June 2014 on the Great Barrier Reef
Century of Coral
Captain Trevor Jackson
We went, we saw and despite some early weather issues, we dived the heck out of it…the SS Yongala that is. Last month’s 4 expedition sojourn to Australia’s most famous wreck dive were memorable to say the least…but that of course was to be expected. The Yongala didn’t gain her reputation in diving folklore for nothing, she is the quintessential dive. But, for many on board, the real eye opener was one of the extras we threw in. The SS Gothenburg, lost at Old Reef in 1875. This wonderful little shipwreck proved to be just as popular as her larger, better known counterpart.
Early one evening in late February 1875, the Gothenburg was heading south along the Queensland coast in near cyclonic conditions. She was powering under both sail and steam and close to her top speed of 13 knots. Lashing rain and a sun low in the west sky made visibility impossible. At 7pm, a tiny error in navigation saw her captain steer his ship hard up onto Old Reef, about 50 miles east of Townsville. Initially there was no panic amongst the crew and passengers. Indeed many stayed in their cabins, expecting the ship to be easily refloated. They were mistaken. After several attempts to move the vessel backwards under power, her stern was holed and her engines flooded. Nothing remained but to take to the lifeboats. In doing so, the drownings began.
The loss of life was massive. A definitive number is still not known today. What is known is that over 100 of the ships 122 compliment died… including EVERY last woman and child, a horrific statistic. Those that did survive made their way 50 miles south to Holbourn Island. Once ashore, they were so certain that they would perish under the blistering sun, that they famously carved their names into a turtle shell, hoping that it might be found later by searchers. In the end they were rescued anyway.
One hundred and forty years later the Gothenburg is an absolute gem of a dive. Lying in a maximum depth of 18 metres, with zero current, she is a dive everyone can enjoy in absolute comfort. Extensively encrusted in coral and the home of a multitude of fish, the Gothenburg is a poster-quality open water dive. She has it all…history, drama and beauty, frozen in time within the clutches of the Great Barrier Reef. The SS Gothenburg left a lasting impression on us, plans are already afoot to return to her next year. To go back for another glimpse at a point in time, a time long passed, framed by the delicate hands, of a century of coral.
Photos of the Month: