Dive Log: Cargo Wreck and Formosa Reef (11/02/2010)

Dive #21 and #22, diving off Colombo with Colombo Divers and divemaster (instructor in training) Jehan Dive Instructor/King Pin Paris and dive buddy Andy from Canada.

Cargo Wreck: Bottom time – 48 minutes; Depth – 26.8 meters

The sea looked like a giant silver-grey dish as I strolled into the dive center a bit behind schedule. Upul and Ravindra were as usual hard at work loading the boat and I kitted up and loaded my gear as well. The sky was overcast and fisher boats lurked in the light mist looking like ancient Arab dhows as our boat slipped out smoothly through the almost non-existent surf. The contrast between the ocean today and the last few times I’d been out was breathtaking, where the white caps and surges had predominated the last times, today, the boat moved as if it were drifting through silk, grey, smooth, silk peppered rather incongruously with terns perched on any bit of flotsam they can find. Flying fish skittered over the surface while here and there the surface boiled with shoals of fish.

It was only on the boat that I found out to my delight that we were going to be going to the Cargo Wreck, a huge ship that had been sunk around 5km off the coast of Dehiwala. Having seen the pictures to say that I was full of anticipation was the understatement of the century. As we hovered over the wreck we could see a giant shoal of fusiliers, orange against the dark blue of the sea. Rolling over and descending, I had to hold back from pinching myself as we sank through the shoal, slivers of fish glinting around us as the coral encrusted hull rose out of the depths. I'll admit though as the wreck loomed up from the depths, I felt a momentary shiver of fear. The holes in the deck were stark black and I felt that if I continued on my way down, I would be engulfed in the ship's depths, to be eaten by a gigantic octopus, or more likely for me, stung to death by a ridiculously small scorpionfish. I still struggle a bit with my buoyancy so I'll admit, I held onto the bright blue anchor rope quite hard as I pumped more air into my BC to stop my downwards descent.

Visibility was divine, at least 20 meters and the ship took my breath away. The terraces and turrets of the ship were swarming with fish life.  Looking up and away from the ship, the shoals of fusiliers were breathtaking. Sailing over and through the wreck was breathtaking, the portholes eerily black. I was imagining huge moray eels or other sea monsters lurking in their depths. The reality around me however was even more fascinating than imagined monsters. Red toothed triggerfish, Blackbar triggerfish, White spotted boxfish and Snappers were in abundance.

Ropes still coiled and undulated in the water and swimming closer I excitedly noted a large trumpetfish, green and yellow stripes with an incongruous minutely whirring tail. Exhaling to take myself down, I hovered eye to eye with him as he gazed at me impassively before moving away. Rounding the hull was another school of deep blue trevalley like fish, unidentified by all on the dive but beautiful in their majesty as they traversed the sunken steel of the ship. The fish ID issue is getting to be a bit of a bugbear for me as is the lack of an underwater camera, but I’m still in the fledgling stages of my diving career so I guess both will come in time.

The batfish were an especial highlight as they hid in the girders, apparently a bit shy of us. Two large psychedelic (in Jehan’s words) Oriental Sweetlips were also on show, much larger and prettier than those we had seen on the shallower reefs. Our little yellow friend even showed up but this time kept more of a distance.

I could go on and on about the fish. Truth be told I was so overwhelmed I can’t even describe coherently what I saw to a great extent. It was all a blur of bubbles, fins, colour and deep blue. The most poignant moment for me was however swimming over a life-raft that had dislodged when the ship sank and could be seen ghosting the sand. That really brought home to me that we were now drifting over what men had built, where they had worked and lived. I think that almost morbid, surreal realization is why I’m now hooked onto wreck diving.

Formosa Reef: Bottom time – 63 minutes; Depth – 13 meters

After the excitement (and depth) of the Cargo, we moved onto the good old Formosa Reef for a shallow, extended dive. It may only have been 13 meters and lacked the charisma of the Cargo Wreck but life was in abundance. A Nudibranch that was the biggest I have ever seen, a full 5 inches in length, white, black and yellow, Bi-coloured Blennies flirting elusively through the rocks and a baby Scorpion fish. After seeing the latter and noting the brilliant camouflage, I made a note to myself to be extra careful where I place my hands since Scorpion fish pack a pretty nasty wallop.

The highlight were the two Octopi however, both within a meter of each other, apparently a happy couple? With the larger one within a deep gully and the other, smaller specimen hiding in a crevice. I would have missed the smaller one if it hadn’t suddenly blushed white when I swam over it. Which of course intrigued me because I had never seen a rock change colour for me, which led me to investigate and discover the octopus. Andy found the larger one which as we hovered around, treated us to a display of its colour changing abilities, going from a deep russet to a midnight black.

Leaving the kaleidoscopic octopi behind, we surfaced and started the process of getting back onto the boat. We hadn’t really asked for any icing on the cake but we got it as a mere 10 meters away, a pod of dolphins suddenly surfaced. Hurriedly putting my mask back on I peered through the water to see if I could see them but the poor visibility defeated me. We watched from the water’s level as the dolphins turned away and headed out to sea, their black spotted grey bodies sliding through the oil slick water, looking oddly animatronic as they moved towards the horizon. My mind boggles to think how this could get any better.

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