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Reel Recovery August 31, 2009

Posted by Chris Sullivan in Equipment.
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As I mentioned a couple of days ago, Brad lost his reel on August 31st, 2008 on a drift dive between the Lillie Parsons and the James B. King. What I haven’t mentioned yet was our attempts that day to recover it. We found the bag floating in the shipping channel. Captain Lawrence and his trainee Chantal were crewing the boat, and we were trying to assemble a dive team to go down and fetch the reel.

Unfortunately, when Chantal threw out a tag line, it got caught in the prop, disabling the vessel. So Dave, in what I now consider a highly risky manoeuvre, jumped in the water to cut it away, while we held on for dear life to the line which was now obviously attached to a reel that was well stuck to the bottom of the river.

As the current took hold of the boat, the line grew tighter and tighter, finally ending up tight as a guitar string while holding the entire weight of the boat. Eventually, we had to cut the line, an operation that looked pretty dangerous, because the line was so tight. Lawrence, our boat captain, ascertained our position with what he said was a high degree of certainty and promised us that he could locate the exact spot where we’d left it, despite not having a GPS unit or any other electronics more sophisticated than a depth sounder.

Daryaw Drift August 30, 2009

Posted by Chris Sullivan in Dive Log, Shipwrecks, Technical Diving.
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We do this dive a lot, although this was only my second time. Explore the wreck for a while and then drift over the inverted hull then down the river for a kilometre or so. It’s a good opportunity to practice drift decompression using a delayed SMB, but lately I haven’t found the dive all that exciting and frankly I’d rather spend the time exploring the wreck a bit more.

On September 1st, 2008 Rich, Brad, Dave and I made it our first dive of the day. I spent most of the time on the wreck with Rich, and ascended into the large hold in the bow, but by that time the water was very turbid and I wasn’t able to see very much.

After that, we drifted over the hull and joined the others at the props for the river drift, decompressing on my EAN79 for 8 minutes before being picked up by the dive boat.

Tec Deep Graduation Dive August 29, 2009

Posted by Chris Sullivan in Dive Log, Shipwrecks, Technical Diving, Training.
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This time, it wasn’t my graduation, but Rich’s, on our only dive on Sunday August 31st, 2008. I’d done the same dive a year before as the culmination of the course, and now it was his turn. Brad was instructing like the year before, and Pete and Dave and I were along for the ride, although we were all acting as divemasters at the same time.

Again the dive was from the Lillie Parsons to the James B. King along the bottom of the St. Lawrence. Brad and Dave shepherded Rich, while Pete and I stuck together for the most part. The lovely thing about the dive is the speed of the current, which is quite fast in the wide channel between the chain of 4 islands running from wreck to wreck and the Canadian north shore of the St. Lawrence. I noted in my log book that the current slowed between islands.

This time we made it to the wreck instead of having to do our decompression stops clinging to rocks. Despite this, some of the jumps from place to place on the wreck were a little exciting. At one point a short line attached to the wreck wrapped itself around my leg. As all good divers do, I think, I slowed myself right down and carefully rid myself of the hazard before proceeding.

Deco was being managed by my Apeks Quantums. This was the only dive trip where both of them were working and I preferred them to using tables, at least for this kind of diving. While the computers didn’t call for deep stops, we more or less them anyway as the climb up the King was relatively slow. Since the wreck sank after exploded it’s mostly a twisted mass of wreckage, so it takes a bit of time to move along it.

The maximum depth was a little deeper (for me, not Rich who was still a student and limited to 165′) at 178′ on this dive. I attribute that to a faster drop off the Lillie as the deepest part is at the beginning. When we’d ascended to 100′ I saw Rich deploying a lift bag. I thought to myself “What the *&@*&% is he doing?”. He was clearly having trouble with it, which is not surprising given the current we were in. Next thing I knew Brad took it from him, and let it go. That seemed pretty drastic but it did solve the immediate problem.

Later I found out that Brad had wanted Rich to deploy the bag as an exercise. I’d done the same the previous year while still drifting down the river. That was much more sensible as I didn’t have to fight the current. I also found out that it was Brad’s favourite reel, and he had taken it after he saw Rich having trouble, but had to let it go in the strong current.

Anyway, we continued onward and upward, and Pete and I were pretty well matched in our deco stops which officially started at 40′. At 30′ I switched over to my deco reg which was attached to an AL80 full of 79% O2. At 10′ Pete noticed that the cap had fallen off my OMS regulator, and he could see the diaphragm move in and out as I breathed. He pointed it out to me and I noticed the cap had come to rest on my gear, so I picked it up, switched over to my back gas (time for an air break anyway), replaced the cap (tightly this time) and resumed my deco. These days securing the caps is part of my pre-dive checks.

During the 20 minutes or so on deco at 10′, Pete was looking around a bit and found an old octagonal bottle. Apparently in the olden days bottles were shaped so that the blind could identify the nature of the contents to avoid accidental poisoning. This one had a slight blue tinge and is apparently quite valuable, but had slipped well down between some rocks for decades before we came along – or at least we think so.

All in all a great dive, except for the mishap with the lift bag. But at least that gave us the opportunity for and exciting dive and another story.

A Better Dive on the America August 28, 2009

Posted by Chris Sullivan in Dive Log, Shipwrecks.
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After my embarrassment on the Keystorm, later that day on August 31st, 2008, I looked forward to a more positive experience on the other dive on the American side, which was on the America, using the air that remained in our doubles (1500 PSI for me).  We didn’t take deco gas with us on this dive, so we planned to keep it within no decompression limits, or at least close.

Once again with Dave and Pete, we headed down the slightly complex sequence of lines to the wreck. If ever you dive there, make note of the layout of the lines, so you come up in the right place. We ended up going the wrong way near the end of dive, although we realized our mistake and backtracked. We almost did the same thing on the same wreck this year, but I had picked out a landmark at the intersection and chose the right path.

After penetrating the wreck a couple of times, and seeing the furnace, some white brick, and so forth (missing some machinery, that would have required me to look up, which I didn’t do), we followed a line out and away from the wreck on the opposite side from the entry point towards Singer Island. There was nothing much there.

Pete was cold and we were getting near our NDL so we headed back out after 37 minutes of bottom time. With a maximum depth of 76 feet and average considerably lower, we didn’t require any deco and I was back on the dive boat with 900 PSI still in the tanks.

Keystorm Error August 27, 2009

Posted by Chris Sullivan in Dive Log, Shipwrecks, Technical Diving.
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This post comes as kind of a confession. I know that many of my diving friends read this so it’s not easy to write this down, but it’s in my log book so it deserves to go here. Almost a year has gone by since it happened . I even left it out of my previous confession called 10 stupid things I’ve done when Scuba Diving.

I’ll get the hard part over with first. We were doing a technical dive with Brad, Pete, Rich, and Dave on the Keystorm. Dave, Pete and I were down by the props at around 110’+, when we took Pete (already certified as a technical diver) through valve shutdown drills. Dave signalled me to check the status of Pete’s valves after he ran through the drills to make sure that they were open. This is simplicity itself. The valves on each end of a manifold work in opposite directions. Opening is twisting counterclockwise, which comes as naturally to me as eating because I’ve done it so often.

A few minutes later, to my astonishment, we discovered that Pete’s alternate valve was shut. What bothers me the most is I have no idea why. It was a routine check and I can’t conceive of doing it wrong, but the evidence was in plain sight, even though I was sure I’d done it correctly. Maybe the knob was shut tight and I didn’t use enough force to open it, or maybe I was narked and just got it wrong. I’ll never know. My most hopeful speculation is that Pete rolled it shut while swimming in a partially enclosed spot on the wreck, but that’s just wishful thinking on my part. It taught me to be more mindful when I do this kind of thing, though. Fortunately nothing further came of it than my own embarrassment.

The rest of the dive was uneventful, with a few minutes of deco on EAN80 at the end after reaching a maximum depth of 118′.  Water temperature was 22C.

Bottom Time on the Niagara II August 26, 2009

Posted by Chris Sullivan in Dive Log, Shipwrecks, Technical Diving.
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The Niagara II is my #3 favourite wreck in Tobermory, after the Forest City and the Arabia. Having done my #1 and #2 the day before, as well as the Tugs, the final trip of the weekend on Sunday August 16th was to dive this wreck twice. At least that was the plan for the recreational divers. We initiates into the realm of technical diving decided to do just one long dive.

To make the most of it, we all filled up our doubles with EAN36 at G+S Watersports overnight. My previous maximum on the wreck had been 95 feet, just 3 feet under the maximum depth allowable to stay within 1.4 partial atmospheric pressure of Oxygen. However, the rich mixture would allow us to stay for quite a while with minimal decompression time.

There were lots of boats heading to this particular wreck on this particular morning, so we were glad to get a jump on the rest and be the first down. We used the line at the bow which I’d never done before, then headed along the starboard side, where some interesting equipment is to be seen along with some switches and levers to control it. The switches and levers still operate, with no effect of course.

We cruised around the wreck at deck level and then along the  bottom, where we realized that the depth was quite a bit more at the bow than at the stern, and exceeded our MOD slightly at 102′.  I noted that my Shearwater Pursuit did not give me an alarm so I surmise that it triggers at a higher PPO2 than 1.4. No problem, we were there for only a few seconds before ascending a bit.

We explored a hold and room full of machinery. By that time lots of other divers were around and crowds were forming. We moved on. We ascended to the wheelhouse level and went inside for a bit. The water was nice and warm there, being around 70 feet deep at that point.

We had plenty of gas left but I don’t think by that time any of us wanted to go back below the thermocline so after 55 minutes we called it a dive and made our ascent. Because we had dived the Nitrox and were on a multilevel dive we had no more than a minute of deco.

Tobermory Harbour: Tugs by Night August 25, 2009

Posted by Chris Sullivan in Dive Log, Shipwrecks.
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For our last dive of the day on August 15th, 2009, Roger and I decided to go on a shallow night dive to find the old tugs. The entry point is only a couple of hundred yards down from our motel so I put on my wet suit in  my room and drove down with the rest of my equipment ready to go in the trunk of my car.

The air was still warm as it was one of the nicest weekends of the summer (although that isn’t saying much this summer), and the shallow waters we were diving were quite warm enough. Roger wore a hood but I didn’t bother. If I’d done a second dive I would have needed one but for a single dive, even a relatively long one, I was fine.

We first decided to head north, towards what I think is the Alice G., a steamer with some intact equipment and well preserved wooden rails. On the way out, we went too deep to around 40′ and there wasn’t much to see except for a few old poles, so we turned around ascending up the wall to 15-20′ and soon ran into the wreck. We spent quite some time there examining every inch of it. At night you tend to focus on the fine detail you can see in the path of the dive light rather than taking in the entire scene.

After our detailed look, we headed south past the entry point to find the other wreckage, where there was more fish to be seen but less in the way of interesting machinery. Still, there was lots to see, although I didn’t make any detailed notes about the layout and composition of the wrecks. Perhaps I’ll leave that to a future project. My main goal was to get another dive in, and to rack up another night dive as I’ve done relatively few of them.

We headed back north at about 10′ depth and when I felt we’d gone about far enough I popped my head above the water to see Roger’s wife standing on the deck about 30′ away. Perfect ending to a nice dive. 56 minutes in 20C (68F) water.

Almost Perfect Dive on the Arabia August 24, 2009

Posted by Chris Sullivan in Dive Log, Shipwrecks, Technical Diving.
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The second dive of our visit to Tobermory on August 15th, 2009 was better than the previous dive of the same day on the Forest City. The three technical divers, Rich, Andrew and me entered the water first and quickly descended to the concrete block positioned off the starboard bow. After crossing over to the wreck, we rounded the bow just under the long jib boom, which protrudes far beyond the deck and is one of its most prominent features.

Heading sternward on the port side at around 100′, I looked at my computer for the first time and it read “High PPO2”. Instantly realizing what was going on, I switched the active gas over to my back gas, as it was still set to my deco mix of EAN50. This is something I have to remember about the Shearwater Pursuit that is different from my Apeks Quantum. The Quantum will revert to “Mix 1” at the beginning of a dive, while the Pursuit will remain on the last gas used. I thought for a while about how I would handle my decompression obligation, if any, after having the first 5 minutes of the dive miscalculated. I decided that I would slow my ascent, switching over to EAN50 as soon as possible on ascent, leave the computer on its air setting for the ascent, make a safety stop, and not exceed my buddies’ own deco schedules. Having decided on that plan, I continued with the others.

When we got to the stern, I noticed a long mast heading almost straight back (a little toward port) going off into the distance. It looked to be about a foot (30cm) in diameter, and at the end I could see another pole or perhaps a line leading away from it. I learned later that this is an alternate descent point to the Arabia and what I’d seen at the end of the pole was indeed a line. An impressive sight and definitely a testament to the wonderful visibility we had that day.

The other highlight was when we got back near the bow. There are two large anchors easily seen on either side of the deck, leaning against the side rails in the same position as they were before the ship went down. Between them there is a large windlass. I had heard there was a third anchor somewhere on the wreck and I signalled to Andrew to ask him if he knew where it was. He didn’t, but he looked around for a bit and noticed it nestled on the deck amongst some other equipment, hidden in plain sight. Once you knew to look in the right place for it, the anchor shape was quite clear. Unfortunately Rich once again had cold hands and missed it because he left early.

After that, with 27 minutes bottom time Andrew and I made an ascent totalling 9 minutes to the surface, most of which breathing EAN50. With Andrew’s computer clear and a conservative ascent, I was satisfied that I’d decompressed sufficiently to exit the water, which at the bottom was only 6C (42F). After the dive, I noticed the CNS clock on my computer at 129%, so actually diving to that depth on EAN50 is definitely not advisable.

First Advanced Diver August 22, 2009

Posted by Chris Sullivan in Equipment, Training.
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I just certified my first advanced diver: Alex. We did the dives over a month ago but I’ve been waiting for the knowledge reviews which are finally done. Congratulations Alex! So far I have 4 EANx Divers, 2 Wreck Divers,  a dry suit diver and now the advanced. Slowly but surely.

In other news I inspected my own tanks today including 2 Faber 95s in a doubles configuration and 2 AL80s. They were pretty good inside with some tiny flecks of debris that were cleared with compressed air. Thanks to Brad for showing me how to do it, and my tanks are good for another year.

Now Where’d That 640′ Freighter Go? August 21, 2009

Posted by Chris Sullivan in Dive Log, Shipwrecks, Technical Diving.
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The Roy A. Jodrey is a Mecca of sorts for technical divers, perhaps even a rite of passage for the deep air diver. On August 29th, 2008, the Friday afternoon before our annual long weekend of diving, those of us who were new technical divers boarded a charter with the old hands who’d taught us, and headed across the river and through customs to dive this famous wreck.

The Jodrey is the most recent large ship to founder in the treacherous waters of the St. Lawrence near Brockville Ontario (or Alexandria Bay New York, if you come from south of the river). It’s huge, and deep. The stern of the wreck is at around 140’ while the bow is at 250’. Fortunately there’s lots of good stuff to see at the stern, without having to go too deep. We’d decided on 180’ as our maximum. I’d been to 175’ feet without any untoward symptoms of narcosis (although it was definitely noticeable), so it seemed to be a reasonable limit. On the boat I tested my tanks for O2 and found them at 23%, meaning I would exceed my MOD a little bit, but being a short dive I was not overly concerned.

The first surprise was noticing a rebreather diver with his SMB inflated floating downstream of the wreck, which is forbidden as he was in a shipping channel. Instead of docking we went and picked him up. He was fine, but had been disassociated from the wreck in the current.

The next surprise was the mooring location. Instead of a nice big buoy to hook up with, we just parked near an island (presumably the one the Jodrey struck) and hooked up to some trees. At one point the boat got to close and had to maneuver away with Brad and me holding on to the stern. I still have the image of the spinning propeller in my mind – I don’t like being close to them! Another boat was parked there (we returned their lost diver to them) and I helped them out by freeing their stuck anchor by diving down for it.

The captain described the entry to the dive as following the contour of the “bathtub” and then turning left at the ledge. One member of the group, Wayne, had planned to dive the wreck solo, and headed off with just a single oversized tank with 1 valve (and thus only one first stage) and a deco bottle. The rest of us had full technical setup with double tanks plus deco bottles.

Brad was leading the rest of us but made a wrong turn somewhere and we were too far upstream of the wreck. He’s dived the wreck a bunch of times but I guess it had been a while. It was by no means obvious how to get there. Loaded down with two AL80 deco bottles (I’m going to think twice before doing that again) the current was hard to fight. In the narrow channel it was even stronger than the rest of the river.

I remember thinking to myself how glad I was that I had people I trusted around me. My anxiety had gone up a notch but wasn’t out of hand, but I was alert to potential danger and above all wanted to keep the others in sight. That helped me keep focus. As the narcosis set it I also set about to force myself to monitor my gauges and keep track of the others to keep it under control. It was especially important when we were hit with a downcurrent. I was at 160 feet in no time and was cranking air into my BC to get neutral again. On the way down Andrew signaled he’d had enough and started to ascend. I noticed how dark it had become, like a night dive. To top it all off, a freighter cruised right over top of us. We couldn’t see it, but the noise, accentuated by the darkness and narcosis, was almost overwhelming.

With all of this going on, I noticed that my watch band had unsnapped and was dangling on my arm. This was the only point in the dive when I thought about goings on above the surface, as my wife had bought me the watch at a Jamaican duty free store 17 years earlier and I was determined not to lose it. I slowly and carefully clipped it shut. It seemed to take a long time to get it done, but I really made certain of it. We continued on to a maximum depth of 185′.

At that point Rich, experiencing the current, the noise, the darkness and narcosis, decided he had enough and turned to leave. I remember seeing Brad grab him to slow him down, and stayed with him right to the surface, making sure than Dave and I were together for our own ascent. Knowing that the dive was over, Dave and I also headed up, climbing hand over hand on the Zebra Mussel encrusted rocks. My gloves were well-used at that point and the sharp shells of the Mussels finished them off, leaving small cuts in my fingertips that bothered me for the next week. By the time we got to 90’ I was getting out of breath fighting the current and just stopped for about 2 minutes to get it under control again. Dave thought I was making a deep stop and was giving me signals about how long I wanted to stay. I didn’t signal him back because I didn’t want to let go of the rocks! I wondered later how Brad had managed to help Rich and himself at the same time.

Once we got to 20, maybe 30 feet, we had to do a real stop, so I switched over my EAN 80 while Dave, diving with a much less conservative Cochran, stayed with his back gas. Well at least for a while. His mouthpiece came loose from his regulator and he made a quick switch to his 40 cubic foot deco bottle. He told me later that the mouthpiece had come off earlier in the dive as well, while we were near our maximum depth. It’s one of those things I’ve had happen and it’s no big deal in shallow water, but it’s trained me to regularly check the security of the mouthpieces before I go on a deep dive.

We emerged a little upstream of the boat feeling a little sheepish at having missed the wreck. We went further than we had to so we’d be sure not to end up downstream of it. A while later Wayne showed up after having a good dive on the wreck by himself, but wondering where we’d got to.

Roy A. Jodrey Log

You can see from this log the quick dive down for the anchor at the beginning and the fast trip down and then up again on the dive itself. It seemed to go by a lot quicker than the log actually shows, and due to a bug in the logging software, it seems, where it shows accelerated decompression stops as deco violations, all kinds violation flags appear in the record.