Diving the Ursus was a complete adventure and a fun dive! The Ursus also has an interesting backstory.
The Ursus was an Italian tug boat that had been outfitted with a small 76mm gun on the stern and was towing an armed pontoon GM 239 on January 30, 1941. This was after Italy had entered the war in June 1940 and the Adriatic had stated to become a war zone. On January 31, the tug and the armed pontoon were passing along the north-eastern coast of Vis and moving into open waters when a British submarine-minelayer the Rorqual surface close by. It had six torpedo tubes and a 102mm gun.
The Rorqual stated firing at the Italian ships and hit the Ursus in the engine room and boat caught fire and resulted in several explosions. The Ursus began to sink and the crew managed to lower one of the dinghies for the wounded. The armed pontoon cut the rope tying the two vessels together and started attacking the British sub. A Yugoslav Navy seaplane got involved and the sub submerged.
Meanwhile, the armed pontoon stated saving people from the Ursus but couldn’t save everybody. The weather got bad and the pontoon was getting dangerously close to the island of Hvar. Some crew evacuated the pontoon but some stayed and ended up anchoring the pontoon the next morning near Hvar. Quite a few sailors from both the Ursus and the pontoon died.
The wreck of the Ursus was unknown until relatively recently because it is a bit deep and away from the coast of Vis. It sank along an underwater mound and is pointed down a slope with the bow towards the depths and the stern up near the mound.
As I mentioned, this was a bit of a “sporty” dive. The wreck sometimes has a line and a buoy tied to it but didn’t at the time we planned to dive it. There is also quite a bit of current in the area of the wreck. There were also some issues with the sonar on the boat so we would have to use a bit of triangulation to find the wreck.
The plan was triangulate the location of the wreck and then drop a thin down-line in the vicinity.
Veljano would then jump in the water with a scooter and pickup the weight and move it close to the wreck (assuming he found it).
After Veljano went down, we saw the buoy moving along the surface as he searched for the wreck. After a while, he surfaced and said that he had placed the downline and weight near the stern on the starboard side. He was then going to put the thicker downline and float on the think line with some more weight in order for us to have an easier deco.
We dropped Alesh in the water and then I got in. The problem was that a surface current was pretty strong and I was fighting to get to the downline. Over-breathing a rebreather and building up CO2 can be an issue so I dropped down to try to get below the surface current and took a heading for the buoy.
I never made it to the downline but I knew the direction to it and, as I dropped further down, I continued to slowly kick in the direction of the downline figuring that I would see the wreck on my right side. Sure enough, just as I hit about 180 feet deep, I saw some shadows and headed in the direction of those and had ended up at the very deepest part of the wreck at the bow.
I had no idea where Alesh was but I figured he made it to the downline near the bow.
After I took some photos at the stern and headed off to find the engine room, I ran into Alesh. Knowing that he had come down the downline, I figure he knew where it was and that he would leave the wreck before me since he was diving open circuit. Therefore, I gave him a strobe and showed him how to use it and indicated he should put it on the downline to make it easier for me to find it.
I continued to take photos and found the engine room area. I must have hit something because I felt a bit of water in my drysuit. It wasn’t a big leak, but I had a feeling I had nicked it. Sure enough, after surfacing, we found the damage:
I made my way to the stern and noticed that a strong current was coming off of the “mound” or “cliff” that the Ursus was leaning against. It was ripping across the stern from port to starboard. I wanted to get some pictures of the stern but was having difficulties fighting the current. I finally decided to end the dive and look for the strobe….which was nowhere to be found.
I ended up inflating my SMB and doing an hour of deco on my line. After a while I heard the boat so I knew that they were tracking me which is always a good feeling.
When I got back on the boat, I asked Alesh why the strobe wasn’t on the line. He just kind of smiled and explained that he couldn’t find the line on the return and had to send up a SMB as well. Apparently, the current was strong enough to pull the buoy and the 32 pounds of weight and since it was on a slope, it moved off the sand and hung in mid-water. At that point, the current just took the downline away from the wreck.
It all ended well but I would like to go back to the wreck and do another dive on it.
As I mentioned, conditions were pretty sporty and so I didn’t get a ton of great pictures but did get a few good ones that I’ve put below.
Here is a diagram of the wreck from the book Treasures of the Adriatic Sea
My photos will generally follow my path from deepest part of the bow to the stern.
Pictures from inside the wreck below. You can tell there was some massive damage in this area of the wreck.
Treasures of the Adriatic Sea book