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St. Lawrence River Deep Drift Scuba Diving October 5, 2008

Posted by Chris Sullivan in Dive Log, Shipwrecks, Technical Diving, Training.
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On Saturday I went with a team of divers to Brockville to do one of my current favourites, a drift dive in the strong current at the bottom of the St. Lawrence River starting at the Lillie Parsons on the upstream side of Sparrow Island, past Stovin and Everest Islands and ending at the J. B. King, which rests against Cockburn Island at a depth of 100 to 160 feet. The Lillie is a popular wreck dive, and while it is not that deep the moderate current, unusual position, depth and somewhat difficult entry makes it a moderately advanced dive. We’ve had advanced students on it, including a shallow drift to a sheltered area between Sparrow and Stovin Islands, without much difficulty. One word of warning – DO NOT TRY THIS DIVE IF NOT TRAINED AND EQUIPPED FOR TECHNICAL DIVING.

The day started with the alarm at quarter to five. I had a healthy breakfast ready for the microwave, some orange juice and a cappuccino. I also packed some nuts, dates and a couple of apples for the ride. I left just before 5:30 to meet the guys at the dive shop. The dive team was Brad the Tec instructor and dive shop owner, assistant instructor Dave, newly minted DSAT Tec Deep Diver Rich, and Tec Deep student and divemaster Mike.

At 6, we headed out, stopping for coffee and gas, then hitting the road for Brockville. There is a fantastically stocked dive shop in the area called Dive Tech. This is a dangerous place to go with your credit card, but we were there to pick up a rental tank with EAN80 for Mike, who needed to use 2 separate deco mixes for his course requirements. The rest of us were using EAN50 for deco with all using air for back gas. We arrived at the dock at 10:10, meeting Tom who was the captain of a small boat with just enough room for our dive gear and not much else. Fortunately the trip out was short, and the one back even shorter, so we didn’t need a full change of clothes, just a shirt and a towel.

The temperature was still around 10C (50F), while the water was warmer at 17C (62F), so we went with 7mm wet suits and hoods. We entered the water slightly upstream of Sparrow Island, drifting into a shallow, calm spot near the shore in about 3 feet of water. You have to be careful not to get too far one side or the other or you might find yourself drifting in unexpected ways. From there we head back upstream and angled a bit towards the North through a depression in the rocks through fairly calm water.

As we dropped down the slope, we ended up near the Lillie Parsons, where we did our bubble checks, then crossed over the inverted hull in a fairly strong current and down the wall. It was at this point I noticed my computer, an Apeks Quantum which I wrote about yesterday, had switched to metric for some reason. My other Quantum, which had since failed, did that earlier this year. So I switched my brain to metric, thought through my maximum and deco stop depths, and continued the dive. After that, we were pretty much in free fall down the wall all the way to the bottom at around 165 feet (or in my case, 50 metres), as we were swept downriver by the current.

It was darker than the two previous times I’ve made the dive, and the water was a bit cloudy so I was glad everyone had lights to keep in contact with each other. My first dive here was on a nice sunny day on the 2007 Labour Day long weekend with good visibility and we didn’t need them. The five of us drifted near the wall until we had almost hit the 30 minutes planned bottom time, past a large anchor with a wooden stock, and a smaller one which all of us except Brad missed, finally ending up on the J.B.King, which due to the dynamite explosion that sunk her, consists mostly of strewn wreckage.

It’s a great dive because of the speed of the current, the proximity to the bottom and the wall, and that warm fuzzy feeling you get when you’re on the good side of Narcosis. Total distance travelled was about 1.2 miles, so we were going at about 2 1/2 mph on average. The current is faster along the sides of the islands but slows down in between them. It’s also a unique perspective of the St. Lawrence River that few people get to experience.

My computer told me my first stop was at 13 metres/40 feet, so I made a slow, careful ascent up the “jungle gym” of the King. Above 100 feet you need to work your way up the rock wall, finding places to shelter out of the current. I switched over to my EAN50 deco gas at 60 feet, and pressed the button on my computer to have it calculate deco for the new gas. Unfortunately it wouldn’t switch, and after a minute I realized that it was in metric because it had reset itself somewhere between the boat and the beginning of the dive. So it didn’t know I had EAN50 with me and there was nothing I could do to fix it! I knew I had enough gas to manage the hour of deco the computer was telling me to do, but I didn’t want to hold things up for the other guys.

What to do? Well fortunately I had scratched a conservative decompression schedule on my slate, and brought my watch along because I had no backup computer. The slow ascent and my stopping to switch gases had come pretty close to the prescribed schedule, so I used the more conservative of the tables or computer through to 20’, then at 10’ finished using the table, at which point Mike had just finished his schedule and we ascended with 12 minutes to go still showing on my computer, which rewarded me by locking up for 48 hours.

We were back on the dock by two, and half an hour later back to Dive Tech to return the deco tank and then the long drive home.

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Comments»

1. » St. Lawrence River Deep Drift Scuba Diving »Sport News & Equipment - October 5, 2008

[…] Sport news by deepstop […]

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2. Technical Diving Agenda for 2009 « Chronicle of an older diver - January 12, 2009

[…] and technical diver, who finished his course at the same time as me), Mike (Divemaster and finished his tech course in September), and Andrew (Assistant Instructor and not quite finished his tech […]

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