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2 Brief Visits to the J.C.Morrison August 3, 2009

Posted by Chris Sullivan in Dive Log, Shipwrecks, Training.
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On Wednesday night (July 29th, 2009) I had the opportunity to conduct in-water training for 3 divers for the PADI Dry Suit Diver Specialty. For me, the logistics of night dives isn’t all that easy because I work downtown, and the lake is about 90 kilometres away. I parked my car at a different train station, closer to the highway that runs up to the lake to make a quick afternoon getaway. It probably saved me at least 15 minutes.

The dive site is right in downtown Barrie, Ontario at Centennial Beach. Being a warm night without much wind and no rain in the forecast, there was a crowd of divers around making the already poor visibility worse. It’s a popular spot because of the convenience and access to an historic wreck, the Joseph  C. Morrison, which sank one night in early August, 1857 after burning to the waterline. In this part of Lake Simcoe, the slope of the bottom is very gentle and even with a fairly long swim out to the Morrison you don’t get any deeper than 30 feet.

A couple of minutes away from the dive site I received a worried call from Matt, one of my fellow instructor graduates of 2009 who told me the students, Mike and Darren, were there waiting for me. I let him know that I was almost there and that I was 20 minutes earlier than I’d promised. Matt had recently conducted a Dry Suit Diver specialty course himself, but one of his students, Rob (who was also on our wreck diving course) hadn’t done his dives, so I took him along as well. I committed to Matt that he could be the supervising instructor if he wanted, as we’re all trying to move up to Master Scuba Diver Training (requiring 25 certifications) and I believe that good relations among the instructors at the shop is important for us all.

Our time was limited with only an evening to complete the diving portion of the course, and with two of the students having never been in the water with their dry suits, I had to start the course with confined water training close to shore in the shallow water. This is actually the most complicated dive of the course, comprising of more skills than either of the open water dives. For the most part, the buoyancy control skills of my students were great. None had trouble with the fin pivot, and after a little practice the 1 minute hover was accomplished by everyone.

The most difficult part is the recovery from excess gas in the boots, and to practice this they took turns having me hold their inflator button down while inverting them by pulling hard on their tanks. One diver required a second try to avoid surfacing but the other two also didn’t have much difficulty. The PADI dry suit manual describes several techniques for recovery, including holding on to something, arching backwards, tucking and kicking, and twisting sideways. In the absence of something to hold on to, I prefer the last of these. It comes as  naturally to me as it did to the others.

On the first open water dive we followed the line out towards the Morrison. I’ve had difficulty finding in the past as apparently others have. Since the last time I was there, the underwater construction crew has been hard at work and provided new lines, a signpost reading “J.C.Morrison 1857” that looks just like a street sign and a small platform about a ¼ of the way out to the wreck. When I noticed the platform I got everybody to assemble there to run through the required skills, then heading out to the wreck. After being there a couple of minutes Rob indicated he was cold and signaled he was heading back. To keep everyone together, I brought the Mike and Darren back as well, being careful not to lose them behind us as Rob is strong swimmer (not to mention in a hurry to warm up) and I was in a wet suit and it would have been easy to leave them behind in the sub 10 foot visibility.

We stopped again at the platform where the water was a little warmer and did a 3 minute safety stop at 15 feet, not really required for a dive hitting a maximum of 30 feet but a required part of the course and good buoyancy practice. One diver required assistance in dumping air as he was too buoyant. Sometimes  it requires a bit of contortionism to get the air out of a dry suit, but we finally did it and he no longer had to hang on to the grate to stay submerged.

When we got out Rob was soaking wet, and we realized that his neck seal was too loose. He bought the dry suit second hand obviously from someone whose neck was a substantially larger gauge. Unfortunately, the only way to fix it is to install a whole new neck seal.

By the time we got our second dive started, delayed because one of the wing nuts on my backplate came loose, it was completely dark. I found out later that the bolts on my single tank adapter are 8mm, vs. the 5/16″ on my doubles. Such is life in Canada which is officially metric but too close to the US not to have the Imperial measurement system a big part of daily living. Rob was no longer with us because of his neck seal problem, and the plan was to head out to the platform, do some skills, then out to the Morrison to retrieve the float, then back to the platform to do our safety stop, then out. I consider myself lucky to have found the line out to the wreck in the darkness and murk, but by using  my compass I eventually saw it after crossing it once without seeing it. Somehow also missing the platform we arrived at the wreck together, where we did the skills, then continued along our original plan without any more issues. Both my students had perfected their frog kick so even though they were hugging the bottom we didn’t leave much of silt trail. We also ran into two of our other divers out at the wreck, and they returned just a couple of minutes before us.

I can finally log another night dive. They’ve been few and far between for me, which is too bad because they are challenging and fun. I also have two new dry suit divers and a third well on his way. I tossed everything in the car in a heap and sped back to my home town to pick up my wife who had stayed downtown late for a class. This made for a long day but a great experience for me doing my first dry suit class. Each dive lasted about half an hour, and on neither of them did we see much of the Morrison, but visiting the wreck was just window dressing on our real objective.

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