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Scuba Diving South Coast England, UK, Europe
Dive Site: Aeolian Sky
Location: Portland, near Weymouth
Description: 10,000 ton Greek freighter
Depth: 18 - 32 metres (60 - 105 feet)
Visibility: 2 - 20 metres (6 - 60 feet)
A huge Greek freighter of 10,000 tons, with its bronze boilers removed, resting on the seabed at 32m, some 20km offshore. Diving it requires precision timing as the currents can be fierce, so an experienced skipper is essential.
Imagine a beautiful July very early morning, the mist lingering, the bright sun already reflecting glaring light from Durdle Door and the surrounding area of Jurassic cliffs, the sea is glasslike. A buoy is placed in the water, scudding off with the strong current. The dive won't start until it begins to abate. Down the shot a while later, the wreck is revealed at 32m, lying on its port side. The visibility can be stunning at 20m. The shot has been placed on the stern accommodation area, the massive winches dwarf the diver. Large towers once erect are now flopped out onto the seabed, crumpled. The huge cylinder of a mast rests on the seabed. Tangled and twisted deck amidships is explored. It's best not to try and explore the entire wreck in one dive as it's too big.
The 'top' of the wreck is around 18m, penetration should be avoided unless trained to do so as the wreck is very large and confusing. Gradually ascending the structure, the dive continues back to the stern, passing a very large rudder plane which sticks horizontally out from the hull. The limestone rocks can be seen on the seabed below. As slack periods can be small at times, it is essential to have a delayed SMB and reel per diver and on occasions when the current starts once again, the turbidity in the water can drop the visibility to just a few metres.
Early on the morning of 3 November 1979 the Aeolian Sky, a 14,000 ton Greek freighter, was steaming south west of the Isle of Wight, bound for Aden. At 04:55 a mid channel collision occurred with the 2,400 ton MV Anna Knupel, which managed to escape virtually unscathed. The Aeolian Sky was not so lucky and radioed for assistance, reporting that she was holed in the forward number one hold and taking water. Shortly afterwards another message was sent saying that the second bulkhead had given way, and that number one and two holds were full of water with the remainder of the ship open to the sea. It soon became apparent that she would have to be abandoned and so the crew were airlifted off. Twenty four miles later, after drifting unmanned in mid channel, it was decided that the Master and two crew should be airlifted aboard again, to see what could be done to rectify the situation. She was successfully taken under tow and after four hours, land was sighted. However the Sky was sinking at the bows and because her draught was considered too deep to safely enter Portsmouth or Southampton harbour, she was refused refuge. A decision was made to head towards Portland, but at 4:05am she sank 5 miles from St Aldhelm's Head.
And so the myth was born. For the Sky was carrying quite a mixed cargo:
vehicles, perfumes, and sweets to name but a few goodies, and one should not overlook approximately £4,000,000 worth of Seychelles Rupees reportedly stashed in the Sickbay. What a surprise when, a few weeks later, it was announced that divers acting for the Crown Agents, who were responsible for the money, had secretly dived the wreck searching the Sickbay for the money, to find it was missing! The Seychelles Government was not amused and cancelled the complete note issue.
Then, to add insult to injury, canisters of deadly chemicals began to be washed up in the area. BSAC banned diving and taking of fish life between Bembridge Ledges and Portland, local fishermen were prohibited from trawling within one mile of the wreck and hundreds of dead crabs were washed up. Weymouth began to fear that the coming season would prove disastrous and questions were asked in the House of Commons. Things were looking bleak for the resort.
Eventually it was established that the deadly chemicals hadn't after all come from the Sky, but had been washed off the deck of another ship in mid channel. The diving ban was lifted, summer arrived, and suddenly everyone wanted to dive the Sky.
Divers should be aware that she has been fished, so there are tangles of monofilament and ropes. The Sky is also affected by tides that can run like a train and some weird currents and irregular water movements similar to a washing machine. A friend of mine was subjected to a most peculiar ascent two days after I had dived her.
She is, however, a most mouth-watering wreck and one does get that feeling of 'Where do I start?' - she is so huge. We landed by the bridge structure and I was immediately struck by the number of cargo derricks that were casually strewn around the deck, like so many jackstraws. Further on huge pulley blocks that had snapped off during the sinking lay scattered amongst other debris. Rumour has it that there are several Landrovers on the wreck. I didn't actually get to see any though I did spot one ex-vehicle. Quite an odd sight, 4 tyres with an engine block in the middle, and nothing else. Again, lots of orange shag pile carpet, and more stunning Jewel Anemones (I like Jewel Anemones). There was also a profusion of small flower like anemones that looked just like camomile or large daisies, which splashed colour over the hulk (Devonshire Cup Coral).