on coral, a large sponge, a sea fan -- wherever they can anchor themselves well. Then they unfold their feathery arms and feed all night, returning again to their hiding places at first light.

Nocturnal crinoids are sensitive to light. When they are exposed to a bright light, they immediately begin to fold in their arms. For this reason, it is sometimes difficult to photograph them in their full glory, with all their arms completely outstretched. Crinoids are fairly plentiful on many reefs, so they are relatively easy to find during night dives. However what often happens is, we shine our lights around and spot a lovely crinoid, but as soon as it senses the light beam it begins to curl up. So, we switch off our lights and wait. Eventually the crinoid will unfold again, but then the photographer is lucky to get more than one or two shots before the light from the camera's strobe prompts the crinoid to fold into itself again. It takes patience to photograph crinoids.

The two photographs on this page were shot in quick succession. In the first photo, the crinoid's arms are fully extended. (Take note of its little cirri, hanging onto the coral it has chosen as a perch.) In the second photograph, the crinoid already is reacting to the light emitted by the flash during the first shot, so it's beginning to curl up. I photographed this crinoid during a night dive in the Red Sea, off the coast of Egypt's Sinai Peninsula. [Click on the photos to enlarge.]

Final Dives on the Wreck of the Zenobia

by B. N. Sullivan

This is the final article in a series about our seven dives on the wreck of the Zenobia, a large ship that sank off the coast of Cyprus in 1980. If you missed the earlier episodes, we invite you to scroll down to the bottom of this article for links to the whole series.

Diver swimming near a shipwreckIn the most recent episode, we talked about our first dive inside the sunken ship. For that dive, we entered the Zenobia's upper parking deck through a doorway near the bow end of the ship, swam through, and exited through a larger opening closer to the stern. For successive dives, we took the opposite route, entering the parking deck through the larger opening and exiting through the doorway situated underneath the ship's bridge, near the bow.

The first dive inside the ship was all about getting a feel for the vast interior space that had been the big ferry's upper parking deck. Now that we were more oriented, we could concentrate on what there was to see of the Zenobia's cargo, and the creatures that had taken up residence inside the sunken ship.

I mentioned earlier that the Zenobia was carrying more than 100 fully loaded lorries (trailer trucks). Those trucks, which had been lined up in the parking deck when the ship was still on the surface, now lay in a jumbled pile against the port wall of the parking deck, having tumbled there as the ship sank and settled on the sandy bottom on its port side. Many of the trailers had broken up and released their pallets of cargo to scatter about. We saw shoes, clothing, machinery, and cans of house paint that had been destined for distant ports, but never made it.

Diver inside a shipwreckWe looked all around inside the big ship, shining our lights here and there as we went along. In one of those sweeps, we saw what looked like a pile of bones. As far as we knew, no one had died when the Zenobia sank, so we were very surprised to see bones -- big bones -- piled in disarray near the remains of a half-disintegrated truck body.

Looking more closely, we saw what looked like thigh bones and ribs -- BIG ribs. It was a grisly looking sight and we were taken aback at first, but on closer inspection it became clear that we were looking at animal bones. The bones were all that remained of the cargo of a refrigerated truck that had been on board the Zenobia. The truck had apparently been carrying sides of beef and other large pieces of meat. Over time the bones had been picked clean by fish and crabs, I guess. The truck in which they were being transported had decayed and broken open. In sum, it was a rather distasteful sight, and we didn't linger.

In addition to the lorries and what remained of their cargo, we did see a lot of other things inside the parking deck, including an amazing assortment of living creatures. We saw several kinds of crabs, and two species of small nudibranchs (snails without shells). We saw many crinoids -- also known as feather stars -- a class of creatures that are in the same phylum as sea stars (starfish), but with arms that resemble feathers and a separate set of little feet that they use for locomotion, and also for hanging on to wherever they are perched. The crinoids inside the Zenobia were very delicate and flimsy looking, compared to most we had seen elsewhere.

Shipwreck doorwayWe saw quite a few fish, of course, darting in and out of the debris inside the Zenobia's parking garage. They were mostly small fish, like little wrasses and cardinalfish, and two small groupers. The photo at left shows the now-horizontal doorway that was our entrance for our first dive into the parking deck, and our exit for the final two dives. It looked a bit smaller when we were further inside the wreck, but it made a nice picture frame for fish that were busily going about their business outside the wreck. At one point we looked toward that door and saw framed there a small school of silvery jacks zooming past in a parade, a lovely sight we'll never forget.

While most of the fish we saw inside the wreck were small, we did see one large grouper. He was hiding in a nook a few meters inside of the door where we would exit. We disturbed him inadvertently, and he shot out between us and hurried through the door, away from us. Ten minutes or so later when we emerged from the wreck, there was the big grouper, hanging out near an algae-covered ladder on the exterior of the ship, not far from the doorway. As soon as we were completely out of the parking garage into the open again, the grouper hurried back inside, looking very annoyed. I could have sworn I heard him 'harumph' as he passed by us, probably calling us names under his fishy breath for having disturbed him in the first place.

On our next to last dive on the Zenobia, we saved a little time to swim through the ship's bridge. We also had a look inside what had been the ship's restaurant, where the drivers of all those lorries took their meals during the voyage. We saw three more small groupers in there, too.

Divers ascendingOne of our favorite finds on the Zenobia was a good-sized Mediterranean Moray (Muraena helena) that had taken up residence in a drain near one of the Zenobia's lifeboat stations. Ian, our guide, told us that eel had been living there for quite some time, and could be found in that spot reliably, just about every day. Click here to see a photo of the Mediterranean Moray that made its home on the Zenobia.

We felt fortunate that we had a whole week to spend on that trip, so that we could take our time exploring the Zenobia on those seven dives. This was not the first wreck we had dived on, nor was it the last, but to this day, we have never dived on a larger shipwreck. Diving on the Zenobia was a truly memorable experience.

We'll end our tale with a photo of the divers in our party ascending from the wreck for the last time, making their final decompression stop before climbing into Ian's boat to go back to the dock in Larnaca. Ian McMurray, who pioneered diving on the wreck of the Zenobia, and who was our guide for our dives there, is still taking divers to see this huge underwater wonder. If you are interested, visit the Octopus Diving Centre in Larnaca, Cyprus. Tell Ian that you read about the Zenobia on The Right Blue, and give him our regards.

Here are the links to all of the articles in this series about diving on the wreck of the Zenobia, near Larnaca Cyprus:More photos from the Zenobia:

Diving Inside the Zenobia's Parking Deck

by B. N. Sullivan

This is part five of the story of our seven dives on the wreck of the Zenobia, a ferry full of commercial vehicles that sank off the coast of Larnaca, Cyprus in 1980. Here are the links to the story so far: the Introduction; a Brief History of the ship (including a photo of what it looked like before it sank); the story of our first dives on the Zenobia; and our visit to the ship's stern area and propellers.

Earlier, I mentioned that the Zenobia was a "ro-ro" ferry. "Ro-ro" is short for roll on - roll off, a reference to the fact that the ship was designed to transport fully loaded commercial trucks, which are driven onto the ferry at the departure point, and driven off again at the destination. In the Zenobia's case, more than 100 articulated lorries -- also known as double-trailer trucks -- were on board when the vessel sank. All of those lorries were full of goods that they were to deliver when they reached their destination port. They never made it. Although her crew members were safely rescued, all those lorries and their cargo went to the bottom with the big ferry when it sank.

After a few dives on the exterior of the Zenobia to orient ourselves to the vessel, we were ready to penetrate one of the parking decks to see what was inside. The Zenobia had several parking decks, in layers. We made three dives inside the upper parking deck, which was the most accessible.

For the first of the three penetration dives, we entered at the bow end of the Zenobia's upper parking deck, through a doorway located under the bridge deck. Because the ship was lying on its side, the doorway was horizontal now. As I said in an earlier post, it looked more like an oversize mail slot than a doorway. Ian, our guide, told us to stop once we passed through the doorway into the wreck, so that our eyes could adjust to the darkness.

We entered one by one, and paused for a moment. The interior of the parking deck was enormous and very dark, with almost no ambient light. Imagine a large gymnasium with high ceilings, then turn it on its side, and turn out all the lights. That was the sort of space we were in. Off in the distance, in the direction of the stern, we could see the faint glow of daylight at the opposite end of the parking deck. The stern end of the parking deck had a large opening. That would be our target for exiting the wreck on this first penetration dive.

We shined our spotlights all around before we proceeded. We saw ahead of us a hanging jungle of pipes, cables, and other material. We were near what had been the outer wall of the parking garage -- except now that the ship was on its side, that wall was overhead. After slowly deteriorating underwater for 12 years, all of the insulation and wiring and conduits that had been attached to the wall now were hanging down in a tangle.

Ian had briefed us ahead of time about this disorderly mass of obstructions that had the potential to entangle us. We had to descend quite a bit to avoid most of the hanging debris. We swam ahead cautiously, sweeping our spotlights in every direction in order to avoid getting snagged, and intermittently shining our lights onto our instruments to monitor our depth, elapsed time, and air supply.

We felt very tiny as we passed through the vast parking garage. The beams from our lights shone only a couple of meters in front of us, so there were few visual reference points as we swam. Because it was so dark, it would have been easy to become disoriented. We had to be careful to stay level, and not to drift down too deep for too long.

At first we were so focused on avoiding all these potential hazards that we almost forgot about the lorries inside the parking deck. Then we saw them, piled up in a huge heap against what had been the opposite wall of the parking deck. Some of the trailers had broken up, revealing -- and in some cases releasing -- their cargo. For example, we saw lots of shoes, and items of clothing. Some were floating around freely inside the wreck (creating yet another hazard), while other items littered the heap of trucks.

Ian had warned us ahead of time to watch out for the paint. At least one of the lorries had been carrying a full load of house paint, in large cans. The cans had typical pry-off lids on them, and over time, some of the paint had begun to seep out of the cans. Because the paint was thick and cold, when it seeped out it formed globs that were shaped like large, richly colored, upside down teardrops. It was fascinating to see them bobbing about here and there.

Ian had admonished us not to touch the paint globs. He said he had learned from experience that when the paint globs were touched, they burst like bubbles, and whoever did the touching ended up with paint all over themselves and their dive gear as a permanent souvenir. Then the paint-christened divers also brought their colors back aboard Ian's runabout after the dive. He teased us that if we came back to his boat covered with paint, we would just have to swim the mile or two back to shore. We didn't touch any of the paint globs, just in case he wasn't teasing.

Now that we had a clearer picture in mind of what to expect inside the Zenobia -- and now that Ian was satisfied that we could manage our dives inside the cavernous parking deck -- we were ready to make two more penetration dives, but in the opposite direction. On our next two dives through the parking deck, we would enter through the larger opening at the stern end, and exit through the 'mail slot' doorway near the bow. In the next (and final) episode of this tale, we will tell you about what else we saw inside the Zenobia -- including both living creatures, and some that were, shall we say, formerly alive. Stay tuned...

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.

First dives on the wreck of the Zenobia

by B. N. Sullivan

Diver on a wreckThis 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).

shipwreckDuring 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.

shiprwreckLimited 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.

Diver approaching a lorry on the wreck of the ZenobiaThe 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.

The Wreck of the Zenobia - A Brief History

by B. N. Sullivan

This is the second in a series of articles about diving on the wreck of the Zenobia, a large vessel that sank in the Mediterranean Sea, off the coast of Cyprus, in 1980. In the introduction to this tale, I mentioned that the Zenobia was huge -- more than 172 meters (560 feet) in length, with a beam of about 23 meters (75 feet). We have never dived on a larger wreck, before or since.

When the Zenobia sank, she was a very new ship. In fact, she was not just new, she represented the state of the art for ships of her type at the time, with many modern automated systems. Ironically, it was one of those automated systems that did her in on her maiden voyage.

The Zenobia began her trip in Malmo, Sweden, bound for Syria, with several intermediate stops in the eastern Mediterranean. She was loaded with more than 100 articulated lorries -- trucks with two trailers behind a single cab. The lorries in turn were heavily laden with assorted goods. All told, the combined value of the lorries and their cargo was said to be several hundred million dollars.

ZenobiaSomewhere en route, the ship began to list to port. When she got to the Cypriot port of Larnaca, it was discovered that there was a problem with the computerized pumping system that controlled the amount of sea water taken into the Zenobia's ballast tanks. Attempts to fix the problem failed, and the list became more marked. The vessel was towed out of the harbor and anchored offshore to await further help, but the problem grew worse, ultimately overwhelming the Zenobia. Her crew left the vessel safely, but the Zenobia sank in the early morning hours of June 7, 1980, taking her cargo with her. Never salvaged, the Zenobia lies on her port side, on the sandy bottom of Larnaca Bay to this day.

The photo on this page shows the Zenobia, already listing, hours before she sank in June of 1980. The photo belongs to Ian McMurray, owner of the Octopus Diving Centre in Larnaca, Cyprus. I contacted Ian when I began preparing this series of articles and he graciously gave us permission to use this photo so that our readers would be able to see what the Zenobia looked like, just before her demise. (Thank you Ian!)

Ian was among the first divers ever to see the Zenobia underwater, and over the years, he probably has made more dives on this wreck than anyone else on the planet. He knows the wreck inside and out, quite literally. When we went to Cyprus in 1992 to dive on the Zenobia, Ian was our guide.

These days, dives on the Zenobia can be booked through several dive operators in Cyprus, but when the Zenobia first sank, diving on the wreck was forbidden by the Cypriot government. Ian McMurray was eventually granted permission to take a limited number of divers to the wreck, but arrangements had to be made well ahead of time.

We had been to Cyprus several times, and on some of those trips, we had done some diving. We had heard about the wreck of the Zenobia and decided we would like to see it. Our opportunity came in September of 1992 when Jerry was scheduled to go to Cyprus for a business conference. We contacted Ian and reserved space for seven dives on the Zenobia. We were joined on three of the dives by our friend Joe who flew down from London to share the adventure with us.

Now that I have set the stage, we're ready to begin telling you about our dives on the Zenobia. We saw the entire outside of the vessel, and that alone took several dives to accomplish on such a large ship. We saw the inside of the bridge. We saw several of the lorries that had spilled out of the vessel as she sank, and on our final dives, we entered one of the Zenobia's parking decks, swam through it, and emerged at the other end. Along the way, we saw things we had never seen before, and some we hoped we would never see again among the contents of those lorries.

Tomorrow is Wordless Wednesday, and I will post a photo from one of the Zenobia dives. After that, the stories of the dives on the wreck begin.

Diving the Wreck of the Zenobia - Introduction

by B. N. Sullivan

Wreck diverRecently I posted a photo of our friend Joe taking a picture of Jerry on a shipwreck. That was a hint to our readers that we were preparing to tell another wreck diving story on The Right Blue -- something we haven't done in quite awhile.

We had been poring over our old logbooks, and sifting through our photos, looking for good stories to present to our readers. We came across a cache of photos from a certain trip to Cyprus, and we found the logbook entries and notes that went with the photos. We knew we had the story we wanted to tell next -- the story of our dives on the Zenobia, the largest shipwreck we've ever visited underwater.

The Zenobia was a modern Swedish ship, built in 1979. She was a huge vessel, more than 172 meters (560 feet) in length, with a beam of about 23 meters (75 feet). She sank in Larnaca Bay, Cyprus, on June 7, 1980.

The sinking of the Zenobia took hours, and this afforded time for the rescue of her crew. No one was killed when the Zenobia went under, but she did take all of her cargo with her. The cargo, it turns out, is almost as interesting to divers as the wreck itself.

The Zenobia was a "ro-ro" ferry -- "ro-ro" as in roll-on, roll-off. What rolled on and rolled off were large commercial vehicles. The Zenobia's mission was to transport them between various ports, so that they didn't have to be driven extremely long distances overland. When she went down, the Zenobia was laden with more than 100 articulated lorries -- that is, trucks with two trailers behind a single cab. Each of those was full of goods.

We got to explore the Zenobia in September of 1992, when we made seven dives on the wreck. In the next several posts we will recount this week-long adventure in Cyprus. I took photos on six of our seven dives on the Zenobia, so you will be able to see some of what we saw of the ship and her cargo, as well. We hope our readers will enjoy following along as we tell this tale.

Announcing a New Photo Blog


Many readers of The Right Blue tell us that they visit because they like Bobbie's underwater photos. Now The Right Blue has a companion photo blog that displays photos that Bobbie takes on land. The new photo blog displays garden, nature and travel photography.

The new blog is a month old today, but we decided to wait until we were finished tweaking the layout before we announced it. The site's name is straightforward: B N Sullivan - Photography. The URL is easy to remember, too: BNSullivanPhoto.com.

We invite you to go and have a look, and tell us what you think. Use the link above, or just click on the screenshot at the top of this page, and it will take you right there. (And don't worry. Our stories and underwater photos on The Right Blue will continue as well.)

Meme: Link 5 (with a 'Right Blue' twist)

Swirling JacksMy friend Cathy, whose blog Keeping it Real at 66 Degrees North Latitude is about her life in Kotzebue, Alaska, has tagged me for a meme called Link 5. Except for weekly participation in Wordless Wednesday, I've never before done any kind of meme on The Right Blue, but I have agreed to do this one. According to Cathy, here is what the Link 5 meme is all about.
The rules for this meme are as follows: Go through your archives and link to five of your favorite posts that pertain to the following categories:
  1. family
  2. friends
  3. yourself
  4. something you love
  5. anything you choose
Then pass it along to five other bloggers, two of whom should be people you know but could stand to learn something about, and the others can be new friends.
I'm going to cheat a little. I'll do the first part now, i.e., the five links to pages on this blog. But instead of tagging five unsuspecting people, I think I will ask around first to see who among my blogger friends would be willing to participate. I just don't feel right about springing this on someone by surprise, much less five someones!

I will add updates to the bottom of this post as I identify five good sports who are willing to play along with the meme.

Here are my five links -- previous posts from The Right Blue that fit into those categories -- but I've decided to put my own twist on this. Since The Right Blue is built around photos -- some stand-alone photos, and some photos that have stories -- I will think of those five categories in terms of photos.

1) Photo of Family: Regular readers of The Right Blue know that my favorite underwater model is my husband, Jerry. One of my favorite pictures of him in that role is this one: Jerry is posing with a comb jelly.

2) Photo of Friends: This one is very easy, since I've recently been reminiscing about old friends here on The Right Blue. Here is a post that is a photo essay about what some of those friends did on Easter Weekend, 1974.

3) Photo of Myself: The are not too many photos of me on The Right Blue, because I'm usually the photographer. Here's one, though -- and naturally, it is a picture of me stalking a stingray and a bar jack -- so that I can take their picture!

4) Photo of Something I Love: This one was tough to choose, because so many of the photos and stories on The Right Blue are about things I love. Out of many possibilities, I chose a photo that exemplifies something I love about underwater macro photography. This picture shows a tiny little fish peeking out from under the edge of a mushroom-shaped coral where it was hiding. I never saw that little fish until the photo was enlarged!

5) Free Choice Photo: That would be the photo on this page, a previously unpublished photo taken on the same day, and at the same place, as the photo that is in the header of The Right Blue. The fish are Bigeye Trevally (also known as Bigeye Jacks). Back in November I wrote about these schooling, swirling fish in an article called You don't know jacks... (starring Jerry, of course).

There. That wasn't so difficult. Now, to find five bloggers willing to play Link 5...