Jun 132011

Bullseyes and cogs in the wreck of the George Kermode

About the wreck

The George Kermode was a bucket dredge of 1,380 tonnes, known as the Sit William Matthew when she was built in 1914 for the Ceylon Government, Colombo. After being acquired by the Australian Government in 1917 and then the Melbourne Harbour Trust in 1941, she was scuttled on April Fool’s Day 1976, off the southern coast of Phillip Island. She lies upside-down in about 20m of water, coming up off the bottom to nearly 12m in some places. Being so shallow compared to most of the wrecks accessible out of Port Phillip Bay you get plenty of time to explore.

Diver entering the wreck between the cog wheelsThe Kermode is broken up in the middle, with big buckets lying out on the sand in several locations. With the bottom of the hull pointing towards the sky, there is a significant dark zone to enjoy as you swim through the boilers. The resident cloud of bullseyes in the entrance is often joined by schooling sweep or yellowtail pike. There are lots of nooks and crannies to look in, and it can be difficult to work out which bit of the wreck is which.

The other great feature of this wreck is the huge cog wheels forming photogenically rusty patterns. The second shot here was not taken of my buddy, and the diver was a little surprised to see me. I clicked the shutter as he decided to enter the wreck, and he turned at the same time the strobes went off. The poised moment almost makes up for the soft edges and inconveniently placed fish in the shot.

About the dive

Given the Kermode’s location on the edge of the Southern Ocean, and the long run from Newhaven boat ramp, usually requires a few days of strong northerly winds to flatten the swell out. On this particular day we had glass like conditions for the 40 minute run across to the site. The vis was correspondingly good for the area, and I dropped over the edge of the boat and drifted down the shot line to the wreck.

About the shot

This was one of my early shots with the 5DII setup, and I had one trusty ikelite substrobe on a stick in my left hand and camera in the right hand with only a strobe sync cable stretching between the two. I’d swum under this portion of the wreck looking for a good angle on the cogs and schooling bullseyes. I particularly like this shot because of the dark zone in the middle with the natural light coming in from both ends. The light distribution shows what I try to achieve in a lot of the cave shots – the sun can be a bit more reliable than some of the off camera strobes that I’ve used. It’s also an interesting perspective on this wreck from an angle that a lot of divers don’t get themselves into, contrasting the schooling fish with the mechanics of the dredge.

Unfortunately, I was working with a distinct lack of experience and a 4 second recycle time on my strobe stopped me from just snapping away indiscriminately to find the right angle and lighting levels. My bubbles were also bringing down little rust particles on my head, meaning I needed to move forward between each shot to avoid capturing a whole cloud of backscatter. And every time I moved, a few more fish decided to depart to the other side of the central pillar.

This shot is a compromise in a series that starts with hundreds of fish but poor composition and ends with not a fish in sight. Better timing, a little more light, and a cooperative diver in the right place could seriously improve it, and I look forward to going back for another try.


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