Dive into history in St Helena

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Our visit to St Helena was instigated by a story that revolves around one particular wreck – the DarkDale, but over a few days of diving we soon discovered that the coastline offers those who love a little history behind their dives a host of other opportunities. We dived four of the seven listed wreck dives on offer. Some were sunk deliberately to create artificial reefs and others met their watery end in more unfortunate circumstances. Our first wreck dive off the rugged coast of this remote island was on the Papanui.

St Helena Butterflyfish around the stern post of the Papanui

The Papanui lies in just a few meters of water just in front of the harbour and some of its structure (the stern post) even sticks out above the water, so this is an easy going dive and could even be snorkelled. The wreck sank in 1911 after a fire broke out on board. The captain drove it as close to the island as possible and then evacuated the crew safely, but the ship was lost. It is a big wreck site and the artifacts still on board this 131m long steamer built in 1898 is incredible. It is also now home to a host of marine life and we could have spent hours exploring the site over several dives.

The Darkdale wreck has a special place in history as the first British ship to be sunk in WWII south of the equator. It was struck by by a German U-Boat on the 22nd October 1941 and her casualties are remembered on the cenotaph in the harbour. She lies in deeper water just in front of the harbour with the shallowest point at around 33m. Once again, a feature of St Helena diving, she was covered in the endemic Cunningfish, a beautiful white butterfly fish that creates swirling clouds around all of the wrecks.

We also dived two artificial reefs,  the Bedgellet which was damaged in a storm and sunk in 2001, and the Frontier which was a drug smuggling vessel sunk in 1994.

Both these artificial reefs are now home to marine life living around the structures and within the nooks and crannies within. Mobula Rays pass by this area and so you can combine diving the wreck with looking out into the blue for pelagic encounters, or head inshore to explore the caverns that line the coast.

We did not get to dive the White Lion wreck, a cargo ship sunk in a conflict with the Portuguese in 1613. Whilst there is not much left to see, the ship was rumoured to be carrying diamonds and whilst no-one has admitted to finding any – it must be worth a visit!

If you want a diving destination that is a little different, then St Helena is well worth a visit. We loved it. Find out more about our trip in the latest edition of Dive Travel Adventures in shop now, or online by clicking here.


For more information visit:

St Helena Tourism: www.sthelenatourism.com

Dive Saint Helena: www.divesainthelena.com


All images and text by Frogfish Photography

Equipment Used

  • Olympus OMD EM-1 MKII
  • Nikon D800
  • Nauticam housings
  • INON strobes
Nick and Caroline Robertson-Brown

Nick and Caroline Robertson-Brown

Nick and Caroline Robertson-Brown are a husband and wife team of underwater photographers. Both have degrees in environmental biology from Manchester University, with Caroline also having a masters in animal behaviour. Nick is a fellow of the Royal Photographic Society in underwater wildlife photography and he also has a masters in teaching. They are passionate about marine conservation and hope that their images can inspire people to look after the world's seas and oceans. Their Manchester-based company, Frogfish Photography, offers a wide range of services and advice. They offer tuition with their own tailor made course - the Complete Underwater Photography Award. The modules of the course have been written to complement the corresponding chapters in Nick's own book: Underwater Photography Art and Techniques. They also offer equipment sales and underwater photography trips in the UK and abroad. For more information visit www.frogfishphotography.com.

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