Gulf Of Thailand Wrecks

Akela Bridge OC diversIn our ever shrinking world the opportunity for divers to explore virgin territory, whether it’s a cave system, reef formation or shipwrecks, grows smaller with each passing year. In the last decade, open circuit tri-mix and closed circuit rebreather’shave dramatically expanded the range of the technical wreck diver, and those with the explorer bug are no longer content with the “been there, seen that” sites, so they push further afield in pursuit of diver nirvana, the virgin shipwreck. Putting their money where their mouth is, they motor past the sure thing, the known wrecks, eager to invest the time and money on days of perfect weather to look, look, and look. Many make the ride, “mowing the lawn” for hours on end and pay their dues, but only a few get the chance to be among the first to find a long lost ship. It’s the thrill of the hunt, the amped up adrenaline rush of pulling down a line spiraling into the blue, with no idea of what to expect on the other end. Once bitten, the addiction is hard to shake, and the siren song of the unknown will ring in your ears. For some it’s the booty call of recovering artifacts, for others the desire to capture ghostly images of long-lost vessels before they biologically implode and crumble to unrecognizable pieces of scrap, scattered in the ever shifting sand, rust to dust.

Thailand: A place to discover new wrecks

2008 Koh Samui 01

2008 Koh Samui 02

I know a place where it’s still possible to discover new wrecks, THAILAND. There are many things to like about Thailand, (the people, culture, I know a place where it’s still possible to discover new wrecks, THAILAND. There are many things to like about Thailand, (the people, culture, I know a place where it’s still possible to discover new wrecks, THAILAND. There are many things to like about Thailand, (the people, culture, traditions and food!) but for me virgin wrecks in warm clear water and no dry-suit required is a win/win situation! The adventure begins when you land in Bangkok… a crowded and harried metropolis whose neon splashed nightlife makes NYC look like Iowa. No matter what urban center you’re from, it’s impossible not to be dazzled with the crowded chaos of Bangkok. It’s from here most sport divers head to places like Phuket, Panang, Koh Phangan or Koh Tao; exotic names for equally exotic locales. For years Thailand has attracted international divers to the Andaman Sea on the west coast, with its warm clear water, coral reefs and whale sharks. Off the east coast of the Thai isthmus, the Gulf of Thailand is a bell-shaped body of water stretching from the capital city Bangkok in the north with Cambodia and Viet Nam on the eastern border, and empties into the South China Sea and get this, most of it never gets much deeper than 300 ft! For as long as ships have plied the Gulf of Thailand, typhoons, wars and accidents have sent more than a fair share of them to the bottom, each waiting to be found. Chinese junks, loaded with Ming Dynasty porcelain, sit rotting in the sand next to modern day freighters loaded with cargos of teak and electronics. The ebb and flow of World War II scattered Allied aircraft and submarines next to their victims of Imperial Japanese Maru’s and warships loaded with bombs, bullets and the materials of war.

It was this wild-west frontier for exploration that enticed two British expats, Stuart Oehl and Jamie Macleod to abandon “normal” lives in the UK and live the Peter Pan existence of technical dive operators living on the tropical island of Koh Tao in the Gulf of Thailand. Purchasing 80 ft ex-German patrol boat they turned it into the MV Trident, a technical dive platform with a single purpose; to find shipwrecks. They collected as much historical data as possible from archival sources about shipping losses in the Gulf and began to make friends with any Thai/Cambodian/Vietnamese fishermen they lucked into. Over time, and with a seemingly inexhaustible supply of cigarettes and Heineken beer for barter, they collected a number of “marks” or GPS coordinates of “hangs” from sources known simply as “red boat” or blue boat”. These “hangs” were sites where the fisherman had snagged or lost their nets, or was simply where the fishing was good. Like any other gamble, some sites were a bust while a few others played out and they began to find wrecks like the WWII Japanese freighter SAKURA MARU and tanker NAN MEI #5 and modern wrecks like the SEACREST, an oil drilling ship lost during a typhoon. Upside in 260 feet of water, the wreck is already covered with huge filter feeders, with the two huge props that project up from a field of sea fans and soft corals. You access the turtled ship through the moon pool in its center of the hull at 200 feet and drop down to explore the jungle gym like maze of pipes and deck mounted derrick which lies bent under the hull sixty feet below. The whole of the ship can be accessed from this point, with hatches and companionways stretching into the blackness. In the compartments deep in the wreck, the water is still and anaerobic, and it’s here that remains of the drill ship’s crew have been found.