Archive for September, 2006

Inside the Stolt, Independence II, September 22, 2006

Friday, September 22nd, 2006

September 22 Inside the Stolt, Dive on the Independence II

Sunday we headed out on the Independence II for a trip to the Stolt. Once again NOAA was able to show their inability to provide an accurate forecast (2-4). The wind was light and variable as we left the inlet. It looked to be a great day. Arriving at the wreck the sea was almost flat with just a hint of a breeze. Terry jumped in to tie. We could see him clearly as he dropped down. Once he signaled that we were in, we started to pull up the slack on the line. We could see that Terry had left one of his bottles by the anchor. That’s 60′ of visibility! Nice!

The plan for the day was two fold. The first was to give my drysuit it’s first salt water bath. While I’ve had it almost a year, I was waiting for my old suit to fail before switching to the new one. At that point, I could send the old one in for some repairs/alterations. I gave up waiting, and used the new suit. The second part of the plan was to do my first penetration dive on the Stolt. I’ve been to the wreck many times, but never went inside. This was mainly a result of arriving without a suitable dive buddy, or one with other plans.

Divers were already rolling in as Louis and I got our gear together. We dropped in and did some buddy checks at 15′. We could already see the wreck below us, and to our surprise there was almost no current. REAL Nice! With the light current, it might have been a nice time to head out into the sand for some scallops, but that was not our dive plan. We dropped down slowly looking for an entrance into the wreck. There was a thermocline about 110ft. Below that the vis dropped off quickly. We could barely see the lights of divers on the bottom. We stayed just above the thermocline and headed aft. Reaching the stern, we found a suitable entrance, about 4 ft square. I tied off my reel, and headed inside.

With the wreck laying on the starboard side, directions were confused. The deck was to our left and the port side above us. The entrance opened into a room about 20ft square. The walls were bare, but covered with rust. The bottom was covered in silt and mussel shells. Here and there were large starfish clinging to the “walls”. I expected to see fish swimming about, but there were only a couple cunners hiding in corners next to an opening. Passing through a hatchway at the end of the room we emerged into a large area with huge equipment hanging from what had been the deck. While the water seemed clear, our lights could not penetrate to the far bulkheads. On our right light poured in through huge openings, so much for the reel.

We spent some time swimming around the gear in this space. We could not see above us to the port side of the ship. From what we could tell this was the engine room. What appeared to be a series of huge rocker valves were lined up in the center. The water was completely still. In this circumstance being on rebreathers has some real advantages. First we did not send up any bubbles to disturb the silt above us. Second the buoyancy was effortless. We floated around the the room in erie silence. Third, we could easily talk to each other, although our voices were a little squeaky.

We investigated a few other openings as we wandered around the room. We stopped here and there to searched the bottom for fallen items. Time went quickly, and Louis signaled time to turn around. He headed out before me as I reeled up the line. I stopped to grab something out of the silt, then untied the reel and headed out. As we headed up and forward, toward the line, we ran across another opening to a 20 square room. This one had stands welded on the floor for tables. We search it quickly finding tiles still stuck to the deck. We tried to find some loose ones, but were not successful. I’m sure there were some buried in the silt, but I was not prepared to look for them (new suit).

We continued to head back toward the anchor, peering into each hole along the way. As we hit the break, a large Tog swam around from the other side and almost ran into me. Of course, I had not weapon in hand. Reaching the top (port) we noticed a large opening right there on the other side of the tie-in. Ok, That’s the plan for the next dive. Deco went quickly since we had not been all that deep. With the slack current, we could hang by the line and watch the plankton.

Back on the boat, we feasted on another of Barson’s fine platters. I really have to stop bringing Wawa lunches. The time went quickly as we exchanged stories of what was seen. Some spoke of swimming through the wreck and silting up the compartment, other spoke of lobster. Terry had been out in the sand looking for scallops, but reported on a mass migration. Either the scallop boats had dared to come close, or the scallops had packed their bags and gone north for the winter. Either way he was empty handed. Next time he was going for that Tog. The wind had picked up. The flags were whipping, and the 2 foot waves were already forming white caps.

Back in for the second dive. Louis ran the reel this time, tying just below the anchor. The passage lead down. It almost felt like we were walking through the passageways and hatches of the ship as we passed from the port to the starboard side. We had to turn occasionally, but there was always plenty of room. This is a plus for someone my size. We looked in several small rooms, but continued through the larger passageways.

Suddenly I noticed that the water was not as clear. Had we hit a compartment the others had silted up? I did not think so since the vis was still good, but here and there were wisps of silt. Soon, daja-vu set in, and I recognized one of the side rooms we investigated in the earlier dive. Turn right, and yup, there’s the engine! OK, back to the entrance. We checked out a few more side passageways, but generally headed back up. Louis unclipped, and we started looking for another way in. We check out a ladder way we had seen before, but it was a little tight. We were running low on time, so we went to phase two of the plan: grab some mussels on the way up. By the time we reached the line we both had a good bag. The line was now being pulled up and down with good force. The seas were picking up. Louis finished deco and got aboard. Always happy to do more deco rather than less, I waited with the last diver as he finished up.

We broke the surface in 5-6 ft seas. Boarding the ladder in 6ft seas with 50 lb of mussels is going to be fun (note to self, bring equipment line). We got onboard and started stowing gear on the pitching deck. Terry pulled the hook, and we got underway. I stayed in my suit and cleaned mussels on the back deck. The spray over the side was enough to wash down the deck. We were riding almost directly into the waves, so Capt Frank cut back on the speed. We still made good time, as I finishing up just as we hit the inlet. One stop on the way home for a bottle of white, and then there’s an evening of cooking mussels in garlic and wine.

There’s nothing like watching the sunset from the deck with a glass of wine, a bowl of mussels, and wet dive gear all around.