410 BCE. The Athenian merchant ship, 30 m. in length, sailed off the port of Ikos island (modern Alonnisos). The hold was full of wine, from Chalkidiki peninsula and Sporades islands, along with drinking vessels and other paraphernalia. The wine of these regions was in demand everywhere in the Mediterranean and the Black Sea. However, the economic crisis, brought about by the Peloponnesian war between Athens and Sparta, forced the owner to load more cargo than usual. It was a stormy night. Disaster was inevitable.
Modern day. Training started a few days before. Together with G. from Athens we needed to upgrade our diving licence from maximum depth of 18 meters to 30 meters, since the shipwreck was lying in -28 meters. Training was organised by South African lady M., the manager of the local diving centre, and contained a ‘search and recovery’ dive. The instructor K. from Thessaloniki, who now lives locally, chose a special task for us: To retrieve the pots of a British artist, placed in the water a year earlier to test the effect of the sea on them.
A few Roman amphorae lying on the see floor, surrounded by seashells opening and closing, gave to K. the location of the hiding place. Inside the crevices of the reef we spotted a basket containing the artist’s vessels. K. tied a balloon to the wire basket and blew inside a small quantity of air from his mouthpiece. Just enough to control it the way back to the surface and the boat, a task that fell upon me and G.
G. is an old diver, but having a break in recent years and keeping in touch only through his job. He is a ship inspector, supervising the divers fixing and carrying things underwater. This time it was his turn. The basket with the pots changed hands, as we had to monitor our depth and oxygen levels and also for rocks appearing on the bottom while keeping our buoyancy. The pots where in a fragile balance of breaking and bitterly disappointing the artist. K. was also aware of the water police, who he had confronted last time and had to reassure them that the vessels where only 1 year old. All went good this time.
Day of the dive. A. an underwater archaeologist briefed us at the diving centre. Consequently, the speed boat headed to the islet of Peristera, where the remains of the ancient ship were found. The remains today are the amphorae that carried the wine and the ballast of the ship. We spit in two groups and entered the water under the gaze of the ship dog. My group included K., G. and G. an Italian with a family history on the island – Italians have a multi-decade love affair with the island and diving. First, was the vertical dive to minus 18 meters following the buoy rope. Following, two turns around the wreck stopping at information points.
The amphorae were of two types, depending on their origin, and in three different layers. Some of them clustered together in small islands, with signs of the excavation trenches and random rocks from the ship’s ballast in the middle. These leftovers from the past had new residents. Curious groupers were stopping between the islands. A moray eel was manoeuvring inside the cracks, while an inky black head popped out of an amphora claiming without doubt that ‘this is my home’ – it was another eel. The second time around we stopped to see the profile of the wreck: protruding vessels created a ‘lost Atlantis’ picture. We subsequently went up a level to stare from above. A school of larger fish, amberjacks – or ‘manalia’ as the locals call them – started circling around us. ‘They are curious with people’ said K. after the dive. The second group of divers reported the sighting of a large ray. Diving was over and it was a blast.
The underwater archaeological site of Peristera is open to the public starting summer 2020. A diving licence that covers 28 meters depth is necessary and the archaeologists are strict about this. You book a diving slot that lasts for about 2 hours, including the briefing and getting to the diving spot. For more info contact local diving centre: http://www.ikiondiving.gr/.
Finally, in this website: https://nous.com.gr there is live picture from the site from an underwater camera. Sometimes you can see the divers.
Images with Ikion logo courtesy of Ikion diving.