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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.

Trouble in Paradise May 2, 2016

Posted by Chris Sullivan in Dive Log, Equipment.
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The morning dive was a good one. The Spiegel Grove was in fine form, although visibility was less than I’ve seen it previously. I was diving with Joe, who was on a rebreather. Rob had a low battery on his unit and wisely decided to give the day a miss, although I missed having him on the dive. We did a loop around the superstructure and then went into the 95′ deck where there is a mess hall and a workshop with a large lathe and other tools. Unfortunately Joe had a bad cell (giving me ammunition for ongoing but lighthearted arguments on the merits of rebreathers vs. open-circuit technical diving) and we ended the dive earlier than planned with only 4 minutes of deco needed on my part. Joe sat out the second dive so I went in with the recreational divers for my second dive without carrying any deco gas and finished the dive taking Jody for a tour of the same deck as the first dive. Because of a slightly shortened surface interval and a second deep dive I ended up with about 10 minutes of deco, with no 50 mix available to speed it up.

I went up the line at 30 fpm, the maximum recommended amount and started doing my stops. The 30′ stop cleared almost as soon as I got there, and the 20 minute stop was fairly short and I was at 10′ before Jody caught up. I’d seen him hanging below me and found out later he was wondering where I was, but eventually realized that I was above him. Because we were now the last divers in the water, I hurried things up by finishing my deco while swimming to the back of the boat. I’ve often done this just for fun but this time it saved 2 or 3 minutes for both the other divers and crew.

On the downside, I went into the Ocean Divers shop to buy an air fill for my doubles. The woman behind the counter made eye contact and I asked for a fill, at which point she seemed peeved and told me she had to finish some form or other for someone else. I told her I didn’t mind waiting and in a few minutes I was charged $8.60 and given a ticket to take downstairs. I talked to the guy in the air fill station who was helpful enough and gave him my ticket. No claim ticket was given to me, which I thought strange as they had no way of telling it was my tank. He asked me if it would be OK if I picked them up in the morning as he was busy with fills for the charter operation. That was fair enough and I agreed. They opened at 7 so I had time to swing by and grab the tanks on the way to a different operator for the next day’s dive. One difference between Ocean Divers and all the other dive operators in Key Largo is that the others will fill your tanks for free, but there, if you want to bring your own, you pay for the fill.

The next morning we were there at about 7:40 to pick up the tank. The guy I talked to the day before wasn’t there, and the fill station was being staffed by the same person who sold me the fill the day before. She told me that they didn’t get around to filling the tank. When I pointed out that I’d been promised it would be filled by morning, she told me that their policy was 24 hour turnaround. So bizarrely, I had to point out that irrespective of the policy, which had never been revealed to me, a promise is a promise, and the tank should have been filled. She offered to fill the tank right then, so despite this making us late for the boat I had no choice but to let her do it.

She first hooked a Nitrox hose to it, although I’d asked and paid for air. When she was called on this she said that the tank was labelled Nitrox and must be filled with Nitrox, not air. I probably should have taken my tank right there and then but I needed the fill. In rare circumstances her statement is true, when the air station is not O2 clean, but her statement reflected a misunderstanding of the nature of the problem, and certainly shouldn’t be the case at a Nitrox facility. Next she puts two yoke inserts in my DIN valves and hooks two fill hoses to the doubles. At that point I went upstairs for a moment to see if they were a PADI facility (which they are), because we were wondering as instructors whether we were responsible for reporting such faults. We concluded we weren’t. Then while we were talking about it we heard the familiar sound of purging, although these were both repeated and extended blasts of air, not a short single purge as you’d expect.

Mine was the only tank being filled so clearly something else was wrong. Looking in, I noticed she tried to tighten the valve on the left tank in the open position, just as we’d guessed. I pointed this out to her, and while closing it, she told us “the yoke is still not going to come off”. I told her she’d have to purge it first and she snapped “I know what I’m doing”. So I said that we were both certified gas blenders and we were just trying to help – a statement met by silence. Sure enough, with the valve closed and the whip purged, the yoke came right off. I wished her a nice day as we sped out of there, unlikely to return in the foreseeable future.

Mine was not the only case of rudeness, incompetence and egotism (a dangerous combination in diving) at this operation. The other disappointments will be written up by others and I will provide links to them in this blog. I’ve been to other operations on Key Largo that weren’t familiar with technical diving. None of those tried to fake knowledge they didn’t possess. Some might be characterized them as primarily suited for recreational divers so I don’t fault them for not knowing much about technical diving, as long as they don’t pretend to. Faking competence will ultimately lead to something unfortunate, so we won’t be coming back. Some of the other operators told us there has been a lot of staff of staff turnover there, not all of it voluntary.

Fortunately, it was my one and only dive scheduled with them that week.

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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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.