SS Centennial shipwreck

Expand this section for the dive site description

A bit of adventure tonight as I dived the SS Centennial shipwreck (sank in 1889), off Bradleys Head.

The wreck is positioned outside Taylors Bay, far from any access to the water and for this reason it is normally dived from a boat, but with a bit of effort it can be dived from shore, either from the Taylors Bay beach (as described here) or from the rock platform / fishing spot in the South-East point of Bradleys Head. Either way is going to be a total of 1 km of surface swim, I chose the first option as I wanted to do it as night dive and the Bradley Head vehicular gate closes at 8pm.

Diving at night here presents some challenges though, the main one being that there are no reference points along the coast, being the bush of the Sydney Harbour National Park, especially at night when it looks like a black patch. Without references and with the wreck 200 m from the coast, there are good chances to get lost without finding it. To avoid this, I placed a waypoint (a bike safety light) in the position where I wanted to detach from the coast and head to the wreck, minimising the distance travelled underwater to save air. This involves driving past Taronga Zoo into the National Park and hiking down in the forest to place the light. Luckily I found a path, unluckily the path is overgrown with vegetation and it's not that obvious at night (got lost a few times).

After placing the light on a rock by the waterline, I drove to Taylors Bay and got geared up. The beach is down from the road, 130 steps, not that I was counting.

Once in the water I snorkeled in the shallows for a sense of safety till I got to my flashing light 500 m. later. From there I started the dive heading 115 degrees for 200 m. From previous dives with the GPS I know my cruise speed is 25 m/min so if I did not come across the wreck is about 8 minutes it meant I had missed it and it was time to look around or come back.

The wreck appeared on time right in front of me in 13 m of depth. It's one of the biggest of the harbour with its 60 m of length, not that you can tell it's a ship as after the sinking in 1889 it was blown to pieces with explosives to avoid hazards to navigation. Probably the only part that you can relate to a ship is a bollard, the rest is an undistinguishable amount of parts mostly covered by silt. Still interesting to see it knowing it has been there for such a long time.

After a circumnavigation of the site, time to head back north and then negotiate the 130 steps to get to the car, thinking that each of them was a year underwater for the Centennial. Lastly, back to Taronga to recover the light and yes, I got lost once again in the forest :)

Tiring yes it is, a few cramps here and there, but overall a great experience in a very peaceful corner of the harbour.

Marco Bordieri, 24/9/2020

A story of the accident leading to the wreckage can be found on Michael McFadyen's website

A bollard, one of the few parts that can be recognised


Most of the wreck has been blown up with explosives to avoid hazards to boating, the result after 130 years is a ship-shaped area with parts of the structure scattered around