This April Susi, I and a bunch of our pals left for an eagerly awaited and well deserved diving holiday in Cyprus. Our destination was the city of Larnaca, or more exactly the wreck of a 172 meter long ro-ro ferry Zenobia, which is one of the world’s top ten wreck diving locations. Mv Zenobia was built in 1979 in Sweden and it sank on its’ maiden voyage in 1980 after the shipboard computers malfunctioned and filled the ballast tanks with water. The ship sank at a place where the sea bottom is 42 meters deep. It’s lying on the seabed on its side, with the starboard side reaching up to 16-18 meters. The visibility is about 20-50 meters and there is very little current, so it’s like made for both beginning and more experienced divers.
We had a pretty diverse group with us. First of all there was our instructor Jukka with hundreds of dives, Susi, Hakkis and I with our 100-120 dives and Jori and Ville with an AOWD and a couple of specialties under their belt. We had to do the PADI Wreck Diver specialty and I can hardly think of a better place for it. Jukka did the theory for us and we ended the first evening with cocooning half of Jukka’s and Hakkis’ hotel room in a nylon line while practicing how to use the reels. Our actual guide on the wreck and the course dives was Joey from a local dive center Easy Divers (or Ezdivers, they seem to write the center name in two different ways).
IN AND OUT OF THE SHIP
Zenobia is undoubtedly the most interesting wreck I’ve dived in so far when it comes to its diversity. You get really massive and great views outside and inside the ship there’s plenty to discover and explore, even some really hard places nobody has yet gone into. We started it off easy, of course. The first dives were down the buoy line and across and around the ship, with a peek inside the easier indoor spaces. The deck of the ship was full of articulated trucks when it sank and now they are lying in a massive jumble on top of each other, some still fastened to the deck that is almost vertical.
The visibility was rather good, which made the scenery look really massive. Imagine floating in the air 20 meters high and looking down at huge shipboard structures and large lorries thrown around like kids’ toys – and being able to “fly” around them almost as you please.
The indoor spaces we explored were the bridge and the cafeteria of the ship. On the bridge most of the instruments had been taken over by marine life, but you could still see wires, computers, cables and electronics that were recognizable. The cafeteria, or rather the restaurant, was a study in mindblowingly cool perspectives. It was actually the ship’s main restaurant that took the whole front part of the ship, from port to starboard. Imagine a ship’s restaurant like that, then flip it 90 degrees and imagine yourself floating in the highest point, looking down. On the light coming in through the scenic windows we could see the poles that used to hold the ropes for queues, still bolted to the deck; the counter was still intact, the large coffee machines were there and even the carpeting was still like new, apart from a slight case of algae and other growth.
DEEPER INTO THE WRECK
On the later dives we went far deeper into the wreck. There were two covered car decks and we visited the upper one a couple of times, going through some other structures of the ship on the way. There’s an area the divers call “the accommodation”, which is like made for practicing buoyancy control. It’s right under the ship’s hull, so you can peek through windows on your “ceiling” and see up to the surface. It used to be a passageway with some cabins, but most of the cabin walls have broken away into a massive jumble on the bottom of the area. What is left is a vertical zigzag, where you have to go up and down all the time in a controlled way.
We did some of the penetrations with reel and a line, some without. There were some minor “interesting situations”, such as primary lights going out, weight belts coming loose and people getting slightly lost or disoriented, but nothing serious happened and it was great to see that everybody handled even these minor emergencies calmly and efficiently. All in all our guide Joey did a great job arranging dives so that they were enjoyable and just challenging enough for all of us, from the guys with 20 dives to the ones with several hundred.
For me the most interesting part mentally was a dive where we went through a very narrow corridor inside the superstructure of the ship. The corridor used to be a stairwell, now obviously on its side. It was approximately one meter high and wide and getting there required some maneuvering. Our guide and the less experienced divers went first, so the water was already quite silty when I got down there. I had just thought that “ok, this is going smoothly” when I managed to snag my flipper heel fastener on something and get a big bubble of air to my dry suit trouser leg (which means I started turning feet up in a narrow corridor). It took some maneuvering to correct, which of course caused a whole lot of rust flakes and other silt to rise up. When I was back in control, I realized I had lost the line, but a bit of looking around revealed that it was next to my feet a meter lower than I had though. After that it was the matter of going through a tunnel with a visibility of 30 cm, following a white nylon line which was the only indication of how to get out, 30 meters deep and surrounded by tons and tons of rusting iron. One of these “what the hell am I doing – and how can this be this cool and exhilarating” moments in life.
In the car decks the trucks were in a far better shape, but unfortunately my light and camera weren’t good enough to get any proper large scale photos of them. Imagine, again, being on a car deck filled with trucks and someone tilting it 90 degress. The trucks are in big heaps and stacks, some of them surprisingly intact. You can still make out the colors of the seats and find all kinds of small items. I peeked into the sleeping cabin of one truck. It still had a mattress and a cover, a small white pillow with Arabic writing against the wall – all in all it looked like the driver had just stepped out for a smoke or something. Beautiful in an eerie way.
Most of the cargo of the trucks is still identifiable. For example there there’s apparently a truck down in the seabed loaded with eggs, some of which are still intact. We didn’t see that one, but right outside the covered decks there is a truck with the back covered with bones. Some people say that the truck was transporting meat, but others say it was live animals. For me it looked like an open truck used to transport livestock, though. I could see no refridgeration equipment or other signs that this would have been a meat truck. Well, saving panicking animals in the middle of a night from a listing ship is not easy…
Our most demanding dive was in the last day when we went to the engine room of the ship. Jori and Ville came with us to the doorway that was at around 39 meters, but didn’t follow us in. That was the deepest dive I’ve done so far and the engine room was well worth seeing. We went there by swimming through a tunnel between truck wrecks and the deck and ducked in through a small inspection hatch. On the top of the engine room there was something that looked like an air pocket, but which was apparently mostly oil. The main oil supplies and the fuel was pumped out of the ship, but you can’t completely clean all the trucks and every nook and cranny of a ship that size. Rising into an oil pocket is generally not a good idea – not the least because oil is a total bitch to try and clean off your equipment.
FUN IN THE CITY
We had two dives per day, so we had a big part of the afternoon and the whole evening to do whatever we wanted. Usually this boiled down to going to the hotel room, washing up the equipment, going out of an ice cream and gin tonic, and in the evening going somewhere to eat ourselves silly. Diving trips and either cultural travel or partying don’t really mix: you tend to be far to tired after a day out in the sea to travel too far, and you can’t really get hammered in a night before a dive – or necessarily stay awake to do so if you are two days into the trip already.
This didn’t really matter. We went totally overboard with meze tables almost every evening, eating so much that we could manly just stumble back to the hotel to sleep it off before the next day’s dives. The only cultural things we did was to stumble on the Church of St. Lazarus and visit it, and to go see the Pierides Foundation Museum, both of which were interesting places to see – and a handy distance from our accommodations.
ASHCAPE FROM CYPRUS
Of course our trip happened right at the same time with the Eyjafjallajokull volcano erupting in Iceland and covering most of the Northern Europe with ash that caused Finland to close its airspace. We weren’t terribly worried about this, though, since most of us were on at least somewhat flexible schedule. As it turned out, our travel agent Finnmatkat handled the situation in a really professional and efficient way, causing us to be home just one day late. We got this call about Sweden having opened Arlanda airport and that we should get ready to leave within a few hours. We were herded into a plane, which almost had to wait on the tarmac for four hours for a slot, but they managed to negotiate us up in the air after only about 45 minutes of waiting. The plane had been on the road for five days without visiting Finland, so they started to be a bit short of drinks, foods and such, but this didn’t really show to at least us as passengers.
In Arlanda we walked through a terminal with a couple of hundred really pissed of people that were sitting on the baggage reclaim conveyor belts. Their guide did this sheepish announcement through the PA about not being able to find a hotel, so everybody had to wait in the airport ’till five in the morning. Meanwhile we walked to our busses, got whisked to a hotel near Silja Line ferry terminal and got a few hours of shut eye in a proper bed before waking up for the ferry to Finland.
All in all, kudos to Finnmatkat’s guys and gals. The guides were upbeat and friendly even with all the stress and almost everything went really smoothly.
FUN FOR ALL AGES
If you like wreck diving or want to try it, I can heartily recommend going to see Zenobia. It provides a very easy, yet impressive environment for many skill levels. You don’t even need to go inside, there’s plenty to see just staying in OWD certification depths and outside of the ship. I’ll certainly be going back, now that I know what to expect and where I want to go next.