Wreck Reefs Expedition… the magnetometer arrives!

8.12.09

It is getting harder and harder to get out of bed in the morning. Everyone is starting to feel the exhaustion of the trip. There are more people napping after lunch (actually some people are napping before lunch!). Today Kieran had two manta board/snorkelling teams and two Porpoise/Cato snorkelling teams. I was in the manta board/snorkeler team with Paul Hundley as our team leader. Sarah Ellis and  Grant Luckman completed our team with Kate Thompson as our tender operator. Our aim today was to travel back to Hope Cay (a 15 minute boat ride from Porpoise Cay) and manta board in between the lagoons and coral cliffs looking for Lion, a 300 ton American whaler which went down on 4 December 1856 near Hope Cay.

I was first in the water this morning at about 8.30am. I always feel a tiny bit nervous being the first in the water in the mornings! Again the visibility was spectacular with 50+ visibility. The water was quite choppy especially near the large coral heads and at times there was surfable white wash. However you didn’t seem to notice this when you were manta boarding. Wow such an amazing and spectacular part of the world. After about 15 minutes I whizzed past a 2 ½ metre white tip shark swimming beneath me. Then I saw nine stingrays all clustered together lying on the surface of the seabed. I also encountered lots of fish all colours  and sizes and two sea snakes. I am slowly getting over my phobia of sea snakes – thank goodness as I am encountering them every day now.

We headed back to Nimrod at around 11.30 am for lunch and to recoup. While we were away the Porpoise/Cato teams found more shipwreck material. Jen McKinnon’s Porpoise team found some rigging and other material possibly associated with the Porpoise which they documented and mapped. This was quite exciting as in the past no mention of rigging has been documented by the Australian National Maritime Museum. Nigel Erskine’s team also found more shipwreck material closer to the Cay. A more holistic picture of the past is forming with every find we make which is very exciting.

After lunch the manta board team included Lee Graham, Paul Hundley, Jenni Mullen, Sarah Ellis, Jen McKinnon and myself with Kate as our tender operator. This time we decided to tow two manta boards. By the end of the day we had achieved 360 degrees around the cay and inside the lagoon. Unfortunately we found no shipwreck evidence.

Tomorrow the supply boat arrives with the much anticipated magnetometer. Despite the supply boat’s arrival and the happiness the magnetometer brings us, they did however forget one thing. The food! I have never heard of a supply boat forgetting the supply! Actually this is probably a good thing as I think nearly everyone has put on weight despite the physical activity of the trip. We have most definitely been treated like kings and queens with breakfast, morning tea, lunch, afternoon tea, dinner and dessert. Oh my, it’s been fantastic! And not just the food, but working with fantastic maritime archaeologists who are just the nicest people and who are happy to answer any question no matter how silly. And the Nimrod crew! All crew members are dive masters and have been handling boats since they were foetuses (or so it seems!) The crew are happy to give you a hand no matter what it is, whether it’s helping you fix dive equipment or fixing your bed lamp. Every day I find my bed/bunk made up with clean towels and my toilet and shower cleaned, and as if by magic my dive tank is full after every dive. They make this trip a reality.

Tomorrow when the supply boat leaves it takes with them three members of our team – Jenni Mullen, Sarah Ellis and Andrew Turner. We are all saddened that they will be leaving us as it will not be quite the same without them. I wish them a safe trip back. I hope it’s not as difficult as it was getting here (more than a few people were seasick, myself included!)

 Tomorrow brings the mag. Fingers crossed we find what we are looking for!

10.12.09

Today saw us broken up into four teams. Two dive teams, a mag team and a fisho team (the biologists). I was in one of the dive teams and my team consisted of team leader Lee Graham, Warren Delaney, Jacki Mullen with tender operator Merric. Our aim for today was to dive on the magnetometer anomalies that were identified by the mag team yesterday. When the mag locates an anomaly a buoy is dropped over board to mark the anomaly spot. Our team was working on the western side of Porpoise Cay where a rather big anomaly was detected. As the visibility and current was great this morning we decided to first do a snorkel search. We had a handheld directional magnetometer with us and the other snorkel team had an underwater metal detector. We did a swim line search west of the buoy by about 60 meters and then east of the buoy by about 40 meters. Unfortunately we did not detect anything. Our thinking is that the site may lie in shallower water which is difficult to investigate due to the constant strong current and large waves/surge that crashes onto the coral platform making diving difficult if not impossible.

After our unsuccessful snorkel we headed east to talk to the mag team who had detected several other mag anomalies on what we’ve termed the Cato gully. We decided to investigate further with our hand held mag and metal detector. This site has caused much frustration with everyone as we believe this is where the Cato wrecked, but to date we have not found any concrete evidence other than some bits of glass and charcoal. However even with the magnetometer anomalies narrowing down the search dimensions we still had no luck with finding the Cato wreck. After our unsuccessful snorkel and dive we headed back to Nimrod for lunch and a briefing.

After lunch we again divided up into four teams. This time I was in the mag team with Grant Luckman, Paul Hundley and “Kiwi” John as our tender operator. We were not even ten minutes into the mag run when we encountered problems with the mag and had to head back to Nimrod. Grant then spent the rest of the afternoon trying to fix the mag and I had the difficult task of lying on the deck reading my book.

When all teams were back on board some of us decided to head over to Porpoise Cay to watch the sunset and/or go fishing. This was a lovely way to end the day. Tomorrow will be an early start with 7.15 departure for all dive teams. We have now only got two days of field work left before we have to head back to Gladstone and we all want to make the most of our time out here. If we still have no luck tomorrow then we may head over to Bird Isle to search for other wrecks. Fingers crossed we find Cato tomorrow as it seems a bit of a conundrum at the moment!

Contributed by Toni Massey,  Masters of Research Student, Flinders University

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