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Florida Keys 2011 – Spiegel Grove April 26, 2011

Posted by Chris Sullivan in Dive Log, Shipwrecks.
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The club trip diving runs Saturday to Wednesday, but having driven down earlier Matt and I took advantage and hooked up a boat ride to the Spiegel Grove with Silent World in Key Largo. Originally we’d planned to go to the Duane, but Captain Bob thought it was a bit rough and elected not to go there. I found the ride quite comfortable – not exactly smooth but no thoughts of seasickness. It was just rough enough to make preparation difficult, so I was glad we had everything set up before heading out.

The day before we’d arranged to have our stage bottles filled with EAN50 at Silent World, which is all we really need for the Keys wreck dives.  We met the owner, Chris, and chatted to him about the new Poseidon recreational rebreather and the growing popularity and acceptance of rebreathers for recreational diving. We’re also looking at trying one out on an experience dive with one if we have time this week, although I didn’t come to Florida to spend time in a pool.

Also on our dive boat was Dave, who happened to be an Inspiration Rebreather diver. We teamed up with him and planned the dive for an hour of bottom time and 30 minutes of deco. The start of the dive was to go to the props, which is about the deepest you can go there, then work our way forward and move into shallower regions. Dave had some nice camera equipment, and I’m looking forward to seeing some of his pictures. There are several descent lines going to the wreck, and our was on the starboard crane, which is astern of the superstructure.

Dave, with his nice camera equipment

After entry, instead of pulling ourselves along the lines to the buoy, we dropped below the boat. I ended up being the deepest, meeting the line at about 25 feet. At that depth, it looks like you can almost touch the wreck. We staged our EAN50 deco bottles when we reached the bottom of the line.

There were a couple of surprises at the the beginning. The first was that you can swim under the stern to the props from the starboard side. This is always a cool thing to do on a wreck dive. It was the deepest part of the dive, where I hit the 143′ maximum depth.

Under the Stern

We then headed into the dry-dock section. The ship is a floating dry dock, which could open up a rear door and let other ships drive in (that’s probably a gross simplification of what actually happens). So this part is huge and quite deep and reasonably devoid of features and fish. We ventured quite a way into it, but as we were still quite deep we turned around before getting to the end so we could ensure a reasonably long dive. The most interesting thing we found was these articles on the bottom. These were only illuminated by dive lights.

Articles in Dry Dock Section

After this we headed for a tour of the deck and superstructure where there are numerous swim throughs. Much of the superstructure has been opened up for divers to play in, and as long as you maintain contact with the outside light those used to wreck penetration shouldn’t have trouble. There are several doors at the deck level which lead to a maze of twisty passages and should only be attempted by those trained for technical wreck penetrations using guide lines. This was apparently the place were 3 divers died in March, 2007. OK So I was misinformed. According the the Silent World Boat Captain Bob, these divers pried open a door in the dry dock section, and descended to approximately 130′ inside the wreck, diving on single AL80s. They had stage bottles (unclear whether for deco, which wouldn’t make sense, or extended dive time) but left them by the entrance. Mindful of the warnings, Matt and I ran a penetration line in the 3rd door from the left, facing aft from the bow, only to find numerous large openings to the outside and a thick guideline. The only caution I would have is that it is relatively deep at 98′, and you spend a fair amount of time in an overhead environment.

Bow of the Spiegel Grove

On the deck, I noticed how much more overgrown the wreck was.The bow section is worth a look, as it is with most ships. Going out over the either end and looking back at the ship is usually spectacular, and the Spiegel Grove is no exception.

Bow of the Spiegel Grove

Yes, we gave the wreck a good going over, especially the safe swim throughs which are really a lot of fun. It’s difficult to describe the fascination we have with swimming through the passageways of a ship we’d hardly give a second glance to on the surface, but it’s there. The feeling of safety you get with doing it with lots of air available also makes the diving much less tense than if we had to plan the route more carefully to make it back to the ascent line with plenty of air left. And there were fish – lots of them just hanging out on the wreck.

Superstructure level

On the way back to the ascent line Matt made us proud by unfurling the flag.

We arrived back at the boat pretty much on plan at 60 minutes bottom time and 30 minutes deco on EAN50. It was an outstanding dive.

Back to the Florida Keys April 24, 2011

Posted by Chris Sullivan in Dive Log, Emergencies, Fitness and Nutrition.
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It’s almost time to say goodbye to my 1996 Toyota Camry, which has been a delightful car to drive for the last 15 years but is now starting to really show its age. It’s mostly used for either getting around town, going to the occasional visit to my in-laws in London Ontario (about 200 km each way), or dive trips. The trunk (boot, for those of you reading outside of North America), has taken more than its fair share of abuse, having been subjected many times to wet dive gear, including a set of double steel tanks. It now takes some determination to make it latch shut.

So when the I signed up for the trip, I figured I’d drive it, if any one would want to come along with me. The advantage of driving is money saved and the ability to take more gear, especially tanks. Due to a medical condition of one of our group, we didn’t know if there would be 2 or 3 of us, and the Camry would really only fit 2 people plus gear. It turned out to be just 2, so on Tuesday night we packed the Camry with more gear than one could reasonably expect it to hold, ready for the drive the following day.

The trunk held Matt’s twin LP steel 125s (insanely huge) and my twin steel 95s (just huge). To my surprise Matt had another set of 95s in his garage belonging to our local dive shop owner, so we brought them as well. We also squeezed 2 AL80s and some luggage, including one of the other club member’s backplate and wings. Behind the driver seats we stuffed 2 more AL80s, 2 LP steel 50s, and an LP steel 45. On the back seat we had all our dive gear, laptops, and other sundry equipment.

All this meant the rear tires were almost scraping the wheel wells, despite trying to put some of the load forward of the rear axle.

At 5AM I headed over to Matt’s and we set the GPS for the Keys. With the early departure traffic was building but light, so we avoided highway 407 (North America’s most expensive toll road) and had no problems clearing the Greater Toronto Area. Amazingly there was no line-up to customs and they didn’t question our heavily loaded vehicle. Traffic was pretty light the whole way, with the worst being perhaps Charlotte, North Carolina – a bit heavy but no delays.

On the way we discussed driving through the night but figured that we wouldn’t be able to schedule any Thursday diving so we opted to stay the night in Southern Georgia with about 800km left to go. The following day was an uneventful drive down the coast of Florida and we arrived in Key Largo and went straight to Silent World, where we’d arrange a dive charter for the following day.

We needed deco mix for the dive (EAN50) as our shop couldn’t get any Oxygen for our fills prior to leaving. We found them closed, but their sign said open. As we were leaving we asked a guy who was driving in if he knew where the owner was, and he took us to the Garden Cove Marina where they were unloading from an afternoon dive charter. We waited for them to unload in the Shipwreck Bar and got everything sorted out.

Unfortunately there was also a commotion at the end of the dock where paramedics were attended to a 69 year-old doctor from Michigan who had died while snorkeling. The cause of death isn’t known at this time but heart attacks are common during periods of unusually strenuous activity in older people. A sobering thought as I continue my technical diving pursuits as I get older.

We went back to the shop and got everything sorted out for the next day, expecting to dive the Duane. The car now had about 2,600 more kilometres (1,650 miles) on the odometer than it had a couple of days before.

Florida Bound April 21, 2011

Posted by Chris Sullivan in Shipwrecks.
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From Toronto to Tavernier Key is a mere 2,500km. A quick check on Google maps shows it’s the same distance as Paris to Athens, without the ferry ride. On day 1, we knocked off about 1,700 of those and I’m writing this from a motel somewhere in Georgia. So we expect to arrive late this afternoon.

There is so much gear in the poor 1986 Toyota Camry that the rear tyres are almost scraping the wheel wells. Normally I wouldn’t subject my own vehicle to this kind of abuse but it’s fully depreciated and will be replaced next month. We have 3 sets of steel doubles, 4 AL80s, and 3  steel stage bottles (My 45, and Brad’s two 50s).

First dive of the week will be on the Duane, while the first official dive of the club trip will be Saturday on the Vandenburg in Key West.