Back to Tulamben: The Wreck

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I’d greatly enjoyed my last trip diving in Bali and I knew DC would love it as much as I did. It was a no-brainer to choose Tulamben and Tulamben Wreck Divers. Tulamben has the fabulous Liberty wreck and other fantastic dive sites that are just off the beach (hence no long boat rides and the chance to return to the room for an afternoon nap), and TWD has excellent guides like the eagle-eyed Wayan.

The wreck itself is fairly broken up, so it’s impossible to have an idea of its size just from one picture. Here’s part of the inside where a portion of its hull came to rest tilted on its side.

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It’s not often that we come up close to the resident great barracuda. My last trip, I only caught a glimpse of him once and it was the same this time round. A group of us practically came nose to nose with him in one of the chambers of the wreck. You can just about make out its ferocious teeth. Pardon the poor picture quality, I was still testing the camera.

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Other visible bits of the wreck included a boiler valve encrusted with coral, and I tried to get some pictures of me trying to turn the valve, but in vain.

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Residents of the wreck included plenty of bumphead parrotfish. When we went in September, it seemed like the season. We saw them on a lot of dives at the wreck and not just in the early morning.

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This one in particular was easy to approach as it rested on the bottom. It didn’t seem fazed by the big SLR at all.

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This poor fella was probably sick and in need of some serious cleaning from the blue-streak wrasse here, hence not quite caring whether anyone took its photo.

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We caught some other less-sick fish being cleaned, like this blue-spotted stingray bulging out from the bottom in its characteristic way, signalling that it was open for cleaning.

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Tulamben’s black sand gave cover to all sorts of strange fish, like this peacock flounder just about concealing itself. Only its bulbous pair of eyes gives the game away, thereafter its shape becomes apparent.

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Similarly given away by its bulging eyes was this dragonet.

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It reared up as I got closer, but not close enough to see exactly what type of dragonet it was.

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Beyond the wreck, there were other things to see, just not that often, like this blackfin barracuda.

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There was also the occasional squid, seen from afar. Squid tend to be very shy and it’s not easy to get a shot of one especially in the day time.

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But the most exciting thing about the blue was the occasional treat of fish schooling above the wreck, like these jacks starting to form a tornado.

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It’s quite exciting when you see a bunch of them forming up, I always wonder exactly how many fish end up inside that tornado.

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It’s such an amazing thing watching them congregate and almost block out the light.

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September in Bali: USAT Liberty Wreck

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I realised that I hadn’t really posted much about the wreck itself. Getting there was very convenient. It required a short walk to the beach from the dive centre. We didn’t even need to take our full gear with us, just fins and mask, as the porters would carry our tanks and BCDs out to the beach. On the pebble beach itself, we put on our BCDs then waded into the sea to a suitable depth before leaning back and putting on our fins. When we were all ready, it was time to descend and fin out slowly to the wreck, just a few tens of metres away. Even though the focal point was the wreck, there was still plenty to see along the way. Some days we saw the resident barracuda swim past, other days we saw large schools of fish gathering till they formed a group large enough to provide safety in numbers, like these yellow streak fusiliers. There were so many of them that they cast a dark shadow over the pebbles below.

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There wasn’t a great deal of actual wreck to see. Most of the ship is so broken up that it’s hard to find an end, let alone tell which end is bow and which stern. The best I saw was a gun turret sticking out from under a mess of plates overgrown with coral.

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At other parts, the wreck simply formed a pretty frame for the coral to grow on. It was obvious that no natural scape would look like this, overrun with coral or not. It was lovely to catch a poor of moorish idols swimming idyllically through the crevices.

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Before leaving, we had to take a group shot. There’s Wayan next to me, then Janine and Howard, the couple from Australia; and Gordon, the Scottish photographer who spend a month a Tulamben just to take award-winning photos. Hard core.

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Then it was time to say goodbye and head to my next spot in Bali.

September in Bali: Tulamben

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This is the last of my 2008 escapade series.

It was my first trip to Bali and I was to spend several weeks there mainly diving, with occasional sojourns on land. My first stop was Tulamben, site of the famous Liberty Wreck in northeast Bali. The wreck was originally pulled up to the beach after being torpedoed by the Japanese in World War 2. The Americans didn’t have time to salvage the ship as the Japanese forces were arriving and the Liberty lay on the beach for many years till the 1963 eruption of Mount Agung. Lava from the eruption pushed the wreck back into the water, breaking it up into several pieces. It makes for beautiful diving today and is special in that no one died in this wreck, making for much less of a spooky dive.

It was here that I first started underwater photography. Many pictures weren’t of top quality, but later as you’ll see some were very beautiful, all thanks to my trusty Fuji F100 camera. The wreck somehow attracted many schooling fish that formed spectacular tornadoes. I spent several days just diving the wreck and the surrounding sites on a fairly hardcore routine of four dives a day. It really was nothing but diving…

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… and relaxing on the volcanic sand and shingle beach during the surface intervals.

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We either enjoyed the sun and the sea on the beach…

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… or ventured into shelter to have yummy nasi campur for lunch.

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And at night, again to enjoy the calm sea, this time lit by a bright full moon.

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Those were great diving times.

Diving the Similans: Things on a Wreck

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Our last dive in the Similans was at Boonsung Wreck. It used to be a whole boat at the bottom of the sea, but the tsunami lifted it up and smashed it into four big pieces. Ironically, this makes for richer marine life as there’s more space for coral to grow and therefore more places for fish to hide and spawn. Among which were these bored, listless looking longfin bannerfish mooching about the place.

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There were quite a few moray eels and here was one of the few blackspotted morays I’ve seen. It wasn’t too pleased with its hole because soon after I took this picture, it departed and tried to fight a white eye moray for space but sadly was soon defeated and had to go back to its lousy old hole. Poor guy.

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Then there were goby shrimp and their shrimp gobies. It’s cute how all the shrimp does is shovel gravel out of the hole. Talk about a menial task. The goby just guards the hole and darts in at the first sign of trouble. The shrimp never shovels past the middle of the goby’s body. It was so hard to get close enough to take a good picture. This is the best I got.

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Then there were these two lovebird cuttlefish who stuck together despite showing their alarm colours. I think there were too many divers hovering over them and no crevices big enough for them to hide in.

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Last of all was the only set of nudibranch eggs I saw on the trip. It was funny how there weren’t a huge number of nudibranchs in the Similans. The ones I saw were the rather common and boring ones, so it was such a treat to see the ribbony sheets of eggs. See how each pink dot is an egg? I wonder how these things survive without being eaten by predators, they’re so obvious. Maybe they’re poisonous to most fish.

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Boonsung Wreck was a nice easy wreck to dive at. While the viz wasn’t the best, I liked how there was stuff both on the wreck and around it. It was a relaxing end to the diving.

The Black Manta: Seven Skies Wreck

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It was a short chug over to the Seven Skies Wreck. The Swedish tanker went down in 1969 and settled rather conveniently upright so that we recreational divers could reach the funnel easily and explore to just above 40m. Only the technical divers with special training went deeper to the base of the wreck at about 60m. We used a line attached to the funnel as a guide on our way down and back up again. It got a bit hectic as people were moving up and down the line at different stages of the dive, so lots of patience was needed here.

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I don’t look particularly pleased in this shot, mainly because of the gobs of jellyfish in the water. It was nuts just how many of them were streaming past in a continuous filamentous flow. Sure, they were each rather small, but the trailing tentacles brushed past the exposed bits of my face and neck, leaving trails of fire as I descended. Now I knew why the divemasters all put their hoods on despite the warm water. Thankfully the layer of jellyfish stopped at about 20m, so by the time we got to the wreck, things were a lot more comfortable.

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There were lots of fish on the wreck. One of the reasons why people like to visit wrecks just to swim on the outside is that despite it being a dead ship, lots of coral like to grow on the shell. And where coral grows, there we find fish too.

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I’m still trying to figure out whether this is the wheel or not. It was a bit too far to the aft of the ship and not quite in the right location for a bridge. Hard to tell but still cute to imagine steering the ship of coral with this wheel.

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There were some chambers that had large enough openings to pass in and out of. There was plenty of soft coral encrusted all over and plenty of fish hiding inside, only to scatter quickly when a diver intruded into their space.

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The coral can be very pretty. I like the many shades of pink and orange on this one!

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There wasn’t a whole lot of macro-life on the wreck. The only thing I found was this slightly nondescript nudibranch.

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