A S S O C I A T I O N   OF   U N D E R W A T E R   E X P L O R E R S  

Date: Mon, 11 Sep 2000 19:58:01 GMT

AUE - Association of Underwater Explorers
7-10 September Tortugas:  Trip Rhein, Araby Maid, U-2513, Oil Wreck, Baja California

Day 3

We awoke to the sound of the compressor working to complete the fills for our last dive on the Baja California; Captain Jeff really used it to wake us up and get us in the water so we could reach the dock at a decent hour.

We all geared up after cutting some tables and splashed to complete one more dive on the Oil Wreck. I dropped down to find murky water had started to move in on the bottom; I could easily see the dive boat from the top of the wreck at ~110', but could just make out the bottom 40' down. I went to retrieve my tool bag that I left on the wreck the night before and swam past the hull fracture about 80' from the stern. I poked about the debris a bit to see if I could happen upon any clues to the ships identity but turned up nothing new. I collected my tools and then headed into the stern section of the hull to inspect the boilers and large engine that now has toppled over onto its side. As I entered the hull, I spotted a sea turtle swimming forward out of the wreck, probably still groggy from sleep depravation. The top decks over the engine have peeled away, allowing the ambient light to filter into the interior. Gauges, piping, and valves were visible scattered amongst the engine room.

Exiting at the break, several jewfish made their presence known with their thumping sounds. I headed up and over the wreck towards the bow, continually followed by multiple thumps. I turned around to spot a decent sized jewfish following me along the hull. I decided to play his game as I started to follow him. He stopped making any noise and slowly swam away into the wreck and around some debris, never fleeing, allowing me to swim behind. I got bored with this game and turned back for the bow. No sooner as I swam away from him did I start hearing more thumping. I looked back and saw the jewfish right on my fins again. I did not feel like playing his game anymore and kept my path towards the bow as he eventually gave up bothering me.

Just forward of amidships, I dropped down into the wreck at seeing some unusual wreckage on the bottom. I noted a small amount of structure from the main deck of the hull, possibly midship superstructure. A ladder ran up to the missing upper levels which were probably knocked off as the ship turtled. I swam to the inside of the skeletal remains of this structure and noticed another porthole with its blackout cover dogged down and camouflaged by reddish-brown encrustation. I exited to look at the other side and after a moment I noticed it with glass intact, though grown over with algae.

I finished my swim to the bow, noticing an area at the top of the gunwale where the hull was blown outwards and the ships ribs were exposed, possible damage from the attack that resulted in the vessel's sinking. I met up with Joe and Jeff on the bow who pointed out the shell of a sea turtle that perished on the wreck (his skull was also located), not surprising considering the amount of netting and entanglements on the wreck (or it could simply have died of old age).

We all headed back to conduct our abbreviated deco obligation and head to our final destination, the wreck of the Baja California.

Andrew and I splashed in after we hooked into the bow of the Baja California, a small freighter that was sunk in WWII and now rests in 115'. A regular stop for larger liveaboards, the wreck is dove practically every weekend. The ship was carrying massive amounts of glassware and other miscellaneous cargo such as cosmetics, combs, china, light fixtures, tobacco, etc. The wreck now is flattened, though the stern section is still mostly intact with a very scenic deck gun. I swam a short distance to the main cargo hold and began foraging for some of the thousands of bottles she was carrying. In short time, I had massed together numerous bottles, some china, and other assorted glassware. Some of these areas require you to really hunker down and get up under some low clearance hull plates to get the goodies, but there are also artifacts laying out in the open. Looking upwards, numerous bottles and other artifacts can be observed frozen in place to the above hull plates and wreckage. You may need to pick through the broken pieces, but you are pretty much assured to return with a souvenir from this wreck if you so desire one. It was also readily apparent that this wreck was heavily visited by recreational divers, as dive weights and reel line littered the wreck. I headed back to the upline after filling my goodie bag as I heard the approach of Andrew's scooter.

We were quickly joined by Joe and Jeff as we all headed up to complete our dive. We had an incredible time on these wrecks and I am sure we all look forward to visiting them again many times next year!