The tugboats that used to work the Newcastle and Sydney ports in the early part of the century played an important role in the establishment of Newcastle as a major port in NSW.
Most of these tugs were scuttled rather than dismantled at the end of their useful lifespan providing a material link to the early days of the Port of Newcastle. In the 1930’s the historic tugboats Commodore, Irresistible, Osprey, and Stormcock were scuttled in Newcastle bite while Heroic was abandoned in Homebush bay, Sydney.
The Fenwick and Co. tugboat Advance made a much more dramatic exit on Christmas day of 1908. While pursuing work off Catherine Hill Bay, the Advance collided with the Barque Ivernia, and sank almost immediately taking the lives of all but one of her crew
Diving the Advance:
Today the wreck of the Advance lies on a sandy bottom in 48 metres of water several kilometres east of the Catherine Hill Bay Coal Loader. The GPS co-ordinates are 151 ***.***N 32 ***.***W WGS 84.
The Wreck is in one piece sitting on an even keel with the bow facing in a North Easterly direction. Prior to late 2008 the bow section remained largely intact with what appeared to be a bow wave formed in the sand surrounding the bow. Divers could enter the foredeck area and examine the winches and towing hawsers as they were in 1908 when the Tug sank.
Unfortunately sometime in 2008 the bow section has been totally destroyed, most likely by a ships anchor. The stem post is now bent over to starboard at a 45 degree angle while the hull plates and bow cap now lie on the sand to starboard of the wreck, the winches now lie scattered in the wreckage of the bow. This damage is extremely disappointing considering twelve months prior to the destruction local divers and fishermen had alerted the Hunter Ports Authority to the problem of coal ships anchoring in close proximity to the Advance Wreck. The Ports Authority marked the location of the wreck on their charts and promised that ships would not anchor there.
Moving back from the bow area there is a small empty area where the bridge used to be located, there is not much to see here. After swimming past this area the massive boiler looms out of the blue. The boiler is absolutely huge considering the size of the vessel. It stands about 3 metres high and takes up nearly the entire beam of the boat. The three stage steam engine is equally impressive size wise as it stands protruding from the large schools of bullseyes that cover the wreck. There is a wobbegong shark that appears to live on the top of the engine. Every time I have dived the wreck he has been there.
Aft of the Boiler and Engine the wreck has decayed badly. All that remains is the floor section until you reach the stern post which is still standing after 100 years on the bottom of the ocean. The stern post is completely covered in fishing nets, these nets form a home for a number of moray eels and other small fish. If you have a bit of a dig amongst the nets you can see the propeller which is angled at 45 degrees from its original position, presumably the tug struck the bottom stern first causing this damage.
The wreck attracts a large amount of sea life including Wobbegong Sharks, King Fish, Trevally, Snapper, Moray Eels, Large Australian Cuttlefish and schools of Nannygai and Mado. Encounters with aggressive packs of Bronze Whaler Sharks have also been reported by credible local divers although I have never encountered any dangerous sharks on this wreck myself.
Due to the depth and abundance of hostile wild life, it is recommended divers have acquired adequate experience, skills and training before attempting this dive.