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Diving the Morrison at Centennial Beach April 9, 2009

Posted by Chris Sullivan in Dive Log.
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The  Morrison is an extremely popular wreck dive in my part of the world because of its accessibility. It’s in the heart of Barrie, Ontario, where it was moored the day in caught fire and sank in 1857, a few months before Queen Victoria named Ottawa, Ontario as the capital of Canada. There is a free parking lot within a few metres of the shore, picnic tables for the gear, and a nearby, although somewhat rocky entrance. Much dive training happens there because of the shallow depths, with the Morrison a good 5 minute swim from shore but still only at 30 feet.

The downside of the site is mainly the silty bottom and sometime a nuisance from boats. Being close to shore the boats fortunately are usually careful and moving slowly. Usually we try to get there before the dive students because once they show up visibility goes to zero.

Only a week after our previous dive at Big Bay Point, Roger (whose last name is also Morrison) and I were back for a late afternoon dive on the J.C.Morrison. This was to be Roger’s last diving before going into hospital for a heart valve operation, which I can now report was successfully completed to the point where he is able to dive again – so far just in Cozumel, but I’m looking forward to going diving with him again this summer.

The Morrison is recognizable as a boat, but the wreckage is only partially intact. Prior to sinking it burned to the waterline, and subsequently salvaged, so there isn’t much left of it. The visibility was also rather poor ranging from zero to about 8 feet, so getting a good handle on the layout is difficult. I logged this as a Nitrox dive although Nitrox isn’t much benefit at a maximum depth of 30 feet, and the concentration of Oxygen was relatively low at 24.6%, as I’d topped the tanks with air after diving 36% O2 the week before.

The first dive was also my chance to try out a Nikonos IV that I’d borrowed from a friend who no longer dives. This is a classic 35mm underwater camera based on a model first introduced in the early sixties. While the camera has automatic control, it has manual focus with no rangefinder and aperture priority. The latter means that the f-stop is set and the camera adjust the shutter speed to match. If the f-stop lets in insufficient light to be able to have a decent shutter speed, a red light flashes instead of being steadily lit in the viewfinder when the shutter release is depressed half way.

Both the focus and the aperture are controlled by rings on the lens and read from the front. This means you have to turn the front of the camera toward you to adjust the settings. It’s a good thing that wrecks don’t swim away while you’re messing around with the camera. The big problem was not being able to read the numbers. With the light in the late afternoon, the turbidity of the water, the rubber lens hood and my deteriorating close up vision (an age-related phenomenon caused by loss of flexibility in the cornea) I couldn’t read it even when illuminated by my light.

Somewhat deterred I nevertheless snapped a few pictures for the hell of it and hoped for the best. I’m still hoping. By removing the hood I’ve found I’m able to read the numbers now at least in decent light, but the bulk of the camera, the clumsy operation and fickle reliability have discouraged me from using it a lot so I didn’t manage to finish a roll of 24 last summer.

I will try it again on the Oriskany. At least I can get it to work. My friend who lent it to me thought the meter was broken but it actually turned out that the batteries were installed backwards. The little button batteries have their negative terminal on the small end, which is the opposite of most batteries and it’s easy for even my technically-savvy buddies to make that mistake.

Aside from the picture taking efforts we explored the wreck. At one point we headed out into the bay following some waste water outlets (they say the water come out of them is less polluted than the lake is overall). After visiting about 8 of them with no end in sight we turned around and headed back for short. The total dive time was 51 minutes in 15C (59F) degree water. We were both in dry suits.

On the second dive I left the camera behind and concentrated on exploring the wreck. We found the paddle wheel which lies on its side about 30 feet from the main wreckage. It’s probably the most interesting spot as it’s mostly intact. The Morrison was a steam powered side-wheeler, being very common on Lake Simcoe during that era.

At eleven minutes past 8PM, after 56 minutes underwater and plenty of air left, we called it day.

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