Michael McFadyen's Scuba Diving - Henry Bolte
The far south coast of NSW is a quite beautiful location, with the national parks and coastline the major attractions to the huge numbers of tourists who visit the area. The diving in the area is exceptionally good, with pristine reefs and generally very good visibility. As well as the reefs, there are numerous shipwrecks in the area, including NSW's largest remaining wreck the Empire Gladstone, the Ly-Ee-Moon, the City of Sydney, the SS New Guinea and many others.
As well as these wrecks, there are two vessels that were deliberately scuttled for diving purposes. These are the Henry Bolte and the Tasman Hauler. The Henry Bolte was launched in January 1966 from the NSW Government State Dockyard at Newcastle for the Victorian Department of Ports and Harbours and named after an (infamous) Victorian Premier. Displacing 383 tons and measuring 40.7 by 10.2 metres, the Henry Bolte was a firefighting tug used primarily in Westernport. It was powered by an eight cylinder diesel motor of 1,500bhp connected to the prop by flexible couplings.
|A model of the Henry Bolte in the Eden Killer Whale Museum||The Henry Bolte sinking|
In about 1985/1986 the Bolte was sold to Westernport Tug Services. It is reported (the Australian Government Environment Web Site) that about April 1986 (Lloyds Register shows that it did not change hands till about 1987/88) it was sold again to Charter Craft and Marine Services Pty Ltd of Eden. However, the Henry Bolte's survey expired in January 1986 and the 1988-89 Lloyd's Register of Ships records it as being laid up. As we will see later, it probably should have said "Laid Down". I have been told that it was purchased for spare parts for the Tasman Hauler which was also owned by the same company. I was also told that it was then sold to the Navy for target practice. However, it was never used for this purpose.
In 1988 the Henry Bolte and the Tasman Hauler were purchased by the then Eden dive operator, Gary Becus, for $1 each.
A lot of stuff was stripped off the ship either by Gary, or before he purchased it. Some of these parts are now in the Eden Killer Whale Museum (well worth a visit of a few hours - one of the best rural museums in New South Wales).
The museum has the ship's bridge and engine room telegraph, the wheel and compass binnacle and more. See the following photographs of some of the items.
In that year he sank the tugs (the Hauler on 1 October and the Bolte eight weeks earlier - about 1 August 1988) just south of Red Point off Ben Boyd National Park to start artificial reefs and to provide alternate wreck dives for his divers. Located only a few hundred metres apart, it is only a 10 minute run south from Eden across Twofold Bay to either tug. It is now located at 37° 06' 47"S 149° 57' 43"E (note that all my GPS Readings are using AUS66 - if you use any other datum, you will need to convert the reading - see my GPS Page for more details), use the marks at left to help you find it. The wreck is normally moored in two spots, bow and stern.
On 28 January 1989 I dived the Tasman Hauler and although it had only been down about six months, the growth and fishlife were quite incredible. Despite returning a number of times to Eden in the years after, I did not dive this wreck again or the Henry Bolte until 1993 due to inclement weather.
Click to enlarge
Click to enlarge
Click to enlarge
When I dived the wreck of the Henry Bolte in 1993, the wreck was basically intact with a 45 degree list to port on a mostly sandy bottom. The Bolte then had a little bit of damage, most of which seemed to occur as it sank. The vessel came down onto a small patch of rocky reef which ripped a big hole in the starboard hull near the bow opening one of the fuel tanks up. The impact of hitting the reef also caused buckling of the hull and the walls and roof inside the crew's compartment area. In 1992 the superstructure above and behind the bridge collapsed onto the sea-floor. The only other major damage in 1993 appeared to be to the propeller shroud which was been ripped up by the reef.
|The engine room telegraph of the Henry Bolte||The wheel and compass binnacle of the Henry Bolte|
However, today the wreck of the Henry Bolte has changed dramatically since 1993. In 1997 (as I was told by then local dive operator Peter Hall), the tug was damaged, probably by a combination of age and extra large seas. Now, the wreck is broken up into four major pieces and some smaller bits.
|A drawing of the Henry Bolte as it appeared before it was damaged in 1997|
© Michael McFadyen
Click to enlarge
As indicated above, there is a mooring attached to the bow area and as you arrive on the wreck the ship appears fairly intact. The bow sits in a similar fashion to the way it has for the past 10 years, with a heavy list to port. You can enter a small hold at the front of the ship on the main deck. This is quite compact and there is not really much to see. Swim to the bridge and you can enter the main level through the doors. Inside you see the first real evidence of the deterioration of the wreck. The right side as you look away from the bow is badly damaged, collapsing down. There is a hatch from here to the upper deck but leave that for the moment. You can squeeze into the area between the lowered upper deck and the floor but there is not much to see. The lower deck does not seem to be accessible (it used to be).
Instead, take the door exiting to your left and you will see some of the living compartments. You can exit outside from here. This is where you will really see the damage to the wreck. The area behind the bridge has broken into two pieces and each has fallen outwards. The wreck here has basically ripped right from the bottom of the hull, up to the main deck, across the deck and right to the other side of the ship. Devastating!!
The section on the port side of the wreck is not very interesting but the starboard side is well worth a look. Swim over to it (on your left) and you will find a compartment that can be entered and explored. As you go in, you will see a lot of engine bits and pieces, but nothing really outstanding. On both my recent dives here there were 10 or more extremely large bastard trumpeters in this area. Go though the doorway and there are a couple of toilets to sit on, a corridor and some other small rooms. You will exit out the rear and as you do you will come out onto the sand.
From here the largest section of the wreck can be seen as it sits very high off the bottom. This is the stern section of the ship. As you approach you will see that the hull has ripped from the keel right up the huge side of the ship to the railing and across the deck. Here it appears to have chosen the rear of the engine room hatch as the weakest point and then started on the other back corner of the hatch before going across the deck and back down the hull to the keel. This section has rolled over further to port and has a list of 80°. You can swim inside the hull from the opened up bit but there is little to see other than a huge school of nannygais that lives in the protection of the hull. Below you will see the gearbox, split opened and showing the driveshaft, gears and other bits. Forward there are two large oil or fuel tanks and a bit further on the port side the muffler (a bit crushed from water pressure as it sank).
|The middle section of the Henry Bolte looking away from the stern||The stern of the Henry Bolte|
Note the prop and broken shroud
For now, head to the stern along the sand on the port side. You will see a hatch just off the sand and behind it, the huge winch and bollards for the ropes used to tow ships into port. The lower hatch goes into the steering compartment where you can see the hydraulic arms that moved the flexible prop for steerage. You can exit the hatch on the starboard (higher) side of the wreck and then drop over the hull towards the bow. The prop is immediately visible, the shroud which was partly damaged by the rocks when it sank now totally in pieces. Despite the damage, you can still swim around the prop, take a picture or video of the huge propeller, shroud and shaft. Return to the bow along the keel of the wreck.
As you come back past the site of the first break, you might like to look for the engine. Well, despite a detailed search for it, I could not find the actual eight cylinder engine, even though it is extremely large. It must be covered under parts of the wreckage. Previously you could enter the engine room and swim right around it. A pity, it was very interesting.
On your left as you swim forward there is more wreckage. This is primarily the remains of the superstructure of the tug, basically the upper bits where the firefighting apparatus was located. This fell over, you might recall, in 1992.
For the final minutes of the dive, explore the upper two levels of the bridge and then ascend. This wreck does not have the colour of the Tasman Hauler nor its intactness. However, it has some very nice fishlife and the jumble of the wreck is very interesting to explore and put back together in your mind. An excellent dive.
The depth on the wreck ranges from about 20 metres (on the top of the bridge) down, 22 metres on the top of the rear section down to 25 metres on the sand/reef. This dive is suitable for all divers with a bit of experience but the inexperienced divers under close supervision should have no problem.
Visibility on the Henry Bolte is not normally as good as the Tasman Hauler and averages, in my experience, about 10 to 15 metres.
Divers using dive computers will find themselves at a distinct advantage when diving this wreck.
The only way to dive this location (unless you have your own boat) is by Merimbula Divers Lodge who can provide accommodation as well as boat services. I can really recommend their attention to all your needs.
References:Lloyds Register 1967-68, 1985-86, 1988-89
The Ships that Serve Australia and NZ (Vol 1 Ed 1 - 1975) by R.D. Fildes page 142
The Ships that Serve Australia and NZ (Vol 1 Ed 2 - 1983) by R.D. Fildes page 148