Monday, April 12, 2010

Historic Shipwreck!

“Are you ready for an adventure?” Rantje asked when I greeted him this morning at the Oasis Hotel in Gorontalo. “Yes!” I enthusiastically responded, thinking how every day of diving in Gorontalo is an adventure. What would today bring? My mind wondered back to some of the amazing marine life I’ve already seen here: whale sharks, dolphins, turtles, barracuda, giant moray eels, Napoleon wrasse, and pygmy manta rays to name a few. Not to mention the swim throughs and caverns, the giant Salvador Dali sponges and rare blue sea fans, the fantastically bizarre muck creatures, the twinkling blue plankton and many other delights. In the car on the way to the dock, Rantje revealed his plan for the first dive – he was going to take me to the wreck of a Japanese cargo ship that sank off the coast of Gorontalo in 1942!

On the dive boat after we had suited up, Rantje gave me a bit more background information on the wreck. The ship, which had been hauling a cargo of copra, wood and rattan, caught fire soon after setting sail from Gorontalo’s harbor. The captain had spied a long stretch of white sand beach that he thought he could run the ship aground on, but little did he know there was a coral wall between his ship and the beach. The crew all swam to safety but the ship and her cargo quickly vanished beneath the sea not to be seen again until more than half a century later when Rantje stumbled upon the wreck during an exploratory dive of the area.

After descending along the wall, the first part of the wreck that came into view was an anchor. What a classic underwater image - a coral encrusted anchor surrounded by fish! I was delighted with it, but this was just a small precursor of what was to come. I turned my head to follow Rantje and all of the sudden the huge, hulking mass of the 50 meter long overturned cargo ship came into full view. A lone batfish eyed me up as he stood guard next to the wreck. We examined a patch of rare bubble coral on the hull that had translucent tubes capped with white spots and is, as far Rantje knows, an unnamed species. Then we descended deeper, swam around the front and turned on our lights. Ghostly strands of pale foxtail colonial tunicates dangled in front of an opening. We leveled off at 41 meters and shined our lights inside the ship. It was dark, eerie, creepy and yet also alive with new life. Fish stared back at us defensively as if to say, yes, this ship once belonged to your world but now it belongs to ours.

We swam along the length of the ship until we reached the propeller then we began our multi-level ascent. I was contentedly looking around at the grape and scallop algae when Rantje pointed to his mask with two fingers to signal that there was something more interesting to look at. I looked in the direction he gestured to, but couldn’t tell what he wanted me to see – there were too many fish! Then he pulled out his writing slate and wrote “Flasher wrasse 1 male”. Ok, so we were looking for a wrasse. I still couldn’t tell which one I was supposed to be looking at. Then Rantje gently grabbed hold of me and aimed me in the right direction. Finally, I made out that one of the fish looked a bit different than the others – must be the lone male in a harem of females. The two of us stayed huddled together following his movements for several long moments before it happened – he flashed us! He quickly raised and lowered his magnificent spiky sail of a dorsal fin. He did this a few more times then swam away. Rantje took out his writing slate again and wrote, “Rare to see”.

Yes, diving in Gorontalo is always an adventure that never fails to please.

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