Sophie Rickmer – Palau Wey 2009


One of the main reasons for heading to Gapang Beach was a lesser known wreck dive site called the Sophie Rickmer, 60m deep just 10mins away on the boat from Gapang Bay. The Sophie Rickmer was a German cargo boat sunk by it’s own crew to prevent the Dutch taking it and it’s cargo during WWII. It’s 134m long and laying in 60-80m of water. Before we were allowed to dive the wreck we had to prove that we could handle the depth, pressure, possible narcosis (a feeling of euphoria and slight drunkeness that results from pressured nitrogen at depth) and air consumption needed to go that deep. I was to be joined on this dive and the wreck dive (hopefully) tomorrow by Jay and Emma, two diving instructors taking a break from teaching and well erm diving!

We were taken on a deep dive by Arif who would also take us down to the wreck, so one afternoon we headed out on the longboat to decend to 50m to check everything would be fine for the next day. Feeling slightly nervous as I had not been that deep ever before and also wanting to make sure I passed the test we headed down into a gloomy deep blue. Once past 30m the visibility was amazing (+30m) and we saw the sand and rocks below us. Within 1 min we were near 50m and looking directly at a sound asleep Leopard shark and some of the most amazing fan coral stretching out in front of us. We stayed down at this depth for 5 mins to check we were all ok and not narked and then made the slow ascent up to the surface.

Due to levels of nitrogen passing through into your blood stream you have to ascend at a very slow rate otherwise you will suffer from decompression sickness and end up with the bends. All of us followed our dive computers and slowly made our way back from the depths whilst stopping now and again to spot the odd moray or 3 hunting for food! It was a strange feeling to be so deep but that was nothing compared to what I was going to feel the next day! Upon surfacing Arif gave us all the thumbs up and the nod that we could all do the wreck dive tomorrow!! Woo hoo!!

The next day I was very excited in anticipation of the dive ahead and we all assembled for our pre dive meeting at 11.30am. The briefing was very thorough and detailed. The briefing lasted around 30mins with all he safety checks and deep safety stops understood and noted. With that and a description of the who we would go through the wreck out the other side and then down the bow it was time to gear up and get ready.After checking everything twice making sure everthing was in good working order (you don’t want anything to go wrong that deep) we all climbed aboard the longboat and were heading out to dive site. We were all diving on one cylinder of normal air whilst Arif had a twin set on (double cylinders) plus a extra tank that he would carry attached to his BCD in case we ran out of air.

We were boosted in confidence as Arif told us that he had 6,000 dives under his belt (I had a mere 200) and he had dived the wreck 600 times before! Also at 12m there were spare drop tanks in the water where we would swap regs to conserve what air we had left on the tanks on our back. We did the final safety checks one more time and all got in the water and signalled to each other to descend.

Following Arif we descended into the murky green sea and headed down deep to the wreck. Within 30 seconds we were 30m down and in sight of wreck below us. Due to the amount of algae in the water everything around us was a green colour, but the sight of the massive wreck below was breathtaking. Within another 30 seconds we were 45m deep and above the cargo doors on the vessel and ready to swim into the wreck itself. Arif guided us through by torch light as we swam through the cargo bay and back out near the deck. All around us were schools of sweetlips, trevellys and jacks. After a brief stop on the deck we then went down deeper and descended down the bow to the bottom of the ocean floor. Here we almost hit 60m (59.1m to be exact), the deepest I have gone ever. I took my camera down with me to the depth, but unfortunately as we were so deep the pressure stopped the buttons on the housing from working. Being so deep the pressure is intense, literally. The only sounds you hear are the sound of yours and everyone’s else’s regulators.

All around you is the gentle sound of hissing as you take breaths in. You also can feel quite scared, thinking what happens if anything goes wrong as being this deep you can’t race to the surface otherwise you’d be dead within an hour. However there is also the feeling of immense joy, peace and tranquility as you feel like one of first explores to discover the wreck. Luckily I didn’t get narked, and as we were so low we only had 18mins bottom time so after a brief swim along the bottom of the bow it was time to head up! From the bottom it was going to take us around 55 mins to reach the surface to allow all the nitrogen that had built up in our blood stream to diffuse out properly. Looking up at the bow from that deep was an amazing sight and I was in awe of the sight and the depth. There wasn’t as much marine life down there bar the odd nudibranch’s and one or two sweetlips enquiring what we were doing so deep. So as we headed up slowly to our drop tanks at 12m where we had our second longer safety stop. We the pulled the tanks up to 9m for our 3rd safety stop and then left the tanks there as we rose to 5m to complete the last of our safety stops – a mere 30mins of hanging around waiting, getting photos with Arif, playing rock, paper scissors and hangman!! Time actually passed really quickly and soon we were back on the boat and all congratulating each other and Arif on an excellent dive. Thanks to all who made the dive one of the best wreck dives.

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