The Saint Didier
I walked for an hour through the busy city of Antalya to reach the dive centre. I was excited about the day ahead, as I was going to dive on the wreck of the Saint Didier.
North of Antalya Harbour is all cliffs, and when I reached the spot where the dive centre was meant to be I couldn’t for the life of me figure out how to get down the cliff to the small ‘beach’ below. Peering over the edge I could see a flat area with beach umbrellas and a few small buildings, which I assume had been built on a raised platform above the rocks. There certainly was no clear way down, so I contacted the dive operator, who told me to ask the secuirity staff.
Finding a security guard seated at a table in the shade nearby, I asked how to get to the dive centre. He took me to a small white building, which could easily have been an ablutions block. Inside was a lift, and before long I was descending like Maxwell Smart, or James Bond if you prefer, down through the rock of the cliff. The lift opened, and turning right, I walked down a tunnel towards the glaring sun about 50 metres away. Out I popped into a litttle resort-style seaside area, with decking, sunbeds and a bar. Apparently it is linked to one of the nearby hotels, where guests can come and, with some mechanical asistance, reach the water.
I made my way over to the dive shop and introduced myself. There was another bloke there who was going to dive too, an English bloke named Tim. So it was team Tim ‘n’ Jim; just the two of us and the dive guide. After being fitted out with our kit we were ready to go. Access to the water was from a small platform, which lead to a ‘keyhole’ pool between large rock stacks, The dive operator threw our kit into the water, and we put on our fins and climbed down the ladder. Grabbing our gear, we swum with it out through the narrow gap in the rocks, and a short distance offshore to a waiting speed boat. Two crew in the boat grabbed our gear, took our fins, and we climbed aboard.
Tim and I chatted as we zipped along the cliffline towards Antalya Harbour. It had been a long time since I had conversed with a native English speaker, and Tim had done a lot of diving so I enjoyed the chat. It took around ten minutes in the small powerboat to reach a red marker buoy, situated one kilometre south of the entrance to Antalya Harbour. We moored to the buoy, 18 metres above the bow of the Saint Didier.
Our dive guide gave us a briefing, and explained that the visibility would determine how much of the wreck we could explore. If it was clear enough, we would be able to go inside the Saint Didier. Putting on our dive gear and then trying to climb out of the boat would have been challenging, as it was designed for pleasure boating and perhaps waterskiing rather than diving. After the briefing Tim and I checked over our gear, then dropped it over the side into the water. We went in after it, and for the first time since my dive training, I got into my gear in the water. Our guide talked me through it and before too long we were all set, waiting for the signal to descend.
As instructed in the briefing, we descended down beside the mooring chain that held the marker buoy in place. The visibility wasn’t great, and we had descended a fair way before the bow of the ship appeared in the gloom. A pile of heavy chain sat of the foredeck, and wisps of fishing nets clinging to the superstructure gave the ship a ghostly feel. We paused as we reached the Saint Dider, lying where it sank 80 years ago.
Our guide brought us to the port side, where he lifted a long slender object, encrusted with sea life, from the deck. He tucked one end under his arm and supported the other end with an upright palm. It was a rifle from Saint Didier’s cargo. He handed it to us; an incongrous object to hold 20 metres under the sea. On the deck next to the rifle was a large calibre cannon round and an artillary fuse. After Tim and I had checked these out, we swam down the deck of the ship, which angled downwards into deeper water.
Our guide took us into part of the superstructure, and to the door of the captain’s small cabin. Within the cramped space we could still clearly see the skipper’s wrought iron bed frame. Such objects always jolt me back from the tangible iron and steel of a wreck to the skin and bone of the crew that lived, worked, and perhaps died on the ship.
Swimming further aft down the 110 metre long Saint Didier,we popped up onto the rear deck, where four large lionfish were sitting. We could see one of the ship’s armaments mounted on the stern, which I presume was one of the anti-aircraft batteries. The Saint Didier’s anti-aircraft gunners had engaged the Albacore aircraft as they swung down over the bay to release their torpedoes all those years ago. Also featuring clearly on the rear deck were the bollards used to moor the ship.
Our guide decided that the visibility was good enough to explore a little more inside the Saint Didier. He lead us to a cargo hold where firearms were stacked, clearly visible but covered in a grey green silt. Entering another hold we saw one of the vehicles destined never to reach the desert battlefields. The steering wheel and windscreen were covered in the same delicate silt, which bloomed in clouds when our fins kicked too close to the surface.
Moving back towards the bow, we had a look at other small piles of artefacts, mainly munitions, that divers had collected and placed on the deck. I also saw a white enamel plate; another personal item that reminded me that we were visiting a site of significant loss of life.
Arriving back at the bow, our guide signalled ‘ok’, we responded with the same, and he gave us the thumbs up to ascend. After a safety stop, we arrived on the surface, and Tim and I bobbed around talking about what we had seen. Looking up to the cliffs I thought about the townspeople that had watched the Saint Didier fighting for survival as the Albacores lined up their torpedo runs.
Climbing back on board for the trip back to the dive centre, Tim and I talked about future dive plans and places we were hoping to visit. We also agreed that it was great to feel confident with someone as your dive buddy even though you had only just met.
Diving the Saint Didier was an amazing opportunity to visit a relatively intact World War Two wreck, located just a kilometre away from a major tourist town. Sadly, divers have taken souvenirs from the ship in the past. I hope that the increased awareness of the significance of such historic sites, and the responsible conduct of dive operators, will leave the remainder of the Saint Didier and her cargo intact.
Note: due to the depth of the Saint Didier wreck I was unable to take photos during the dive. I am waiting for approval to use photos taken by other divers in this post.
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2 thoughts on “The Saint Didier”
A really amazing experience Jim (and Tim)! Yesterday I saw a small exhibition of WW1 memorabilia and among the pictures of tanks and other machinery, it was the small personal items – letters home, a sewing kit- objects that reveal the humanity of those involved and which let us, so many decades later, connect with them.
Yes so true – the reminders of our common humanity, friend or foe