My scooter hummed through the shifting blue-grey water as I cruised along a steep slope of coral. I checked my gauges and looked out into the deep that fell away to my left. Turning back to my right, I watched a wall of darkness materialize before my eyes into a ghostly ship, careened forward on the slope, prow aimed at the abyss. I stopped and collected my wits, startled by the enormity of the ship, the wild angle, and the school of huge ulua circling the pilothouse. I tied off the scooter and circled the hulk in search of a name, but all was covered in a patina of algae and barnacles. In place of a bow thruster, a heavy chain passed through a hole and connected to a rope as thick as my leg that trailed off into the distance along the seafloor. Perhaps 60 feet long, the vessel was likely an old fishing boat. The massive skeg and four foot prop bespoke a hard life at sea. Tying off a reel, I poked my head into the black opening of the hold, scanning with my dive light. When a massive turtle filled the beam I heaved myself back out over the lip as he erupted into open water, his slumber rudely disturbed by my intrusion. Startled by the size and closeness of the turtle, I decided to save the hold for another day. My senses were already keening with the discovery; there was no need to push things. The ulua swam faster and tighter around and through the dilapidated pilothouse, clearly nervous at my presence but unsure what else to do. Some were four feet long, swimming slower than the younger ones with scimitar pectoral fins pressed close to their flashing silver bodies. Sea cucumbers, coral, anemones, barnacles, squadrons of reef fish, and a moray eel surrounded the ship, creating a little neighborhood. I scribbled estimates of dimensions in my notebook, retrieved the scooter, and headed up the slope to begin my decompression, mind spinning from the unique experience.
The odds were strongly against someone finding a new wreck off the south shore of Oahu, the most populous of the Hawaiian islands and the epicenter of Pacific shipping. Divers have scoured the reefs. The military has mapped the seafloor and explored it carefully. Government agencies like the National Oceanographic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) have catalogued shipwrecks throughout the islands. Hardly a stone remains unturned in these waters. Nevertheless, new discoveries are possible.
Though I was searching for a WWII vessel that reportedly sank in the area, I was well pleased with my discovery and told an oceanographer friend about it. He deduced that it was the Friendship, a fishing vessel that sank only a decade earlier when she struck a reef. After the important equipment was removed, she was towed out to sea to be scuttled. But she sank early. The tugboat crew simply cut the line and committed her to the deep. Local divers tried to find her, but storms had likely pushed her away from her original sinking area. Resting in relatively deep water, she was outside the range of recreational divers. But to divers armed with a closed-circuit rebreather and a scooter, the wreck was well within reach. Come back next week to learn more about closed circuit rebreathers and the ways they will change diving.