The seas of Batticaloa. The mysterious East. After so many years of war and restrictions these seas were the great unknown and rumours of shipwrecks and reefs hounded my dreams. It was with some excitement to say the least that we collected on the beach in Thennadi Bay, Mankerni in August where a flat sea met white sand in preparation for three days of exploratory dives.
This was rough shod diving to say the least. The tank valves and o-rings looked quite worse for wear and much cursing and the hiss of air escaping accompanied us setting up the tanks. At the end of our battle with the tanks we had around 120 bar left in each tank and to compound things my integrated computer decided to run out battery as we rolled over for the first dive. Thus the introduction to the east left a bit to be desired, low on air and 4 meters of visibility and no idea about depth, bottom time or how much air I had left. The fish life on Leather coral reef though was prolific, anemones and clown fish dotted the rocks and we almost had to push through the shoals of snappers. Unfortunately I had made the rather silly decision not to take my camera with me so no photos were forthcoming.
A delicate battery change later we assembled back on the beach the next morning with the promise of a new shipwreck, an unidentified mammoth ship lying 27 meters deep off Vakarai. After our usual battle with the tanks and o-rings we headed out. Viz was not the best as we headed down to the wreck and to be frank the first sight of the wreck left a bit to be desired. It was upside down and we started swimming along the stern. The size of the ship was impressive and there were a few interesting anemones on the ship but it was nothing much too really write home about. A sudden concussion jarred us while we swam, an unfortunate indication that the lazier fishermen in the area were dynamiting, destroying and raping the very reefs their livelihoods depended upon.
Bubble anemone on the hull
There were loads of these small anemones on the ship as well
The slightly boring dive continued until we reached the section where the ship seemed to have been wrenched apart. The ship’s structure ended abruptly and there was an open space after which the next half of the ship lay. This section was truly awe inspiring. The top of the structure appeared to have a multitude of holes in the top through which the light streamed, like a giant underwater cathedral. On its own this section of the ship looked amazing. The ship also pulsed with life, solid shoals of snappers swam in and out of the ship while multi coloured coral dotted every available surface. Anemones complete with clown fish dotted the wreck here and there and friendly butterfly fish swirled around. Unfortunately as we had taken some time to get to the spot we were almost out of air so had to come up for a surface interval before we could get back down to explore more thoroughly.
On the second dive we headed straight for the broken section of the ship and just hung there enjoying the show, almost too befuddled to even take photographs. As we adjusted to the hustle and bustle of the wreck, I moved in to photograph what looked like an anemone flowing in the current, a quick glance to my computer confirming I had around 60 bar and enough bottom time left.
Last photo I took before the shit hit the ceiling
With that in mind it was quite disconcerting to suddenly have my regulator stop delivering air, checking my computer I absorbed the fact that a second after it showed 60 bar, it showed a blinking zero bar. It must have taken split seconds but as I continued to watch the gauge it went up to 50 and as I took a breath went down to zero again delivering a minute amount of air. This being a classic symptom of a tank that hasn’t been opened properly I rather quickly swam up to another diver and indicated I was out of air. Breathing out of the octo, I checked my tank but it was fully open which completely threw me. Getting back onto the boat, a bit shakily, the mystery was solved as it turned out that the tank was corroded and the corrosion had come up and blocked the valve. Trying to get the reg of the valve was the next task and finally when we wrenched it off, aluminum oxide blew out coating myself and the boatman in fine, grit.
It was an ignominious end to what had been two spectacular dives. Unfortunately as we had come specifically to explore sites we didn’t have the time to go back to this wreck and ended our last day with a dive to a shallow but interesting wreck, the Lady McCullum and another reef. The giant wreck would have to wait for another day.
Fish on the Lady McCullum
The sun sets on the seas of the east