by Jacob Jarvis
Encrusted in coral, home to hundreds of fish, the almost unrecognisable shipwreck of a Japanese boat from World War II rests just off the coast of Banyuning, near to Amed, in Bali.
Unlike the Jemuluk corals just a few kilometres away, this sunken artefact seems a fairly unknown destination for tourists. It’s disheartening that a tragic piece of the past has seemingly been forgotten by the majority of the world, except for its scaled inhabitants. However, this allows for a unique and tranquil, if slightly eerie, diving spot for those who do make the trip.
While the sun was high, I made my first trip out to the boat, first circling it from above. On the way I was greeted by a handful of fishy friends, but was surprised at the lack of sea life. Circling the wreck, I could spot some small creatures lurking around the hull, and decided to make my first dive down.
The nose of the ship is so close to the surface you could stand on it if you wished, then to get to the main body it’s only around a six metre drop. First I went along the outside, observing the rust and the greenery which had managed to embrace the entirety of the body. It was fascinating to see how the water had taken it over, reclaiming the boat, almost mocking it for trying to best it by ever floating, as if it wanted to prove just how much of a cruel entity the sea can be. If the visibility was any less, luckily the wind was low, then it would have been practically unrecognisable. It could blend in as a rather large, but barely unique, rock.
After this first exploration and a couple of dives, I found myself getting braver, trusting my lungs more, panicking less as I dropped and then swam up. So I decided to pursue the tiny fish I spotted in the hull. Diving down a round six metres, upside down my back was too the concaved body of the boat. Then I swivelled around and put my body upright, to be greeted by a whole school of the little creatures, making themselves completely at home. With the lack of activity around the boat it was mesmerising to see so much in this one spot, living harmoniously in something where it looked like nothing could possibly wish, or be able, to.
I returned to shore shortly after, as visibility dropped with the falling sun, and thought my day was done. Though soon after sitting on the beach I noticed that it was at this time all the fishermen decided to venture out, indicating to me that the evening must be when all the animals really come out. Swimming gently, I allowed the current to take me and was able to find so many more fish than before. Every colour I could imagine was represented in the scales and camouflage of the unique creatures, some of which ventured slowly and alone, while others glided passed in gangs, swiftly surrounding me before almost instantly disappearing.
I took the opportunity to go the wreck again, and though I could see no features of it clearly, the fish now were really making it come to life. It’s as if they’d been tipped off about the tourists and decided to make themselves scarce for the day, before sneaking back at night. Diving softly, I was able to unconvincingly blend in, not enough for them to not realise, but well enough for them not to mind. Under the water it felt completely peaceful, a strange contrast when you imagine what it was like when the ship actually sank.
Swimming back as the sun dropped, I was accompanied by new found companions the whole way, until it got shallow enough for me to walk and I had to give a silent farewell. I was sad to leave the boat, and would’ve stayed all night in the peaceful underwater enclosure if I could. But, like at any party, it’s easy to know when you’ve outstayed your welcome – and the thought of the fish being able to relax alone in their habitat was a strangely warming thought. I hope I didn’t ruin their underwater shenanigans too much.