Looking out over the Fjord to the Solomon Sea an air of excitement washes over me. It’s 5:30am, the sea is flat, the wind is non-existent and with only a spattering of cloud and two days of waiting now is our chance……”Let’s go!!” Twenty minutes later we are on the boat, fully loaded with all the dive gear, as soon as we leave the mouth of the Fjord the bloody wind comes in. Glass like seas start to distort, the boat pitches and rolls, the spare tanks scream out as they rattle against each other and the wake of the boat starts to spray high and long. An extremely reluctant & frustrating yell of “Oh F***” enters my thoughts. I’m sure I heard a low distant rumbling cackle of laughter from the weather gods at my subdued excitement “We can’t go, it’s too dangerous” I announce to the understanding but obviously disappointed nods of the divers on board. Turning the boat around I cannot help the feeling of frustration & disappointment flood over me, but I have customers, time to turn on the happy face Matt it’s time for Plan B.
Luckily enough for me, the two customers I am diving with have been at Tufi for 15 days and have dived everyday. Both are extremely experienced and quite frankly, excellent in the water. A sluggish meander down the coast and we arrive at the first dive site of Plan B, the wreckage of the “Pistoff” B25 Mitchell Bomber. Arrival at this site always raises my happy side, within minutes we are accompanied by a plethora of local canoes and smiles, eager to say hello to the unexpected entertainment (you know, those guys with skin that goes pink in the sun, that dress up in weird stuff and disappear underwater for much longer than the local free-dive fishermen).
The Pistoff was expertly crash landed in WWII following dog-fights with Japanese zero’s, all 7 crew survived and were rescued by the local villagers. The descendants of whom greet us every time we arrive. Time to locate it; Sebastian (the chief) comes out in his canoe, teeth as red as tomato’s from chewing beetle-nut (A local favorite that Red Bull haven’t manufactured to the west yet) and points out the precise location, immediately I head down to mark the wreck and send up a marker for our customers to follow down.
It’s a short dive but the Pistoff is in tact and very well-preserved resting on the sandy bed at 15m depth, the only damage from the crash landing appears to be the nose cone and bent rotor blades on her engines. This is my 5th dive on the aircraft since arriving at Tufi and every dive is (albeit recognizable) different, mainly from the visibility of the day. She’s only a few hundred meters off-shore so it changes regularly but for me (as a 17 year vet) I can almost feel the presence of comradery and the historical value of this sleeping beauty. The horrors of the past now resting silently & giving life to the aquatic dwellers of the area, an artificial reef with a story. I love it, especially when spending a few minutes on my own ascending whilst reeling in the marker line, silent reminiscent solitude at its best. Until we meet again my newly found friend.
Forty turbulent minutes later and we are back at Tufi Wharf briefing the next dive. The PT Boat at 45m depth. During the war Tufi was a staging post in support of the battles further North & the Coral Sea. Records show that on one particular day a refuel went drastically wrong and a huge explosion ensued. The depths of Tufi are now littered with WWII memorabilia, mainly in the form of fuel barrels but also the PT Boat.
Settled perfectly upright at 45m the skeletal remains are magnificent. Obviously at this depth it takes experience to visit the remains but as a side-note this will soon become my test dive for those customers wishing to visit the S’ Jacob who’s deck is at 44m, a perfect training dive for those wishing to go deeper. Having dived here yesterday we execute the plan to stay shallow (20m), navigate directly South from the two fishing vessels which we can see at 33m until we get on top of the PT boat and then descend as a team. Once again, this wreck is sitting on a bed of sand surrounded by hundreds of fuel barrels in all states of decay and coral population, unfortunately the visibility today didn’t allow for a good overhead shot, but it will come soon enough. We spent just a few moments on the site before our computers alerted us to being in decompression and advising us to ascend. I could have stayed there all day and cannot wait to go back and get some good video footage (Maybe tomorrow).
Alas, time to go up, we head for the slope and the coral bommies weaving our way back to the Wharf. Along the way you need to keep your eyes open, go low and go slow; There is so much to see! I’ll state right now, I’m a big fish man, give me a Whale Shark, a Manta Ray, a big ass Hammerhead or even the ‘I’ll eat anything’ Oceanic White Tip Sharks but every now and then I get the macro bug. My ex-students will confirm, I preach about those divers that are 2m above the ground going a million miles an hour and not seeing squat. GO LOW & GO SLOW, it’s another universe within this aquatic world that few bother to see. Tufi has the lot, if you open your eyes and focus.
The Raggy Scorpion fish, a perfect example of A. why not to touch anything & B. camouflage at its best. This little fella is roughly 7-8cm long, can you see him in the first photo?
Then we have various Signal Goby fish going about their business who don’t even notice the huge sunblock figure (yes, that’s you) pointing a lens at them as they are too busy foraging, then, when you are centimeters away it’s as though the “Oh f***” light comes on and they freeze before darting for cover. Funny little fellas.
At the end of the day, no matter how shite the conditions may be, as long as you have a Plan B and an open mind that can deal with initial disappointment and you have the ability to tell the “Oh F***” voice to shut up, then any dive has the opportunity to be a fantastic dive. If all else fails and you only have the British coast in winter to deal with then I strongly urge you to take time out and hit Tufi for a place that always has a Plan B, you won’t be disappointed.