Technical Wreck Diving in Northeast Brazil
By Richard Streeton
Apart from the remote Atlantic archipelago of Fernando da Noronha, Brazil is not a world-renowned technical diving destination. However, for the informed diver, there are some excellent live-aboard and day-trip options in northeast Brazil for technical wreck divers. These lie between the cities of Maceio (Alagoas) and Recife (Pernambuco). The Voyager catamaran covers this region with week-long trips in either direction taking in the main wrecks along the way.
Diving is possible all year round. Visibility can reach 20-30 m/65-100 ft depending on the site. The wrecks described here were ones I visited in April. This typically offers the best diving conditions in terms of sea state and general visibility. Interestingly, wrecks from the 19th, 20th and 21st centuries, with a range of propulsion systems, can be visited with relative convenience on the same trip.
Close to Maceio, divers will find the Draguinha. This was a dredger that sank in 1961 due to bad weather. The wreck is reasonably intact with artefacts ranging from the dredging system to the boilers. These are still in good condition. The wreck is 42 m/140 ft long with a maximum depth of 35 m/115 ft. You can see large groupers and beautiful Brazilian reef octopuses alongside schools of batfish.
The Walsa and Lupus
The Brazilian Navy has sunk many tugboats and ferries to create artificial reefs. The majority are fully intact, including the propellers. They can be penetrated safely. Many are quite similar, but the Walsa and Lupus stand out. The Walsa is 32 m/105 ft long and lies in 42 m/140 ft of water. The deck is at 33 m/110 ft.
Divers can find enormous schools of yellow-striped grunts consisting of thousands of individuals. So many, in fact, that it became difficult to see the wreck itself. The Lupus is slightly longer at 34 m/110 ft and sits in shallower water. The maximum depth is 36 m/120 ft. The main attraction on the Lupus is the engine room where divers can inspect a beautifully preserved diesel motor.
Due to the abundance of life, the Pirapama is one of the stars of the show in the Recife area. The wreck rests in the 19-23 m/62-75 ft range. It makes for an excellent night dive, which maximizes the action. Dozens of enormous stingrays are found alongside nurse sharks and huge green turtles. Every rock hole is full of lobsters and the entire wreck is covered with sponges and soft corals.
The Pirapama is one of the oldest wrecks in the area. Historians believe it sank in 1889 after a collision with the Vapor Bahia. The Pirapama was built in 1841. It was equipped with both a set of sails and a paddle wheel, driven by an oscillating-cylinder steam engine. The engine is no longer in place, but you can see the paddle wheel axle and steam cylinders amidships.
The Vapor Bahia
The Vapor Bahia is another 19th-century steam-paddle ship. It plied the seas between the northeastern and southern cities of Brazil. Like the Pirapama, the Bahia is extensively damaged owing to the almost 130 years she has been sitting at a depth of 25 m/82 ft. However, unlike the Pirapama, the steam paddle is intact and well preserved with sponges on every surface. The steam boilers are also still present.
The zone around these artefacts has some wonderful swim-throughs and hidden corners. You will find these between caved-in planks where groups of nurse sharks congregate in the sand. The most stunning part of the wreck is the prow which stands upright with an anchor still in place. The Bahia deserves at least two dives to explore her fully and is typically covered with large schools of fish.
One of the deeper dives around Recife is the Vapor 48. Little is known about this wreck, including her real name which is still a mystery. The name ‘Vapor 48′ refers to the steam propulsion system (vapor in Portuguese) and the depth of the wreck (48 m/158 ft). She makes for an excellent technical dive with both the steam-paddle and engines/boilers in place. These, however, are in a more dilapidated state than those of the Bahia. At 60 m/200 ft in length, she can be covered comfortably in a single dive. Several large groupers live here.
The Corvetta Camaqua
The top tech-dive in this region is undeniably the Corvetta Camaqua. The Brazilian navy used this ship to protect their coastline from German and Italian submarines during World War II. It’s a three-hour trip in open sea from Recife to get to the Camaqua. The wreck lies on her starboard side at a maximum depth of 55 m/180 ft. The port side is at 47 m/155 ft. The Camaqua is a neat Trimix dive.
Dive planning should account for potentially strong surface currents. These can impede descent. You should also be aware of potentially dangerous munitions which the Camaqua was carrying as cargo. With sufficient bottom time and depending on gas selection, the 57 m/187 ft long Camaqua can be fully explored in a single dive. This includes a visit to the propeller, kitchen unit, deck cannon and a beautiful corridor swim-through on the port side. Large schools of fish are always circling the wreck.
Just scratching the surface
There are dozens of other wrecks in this region. I’ve only described my personal favorites and those that would be most interesting to technical divers here. Out of water, Recife offers great opportunities to get a taste of the northeastern Brazilian vibe.
The nearby historical town of Olinda has a UNESCO world-heritage cathedral, wonderful examples of Portuguese architecture and is full of excellent restaurants and bars. These can be a great place to pass any no-fly time before onwards travel. No visit to the Recife area would be complete without tasting the wonderful Acarajé. This serves as both a religious offering to the gods in the Candomblé religion and as much-loved street food.