Portuguese men of war sink battleship
I must admit I never expected to see a warship get blown up. Balls of fire bursting from deck to sky, the boom of explosives rattling my ribcage... These are the things that grandfathers tell us about, that ex-forces-turned-authors write about, that Hollywood director Michael Bay might spend a cargo hold full of cash on for a two-second clip of Will Smith jumping heroically overboard with his shirt undone. But there I was, bobbing in a boat just a couple of hundred metres away from the General Pereira d’eça, a 1,438-tonne Portuguese Navy warship, as a series of explosions ripped through her and sent her to the sandy seabed a short distance from the ferry port on the Atlantic island of Porto Santo. At 85 metres in length, and now sitting at a maximum depth of 30m - and, perhaps most appealingly, in an area with decent visibility year-round - she’s a great dive. What’s more, the team behind the sinking, which included the Portuguese Navy and the organisers of the Ocean Revival project, has cut holes in the wreck to make penetration safe for divers of almost all certification levels. It truly is a wreck for all.
And here’s the really good news. A short distance from where the General Pereira d’eça has gone down is Porto Santo’s first artificial reef, the Madeirense. Having been on the seabed for many years, she gives us a flavour of what we can expect to happen to the General Pereira d’eça. I had the privilege to dive the Madeirense a couple of years ago, and again on this most recent trip, and I’m happy to say it is absolutely smothered in life.
So the message is simple: get to Porto Santo. With a population of less than 5,000, good weather for most of the year and decent clear-water diving, it’s a fantastic low-key option for a short-hop trip (flights from the UK take less than four hours). Ultimately, a lot of hard work, money and skill goes into creating these artificial reefs. They are fantastic for marine life and they are great fun for divers. A lesser-known European dive destination is pushing to put itself on the map by creating such a haven, and I for one think that is something worth supporting.
To see a selection of images of the sinking, both topside and underwater, visit www. sportdiver.co.uk/portosanto.