Memories of diving the Aeolian Sky (from A Wet Weekend in Weymouth)
The following piece is taken from an article by Rosemary E Lunn written for 990 Magazine entitled ‘A Wet Weekend in Weymouth’. (Volume 1, Issue 4, Summer 1999)
Early on the summer 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 number 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 harbor, 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 borne. 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 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 and Portland began to fear the coming season would prove to be 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 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, and 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 on 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 the 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. As I sat taking in the scene a complete meal for one wandered into view. A lobster with a crab caught between its pincers.
There’s so much marine life; lots of orange shag pile carpet coating the wreck (Colonial polyp called Tubularia species indivisa, common name Oaten Pipes Hydroid), and a plethora of blushy pink Jewel Anemones. I do like Jewel Anemones! There was also a profusion of small flower like anemones that looked like camomile or large daisies, which splashed colour over the hulk (Devonshire Cup Coral).
The Sky is such an enormous wreck with so much to see, that one dive is definitely not enough. She currently lies at 30 metres, so good bottom time can be pulled, especially on recreational trimix. Personally I can’t wait to dive her again.