31 Aug 2012

Mardinian: Come dive a wreck with me!

Once upon a time, a 3222 ton steamer named SS Mardinian - built in 1913 in Middlesbrough by Harkess & Son Ltd - departed from Calcutta with a cargo of hemp, bound for her home port of Liverpool. She was 313 feet long (95.4m), with a 42 foot beam (12.8m wide) and 21 feet deep (6.4m). She had a triple expansion steam engine which could propel her to a speed of up to 10.5 knots. Little did Captain G. Port know that on the 19th of May 1917 a German U-34 submarine would intercept them off the coast of Santa Pola in the Province of Alicante, Spain, and order the crew to abandon ship before sending the Mardinian to the bottom of the Mediterranean, 4 miles SW of the island of Tabarca, by means of a well-aimed torpedo. And there she remains to this day, to the delight of scuba divers who come from near and far to admire this steel skeleton, now home to a myriad of marine critters.

Last month I was looking for a somewhat "different" from my usual dives to celebrate my birthday, so I contacted one of the dive clubs I sometimes go out with and Carlos, the owner, advanced his scheduled wreck by one day so I could join in! I was a bit worried about going down so deep, the deck is at 44m depth (144ft) which is deeper than recreational divers "usually" go. Plus that was the minimum depth as the ship's hull was resting at 57m (187ft) on a bed of sand. My dive log tells me my max was 47.7m (the deepest I've ever been). Because of this depth, those of us going down with regular tanks (as opposed to the two technical divers going down with "trimix"), would have to do a series of decompression stops (to eliminate residual nitrogen in the body). Between that and the fact that at greater depth you use up more air, we had to each take along an extra tank for safety!

Yeah, I know. Looks awkward, doesn't it? Even more so rolling back over the side of the boat and holding it steady so it wouldn't hit me in the face! :p

Once in the water it was simply a mater of following the buoy line down, down, down. With the unpleasant surprise of discovering a piece of fishing line with a hook had twisted itself around the rope and was still actively fishing! :o(

DON'T abandon your fishing gear people!!! >:(

We stopped at 30m depth to check our gear and regroup, our last diver was having a bit of trouble with her ears and was slower getting down.

Looking down we could just make out the silhouette of the Mardinian below us. (I think you'll definitely have to click that one bigger to make it out) There's not much light making it through to those depths!

Swimming around us, thousands of anthias (dunno which species), little fish about 10-15cm long with long yellowish fins.

And then we were on the deck of the Mardinian.

Well, in this case the roof of one of the deck cabins! And definitely happy to be there! (and happy my camera casing -which is only certified to 40m depth- hadn't flooded!) ;o)

Let's make our way through there, shall we?

There were several access points to the lower decks (inside the boat) like this one:

...but for safety's sake we stayed outside where there was still plenty to see!

I love this shot, reaching for the sunlight!

Thousands of fish just swirling around the wreck...

possibly seabreams swirling around us...
quick shot of an anthias swimming away

A wreck is the equivalent of an oasis on the seabed... a place teeming with life compared to the sandy bottom surrounding it.

Some of the photos are in black & white, others colour... I couldn't make up my mind which I preferred! Without a decent exterior flash (which I don't have) I had no way of restoring the correct colours (the deeper you go the less colour you see, red is the first to go). And some of the shots just looked better in B&W with a high contrast. But then sometimes the blue was really cool too! :p

The Mardinian has been down there for almost 100 years, and it has been colonised by all sorts of marine life, particularly many kinds of marine invertebrates and all sorts of algae which need hard surfaces to latch on to.

taken withOUT flash, those are real colours!!!

These in turn allow for the fish to find something to nibble on! ;o)

Small red scorpionfish Scorpaena notata
possible ringneck blenny Parablennius pilicornis
another little black combtooth blenny, dunno species. Parablennius sp.

Let's loop around one more time...

Hiya! :p

Oops... looks like it's time to go...

Say farewell to the fishies...

We did a first deco stop at 30m depth. Waited around there for 7'. The technical divers got to stick around the wreck for a bit longer, lucky guys!

Then it was up, up, up... until we reached 3m where the dive computer said it was time for another stop... 20'!!! That's a long time to be just floating around! :s

Luckily I had photos I could flip through in the camera, a first deletion of the ones that were completely blurry. I tried to get some people to play "rock-scissors-paper" with me but I couldn't seem to make them understand what I wanted (ahhh, if only we all spoke sign language!). So I decided to goof-off a bit in the water column when I got bored of clinging to the rope.

Do you get what I'm trying to do in that shot? It has something to do with the fingers... Here, this should help:

That's what was waiting for me when I got home! YUMMM!!! ;o)

(so basically I was trying to do 3-6 with the fingers... for some reason everyone thinks I'm going for 9! I guess that is closer to my mental age... lol!)

I hope you enjoyed the dive! I thought it was AMAZING! And now I'm wishing I could do more wreck dives! Might have to start looking into doing a technical diving course though, since most wrecks are pretty deep...

Information about the Mardinian from Wrecksite.eu.
I didn't think to shoot video, just photos, but you can check out a lovely video of a recent dive here.


  1. That was awesome! I love anything to do with under the sea yet I've never dived. I think part of me finds it claustrophobic although i don't know why really as it's so vast. Jump out of plane with parachute? Check. No problem. Anything underwater? Terrified.

    Love the pic of you with the fingers. :-)

    1. Glad you enjoyed the post Veg! But... you can jump out of a plane with nothing but a flimsy bit of cloth between you and certain crushing death... but you're worried about a little bit of water?! tsk! tsk! tsk! ;o)
      Have you tried snorkelling? It's a good intro to diving and then might make you want to take it a step further! I LOVE it! :o)

  2. That looks amazing!

    (One of these days when I have some money and someone to go with, I want to try snorkelling. I'm a terrible swimmer, but I could just pootle around a bit I'm sure!)

    1. The nice thing about snorkelling is you don't really need money to do it! A basic kit with mask/snorkle/fins can be anywhere between 15-30€ depending on the quality! Of course in your case you'd need to add the airfare... the waters around the UK are a tad bit chilly to be floating around in without a wetsuit! ;o)
      So just pop on down to Alicante! Ryanair's got some cheap flights and I've got some spare beds! It's not the Caribbean, but we've got some fun fish to check out... and you don't have to dive down 40m to a wreck to see them! :p

  3. That is simply wonderful! My favorite post of yours to date, Cris. I loved going through the experience with you, and the pictures are fantastic! It made me feel a bit claustrophobic, though, just thinking about being there with you. I can jump into the air, but going under the water.... scary! You are so accomplished; I am impressed. The fingers, the cake, the adventure! :-)

    1. So glad you enjoyed it DJan! These pictures are a bit dark (due to the depth), so I get that they might feel a bit claustrophobic... unfortunately the next set will be a night dive and that's even more claustrophobic! :p
      But in shallower waters with plenty of light? Definitely NOT claustrophobic! There are sooo many things to look at underwater... time flies by without you noticing it!

      And I find the idea of jumping out of an airplane MUCH scarier than jumping into the sea! ;o)

  4. AWESOME post - one of my favorites of yours. The underwater camera is amazing - I can't believe the photos are so clear that far down. What type of camera is it?

    Welcome to the Outdoor Blogger Network - I was excited when I saw your post pop up over there.

    Happy belated birthday - what a day to remember!

    1. Thanks Kim! It was a great way to spend my birthday!

      The camera is a compact Canon s95. It was a birthday present from my parents last year (my previous camera, an Olympus DSLR was on the fritz -still is, expensive to repair- and they knew I needed a new camera and had wanted to get a small compact for a while as a supplement to the DSLR). My sister (who is also into photography and also a diver) had them return the one they had originally chosen and get this instead because she had done the research and found that this model was TOP quality in compact cameras and had its own underwater housing which she then ordered at a local store (and she and my aunt helped me pay for it).

      The camera takes great photos (pretty much all the ones I've put up here since last August), I love the colours! And yeah, a good camera and housing can get you some wonderful underwater shots! For them to be better I need to get an external flash, but it's expensive. Perhaps for 2012...

  5. GREAT post! The wreck looks awesome and I can't believe how many fishes were around - amazing!

    1. Dive Girl I was surprised by all the fish as well! I've never seen so many in one place here in the Mediterranean! :o)

      Glad you liked it! The night dive will be up as soon as I have time to finish editing the video! ;o)

  6. Thank you so much for taking us along on this wonderful dive! Ahh, I live through you. You do what I am too chicken to do. That hulk of a boat looked kinda scary down there but the sea life made it beautiful.

    1. It's amazing how nature simply finds a way... leave something hard down in the ocean for a while and you will find it teaming with life!

  7. That dive was quite a birthday treat!

    1. My best birthday present to myself ever! :o)

  8. What an outstanding dive! Swimming with all the fish around you must be something else. You are a brave soul to go in an old wreck like that. What surprised me the most was the name of the ship. It is Armenian. I wonder why they called it that name – I tried to find out but could not find any info. My best friends, Armenians, were named Mardinian, a brother and sister. She married a Spanish man and now lives in Spain.

    1. Armenian name? I didn't know! It was commissioned in England at the beginning of the 19th century... perhaps an Armenian was involved?

      It's AMAZING to be surrounded by so many fish like that! :o)

  9. Wow Cris what an incredible experience. Those photos have come out really well and I loved the running commentary you did alongside them.

    1. Glad you enjoyed it! I'm afraid I tend to babble a bit when I write posts... too many words and too many photos... but I just feel the need to tell a complete story!

  10. Can I come and experience wreck diving with you? I'm only a beginner and I want to learn more. I just did wreck diving once at Tawali resort in PNG and it is a wonderful experience.

    1. I haven't done much wreck diving, there aren't too many close by to me and I don't do any dive trips (too expensive). Anyhow I don't know of any that can be done by beginners, most of them are too deep!
      It's well worth getting certified to be a Level 2 or Advanced Scuba diver to be able to go down to 40m and do wreck dives, and night dives... It's an added cost but well worth it as it opens up your diving possibilities enormously


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