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GOING VERTICAL IN UEPI

by Nigel Marsh and Helen Rose

 

We had never seen such a bizarre sight underwater, a shipwreck sitting on a steep coral wall. Now ships sink everyday in accidents; from running into reefs, colliding with other ships or capsizing in heavy seas, and most of these ships end up sitting on the bottom on an even keel. But not the shipwreck that was in front of us – it was the strangest wreck we had ever seen, it was a 33m long fishing boat and it was resting perfectly vertical!

 

This ship is called the Taiyo, and it rests on a reef wall not far from Uepi Island Resort, one of the premier diving destinations in the Solomon Islands. Uepi Island Resort is a lovely laid back resort, located on the outer edge of Marovo Lagoon. It is world famous for its diving, as surrounding the island are wonderful coral reefs packed with marine life. Catering to a maximum of 26 guests, the resort attracts divers from around the world that come to experience a little Uepi magic.

 

Now you could spend your entire holiday exploring the beautiful reefs around Uepi Island, but once a week they offer a special excursion called the Babata Trip, where divers get the chance to investigate this vertical shipwreck and a number of other fascinating dive sites.

 

Departing from Uepi Island Resort after a wonderful breakfast, we headed west across Marovo Lagoon, passing Seghe Airport and into the smaller Nono Lagoon. This was a very pleasant journey that got very interesting when we entered the canoe passage, a series of shallow, man made, mangrove lined canals. We almost ran out of water a number of times, but after forty minutes finally made it through the passage and into another narrow passage leading to the open ocean. There we tied up under a rocky outcrop and prepared to dive.

 

Following our guide Robert into the water, he pointed below to a large dark hole in the rocky bottom, we were about to descend into The Sinkhole. Dropping down into the darkness we turned on our torches to explore this unusual cave. We hit the bottom at 25m and looking up could see the circular cave mouth framed by a number of overhanging branches.

 

We then followed Robert through the cave, which is about 30m long. Flicking our torches about we could see sponges and sea whips sparsely decorating the cave walls, but very few fish. Exiting the cave we found ourselves in a deep chasm, the surface visible above, but the rocky floor was quickly dropping away. We continued along the wall of this chasm until we reached the outer reef wall, where numerous reef fish and pelagic fish were darting about.

 

For our next dive we explored an oceanic outcrop called Penguin Reef, which was covered in lush corals and home to many beautiful reef fish. We especially enjoyed watching the antics of several clown anemonefish.

 

After lunch on a picture postcard deserted island, home to millions of hermit crabs, we were about to dive the vertical shipwreck when we spotted a pod of spinner dolphins. Slowly motoring towards the dolphins we entered the water to see dozens of these stream line cetaceans swimming below us. Even though we performed some clumsy somersaults they were not interested in playing, so we moved over to explore the shipwreck.

 

Jumping into the water it was a surreal experience to see this ship sitting vertical on a reef wall, the bow in 2m and the stern in 35m. The ship sank about a decade ago while on its maiden voyage, and we heard a number of stories of how it ended up in its unusual position. Celebrating the launch of the ship it appears the crew were having a few drinks and drove the ship onto the reef at full speed. This lifted the bow into the air, driving the stern underwater and down the wall. This reef wall drops into over a kilometre of water, so it is amazing that the ship came to rest on a ledge and didn’t just disappear into the depths.

 

Exploring this ship is very disorientating, you constantly had to remind yourself which way is up and which way down. The Taiyo is already covered in a layer of corals and home to many reef fish. Most of the ships fittings are still in place, including the toilet brush floating around in the ‘head’. We investigated the bridge, the holds and the radar tower. We even swam under the hull, but couldn’t find any sign of damage. We all surface from this dive amazed by this vertical shipwreck, but we still had one more dive site to explore before we returned to Uepi Island Resort.

 

Our last stop was at Seghe Airport. During the Second World War Seghe Airport was an American airbase and off the end of the runway are the remains of two planes. One is a Dauntless Dive Bomber, but we were going to dive the P38 Lightening Fighter Plane. Resting in only 8m of water this unusual plane, the only one made of aluminium and with a double fuselage, is basically intact. We looked into the cockpit, inspected the props and machine gun and also swam under the wings. It was a great way to end a wonderful day of adventure diving in the Solomon Islands.

 

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