September 6 2014 — SS Coogee
This is actually the last dive I have on my divelog before I actually run out and have to get a new one. It’s taken me a good 6 years just to hit 50 odd dives. It’s probably a fitting dive to cap out my divelog before I have to seriously consider getting a new one, or actually, really, writing about each and every dive here instead.
So the quick stats of the dive;
Average depth 20m
Time started 12:11
Max ascent rate 22m/minute
Dive time 35 minutes
Water temp 13°C
No surface interval (first dive)
Starting bar 240
Ending bar 0
Having reviewed the details, I’m mildly interested in my max ascent rate being peculiarly high, though It may well just be my Puck Pro recording a quick ascent for a short period over a course of a slower ascent rate. In any case, this would not be a proper dive without issues and we had it in spades this time. John is always happy to pair photographers as buddies, so more often than not, I’m paired with Natalie. Without a doubt a diver with more experience than me, and probably a better underwater photographer too. In any case from recollection, the anchor was dropped near the wreck of the SS Coogee, probably towards the southwest side of the wreck, if I was reading my compass correctly at the time.
The SS Coogee is a steel steamship scuttled outside the Port Phillip heads in 1928. Sitting at 34m on a sandbed, the most complete parts are the bow and stern. The midship missing bits likely due to the use of explosives to scuttle it. This dive would be the 3rd time I’ve done this wreck.
The descent was fairly slow as Natalie had issues equalising her left ear. By my count we probably spent a good 10–14 minutes at 6–10 metres while she slowly resolved the equalisation issue. We would encounter about a dozen or so jellyfish in the water at any time, though it was not going to be an issue for us in full dive gear. Bar my head, as I have steadfastly (or stubbornly) refuse to buy a hood for the dives here in Melbourne despite in temperature.
The fact that the anchor is on the sandbed southwest of the midsection of the wreck will prove important later. But barring the problems equalising, we arrive at the bottom with little issue and begin scouring the wreck for interesting things to shoot. Having looked at my previous dives on this wreck, there appears to be a diverse range of nudibranchs on this wreck so this was definitely going to be a productive dive. What I do find amusing is how I cannot recall how ANY of those dives went. More reason to properly log these dives perhaps.
In any case, it’s a pretty ship to check out with plenty of sealife on it, with schools of fish at the bow and stern, and zoanthids throughout.
That’s one thing I find a lot of around the wrecks I’ve been on here in Melbourne. Zoanthids, particularly the yellow variant that gives wrecks like the J5 it’s yellow submarine nickname. I’m sure there are other variants around the dive sites in and around Melbourne, but as a hobbyist diver, I wouldn’t know another zoanthid if it shot me in the eye with it’s palytoxin. But I digress. I don’t think I’ve ever penetrated this wreck, though I’m not sure there is much to penetrate in the first place. There were swim-throughs, though nothing unlike the J4 submarine, if memory serves.
So I should put it out there that I am ridiculously bad at identifying fish. Point me in the direction of a leatherjacket, a cowfish, or some form of pufferfish and I might be able to tell you what it is specifically. But the moment you ask me to identify the more commonly shaped fish, I would not be able to tell you.
Anyway. We landed towards the midsection of the ship, thus leaving us the hard decision of going to either the stern or bow as there was no way we were doing both in this one dive. I have a feeling we headed towards the stern given we passed the boilers at some point.
It was fun, slowly going over the wreck and hunting for nudibranchs. At some point Natalie asks me for how much air I have. I signal 80 bar. She raises a hand with 5 fingers, and I’m thinking she’s asking if I have 50 bar. Once again I signal 80, and proceed to continue looking for things to shoot. The mistake there? Me thinking she was asking if I’m on 50. Because it was her that was on 50 bar. But I didn’t consider the possibility that she would be on less air than me, simply because previous dives with her, she’d be coming up with enough air in the tank for a second dive while I would hog my way through 200 bar in a flash. So there’s a lesson there about not assuming anything, and always checking your buddy’s gauge rather than figuring things out via interpretive dance.
So the whole time that was going on, we were at about 28 or so metres. Typically, we’d start finding our way back to the anchor and make our way up. But this time we lingered, so I get the feeling we left it to when she was at 30 bar or so. Thus I can understand she was mildly frantic when it came to looking for the anchor again, but instead of looking at the right side of the ship, we end up on the wrong side of the Coogee and found nothing but sand. I look at my compass and realise the mistake we made. My computer is telling me we’re past the no decompression limit by that point, and there’s no way we’re going to swim across the wreck and find the rope back to the boat before she runs out of air, so it’s upwards we go, with no guideline.
Around the 15 metre mark the computer starts buzzing, telling me to level out for 2 minutes there as a deep deco stop. I opt to ignore it (don’t), and shoot for the 5 metre safety stop instead, because at that point I’m below 50 bar, and Natalie is on my occy. Ignoring the deep stop was one of many mistakes made on this dive, as my computer now had a deco stop violation and wasn't telling me how long I should be sitting at 5 metres.
I keep an eye on the computer and keep us there as long as possible, which isn't very long because for the first time since getting my Open Water Diver certification, I feel a distinct drag when attempting to draw a breath on the regulator. That meant we’re pretty much on bingo air and had one or two more breaths on the regulator before there’s nothing left and we have to surface on a single breath.
I signal it’s time to get up and surfaced with no issues, though we’re both out of air. My BCD won’t inflate via the inflator hose as my tank is empty, but the whole time it doesn’t register that I could manually inflate it. Moot point really, as our wetsuits are positively buoyant. But that is another mistake noted, given I should remember that we can manually inflate if need be.
To recap, we spent 35 minutes underwater, in and around the 30 metre mark, strayed past the no deco limit, run out of air on both tanks, and spent an unknown amount of time at a safety stop before being forced to surface because the air ran out. Back on the boat, we’re all glad we didn't drown, and after a bit of observation, were fairly satisfied neither of us got the bends either. As dives go, I chalk this one up as one of the more eventful ones I've been on.