SS Ayuruoca

A ship in the ocean with smoke coming from it.

SS Ayuruoca Helm Project

Joe Mazraani’s desire to raise the remaining auxiliary helm of the Brazilian freighter Ayuruoca is, in many ways, the story of how Atlantic Wreck Salvage was born. The following is adapted from Helm Project team member Harold Moyers’ 2011 Ayuruoca Stern Helm Recovery Trip Report. It is used with his permission and our thanks:

Long before Joe Mazraani acquired D/V Tenacious, while he was captain of Gene Holmes’ dive boat Homewrecker, he announced that he was going to “go get” the remaining massive 6.5-foot diameter Ayuruoca auxiliary stern helm. The Ayuruoca, originally named Roland, was built in 1912 by Akt Ges Wessner in Bremen, Germany. On June 6, 1945, she was bound for Rio de Janeiro when she collided with the Norwegian vessel, SS General Fleisher. One crew member was lost, and more than sixty others were forced to abandon ship. The survivors set to boats and were rescued by the Navy.


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Ayuruoca is known locally to divers as the “Oil Wreck” because, quite simply, she emits oil. She lies in 176 ft/53m in the New York Mudhole. The “Hole” is the long-flooded ice age Hudson River Valley about 8 miles off sandy Hook stretching to the continental shelf. Mudhole wrecks are silty and dark due to constant flow of ooze from the Hudson River. Despite the name and the notoriously poor visibility, it is an area that New Jersey wreck divers know and love for its abundance of shipwrecks.

The Oil Wreck’s helm was the rear most auxiliary station located near the very stern. It had an impressive diameter and oversized shaft because the helm was intended to turn the rudder under muscle power in the event of a steering failure. The helm was contained on three sides by doghouses, and forward by a steel shroud, which covered the shaft and bearing. Overhead was a gun tub placed there during the Second World War.

A large wheel is sitting in the water.
Ayuruoca stern auxillary helm in its original location.

The only access to the wheel was through narrow companionways port and starboard. The gun tub made Brocco cutting problematic. Hydrogen gas pockets could develop and explode in the confined space. It would be “safe” only for a hardhat diver. Unlike today, none of the regular members of the D/V Tenacious crew were hardhat divers. Just because they were not hard-hatted did not mean they weren’t hard-headed. The team wanted to raise this helm themselves, on SCUBA, as opposed to hiring a contract hardhat diver. The helm project required 3 years of work, which all culminated into two days of shaft cutting in 2010.

The story of the Oil Wreck is one of trials, errors and teamwork. During the 2008 season, Paul McNair devised the concept of using a wheel puller to raise the helm. The idea was to put a puller on the hub and torque away on the shaft until the helm came off just as it was put on. The team attempted many dives with several versions of pullers to no avail. The helm would not budge.

Joe Mazraani decided he needed more gear to get the job done. Fifteen years earlier, Steve Gatto had done research on underwater hydraulic saws that are used extensively in the Gulf. He provided Joe with part numbers and supply contacts. Mazraani purchased everything he needed for underwater cutting; a circular cut-off saw, 400' of twin hydraulic hose, and all the fittings. He only needed one more bit of gear, a boat!

He rigged the gear to the hydraulic system of a 45' PEI built Novi fishing boat he bought, an aptly christened, Tenacious. The team had the saw for a single dive the year before on the Homewrecker, but the gasoline powered hydraulic pump provided by the manufacturer blew up before an inch was cut. Now the gear was properly mated to a serious hydraulic system thanks to the efforts of McNair and Luis Jimenez.

As much as 2009 was a bust, 2010 promised to be two trips and done (maybe three trips max) with all the new gear at our disposal. The expression “failure is the chance to start again smarter” springs to mind. We all got PhDs on this project. It took eight trips worth of work to finally raise the helm. We wound up having to clear the massive steel shroud covering the bearing to expose enough of the shaft to cut. Joe had to purchase a hydraulic reciprocating saw because cutting away the shroud revealed an ugly 6 ½" diameter steel shaft. There was simply no way to cut it with a cut off saw before bottoming out on the saw’s arbor. The team quickly mastered the reciprocating saw. In two dive rotations, a 3rd of the exposed shaft was sliced through.

As difficult as the previous trips of 2010 had been (26 in total over the 3 years), the November 15, 2010 trip was perfect. By now Joe could drop the hook on the tub like his pulpit had a gun sight. Rooney and Dudas sent the go-ahead orange puck up in record time. The visibility was dark but spectacular for any wreck, let alone a Mud Hole wreck. McNair’s hydraulics worked perfectly. Team two, Mazraani and Luis Jimenez set the cutting gear and worked the saw for 20 minutes. Packer and Gatto followed and continued cutting after a 30-minute overlap. Paul McNair, Bart Malone, and I (Harold Moyers) swam down the line and caught an ecstatic Tom Packer at his 40’ decompression stop giving Harold the international ½” to go sign!

I reached the saw and Paul positioned on the other side of the shaft to work a come-along put in place to provide down pressure on the saw. The saw itself was chained on a swivel to the shaft to keep it straight. All I had to do was push a button and we were sawing. McNair adjusted the tension as Bart and I impatiently tried to wriggle a still very firmly attached helm. Soon we noticed play, slight at first but increasing. Then suddenly the saw blade bound. I feathered the switch once and the helm fell away!

A person in the water with a boat steering wheel.

The helm rigged and floating on the surface.

A group of people on a boat in the water.

The helm was carefully lifted onto D/V Tenacious. Photo © D/V Tenacious 2010.

A man standing on the deck of a boat.

Secured and ready for transport back to the dock. Photo © D/V Tenacious 2010.

We gorged on grilled sirloin steak during a celebratory surface interval. Joe and Luis sent the helm up after. It took nine of us to carry the helm off the boat. It was hard to believe it was finally off and on its way to a preservation tank.

A group of men standing next to each other.

Clockwise from top left: Joe Mazraani, Steve Gatto, Paul McNair, Luis Jimenez, Harold Moyers, Tom Packer, Mike Dudas, Pat Rooney, Bart Malone. Photo © D/V Tenacious 2010.

Was it worth it? Neither Joe nor the crew ever complained about the time spent on the project (and a lot of Joe’s money). We have all been diving together for years. Diving is just a day spent with friends, and these dives were no different. The big helm was one of the most well-known, most sought after artifacts in the Hole. The other Ayuruoca helms, the Goulandris helms, and even the infamous Choapa helms disappeared quickly. This helm resisted all efforts for over 40 years. The team was proud to be there, and Captain Joe “Tenacious” Mazraani earned our respect, as well as his new nickname.

A large wheel on the back of a boat.

Safe and sound at the marina, which was then located in Birelle, NJ. Photo © D/V Tenacious 2010.

A man sitting on top of a wooden wagon wheel.

Ready for preservation and restoration. Photo © D/V Tenacious 2010.

SS Ayuruoca Steam Whistles

Although SS Ayuruoca is often dived, she keeps on giving. In September of 2021, the crew of D/V Tenacious discovered and salvaged her two large steam whistles. They are currently being restored with the goal of sounding them again.

Whistle photo

The silhouette of the two steam whistles is visible in a blow up of an historic photo.


Tom Packer (left), Harold Moyers (middle), and Joe Mazraani (right) pose with the whistles the moment after they hoisted them onto the deck. Photo © Jennifer Sellitti 2021.