PART TWOWrecking around
CYPRUS
Stuart Philpott continues his whistlestop tour of Cyprus, exploring several new or lesser-known shipwrecks as well as the jewel in the crown, the mightly ZenobiaPhotographs by Stuart Philpott
At 6.30am the next morning, I checked out of the Pavlo Napa and made tracks for Limassol. Using Google Maps, I drove directly to Blue Thunder Dive Centre without making any wrong turns or detours. Roulla and Michalis Tsirponouris have been the owners for the past 30 years.

Roulla said the NAUI-associated dive school called Pro Dive was run by her sons Lefkios and Froso. I was impressed by the monster-sized truck coated in ‘rust preventing’ plastic parked outside. This pulled a very nice-looking French-built aluminium dive boat.

Blue Thunder had organised an action-packed day visiting the wrecks Constandis and Lady Thetis, as well as exploring the ancient port and the masks, which was another Jason deCaires Taylor contribution. My visit also coincided with Roulla’s birthday and she had brought along a delicious box of pastries from the local bakery.

The Constandis was sunk in February 2014. The 23-metre-long ex-Russian trawler now sits upright and intact on the seabed at a maximum depth of 23m. At the bottom of the mooring line I was greeted by a reasonably sized grouper. I followed the grouper to the bow where there were another three or four grouper waiting. Both of the wrecks are inside the designated National Park area, which is a strict no-fishing zone. This really did make a difference to marine life. The wreck was quite silty, so I had to be careful with my fins. Roulla guided me around the wreck and then we went inside the bridge and the engine room. There were a few good-sized lionfish lurking in the darker recesses, so I was very careful where I put my hands.

Our second dive at the ancient port didn’t break a depth of around 3m-5m - I was barely underwater. There were a few square blocks which formed part of the ancient harbour wall and plenty of long sea grass, and I saw a shoal of around 500 juvenile barracuda during our 45-minute dive.

The wind picked up and choppy conditions stirred up the seabed reducing underwater visibility. We found Jason deCaires Taylor’s masks, but got lost on the way back and had to surface to check our direction. I had come up with an idea to put some lights behind the eyes of the approximately four-metre-high masks.

I thought the effect might look interesting, but poor visibility and an overcast sky meant there wasn’t much ambient light to play with.

Did you know?The Zenobia sank to the sea bed in the early hours of 7 June 1980. Often referred to as the Titanic of the Med, the Zenobia is regularly voted as one of the top 5 or 10 wreck dives in the world - dive her for one day or a week and you will see why!The bow of the LaboeThe 30-metre-long passenger vessel Lady Thetis was also sunk in February 2014 and sits upright at a maximum depth of 18m. I started my tour at the stern. Visibility was a milky ten metres or less. The wreck was even siltier than the Constandis! The prop was still attached but the conditions didn’t warrant a picture. There is a central stairway leading up to the roof where a number of bolted-down circular tables are still attached.

The inside has been cleared of any obstacles. It was basically an open area with a hatchway in the middle leading down to the engine bay. Again, there was plenty of marine life to see including grouper, squirrelfish and sea bream. Just to finish off the dive we watched a number of jacks sweeping through a shoal of silversides.

I left Blue Thunder in the late afternoon and drove to the classy five-star St Raphael Hotel and resort located on the outskirts of town. Sadly, there was no time for partying. After a swift bite to eat at the in-house restaurant, I retired to the bedroom and was soon fast asleep. At 6am the next morning I would be travelling to Larnaca for the mighty Zenobia and another new wreck called the Elpida.

Dawn was breaking when I left the resort. Most of the roads aren’t signposted, so I really would have been lost without Sat Nav. The app said it would take me 60 minutes to reach Larnaca fishing harbour and I arrived just in time to grab the last parking space. The CTO (Cyprus Tourist Organisation) had arranged for me to dive with Andreas Lardas from Scubaholics, based in the capital city, Nicosia. I had briefly met Andreas two days earlier when I was diving with Taba Dive Centre. Quite a few of the island’s 80 or more dive centres don’t own a boat, so it’s not uncommon to share. Andreas was being hailed as one of the island’s up-and-coming technical gurus.

The bridge of the Vera KElpida engine roomThe Laboe sternShip’s wheel on the Elpida“ Our first wreck, the Laboe, was built in Germany during World War Two Andreas was also on the cards as a commercial diver, so used to swap hats as and when workloads required. Most of his training had been with local tech legend Chris Demetriou from Dive-in at Larnaca. I had also completed a fair proportion of my TDI tech training with Chris many years ago. It didn’t feel right to hear he had almost retired from the diving industry after so many years. I wouldn’t like to guess how many thousands of dives Chris has logged inside the MS Zenobia wreck.

Andreas had geared us up for two dives, starting with a new wreck called the Elpida and then after a short surface interval, a second dive on the mighty Zen. Andreas had brought along twin 12s and stages, but this was a slight overkill for my requirements. The CTO’s action-packed schedule only allowed for one dive on each wreck, so I just wanted to get a few shots of the more-prominent features.

One of Pro Dive’s boats The Elpida was sunk as a diver attraction in December 2019, and the 63-metre-long cargo ship now sits upright at a max depth of 28m. Andreas explained that the new wreck didn’t seem to be very popular due to the fact that most divers preferred to visit the Zen, and being located further away from the harbour meant more fuel and higher running costs for charter boats.

We were the only two divers at the wreck site, but as soon as I jumped into the water I knew there was going to be trouble. The visibility was a milky ten metres or less. I started finning towards the bridge. When I turned around Andreas had disappeared somewhere in the fog. I went back to the bow and found Andreas moving slowly around the deck winch. One of my pet hates with tech divers (apart from wearing black from hood to fin) is they move very slowly and methodically, whereas a photographer who only has one dive to get pictures flies about like a lunatic. At times, the two extremes can make a tricky combination.

I followed Andreas through the cargo hold and up into the bridge. The ship’s wheel has been left attached and makes a great composition, but just as I was lining up for a shot a dense cloud of particles rained down from above. Our exhaled bubbles had dislodged a snowstorm. With my picture possibilities trashed, we went down the stairway and into the engine room. The top of the engines were coated in a fine white powder. Andreas got slightly too close and spoodoosh, a plume of sediment obscured his face. I had a strange feeling today wasn’t going to be my day!

Being a new wreck there wasn’t much marine life on show. I did find a few lionfish but nothing more substantial. Way too quickly, my computer went into deco. We slowly made our way back up the mast to the surface. I really enjoyed exploring the Elpida. Back at the fishing harbour we swapped boats and headed out to the MS Zenobia.

The MS Zenobia is one of the top wreck dives in the world and Cyprus’ most-popular dive site by far. Her demise was probably due to a software error, but there are also stories of insurance scams and sabotage. One thing is for certain, excess water pumped into her ballast tanks caused her to list and eventually capsize. The 172-metre-long by 28-metre-beam RO-RO ferry now lies on her port side at a max depth of 42m with a full cargo of 104 articulated trucks and other machinery. The starboard rail is the shallowest point at around 16m, making the wreck ideal for both recreational and tech divers - a full article just on the Zen will appear in a future issue.

The next morning I checked out of the St Raphael Resort and made tracks for Pathos, my last port of call. Cydive Dive Centre managed by Pascal and Sophie had arranged two wreck dives on the Laboe and the Vera K. I was really impressed with Cydive’s facilities. I don’t think there could be a more perfect training centre complete with onsite pool, classrooms, changing rooms and shop.

Sophie explained that a Polish magazine called Perfect Diver would be joining us. I was nowhere near the perfect diver, but was looking forward to diving with some fellow professionals. The entourage was made up of two men equipped with video and stills cameras and two women who would obviously be modelling. Add a load of recreational divers to the mix and we definitely had a full boat load.

Our first wreck, the Laboe, was built in Germany during World War Two. She was originally brought to Cyprus in 2006 and used as a liveaboard. In 2014, the 21.5-metrelong by five-metre-beam boat was sunk as an artificial reef project and now lies upright at a maximum depth of 28m. Conditions were quite lumpy on the ten-minute boat journey out to the dive site. I even fell over putting on my BCD. I had been warned that the wreck was quite silty so arranged with Sophie to spend the first 15 minutes on our own before the Polish contingent rocked up. This would hopefully give me enough time to get a few sediment-free pictures. We started off at the bow and then went into the engine room. When I reached the saloon area I could see the Polish foursome at the doorway eagerly waiting to get inside. Surface conditions had deteriorated by the time we reached the second dive site. One of the Polish women threw up over the side, which seemed to initiate a chain reaction. Sophie’s plan was to get everybody into the water as quick as possible to avoid a mass puking session!

The staff at CydiveThe mast on the ZenobiaConstandis engine roomThe second wreck, Vera K, was a Lebanese freighter that ran aground in 1972. The ship was used as target practice for many years and then blown up in 1974 as it was creating a shipping hazard. The remains of the wreck are sitting inside a bowl-shaped crater caused by the massive explosion. Maximum depth inside the crater is about 12m and on the outside 6m. There are basically three main areas of interest. An archway, the engine and the bridge.

Conclusion

The additional wrecks and Jason deCaires Taylor’s MUSAN has definitely given divers some exciting new attractions. Creating marine parks will hopefully allow fish stocks to recover and there are even guaranteed grouper and turtle encounters. All in all, this makes Cyprus a pretty good option for a Mediterranean diving destination. And the CTO hasn’t finished yet. There may well be more new wrecks coming soon.

To check out all of the dive sites in one go, it would be wise to hire a car and use a Sat Nav or Google maps to avoid getting lost. On the tech side, I still didn’t see anything that could rival the Zen. But I have been assured there are more sites available, so will hopefully be returning to do a special tech report sometime next year.