The Coolooli

My photos

One of the largest vessels scuttled on the Long Reef Wreck Site is the bucket dredge Coolooli. Built in 1955 at the NSW Government State Dockyard at Newcastle (NSW), the Coolooli was unpowered. She displaced 150 tonnes and was 50 metres long and 10 or 11 metres wide. The dredge was owned by the NSW Maritime Services Board and used to keep NSW ports navigable. Sometime before 1975, it was laid up. On 19 August 1980 (one record says 29 August), the Coolooli was sunk as part of the reef and now lies on its starboard side on sand in 48 metres of water.

After heading out of Sydney Harbour (or Broken Bay) travel until you are off Narrabeen Beach to GPS Reading 33 43' 11"S 151 20' 53"E. After descending to the wreck, check the anchor as sometimes it can fall into a very hard position from which to later remove it (I have seen an anchor go through two hatches right to the bottom of the wreck). On your first dive here it will generally be possible to only examine the wreck from the outside as a leisurely swim around the wreck will take at least 15 minutes with only short stops at parts of the wreck.

You should follow the wreck to the north (on the western side of course) where you will see the superstructure. You can easily penetrate this part of the wreck safely as it is very open. You can even enter the funnel and come out through a hole in its side. After you reach the stern, head back to the south and follow the buckets right to the bow. You can swim through the opening where the buckets returned from the seafloor. From here you can go around back to where you started. As indicated, the maximum depth is about 48 metres, but a dive probably averages 44 to 46 metres. Before completing the dive, remove the anchor from the wreck and drop it on the sand. However, be aware of the barge about 20 metres to the south and there is also another series of barges about 200 metres (perhaps less) to the south.

On subsequent dives here, you can examine in more detail small sections of the wreck including the bucket arm, the bridge and the upper deck areas.

I have only encountered current on the Coolooli once but this was only on the surface (you should check for one after anchoring). The visibility is usually good and all my dives here have averaged 12 to 15 metres. Of course, its depth means that this is not a dive for the inexperienced or even an experienced diver without deep diver training. On 20 March 1994, a tragic incident occurred on the Coolooli when noted Sydney diver, Paul Cavanagh, died while undertaking a dive. There are two plaques to Paul's memory deep inside the funnel.

The fish life on this wreck is very disappointing, with so few fish compared to the SS Tuggerah and SS Undola, although in May 2003 we had heaps of fish. You get a few red morwong, sergeant baker and trevally but that is about it. I have seen some huge jewfish on the wreck. One thing worth examining are the jewel anemones that totally cover some ropes or wires below the middle of the vessel and also in the bucket dedge slit. The pinks and blues really liven up the wreck.

Despite the lack of fish, the Coolooli is a great dive site, worth visiting many times.

From Michael McFadyen - Devilfish Diving Services