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Lillie Parsons to King drift September 2, 2012

Posted by Chris Sullivan in Uncategorized.
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It Labour Day weekend in the Thousand Islands again. This is Ontario’s warmest deep diving water, where the temperatures are around 23c all the way to the bottom of the St. Lawrence river, which reaches depths well in excess of 200′.

Although everyone else drove up on Friday, I decided to drive up Saturday morning, leaving at 4;30 AM to get to the motel by 8AM to meet everyone. One of the main reasons for this is the light traffic, and true to form I hardly had to touch the pedals for the entire trip, letting the cruise control do the work for me.

We hung around for a bit and then headed to a dock that was almost directly across the highway from the motel. The boat held 8 passengers, and with 5 of us diving with technical gear, it was tight but manageable. The plan was to have 4 divers on the Daryaw, then head to the Lille Parsons where 4 technical divers would head for the bottom, while the other 4 waited out their surface interval and then started a shallower dive.

When I was loading my gear on the boat I noticed the battery in my Apeks Quantum was dead, even though it wasn’t very old, and there was no time to get another from my car. Rory lent me a spare computer to use as a bottom timer to go with my decompression tables which I used as a backup to my Shearwater Predator dive computer. Fortunately the Predator worked flawlessly as usual because Rory’s computer’s battery died as well.

For me, the difference this time was that I was the only diver who had actually done the complete dive before, although everyone had been in that part of the river before and Rory had done the same dive but a bit shallower. Our dive plan called for 1/2 hour bottom time with most ascent pressures in the 1000-1200psi range. Being the leader worried me a bit as the most difficult part of this diver is sticking together. Below 100′ the light is dim, visibility can be low (today about 20′) which are both a good recipe for narcosis.

We gathered on the upriver side of Sparrow Island, heading into the current but turning quickly to the right to land right on the Lillie Parsons. I lost 200 psi from my doubles due to a bad free-flow on my spare second stage. I resolved then to swap it for my ATX50 second stage on my recreational regulator which I did later that day. The last few times I’ve done the dive we just descended directly from the boat and I was a little surprised to see the Lillie. Leading the dive I went over the inverted hull and along the mast, which used to hang over the ledge but is now broken off, and started was I thought was a gentle descent. It was actually about 70′ per minute although it was probably enhanced by a downward current.

There was a little more light than last year, but I initially started swimming away from the wall when we reach the 170′ bottom until I noticed that current was pushing on my left shoulder. I turned right and briefly turned on my light to orient to the wall, turned and checked that everyone was with me and OK, and on we drifted.

The first 10 minutes flew by with everyone OK and I decided to do my first SPG check, but couldn’t find it. I became somewhat preoccupied with this situation, as not knowing my air supply is clearly something that could cause some discomfort. After a couple of minutes of checking I turned to look for the others and only saw 2 divers. Rory had suffered severe narcosis and ascended, ending his dive quite early. The trouble on this dive is that there’s no point searching for lost divers as the river just keeps on pushing you along, so we continued our dive confident that Rory was self-sufficient.

Still searching for my gauge I got Matt’s attention and tried to get him to find it for me. He admitted after the dive that he was too narced to understand my signals. I started to think about what I should do and decided to ascend early if I didn’t find it soon. I was breathing at a nice, slow, steady rate and expected that my air consumption was about what I’d calculated on my dive plan. Right after that we hit an outcropping of rocks and an upward current and I found myself at 120′ with Matt and Rob well above me. They seemed to be in a controlled ascent and doing all right and I couldn’t get their attention, so I continued the dive solo, dropping back to 150′ to make sure I stayed on the wall instead of in the lee of an island which was where they ended up.

As I was doing this I reached back to my left hand first stage and traced the line to my pressure gauge. It had come unclipped somehow so I clipped it where it was supposed to go, and having satisfied myself I had plenty of air left I continued until I hit the 30 minute mark and started my ascent. The ascent and decompression were uneventful. I didn’t see all the wreckage of the King but saw various bits and pieces which looked to me like the wreck. The current was light for the decompression, which lasted about 35 minutes, and I amused myself by feeding Zebra Mussels to the Gobies.

After I surface the dive boat was there with all the others waiting for me and I saw I was in the exact spot I had intended to be, over a mile from the starting point, and almost directly in front of the cross marking the site of the King. So all in all it was an excellent dive, and other than the group ascending at different times we all stayed within our plans. Tech diving teams often have a rule that if one member aborts, everyone else does too. Rightly or wrongly we don’t tend to do that, letting each member decide if they want to leave early unless they signal they want the group to ascend for safety reasons.

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1. Introducing “Narco Stops” « Chronicle of an older diver - September 3, 2012

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