Mothballed Battleships

Mothballed Battleships - Abandoned FlotillaIn the darkness as we rowed towards these giants, a peculiar thing happened. The water behind us began to glow, a stream of electric blue seawater trailed us, to this day, that Bio-luminescent algae is one of the coolest things I’ve seen in my life.

Our noisy van rocketed through the countryside, it’s a long way here, and we were so close. Someone caught a glimpse of grey on the water, the van skidded to a halt and we started to U-Turn to go back around and have a look. That’s when we got bogged. A nice farmer towed us out, without questioning all the inflatables in the back…

The bay harbored 10 beautiful mothballed battleships, from patrol boats & frigates to cruisers. Our day started on a troop transport ship, but our target was sitting tantalizingly close to us, weighing in at 11300 tonnes, the Colbert was ours for the taking. Once home to 600 men, and just shy of 200m long, she towered above anything else, her red dome just itching for our visit.

Just getting onto her deck involved climbing across several other ships just to get high enough to reach her, but soon enough we’d found ourselves on the decks of the Colbert.

So many levels, so much to see, so little time. The photos paint a better description than anything else.

After exploring all of the mothballed battleships we began our journey back to shore, sliding our Zodiac between two troop carriers, I used the fenders to lower myself in, as someone else straddled the two ships dropping the gear down to me. Eventually we cautiously push out, paddling hard against the strong current, and trying to navigate around the web of steel cables staying the ships that lurk under the surface.

As we drew closer to the shore, our little inflatable scraped against some coral and our boat began to sink. We did our best to rescue her but alas “The Saucy Sue” was left in the mud on the beach. We underestimated how quickly we’d sink in the mud near the waterline, and both struggled to remain upright. We’d parked in a public car park, I can’t imagine how strange it must have looked to see two people, up to their waist in mud, carrying piles of gear…

Climbing The Omega Tower

We’ve explored some fairly huge places in the past, but none even come close to compare to VLF Woodside. Omega Tower Climb - Base of the Tower

It’s the tallest structure in the southern hemisphere, she towers over Q1 and Eureka Tower, clocking in at 427m from the ground to the topmost point.

Built as the precursor to GPS, the Omega Navigation system broadcast “Pings” at set times from each of the 9 Omega Stations around the globe. This enabled Ships & Aircraft to find their location down to about 2.2km. Originally due to be built in New Zealand, the US Coast Guard had the Omega Station built in Woodside / Darriman due to heavy protesting from Anti-War campaigners in NZ.

The antenna itself is quite interesting, the tower is not the actual transmitter, but rather the 1.5km long guy wires are insulated at the top and bottom and serve as an “Umbrella” transmitter for the VLF signals.

Following the shutdown of the Omega system in 1997, the station was gifted to the Navy, who used it to send orders to Submarines until 2004, then used it to broadcast classified info until 2008, when it shutdown for good, awaiting a new use.

That use still hasn’t come. Some of the machinery has been donated to a museum, but the tower itself, still stands, towering almost half a vertical kilometer in the sky, and in the words of ACDC – It’s a long way to the top. At the base lies the 10Kw transmission equipment, still there, and the Helix Building – a giant Faraday cage containing a wooden helix coil, engineering porn at it’s finest.

So Climbing The Omega Tower? We started very early in the morning, with just under 10kg of gear in total, including climbing gear, food, water and even toilet paper. We made our way past the signs reminding us that this was a naval facility, past the radiation hazard signs, past the electrified fences, to the base of the tower…

The next 5 hours went fairly slowly. Laboriously we climbed up the inside of the tower, one at a time, putting in safeties as we went and continuously saying “Oh look, we’re only 2 platforms off the top.” from about the 5th platform to the 9th…

At the top, we wasted half an hour, taking in the view, dropping those little parachute army men, and playing “Is that tiny dot the car?”. Then (in a last minute decision) it was decided it was time to climb out onto the guy wires of the tower. After a little jaunt out the side, darkness was fast approaching, so we all clipped on and started the 2 hour long section-by-section rappel back down to the ground, followed by a goodbye to the tower, and a brisk run for the few K’s back to the car, hoping to god we wouldn’t find any MPs waiting for us at the base…

As we pulled back out onto the main road, and started the 3 hour drive back to Melbourne, knowing we’d done something rather special.

Dam It – Dam Wall Abseiling

Stocked up on food and cider, we clambered over some razor wire, with a duffel bag full of static line & a backpack of gear each.

Rigging checked & double checked, rock paper scisors decided who’d be the first one dam wall abseiling …

As the first dropped over the edge for the 60m plummet below, glow sticks were cut open and sprayed over the dam wall, providing glorious luminescence as you plunge face first into the darkness.

I rode my motorcycle home as the sun came up. Excellent night.

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