Laying in Port Gore in the Marlborough sounds is a wreck like no other. Sitting in 36m of water, you can find the resting place of the 176m cruise liner the Mikhail Lermontov, the largest wreck in the Southern Hemisphere.
The Lermontov sank on the 16th February 1986, from damage sustained to its port side from a collision as the cruise liner was carelessly navigated close to rocks at Cape Jackson. After an effort to beach the ship failed, all passengers and crew abounded ship. Out of the 738 people on board, the sinking of the ship claimed only one life…
Now imagine having that in your head as you are following a line through the cinema with your torch in one hand and the line in the other. As you move the light from side to side, you can see the cinemas chairs still bolted to the deck which sits on your right hand side. You squeeze the material of the chair just to see if it’s real, creating a little plume of silt. Shining your touch below there are piles of debris and the remains of the chairs which had come unbolted as the wreck had aged. To say you feel alone would be a lie… As well as your buddy, there are loads of little eyes reflecting in your torch light, fish trying to hide but hopelessly giving away their location. This feeling of exploration and excitement is what diving the Lermontov is all about, especially for Mike and Nick who spent a week there at the beginning of the month.
We left Wellington early Monday morning enjoying a glorious sunrise on our journey across the Cook Strait to Picton. Arriving around midday we were met by Brent from Go Dive Marlborough, who has probably dived the wreck more times than anyone else in the world… Now that is an experienced guide!! Over the following hours we drove through the sounds to reach our destination for the week, the Lermontov Lodge. Miles away from civilisation it’s an awesome place to immerse yourself in diving.
To conclude our first day we jumped in for a quick dive before dinner to get ourselves set for the week ahead. Waking up on Tuesday morning, the sun was still rising as we ate our breakfast. The plan for the week was to complete Nick’s PADI Advanced Open Water and Enriched air Diver, as well as the PADI Wreck and Deep Diver specialties for both him and Mike… The boys really did want a challenge!!
First dive of the day was PPB, followed by their first dive on the Lermontov for the Wreck adventure. Like two kids at Christmas you could see the excitement in their eyes as we explored the portside of the vessel sitting in approximate 16m of water. Quick stop for lunch and back out to complete Nicks Navigation adventure dive. Day 1 complete just in time for the heavens to open and the rain to pour, but still the fellas had a smiles from ear to ear.
Our early start of day two was scuppered with a North Westerly cutting across the bay. No diving in the morning but theory, theory, theory… Just after lunch the sky cleared and we managed to squeeze in the Deep Adventure Dive. The wreck was blown out, so we headed down one of the many lines of the mussel farm. As we descended the light slowly left us on that gloomy day. At the bottom we explored the sandy area by torch light, observing many of the sea cucumber that collect at the bottom of the farms. I am still sure I caught a glimpse of Spiny Dogfish, but neither Nick nor Mike believed me. On the surface we thought it was only right to grab a few mussels for dinner. With the rest of the day blown out, we spent the evening watching episodes of the classic US series Sea Hunt, filmed in the late 50’s. It was interesting to see the evolution in diving equipment from when this show was filmed… but it still amazes me how these guys went diving in speedos!!
Thursday morning arrives and as if by magic the sea was like glass. Two dives on the wreck in the morning saw us explore the damage caused by the collision with the rock at Cape Jackson. The second dive of the morning we focused our attention on the mapping of the bridge of the ship. The boys, happy to be diving on the wreck again, jumped when I told them the good news… We were doing a night dive on the Lermontov that evening!! After a long lunch we got ourselves ready and headed out to the wreck as it started to get dark. Count of three we backwards rolled in and made our decent to the Lermontov. Having dived the wreck many times, it is still a whole different world at night. As we swam along the deck there was a carpet shark laying on the deck. Slightly dazed it swam straight over to Mike, gave him a nudge with his nose and then swam off. Probably best he didn’t see that… but we do have the video to prove it!!
Friday saw the guys complete their wreck specialty. For the first dive we evaluated points of entry and exit for the Bolshoi lounge, followed by practicing line drills on the outside of the wreck. On the second dive the boys put their skills to the test with their first penetration on the wreck. From the portside windows to the door of the lounge, the guys lined and explored this entertainment area, with its tables and chandlers still fixed in place. Like professionals Nick lined in with Mike following behind, tying off the line on solid items as him swam through; at the door they changed places with Mike reeling the line in back to the exit. All safely back at the window, the guys well and truly deserved their certification.
Saturday we started the day with our deepest dive, down to 36m to explore the starboard side. As we descended down the deck over the cranes and ropes light quickly disappeared. Surprisingly visibility was really clear at depth and there was a huge school of Tarahiki to keep us entertained. After a long surface interval we prepared for our first exploration of the wreck. Descending to the stern we entered into the pool at 27m. It is a strange sensation to see a pool on your left hand side and the glass surround on your right. From here we headed up to the winter deck swimming over the library, cinema and Nevsky bar before exiting onto the Portside of the ship. Returning back to the Lodge for our final evening, the guys were buzzing after their dives and completing all their courses.
So the grand finale… They get to plan where they want to dive on their final day!!
Sunday morning came and their plan was set. With Enriched air in their cylinders they were ready to explore the ship. Where did they go? What did they see? Well you will have to ask them that one… The cinema was one of the areas they got to apply the skills they learnt over the week, as well as many others cool sections. Staying within their training and the light zone they got to see some cool areas I’m sure they will be happy to tell you about next time they see you. One thing is for sure; 15 dives in seven days was a great week of diving…
If you fancy exploring the wreck and seeing what it has to offer… have a chat with Claire; I’m sure there will be another awesome trip later on this year.