It was during a routine dive in the Aegean just off the southwestern coast of Turkey in 1982 that Mehmet Çakir, a local sponge diver, accidentally happened upon one of the oldest and most intact shipwrecks ever found.
When he returned to land, the local sketched what he found beneath the surface for archaeologists and scientists who would later discern that this was 14th Century BC trade ship sailing to one of the Mycenaean palaces. It took those archaeologists 11 excavations over a decade to bring the ship’s remains to shore.
It is now on display in the Bodrum Museum of Underwater Archaeology, one of the greatest institutions dedicated to the study of underwater excavation in the entire world.
The Aegean Sea surrounding the Bodrum peninsula is a veritable graveyard of ancient ships where the sandy floor is littered with amphora, the containers for the wine that sustained the sailors on these lucrative trade routes.
When I learned I was heading to this part of the world, I was inspired by this diary from Dr. Bridget Buxton from the University of Rhode Island about the wrecks she encountered off the coast of the village of Yalikavak here in 2010.
I have an open water dive certification. I have seen all four Indiana Jones movies so many times. These facts led me to believe that I too could easily find an ancient Greek ship wreck off the coast of Turkey.
Initial inquiries with local dive masters quickly squashed these fantasies. The wrecks off the coast of Bodrum are difficult for the beginner diver to reach. They require incredibly expensive technology and equipment to even approach and most importantly, the archaeologists really don’t want amateurs messing with their ruins.
At first I was disappointed when I learned that making my first wreck dive in Turkey wouldn’t entail discovering a long lost Spartan war ship. When I contacted Yener Celtikci at the Happy Bubbles Dive Center he informed me that the best we could do with my open water certification would be wrecks purposely sunk right off the coast for recreational divers.
I perked back up. Even a new wreck is better than no wreck at all. When I asked Yener if he could help me take some photos and video underwater he cheerfully wrote back to me.
"I am your b*tch." That apparently means the same thing in Turkish as it does in English.
Jo and Yener take an underwater #scubaselfie. (Photo: Yener Celtikci)
The Happy Bubbles Dive boat was one of the most laid back dive boats I have ever been on, filled with day tripping Brits and Aussies laying out on the rooftop sun deck during the 40 minute ride from Bodrum to our wreck. Yener and his crew made everything about my two tank dive easy and enjoyable and they brewed a mean cup of Turkish coffee.
Even if our dive site wasn’t haunted by old Trojan soldiers or the ghosts of Ephesian mariners, there is something delightfully eerie about any wreck dive.
The waters around the Bodrum peninsula boast incredible visibility for all levels of divers. (Photo: Yener Celtikci)
The first words that came to mind as I approached the Pinar 1 Turkish Navy Coastguard ship on the silty bottom of the Aegean were “ghost ship.”
It never feels normal to see a ship on the ocean floor. (Photo: Yener Celtikci )
Rusted over and covered in barnacles, with a foggy mask and a squint you could pretend that ship had been there for thousands of years. The Pinar is just north of Bodrum at Black Island.
I approached it with wonder and immediately swam through the large wheel house where I spun the intact wooden wheel.
Divers can lazily swim in and out of different cabins and rooms, chased by grouper all the way.
There is plenty of ship to explore and enjoy during a 40 minute dive. (Photo: Yener Celtikci )
Other nearby dive sites include the left side of Paçoz Bay where you can find the wreck of a C-47 DAKOTA airplane just 16 meters below the surface. This purposely sunk wreck is divided into two pieces, the body and the tail of the plane. And 25 minutes from Bodrum is Smuggler’s Bay where smugglers have stashed their goods since the days of Zeus.