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First Dive "Beneath the Black Sea"
Summer 2000

I sat down at the table with Zelenko, and a dish of kasha (boiled buckwheat) and a glass of tea were immediately set in front of me. Zelenko spread out a map of the southern Crimean coast. Since 1991, his team of UARTC divers has been methodically surveying the waters off the coastline in search of submerged settlements and shipwrecks, working their way slowly from east to west. "So Sergei," I asked, "what about this thirteenth-century wreck?" "Konyets," Zelenko replied. Ended. He spread out a map of the local area and pointed to Mis Meganom, a large cape east of Sudak. "August 8, 1431," he grinned, "Two Venetian ships, wrecked in a storm, right off this point. Let's find them."

[image]Discussing materials found on the Novy Svet thirteenth-century wreck with UARTC director Sergei Zelenko, left, and expedition member Alexander (Loscha) Kalynychenko, right.

After a day of briefings and rest, Zelenko suggested a look at the thirteenth-century wreck site in Novy Svet harbor. Diving gear in tow, we threaded our way up and down a narrow path along the base of Eagle mountain, which, along with eastern counterpart, Hawk mountain, frames the picturesque Novy Svet harbor. My diving partner Valery Salenkyo and I set up our gear on the rocky beach, swam out about 30 feet from shore and headed down.

While its name may suggest otherwise, the Black Sea in this area is surprisingly clear, but breathtakingly chilly below ten feet. With Valery as my tour guide, we set a compass course to swim the perimeter of the remaining surface evidence of the thirteenth-century wreck at a depth of about 25 feet, along with part of an adjacent tenth-century wreck that lay in slightly deeper waters. We skimmed over the rocky bottom, examining fragments of tenth-thirteenth century amphorae and pithoi that lay among more modern debris: wine bottles, fishing weights, metal cables. I reached down to grab an interesting sherd and almost planted my hand on a local relative of the highly poisonous, well-disguised scorpionfish, whose projecting dorsal spines can quickly send a diver into shock, followed by unconsciousness and drowning. I made a mental note that they were in the neighborhood and carried on.


By the time a diver is all suited up, the weight of his or her equipment can exceed 35 pounds. All of this weight, coupled with an unwieldy full-body wetsuit, can make an entry into the water from a rocky beach such as the one here at Novy Svet exceedingly tricky.

This former hydrological research station in Novy Svet harbor is directly adjacent to the wreck and was used as the base of operations during the 1999 UARTC expedition season.

After about a half an hour, Valery and I returned to shore and broke down our gear. Evening was approaching, and the nightclubs of Novy Svet began their daily competition for "Highest Volume of Inane Russian Pop Song." I found a spot of sun to warm up in and watched with Zelenko as his 13-year-old son Nikita toured the shallows with a tiny scuba tank strapped to his back. "Great dive," I told Sergei. "Tomorrow we'll dive Meganom," he replied.[Next...]

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