It is a strange history for a ship to have spent half of its life on the water and half under it. But that is the story of the SS Stavronikita, Barbados' premier dive site. The Stav, as she is called by those in the know, is quite unexpected in many ways. Despite being a valuable 365-foot freighter only 20 years old, she was sunk deliberately and took only 13 minutes to go down.
In 1976 the Stav was carrying a cargo of cement to Barbados when a fire overwhelmed her and she was towed to port where she stayed for 2 years, before being purchased by Barbados to be used as a dive site. But, it is no mean feat sinking a 4,000 ton ship, so explosives experts were brought in from Puerto Rico. It is possible to see the explosion holes where the hull is peeled back like an opened gift. Two hundred pounds of explosives were used, so it is surprising to see her still intact, sitting upright and showing no signs of disintegrating.
As with the Pamir, she has been cleared of all fittings likely to trap divers, and the spaces we pass through are clear and open. However, as befits the dignity of a large ship, she has to be dived with caution. She is deep and large enough to get lost inside but that, of course, is the thrill of diving her.
Our dive group is split into two: those who will go down to the propeller at 140 feet and penetrate the wreck there (3-tank rating), and those who will dive through the upper deck cabins, maximum depth 100 feet (2-tank rating). This plan enables divers of different experience levels to enjoy the wreck. A spare tank and regulator is suspended at 20 feet in case anyone is short of air for a safety stop.
Click on image for larger map
Thanks to Mike Seale at Exploresub
for the drawing of the Stav.
The descent down the buoy line takes us to the top of the forward mast at 20 feet. From there we drop quickly down onto the top deck, at 80 feet, passing through a passageway and out toward the aft deck. We tip over the port rail and down to the huge propeller. You can dive underneath the propeller, taking you to a maximum of 140 feet. Our route down is determined by the current flowing across the wreck, the route being designed to keep the party together. It is a couple of minutes longer than a direct drop to the propeller, possible when there is no current. The direct route allows for more bottom time, so our passage through and up the inside of the wreck is accelerated.
The visibility is poor during our dive, perhaps only 30 feet; again, this is not the norm. The main superstructure is hardly visible during the descent via the forward mast, but it looms out of the murk, making an impressive sight. In normal visibility, it is possible to see most of the ship.
We pass to the starboard side of the propeller and enter one of the explosion holes just in front. The prop shaft is clearly visible as we swim inside the ship and up through a series of compartments to enter the cabins. There are numerous cabins linked by a network of corridors. It is possible to go into the engine room but a light is needed. The route we take is dark at times, but never completely black. Escape routes out of the hull are frequently visible.
Our route takes us through the cargo hold and finally up to the bow. In the darker sections of the interior there is no marine growth, but deepwater sea fans make a frilly curtain around many of the entry areas. The dark recesses are tailor-made accommodation for a variety of squirrel fish and black bar soldierfish.
Once out on the deck, sponges occur, some seeming to have taken on the huge proportions of the ship. Tall yellow tube sponges pose like pieces of deck equipment and purple row pore rope sponges give the ship a brighter costume than ever it had afloat. The bow is alive with fish, perhaps admiring the ship's coat of arms still proclaiming her heritage on the side of the bow. A barracuda patrols the foredeck, as if on anchor watch.
It is time to ascend for our safety stop and a last look at the mast as we move up it to the buoy line. The once gleaming mast is now thick with growth, and fish fuss around it like seagulls following a fishing boat.
There is usually little or no current in this area but there are always exceptions to the rule and we are glad of the buoy line to hang on to as the current is strong. From here under normal visibility you can look down on to the Stav and see the whole ship, although the fact that it had taken us 20 minutes at a reasonable pace to swim through her is a good indication of her size.
Thanks to William of West Side Scuba Centre.