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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!


Diving in the News, October 6th, 2012 October 6, 2012

Posted by Chris Sullivan in Emergencies.
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I’ve taught Search & Recovery as part of the PADI Advanced Diver Course. We couldn’t get a lot of interest in the full course from new divers. This search course at the San Diego Harbour Police looks challenging, and fun. I mentioned before that in the early eighties my NASDS course we lifted a car (a Vega, I think) in our advanced driver training. We’re a little less ambitious with today’s courses.

I didn’t know there was good diving in the French Riviera. If I win the lottery I’m definitely going to swing the yacht by every once in a while. I’d have to buy a ticket of course, which I never do.

It’s hard to glean the truth out of news stories, especially those about diving fatalities. This article describes the death of a diving instructor in Lake Mead, and says he ran out of air at 350′, with another short article saying he was diving a Hoover Dam relic. Diving on air at 350′ isn’t sensible (in both senses of the word), but the reporter seems to have got it wrong. He shared “air” up the ascent line and was separated from his “dive partner” and made a free ascent to the surface. From a little Google searching Xavier was an accomplished diver, and has been described as an technical dive instructor in this article, which also says that were separated when he attempted an emergency ascent – a small but critical difference in the description. The article quotes Jill Heinerth, who was associated with Xavier on the “We Are Water” campaign, which included this video. He was 48. A post on Scubaboard corrects the news reports to say he was diving on mixed gas.

Changing Attitudes to Deep Air September 13, 2012

Posted by Chris Sullivan in Technical Diving.
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Some day I’ll get trimix certified. I’ll probably try it out before I do so (if that’s shocking remember that someone had to be the first to try recreational trimix, and they certainly weren’t certified for it). When diving the Jodrey recently we discussed using normoxic trimix instead of air. We didn’t end up doing it, partly because not everyone could reasonably put up the money for a $150 fill. Still, as the owner of Dive Tech said, “it’s like diving two different wrecks” and as I push to greater depths I’m starting to cross what is a very fuzzy line between what is reasonable and what is not. Perhaps I’m already past it. I think that the narco stop concept has reduced some of the risks, but I still know that my reactions are slowed by the onset of narcosis.

I came across an abstract of a paper in the Rubicon Foundation archive a couple of days ago and I thought I’d repost it here. It has the catchy title: CLINICAL EVALUATION OF REPETITIVE DEEP DIVING BY RECREATIONAL DIVERS ON THE WRECK OF THE ANDREA DORIA. It seems to say that the divers in the study were just fine diving air at greater than 200′. The emphasis on the comment about narcosis is mine.

Ten male recreational divers were clinically evaluated over a 3 day period as they made repetitive deep dives [> 200 fsw) with compressed air to the wreck of the Andrea Doria in the North Atlantic Ocean. Diving profiles were recorded and verified while divers were followed clinically for signs/symptoms of decompression sickness, air embolism, and/or other diving maladies. Ultrasonic Doppler testing was used to assist in objective analysis. The divers ranged in age from 27 to 47 years old, weight from 145 to 285 lbs., previous logged dives from 50 to 1250, and diving depth from 187 to 240 fsw. During the 3 day study period the ten divers performed a total of 49 dives. None of the divers exhibited any signs/symptoms of decompression sickness or air embolism. Intravascular bubbling was detected in only 2 divers and only one diver attained a Spencer rating of 2 on any dives. The incidence of positive Doppler testing was 4.3%. Nitrogen narcosis was not a significant problem for any diver. The equipment used by each diver was extensive and included multiple back-up devices and systems. Eight divers carried at least 1 dive computer, while 1 carried 3 (in case the other 2 failed). With the water temperature at depth of 46 degrees F., all divers wore drysuits, except 1. All the divers had trained for these deep dives by performing progressively deeper dives [ > 130 fsw] several weeks to months prior to attempting these truly deep dives. Although not recommended for the average diver, repetitive deep diving by experienced recreational divers, with appropriate equipment and training, led to no incidence of decompression sickness, air embolism, or other diving maladies during this study.

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.

Tech Diving Mag September 7, 2012

Posted by Chris Sullivan in Diving Books and Films, Technical Diving.
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I found some interesting articles in this free on-line magazine. It’s worth a look (thanks go out to my dive team member Rob for the pointer). There are 8 issues so far. The articles are contributed by the readers and are of excellent quality. Issue 8 has articles about decompression sickness and treatment, margin for error in decompression tables, solo cave diving, cave diving in the Dominican Republic, and an interview with Dick Bonin, founder of Scubapro. I haven’t read the others yet, so they will make for some good reading on my commute to and from work (don’t worry, I go by train).

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.

The Healthful Effects of Deep Diving September 5, 2012

Posted by Chris Sullivan in Fitness and Nutrition, Technical Diving.
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Maybe just diving in general. Mind you, I’m speaking subjectively with a sample size of one, so statistically this means absolutely nothing.

In the days leading up to last weekend’s diving, I was wondering if I was starting to get too old for the technical diving I’m doing. I’ve had issues with a torn meniscus (makes my knee a little stiff), and some days I get up and don’t feel 100%. When I left for Brockville on Saturday morning I felt OK, but I was a little edgy, and wondered if I should be diving at all, especially the 170′ fast current drift dive in dark water with limited visibility.

I’m glad I did. When I got out of the water I felt great and still feel great writing this today. What I really needed was a good dose of Adrenalin and Nitrogen Narcosis to shake off the stress of my life on the earth’s surface.

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.

Introducing “Narco Stops” September 3, 2012

Posted by Chris Sullivan in Technical Diving.
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Despite the tongue in cheek name this is actually a serious suggestion for divers who go into narcosis territory on air. Generally accepted to begin at 100′, but sometimes experienced (first-hand by me) at shallower depths, narcosis ranges from a pleasant buzz to a creepy feeling of paranoia, and from a mild impairment to unconsciousness. On yesterday’s dive 3 out 4 team members had the creepy kind, while I had the more pleasant form. The first time I had it was on a wreck diving course at about 85′, where I had the “what am I doing here?” feeling as soon as I entered the wreck, even though I knew there were people all around me making sure I was safe. The way I managed it then was to focus on the task at hand, and I still use that along with regular cross checks to keep my mind moving.

Here’s another method of managing narcosis which we tried today, and it worked very well. Today’s dive on the Oconto (more about that later) was a little deeper than yesterday’s. There were 3 of us on the dive, and we had discussed making a slow descent as we’ve noticed that narcosis tends to be worse for a while after a fast descent. On yesterday’s dive the descent from 40′ to 175′ was only two minutes, and we thought that contributed to the heavy narcosis the team experienced at the beginning of the dive. The darkness and low visibility were also contributing factors on both day’s dives.

So we hit on the idea of stopping the descent for 30 seconds about every 50′ and today, no one had narcosis problems on the dive. The brief stop is also useful for bringing team members closer together, doing additional checks, and so on. The result was none of us had any narcosis issues. That’s not to say we weren’t narced – just that it wasn’t a problem on the dive. Our underwater coordination and decision making was good and we started our ascent exactly on time.

Deep air diving isn’t for everyone, but one way of reducing risk due to diver narcosis is to do narco stops on the way down (if PADI or another agency adds them to the curriculum, then they’ll probably call them something like “descent stops” or “staged descents”). You heard it here first.

Lillie Parsons to King drift September 2, 2012

Posted by Chris Sullivan in Uncategorized.
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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.