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Beyond Moon Island: Other Swansea Dives

SS Bonnie Dundee

The Bonnie Dundee was built by the Goulay Brothers in Dundee, Scotland in 1877 for George and Bruce Nicoll of Sydney. They were developing a line of coastal traders especially to the Richmond River in Northern NSW. The vessel was 39.7 metres long and 121 tons.

Around 8 pm on Monday 10th March, 1879 on a clear evening with calm seas the north bound Bonnie Dundee collided with the 900 ton SS Barrabool which was heading from Newcastle to Melbourne. The Bonnie was cut in two and sank almost immediately. It is thought a signalling error contributed to the accident.

Controversy ran about the fact that the crew and male passengers were able to jump to safety onto the Barrabool whilst 4 female passengers drowned. George Pardell the cabin boy also attempted the jump but fell backwards also presumed drowned. The grizzly end to his  the tale was when the Bonnie's skipper Captain Stuart identified George from clothing and human remains in a shark caught off Sydney several weeks later.

The wreck of the Bonnie Dundee lies in 36 metres 4.5 km from Swansea. Although in two parts the small bow section is only a short swim from the much larger stern wreckage by following the line of the port side of the ship.

The rear section is dominated by the boiler, engine and stern post. Like most wrecks on sand it is a fish magnet and is usually covered with bullseyes, pomfreds and other reef fish. There are always a few wobbegongs to be found.

SS Advance

The Advance was an iron tugboat built in Williamstown Victoria in 1884 based in Newcastle Harbour with Fenwick's. It was 121 tons and 36 metres long. The tugboat business was very competitive. Tugs raced each other out to sea to win the work from arriving ships. During the early hours of 25th December 1908 the Advanced travelled out off Catherine Hill Bay to meet the sailing ship Inverna in rough seas. The vessels collided with the Advance sinking with the lives of all but one of its 8 crew. The sole survivor, the mate ( a Mr Willis) held on to floating wreckage for 12 hours before being washed ashore at Dudley Beach.

The wreck of the Advance lies relatively intact in 49 metres about 5 km off Catherine Hill Bay. The distinctive bow was intact until recently destroyed by a coal ship's anchor. Despite this the wreck is very recognisable and is a memorable dive for suitably qualified and experienced divers.

Being surrounded by sand the wreck is an oasis for fish-life but wobbegongs in particular seem to gather at the site.

Thank you to Newcastle Regional Maritime Museum for permission to use this photo from Bar Dangerous by Terry Callen

SS Byron

The Byron was built in 1891 by Thomas Davis in Terrigal Australia. On 24th May, 1896 after leaving Newcastle bound for Sydney it started taking on water. The crew safely abandoned ship and the Byron sank about a kilometre off Redhead. The boat was 121 tons and 29 metres long of timber construction. the wreck lies in 40 metres. Tony hasn't dive this wreck since 1996. Planning to dive soon so we can add photos and information.

Blacksmiths Shallows

Not a deep dive by any stretch Blacksmith is still a fun dive at only 7 metres. It is a large reef but we find the southern end had some of the best diving with a swim-through arch as well as a longer tunnel and plenty of crevices in the reef to explore.

Blacksmith abounds with fish-life with big schools of yellow tailed scad seemingly always there. Plenty of other reef fish as well. A fun dive and a site that is sheltered from southerly swells.

DeSoto Inlet

This used to be a favourite shore dive; probably the best ocean shore dive in our part of the coast; but the closure of the track to Hales Bluff means a long, steep 1.5 km walk from the car park to the dive site. At Grey Nurse Charters we'll run dives to this great site until access improves.

DeSoto Inlet gets its name from the car dumped into the shallow end but it has long been unrecognisable as being of any particular make. Starting in about 8 metres DeSoto drops down to over 20 metres with steep growth cover walls and lots of nudibranchs. Plenty of fish with red morwong, rock cod and wobbegongs always around.

Catho Coal Loader (Shore Dive)

Catherine Hill Bay is the oldest continually occupied European settlement in the Lake Macquarie area. The coal loader was originally built in 1889 and coal was taken to Sydney by ship. The loader and nearby coal mine were owned by Wallarah Coal. Once a popular shore dive it has been made difficult with the closure of access to Hales Bluff leaving divers with a long walk from Catho Surf Club. Fish life abounds under the pylons of the loader and just to

south is the scattered wreckage of the original 633 ton SS Wallarah which was beached and broke up on 16th April 1914 It was built in 1900 in Workington UK.

This dive site will return to popularity with plans by Lake Macquarie City Council to revitalise the area as a dive park - see below 

SS Shamrock (Shore Dive)
Swansea Bridge  (Shore Dive)

Just to the north of the Catherine Hill Bay Coal Loader lies the wreck of the Shamrock. The Shamrock was built in 1878 by the Tyne Iron Shipbuilding Company in the UK. It was 1427 tons and 78 metres long. It sank on the 31st March 1903. You can dive the Shamrock by swimming out from the Catho Surf Club when the surf is small.

Because it is in a shallow sandy area the amount of the wreck exposed varies with moving sand. At its best the entire outline of the wreck, propeller and shaft, engine and boiler are visible; but when sand is in place only its boiler and some parts of its structure can be seen.

One of the best shore dives anywhere! We love the diving Swansea Bridge! It's a fish magnet! Whether there are just the usual big bream, tarwhine, and whiting or when there are schools of mullet, yellow-tail scads, Australian salmon or big kingfish coming through there is always so much fish action under the Bridge. 

There is so much to see! There's the pineapple fish in the "cave" where the pipes cross under the lifting span, the octopus in the 18 metre hole east of the bridge, the stripeys in the pipes the schooling stripey catfish or looking for seahorses on the RSL wall it is a fantastic dive.

Time to get in for Bridge dives depends on both the time and the size of the tide. We prefer to enter and exit via Black Neds Bay to increase our dive time and minimise effort by using the moving current to take us to and from the Bridge. A very lazy dive with so much to see.

Swansea Channel Drift (Shore Dive)

Nowhere in Australia is more conducive to shore based drift diving than Swansea Channel. No need for boat back up; just a car at each end and everything is simple. There are two main versions of the Swansea Channel Drift: The Blacksmiths Drift and the Swansea Drift. There is also a 3rd version the "Technical Drift" in which you attach as many tanks as required and do both drifts or more one after the other. Outward bound drifts are also possible but the visibility is usually not as good.

The Blacksmiths (or Northern) Drift starts at the ramp for the surf club boats and follows the channel in passed the relics of the old coal loader wharf at Byrnes Reserve. There isn't much depth variation in this drift with the bottom being fairly level at 9-10 metres. The large concrete conduit coming from the bank is the signal to ascend. Rays, flathead, pipefish and even anglerfish can be seen on this drift.

The Swansea (or Southern) Drift is the course of the annual Charity Drift Dive leaving the ramp near Swansea Bridge and finishing at Swansea Boat Ramp. On this drift underwater sand dunes vary the depth from 4 to 15 metres on a fun underwater rollercoaster ride. Signal to ascend is the start of sea grass on theedge of the channel.

Blue Gum wreck

The wreck of the sailing boat Blue Gum can be seen on the Swansea (or Southern) Drift. It lies on the sand not far off the Channel wall opposite the fish cleaning station.

Pelican (Shore Dive)

In the last 30 years or so not one new shore dive has been added to the list of standard local shore dive done by dive businesses in the Newcastle area until Grey Nurse Charters started diving at Pelican in 2015. Why?  No imagination? No sense of adventure? Who knows?

This is a great dive. There are a number of variations but all use the tidal current similarly to diving Swansea Bridge from Black Neds Bay. We like to get in at the disused boat ramp at Pelican Foreshore Park, drift inward until we reach the former marina site and then drift back. The NSW RMS wasted thousands of dollars removing a sunken yacht that was a nice feature of this dive but even without it it is still a great dive. Drifting at about 15 metres divers encounter soft sandstone sculptured by the current; the return drift is in shallower depths along the channel edge passed snowflake coral encrusted rocks.

Flathead, toadfish, moray eels, seahorse, stripeys, rays and many other fish are encountered on the dive. An easy relaxing dive with lots to see.

Blacksmiths Beach Artificial Reef 
(the B. Bar)

In August 2019 the DPI (Dept Primary Industries) sank two single steel pinnacle reef towers of the dimensions 7.8 (W) x 10.9 (D) x 6.4 (H) in metres, each have a central vertical tower to a maximum of 12 metres. We have started diving these towers and watching how the new reef is colonised by marine life.

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