In my 20 years of diving all over the world I still find wreck diving an adrenaline rush. For many divers it involves a long flight and cab rides from the airport to their holiday destination before they have any chance to get wet.
So living on the Central Coast, the new home of the HMAS Adelaide, is truly a gift.
The HMAS Adelaide was sunk a couple of years ago after a pod of dolphins finally let the explosives blokes blow a hole in its side. The dolphins kept 18,000 odd locals on the beach waiting for two hours before the fuses were lit as they played beneath the ship, as if on purpose. The missile frigate finally found its new home in 30 metres of water on the seabed off the very popular Avoca Beach.
Central Coast dive shops started their marketing campaigns, instantly drawing divers to our shores to explore this new dive site. We can now dive an important Australian wreck — a ship that was instrumental in the 1990/91 Gulf War, in the peacekeeping operations in East Timor (99-06), and deployed to the Arabian Gulf (2001-04).
In 1997 Queen Elizabeth II personally congratulated HMAS Adelaide and the Australian Defence Force for two dramatic rescues in the Southern Ocean. HMAS Adelaide’s Sea King helicopter was launched to rescue the round-the-world yachtsmen Theirry Dubois and Tony Bullimore.
Researching the wreck prior to diving is all part of the excitement as you imagine life aboard this vessel in its heyday and study its deck plans before descending the bow or stern lines. You have a picture in your mind, an idea of what life aboard this vessel would have been like with its over 200 crew.
I love that “wow!” sensation, that divers experience every time they descend, as Adelaide comes into view at a depth of 15 metres. If you are new to the sport then exploring the upper deck, bridge and masts is excitement enough — there’s plenty to see on one cylinder of air.
If you are more experienced with Nitrox, or better still have a rebreather, then take your time and explore the hangars and lower decks, or find the ammunition stall. And we haven’t even made it to the engine room yet.
This is one big ship stretched out on our seafloor. Divers simply must sit in the captain’s chair, chat on the phone, check out the console and chart tables on the bridge, and enjoy the amenities in the crew’s cafeteria. Get a photo taken on the crew’s bunk beds or just float down to the huge hole where the missile launcher used to be. It’s vast!
Before the HMAS Adelaide was sunk it was prepared for scuba divers, with holes cut into it on all the decks to ensure it’s a comfortable dive for new divers and with plenty of exits for those experienced divers who love to penetrate deep into the ship.
Scuba diving has its risks, so the Adelaide has been stripped of obstacles (except the toilets on lower decks) and has plenty of openings to minimise the stress — at over 30 metres there’s enough to keep us entertained without worrying about finding a way out.
After its retirement from the Royal Australian Navy the HMAS Adelaide is thriving in its new career as an artificial reef and scuba divers’ playground. Beautiful sea life has taken up residence on board. Keeping an eye on divers at 20 metres while circling the tops of the communication towers are giant bat fish, and just below there are plenty of bream under the communication masts — hundreds of them circle inside the comms tower.
Wobbegong sharks have been spotted snoozing on the top deck, and schools of yellowtails patrol the flight decks. Take a closer look and you will find a nudibranch or two tucked away, and the corals are flourishing.
Ensure your torch batteries are well charged as you will see so many colours in the majestic plants and corals on board. Pink sponges have sprouted on board too. Elegant purple jewel anemones dance and sway with the surge — you will have to look carefully for these little gems.
On my most recent dive I ascended with a friendly crab hanging onto my right arm without my knowing — my buddy pointed him out.
Divers who have not yet dived the HMAS Adelaide are in for a treat. It’s a gift to all divers, and is easy to reach — it’s just an hour north of Sydney and local dive shops ensure a superb day’s diving. The visibility is much better in winter so don your drysuit and join us for an exploration of this icon from the Australian Maritime archives.
It is certainly worth the $18 fee paid to Central Coast Tourism for a day of diving the HMAS Adelaide. ❐
Lyndi Kim Leggett is a dive instructor at Dive Imports Australia, on the Central Coast. She has lived on four continents and dived all over the world.
HMAS Adelaide - a brief history
HMAS Adelaide (FFG 01) was the lead ship of the Adelaide class of guided missile frigates built for the Royal Australian Navy in the USA and commissioned in 1980.
Her distinguished career includes being part of Australian responses or contributions to the 1987 Fijian coups d’état, the Iraq invasion of Kuwait, the Indonesian riots in 1998, the INTERFET peacekeeping taskforce, the war in Afghanistan and the United States-led invasion of Iraq. In 1997 the Adelaide rescued two competitors in the 1996–97 Vendée Globe solo round-the-world yacht race. In 2001, a boat carrying suspected illegal immigrants was intercepted by the Adelaide, and became the centre of the children overboard affair.
The Adelaide was the second ship of this class to be decommissioned in 2008, in order to offset the cost of an upgrade to the other four vessels. This ship was sunk off Avoca Beach, New South Wales, as a dive wreck on 13 April 2011.