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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.

Everybody Loves Miami April 27, 2016

Posted by Chris Sullivan in Shipwrecks.
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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

Posted by Chris Sullivan in Shipwrecks.
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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!

Florida Keys 2011 – Vandenberg September 11, 2012

Posted by Chris Sullivan in Dive Log, Technical Diving.
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This is a continuation of the trip I took in April 2011 to dive in the Florida Keys, and I’d written most of this then but decided to finish it now. Like many bloggers the urge comes and goes. I’ve left this alone for quite a while. I left off with a dive on the Spiegel Grove, but Matt and I chartered that separately, which was great because we ended up diving the wreck 3 times during the trip.

The first official dive of the trip was on the Vandenberg off Key West. We used a different dive shop, Sub Tropic this time and they were more conveniently located for parking than the previous year’s operator and a very short distance to the dive boat. The dive boat itself was reasonably well suited for those of us diving doubles.

It was a fairly rough ride out to the wreck and several divers were sick, although fortunately I wasn’t one of them. When we got there, Matt and I agreed that we would run a similar profile using our computer maxing out at either 1 hour bottom time or 30 minutes deco time, using EAN50 as our deco gas and air as our back gas. This turned out to be our standard profile for the remainder of the week, sometimes modified slightly to accommodate the various depths.

The wreck is a lot of fun where you get to swim around the big satellite dishes (and even through the hole in the focal point of one of them) as well (assuming you’re trained and equipped) lots of easy penetrations through the hallways.

The staff were among the most helpful I’ve ever seen and well-deserved the tips we gave them. The dive shop has now closed, though, but a different one has taken it over.

One thing I’ll never forget is on the ride back from the wreck we passed a Naval vessel moored near the residences for married sailors. One guy on the boat who lived there was a chief nurse who had done some rotations through Kandahar, Afghanistan, describing it as “the worst place on earth”. It made an impression.

Scuba diving in Fort Lauderdale, Florida October 13, 2008

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In early March 1992, my wife and I decided to drive down to Florida for a holiday. We chose Boca Raton near Fort Lauderdale, because being far south in the state we expected it to be warm even in midwinter, and because I got a corporate rate of $60 including breakfast for two at the Boca Raton Hilton. So it was a very cheap trip, which is what we needed at the time, especially as my 6 year old Volkswagen Jetta used to get incredible mileage.

Taking the opportunity to find some warm water, I located a friendly dive shop in Fort Lauderdale, and booked a two tank (two single tank dives) boat dive on March 11, 1992, two days after Menachem Begin died. The day was warm at 28C with fine conditions, but surprisingly the water temperature was only 16C (61F) so I’m glad I rented a wet suit.

The first dive was really memorable. It was a wreck dive on the Mercedes, a foreign cargo ship that ran aground in front of a rich woman’s house in Palm Beach. I remembered seeing the television coverage of the incident, with the old woman standing in front of her house looking at this huge cargo ship on the beach. It was pretty funny – for me at least.

There was also a Canadian documentary series called “The Last Frontier” that covered the intentional sinking of the ship to create an artificial reef. The series, with 50 or so episodes shot on 16mm film in the mid-eighties, starred underwater cinematographer John Stoneman, who also headed the “Foundation for Ocean Research”. The foundation disbanded in 2004. Several episodes of this series included Tom  Mount, who were later to lead the technical diving certification agency, IANTD. Another frequent guest was Dr. Alan Emery, Director of the Canadian Museum of Nature. Every episode of the series seemed to feature John Stoneman doing something clever, heroic, or more commonly both, to the point that it strained credibility, but I suppose they thought it made for better television.

While I was excited to see a wreck that I’d seen on TV, I don’t remember all that much except that while swimming along the rails, huge Barracuda would hang a few feet outside the rail looking quite menacing. I covered my dive watch with my wet suit as I’d heard they might attack shiny objects but of course they left me alone. With a maximum depth of 97 feet, my deepest dive to date, my buddy Amanda and I had a bottom time of only 15 minutes.

The second dive was along a coral reef at 20-25 feet and was for 50 minutes. I had new buddies, Alain and Louise, and I didn’t find it all that interesting after the Mercedes. I’ve been talking to the folks at the dive shop about going back to that area to get a Trimix certification, which might be handy some day if I want to dive a deep wreck like the Andrea Doria.

Scuba Diving in St. Petersburg, Florida October 11, 2008

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Only (!) 6 months passed until my next holiday and next dive. For some reason we decided to drive to St. Petersburg at the beginning of summer, when the weather was steaming hot. Aside from trips to Universal Studios (once was plenty for me, although the Back to the Future ride was a blast), and Cape Canaveral (first of two visits, and I would definitely go at least one more time, especially if I could see a launch), I found a nearby shop and secured a boat ride to do some diving.

So on June 27, 1991, a couple of days after the collapse of Yugoslavia, and in 90 degrees Fahrenheit (32C) weather we headed far out into smooth waters of the Gulf of Mexico for my 44th and 45th lifetime dives. Even 15 miles (24km) from the shore the depth was only 55 feet, and buddy Randy (who I’d met on the boat) and I dove on a wreck the captain called the “Cable Barge”. There was an abundance of fish life on the wreck, which I in typical fashion didn’t bother to note in my log book. We had a nice long dive of 50 minutes before returning to the boat. On the boat we noticed a waterspout (what a tornado is called over water) about 8 miles distant, which we kept a careful eye on until it was out of sight. The water was almost as warm as the air at 86F (30C) and very humid.

After a one hour surface interval including a short boat ride, we descended on the “Mystery Wreck” for a similar experience, with schools of large fish including Barracuda, some curious Mantas, minnows and starfish. I was finally writing something useful in my log book although I’m sure there were many more species represented down there than I noted.

We stayed in a large condominium hotel at Redington Beach, and in the depressed early nineties the unit in which we were staying was for sale for about $45K. I wish I’d bought it as it was right on the beach, and beautifully done up with a large balcony, but I was already tied up in some property at the time and didn’t want to take the risk. I was told recently that non-resident property taxes in Florida are really exorbitant so maybe it was for the best.

I hope I can visit the Gulf again sometime to do some more diving as it far exceeded my expectations at the time, although still lacking much warm water experience at the time it might disappoint me now.

One of the great things about the sport of diving is that you can find a place to dive just about anywhere you travel. Even the most unlikely places like Prince George in the interior of Northern British Columbia or the landlocked mid-western states will have a dive shop that uses a local lake or quarry and find something interesting to do there. I take every opportunity I can now to include some diving with every trip I take, although sadly I don’t get as many interesting business trips as I once did.