Diving the SS Yongala

Trish and myself are now one dive away from being Advanced Open Water Divers. Today we completed our first wreck dive. Our first wreck dive just happened to be one of the finest Australia has to offer, the SS Yongala. We have been told its one of the top ten dives in Australia. Just a few days ago this 109 meter vessel sank 98 years ago and it was built in 1904. There were no survivors.

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We arrived in a town called Ayr yesterday and met up with friends we made on our Open Water Diver course, Dave and Suzi. Ayr is the closest bus stop to the diving centre and its about 20 minute drive. We all got picked up by one of the divers who works with the dive company, an English man called Lee. He is working and studying down there for his Dive Masters, a more advanced certification. We cooked a bit of food and met up with the rest of the divers who were staying in the dive centre accommodation, two Americans and an Argentinean. We had a relatively early night as we had a 6.45am wake up call!

Once we got up there was a simple light breakfast ready for us, you’ll soon realise the reasons behind this small bit of morning grub! After that we got signed on and got all the paperwork out of the way and had our dive briefing. Once all that was done, all that was left was a quick 5 minute Jeep drive down the beach to our launch point. The dive boat was a simple yet big enough inflatable with twin 200 hp engines. It was a fairly choppy morning and there was a good bit of wind, which resulted in 2 meter swells. Lucky I took my seasickness tablet! It was pretty rough and for a moment the skipper was half thinking of cancelling because of the conditions. But its good thing he persisted as it was amazing down there.

The wreck rests on a sandy expanse 28 meters down, with the shallowest part at 14 meters. There is no natural reef surrounding this wreck so it’s the only place around for fish to live, so its thriving with the little guys. Or should I say, little and HUGE guys! There was some freakishly large fish down there. We managed to do two dives (which brings our dive count up to 10 in total), and on both dives we saw so many different types of sea life; a huge turtle, Marble Rays, a Tawny Shark, Maori Wrasse, sea snakes and a bunch of small fish who usually spend their time cleaning the larger fish. Plus loads more that I don’t know the names of yet!

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Since the boat has been sunk for almost 100 years its actually quite difficult to concentrate on the wreck itself when you descend to it. At first glance it just looks like any usual reef as its completely been taken over by coral. You can’t make out any wood of metal, just coral! Its only when you get to swim around sections of it when you realise that this place is actually a boat. Our dive guide was able to show us some features that we could just about make out; winches, railings, the anchor and even we could see a toilet through a hole on the side of the boat. Structurally, the wreck is remarkably in well preserved condition considering its age.

After our second dive it was time for us to sort our gear out and head back to shore but the instant people boarded after their dive the vomit started spewing because of the way the boat was rocking. One guy even started getting sick when he surfaced! Within the group of 10 divers, 4 were getting sick for pretty much the whole bumpy ride back to shore! Trish looked a bit dodge at one stage but she was ok in the end and I was grand because I’ve spent a good bit of time on boats when I was younger.

That’s 10 dives now that we’ve done each, and we’ll get our Advanced Open Water Diver license when we complete one more required specialist dive; underwater navigator. That dive will consist of following a course underwater with multiple bearings and also we much complete a bunch of questions (knowledge review).

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