Nov 142011

Bow of the Yongala

About the site

The SS Yongala is regularly touted as Australia’s best wreck dive, lying 12nm offshore in Far North Queensland. Given the task of driving over a tonne of dive gear 3,000km to Mt Hypipamee for the expedition, Nat Kenyon and I took a two day break from sitting behind the wheel for an inspection of the famous wreck.

2011 is the 100 year anniversary of the sinking of the Yongala, who went down on March 11th (close to midnight, so possibly on March 12th) 1911 in a tropical cyclone. 122 passengers on board perished, as well as an unknown number of children who were not recorded on passenger ships manifests in that era. The wreck was first dived in 1958, and positively identified by the serial number of her safe in 1961.

Taking local advice, we had booked on with Yongala Dive, who visit the wreck every day from their base in Ayr. As opposed to 3 hours on a boat with a Townsville operator, Yongala Dive can have you on the site in 30 minutes. For those of us who are born cave divers and get seasick on wet pavement, they sounded ideal.

About the dive

Barracuda over the YongalaThe Yongala lies in 26m of water, in an area between the coast and the outer Barrier Reef. Given her status as a gravesite, divers are not allowed to enter the wreck and there are large fines for those who break this rule. We were diving around the full moon and on arrival there was a fairly significant current running. While waiting for the rest of the group to jump in the water, I was hanging onto the line with one hand, the camera with the other, and trying to keep the waves out of my face without breathing too much of my tank – and all the while wondering why divers think cave diving is harder!

I passed through a school of huge barracuda swimming down the mooring line to the stern. The hull is lying at a slightly increased angle since Tropical Cyclone Yasi passed through the area, and small patches have been stripped of their coral. The fish life is still absolutely spectacular, with huge schools of huge fish. While it’s hard to complain about the size and diversity of the fish life, for wide angle shots the huge fish make the wreck looks much smaller than she actually is.

About the photo

Given her location between shore and the outer reef, the vis on the Yongala is not your typical tropical reef clear blue waters. We were lucky enough to have good vis for the site of about 15m, similar to a good day in temperate Melbourne waters. In particular, while I could see a long way down the deck, photography was hampered by spotty particles in the water. This photo was taken using mostly ambient light. While I have an earlier shot of the bow from the same angle with an extra school of extra-large fish in the frame, adding my buddy Nat to this shot provides some much needed perspective to the shot and shows the Yongala is not a small wreck.

The schooling fish hold their position by swimming gently into the current, and this keeps them neatly lined up along the top of the wreck. Not visible in this picture is the 2m wide marble ray who’d decided to avoid the action by heading down the far side of the hull. The medium sized groper on the right hand side is apparently outweighed by the extra large groper known at VW – the size of a small car – who didn’t make an appearance on this dive.

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