December, 1978. The 250-foot steel cargo freighter Superior Producer set sail from Willemstad harbour, on the Caribbean island of Curaçao, loaded with toys, liquor, clothing, and electronics – Christmas gifts, bound for Venezuela, 40 miles to the south. Overloaded in fact, so that not long after leaving port, the ship started to list and take on water. The crew was forced to abandon ship, leaving it at the mercy of tugboats that moved it out of the mouth of the harbour into deeper water before it sank beneath the waves, taking its holiday bounty to the bottom of the Caribbean. Within days, resourceful local divers were salvaging what they could, meaning not all was lost. Slightly soggy shirts and cartons of whisky turned up under the Christmas tree after all – just in Curaçao, not Venezuela.
Some four decades on, our dive boat, the Curaçao Star, is motoring out past the cruise ship piers, the sea throwing up white-capped rollers from the stiff easterly breeze. It’s only a 20-minute ride from Ocean Encounters, our dive shop headquarters in Willemstad, so I start contorting into my wetsuit and checking my gear. Tank valve on, weights, dive computer. And on my left wrist, I tighten the burly orange strap of the Audemars Piguet Royal Oak Offshore Diver Chronograph. As the motor winds down and we’re above the Superior Producer, I unlock the crown on the watch’s left flank and ratchet the timing ring to align the zero mark with the minute hand, then lock it down again. Shuffling to the transom of the Curaçao Star with my awkward kit, I step into the sea and become weightless. The wreck awaits below.