Text and photography by David Oldale
It was one of those balmy days when all was going right and then – someone comes right up behind you and bites your backside clean off!
The year was 1993, the Cita en el Mar a modern Tuna Boat of the time had just one of those days – from the early hours until late in the day they had contacted with a huge shoal of massive Tuna off the Island of El Hiero. From dawn till dusk they were hauled over the gunwales until – not only the holds were filled to capacity but the decks were awash with the great fish. The Cita en el Mar was no small vessel but they had taken on such a catch as to render the boat low and wallowy in the water. But who cared! Aboard was a catch – no, such a catch that was unheard of for many years or even a decade or three!
Story One version – As the vessel set course for Tenerife the master and crew in joyous mood decided that the celebrations would start… Lemonade followed lemonade whilst the ocean started to rise and heave as the vessel neared the Island of Tenerife. But who cared as long as the lemonade didn’t run out?
The vessel, on some kind of course approached the lighthouse at Punta Rasca and careered on until the hull opened wide as it slid onto the sharp-volcanic rocks of the outer shoreline. The Cita en el Mar settled even lower in the water as vast quantities of seawater cascaded into the holds – a Mayday Message was sent!
As the storm worsened, fishing vessels set out from the marina of Las Galletes in an effort to assist the crew of the ill-fated Cita en el Mar.
The Cita en el Mar was still afloat as the first of the rescuing vessels arrived and tied up alongside. First to be taken off the stricken ship was…the Tuna – from deck and holds…to be followed secondly by the radio and electronic equipment (radar etc.,)…thirdly – the crew, before the Cita en el Mar slipped down the reef into between 20 to 30-metres of water. Over the coming weeks the vessel shifted on the sandy slope to rest in its now permanent position with the stern in 38-metres and bow in 52-metres of water.
Story Two version – As the vessel set course for Tenerife, the crew settled down to relax after such a momentous day’s fishing, a day that would be remembered for all eternity and a story that would be handed down – Father to Son for many a decade!
As the hours passed on the trip from El Hiero to the Port of Las Galletas, Tenerife the winds started to rise with a vengeance and with them the Ocean started to roll and heave. From the bridge, little could be seen of the ever-closing coastline of the rocks off Punta Rasca. With a lull in the storm; at the last second the needle sharp rocks were spotted within just a few metres from the bow of the vessel – but it was too late for the ill-fated Cita en el Mar as she ploughed over the shallow reef; the steel hull becoming shredded way below the water line. The Master instructed that a Mayday Message be transmitted immediately. It wasn’t long before local fishing vessels tied up alongside, whereupon the crew was rescued before the Cita en el Mar slipped beneath the surface.
The above are two versions of the fate of the Cita en el Mar narrated to me by some members of the local population who were either rescuers or rescuees! It is up to you the reader to decide what account you care to believe or what is true. However what is of the most paramount importance – No lives were lost and…dare I say it – Tenerife had yet another exciting and exhilarating shipwreck for divers to visit beneath the surface!
Dive 1 – I dropped down following the shot line from a slight surface chop through clear blue water. From the surface, the wreck and sand seabed was clearly visible some 44 metres below. In an area where the current can be quite vicious, there was none! Through my earpiece came Sheila’s excited voice, ‘Dave to your right - there’s a Turtle!’
I had seen it as Sheila had said those vital words and was heading – carefully now, not daring to breathe, ever expecting the inevitable glide away as I neared. It remained stationary, with just a glance in my direction. I managed to take a few pictures before it turned its head slightly to munch on some bottom algae as if I was of no consequence.
In front of us rose the wreck of the Cita en el Mar; it lay on its port side at an angle of 90 degrees to the sand. The entire wreck from stem to stern with the exception of the bridge section was shrouded in many hundreds of metres of trawl net (its own)! Bow first (the deepest) I considered as I finned down the slightest of slopes into 52 metres, my exhaled bubbles glugged out through the ‘soup like thickness’ of the surrounding water from my regulator. We were 12 metres below the recommended limit for recreational sport diving – unfortunately at a depth we were all regularly accustomed to – such were the demands to get that special exclusive story and pictures and the Ocean-Eye Film Crew to capture me on film, taking those pictures!
From the bow to the bridge I glanced out over the seafloor to see three Stingrays cruise by; closer to the wreck a rarely seen yellow Grouper slipped out of sight to within the inner lower decks of the vessel. All around and above shoals of Cardinal fish and Turkish wrasse hovered, always ever ready at a split-second to disappear should any of the larger pelagic species make an appearance.
Although with half a cylinder full of air still left my decompression time was mounting quickly – too quickly, it was time to fin to the stern, locate the shot-line and head towards the surface. I uttered those famous but annoying words through the microphone in my full-face-mask, ‘Time to get airborne – chaps, 15 minutes of deco!’
We started the ascent up the shot-line in a line of three, leaving one the dive centre instructors to clear the boat’s anchor, so it could hauled aloft without snagging after we had all entered the diveboat.
With so much of an underwater commentary given by Paul, he had used most of the 18 litres of supplied air in his cylinder. At the staged decompression in 6 metres of water and just under the boat he augmented his supply by connecting to the spare air supply. We waited until as indicated by our dive-computers we could safely ascend those last few metres to the surface and our waiting diveboat.
‘How was it then?’ asked David (our boatman) and co-owner of Aqua Tenerife Diving.
I was the first to reply, ‘Absolutely bloody rubbish!’
At first he looked dumbfounded but then started to smile as he noticed that Paul, Sheila and myself were grinning like Cheshire Cats, ‘You enjoyed it then?’
‘No… better than that, it was magical! I just hope the pictures will tell the story.’ I replied, still grinning like an inane alien…
Dive 2 – With much of my first dive to the wreck of the Cita en el Mar being taken up by spending time with the Turtle I found that I had little time to look over the wreck but, I was determined to return to dive the wreck again – with no distractions! And so it was, some few years later I managed to venture a repeat dive to the wreck of the Cita en el Mar and once again with David and Yvonne of Aqua Tenerife Diving and Paul and Sheila (who with me were now part of the staff of Holiday Diver Magazine).
It was an early start, as we had to be at the Aqua Tenerife Diving Centre for 10:00 hrs. First thing was the collection of our dive kit from the Los Gigantes Diving Centre and then journey down the coast (by car) to Arona and then on to board the RIB at Las Galletas. Once kitted and aboard, the dive site was only a few minutes away from the small harbour. With slack water at 12:00 hrs we were going over the side bang-on time (now that makes a change for us)!
Unlike my previous dive, the surface this time was an oily-flat calm as the sun shone down through a clear, deep-blue sky. Way, way below the darkened outline of the shipwreck showed from a light-golden-sand seafloor. From the stern to for’ard section shoals of fish had congregated over the wreck. A Stingray cruised off the sand near to the bridge whilst large Grouper looked out from the cover of the confines of the ship. Again the underwater viz was nothing if not phenomenal and once again there was no current! As our dive guides looked on, Paul with Sheila filming finned along and around the wreck – and me, I just did my own thing – snapping away and listening to Paul’s underwater commentary through my underwater-communications earpiece – with, I might add a smile or was it a smirk on my face as he started rambling on that this was once again ‘A Stunning Dive’. After a cruise from the stern to the bow and then back to the bridge to be followed by a flit here and there, a glance to my Suunto Stinger showed that I was eight minutes into deco – it was time to congregate at the stern for the slow rise up the anchor line to the first stop – at 9-metres.
We had risen some 9-metres clear of the sand when I noticed something zoom past to imbed itself in the sand about 15-metres away. The spare-air cylinder – had come adrift from its tethering line. I shook my rattle and pointed to the cylinder protruding from the sand below as one of our dive guide’s then proceeded to retrieve it. After we showed clear to venture up to the 3-metre stop it was affixed to the line once again – securely! On the RIB I mulled over in my mind that perhaps those that had remained on-board during our dive had overheard Paul’s repeated ‘stunning’s’ so many times that they decided to do away with him! Damn – they missed! Joking apart – I found the dive to the Cita en el Mar with Aqua Tenerife Diving to be exceptional and one that I will definitely repeat again.
Back at Las Galletas we hurried for the all-day breakfast at the ‘Carnival Restaurant’ that is served until 3 pm! Fruit-juice, coffee, two slices of toast, two of bacon, two sausages, beans, eggs and chips (a divers feast) for €3 euros – how do they do it?
Tenerife, you have it all – Thank you!
GETTING THERE: ‘Monarch Scheduled’ operates an excellent service from London Luton/Gatwick, Birmingham and Manchester to Tenerife (South) Airport. Luggage allowance 20 kilos per bag and is charged at £7-99 each way. So in theory, you can take as much dive equipment as you like, as long it weighs 20 kilos or less in each bag and are prepared to pay the £7-99 for each bag each way – booked in advance. You are allowed 10 kilos of FREE hand baggage. Web: www.monarch.co.uk Tel: 0871 225 3884
DIVING: To dive the wreck of the Cita en el Mar (subject to qualification and experience) contact David or Yvonne at:- Aqua Tenerife Diving, Arona, Tenerife. Tel: 0034 922 730302.
ACCOMMODATION/COMPLETE HOLIDAY: For accommodation in Tenerife close to the Diving Centre contact: www.monarchhotels.co.uk or for a complete package holiday contact: www.monarchholidays.co.uk Tel: 0871 423 8642. You can also contact Monarch Holidays to book just your flight.
Please Note: Monarch Holidays operate to various destinations throughout the World including the Maldives, Red Sea, Turkey, Malta and Caribbean.
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