Behind the Shot-The Carthaginian
Originally published in Seawords Newsletter October, 2008:
Back in July 2008, my girlfriend, Melanie, and I found ourselves on Maui, so I contacted a friend I had met at the MOP symposium named Bob who claimed to know of a sunken whaling vessel off of Lahaina. In a past life, Bob was an ornamental fish collector who knew where all the best spots were. That morning, Bob rolled up to Puamana Park with two kayaks on top of his truck. I had never dived from a kayak before, but how hard could it be? We secured the gear onto our minuscule vessels and looked out into our frothy beach entry.
The surf had risen overnight and was supposed to build through to 10 feet on Sunday. This was Saturday so it was only up to 3 feet, but still enough to provide cause for worry. If we got the timing right, the beach entry was going to be rough, but if we got it wrong, we would be capsized and ground into the top of the reef like cheese through a grater. Kayaking with scuba gear is a bit different from kayaking for a day trip. The boat rides lower in the water, speed is severely reduced, and maneuvering is a challenge. While we managed to hit the waves in between sets, we still ploughed through enough waves to swamp the boat. The surfers were audibly laughing at us, but we made it through the surf and eventually, out to the drop site. After spending five minutes baking in my wetsuit at the surface, my gear was finally on. All except the weight belt which was sitting firmly in the bottom of the boat. Five more minutes of undoing gear, grabbing for the belt, and replacing gear, I flopped over the side with many of the same flails as a drowning cat and was on my way down. Bob slid into the water with the grace of a seal, putting on his BC and weight belt as he descended. I felt out done.
Out of the blue haze came a ship straight out of Pirates of the Caribbean. The two masts were still intact; however the end of the bowsprit had broken and hung on some rusty chains that dangled below. Aside from the fact that it lay 90 feet underwater, the brig was clean enough that it could have sailed the next day. As I would later learn, the Brig Carthaginian was a replica of a 19th century whaling vessel. It was berthed in Lahaina Harbor for many years, providing the town with a historical landmark and popular tourist attraction. After decades of neglect, its upkeep had finally overgrown its benefit to the city and it was sold to Atlantis to create an artificial reef where its tourist-packed submarines could explore.
It has been underwater since December 2005 and, by the time I first dived to it, sea life was just beginning to make it a home. Alien and invasive snowflake coral (Carijoa riisei) adorned nearly every available surface in the ship’s hold, Bob found a rare spiny oyster (Spondylus nicobaricus). After exploring the wreck itself for a while, I went off into the surrounding reef to see what else was around. I followed a Fisher’s angel (Centropyge fisheri) behind a coral head to find a pair of Harlequin shrimp (Hymenocera picta). During our safety stop, Melanie and I were entertained by a group of Goldern Trevally (Gnathodon speciosus) hovering around the mooring ball. Back above the waterline, by catching a wave back, the return trip to shore proved much easier. I think we impressed the surfers.