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Final Statistics: Alex & Maz Total distance: 93,550km
Furthest Point: Rotorua, NZ Now settled in Sydney, Australia
Final Statistics: Martin Total distance: 79,698km
Furthest Point: Hobart, Australia Now settled in Bristol, UK

Our Lust for Rust Satisfied

Written by Alex Towns. Uploaded 11 October 2006.

Brunei, BONUS Country 23, Diary entry 5th-7th Aug 2006, Total distance in Brunei: 916 KM

After all the dead end searching for operators able to dive the Labuan Wrecks out of KK we were somewhat frustrated to have such excellent wreck dives so near yet so far. You all know our attraction to the undersea world, however given the choice between a heap of rusting metal and a pristine reef, the lure of the shipwreck wins hands down every time. Although we’ve learnt to appreciate the pretty reef as we’ve progressed on this trip, the smell of a good ol rusty wreck was strong in the air and we paced like lions with a scent of the kill, but trapped behind bars unable to sample the spoils for ourselves!

Barracuda circle the Blue Water Wreck

Repetitive searches on the net had revealed that the wrecks were diveable out of Brunei, which lead me firstly to John from Panaga Divers the local Shell Petroleum dive club in the south of Brunei who then put me in contact with Paul from Bandar Dive Club in the north near Bandar Seri, which made the wrecks their local stomping ground – bingo. We’d ascertained that they were diving that Friday and that we were more than welcome to join them, so we made a bee-line. Via emails and texting we’d arrange to meet the club at the yacht club for their 8am prompt departure. Paul asked where we were staying to which we responded.. “know any good flat land nearby?”. Without having even met us, Paul kindly offered for us to stay with him and his family and furthermore, so that we didn’t get lost it’d be easier if he met us at the border and guided us in!

An octopus finds shelter on the Cement Wreck

We arrived and parked up at the impromptu border shanty town where you could get just about anything so long as it was over 5% alcohol! We wandered around this den of inequity, trying our best to look like a pair of brits who’ve just driven there from the UK and looking for a chap named Paul. None too surprising there were a good few expats who’d popped over the border to their local for a cheeky beer and on this occasion watch the Aussies stuff the South Africans at rugby. I bet they must all have the extra page passports which even then probably need replacing on a monthly basis. Imagine having to go through customs and immigration to get to the pub and worse still repeat the procedure to get home after a few jars!

The forward mast of the Cement Wreck still stands proud

Wandering around aimlessly we suddenly spotted someone just coming through the border and correctly guessed it was Paul. Well since he’d come this far and was looking a bit parched I guess it was time for one of those cultural experiences and joined the other Brunei expats in a few rounds of beer and noodles from the fat man’s stall at the end… pork yummy, another off the list in Muslim Brunei. Off course that still left the drive back to Paul’s so I was careful to avoid a few rounds and lag behind! Not only do they use this opportunity for a few friendly drinks, but being expats they are also allowed to take back a case of beer and 2 bottles of wine or spirit. Since we were just passing through, we volunteered our allowances which were readily accepted.

Alison and Paul who kindly looked after us during our brief visit

With customs and immigration cleared and our alcohol officially stamped into the country we entered Brunei for the second time, officially country number 23 and a bonus one at that! As you’d expect from a rather oil rich country, the roads were somewhat better. Furthermore diesel is a fraction of the price here and with the orange low warning light showing, Tinfish was now running on fumes. We texted Paul our predicament but received a ‘we’re almost there’ reply, so carried on for the last few km’s. Once at Paul’s home we met his wife Alison and their children Matt and Tom. Alison made us really welcome and produced a big mug of tea each the like of which we’d not had for many, many months and was delicious – the simple things are always those that remind you of the comforts of home!

Kit loaded onboard and heading to the first dive site

With alarms set for very early O’clock and being warned that the boat leaves at 8am regardless, we retired to bed. A bit groggy in the morning, breakfast was laid out and soon Paul, who wasn’t actually diving himself that day rather racing in a sailing regatta, was keen for us to head off as it was some 20km to the yacht club. I reminded him that we needed to stop by a fuel station, so first stop was the local service station, only they didn’t take visa and we had yet to get any Brunei Dollars and furthermore Paul had come out without his wallet – whoops! We urged Tinfish on and by some miracle she didn’t conk out before we arrived – good girl!

A drawing of the Blue Water Wreck as she now lies

In record time, dive kit sprung from every opening and hidey hole whilst we talked at the same time to the gathering crowd of other divers who’d already got their kit onboard and were waiting for us. 07:59 and 53secs we jumped aboard ready to dive and waved goodbye to Paul. It was a little ride out to the first dive site, the furthest of the 4 wrecks the Mabini Padre or otherwise known as the Blue Water Wreck given its location offshore in typically better visibility water. This huge Filipino stern trawler sank on tow after a fire and now rests pretty much intact as she lies dozing on her port side in 35 metres with the starboard side rising to 24 metres. The side is a riot of soft corals (dendronephthya) and the wreck is home to huge shoals of fish and we descended through a large shoal of barracuda gathered around the mast.

The veil of barracuda are never far away from the wreck

As with all wreck dives our first priority is to see where we can get inside and we quickly found a way in through the bridge superstructure then down into the depths of the ship before swimming aft and popping back out into daylight around amidships. We then followed the trawl shute round to the stern and under to look at the one solitary propeller now partly obscured by marine growth. Unfortunately nitrox has yet to catch on in a serious way around these parts, so with limited bottom time, we gradually drifted back up to the starboard railing and floated back through the swarms of fish to the shot line and started our slow ascent to the surface watching the wreck slowly disappear from view below. A great dive and well worth the effort.

Looking down the shot line at a couple of divers swimming along the Blue Water Wreck

With everyone safely back onboard we steamed back inshore to locate our second wreck of the day, the MV Tung Huang, or better known around these parts as the Cement Wreck as she was carrying a cargo of cement for construction in Brunei, when she hit the Samarang banks in Sabah. Whilst making a run for port, she sank close to Labuan. The vessel is a modern freighter with the superstructure aft and she stands bolt upright in about 32 metres as if she were still steaming ahead, with the bridge rising to 18 metres and the kingposts right up to 9 metres. With the deck at about 22 metres she makes a perfect second dive.

A drawing of the Cement Wreck as she now lies

As there was quite a surface current flowing I decided to leave the camera on the boat, which is a shame as the wreck would have made a fantastic subject. As soon as we hit the water, we could see the wreck below and pulled ourselves down to find shelter behind the bridge, before spotting a route down into the engine room through the gap left by the funnel which has now fallen off to one side. As with all wrecks, there is something about penetrating the engine room as if you’ve found the very heart of the old vessel and this was no exception.

Our entrance into the heart of the Cement Wreck

As we spiralled down, the shadow cast by the walkways once used by the engineers to inspect the engines, now cast an eerie glow into the depths. Near the top of the engine the visibility reduced which is typical as all the sediment tends to collect in these areas and as there is little water movement, has nowhere else to go other than float menacingly. This adds to the thrill and the excitement as your eyes become accustom to the gloom and the torch cuts a path through the suspended sediment lighting up parts of the ships interior long since forgotten.

The remains of the funnel, now fallen to one side

Inching our way deliberately about so as not to disturb any more silt unnecessary we moved forward into the darkness which always beckons. More machinery stood silently and moving gently through a door into the workshop you could see the familiar shapes of tools, lathes and drill presses, whilst hanging up in the racks were the hand tools still in position, a real time capsule. Heading back up a deck, we left the engine compartment to enter the crews’ quarters. Here a different atmosphere just as captivating, as the rows of port holes allowed a dim light to highlight the many fixtures and fittings now strewn around the cabin with many cables and such like dangling from the ceiling ready to ensnare the unwary diver.

A blaze of colour within the murk of the wreck

Back out on deck we were met by an impressive array of colours as the wreck literally blooms with a multitude of multi-coloured soft corals. We had just enough time to swim to the bow passing a huge anchor lashed firmly to the deck, before turning around and drifting back over the open holds until we arrived at the bridge and worked our way back up to the shot line. Just hanging in the lee of the mast doing some safety decompression stops, the blaze of colours from this wreck was outstanding, an awesome dive and everything a wreck dive should be.

Customary washing of the salt water out of ones mouth after a good days diving

Two excellent dives under our belt and our thirst for rusty metal satisfied, we now turned our attention to a thirst of a different nature and another cultural experience to look forward to! As these Labuan wrecks are not surprisingly close to Labuan, which itself conveniently happens to be a major duty free island and part of Malaysia, no trip would be complete without a short stop over to wash the salt water from our mouths at one of Labuan outlying islands! The proprietor of this particular sandbar resort seemed pleased to see his regulars and soon a proud collection of Tiger beer cans adorned the table. So far for a dry country it had been the most amount of alcohol that we’d drunk in a looong while and with such a nearby duty free resort they were almost giving it away!

Our duty free sand bar!

A more zigzagged course back to the yacht club and we were back after a great day out. Thanks to all for making us feel so welcome, especially John (who joined us for the days diving) and Paul (who looked after us a treat). It was really nice to dive in a club environment again, after so many professional dive organisations that we’d seen to date and it really reminded us of our previous good ol’ days back at the Uni of Surrey BSAC club, especially the dive marshal slate… Time in/out, Air in/out – strong fundamentals of the BSAC (British Sub-Aqua Club) system. It’s a shame we didn’t manage to plan things a little earlier as perhaps the clubs could have benefited from some of the BSAC skills courses both Maz & I can run – oh well a good excuse to come back and repay the favour :)

Our dive chariot waiting to take us home

With the sailing regatta still underway we relaxed by the yacht club pool after we’d made a quick trip into the local town to fill up on diesel (GBP0.10 per litre – yippee!) and Brunei Dollars. Thanks again to Paul for the 20L jerry can of diesel which miraculously appeared by Tinfish as without it I don’t think we’d have got to the end of the street. As it was we still managed to fill up with 238L which surprised me as I thought we only had a 240L tank! As normal the pump attendant checked underneath the car to make sure there wasn’t a leak as he couldn’t understand where all the fuel was going. At that price we squeezed in every last drop, one sure bonus of long rang fuel tanks!

Relaxing by the pool after a hard days diving!

We spent the evening dinning at the yacht club, which was simply delicious. Paul and Alison eat there often and they said the chef was very used to preparing food for the western palette and they weren’t wrong. Maz had chicken breast stuffed with avocado, whilst I had chicken breast stuffed with crab meat.. what a feast. To top it all off there was more beer and some great Aussie red wine – long live dry Brunei! We met some of their other friends and we saw a theme emerging. Just about every western expat we’ve met so far on this trip has been a teacher working in overseas schools! The life style really reminded me of my own childhood growing up as an expat in Bahrain.

For a second night we stayed with Paul and Alison but for a change had another early morning planned as we were to dive the next day with Scuba-Tech International making the most of our quick visit to Brunei to get as big a fix of wreck diving in as possible before we continued south around Borneo…

A HUGE thanks to Paul and Alison for looking after the two strays that turned up on their doorstep!

Thanks also to Panaga Divers for the underwater pictures and sketches of the wrecks

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Comment from Hamid Omar
Hi - this is the first time that I checked your web site since you all left Pakistan - your last entry is from Brunei - You should have told US - and you would have been the King's Guests!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!

Always your friend - all of us here in Pakistan!

Love and best regards,

HO

11 Oct 2006 @ 21:29:09