I had the opportunity to spend some time in Cyprus following my tour of former Yugoslavia, my roommate (Pleso barracks, then ISO container) had been an RLC soldier called Phill Talbot from Radcliffe in Manchester, and we had kept in touch after the tour for a while. I had got on well with Phill, he had taken to diving after doing the R&R course I set-up in Zagreb, passing his CMAS 1 star, BSAC Novice Diver qualification whilst there. I had gone on to do Northern Ireland and after 7 months (what is it with 7 month tours, they were all supposed to be 6 months…..) there, I knew I needed some down-time. Phill invited me to stay in Cyprus with him and his wife, even though the only time I could get there he would be working so I’d be mostly on my own for entertainment. I didn’t have a problem with that and got the first “indulgence flight” out of Brize that I could get on! I was taking my dive-gear too, there were wrecks to dive and I couldn’t wait!
I had been in touch with Cydive in Paphos after a disappointing and drawn-out correspondence with the local military BSAC club, the DO there was a pain, nothing could be guaranteed, there would need to be a series of shake-out dives to prove my quals were “good enough”, and there wasn’t much chance of anything other than shore dives….if there were cylinders charged (which couldn’t be expected, I would be lucky or I wouldn’t depending on who was there to fill them and “if” there was someone to fill them….), basically a case of “you’re not welcome here pal,you’re too much effort” so sod that, Cydive here we come!
Cydive wanted a shake-out dive too, I had no problem with that and they had no problem with full dive cylinders, so Phill and I got to take a half-hour shore dive, close to the Paphos dive shop and it’s wonderful promenade location just shy of the harbour castle. Phill was working the next couple of days so I hired a 125 cc trials bike to get me to and from Akrotiri, a good half hours run out, but great fun in the circumstances, and I had booked my first Cyprus wreck….the Vera K! I picked up my kit from the Cydive drying room in the morning, and we made our way down to the jetty and the small skiff there waiting for us, I couldn’t have been happier, the Sun was shining, it was well over 20′ and we were heading out to a shipwreck……perfect!
The Vera K had led a varied life, prior to meeting her end outside the Paphos breakwater back in May of 1971, she had started life as yard number 624 in the Deutsche Werke shipyards in Kiel, Hamburg in 1951, just 9 years before I was born. She was named Sloman Valencia to 1967 and was a 2,214 Tonne, Diesel engined cargo vessel with sleek lines, a good looking transport ship of the day. The Sloman Valencia’s engine drove her along at a steady 13 Knots for her owners, the Danube Mediterranean Line (Demline) out of Beirut in the Lebanon. In 1967 she was sold, or perhaps transferred, and her name changed to the Jebel Sinneen, this period of her life lasted until 1970 when she was again renamed, this time to Vera K. If anything that would hint that she had transferred to a Greek shipping line, as using the “K” suffix was a Greek trait and I have latterly dived several other wrecks named with that protocol, more research needed here methinks! As is the fate of many Greek transport ships of the time, Vera K ran aground within sight of a port, on a known reef, in what was expected to have been very good visibility, now there is no inference here, (…at all your honour), just a slight feeling of deja-vu over the seemingly poor navigational skills of an ageing section of the Greek merchant marine community, often very close to retirement…….
Vera K ran into the Moulia rocks outside Paphos harbour in May of 1971, she was carrying cars, timber and Sodium Sulphate, amongst other general cargo. Clearly where Vera K ran aground was too close to the shipping lanes locally to be allowed to just let nature take her course, as, in 1974 the Cyprus authorities had her blown to pieces, to clear what was obviously a shipping hazzard. The explosions used to break up Vera K had an effect on the rocky outcrop she sat upon, the main of the wreckage is in 4 sections and very broken up. The dive is a good one, with plenty of time to look around her and the rocks she sits in amongst. I remember coming over a gully at around 6 m and seeing tunnels through the outcrop, by what remains of her bow and the bridge, or a large section of her bridge, unmissable as it was a very “block” like construction as you can see from the photos of her in her prime. There were stairs off on one side of the bridge structure, sat there in the Blue and I remember thinking Vera K would clearly make a very good subject for photographers back then…..
I took a good swim around and there was plenty of wreckage evident, bearing in mind it was only 19 years before that Vera K had been blown to pieces, in order to clear her down to a manageable size for passing shipping to avoid. I found what looked like a transmission amongst a tangle of other debris, I figured it was the transmission from the huge fluid flywheel/Torque converter housing bolted to the rear of it. I was not sure it was large enough to have had anything to do with the main engine, perhaps a donkey engine for start-up?, it just seemed too big to be for a standard car. I managed to find a picture of the transmission on the web and I’d be happy to be told I was wrong if there are any with better understanding of her Diesel drive-train?
The viz around Vera K was phenomenal at somewhere around 35m, my buddy on the dive, a NAUI diver called Stan, and I had no trouble navigating the area and spent a good 45 minutes on a single 10L cylinder enjoying the water temperature and the experience of diving in Cyprus. I have to admit, even though this was only my 14th “Blue Water” dive, I could see the attraction. There is more to research on the Vera K, there is limited information I can find at present, I will add to this post if I can go any further at a later date, however, let’s say the Vera K has yet to give up the last of her secrets, especially how she managed to end up on a known navigation hazzard, so close to a safe harbour on such a gentle sea……