Her she is - the finished product. Isnt she beautiful!!! The Bell will now go to a good home at the maritime museum
The storey started about 9 years ago. I was on a trip to the poor knights diving with a mate of mine - Dave Maddox. On board the charter boat there was a shipwreck book (Shipwrecks of NZ by Ingram) known to many in NZ as being the Bible for wreck divers. I was paging through it and stumbled over the Port Kembla storey. From then onwards it became a quest to find, dive and document the World War 1 shipwreck. It wasnt till Feb 07 that we finally got everything together. Mike Fraser was the brainchild behind all the research into the wreck. Every scrape of data was collected in NZ but there still wasnt enough evidence of exactly where to look. It wasnt until Mike Zehnpfennig went over to Germany for a holiday and visited the national naval archives. Here Mike uncovered some of the most important documents - Nurgers ( captain of the Wolf) documentation of where he laid the minefield. Coupled with information from local fisherman we then superimposed the minefield with coordinates from fisherman and presto this is what we came up with. This was enough evedence for me to mount an expedition to find the wreck. There was always the possibility of diving a sandy bottom!
DIVE # 1
The weather on the first day was amazing. We left the harbour at about 6am and you could have skimmed a rock right across to the spit from Takaka warf.
Sounding of the wreck site - Thank Christ it wasnt HMS Seabed!!!
First priority was to shot the wreck. We were aiming for the midship region. Currants were running SW to NE which was running the length of the wreck. So we deployed the shot forward of the bridge area and pulled the shot slowly across the current. Securing the shot onto the wreck took three attempts and with the skills of the crew on board and the winch gear it made lifting the shot and redeploying a real dwardle. It was a real pleasure having such a great crew.
Having no experience diving so far off the west coast the next challenge was planning for the likelihood of diving in high currents. Another reason for the timing of the trip. We planned to complete the dives during neap tides which offered the smallest tidal change meaning that the currents would be at their weakest. Low water was going to be at 15:30. Once we had thrown the shot which was round about 11:30am we had some lunch. Shortly thereafter we noticed that there wasn’t that much current to speak of so we decided to just get into the water and do it. The unbelievably calm conditions were constantly being readdressed by all as we started gearing up. Now, the boat that we chartered had a back deck that you could swing 10 dead cats in! - there was space for Africa and a convenient aft hatch located in the centre of the deck just wide enough for the both of us to get geared up on. All gear was on, checks done……… Hooooold it! I heard a cuss from Simon! He experienced an electronic malfunction on his secondary digital PO2 monitor. This was not good.
We pulled the pin on the dive and disrobed out of our gear. No panic! We had lots of time to make some in the infield modifications and with the scorching sun beating down on our ageing, balding heads Simon opened the “hood” to change the secondary gauges and went about recalibrating everything ( with a screwdriver I might add!) It is times like these where you can see the advantages of the simplicity of these units. Not wanting to add another feather in Murphy’s hat I refrained from any wise ass comments and once the unit was reassembled we were back on!! Nothing like a bit of a sphincter oscillator seconds before a 100m dive!!! Once we were in the water all the waiting, planning, logistics, long phone calls to the south island, travel and money spent on this sport all went away.
The descent was direct and effortless. At about 70m I looked down the shot line and the visibility just opened out to at least 40m plus. My mind went into overdrive watching the superstructure emerges out of the abyss. It is probably one of my personal highlights of the dive – this exact moment. The amount of logistics that goes into this type of expedition is huge and it all basically comes down to a point where you cant do any more, except to do the dive! The wreck is either there – or HMS Seabed!
It was the visibility and ambient light that was truly amazing. At 96m no torches were needed, infact from the bow we could easily see the midships. These conditions were truly priceless! The shotline was secured about 10 meters aft of the bow so Simon and I patrolled forward towards the bow. First objectives of the dive was to get positive identification of the ship and the first obvious place was bow lettering. No luck there! The wreck was lying completely on its port side and over the last 90 years of being submerged it has collapsed on itself. Simon and I swam back towards the mid ship area over the hull again looking for other signs – signs of sabotage or bomb damage?
one of the few pictures taken of the Port Kembla
At 1am on Sept 18th 1917 11 miles off Cape Farewell a massive explosion rocked the Port Kembla. Captain Jack voiced to his second officer that it seemed like a bomb had gone off. The second officer agreed. The Kembla was bound from Melbourne to London calling in at Wellington en route for Coal and Australian mail. These were the signs that we were looking for. An inquest was held at The house of representatives in September 18th which stated that the Port Kembla was carrying general cargo bound for the UK loaded in Australia by free labor sank as a result of an internal explosion in the forehold. Later changing their findings after a German mine was washed on the beach in the vicinity.
Port Kembla was a Steel Steamer
4700 ton gross and 2990 ton net register
Built at Newcastle-on-Tyne Sept 1910 by Messrs, Hawthorn, Leslie and Company
Length 400.6foot, Beam 52.7 foot, Depth 26.2 foot
Cargo Valued at £500,000 which included lead, tallow, marino wool and frozen foodstuffs. Bound from Melbourne to London calling in at Wellington en route for Coal and Australian mail.
SMS Wolf the German Black Raider responsible for laying the minefield
With all the collapsed hull plates done there was little or no evidence to show whether the hull plates were bent inwards or outwards so we headed towards the midships. A pity!
Simon Mitchell wading his way through all the fish swimming towards the bow.
I stopped for a moment to pan the camera round over the ship to take in the massive schooling fishlife and when I turned round, I noticed Simon fossicking in a hole. With the camera on Simon I swam toward him and in a billowing cloud of silt he pulled out a plate from the rubble. This was big. It can take many dives for a ship to divulge evidence of its identity. Simon wiped the silt carefully away from the plate and there it was – as bold as brass – Commonwealth and Dominion Line logo. This came as somewhat as a shock to us. The ship had just changed lines from the Port Line to the Commonwealth and Dominion Line and for a cargo ship for them to change the cutlery that quick was interesting. We did it – on dive 1 I might add!!!! After much jubilation we headed further aft again towards the bridge passing many artifacts along the way. Taking in the splendor of a definite “Port Kembla” – Could it get any better than this?
Simon just forward of the forward mast. This is where he found the plate on the first dive that confirmed the ships identity.
The plate in question.
Decompression was long and laborious. For a 20 minute bottom time we had a runtime of a little over 211 minutes. Much of the time was spent with me giggling at playing back the footage – a real handy feature of the HD video camera. And obviously feeling pretty chuffed with ourselves!. Back on board we celebrated and planned our next dive for the next day. With the Gods on our side keeping the weather at bay and with these conditions how could you not want to do another dive!
DIVE # 2 DAY 2
Day 2 dive was at a 9am high water start. Conditions were still good but the wind had picked up to 10-15knots. We decided to shot the stern with our second anchor. After a few attempts we entered and decended. This time the line was longer than it should have been. This made our descent longer because we had to swim along the line as opposed to dropping directly down. The shot was a little off the wreck this time and Simon reeled his line to the wreck. It was only 5-8meters away. The ambient light and clarity was a lot less than the previous day, but still great conditions. I panned the camera round the stern section as I wanted to get some prop shots, while Simon swam directly over the hull. After a few minutes I swam over in the direction Simon was. When he came into view I heard Simon yelling at me and enthusiastically pointing at something perched on the wreck. As clear as day there she sat bold as! The ships bell sat there in all her glory. I couldn’t believe it. How was this possible? Positive Identity of the ship dive # 1 and the Bell on dive # 2. It must have taken all of Simons will power not to touch the bell till I had videoed it for archaeological purposes. Then with one good yank it came away. Simon put it onto my mesh bag and moved it to the shot line. I then attached two deco marker buoys onto it, attached my line to it so I could regulate its ascent. We didn’t want to loose it at this late stage!.
Ahhh yes the bell - had almost forgotten about that....
We just want to point out here that the bell will seek a home at the Auckland Maritime Museum
for all to enjoy.
I could only imagine what the boys must have thought when they saw two deco marker buoys hit the surface. This wasn’t in any contingency plans! It only took a few seconds on the surface for the boys to realize that there was some bootie under the buoys!! Then it was all jubilation on board.
Again we finished our deco more the wearier. Upon surfacing, exhausted, we all collapsed into a heap, contented with life. What a great trip. No problems, identity of the ship, the bell, all well. It was agreed that we would call it a day and savour our fantastic find. Till the next time. We are currently putting together a doco on the trip so stay tuned!
A massive thank you to our safety and support crew of which these expeditions would not be able to be done safely. Geoff Payne who was our technical dive supervisor, Dave Young who was inwater support, Tony Nichols Skipper of Aari Charters. This guy was pivotal in getting us onto the wreck. His skippering skills are unparalleled thanks mate, Nick Hansen deckie, Mike Frazer surface camera, Brian Kirkwood deckie
Just threw some pictures I caught off my video.
Captains dunny under the wheelhouse.
Spendid purch, golden snapper and terriki everywhere!
Some wheel type structure near the port bow
Team Kembla!! L-R
Pete Mes (Expedition leader), Geoff Payne, SImon Mitchell, MIke Fraser, Nick Hansen, Dave Young, Tony Nichols - Skipper, Brian Kirkwood
Just a little hilarity on the vessel after the find!
This is the age old tradition - to kiss the Skippers ass when he brings the bell out of the water. He is the only one from then on that can lose the thing for ever so this is how we show our gratitude.