Tuesday, July 30, 2013

RP Resor July 28 2013

Corey and the turtle.  Photo credit y muchas gracias for all the uw shots to Becky Kagan/Liquid Productions.
It's been far too long since I've made it out off New Jersey, so when I heard the Independence was headed out to the Resor I jumped on it.  It was a pleasure to see the regulars, and also Corey Mearns and Becky Kagan.  I had met Becky back in 2005 on a Florida trip and am impressed beyond words with how her career has taken off. 

Seas were relatively flat and the water warm, especially above 30' or so.  Fortune smiled on me last year hunting for artifacts, so (with a twinge of reluctance) I skipped the scallopfest.  The Resor always impresses me with just how much spidge is still on her, and in no time I found a cage lamp, plus a few projects to work on next time.  In the past I've been called Go Long Rob for the 3-4 hour dives I would do, but in the interests of safety I've backed off of that.  It worked in my favor this time since it gave me the opportunity to grab my tool kit and return for the firmly-attached cage light.  After completing dive one I saw that Becky still hadn't gotten in, so with some coordination, and not a bit of luck, we were able to meet up and have her take some shots of the light in situ and me removing it.  It took some banging away with the mallet and a pickle fork but it came free rather easily, and I still had the time to pick up a valve that was lying in the sand (spurned by the other divers but I think it will clean up nicely.)  She and Corey later met up with a friendly and frisky loggerhead turtle, a rare sighting and a real thrill.

PS I still got a few scallops.

Laying out the tools. 

The Not-Quite Malin Head Trip July 2013

Chi Lee on the Argo Delos.  Photo credit Martin Kerr
July saw me off to Ireland to try my hand at some of the Big Name wrecks off Malin Head.  The weather gods had other plans for us and we had to stay east of Malin Head, but I’m happy to report that the consolation prizes are very fine indeed. 

After flying into Glasgow Meeko and I weaved our way down to Stanraer on Loch Ryan, a very picturesque part of southwest Scotland.  Along the way we stopped at the memorial for the cruiser Varyag, a very interesting ship in it’s own right.  Built in Philadelphia and commissioned into the Imperial Russian Navy in 1901, it fought heroically in the Russo-Japanese War.  After a fierce engagement in which it was heavily outnumbered it was scuttled rather than allow it to fall into Japanese hands.  Nevertheless the Varyag was raised in 1907 and commissioned as the Japanese light cruiser Soya.  During World War I the Japanese, now allies of the Russians, returned it to them.  Eventually the re-renamed Varyag made it’s way to the Clyde for refurbishment, and was seized by the British government following the Russian Revolution.  It was sold for scrap to the Germans in 1920 but sank while under tow near Lendalfoot, with a beautiful memorial marking the spot.  Some day on another trip I hope to have a poke about and see what remains.

Our trip was booked aboard the MY Salutay.  Al and Freda Wright run a first-class operation all the way.  The boat is neat as a pin, well appointed, well-skippered, and Freda’s cooking is outstanding.  I do so love a trip where you spend your deco dreaming about the lunch you are about to partake of, especially the homemade desserts that graced both dinner AND lunch (if you have never had banoffee pie, and especially Freda’s banoffee pie, then I regret to tell you yours is but a sad stunted shadow of a life.) 

The seas off Northern Ireland can be a bit tricky to dive.  Because of the tidal flow it is necessary to go in at slack tide, and the wind and tides need to align in your favor.  Just to make things a little more interesting the slack occassionally comes early too.  All the more credit to Captain Al then for getting us in the water every day.  The standard procedure is for the captain to drop a shot, with the last diver in making sure it is clear of the wreck for recovery.  After the dive we would all bag off, either individually or in teams, and drift along like so much flotsam for our decompression.
Our first dive was on the Castle Eden, a broken-up World War II collier in 30 meters.  The visibility was outstanding, and I had a lovely time poking about the bits of wreckage.  Near the stern I found an enormous lobster, a fat sassy female just ambling about in the sand.  A blue lobster!  This was a rara avis indeed, only one in five million! I was without a camera, and because we were in Irish waters I couldn’t bring her up.  Topside my excitement was met with amusement though, it seems that over here blue is bog standard for lobsters.  I don't care it was still very cool to see.  We later spent a couple of days on the stern section of the Argo Delos, a Greek cargo ship that ran aground in 1960.  It is a wonderful dive, with an enormous chunk of the hull lying turtled and creating a cavernous area ripe for exploration.  At one point I rested my hands on the lip of a ledge and was rewarded with a sharp bite from a conger eel. Fortunately he didn’t like the taste of rubber and released, and I now have empirical (well, anecdotal) proof that my dry gloves are pretty goddamn tough. 

Didier Slama on the Argo Delos. Photo credit Martin Kerr
We tied up in port every night but one, and were able to savor (make that savour) the cultural delights of Ballycastle, Northern Ireland and Port Rush, Ireland (translation: we went to a lot of pubs.)  Both are pretty little towns, and the latter in particular had a lovely cliff trail above the beaches.  I was there for the 4th of July and was treated/pestered by Bruce Springsteen on a loop at the pub (I’m not a fan), and later we watched that most patriotic of entertainments, Team America.  I thought about reading aloud the Declaration of Independence but thought better of it – that’s the kind of thing that can start with “When in the Course of human events, it becomes necessary for one people to dissolve the political bands...” and end with, I don’t know, more Bruce Springsteen being played at me.  I think perhaps my favorite part was watching Didier, transplanted from Canada to Glasgow, be teased about how this was his holiday too: “You know, Canadian, American, it’s all the same thing, right? Right?”

Photo credit Martin Kerr

Meeko and Wilkie. Photo credit Martin Kerr.
The SS Santa Maria was my favorite wreck of the trip, an American tanker torpedoed on February 25, 1918 by the U-19.  She lies turtled and surprisingly intact in 65 meters off Ballycastle, Northern Ireland.  It was dark but clear on the bottom, with lots of relief and swim throughs.  At the end of my dive I was joined by Wilkie on top of the wreck, who considerately offered to shoot the marker bag while I followed.  I already had my bag and reel and it took a moment to restow them, whilst Wilkie made very expressive signals that he was ready to go and his offer had an expiration date of about 1 minute (squirt of air in bag, significant look at me, pause, another squirt, another furrowed-brow look.)  Somewhere within shouting (really, whispering) distance of the end of his patience we made our ascent for an hour of lazy drifting deco.  I like to keep active on my deco so I swam circles around him, and was very bemused at how, no matter where I was in the circumference, he was always pivoted around to keep a wary eye on me.  Good thing he didn’t have a bang stick with him.  He cleared a few minutes before me and offered me his reel and bag when he ascended, again with a very expressive mien that said “Come up with my brand- new Kent reel - or don’t come up at all!”  In a sign of how conditions can change the seas were now a good 2 meters with long ribbons of spray blowing off the tops of the white caps.  The wind was also crossing the currents, with the effect that most of the teams went one way while I drifted out of the bay.  It is never a comforting sight to see the boat a tiny dot on the horizon but Al had it all well in hand, and after 15 minutes of bobbing like a cork I was safely back onboard.
 SS Santa Maria
The final dive of the trip was on the Tiberia, which lies just off Belfast Lough.  This British cargo ship was on its way from Glasgow to New York when she too was sunk by the U-19, one day after it struck the Santa Maria.  She sits intact and upright in 65 meters, with a mast rising to 30 meters and a gun tub on her stern.  I was hoping to penetrate it but the amount of silt on it was unbelievable, filling the stern quarters and cargo holds nearly floor to ceiling.  I circumswam it once then rode out my deco with the lion’s mane jellies, enjoying the warm water and looking forward to returning some day…

Tuesday, July 31, 2012

Yasuko, Still. Always.

Anniversaries are days to reflect, but today is the most unnecessary of them because I don't need a special reason to remember you. A joke, a song, a new dish, a new experience - all can bring me back to thoughts of you. The other day one of our friend's made a wise-ass crack that was so perfectly you I swear I could hear your laughter in my ears. Of all the things that's what I miss most, the way you would explode in helpless peals that just seemed to encompass all the joy of life and delight in the world. Funny stories and anecdotes were so much a part of who you were, they were like little gems you would take out and share. And that's what you are now, a gem, a gem that those who loved you treasure and share with others. And they can see the sparkle reflecting off of us.

I think the hardest part of you being gone is that you were so very much alive.

I miss you deeply. Broadly. And constantly. Pain and gratitude take turns in me. Gratitude wins, hands-down, every time, but the pain...it really ambushes me sometimes.

I wish I could have been there for you.
I wish I could have done something. Anything. Everything.

But I don't regret a single thing, not a single moment. I'm grateful for every one of them.

Still. And Forever. You will always be a part of me.

Play this with the volume turned up.  Even through her rig and the water, you can still hear that laugh.

Tuesday, August 09, 2011

Tribute to Yasuko 7/31/11

July 31st is a day of very special import, the day we lost our beloved Yasuko. Yesterday we returned to the site of the Arundo to pay our respects and honor her amazing spirit with a suitable memorial. After almost a year of planning we steamed out on the Gypsy Blood, filled with friends and family. We were blessed with optimal conditions, sunny skies and mild seas with just enough of a zephyr to keep things comfortable (I reminded everyone that it would nevertheless be honoring Yasuko’s memory if somebody had to lean over the rail. And somebody did.)

The memorial itself is a work of art, a blue granite pyramid carved with her name, a message from her family, and a lovely representation of her in her dive kit (one of my favorite pictures of her, as even through her mask you can see her eyes smiling.) There is even a visual pun. The logistics involved in the process were complex, starting with the design and creation of the memorial. Carl Bayer and Sunny Longordo spearheaded the process, and did an absolutely brilliant job of it. Saturday night it was revealed at a party we had in Yasuko’s honor, and took pride of place. It was important to us to place the memorial on the spot where she last was, made more difficult by the semi-broken nature of the wreck. Lowering a 173# stone to the bottom, then transporting it to the spot was also a daunting task. The crew of the Gypsy Blood did a fantastic job of putting us in the right area. Divers were each assigned to teams. Everyone had a job to do, everyone’s job was essential, and everyone performed their task flawlessly. As soon as we were tied in Stephan Francke and Shelly Liu splashed to go find the exact location for the site, and in no time at all a bottle came up to indicate they had done so. While they did that, Joe Zimmerman, Mike Bender and Sunny Longordo helped guide the piece to the bottom, with Captain Jim belaying it down. This was one of the more nerve-wracking parts, as a hard bounce could easily have shattered it, but with the teamwork of all it was gently lowered. Dan Wright, master underwater photographer, accompanied the whole process, so we could share the underwater experience and have documentation of this unforgettable day. Dave Oldham ran a reel, so that there was now a continuous guideline taking us from the memorial to the final site. The last team consisted of Sherwood Probeck, Elliot Bertoni and me, tasked with transporting it the final 125 or so feet. Before splashing I was warned that it had slipped into the wreckage and was going to be difficult to move. With some trepidation I lifted it from the hole, but our concerns proved baseless. The descent team had done an ideal job of putting gas in the lift bag. Despite the weight it was very easy to control and move, so much so that even with 15 feet of up-and-down crossing the wreck we never needed to adjust the bag. In less than 15 minutes we had the memorial maneuvered into place.

It was only at that moment that I was able to believe that this thing we had thought about and planned for so long had actually come to fruition, that we had managed to honor and remember Yasuko in the exact manner that we had hoped to. I felt a huge pressure release in my chest. Seeing the memorial in that place gave voice to my grief, and, floating with my hand on the spire of the pyramid, I was overcome with emotion.

For once I didn’t mind doing deco, as it gave me a quiet time with my thoughts. Like an oyster with a grain of sand, we try to coat our pain, to soften it so it doesn’t cut so badly. I don’t want that, for the pain of her loss to diminish. I want it to be sharp, I want it to cut, because it makes her feel less gone. That’s unrealistic, and flies in the face of human nature, but for just this day I felt it as keenly as ever, and will be forever grateful for that.

During the dives the children onboard splashed about and swam in the warm surface water. I was proud of how they understood and respected the gravity of the situation, yet their irrepressible enthusiasm still helped lighten the mood, a reaffirmation of life. Inside, the cabin table was filled with delectables, including Yasuko’s beloved scallops. It was only appropriate that laughter and good food be a part of how we celebrated and remembered her.

The final piece to the day involved casting flowers onto the waters over the wreck. Wrapped in our own thoughts, with scarcely a whisper, we took turns placing them. In the slanting light of dusk a sinuous river of petals slipped away on the current.

Friday, October 08, 2010

Eulogy for Fi

Yasuko Fiasco Okada October 7 1981 - July 31 2010

I think in the future my thoughts may be divided like this: before the accident, and after. The sheer joy of diving brings so much to our lives, but in the span of a few breaths it can take everything away. Yasuko aka Fiasco aka Fi was my boon companion, a kindred spirit that I could always count on to be up for anything. How many people do you know that you can ask "Hey, let's..." and know that, almost without exception, the answer is going be an enthusiastic Yaaaaayyy! Fi's life was all about telling funny stories, she had a reporter's eye for detail and a Twain-esque appreciation for people in all their flawed grandeur. It's only been days, and I already have a huge stockpile of things I would love to tell her just to hear her laugh. We had plans to travel to Florida, Scotland and Japan together. Lots of plans, really. I'm of an age where I find myself looking at my life with cool appraisal - do I want to be doing this? Is this what I want from my life? Enjoying Fi's company was high on the list of things I was looking forward to for a long long time...

If you had told me when I was younger I could be in this kind of relationship I don't think I would have believed it. Being such close friends with a beautiful woman is, at least in theory, fraught with peril, but you know what? It just wasn't like that. Things never got weird, there was never any tension, no bullshit. It was just a really great friendship.

My head is still reeling. The immediate aftermath was the flurry of activity, trying to help her family out in any way I could, calling friends, keeping busy. Helping box up her apartment on Monday was excruciating, but also somehow necessary. It all seems so surreal, and being there brought it home in a way I really needed, that let me feel the enormity of the loss. I gave this eulogy at the funeral. I hadn't written it down, but I think it's pretty accurate. I was happy with it at the time. I'm a little less happy with it on the page than spoken, but I still want to save it before it's lost in the windstorm that is blowing through my head.

It was my great privilege to call Yasuko my friend.

The first time I met Fi was up at the Lake. She bounced up to me and in her typical forthright way introduced herself. The diving community being a small one, I had already heard of her and she of me, and we quickly found common ground. By the end of that first day I already knew she was somebody really special. As we got to know each other it was a pleasure to find someone whose passions so closely meshed with mine. Diving, food, diving FOR food, art, books, hiking, music - we were always exchanging recipes, swapping books, turning each other onto new ingredients, new restaurants, new bands. We went to dozens of shows together, she's the only girl I knew that I could invite to the Symphony or Motorhead and know I'd get an enthusiastic reaction to both.

One of my passions is biking, and in the past year I had been trying to get Fi into it as well, with interesting results. For her first ride I gave her a primer on riding, and emphasized standing up out of the saddle and using her legs as springs. She did very well, and the first hill we got to she was 100 yards ahead of me...still sitting in the saddle. Seems her feet didn't quite reach the pedals, and in the future we just put her on my daughter Tatiana's bike. Who is 8. The timing for this ride could have been better as the next day she was flying down to Florida for a work conference at a beach hotel. So for those coworkers of hers who are here, I have now revealed the reason she was wearing long skirts the whole week at the beach. She said she was later even asked if she was extremely modest. Oh my how far off-base was that!

A few weeks ago she came out to my house so we could cook, work on some gear, and get some exercise. The time passed by as it so often did, with us sitting on the deck drinking tea and shooting the breeze, until we realized it was 5 o'clock and if we were going to do anything we had better get on it. My proposal was "How about we go for a short bike ride..." - big frown, big head shaking- "...to the ice cream place!" - big happy smile while nodding approval! It was a short ride too - four miles out, three miles back, at which point I walked both of our bikes home while she ambled like a wild west gunslinger, and then sat on an ice pack.

I give you this as background because I would like to read you an email I received from her last Wednesday:

So I go to this video shoot we're doing for work. Apparently the concept is - get on a bike and ride it while telling a corporate story. Normally we just sit at a table and say what is scripted.

There is a bike in front of a green screen.


1. It's a red bike. I like it. It has a basket. It is not the sort of bike that gives you ass sores. It is the kind of bike that you wear Capri pants to ride.

2. I am wearing a dress. If I straddle the bike the video will be x rated. Shit.

3. They tell me I can ride side saddle. I see no reason to attempt this as the floor is not padded.

4. We angle the bike so it doesn't turn into an upskirt film. Problem solved!

5. The hot guy lifts me on the bike because my dress is not cooperating.

6. I imagine what it would be like to collapse in his arms. He is hoooooooooot. And gay. Dammit.

7. Somebody holds a fan in my face to make it look like my hair is moving as I pedal. I would like this to happen when I am riding a bike so that the mosquitos don't swarm around me when I am pedaling too slowly. Barb says this happens to her, too, so I am not alone.

8. I am supposed to pedal but my feet do not reach the pedals. The seat is all the way down. Now what?

9. I pedal with my toes for two minutes and say something corporate.

10. When the hot gay guy lifts me off the bike I realize my ass is sore. WTF.

In the days since the accident my thoughts have rarely strayed from Yasuko, and when they do they circle right back to her. When I think of diving, when I think of food, when I think of music and all the things that are so important in my life I flash on memories of her. It was with almost a panicky feeling that I asked myself: Is this going to keep happening? When I think of the things that are so central in my life, am I going to keep thinking about her?

And then I thought: Maybe that's not so bad. I think I'd really like that.

I would never have said anything so dopey to you, and you'd have punched me if I did, but I really did love you. Goodbye Fi.

On Saturday 8/7 we went to the Arundo and laid flowers on the water.

Friday, August 28, 2009

My Offboard Bailout Kit

After much careful thought over the past year, I arrived at two conclusions:

1) A BOV is an important piece of safety equipment
2) Hooking it up only to onboard gas is insufficient for my diving

One of the things that really pushed me to it was a story a friend told me. For whatever reason he took a CO2 hit, and began hyperventilating like a freight train. His head was still clear, so he pulled out his bailout reg, held it in front of him, and...was stuck. Even though the reg was inches away, he couldn't stop panting long enough to swap them. Eventually he was forced to, and wound up inhaling water.

The first order of business was selecting a BOV. I dived a Sport Kiss for years, but wasn't impressed by the Paragon BOV. I never really had a need/opportunity to bail onto it under duress and at depth, but simply based on the design of the rig, plus the fact that I was using sodasorb, it always seemed to be gummed up, difficult to close, and in general not a high-quality piece of kit. I replaced it with a Mares BOV on my Classic Kiss, but there too it I didn’t feel totally confident, and anyways I never cared for how it projects out in front. I liked the idea of the JJ BOV from the standpoint that it is tidy, compact, and runs off a scubapro reg, and have since picked one up and put it on my Mk15. Shortly thereafter I saw a used Golem Gear BOV at a reasonable price, and am currently running it on my Meg. I much prefer the big knob on the front to the barrel twist method, and despite my misgivings about having such a large reg on the GG I’ve scarcely noticed it. Just to make things sillier I also picked up an RB80 BOV, but haven’t had a chance to dive it yet; I’ll try to amend this when I do.

But I digress, this is about the bailout kit, not the bailout valve. While I can appreciate the arguments for using a manifold, and have even machined some for other peoples’ Megs, I’m not 100% comfortable at this point with using one. Thus, for simplicity, my goal was to just run a hose to a quick disconnect on my bailout tank and be done with it. Since I knew I would be tweaking it I elected to use AP hoses, since those can easily be trimmed to the desired length. I did not, however, go with their QDs, since their 40m depth rating is insufficient. That left the Omniswivel QDs, as well as the Swagelok ones. I wasn’t crazy about the having the pin exposed on the Swagelok system, as it seemed rather small and like it might be vulnerable. I called Omniswivel to discuss depth limitations, and was told that they are still in the process of testing them, but that the 100m test showed no perceptible (per the machine) change in WOB at 100m. Good enough for me, so that is what I used. If you look at the end of this I've attached a Bill of Materials. What I have not done, and may yet, is install a check valve in the line. I currently have the female QD on the bailout tank, simply because this has its own internal check valve. What that means, however, is if I disconnect the line under water, some amount of water could go up the male QD. What I need to do is test this underwater, and see if it significant amount, or so neglible that it gets blown out when I purge the reg. The BOV hose is loosely held to the corrugated hose by some velcro straps, and then runs down the inside of the Meg counterlung. Very clean, very neat. I hope to transfer this system intact to my Hammerheaded Mk15, running the hose through where the old on-off switch was, as well as to my Sidemount Rebreather and Classic Kiss.

All of my bailout has been sidemount for several years now, which was an immediate smack-myself-in-the-forehead, why-didn’t-I-do-this-sooner experience. My big concern however was that I could no longer see my bailout reg in an emergency. In order to lessen the impact I almost compulsively put my hand on the bailout 2nd stage multiple times during the dive, to build muscle memory and to reassure myself that I can have it in hand immediately if need be. I was surprised, shocked really, at how much more relaxed I felt with the BOV, knowing that all I need to do is twist the valve and I’m on a full 80. It’s kind of like a weight I didn’t know was there has been lifted. This is not, however, an unalloyed virtue, since I don’t want to lose the muscle memory, and will need to make an extra effort to keep that skill sharp. Besides the fact that there might be a problem with the BOV (qv the deeply disturbing issue with the JJ), there is also the idea that the BOV could be pulled from my mouth, either by wreckage, the ladder, or a panicked diver. In addition to sorting the BOV and offboard kit I recently spent some time fine-tuning my tanks. Diverite has some very high quality, inexpensive cam bands, so gone are the hodge-podge of straps, hose clamps, lines, and sundry bits, including the occasional metal-to-metal connection. With the help of some 1# weights on the cam bands the tanks are also properly weighted, even with helium, and sit right where they oughta. To prevent fumbling I use a sideport reg (as I believe all secondary regs should be) on a 7’ hose (ditto), 2 more little things that give me the warm fuzzies.

So that is my thought process and the end result, hope it can be of use to somebody.

Bill of Material:
From AP:
AP300/48 1 pc Regulator hose, 48” 65.84 each
AP300/15 2 pcs ADV Supply Hose (short) 54.45 each

From Golem Gear:
OMNI_QDM-YM 1 pc QD Male to 9/16-18 Male 10.00 each
OMNI_QDF-YM 1 pc QD Female to 9/16-18 Male 64.00 each
OMNI_SZF-ZF 1 pc 3/8-24 Female to 3/8-24 Female 15.00 each

Thursday, July 16, 2009

MK 15 Restoration

I’ve an appreciation for old cars, having restored an old karmann ghia, as well as a VW camper. My hope with this rig was to replicate that experience, refurbishing and updating this venerable 40 year old design. I’m pleased to say that the experience was pretty much just what I had hoped it would be, a satisfying immersion into a very different kind of rebreather. Nothing is ever really done, but at this point I've got the 15 pretty much just the way I want it. I took a few pictures showing how it is setup in case anyone is interested in seeing it.
I originally bought this rig last year, since I needed the spheres for my sidemount prism. It was built in 1980, and based on the sensor dates was last dived in 1994, then thrown back into its case wet. Fortunately it fared pretty well despite the neglect. One loop hose was rotten, but oddly the other was fine. Most importantly the counterlung remained in pristine, albeit smelly condition. It took many washings in soapy water and disinfectant, and even a little mouthwash now and again, to get it to finally stop stinking. The plexiglass cover on the analog primary was opaque when I got it, due to some sort of incredibly tenacious mold on the underside. I wound up getting an aircraft cockpit cleaning kit, and running it from 300 grit all the way to 5000 or so. It did the trick, and is now quite clear.

My reaction after examining the stock Scott DSV was that it would be most appropriate for my son’s toy rebreather. I've also slowly gone over to the BOV mentality, so after doing my research I decided that I liked the cut of the JJ's jib, and ordered one. The BOV is fed from off-board gas, using a quick-disconnect. Earlier I had bought a set of Cooper hoses in the stock size, but there was no way they were going to fit Dave Sutton’s adapters, much less the very oversize fittings on the JJ BOV. As such I picked up a set of regular rubber hoses from Golem Gear, which are a bit longer than I'd like but are otherwise perfect.

I did one dive on the stock harness. It was way too uncomfortable, so I contacted Enrique Alvarez and had him make up one of his excellent SS harness plates, along with a Titanium bottle bracket. My goal for this rig is to keep everything very clean and very simple, and therefore I have elected not to use a wing with it. It's been a while since I've dived using just a drysuit for buoyancy, but it's like riding a bike. In keeping with the minimalist aesthetic I also chose not to run spg’s down to my chest d-rings, and instead have a couple of button gauges on the regs. For weight I have one of Rick’s 9# pizza weights, installed inside the case and held by the harness backing plate. It is painted it with black plastidip, which further softens the edges. I dive the rig with a dui laminate suit and weezle extreme plus underwear, and the weighting is spot on, just heavy enough that I won’t have to change anything for salt, but light enough that my drysuit never feels uncomfortably inflated, even with two stages. In addition, the dreaded Mk15 butt-heaviness is simply gone. Trimmed, weighted, sorted.

My reaction after examining the stock Scott DSV was that it would be most appropriate for my son’s toy rebreather. I've also slowly gone over to the BOV mentality, so after doing my research I decided that I liked the cut of the JJ's jib, and ordered one. The BOV is fed from off-board gas, using a quick-disconnect. Earlier I had bought a set of Cooper hoses in the stock size, but there was no way they were going to fit Dave Sutton’s adapters, much less the very oversize fittings on the JJ BOV. As such I picked up a set of regular rubber hoses from Golem Gear, which are a bit longer than I'd like but are otherwise perfect.

I did one dive on the stock harness. It was way too uncomfortable, so I contacted Enrique Alvarez and had him make up one of his excellent SS harness plates, along with a Titanium bottle bracket. My goal for this rig is to keep everything very clean and very simple, and therefore I have elected not to use a wing with it. It's been a while since I've dived using just a drysuit for buoyancy, but it's like riding a bike. In keeping with the minimalist aesthetic I also chose not to run spg’s down to my chest d-rings, and instead have a couple of button gauges on the regs. For weight I have one of Rick’s 9# pizza weights, installed inside the case and held by the harness backing plate. It is painted it with black plastidip, which further softens the edges. I dive the rig with a dui laminate suit and weezle extreme plus underwear, and the weighting is spot on, just heavy enough that I won’t have to change anything for salt, but light enough that my drysuit never feels uncomfortably inflated, even with two stages. In addition, the dreaded Mk15 butt-heaviness is simply gone. Trimmed, weighted, sorted.

The Rev G electronics were a big tease on the bench, looking like they were going to function, but when I got them in the water they crapped out. After pondering the various electronics choices I elected to Hammerhead mine. I'm very comfortable and familiar with the Hammerhead, which is important since I don’t anticipate this ever being my primary rig. In addition, I liked the simplicity of the installation; the speed with which I could get a setup from Kevin (he had one on the shelf); and the pedigree, since Juergensen Marine has been supplying them for the latest Mk16 incarnation. Except for having to reverse polarity the installation was quite simple.

I knew I wanted a HUD, and thought long and hard about putting a Meg HUD on there. Due to the extra expense and delay I went with the DIVA, though I'm not sure if I had to do it again I wouldn't go the other way. As you can see in the pics, the lever on the JJ BOV has been drilled and tapped to hold the HUD, which couldn't be nicer. In closed circuit mode it is held firmly in place, unobtrusive but in the line of sight; in open circuit mode it is pushed down and out of view. It is held on by a couple of knurled knobs, which make it easy to remove when cleaning the hoses.
I’ve been diving sidemount bailout for several years now, so there was no way I wanted to pollute a lovely BMCL setup with bulky sideslings. At my request Enrique welded on a couple of D-rings to the bottom of the bracket, and I ran some grommetted webbing and bungee through the harness bales. It still needs a bit more futzing to get them exactly where I want them, but it’s darn close.
I did a quite a bit of research while sorting the unit, and will list a number of links below that I found most useful. Thanks to everyone on Rebreatherworld for their suggestions/help/advice, and especially to Dave Sutton for spending a couple nights with me sorting the electronics, fitting the HUD, etc. I couldn't be happier with it.
Dave Sutton's MK15 Teardown:
Andrew Donn's MK15 Teardown:
A comparison of the MK15 and later MK15.5
Stuart aka Lizardland's Teardown and Hammerhead Installation:
Enrique Alvarez's MK15 parts:
Kevin Juergensen's MK15 Manual:
And his excellent history of the unit and its various manufacturers:

Friday, June 12, 2009

St. Lawrence May 2009

1,000 Islands from Carl Bayer on Vimeo.

Just a little video of pics Carl put together. Dived the Oconto, Vickery, Jodrey, Lillie Parsons and JB King. The whole family came, which was a huge success. Seems perhaps more of these dive trips will be family trips in the future.

Tuesday, March 03, 2009

Late Season Ice 2009

This past weekend saw one of the boldest things I have ever done as a diver: I took my kids (5 year old Emmett & 6 year old Tatiana) along with me for a trip. Without their mother. The potential for disaster loomed over the entire endeavor, but I'm happy to say that, with a great deal of patience, a portable dvd player, and ad libitum cocoa, everyone was satisfied. Somehow we managed to fit me, the two yutes, Stephan, Yasuko, and all our gear into my Honda Odyssey - I love my Odyssey - and made it to Rockport Ontario by midnight, with much snoring going on (not all of it preteen.) At first I thought all was for nought, since the ice in front of the Boathouse Inn was all swept away. It wound up however that there was still some ice in front of Jeff Pauze's Rockport Dive Center, much to our mutual relief. In fact, it couldn't have been better, since the ice extended off the dock only about 30'. After some logistical frooferaw Stephan and Willie Dempsey hit the water, with Yasuko and I following shortly thereafter. The kids laughed themselves fit to split watching Willie do a backwards splash while crashing through the ice, so I attempted to do the same, but with much less grace (qv the video below.)

I wasn't sure if we should consider ourselves lucky on the kid front and run for the border, but when I asked T&E if they'd like to wake up in their own beds or stay another day they were adamant: Stay! That night we had dinner at the Keystorm pub, notable mostly for Emmett being asleep the whole time - I eventually just propped him in a corner and covered him with coats. It was fun to see the other patrons do a double take when seeing two small legs sticking out of the heap.

Just before entering the water on Sunday I noticed my camera battery had died, so I shrugged and figured no pics this time. One look at the leading edge of the ice changed my mind though, and I beat a hasty retreat to beg Fi to throw it in on the charger. Overnight another inch of ice had extended off the edge, thick enough to be visually stunning but perfectly translucent. When paired with the scalloped edge of the thicker ice the effect was breathtaking, probably the most beautiful ice I've experienced. The tethers were just long enough for us to pop up at the edge of the ice. Though, as can be seen below, Yasuko brought a blunt tool with her to make a hole where needed.

I'm often asked what the appeal of diving under ice is. Some do it because the ice is in the way, but for me the ice itself is the point. Though it is impossible to show just how beautiful it is, I have put together an album here that hopefully conveys a sense of it.

Big thanks to Jeff Pauze for all his support, and for being so considerate to the kids.

As is so often the case, I am already dreaming about next year's ice.

Wednesday, August 27, 2008

RMS Empress of Ireland August 2008

Great trip. Will do the writeup shortly...

Thursday, July 10, 2008

Sidemount Rebreather

After much anticipation I received my Prism reworked into a sidemount configuration. I took it to Dutch for a couple of days' checkout, and am very happy with it. Still a tweak here and a tweak there to do, but I suppose that's true of nearly all of my kit. Time to go hit some collapsed wrecks and see what lurks beneath!

Tuesday, April 15, 2008

Thailand April 2008

The first day I heard about Richie Kohler's trip to Thailand, I knew I was going. How ideal for a Northeast wreck diver: 60m-70m range, virgin wrecks, all rebreather consumables supplied; in addition, a bunch of folks I already dive with had already signed up. In fact, I was on pins and needles waiting to hear back that I had a slot, and have been eagerly anticipating the trip since last spring. Richie and Evan had been there before, filming an episode of Deep Sea Detectives on the USS Lagarto, and they had the whole trip nicely sorted out. Flying there was no big deal, and was in fact dirt cheap: $920 roundtrip, plus $250 for the last leg to Koh Samui (for entertainment on the way in I played Who’s on the Sex Junket? That guy in 14A, all shifty eyed? Definitely.) I elected to spend a couple of days in Bangkok, which was a wise decision indeed. What an amazing city, clean, friendly, inexpensive, great food. I loved walking the city, riding up and down the river, and visiting the local temples (or a fraction thereof – there are over 2,000 in the city.) For the half day rate of $4 I hired a tuk-tuk, or scooter cab, and was guided around the city to wherever I wanted to go. I even survived! Forget about the driving on the left business, which is completely beyond my limited means of comprehension - I am always looking the wrong way when I cross a street. Bangkokian drivers must have balls like grapefruit, what with the wild greased merges they make. In keeping with the local Buddhist practices I meditated upon keeping my mind clear and my body limp for the inevitable crash that miraculously never came. With my interests in art and history I was enthralled with the temples, even when my Buddha statue meter rolled twice (and it goes 4 digits!) Lots of saffron robed monks everywhere, riding the taxi boats, eating in cafes, visiting the temples themselves. I got a kick out of one group at Wat Sakaet. They’d do a little praying, followed by a bunch of chatting, and then solemn group photos of them in contemplative poses. Click goes the shutter, huge grins break out, and they are back on their feet yakking away. Some go for the brothels, some for the Bots (chapels), some just want a bowl of Tom Yung Goong, whatever you want Bangkok has it. Too soon it was time to leave for the airport for Koh Samui. In keeping with the friendly Thai nature the cab drivers would hear my accent and play me American music, which is how I now associate the skyline of Bangkok with pounding gangsta rap.
The Gulf of Thailand was part of the fierce battle for control of the seaways in World War II. If you've ever read about U-boats then you know how the German strategy in both wars was to cripple the supply lines, sinking ships faster than they could be built. It failed for the Germans, but succeeded wildly for US forces in the Pacific. The Imperial Japanese Navy records 179 Marus, or merchant ships, lost in the Gulf of Thailand alone. Losses like these were unsustainable for an economy as small as Japan's, much less one so dependent upon imports. The MV Trident has been plying these waters since 2005, and has found an enormous number of new wrecks. The owners are expatriate Brits who have gone native (if not tropo), and have been hard at work establishing themselves as a premiere tech diving operation. Obtaining new numbers is as easy as sharing beers with the local fisherman, with the limiting factor just being the time to go check them out. They've been known to investigate things as small as a portajohn, in the hopes it might be a junk full of ming china. Richie being Richie, they made sure to save back some especially promising numbers for our trip. Besides Richie and Carrie Kohler, we had onboard Evan Kovacs, Dan Bartone (on whose boat I spend so much time down in Pt Pleasant), Jim Kilcullen, and Bill Bedford, all from the Northeast. Captains Jamie Macleod and Stewart Oehl run the MV Trident, along with Mikey the cook. We also had along Chris Clark, an expat Brit whose brilliant videos I will link to below, and Oliver Zaiser, ex of Germany and never ever ever going back (a running theme from ex-patriates in Thailand.) Rounding out the trip was the local captain and crew, most of whom were actually from Burma. Jamie and Stewart have been working to make the Trident rebreather-friendly, and had scads of dragersorb on hand for our needs. Richie, Carrie and Jim were all diving Evolutions, I had my Hammermeg, Dan was on a stock Meg, Evan dove his incredibly cool sidemount Prism (which I also hope to be diving in the near future, more on that later.) Bill Bedford is still diving open circuit, but with the new job and bonus time coming that is sure to change. All the locals dive open circuit doubles with air, using nitrox as a deco gas and oxygen supplied at the deco station. Better them than me on air at 70 meters, but considering their numerous successes it's obviously working for them. The first day was a shake out, to make sure all of our equipment (and heads) were properly sorted. The site picked was the Nanmei Maru No. 5, a 3800 ton fleet tanker sunk on July 10, 1945 by the submarine USS Hammerhead. The Gulf has an interesting topography. It is largely crystal clear, but down near the bottom there is often a milky white layer, especially in the afternoon. I found some bottles and porthole glass, and Bill picked up a very nice port light with green glass (kind of like a cage lamp but mounted inverted.) All sorts of oysters grew on the wreck, and enormous scallops were scattered about. I thought about taking some, but its just as well I didn't. They looked lovely, and nobody could say for certain they weren't edible; however, the Thai don't eat them, and if the Thai don't eat them they are not edible. As we were coming up Evan began hollering to Richie that he had found the telegraph, but after some head scratching they decided to leave it, as they didn't have tools on them and we were after bigger fish. All in all it seemed like what it was: a warm up dive. After one dive each we steamed off for some promising numbers Jamie and Stewart had gotten, annotated "Big" and "Steel." Arriving in the late afternoon, Jamie tied us in so we'd be ready to dive first thing in the morning. It was not the Arusan Maru we'd hoped for, but was still nothing to sneeze at: 100m or so long, upright, 12m of relief, never been dived before, with the compass and telegraph lying inside the bridge. Sleep didn't come easy that night, and we were all fired up to see it for ourselves. Dan and I descended bearing a bag of tools, and pounced right on the telegraph. It had fallen over but was still connected by the brass chain, and took quite a bit of hacksawing to get through, then a lot more effort to haul it out. Apparently we made quite a mess, as every diver commented on the clouds of silt erupting from every window and door of the bridge! With time left we swam down to the stern to check it out, and found it buried to the deck in silt. A deadlight beckoned, just lying there, so into the goody bag it went. After a quick spin to check out the masts we ascended, with 50 minutes on the bottom and a 3 hour run time. Batfish and black tip sharks cruised about us on deco, and occasionally a curious sea snake would undulate past us. Dive two was the recovery dive for Dan and me, and time for Evan, Carrie and Richie to leave the cameras and bring goody bags. This was the first time I've recovered anything as big as a telegraph so it was a good learning experience for me. Recoveries like this are old hat for Dan, but I appreciated him taking the time to show me how to do it right. Like clockwork we got it tied to a tuna ball, secured the head, clipped two lift bags to it and watched it float skyward. On the line up we had the chance to marvel at Evan's choice prize: the ship's bell, with the name Akela cast into it. So now the wreck had a name! Considering the extensive brasswork, but with some plastic bits, it seems to be an older wreck that saw quite a bit of use, before sinking some time around the 1960's or 1970's. We were even able to give it a nationality, as the telegraph was marked with the name of a dutch shipyard.
After riding the waves for another night over the Akela we made one last dive to her. This time I headed to the bow, to look at the amazing upright masts. Draped in nets and obscured by clouds of fish they were indeed a sight to see, as was the enormous 2' puffer hanging out by the winch.
I've always enjoyed listening to how other people bend the English language to their needs, and this trip was no exception. We visitors agreed that in the future we will describe the visibility at home as "lovely", and let the stereotypical pizza-stained Jersey wreck diver scratch his head in confusion. When things go well we can now refer to it as "No drama." I also learned a new term when I mentioned bumping into someone by the head at 3am: "So you Americans are into that cottaging thing, are you?" Hint: it's what George Michael got arrested for. By the end most of us were even conversant in the metric system, at least as it applied to diving. Despite being two peoples divided by a common language we got along well.

The last day and a half were reserved for the Tottori Maru. Originally built in Glasgow, it was captured in the fall of Singapore and used as a so-called Hellship for the transportation of prisoners from the Philipines. It may also have brought pows to work on the infamous Burma Railway, known to most of us from The Bridge over the River Kwai. The Trident had previously located it, but had only made a few dives ("A virgin who's only been touch a little" as they said.) The wreck is completely encircled with natural gas platforms, which were wonderful to watch at night when they do a burn-off. Dan and I had agreed he should have the Akela telegraph, so now it was my turn to get one. On previous dives the crew had scoped one out on the stern, and had even left a safety sausage on it. We located it in a thrice, and set to work with a hammer, chisel, and saw. This one was still standing, but after knocking most of the boltheads off we put it on its side, and began sawing through the remaining two. I wasn't too chuffed (there go those British-isms again) about working hard at depth, but in fairly short order it cut loose and slid down the deck. Our plan was for a 40 minute bottom time, and like clockwork we began our glacially slow ascent (as befits a 10/90 mix.)

All that remained was to spend another dive tying off the telegraph and sending it up. Unfortunately this was easier said than done, and did in fact involve "drama." Following the plan we dropped down the line, and I picked up a tuna ball on a rope that Jamie had left for us by the tie-in. There was a bit of drag swimming it the 250' or so to the stern, but nothing terrible. What really threw a wrench in the works was exactly what I had feared: the telegraph, when freed from the canted deck, had crashed through the gunnel and dropped to the sand. It wasn't hard to locate, but it was a bear trying to drag down an extra 40', with the plenty of scope on it and the current pulling away. To try get the line down to Dan I wound up dead vertical, feet straight up, kicking for all I was worth. Even with that we were just able to make it reach, and then feed it under the telegraph 6" at a time. I could hear Dan grunting away, and was definitely working harder than I wanted to. Finally it was all half-hitched and clove-hitched in, and we both immediately flushed our loops. I clipped my lift bag, filled it halfway, then turned to Dan for his. "Keep filling it, it will go up" he told me through his DSV. Hmm, are you sure? There were serious doubts in my mind, especially when it just started to bounce away in a dust cloud without rising. I was having visions of it banging away, getting stuck, or not being able to be hauled up, so I hit Dan up for his bag again and went chasing it. 50' from the wreck was time for serious reassessment. I was in a cloud of silt, at 250', had just exerted myself at depth, couldn't see the telegraph, and could barely make out the wreck. Time to thumb this dive! All was well until I was at 20', with 15 minutes of deco left. At that point I felt a band tighten around my right knee, or rather the muscles above it. I tried dropping down to 30' but nothing changed, so I returned to 20' and stayed there another 45 minutes. Things improved marginally but not dramatically. I then ascended, drank a liter of water, ate two aspirin, and returned to the trapeze sans unit to breath off the open circuit O2 reg there. Instantly I felt better, and when I returned to the surface 30 minutes later I was in tip-top shape. Dan has wrested more treasure from wrecks than I'll ever see, and he was spot on about lifting the telegraph. There it sat on the bow next to his, covered in sponges, oysters, crabs, and stinking in the sun. Just like a newborn baby though, even covered in slime you still love 'em, and I was purely delighted with my new prize.

One of the things I was looking to try on this trip was heliox, or rather 10/90. I've been diving 10/50 in my rebreathers for some time now. Every once in a while I'll get a little niggle though, a localized muscular soreness that a few minutes of O2 blows away. I've hesitated to go to pure heliox, since if deep ccr diving is on the cutting edge, doing it on 10/90 is even beyond that. Decompression tables are somewhere between speculative and whimsical, and very few of the available programs can handle helium mixes above 60% without defaulting to quadrupled deco times. I have several friends doing it though, and there are distinct advantages. Besides feeling fresher and more alert both during and after dives, they all uniformly claim that their old injuries no longer ache, and the niggles are gone. Considering how many people on this trip use it I thought it would be an excellent opportunity for me to dive heliox, and have them as a resource to bounce questions off of. Unfortunately it seems I am the exception to the rule. Besides the issue with my leg, I had two previous dives where I had very brief niggles. One only lasted about 30 seconds before disappearing, and the other also went away quickly as soon as I drank some water. So now I'm left trying to dissect my experiences, and to see what lessons I can learn. Our ascents were glacially slow, less than 10' a minute, which may have been too slow at depth. In the future I'll try and pick that up to 20' per minute until I hit 130', so I'm not still on-gassing quite so much in different tissues. I was always well hydrated, but at the same time my body reacted very favorably as soon as I began drinking something. I'll have to try rehydrating in-water, I think that has promise. I noticed that the few times I had an issue came after I left the anchor line and swam back to the trapeze, so perhaps swimming around on deco isn't for me. Even more than the exertion on the bottom, I think the issue with my knee may have been due to improperly trimming out my kit. It was fine on the dives, but on hangs I was noticeably bottom-heavy, and had to keep sculling my fins to stay horizontal. My right knee is a bit dodgy, and every couple of minutes I would flex and click it. My suspicion is that all that tensing and releasing might have forced a bubble where a bubble ought not to be. For most of the trip I ran my Hammerhead on 10/60, with 10/90 rgbm tables in my pocket. I also followed Dan's Explorer, which he had set to 10/50. I consistently extended my last stop by a half hour or more as well, but perhaps I'll start extending 30, 40 and 50 foot stops as well. My habit when I'm outside the country is to smoke, which I do after the diving is done for the day. By the time I hit the water the next day it shouldn't be an issue, but by the same token it can't be doing me any favors. Bummer, I do so love being able to smoke a couple of weeks a year. Guess I'll have to hold off on that for a bit.

All of these thoughts were going through my mind that last night over the Tottori, as I debated whether or not to make the last dive. I didn't want to end the trip on a sour note, but I was also plenty concerned about having a recurrence. As I sit here it seems much less important -we're not talking about type 2, just some type 1 soreness, barely distinguishable from the aches and pains of turning 40. There are times when I'm at home that I'll get some random pain, in my leg for example, and I'll think "If I just got done with a dive I'd be freaking out." So it's cause for concern on my part, not panic. At the time it's happening though its very frightening. I've thrown my back out badly, and it's the exact same fear: What if it doesn't get better? I finally decided that if I woke up feeling anything less than 100% I wouldn't dive, but if I did I would go for it.

Dan and I split up for this dive, as he wanted a tour of some of the china cabinets. Me, I just wanted a safe easy dive, and to not get hurt. Right by the bridge are several nice penetrations, so I scooted in and out of them, at one point dropping down to the engine room. I dug a little bit in the mud, but quickly stopped that business when my hands started to sting. From what I'd heard jellyfish larva live inside the silt, and since I was diving mesh kevlar gloves there was nothing keeping them off my skin. After only 25 minutes I began my ascent. All went well until I got to about 190', when I felt a tightness above my right knee again. It was no big deal, often on helium I'll feel the briefest of twinges, 5 seconds and they are gone. Despite knowing that, I felt this intense wave of despair like I've never experienced before. I wasn't anywhere near panic but I was definitely stressed. It was enough to make me nauseous, which didn't help anything I can tell you. I then worried that maybe the nausea was CO2, and wondered if I should get off the loop. For you rebreather divers, have you ever wondered if you're loop feels funny? To me, the answer is yes. Always. It's just an unnatural thing when you think about it, kind of like driving in traffic - if you actually think about what you're doing you can totally freak yourself out. I remember looking down at the divers below me and wondering if I should go to them. But what would I say? "Um, I'm scared, will you hold my hand?" That would be pointless. Besides, there was nothing wrong, my leg was fine now and had been almost immediately after I noticed it. Finally I just told my mind to shut the hell up, quit babbling, and start moving my ass up the line. Instantly all was well, and I completed the dive uneventfully. I'm not sure what the moral of that story was, or even the point, but man, it was the strangest thing.

The scene topside was kind of like the Visigoths plundering Rome. Bowls, plates, beer bottles, saki bottles, saki cups, platters, lights, you name it were spread all over the deck. There were several different types of china, some marked IJN (Imperial Japanese Navy), some beautiful hand painted pieces, others marked NYK Line (Nippon Yusen Kaisha, which was used for military transport and is still in existence today.) Several of the guys were kind enough to give me a piece from their stash, so I have one piece from each of the types, plus my deadlight, plus the telegraph. Speaking of which, how does one get home a 100# piece of smelly brass? Fortune smiled in the form of Oliver. His wife runs a tranport company, and I didn't argue with him when he said "Leave it to me."

After a fine late night dinner at Oliver's house in Bangkok I sped through the early hours to Suvarnabhumi Airport, with an NYK line truck driving next to me. My only decision now is when, not if, I will be returning.

Resort Ice Diving Winter 2008

Ice Pogo

Fat times on thin ice in Rockport...

Florida Cave Diving January 2008

Wherein we laughed, we cried, we drove all night, and I took a pretty substantial CO2 hit. More later...

Monday, December 10, 2007

Norness Again and Again

For a while now I've been meaning to do a Norness update. I just got back the porthole all cleaned and mounted, so now seems a good time. Visible in the closeup is the pattern left where the anemones had attached, which remained even after soaking in acid.

I was able to get back to the Norness two more times this year. The first time was on July 31st. The Sea Turtle steamed out at 4am, with Elliot Bertoni, Adam Altman, Tim Dwyer, John Bricker, Andy Koppinger, and Captain Chuck. Andy and John dropped down to tie us in, and I followed immediately thereafter. After the last trip I was excited to see more of the ship, and to get a better mental picture of the wreck. The tie in was right at the cut, and I could see now that I had the whole orientation bass-ackwards last time - it's on its starboard side, not port, and what I had thought was the trashed remains of the gun tub were just run-of-the-mill trashed remains. I didn't waste any time in dropping to the bottom and heading aft through the debris field, but between the low light, plus watching for entanglements, I came up empty-handed. At the prop I turned, and was back at the line showing an hour of deco. I wanted more though, and since I don't mind a long hang I continued to explore. The forward superstructure is open and inviting, so in I went for a quick dig in the debris. The floor is finished in red and white square tiles, nicely marked on the back with a date. A set of those went into my goody bag, as well as a brass fan blade. After 45 minutes I began my ascent. I knew I was in for a cold deep spell when my 150' stop was already 2 minutes, and in fact it took an hour to reach the welcome warmth of 70'. Total run time was 3.5 hours, including some extra time I put on for safety's sake.

September 5th I went again with the Sea Turtle. Onboard was Jonathan Iseson, Elliot Bertoni, Ted McCoy and Captain Chuck. The mooring we had left last time was nowhere to be seen, so Ted and I splashed together to go set the hook. Like a teaser, halfway down we could see it, with the line fouled over a lifeboat davit. As luck would have it the grapnel had dropped to the sand. Ted climbed up the wreck using it as an ice axe while I belayed with the chain, and at ten minutes we were tied in. I immediately dropped to the bottom to snoop about the debris field. I soon came across a lovely porthole, glass intact, in a bit of steel plate. I was able to easily move it, so I hooked up a lift bag and started filling. And filling. Aannddd filling. I jostled it a bit, in case the mud was holding it down. Still it wouldn't move. Bailout is for survival not brass, so after putting 500 psi I tried another tack: the buddy bag, with its own small inflation bottle. It was with high expectations that I tied it in and cracked the valve. FSSsss. Talk about disappointment! It was good for one mouse-size asthmatic wheeze, barely enough to hold the bag up. I was about out of tricks, but the thought occurred to me that perhaps, if I moved it out from the overhanging superstructure, I could then pull it up enough for the bag to inflate. No sooner had I started hauling it over when I felt a tug, and looked down to see my bailout reg entangled in the line. Ever wonder what its like to get dragged to the surface from 285'? Me neither, or rather I have, and its the stuff of nightmares. I was disappointed to leave my bags, much less the porthole, but I had NO hesitation walking away from this situation. None whatsoever. I got back to the tie in showing an hour and twenty minutes deco, which was still reasonable to me so I spent another 15 minutes cruising the wreck. I visited the gun tub, the real one this time, to check out the 5" gun. I had gotten some good beta to look for the letters, so I took a pass at the stern. Next to the bell I think those would be just the most amazing artifact, but sadly it appears the Norness didn't have any. Finally I took a few minutes to work on a porthole with a crow bar I had brought. Fat Max might have been up for it but I wasn't: they still seem pretty tight into the superstructure, and besides after hauling the chain, swimming the the length of the wreck twice, and working on that porthole, did I really need to exert myself more? I left the tool next to the portholes on the forward superstructure, so anyone who goes down there is welcome to use it, just leave it where you found it. At 50 minutes I began my ascent, for a 3 hour hang. On the way up I saw cave line paralleling the anchor line, with a lift bag on top. I was hoping to see something juicy dangling below it, but it too was all about survival not booty. It seems Jonathan had also dropped down to search the bottom. It's like a spider's web of fishing line down there, and before he knew it he was a fly caught in it. After 5 minutes which must have seemed like an eternity he finally cut himself free, but at that point there wasn't enough gas left in his tanks to go looking for the anchor line. Again showing the value of training, experience and skills he bagged off, jumped over to the anchor line when he saw it nearby, and finished his dive safely.

We didn't take anything from the Norness that day, but more importantly it didn't take anything from us, at least nothing that matters. It's a bit of black humor that after every dive I text message my wife "Cheated Death Again." This day in particular it rang true.

Monday, November 12, 2007

Pinta November 11 2007

It is getting chilly out, no two ways about it. During the drive down and ride out I couldn't wait to get into the water to warm up. With the seas kicking we decided to stay inshore, and parked above the Pinta right off the Atlantic Highlands. On May 8, 1963 the Pinta had the misfortune (well, the incompetence, really) to collide with the City of Perth. Clear skies, moderate seas, 14 miles of visibility, but still they hit each other, with the Pinta sinking in 48 minutes. There were no fatalities, so at least they abandoned ship in good order. It was my first time on this wreck. It has been very quickly deteriorating in recent years, so I was glad to see it sooner rather than later. The Independence had a full charter, a nice mix of newcomers with the regulars. Just goes to show how avid people are to dive around here, even late in the season.
The Pinta was carrying a load of pecky cyprus, which becomes obvious as soon as you descend onto the wreck. Board lengths are scattered every which way, all more so now that it is falling apart. Dave O had us tied into the stern, so I started by spending a few minutes working my way into the engine compartment. Viz was pretty punk, 8' or so, with an intermittent surge that was occasionally impressive. Over the course of nearly two hours I swam stem to stern, out into the sand, and wiggled into as many holes as I could fit into. One of the forward holds teased me terribly. The decking is just starting to really go, and through the gaps I could see undisturbed silt. I even considered, then rejected, ascending to fetch Fat Max the wrecking bar from above. After 90 minutes I finally found a keeper bug, and that one was wedged deep inside. Catching it involved completely silting out the hold and coating myself in rust, but I got it, puny one-clawed thing that it was. Max depth was only 89 feet, my shallowest in a long time. I had no complaints though, only having 20 minutes of deco was a real treat. The only hiccup, so to speak, was a brief but bizarre reverse block in the last 10 feet. I had made a choucroute for a little dinner party the night before, an assortment of sausage and smoked meat buried in sauerkraut. Note to self: go easy on the kraut the night before diving!
Not much more to tell, just a nice, moderately bumpy day on the ocean. Getting back at 2pm was a treat, so a few of us went to Europa for lunch. Good food, decent prices, and despite the fancy decor they didn't turn their noses up at a bunch of fleece-clad divers with salt-spiked hair.