Diving the Ex-HMAS Adelaide on the Central Coast
Descending for the first time, I felt that unique sense of excitement for what lay ahead. The mooring line dropped down towards darkness and I immediately felt a sense of vastness. Part of a team of adventurers, slowly sinking down to discover what lay beneath. Our guide had, as per dive brief, descended in advance, to set up a line from the mooring line to the wreck for us to follow. Heavy rains in the week had made visibility a challenging 5-8m. The combination of average visibility and distance of the mooring line to the wreck did not allow us to get any glimpse of this mighty wreck early on. Instead, we dutifully followed the trail to find our treasure. There she was, a magnificent site.
Artificial reefs are growing in popularity due to their proven record of enhancing the marine environment. Quite simply, artificial reefs such as wrecks, provide shelter and breeding zones for smaller bait fish, that in turn attract larger fish, that attract larger fish and so on. The reefs “enhance” the marine environment and in turn, attract divers and recreational fishermen and provide valuable tourist dollars to the local community.
Despite the known positives, the scuttling of the ex-HMAS Adelaide Navy ship was preceded by a cloud of controversy. It seemed that not all members of the local community on the NSW Central Coast could recognise the positives behind sinking such a large ship on their doorstep. Fortunately for DiveBuzz, despite lengthy legal battles that were aimed at derailing the scuttling, the project went ahead and in April 2011, this magnificent Ex-Australian Navy Guided Missile Frigate was successfully scuttled.
So was all the controversy worthwhile? Here at DiveBuzz we went to check out this magnificent wreck just over a year after she was scuttled to check out what all the buzz was about. At around 130m long, the Adelaide is a mighty wreck and certainly not for the faint hearted!
Covered in growth after a relatively short amount of time, the Adelaide certainly looks the part. The line had taken us directly to the flight deck, a expansive open area and helipad at the ship’s stern. We slowly made our down the starboard side to mid ship before starting our lengthy penetration. For divers that have never penetrated a wreck before, you simply cannot beat a wreck that has been purposely scuttled for divers. Wherever you are inside, you can always see light and therefore an exit point. It is a very reassuring feeling. We single filed throughout the wreck, along corridors, up and down hatches and ladders. In the wheelhouse we inspected the various instrument dials and telephone receiver that is still in situ. The telephone is probably the only part of the wreck yet to be covered in growth as a result of the amount of times divers have no doubt simulated being on the phone!
The wreck was scuttled in around 32m of water but has settled a fair bit since scuttling. My computer registered 33.7m whilst inside the wreck, right on the very Maximum Operating Depth (MOD) limit of my 32% EANx mix! With this in mind, I certainly recommend diving on Nitrox to extend your bottom time. Just be careful with your depth though, depending on your mix and ppO2 (partial pressure of oxygen).
The wreck was sunk for all levels of recreational divers, the concept being that there is something for everyone. This “something for everyone” concept should be applied with some level of caution. The wreck is renowned for interesting surge that can both suck you into or shoot you out of the wreck itself. We experienced such surge whilst inside the wreck and as with any surge, its all about timing your moves to use the surge as your friend. Being 1.4km offshore, choppy surface conditions can also be expected and visibility can vary daily from around 2m to up to 40m. With all this in mind, I recommend the dive for more experienced divers that have at least an Advanced Openwater level certification (and Nitrox ideally), are comfortable in the water, relaxed and have at a bare minimum 20 dives under their belts. We dived with a couple who had exactly this level of experience and they did find it challenging. Sometimes it is better to wait and build up your experience than scare yourself when you are not ready and, as a result, give yourself a mental setback in your diving.
All on the brink of deco, we headed back to the line to complete our ascent and safety stop. A fantastic first dive on the ship and, after homemade soup and quiche and comparing notes on our surface interval, we were itching to get back in the water.
Our second dive was a non-penetration dive, allowing us to fully check out the exterior of the wreck. The mast towers and the mid ship was teaming with schooling mados. An octopus cheekily eyed us from its home, the end of an exhaust outlet pipe. A school of kingfish whirled off the portside. The guided missile on the bow, now removed provides a cavernous hole down into the guts of the wreck.
This is a dive that you just know will get better and better as the artificial reef establishes itself and attracts more and more marine life. Well worth putting on the ‘to dive’ list and one to return to year after year to witness the progression. So jump in, get the DiveBuzz by getting wrecked in Sydney!
Location and Permits
The Adelaide is located off Avoca Beach, near Terrigal on the NSW Central Coast, about 1.5 hours north of Sydney. The wreck is approximately 1.4km offshore and can be reached easily by boat.
The site is a Crown Reserve and as such, permits must be obtained prior to diving the wreck. Permits are $18 per diver per day, which need to be paid in advance of your dive via Central Coast Tourism. In addition to the individual diver fee, commercial operators or private boats alike are required to book a time slot and pay a mooring fee. There are also two commercial operators who have exclusive moorings at the wreck (Terrigal Dive Centre and Pro Dive Central Coast). We dived with Scubamunkies whose boat operates out of Careel Bay Marina, Avalon, a 30 minute boat ride to the wreck, but a shorter drive from Sydney. Since this article, we have also dived with Pro Dive Central Coast, who run a twin hulled Rigid inflatable boat from Terrigal beach, just a 5 minute boat trip to the wreck.