Scuba Diving St Helena | Wreck Dives
As one might expect from such a rugged outcrop in the middle of the ocean, there have been a number of shipwrecks over the years, of which eight are open to divers.
The most famous are the Papanui, which caught fire in 1911 and limped into the harbour at James Bay where it later sank in only around 12m of water, making it an easy wreck to dive for all experience levels, and the Darkdale, a Britsh tanker torpedoed by a German submarine in 1941 and which lies now in 50m of water, making it much less accessible, and which remains a war grave.
Wreck penetration is not allowed, and although some of the openings on wrecks such as the Frontier suggest they would be easy penetrations and swim throughs, please respect the local regulations and stay on the outside.
PAPANUI / SPANGEREID | JAMES BAY
Depth Average 6-10m, Max 12m
Papanui: Wreck sunk in James Bay. Caught fire en-route from UK to Australia and sunk in 1911 with no loss of life. Salvaged in 1980’s. On clear days the whole ship is visible from the top of Ladder Hill.
Spangereid: Formerly the Fairport. Carrying coal from Africa to Sweden caught fire and sank in 1920.
It is also possible to extend the dive and head to the shore across some reefs and around inshore boulders.
Diving Ability Level Open Water +
Current Usually slight, but proximity to shore can affect the dive during times of swell and rough seas
Marine Life Bornella nudibranchs and possibly others (seasonal), large group of St Helena butterflyfish usually present near the stern post, resident spotfin burrfish, groups of goatfish. On night dives slipper lobster, long legs crayfish, octopus, anemones. Inshore occasional green and hawksbill turtles. Devil ray (seasonal)
Additional Feature Great for beginners, great for night dive too
BEDGELLET | LONG LEDGE
Depth: Average 10-15m, Max 20m
The Bedgellet was bought to salvage the Papanui but broke its moorings during a storm, causing damage to other boats in the harbour along with itself. It was sunk in 2001 as an artificial reef, not far from Long Ledge, meaning it can be enjoyed by scuba divers and snorkellers alike.
Diving Ability Level Open Water +
Marine Life Nudibranchs (seasonal), razor fish, devil rays (seasonal), endemic oange cup coral and highly delicate rose lace gorgonian (careful diving required). In caves long legs crayfish. Night dives slipper lobster, long legs crayfish, octopus, anemones. Highly diverse area
Additional Features Cave/swim-though (Long Ledge), great night dive
RFA DARKDALE | JAMES BAY
Depth: Average 33m, Max 48m
The Darkdale was sunk by a German U-boat on 6th August 1941, with the loss of 41 lives, and is now a war grave, with a monument to the souls lost in the disaster erected on the sea front of James Bay. Apart from the blst damage, the remaining parts of the vessel remain mostly intact, although the ship rolled as she sank and the wreck now lies upturned on the bottom. In 2007 a salvage team removed the oil (which had started to leak from the tanks) and munitions from the vessel and the wreck lies otherwise undisturbed. As wreck penetration is not currently allowed, and technical diving limited by the lack of available gas mixtures, there’s no way to penetrate the vessel, and the islanders wish it to remain that way out of respect for the sailers who lost their lives.
Diving Ability Level: Advanced Open Water / Deep Speciality
Current: Moderate, but can be stronger
Marine Life: Jack species and larger fish, large group of St Helena butterflyfish usually present
Additional Features: St Helenian flag tied as a tribute to the upturned hull
FRONTIER / PORTZIC | LEMON VALLEY
Depth: Average 18-25m, Max 28m
The Frontier was a fishing trawler heading for South America when she stopped at St Helena to repair a burst water pipe, however the vessel was boarded by St Helena customs and a large quantity of cannabis was found on board. The Dutch captain was imprisoned and his ship impounded and subsequently sunk as an artifical reef in 1994, just off shore from Lemon Valley. The Portzic, a wooden fishing vessel that was impounded and reposessed by the banks after the French captain was unable to repay his bad debts, was sunk in 2008 alongside the Frontier after deteriorating and becoming unrepairable while impounded.
The Frontier is fairly small at around 50m in length but the wreck lies mostly intact on its starboard side, with most of the superstructure and fittings in place. Although penetration of the wrecks are not allowed under St Helenian regulations, it’s worth having a look inside at the interior for some atmospheric photography.
The reef at 28m is less than 50m from the wreck and is easy to find by navigating along the line of the ship from the bow – in fact the visibility is so clear than on a good day you can make out the shadow of the reef quite easily, and returning to the ship is equally straightforward. A good dive would be to hit the wreck, slowly descend across the superstructure towards the sandy bottom and reef, before returning to the ship, levelling up and exploring the port side before heading up the mooring line to safety stop depth.
Diving Ability Level: Open Water +, Advanced Open Water preferable
Current: Light, but can be stronger
Marine Life: Almaco jacks, seasonal nudibranchs, large group of St Helena butterflyfish usually present, you can occasionally hear dolphins
ATLANTIC ROSE | YOUNG’S VALLEY
The Atlantic Rose was originally bought by a German resident of St Helena to ferry goods to the island from Cape Town. However, after ‘getting into trouble’ and being deported, he sold the boat to two local fishermen. She broke her moorings during a storm and was driven into the rocks under Ladder Hill and, too damaged to salvage, was sunk just along the coastline at Young’s Valley. Originally in 12m of water, the wreck shifted during a storm a few years later, and now lies around 8m depth.
Diving Ability Level Open Water +
Current Usually moderate, but proximity to shore can affect the dive during times of swell and rough seas
Marine Life Nudibranchs and the ever present St Helena butterflyfish are found around the wreck, along with large slipper lobsters and long legs crayfish at night
Additional Feature Great for beginner sand night dives
WHITE LEEUW | JAMES BAY
Very little remains of the White Leeuw (White Lion), the oldest of the diveable wrecks around St Helena. She was a cargo ship sunk by the Portuguese during a conflict in 1613, carrying a cargo of spices and diamonds. Salvaged in the 1970s, the wooden hull has long ago rotted away and all that remains are the ballast stones, the anchor and some of the 400-year old cannon.
Diving Ability Level: Advanced Open Water +
Current: Small to moderate but can be stronger
Marine Life: Butterflyfish, sometimes turtle
Additional Features: Old cannon, anchor… and nobody ever found the diamonds!