OUR FIRST WRECK DIVE
There’s something creepy about wrecks.
I don’t know why I felt a shudder diving the Raiyawa – after all, it wasn’t like anyone had died down here.
But wrecks are often perceived as being underwater memorials to the deceased.
True, many wrecks around the world are exactly that – the remnants of a vessel or aircraft which met disaster and claimed lives.
The MV Raiyawa is one of Fiji’s newest wrecks. It’s a purpose-sunk ship off the quite delightful Tivua Island.
Tivua Island, one of Fiji’s Mamanuca Islands, is a white-sand haven, filled with coconut trees, surrounded by turquoise waters and a majestic jetty to welcome you into the sanctuary.
While naturally excited about the island escape, being scuba divers, John and I were also eager to see a rusted, decommissioned, decrepit old government ship sitting 25 metres below the surface.
SAILING TO TIVUA ISLAND
Tivua Island is quite possibly my favourite of the Fiji Islands so far.
The island is exclusive to Captain Cook Cruises, who’ll sail you out there on their impressive ship, the Spirit of the Pacific. You can even help out the crew hoisting the sails.
Like everywhere across the Fiji Islands, we were welcomed onto the ship with a Fijian ensemble strumming and singing their island vibes to all the guests.
Morning tea was served on the way to the island and afternoon tea on our return.
About half an hour into our trip, around 10.30am, our hosts explained the background and customs for a kava ceremony and called for volunteers.
It seems in Fiji, it’s never too early for kava.
Kava is that muddy-looking mildly narcotic substance. Made from the yaqona root, many Pacific Islanders down coconut shell of kava after coconut shell, drifting into a carefree state of bliss, while unprepared tourists cough and splutter and bite their tingling lips as they learn that it really does taste like dirty water while making your lips numb.
I am yet to hear a foreigner utter the sentiment, “Oh yum! MORE kava!”
Equally, I am yet to hear of a Fijian man who does NOT drink kava.
We politely declined to partake in the ceremony onboard but gave our full support to the tourists who’d volunteered for the occasion.
We drifted along the ocean passing one tiny island after the next, before Tivua came into view.
A long jetty extended out from the island across the horizon line, breaking up the meeting point between sea and sky.
Our hosts told us to find and secure a spot under one of the many huts around the island complete with table, chairs, beanbags and a view to the turquoise ocean.
DIVING THE RAIYAWA
We had come to Tivua with the main aim of diving the Raiyawa. This was to be our first wreck dive.
Shortly after arrival, we were told the engine of the boat that was to take us to the dive site had broken.
The situation looked grim.
We had already pre-paid for the wreck dive. We pretty much begged them to find a way to take us out. The wreck was a 15-minute boat ride from the island so it was too far away for a shore dive.
But the engine wasn’t going to be fixed today.
After further consultation between the powers-that-be, the dive team made some arrangements and agreed to take John and I out to the dive site on the island’s glass bottom boat.
Hooray! Our own private dive boat! We would be diving the Raiyawa after all.
True to the Fijian spirit of life, the hosts were eager to please and keep their guests happy.
The MV Raiyawa was once a 30metre long government ship.
In her previous life, she was used to service marker-buoys in shipping channels in the Fiji Islands.
She was later decommissioned and holes were cut out of the vessel to open her up for diving. She was sunk off Tivua Island at the start of 2016 but Cyclone Winston in February dragged her further out to sea.
Being such a young wreck, the Raiyawa is yet to develop the same teeming marine life as older wrecks. But we still saw some fish who had taken up permanent residence within the ship:
As we floated along the hull, we could faintly make out the word “Bula!” that someone had scraped into the surface. Ah Fiji, you make me laugh. So far, our first wreck dive was pretty cruisey.
FROM RELAXATION TO MILD PANIC
Suddenly, as we crossed over the deck in the middle of the ship, visibility vanished.
Cue internal screaming.
Our divemaster’s yellow fins faded into the greyish water. I tried to grab my torch but couldn’t get it working and grabbed onto John’s arm. He could feel my grip tightening as we struggled to see even our hands in front of our faces.
I might as well have had my eyes closed. I let John pull me along until our vision cleared.
We came back to an of semi-okay visibility where our divemaster said we could penetrate the wreck.
Naturally, John, Chief Adventurer, was as keen as mustard. But after the sudden loss of visibility, it shook my relaxed state and I lost all desire to go inside.
Plus, I get a little claustrophobic.
I decided to sit this one out.
I left John in the hands of our divemaster while I waited on the outside at the exit point, following their bubbles through the nooks and crannies of the ship as it lay on its side.
For a few moments, I felt extremely alone.
I could see the ghostly silhouette of the wreck blurring into the water in the distance.
I quickly reminded myself that no one had died down here and it comforted me, knowing there wasn’t anything spooky lurking in the darkness.
Still, it felt creepy. The ship was the equivalent of being dead and the disturbing lack of life barring a few fish creates the eeriest feeling underwater I have ever experienced.
I slowed my breathing to relax and soon I felt awe, instead of unease.
At 30 metres long, that’s a lot of boat. The silhouette was hauntingly beautiful, especially watching the mast vanish into the distance.
John spent his time shining his torch through all the different nooks and crannies inside. Sediment had been disturbed but the low visibility was of no consequence to John.
It was only right for me and John to end our dive posing at the top of the mast.
BACK ON SOLID LAND
After diving the Raiyawa, we headed back to Tivua Island for what little remained of the day.
It was 2pm and we were famished. The buffet lunch was at 12pm.
We went up to the bar and asked if there were scraps left. Much to our delight, they’d kept two full plates of the island buffet covered especially for us on our return.
Washed down with a cold beer, we quickly hopped back into our shade, trying to dodge the burning sand under the soles of our feet.
Our boat back to Denarau was boarding just after 3pm – so we didn’t have much time for anything else, other than a walk around the island to take some more photos.
Life is tough when you live on a tropical island.
UNDERWATER PHOTOGRAPHY: We use the Olympus TG 860 with PT-057 housing. Find out about our full set up and underwater photography tips HERE.
DISCUSS: Have you ever been wreck diving? Why or why not? Do you think it’s important to do a diver speciality course before penetrating a wreck for the first time?
DISCLOSURE: We received a generous discount for our trip to Tivua Island for diving the Raiyawa. As always, our opinions are 100% our own.Tweet