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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.

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.

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!

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 in the News, Week Ending September 22, 2012 September 22, 2012

Posted by Chris Sullivan in Miscellany.
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I’ve been thinking that I’d like to dive some of the wrecks off the South Carolina coast some time. I’ll try to remember not to use Coastal Scuba, though, based on the articles I’ve read about a recent fatality. If it wasn’t so tragic some of this would be funny, especially the report of an employee throwing the only non-empty Oxygen bottle overboard because he thought it might blow up. While the reports of the company’s actions on board the boat allege they were frozen in inaction, they have been quick to send their clients threatening letters from their lawyers, according to one report. A pair of registered nurses who tried to revive the woman apparently had to “bark” at the boat captain to get him to call the Coast Guard.

A diver died in Cape Breton last Sunday, which was also reported by the CBC. Cape Breton is part of the Canadian province of Nova Scotia. He was part of a group of 10 and 56 years old, and was determined to be missing when they left the water. I wonder who his buddy was. It seems, although I don’t have stats, that deaths amount divers 50 years and older (like me) are due to medical problems.

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.

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.

Lillie Parsons to King drift September 2, 2012

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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.

Florida April 28, 2012

Posted by Chris Sullivan in Dive Log, Shipwrecks, Technical Diving.
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Wow. Deep wreck dives again. This time with a difference. Here’s the list…

  1. Monday: The Eagle. OK Rob forgot his stage bottle so we changed our plan from 1 long dive to two shorter ones. We were moored at bow the first time and the high point was when we were down by the prop on the stern and found our way in the wreck   at the deepest point. Turning left we saw a long passageway leading to the light running all the way through the wreck. We didn’t go through it as I didn’t think we had time to go all the way there and back. It turned out that Rob didn’t want to go through anyway. He signaled our scooter equipped friends Dan & Phil about it and they went through (running a penetration line for safety). The second dive was also a treat because at the front of the stern section (the Eagle lies on its side and is broken in two) there are some entrances. Again we didn’t penetrate more than 1 body length but when I looked to my left the passageway was filled by a Goliath Grouper. I enjoyed watching Rob’s reaction when he saw it. There was a reef dive in the afternoon and I used what was left in my doubles to splash around in 20-25′ but the Florida reefs aren’t the greatest although I saw a couple of Nurse sharks and a very large Southern Stingray.
  2. Tuesday: The Duane. Current was huge on the wreck. Some members of the party came back with less gear than they set out with. Rob and I both found the pull down to the wreck arduous and rested in the smokestack out of the current for a couple of minutes to catch our breath. It was without doubt the strongest current I’ve been in with the exception perhaps of our abortive Jodrey dive on the St. Lawrence River. We had a good time with all the swim throughs, not venturing into anything where we’d need to run a line. The upper parts of these wrecks have very little silt and lots of exits and a quite reasonable to penetrate for wreck trained divers who either (a) are technical divers with redundant air supplies, or (b) are seasoned divers with low gas consumption and lots of available air, and have reliable buddies in the case of an emergency. The 25 minute decompression made me feel like laundry hanging in the wind.
  3. Wednesday: The Spiegel Grove. This is the all-time favourite. Last year we thoroughly explored the decks from 90′ up, which are easy stuff with the openings in at least every second room, and took a run through the 100′ deck which is definitely more challenging, although there are still a fair number of openings to the outside. This dive we thoroughly explored the deck, which is the bottom of the ship’s superstructure, first by taking the previous year’s route from the 3rd door from the left (facing the superstructure from the bow) through to an exit over the large hold, then reversing through the hold and entering back into the deck through a cutout about 3’x4′ (which seemed to be the only one). Turning left we headed over to the port side and went through a galley, pantry, and mess hall area where we noticed a couple of hatches in the deck leading down several more decks. I wrote “Next Year” on my slate and showed it to Rob before continuing on. Towards the end of the dive we swam around some of the shallower decks. We also did a second dive on the gas we had left hanging out around the cranes and so-on at about 80′.
  4. Thursday: The Bibb. We decided that if any dive of the week would not be called ‘epic’ this was it. We did, however, see a massive Goliath Grouper, so it was still a great dive. The wreck is covered in fishing line and it caught some equipment at one point but it was easily disentangled.
  5. Friday: The Spiegel Grove again. Next year came early for us as our dive plan included a conservative penetration of the 110′ deck. This deck has no cutouts on the side and can only be entered from above. We entered at the 100′ level on the port side about 20′ below the plaque commemorating the names of the sailors. At the entrance, we noticed Phil and Dan’s penetration line leading to the hatch to the 110′ deck, and ran our own from near the hatch and went in head first. We headed sternward down a narrow passageway and I could see light in the distance. The light turned out to be another hatch above us. We continued in the same direction, past what the ship’s plan says is the troop decontamination showers. The borrowed reel I was using was tough going – it felt like I was swimming against a light current, and on the return leg it was exceedingly difficult to reel in. We ran into Phil and Dan coming out of the hatch back to the 100′ deck, who scooted off, then we went up another level to swim around, finding a large machine shop and other interesting features.

 

All in all a great week of diving. Now the final night’s celebration and the flight home tomorrow.

Deep Wreck Mysteries May 8, 2011

Posted by Chris Sullivan in Shipwrecks, Technical Diving.
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I recorded a couple of shows a while back called “Deep Wreck Mysteries” from BBC Canada on my PVR and have just got around to watching one of them, having not seen them before. This one was called “Search to the Bone Wreck” about the S.S. Armenian, an American cargo steamship lost transporting mules in the first world war. It was a member of the “White Star Line”, same as the Titanic, sunk by a German U-boat on June 28, 1915, only 6 weeks after the sinking of the Lusitania, while entering the western approaches of the Bristol channel. “Bone Wreck” refers to the bones of the hundreds of mules lost in the sinking, although over a dozen human lives were also lost.

The show featured Innis McCartney, Cornwall based diver and maritime historian, and Dan Stevenson, “Technical Diver”. They were both diving rebreathers with sidemount cylinders. The first ship found on the search looked promising but the bones turned out to be cattle, not mules, and then found deck guns, while the Armenian was unarmed. It turned out to be HMS Patia (Sunk by a U-boat in 1918 transporting meat). Another wreck was found at 80m (>250′), 30km (20m) off the coast, but was not big enough to be the Armenian.

It was finally found further off the coast at 330′, using accounts of the German U-boat captain. This allowed 15 minutes of bottom time with about 3 hours of decompression. During the first dive, they found a White Start line plate, and an animal bone for analysis.

Show was made in 2008 and pretty enjoyable.