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Exploring the Eagle May 16, 2016

Posted by Chris Sullivan in Dive Log, Shipwrecks, Technical Diving.
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Once again with Conch Republic, we headed off to the Eagle for the second and final time of the trip (the previous time we went there after deciding not to dive the Duane due to current). Joe and Rob were on their rebreathers with me on my doubles. Descent was uneventful and as usual I deposited my deco tank in a crevice on the wreck near the stern descent line.

Joe led the dive. We headed for the top of the superstructure on the stern, entering the wreck on the starboard side which was near the ocean bottom. We entered a non-descript room and Joe headed through a doorway, but unfortunately left a fair amount of silt behind. Unwilling to enter in zero visibility, I waited, illuminating the doorway with my dive light in case Joe was having any difficulty finding his way out. Within a minute he reappeared and we headed in a different direction exiting the forward end of the superstructure.

There we saw a Goliath Grouper just inside the wreck. There were some divers about 10′ above us and I tried to get their attention so they could take a look at him, but none looked in our direction. We then started wondering where Rob had gotten to so we went back to where we entered the superstructure then back to the line to look for him. We saw him 30′ or so above us signalling “OK” with his dive light, finding out later that he lost most of his diluent supply getting through the first door and decided to bail out. I’m glad we saw him and didn’t have to search the inside the of the wreck.

Atlantic Goliath Grouper

                                            It was bigger than this one

After doing a lap around the bow section, we returned to the stern and slid back in near the prop. You have to get low to the bottom to do this, and the interior is prone to silt so good wreck penetration skills are needed. 2 years ago we were swimming through the same spot and it started to silt up, prompting me to quickly exit the way I went in. This time was much better and we went sideways through a hatch (or maybe just a hole) into the very bottom of the ship, where there were reassuringly several large exits, although not much else to see. After this we went back to the line and ascended – and as usual Joe was finished his deco about 3x quicker than me.

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Once more to the Spiegel Grove May 13, 2016

Posted by Chris Sullivan in Dive Log, Shipwrecks, Technical Diving.
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The last deep dive of the week was once again on the Spiegel Grove. Did I want to dive the same wreck 3 times in a week? Hell yes. I love that dive. This time four of us, Rob, Jody, Joe and me all together exploring levels 1 and 2. Level 2 is perhaps the more interesting one as it has the mess hall and the workshop, which has a grinder, planer, drill presses, lathe, hoists, workbenches and welding equipment. No-one seemed to have much trouble getting through the doors this time and we didn’t have any bailouts.

Near the end of the dive we were in the workshop when through a doorway we saw a large (no, like, really really big) Goliath Grouper hanging out. We watched him for quite a while but he eventually swam away slowly. We followed after him, descending through an oval hole and under the deck that overhangs the dry dock area. It looks from the plans like the hole once housed some kind of smokestack, but in (not 20/20) hindsight I’m a little fuzzy on which deck some things were on. The plans don’t show the stack on the workshop deck. It looks like once through the hold we swam out from under the deck on which the 3″/50mm guns used to be mounted, just before getting to the 50 ton cranes.

To be honest even though I surface with the feeling I was really getting to know the layout of the decks, in retrospect I’m not entirely sure what was on each deck, except for the mess hall and the machine shop. When I look at the plans I can’t reconcile everything with what I remember. Maybe narcosis is factor, or maybe the ship was reconfigured after the plans were drawn.

We also came upon the “Top Dog” floor mural in one of the hallways in the approximate centre of the deck, which I’d not seen before. It’s easy to overlook, being in a nondescript hallway running across the deck, and partially covered in silt.

TOP DOG - USS SPIEGEL GROVE (Floor Mural)

That was the best dive of the week, although I really like to go into the below decks again where it’s necessary to run guidelines. I’ll have to wait for my team members to get a little more time and confidence on their rebreathers before doing that again.

Shallow Waters May 8, 2016

Posted by Chris Sullivan in Dive Log, Shipwrecks.
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Wednesday turned out to be a disappointment followed by a decent shallow water dive. Once again we were to dive the Duane, and once again the current was way too strong. Like the previous time, we headed over to the Spiegel Grove only to hear of ripping currents there too, so we gave up and the boat took us to the wreck of the Norwegian merchant freighter Benwood, a wreck of a wreck lying in about 35′ feet of water. The Benwood sank after a collision, and then, according to our boat crew, the US Navy used it for target practice , so not only are there a few bombs lying around the site a lot of the metal is twisted beyond recognition. The Wikipedia article on the Benwood states that her stern section “seems to have been mostly obliterated by explosions of an unknown type”.

I dove with Rob, who’d recovered from his cold enough to dive. We took our time examining the wreck. Lots of time, actually, as my total dive time was 120 minutes. Rob logged 115 minutes but I explored for a few minutes below the boat so I could come up with 120 minutes on the computer. My reward was spotting a cluster of 4 lobsters. I’d had the best fill of the week so far so even with the length of the dive I still came up with 1000 PSI in the doubles. We saw a few Rockfish, a spotted drum, and various other more common species, and these mysterious rust coloured fish with big glassy eyes. The boat crew had some opinions on what the fish was, but we didn’t come up with anything definitive.

Any dive is a good dive but this good dive would have been a better dive if it were a dive on the Duane or the Spiegel Grove.

Update

The mysterious red fish is identified as a Glasseye Snapper.

priacanthus_cruentatus

Day of the Eagle May 7, 2016

Posted by Chris Sullivan in Dive Log, Shipwrecks, Technical Diving.
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For dive #3, Rob was down with a cold and Joe was still waiting for his O2 sensors to arrive. Jody had arranged to do his final dive of the rebreather course with the Gary, owner of Conch Republic, so I arranged to dive with them. This time we were on the Eagle. It was a fine day (like all of them) and current was minimal when we tied off on the stern line. When we’d descended to the wreck I put my 3/4 full deco tank (50% 02 in a 45 cubic foot steel tank) on the wreck right next to line. I recalled when diving the same wreck a few years before with Matt we’d initially staged on the bottom and as we swam away I realized that 115′ wasn’t the best depth for them, so we’d gone back and put them near the line and 30′ or so higher – saving us from descending again near the end of the dive.

Mindful of their near optimal O2 mix and effective gas capacity, I stayed about 10′ above them for most of the dive. I followed behind most of the time with Gary leading the way. We went inside the superstructure on the stern section for a bit but it was difficult for Jody to maneuver easily in the sideways wreck with his new kit. We also toured bow section, separated from the stern by Hurricane Georges in 1998, going round the bow from deck to hull then through a hole about half way day back to the deck. At one point I helped Jody get through a swim through which was giving him trouble because of the position of the bail-out tank. I just lifted it and he went right through. Then, of course, I had to make a point of sailing through without any contact, just to show myself that I could in my doubles, as no-one else was watching.

By the time we got back to the stern line I had 18 minutes TTS (time to surface) so I waved goodbye and went up to my first deco stop. By the time Gary and Jody came up I was nearly finished my deco and when I was done, I went back on the air in my doubles and hung out with them near the line while they finished theirs. I only had 100 PSI of 50% Nitrox deco gas left at that point, which was about 4 minutes worth, but at least an hour of air as a contingency in case I had run short.

While I love the Spiegel Grove for its sheer scale and upright position, the Eagle is a cool dive, especially once you get to know your way around it.

Decompression Period May 3, 2016

Posted by Chris Sullivan in Dive Log, Equipment, Shipwrecks, Technical Diving.
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Dive #2 was supposed to be on the Duane. It’s not my favourite wreck down there, and I’ve often said I could dive the Spiegel Grove every day of the week, but I’d never turn down a dive on the Duane. This time, though, when the Conch Republic boat got there, the buoys marking the site were under water, meaning very strong currents were present. I’ve dived the Duane in conditions like that and we had been surprised no-one had been swept off the wreck, so discretion prevailed and we headed off to Dive the Spiegel Grove again, which, of course, I didn’t mind one bit.

There was a fairly strong current on the Spiegel Grove as well. I was feeling slightly queasy after the long ride, but when I got to the back of the boat I was asked to wait as Rob was still getting ready. I sat down and didn’t feel to good so I told the crew I’d wait in the water and went in. It took some hauling to pull myself through the current to the descent line so I used the waiting time catching my breath using the atmosphere instead of my tank. Even so I used 400psi (about 28 cubic feet) just getting down to the bottom of the line, although some of that might have been lost due to the change in temperature. Using water temp of 27 and air temp of 33 the change in pressure due to temperature would be equivalent to about 6 cubic feet.

I was with my trusty buddy Rob. He was on his new rebreather so we didn’t push too hard – doing the swim throughs on the first and second levels above the main deck – and after reading some of the APD Inspiration manual I’m sure he had plenty enough to think about. Even though we were to dive the Spiegel Grove no less than 3 times during the week, we never penetrated the wreck below the main deck, where we need to run lines, choosing to stay conservative. In previous years we’ve gone one level below the deck and I was hoping to go further this year but it was not to be.

Rob’s kit wasn’t as streamlined as his doubles because his bail-out tank was not as parallel to his body as we tend to have with our doubles, and at one point he had to extricate himself from apparently entangling some of the many hoses on his kit while going through one of the doorways on the wreck.

As usual I racked up a bunch of deco time. Rob had very little, so this dive goes to the rebreather for minimizing hang time, although marks were deducted for the hangup in the doorway. Mind you, we were entertained by a group of Barracudas which circled us on each stop and the water was warm, although it would be been more fun to spend that time on the wreck.

Conch Republic handled everything wonderfully. Their setup on the dock is easy to use with the nearby fill station (although Mark carried my doubles to the fill station that day), hoses, hangers and dunk tanks.

Everybody Loves Miami April 27, 2016

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That may be true, but the airport is a bit confusing. Due to scheduling conflicts my ride from Miami to Key Largo wasn’t happening, and Geoff, who arrived about an hour before me, was in the same predicament. No getting our groove on for the night this time. So the two of us found each other in the terminal and went off in search of transportation to our destination.

Our first idea was to rent a car at the airport and drop it off at Key Largo. So we took the automated train over to the rental car terminal and waited in line for a considerable time for an Avis representative. We were told that it would be no problem dropping the car off anywhere in Florida but further into the transaction we found out that the Key Largo Avis closed at 1pm and wouldn’t be open until Monday. There was no drop-off while the location was closed so we would have to rent for two days when we really only needed two hours.

Enterprise Rent-a-Car told us we could drop the car off the same day, but there would be a $125 drop-off fee – basically worse that Avis. So we declined and went downstairs to the Greyhound station. There we were told we’d have to wait 1h 15m for the bus, which was a depressing enough thought without the delay. So we decided to go for the Keys Shuttle.

That meant we had to go back to the train, back to the terminal, walk through the terminal all the while getting incorrect advice about where we were supposed to go. Advice: don’t ask anybody where things are, just use the Internet or call them. The problem was that when the word “Shuttle” is in the question, any shuttle seemed to be OK. We were advised by one person to go to the departures level door 10. Fortunately I saw the shuttle one level below us loading up, and called to the driver that we would be down shortly. So for future reference it across from door 8 on the arrivals level.

The shuttle is $60 one-way. A trip for two, though, was only $70. So for $40 each including tip we got a reasonably friendly and comfortable ride right to our Motel. Shortly after we arrived the gang went to Hobo’s Cafe for dinner, looking forward to diving the next day.

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On the Road Again April 23, 2016

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So I’m on the way to Key Largo once again to dive the big wrecks. I think this is my fifth trip. So far I’ve not tired of the big underwater playground, especially the Spiegel Grove, and because I missed last year’s trip due to work it should be even more fun.

Lately in my blogging activities I’ve taken to using taking my titles from songs – so thank you Canned Heat. Not that this post has anything to do with the lyrics of the song, thankfully.

At this moment I’m waiting at YYZ (another song title) for my flight which leaves in 75 minutes. I arrived in plenty of time and for the first time in a long time all the queues were short. It was also the first time I had my boarding pass on my phone, and along with being able to get into business pass class using some of my frequent flyer miles accumulated years ago, made the airport experience almost pleasant. Let’s hope my bag arrives safely.

My regular dive buddy Rob is down there already with dive shop owner Jody taking a rebreather course. Depending on what wrecks we’re diving and what we plan to do on them, especially in the overhead environment, we’ll have to figure out how we can support each other as a dive team with a combination of open circuit and rebreather divers working together. I’m especially interested in bail-out as I understand that will be a limiting factor, and while I will be carrying lots of air and nitrox, they won’t.

I’m looking forward to hearing all about their experience. Off to the gate!

Diving in the News, October 20th, 2012 October 20, 2012

Posted by Chris Sullivan in Miscellany, Shipwrecks.
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The Hindustani Times ran a first person article about panic while learning to dive. I felt compelled to correct the reference to an “Oxygen Tank”.

Instructors and Dive Shops should take note of this report on a dive shop which failed to provide a medical questionnaire before training. Even though the former student had died on a holiday, they were found responsible, fined, and expelled from PADI.

After the Costa Concordia disaster I thought it might end up as diving destination. It already has, with looters stealing what they can from the wreck. Sometimes, often actually, I’m truly embarrassed for our species. Meanwhile there are plans to refloat it, so the thieves will be the only ones besides police and search and recovery divers who get to dive it. In the “it’s a small world” department, the woman who cuts my hair was once a hairdresser on the ship.

The world record for longest cold & salt water SCUBA dive has been broken in Ireland. Kudos to the diver and support team for raising money to support families of children with cancer, in memory of his two year old nephew. If any of my dive buddies who are reading this want to give it a try, I’ll happily be your support diver, but as I don’t have a pee valve in my dry suit I’m not about to do it myself. As I reported earlier the definition of cold in this case is below 15 degrees Celsius (59F).

A 68 year-old diver died in the Great Barrier Reef (hardly a week goes by without at least one diver death). I’m not counting, but it seems like a lot of fatalities are older divers. Of course, this proves nothing unless you also adjust the stats for a some variables, like the number of divers in each age group, etc.

Let’s be careful down there.

Diving the Roy A. Jodrey September 6, 2012

Posted by Chris Sullivan in Dive Log, Shipwrecks, Technical Diving.
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I once described this as my “Pinnacle Wreck”. I’m going to have to change that designation to the either the Andrea Doria or the HMCS Canada, which are both at 200’ +, although there are definitely more visits to the Jodrey in my plans for the future – maybe even in the next few weeks.

Monday September 3rd was another perfect day to end a perfect Labour Day weekend, with morning coming without a cloud in the sky. We set out from the Caiger’s Motel dock, just a few minutes east of Rockport, Ontario, with Captain Mike at the helm and the same divers as the day before. However this time we planned to move the recreational divers to another boat after clearing customs. We did this so the boat manifests wouldn’t have to be changed at the last minute to give US Customs one less thing to worry about.

US entry took about 15 minutes, mostly because the other boat was slow. It was also right about then I realized I’d left the keys in the Highlander which was parked back and Caiger’s, but I had to put that out of my mind. We had the same agent as the day before, known to me only by his name tag (“Rufa”), who I’d also seen on trips in other years.  He had seen all of us the previous day and actually smiled, and noting we were planning to dive the Jodrey, encouraged us to return to Canada alive. After discharging the recreational divers it was a short chug upriver to get to the dive site, right next to the US Coast Guard station. The others went in the opposite direction to the Keystorm and America.

The weather was very calm, and we took our time getting ready, going over the plan, some emergency procedures (one to Mike, “if you see an SMB while we are on deco, drop this tank in the water for us”), and after entering the water assembled near the shore to sort ourselves out and rest (if you’ve ever climbed out of a dive boat with doubles and stage bottles on, you’ll know why we rest). With Brad in front and me out the back following Matt and Rob, we headed toward the channel and hopefully finding the ship this time.

We headed diagonally from the entry point toward the centre of the channel and slightly downriver. 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 was a mild upward current as we went over each ledge, which added to the descent time a little, but the  worked well and we were in good shape by the time we reached 150′ and started moving with the wall to our left hoping to see the wreck. By the time the bow end of the wreck slowly became distinguishable from the rocks in the gloom, we were at 175′.

Rob stuck close to the wall and I noticed that was going into a confined area between the ship and the wall. Like the previous day’s dive on the Oconto, as I started signalling with my light he noticed what he was doing and turned around. We examined various stairways and holds and in one section, where I realized that it was well lit and open, I decided to go for the maximum planned depth of 190′ and started a slow descent. At this point, Brad signalled for everyone to leave. We were only 15 minutes into the dive and everyone wondered why, but it turned out to be a miscommunication between Rob and Brad over the amount of air he had left. Better safe than sorry so I had to be satisfied with 185′, which I must say is plenty.

It will take a few more visits to really get a feel for the wreck. Now that I’ve been there once I can be less concerned about the execution of the dive and spend more of it actually checking it out. Of course, I’d no doubt remember more of it if I’d used Trimix. I must take that course some time.

Despite the abbreviated bottom time, we were thrilled to have finally added the Jodrey to our log books, and really had a great time recounting the dive on the trip back. My Highlander was still there when I got back, the drive home took only 3 1/2 hours even in the long weekend traffic (It sometimes takes more than 5), and my wife had cooked me a lovely dinner. All in all a perfect end to a perfect weekend.

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.