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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.

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