Divers: Fred, George & Mark
The SS City of Rayville was the first American vessel sunk during World War II, she sunk when she hit a mine laid by a German Raider just off Cape Otway. This field of approximately 100 mines had already claimed the British steamer SS Cambridge, less than 24 hours previously off Wilsons Promontory. On 8 November 1940, City of Rayville sailed into the Bass Strait where she hit the mine. The explosion was powerful enough to rip out the foremast, as shrapnel including ingots of lead, the vessel’s cargo being 1,500 tons rained down on the ship’s decks. The 38 crew members were able to safely abandon the ship into the lifeboats, although one sailor re-entered the vessel to find his personal items and subsequently drowned. The light keeper stationed at Cape Otway Lighthouse witnessed the sinking, and three fishing boats from Apollo Bay went out in search of survivors. The ship’s lifeboats were found and successfully towed back to Apollo Bay. This sinking preceded the attack on Pearl Harbor on the 7th December 1941, by more than a year, and resulted in the death of the first US seaman in World War II.
Having dived the Cambridge, we were keen to dive this ship that had so much in common with the Cambridge. So when Dive Victoria needed the marks to the site of course they came to Aquability, Melbourne’s most prolific wreck divers. It takes a lot of luck with the weather to get out to wrecks in Bass Straight and fortunately things went our way & we had reasonable sea conditions, no current (planned for slack water) and about 40 metre viz (watch for video to come). We dived the site over 2 consecutive days, dive 1 our focus was on the stern, the ship is very broken up and finding a single prop blade standing proud out of the sand was a bit of a highlight, however day 2 our focus was on the bow, we had been asked to get some video footage of the led ingots and when I found a pile of them under some sheeting I thought I had hit the jackpot it’s always nice when you meet the dive objective, but only to be outdone by George who had found a ships bell!! Our 25 minutes on the bottom at 79metres required 95 minutes of decompression, the time passes soon enough & we are back on board the dive boat heading for home, with another adventure behind us we are already planning for the next project.