I liked Chris Demetriou
from the moment we met at his stand at the London Dive Show. I was
gazing at a cardboard cut-out depicting the Zenobia, wallowing on
the surface, with her trade mark list. And we know what happened
As operations manager
of Dive-In Larnaca, Chris has been exploring the wreck of 'The Zen'
for the last fifteen years, during which he's acquired a comprehensive
and intimate knowledge of this world class site. Yet this familiarity
hasn't dampened his enthusiasm for the Med's signature wreck, not
one bit. Indeed he spoke as if he'd only just been on his first
10 dive Zenobia package, which he'd pretty much sold me by the time
he handed me his business card and we'd shaken hands.
It was a stifling hot
night when my charter flight from Gatwick arrived at Larnaca some
months later. Officials swept other nationalities aside to accommodate
us Brits to the express immigration channel, even those who weren't
sporting a tattoo. Welcome to Cyprus, the little island that looks
like a Christmas tree trying to do a runner.
Short wait at bag carousel,
then ten minutes in a cab and check in at the two star San Remo
hotel, all efficiently pre-booked by Sheri at Dive-In. Clean, secure,
TV, air con, pool, situated two minutes walk from the dive shop,
and all for reasonable rates. Add to that a fine kebabery on the
corner, an open all hours mini market across the road for bottled
water and British red tops - well, what's the point going to Ex-pat
Heaven, diving one of the great wrecks if you can't shake your head
at the sorry state of the nation, and pity all the poor sods back
home where it's pissing down?
Which reminds me, I was
so tired I tried to turn the air con on using the telly remote.
Three times. I shouted at it in English, and stabbed the remote
with more conviction as you would when poking Johnny Foreigner,
before realising that those poor sods back home were probably better
off without me. Truly I'd arrived.
7.45 next morning and
I'm collected by sun beaming Steph, who drives me round the block
with my dive gear to the store to meet the Dive-In cast. Paperwork
was sent to the UK by Sheri in advance, so the formalities are a
breeze. Kit is assembled outside the shop, then loaded on to 'Zeus',
the RIB, which is then towed down the road to the slipway, leaving
the divers to take their respective briefings in the shade, enjoying
supplied water, before suiting up to wander down to the fishing
Before the RIB leaves
the quayside there's a boat briefing, repeated every time there's
a new passenger aboard. It's local regulations and common sense.
Time to cast off before we melt under the morning sun, a chug to
the harbour entrance, then hold on as we speed over flat water towards
the marker buoys. Again, there's a comprehensive buddy check, with
Mike and Sarah from Vancouver, and our dive guide Kelvyn with Billy-No-Mates,
and in we roll, bath water warm, clear and blue, sinking down to
the ghostly battlements of the behemoth that stretches as far as
the eye can see.
Forty minutes later on
the surface helping hands take my lead and tank, leaving me to fin
myself aboard with all the grace of a beaching seal, huffing and
puffing, eyes wide as dinner plates. Or a seal doing an impression
of a middle aged man in a wet suit flopping into a RIB.
The kindly bearded face
of skipper Andy blots out the sun.
'Y'alright there, mate?'
(Andy's from Yorkshire.
I can't do the accent.)
'You're never going to
believe this, Andy. But there's a MASSIVE wreck down there!!'
The Zenobia was built
in 1974, weighing in at 10,500 tonnes, a 172 meter long roll-on
roll-off ferry carrying 104 trucks from Malmo, Sweden, en route
for Syria. After a demonstration of the auto pilot, the vessel developed
a list. The inability to tackle Inherent instability issues with
the ship meant that although the Zenobia made it to Larnaca, it
continued to list, and with water flooding in through an open door
below the waterline, was finally abandoned and sunk in the early
hours of the 7th June 1980.
She now lies on her port
side in 42 meters of water, half a mile from the fishing harbour,
under the flight path to Larnaca airport, the upturned starboard
side 16 meters below the surface. A variety of
published in Tanked Up
published in Sportdiving Magazine
penetrations of differing
difficulty, and fish action in the shape of amber jacks, groupers
and barracuda, means the wreck has something for everyone from Open
Water to full blown Tech.
Sorry. I sound like I'm
writing for 'Dive', don't I? Carry on like this and next month I'll
be testing 20 of the latest masks. The one I like the best/get given
free, scores nine and a half out of ten.
The RIB zips us back
to the harbour in no time, or no time at all, depending on who is
at the helm. We stroll back for brunch at Michael's cafe adjacent
to the dive shop. The owner is a local of considerable character, who shares his views
with his customers whether they like it or not, but he will also
cook you a full English with a pot of tea for a under a fiver. And
you've earned it. The first dive on The Zen is in your log book,
so mop your plate and digest the detail with new found friends and
a sea view. God, it's a sunny day!
Some time after noon
we start to gather for our respective briefings, the RIB able to
take 2 or 3 small groups who can drop in at the stern, middle or
bow, such is the size of this wreck. Newly filled cylinders are
driven to the harbour and passed down to the divers in the 'Zeus'.
Within ten minutes we're rolling back in and dropping down at the
stern. Now there's a fresh perspective to fully appreciate the wreck.
The size of the prominent starboard propellor dwarfing divers, the
graffiti scratched into the grey lichen covering the hull. Big block
capitals; 'SIMON some bloke IS GAY'. Now that is a claim to fame.
We creep to the edge
of the stern looking down into the depths. Over we go, base jumping
underwater, free falling in slow motion through the thermoclime
into colder, darker water in the shadow of the two massive stern
doors, checking our decent to slide between them at 28m. Now along
the deck to view the twisted trucks, discarded like toys to boredom.
Below us the open rib cage of a lorry once full of butchery, now
As if this sight weren't
surreal enough now we penetrate the upper levels of the wreck. With
the Zenobia lying on the bottom at ninety degrees, doorways have
become human letterboxes. Carpeted floors become furry walls. It's
a weird world halfway towards 'The Poseidon Adventure'. Pipes, tubes,
wires, cables, dotted with alien sponge life, chunks of collapsed
partitions, sanitary ware seemingly stuck like art in this topsy-turvy
gallery. There's room to move in here, and plenty of ambient light,
but hanging cables provide numerous opportunities for snags over
the top of cylinders. Ascending we exit into the blue through one
of the windows where the glass has been removed to allow plenty
of access from a potentially dangerous environment.
Back in the harbour before
3pm, cameras and divers are carefully unloaded, leaving all the
kit in RIB, which is then towed back to the shop to be washed down.
The staff diligently go about their boat chores in good spirits
and there's a clean rinse tank and plenty of rails to hang suits
and BC's, a shower, change cubicles and storage crates for accessories
in the adjacent wet room. Once in civvies it's time for an habitual
Cyprus coffee, possibly a nap, bearing in mind they're showing reruns
of 'Knight Rider' staring David Hasselhoff at 5.30. Ish.
And if all that diving
has given you an appetite, try Melitzi's outdoor eatery ten minutes
stroll along the front, heading towards the bright lights. The locals
eat here too, and no wonder.
Now I'm joined by Vlad
and Diana from the Ukraine, and British technical divers Neil Black
and Adam Florio, who've been creating their own hardcore penetration
route into the bowels of the wreck, besting sealed doors with hammer
and chisel. This is their third 'holiday' of exploration on the
Zen, as they painstakingly move into areas closed while the ferry
was still afloat. You can hear them banging away as you fin over
the outside of the wreck. Their earnest discussions over dinner
about the potential pitfalls awaiting them on the Dark Side of The
Sealed Door, silt, debris, hanging cabinets, chemicals, it all sounded
like something out of 'Dungeons and Dragons'. Only real.
For me it's the Upper
Cargo Deck, an experience I describe on a postcard home as 'a bit
like finning through a church in the dark, jumbled trucks strewn
on the floor, thousands of blue bottles littered against the ceiling'.
Obviously I'd know. I scuba through churches underwater all the
time. Just without the trucks and bottles.
Next day it's all the
way down to the bottom at the stern, threading a route between the
wheels of symmetrical trucks at a site I christen 'Axle Alley'.
Inevitably the deeper and longer dives start to build up deco time
on the bar slung at 5 meters on Dive-In's permanent mooring. Chris
suggests an SDI Nitrox course, I can even read the manual on Sunday,
the shop's dry day. However Vlad and Diana suggest chicken doners
and a carafe of red wine. We occupy the restaurant for six hours
and the Nitrox course gets put back a day.
But under Kelvyn's easy
tutelage I'm soon getting to grips with the upgrade. After all,
if compressed air was so great, everyone would be using it. The
benefits soon become apparent within the operating range of the
dives, although it adds to the final bill, as does the souvenir
polo shirt at the end of the week, but you wouldn't leave for home
Because I've had a brilliant
time here, exceeding my expectations, which as this is a world class
wreck were already pretty high to begin with. And before you think
this is some kind of Love-In with Dive-In, I'd suggest their web
site would benefit from a dedicated Zenobia photo gallery, and a
second table with shaded seating outside the shop would be a welcome
addition. There are other dive shops in Larnaca offering the wreck,
if that's the way you choose to live your life.
The Zen's exact position
in 'Top Wrecks of The World' can be debated, but it makes the top
half of any serious list. Throw stones, but I prefer it to Thistlegorm.