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Diving the Oconto September 4, 2012

Posted by Chris Sullivan in Dive Log, Shipwrecks, Technical Diving.
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The Oconto lies in US waters a little upriver from the Gananoque bridge. It is actually just across the channel from the Vickery, and it was suggested by the owner of DiveTech that we could actually cut across the bottom from the Vickery to the Oconto by heading in the direction the Vickery’s mast is pointing. We decided to wait until next year for that adventure. Crossing a current at 190-200′ on air is not something to be taken lightly.

After finding my Apeks Quantum dead the day before, I installed a new battery, and set it up for gauge mode (bottom timer) with decompression tables written out and stowed inside a ziploc bag in a pocket on the belt of my harness. My primary computer was the ever-reliable Shearwater Predator, with Rob diving his Cochrane (plus a Quantum) and Matt using a Uwatec.

After verifying that the large shoal marker was the correct one (about 12′ square at the base) we approached in the dive boat and the three of us dropped into the water without anchoring. Like the one near the Daryaw, an Osprey was in its nest on the top of the marker and didn’t seem very happy to see us. We were also a bit downriver when we entered so we had to swim against the current wearing our doubles and stage bottles which was a bit of a workout. The bottom was shallow around the shoal marker (think about it!) and we were able to stand up and catch our breath before submerging.

We were told there was a line leading down to the wreck, but the only line we saw at the marker ran around about 1/2 its perimeter. We were also told we would go down to 30′ then up again to 10′ before going down the wall. This was also wrong, a fact not lost to us when we hit the first ledge at 54′. There is a lighthouse across the channel a little bit upriver, so our team of 3 headed off in that direction with Matt in front using his compass.

Using the narco stops plan we came up with the night before, we stopped at that ledge for half a minute or so. At 74′ I saw a line attached to a block and signalled it’s presence to Matt and Rob. We stopped again at about 100′ for another narcosis break and planned to the same at 150′ but instead ran into the Oconto at 141′ and did it there. The change in light level below 100′ was very apparent. We headed down the port side of the wreck, away from the wall and swam around and under the spars extending into the channel. Further down the wreck, and towards our maximum depth it closed in further and Rob, who was still under the spars at that time decided to turn and come to the outside at just about when I started signalling him to do just that. Wreck penetration at 175′ on air is not very safe – but without a line and on the first visit it’s just foolhardy, and I’m glad that I don’t dive with fools.

There was a large boiler on the bottom, and a couple of anchors that were nestled together. We circled around the end (or what we thought was the end, we think it actually goes further and I’ll let you know the next time we go there) and we were back at the starting point 15 with minutes into the dive. Starting at the port side, with the current pushing us along was the correct decision, as there was less current on the return trip when we were swimming between the wall and the wreck. Even so at one point I saw Matt swimming fairly hard and I cautioned him to slow down as I was concerned about his air consumption.

Now back at the bow, we checked our air and had enough left (with reserves in place) for a little more exploration and agreed on 22 minutes total bottom time (the initial plan called for 20-25 minutes). So we played around the first 30′ of the bow about more before starting an fairly uneventful ascent bang on our planned time. Unfortunately Matt cut a small hole in his dry glove hanging on to the Zebra Mussel-infested rocks, but at least it gave him the opportunity to give Dive-Tech some more business. I’ve been with lots of dry suit divers who have flooded their gloves and it’s one of the reasons I use wet gloves, even though it sometimes limits the temperatures I can dive in.

Rob and I on the other hand spent the 10 minutes or so on the 10 foot stop feed Zebra Mussels to the Gobies, and even a small Perch got into the action. We surfaced right where we started with huge smiles on our faces and our dive boat about 20 feet away. A fantastic dive with none of the narcotic weirdness of the previous day.

Dive time was 56 minutes, 22 minutes bottom time, with 18 minutes of that on the wreck. Maximum depth was 178 feet.

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1. Diving the Roy A. Jodrey « Chronicle of an older diver - September 6, 2012

[…] It dips into a sort of a bowl at around 30′ before turning into a steep wall. As with the day before, we stopped at various intervals on the descent to rest, regroup and keep our heads clear.  There […]

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2. Another Apeks Quantum Failure « Chronicle of an older diver - September 9, 2012

[…] it. I happened to have a brand new replacement with me and used it on the next day’s dive on the Oconto, but on the surface interval it was obviously dying again so I didn’t use it on the Kinghorn […]

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