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The Discovery of The "Darwin Princess"
By Coral Divers (Suzie Lack / Sash Muller)

The "Darwin Princess" was a ferry plying the harbour between Darwin city and Mandorah in 1974 when Cyclone Tracy struck. The young skipper Raymond Curtain, decided to take her to sea, to try to keep her safe from the rising storm surge and huge seas, during the height of the cyclone. Tragically, he was never seen again and the "Darwin Princess" lay lost for 30 years.

In 2003, local fishing charter operators, Ian and Sue Froos, running "Tinkerbell" Wilderness Fishing Adventures, found a great spot to take their fishing charters and named it Mushroom Bommies. They were curious to know what the "bommie" looked like and what fish were actually there and asked us at Coral Divers to go down and take a look at it, last week. Always keen to dive a new spot, Suzie and Sasha and a couple of friends and with Ian on board to show us where it was, we jumped overboard.

Unfortunately, on our first exploratory dive, only 2 of our team managed to find the "bommie" and that was right at the end of their dive time .............. but great excitement back on the boat ........... it was definitely the lost Cyclone Tracy wreck of the "Darwin Princess"! This of course meant that we HAD to go out again the next day for a proper look.

We had much more success on our 2nd dive - as it is a deepish dive (28 mtrs), we all opted for Nitrox (EAN38) to give us plenty of time to look around and take plenty of photos. The wreck is upside down, yet virtually intact. It has buried itself about a metre into the bottom and the top deck chairs, canopy and wheelhouse are lying smashed up beside the hull.

Inside the hull, you can still find many of the plastic chairs used as seating on the ferry, and what we believe were Life Jackets stowed under the chairs. Penetrating inside the upside down ferry is dangerous, as silt has built up inside, which means as soon as you start to move, visibility drops to less than zero. It doesn't leave a lot of room for maneuvering around either. Getting in under the stern, which would have been the open stern deck, is quite easy though, giving good photo opportunities. The rubble lying off to the side, which is obviously the wheelhouse is also worth considerable time.

The "Princess" obviously flipped over as she sank and wiped all the top deck off to the side as she settled. The starboard propeller is completely fouled with very heavy rope and the starboard rudder is missing. This is most likely the cause of her demise - the rope fouled the prop, ripping off the rudder and she lost steerage, broaching into the huge waves and rolling over. Where did the rope come from? Was Raymond Curtain trying to get a line to the "Booya" (which lies in a similar area) to help them? The "Princess" also has evidence of a fairly hefty collision on her port bow, which leads us to think that maybe the skipper was going to the aid of another vessel, and collided with them in the attempt.

I guess we will never know the real story, but the sight of the "Princess" lying on the bottom, surrounded by the rubble from her decks, certainly brings home the reality of how chaotic and nasty the conditions out there must have been - especially for one very brave man alone trying to fight the seas.

The Police and the Coroner have been told of the find and have informed Mrs. Curtain, who still lives in Darwin. We have also alerted the Darwin Harbour Master of the position of the wreck for his records. We will keep you posted on the official progress.

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