The feeling, which seizes you when in semi-darkness of a hundred meters' depth you are touching with your glove the surface of a bell and reading a name of the ship, which was seen before you only by those who were on its board in its first life, I can compare only with the feeling of being in love.
It comes so pleasant and exiting that I can be understood only by those who have ever fallen in love or found ships' bells on unknown until that moment mysterious wrecks.
The Crimea. August. A mild warm evening.
"We are going on a new object tomorrow."
"What sort of an object is that?"
"The bottom's depth is 106 meters, the towering around 8 meters."
Something like this conversation at supper was the beginning of a new story because, as the reader would see, a found wreck didn't belong to ones which were mentioned in "reference books", and we didn't expect to see it on this dive.
Next morning after we prepared everything necessary for a hundred meters' dive, got to the yacht club and loaded everything on board we put out to sea. After reaching the plot, deploying a buoy and a deco station we found out that our team had slightly diminished : one of the divers had left his dry suit on the shore in a morning hurry. To return is a bad habit, so only three of us entered the water : two with rebreathers and I on an open circle, but with a scooter - an exotic company for such sort of dives, but in that season on the Black Sea I began to get used to it and the idea that I would probably also have to change to this yellow (or black, or metallic) box. Still eager to believe in miracles, I set myself to find a ship's bell, turned on the scooter and rushed down into the dark water along a drop line. My buddies without scooters contrived to descend ahead of me because 4 stages didn't add to my lightness, and the dry gloves which were difficult to inflate made me to fulfil frequent stops.
There was a long-awaited wreck! I immediately hurried to the fore part and made a pair of circles - nothing... Slightly disappointed I felt that nevertheless we were first visitors on that object.
Going round the ship back toward the stern along a gallery, which stretched over the ship's hold, I at last nearly bumped into the bell !
Waving a light hysterically to attract my buddies' attention ( one of which was already hanging on the drop line and ready to start an ascent, and the other was swimming in the opposite direction from me) hesitantly I passed my second hand over its overgrown brass side, and distinct letters began to appear under the glove ( one hundred meters, the overgrowing is minimal, to clear the bell is like to dust a sideboard). " Makkavei " and just below in the middle " 1900 ". I tried to remember everything what I'd read about the wrecks of the Black Sea in books - there wasn't such a vessel. Meantime 2 my buddies joined me, and we read together, each of us seemed to try to retain in his memory this moment in every detail. It was time to ascend. We had two hours of decompression. At approximately 20 meters when the stops became longer I took out a writing pad and wrote down the ship' name, as I didn't always rely on my memory, and accuracy in such cases was important. We reached the surface slightly tired, but immensely happy.
On our way back to the port all talks were only about the wreck. " Should we inform the public? " " Would it be looted or not? "
Besides the bell there were a large and a small steering wheels on the captain's bridge, a steering wheel on the chart house, a compass and many other things that were intact.
At dinner in cafe we continued our search, this time in the internet. There was a great deal of information about Makkavei, but it bore no relation to what we had found. In a couple of days on the site " Military literature. Military history. The chronicle of military operations of the Russian navy " we came across a mention of the ship under this name : " The 29th of March. The steamer Makkavei hit a mine and was lost while approaching Sevastopol with a load of fuel oil for the port's needs. The crew of the steamer was saved." The ship's name was written in a little different manner, but our shots, taken on one of the next dives, proved that our variant was more correct, or a man who had put the inscription on the bell had made a grammatical mistake.
The year of the ship's launching (1900) let us suggest that this steamer had been named after the legendary Judas Makkavei, who had performed a number of feats for the good of the Jewish people in 1900 B.C.
According to another source [ K.B.Strelbitsky " The Losses of The Russian Navy in The First World War" ] " the transport Makkavei ( The Imperial Russian Navy, 1900/1727 ) was lost in Sevastopol's area after hitting a Russian mine on the 9 April,15". Later we had also managed to find some information in Lloyd's Register :
Launch Date: 12.9.1900
Date of completion: 10.1900
Yard No: 706
Length overall: LPP: 79.4 Beam: 11.0
Country of build: GBR
Builder: Armstrong Whitworth
Location of yard: Low Walker
Number of screws/Mchy/
Owner as Completed: M.& J.Rosenstein Bros, Odessa
Naval or paramilitary marking : A: *
End: mined Sevastopol 9.4.1915
So, just one more page of history was uncovered, quite possibly not without our help.
Many thanks to all who took part in this dive : Andrei Bykov, Roman Dunaev, Aleksei Vazhinsky and the captain of the red boat Sergei " Tortoise ".
Oksana Istratova, 2008
Wreck "Makkovei" (Tekforce Crimea Ukraine)