Archive for July, 2007

Diving a Dream, Andrea Doria 2007!

Sunday, July 29th, 2007

This weekend saw the fruition of a dream, the culmination of five years of training, hard work and hundreds of dives. Five years ago, I dove the warm, clear, Caribbean waters of Cozumel, and wondered why anyone would dive off the coast of New Jersey. Yesterday, dropping down through the clear blue water off Nantucket, I saw, touched and brought back a small piece of history known as the Andrea Doria!

After the weather turned me back, last year, and again last weekend, I found that there was one spot left on the Independence II for July 29 trip. I wasn’t sure if it would be “third times a charm” or “three strikes, and your out”. Neptune co-operated this time, and the Independence headed out of Montauk in near flat seas with a favorable weather forecast. NOAA’s 2-4 ft seas turned out to be 1-2 at most. The sun was bright and currents tolerable (mostly).

Terry and Mark dropped down an existing morning line, and drifted across the wreck in search of another good tie-in. They were quickly done, and the pool was open. There was current on the surface, but nothing unmanageable. Danny and Brandon were nearly dressed, and quickly got in while the conditions were favorable. Anne and I soon followed.

The water on the surface was clear and blue, but was pushing hard against us. Light penetrated down to the thermocline at 50 ft. Here a cloudy layer was absorbing the light and it quickly became cold and dark. The temp dropped to 47, but down a few feet the vis cleared up a bit. We dropped into the blackness. Down… down… The only thing we can see is the rope and plankton illuminated by our lights. Down… down.. 100, 120… (I’m convinced the boogie man at the bottom is not so scary as his brother Murphy we strap on our backs.) Captain Dan told us the sounder reading to the top of the wreck at 195. When beacons suddenly came into view at 130, I knew the visibility on the wreck was good.

The decent to this point had been hand over hand against the current, but now the current dropped off at 150 ft. I had been monitoring my pO2 and adding gas to the drysuit, but with the current there was no need to put gas in the wing. Dumping gas into it now did not stop my now rapid decent, and I was soon kneeling on the hull. More gas … pO2 is good… more gas…. Ok neutral. Clip off my beacon. OK, breath… breath… Look around. Damn! port holes, port holes, and more port holes. They’re everywhere. However, you can not get to them. They are on the inside, and we are on the outside. Oh well, just interesting to see. The chain was tied in close to the edge of the hull, so over and down. A few smallish openings revealed rooms with tiled floors and hallways beyond. Dropping down, the glow of the beacons above is comforting. Teakwood planks cover the deck, and debris scatters a horizontal area below. Too shallow to be the bottom, but within the beacons glow. Looking around its easy to make out the frame of windows, some with glass. Bottom time disappears quickly, and I’m sure the excitement made it go much faster! Back to the line and the long cold ascent.

The current hadn’t let up. At 70 feet we were suddenly enveloped in a school of small shrimp, krill I think. For a few minutes we were surrounded. Of course you wonder if there are any predators after them. The thermocline at 30 ft brought the temp up to 76 degrees. Boy did that feel good! At this point we are all being blown horizontal like flags, parallel to the Carolina line. Time is dragging… Oops… Why is my pO2 dropping? It’s usually pretty steady during deco. Hit the Kiss valve… Nothing! Shit! I can’t be out. Check the O2 gauge… Zero! Shit! I can’t be out! I’m still at 1.1, but it’s dropping. OK, relax… I’ve got plenty of 50% bailout. Let me check that O2 valve. It’s off? One quick turn, and the friendly hiss if the Kiss orifice can be heard. Apparently the Carolina line had rubbed against the valve and shut it off. Always Know Your pO2!

Back on board, we each discussed what we had seen, and congratulated the Doria Newbies. Dan and Brandon found a port hole they thought could be extricated from it’s surroundings. Terry and Mark had flown across the wreck as the current pulled the line. A few tiles and brass handles made it aboard. We eat and talked and settled down for some R&R as Captains Dan and Jay went in for a look see.

After a nice four hour surface interval, we geared up for round two. Captains Dan and Jay had reported no current, and they were right, it was gone. This time we dropped down the line with no effort at all. I didn’t bounce off the wreck either. The conditions on the wreck were unchanged. Clip off the beacon, tie off the reel, and over the edge. Anne looked left, and I looked right as we passed over the debris. Both looking at the wreck, and for some souvenir of the trip. Again there were the window frames and inaccessible port holes. One of the davits which had lowered the lifeboats stood up majestically out of the chaos below us. Our hopes were for some of the tiles others had reported. Perhaps a nice piece of teakwood could be fashioned into a memento. Again time passed quickly, and despite coming up empty handed, it was an enjoyable dive. As we left the bottom we could hear Dan and Brandon hammering off in the distance. Ascending the line was much more relaxing in the still water, but still cold below 30 ft.

Shortly after surfacing a nice hot dinner was well appreciated. The plan was for an early dive in the morning, then pull the hook and head back. Captains Dan, Jay and Terry entertained us with stories of previous Doria dives, and how much the wreck had changed. Brandon described how he had dropped his hammer into the wreck, and got stuck reaching for it . All the while his buddy, Danny, was video taping the event. There was another round of congratulations for a second Doria dive, and we were soon off to bed. The full moon rose red over the calm ocean as the gentle lap of the waves rocked us to sleep.

Captain Dan splashed early to check the current. Conditions were good, so we soon followed. There was some current on the surface but it was manageable. We had directions to one of the three swimming pools. Again the bottom conditions were great. We headed off over the side and off to the right. Past the davit. Down to 240. Time was starting to run out when we hit pay dirt. There was a huge expanse of tile, some twenty foot on a side. We dropped down to look for some more manageable chunks, and quickly bagged a few. If we can make it back to the windows in time, we can try to shoot one of them also. As fate would have it we were running late, and some monofilament delayed us long enough to prevent the extraction of our second target. That’s OK, our primary target was achieved. Up the line we went, flapping in the building current, holding on for dear life. As we reached the 20 ft stop, the current became variable. One minute you’re at 20, the next you’re almost at the surface, then back to 20. Fortunately this was infrequent, but very disconcerting. I stuck around for a few more minutes of deco to compensate for the washing machine effect. Onboard we found that Terry and Dan had shot up some of the brass windows which Mark swam out on the surface and retrieved. They were now strapped to the deck for the long trip back. Once everyone was up we got under way. No china, but most of us had souvenirs of the trip, and memories for a life time.

Andrea Doria dive report, July 28-30 on the Independence II

Saturday, July 28th, 2007

Written by Anne Dashevsky:

Saturday, July 28
It’s a hot and sticky night. I’m already dripping sweat just from loading my gear on the boat. I’m not complaining though, this is the best weather for diving. The hot west air and lack of wind means the ocean will be flat. I haven’t told many people about this trip. Mostly because I know that my chances of actually getting a single dive in on the first try are slim. At least three of the scheduled charters this year were blown out before the boat even left the dock. Then there’s always the possibility that we’ll get there and spend all our time helplessly waiting for the strong current to slow down or it will be so choppy that I’ll be too seasick to dive. And finally, I’m tired of wasting my breath explaining to people that I do not have a death wish. Just because this shipwreck has been dubbed the “Mount Everest of scuba diving” doesn’t mean that you can’t come back alive. With the proper training and preparation, it can be done safely; I’ve been working on this goal myself for at least 10 years. Yes, I’m talking about the Andrea Doria, an Italian oceanliner that sunk on July 26, 1956 about 50 miles off the coast of Nantucket in 250 feet of seawater.

I met the other guys on the boat (they are all guys; you won’t find many women diving in the Northeast and even fewer on a deep dive like this). I recognize some of the names (Dan and Brandon from NE scuba) and I’ve met most of the crew before (Capt’s Dan and Jay and Mark). Terry and Dave are the only ones I haven’t met before. What I like most about diving is the camaraderie—just a few good stories about past dives breaks the ice and soon I feel like I’ve known these guys all my life.

We leave the dock around 1 am. I try to sleep in one of the bunks below but I’m too excited. I feel like a kid again at Christmas time, wondering if this year that I’ll get that pink Huffy bike I petitioned for all year.

Sunday, July 29
The crew, Terry and Mark, splash first and tie us in to the wreck. We wait eagerly for the Styrofoam cups to pop to the surface, our indication that the pool is open. Finally, after what seems like an eternity, the cups appear and we start gearing up. Today is just as hot and humid as the previous night but the water temperature at the bottom is in the mid 40’s and we are all wearing dry suits. Unlike a wet suit, a dry suit keeps you completely dry keeps you warmer in cold water. However, it also requires lots of insulation, fleecy garments that we call underwear. I wear the same long johns and fleece outfit that I wear when I go skiing. There’s no way around it, putting on all those heavy layers and a dry suit in the middle of summer is just miserable.

Dan and Brandon get ready first. I’m diving with Dave (the other rebreather diver) who isn’t quite ready so I wait and sweat. Captain Dan waters me like a dying plant with a nearby hose but the cool water only gets to my face. Finally we’re ready to go. I waddle to the transom wearing gear that probably weighs more than I do. The rebreather alone is 50 pounds yet it’s positively buoyant in the water so I have to wear another 20 pounds of lead to compensate for it. Then there are the extra bailout tanks, two 40 aluminum tanks weighing about 10 pounds each and a small 6 cubic foot tank to inflate my dry suit. I’m sure this is just one of many reasons why you don’t see many women on the deep dives. I travel frequently for work and I can’t help but laugh when guys offer to help lift my little 15 pound suitcase everywhere I go.

The current is pretty strong and I struggle to swim the couple of feet between the stern and the down line which is weighted and slopes down to the anchor line, making it easier than swimming on the surface. I head down as fast as I can but the current is still ripping at 20 feet. I suspected as much when I dropped my gear line in the water and it immediately went to a 45 degree angle. I pull myself along the line; hand over hand, working up even more of a sweat. Although I’m not really seasick, I feel nauseous from the heat, the lack of sleep, food and caffeine (we skipped breakfast in the rush to get into the water). I try to flood my hood with some cold water but like the hose on the boat, it only cools down my head and it’s the rest of me that’s burning up.

About halfway to the anchor line, I feel caught. Dave comes up behind me and frees my dry suit regulator which was caught up in the line. I try going forward again but I’m already exhausted. The current may be the same, better or worse on the bottom. I ask myself if I have enough energy to do the dive, especially if something should go wrong and I have to bail-out. Since the dive is so deep, I can’t just check out the conditions on the bottom and pop back up to the surface. I’ll probably have at least 15 minutes of deco and the thought of hanging out in the current is not appealing. I decide to head back. I signal to Dave to go on without me and I reluctantly head back to the boat.

After the dive, everyone else talks about how great it was; there was no current on the bottom. Now it feels like Christmas morning and I got nothing. I’m kicking myself for turning around but I know it was the right decision at the time. Suddenly, during the surface interval, smoke starts coming out of the electrical closet. The crew rushes to see what the problem is. There’s a short in the generator switch. The crew is working on the situation but without a generator, there’s no radar and we can’t stay out overnight without that or else we too might end up on the bottom next to the Andrea Doria (of course, radar did nothing to prevent the collision between the Stockholm and the Andrea Doria Smile. Now I’m kicking myself even more that I missed the first dive. The current could pick up this afternoon and then I won’t get a single dive on this wreck. After weeks of preparation, the long 4+ hour drive up to Montauk and the 6+ hour boat ride to the site, it seems like this is the closest I’m ever going to get.

The crew works some magic and somehow fixes the switch. What a relief! Enough time has finally passed so that we can do another dive. I check my gear line, this time it’s hanging nearly vertical in the Carolina blue water, it’s a good sign. I feel better after drinking some iced coffee and eating. A slight breeze has come in making it much more pleasant to get dressed.

Dave and I splash first this time. There is no current and I drop down the anchor line as fast as my ears allow me. It seems to take forever, 100, 150, 175, and then finally we hit the port side at about 190 feet. It’s so dark; it feels like a night dive. I switch on the big light while Dave ties off his wreck reel. There are portholes everywhere but we would have to find a way inside the wreck to get to them and Dave and I have already agreed to just make this an orientation dive.

We drop over the side and start swimming along the wreck at about 220. We’re anchored at mid-ship and it’s pretty much collapsed. It looks like a big Mohawk as Dan Crowell told me it would. I spot a window with the glass still intact but it’s wedged under so much other debris, I can’t get it out easily. I decide that I don’t want to spend my precious 25 minutes of bottom time struggling with it. We cruise along and spot several flounder. It’s so disorienting because the wreck is on its starboard side the flounder are lying on the deck floor which now looks more like a wall. If I wasn’t using trimix, I might think I was seeing things.

At about 15 minutes, Dave signals that it’s time to go. We didn’t find anything to bring up this time. The most important part for me is just saying that I did it. Before we leave, I give the wreck a pat and say, “this one’s for you Carol” Carol’s one of the divemasters at the shop. When she heard I was going to the Doria, she told me how she always wanted to do that dive. She went through all the training but when it came time to go, her family just didn’t want her to do it. I do understand why your family and friends worry about you when you announce that you’re going to do a dive like this. After all, even though all of your intentions are to come back alive, there’s no guarantee that you will. This isn’t some highly engineered and tested amusement park ride where you or your family can sue the owners if things don’t go just right.

We start working our way up the anchor line. It will be at least another 75 minutes before I can get out of this suit and pee (that’s the other disadvantage of a dry suit over a wet suit and probably another major reason why more women don’t dive). At least I know I’m drinking enough water. The minutes tick by so slowly. I don’t enjoy the deco as much as I usually do. It’s so peaceful in the water, especially at the shallow stops where the water is warmer and the sunlight still filters through. I usually get bored but I decide to take on Terry’s perspective—we all have so much going on in our lives while on the surface, why not enjoy the time you have in the water where you’re completely unplugged–no email, phone calls, or any other demands.

Once my deco is complete, I take advantage of the calm weather and head over to my gear line and unclip my bail-out tanks so I don’t have to struggle up the ladder with all that extra weight. I rush up the ladder and strip off my gear so I can get to the head. Another great dive was had by all and Captain Jay already has dinner ready for us. The red sun is just starting to set and the full moon begins to rise. I feel great but apparently some of the guys don’t—they head over the side and throw up from seasickness.

Monday, July 30
The next day we wake up to the most awful smell, “poopourri” or the head being cleaned out. It was an effective alarm clock. I check my gear line—it’s going at a little bit of angle but not as bad as the day before. We start getting dressed. The crew warns me that my drysuit was in the line of fire the night before so I hold off on getting dressed until the last minute (luckily it was zipped shut so the puke was only on the outside). In my haste, I realize that I forgot to put my knife on my leg. It’s nearly impossible to bend over with all the gear on so I let the crew put it on my leg.

Dave and I buddy up again, this time in search of some tile. Everyone told us the tile was directly below the anchor line so we swim straight down. I see the lifeboat davits—about the only thing recognizable in this wreckage. All I see are mounds of cables and steel plates heaped on top of one another. I spot something that looks like an engine. I’m beginning to doubt the location—I can’t imagine that the pool is here no matter how the wreck has collapsed. We’re well into our bottom time and Dave must read my mind because he signals to me to go to the right.

We head off in that direction and still don’t spot anything. It’s already been 20 minutes, time to go back. But then just as we’d given up, we spot the huge mounds of tile! Dave grabs two large chunks, one for each of us. I wasn’t too optimistic this time either though and didn’t bring my bag so I’m holding it in my hands as we head back to the anchor.

Soon I realize that I’m not getting anywhere despite the hard kicks and I’m sinking when I should be letting air out of my drysuit. I shine my light near my legs and see the dreaded fishing wire entangled around my fins. I reach for my knife but I can’t get it out of the sheath. “What the ?” I say to myself and then I see that the sheath is facing the inside of my leg. Dave is almost over the lip and since he has the line, I decide I better signal him so I don’t lose my breadcrumbs back to the anchor. I wave my light and Dave comes to help me as I cut the line free. I put the tile down when I went for my knife and I’m afraid that it’s slid off the ledge and lost forever but luckily it’s still there. We hurry back to the anchor line—an extra five minutes at the bottom here can add up to another 20 minutes of deco on top of our already 99 minute run time.

The current has picked up again and my mask is flooding as a result. I’m trying to catch my breath but I keep getting water through the rebreather mouthpiece too. It seems like every breath is half air and half water. Is it the current? Did I put a hole in one of the hoses while we were swimming around? Should I switch to my bailout? I had a similar incident while going through my initial rebreather training and in the end, there was nothing wrong with the unit. I face away from the current and concentrate on my breathing. I realize that I’m breathing through my nose and inhaling water through my flooding mask. It takes a few breathing cycles but I finally get enough air in my lungs to blow the water out of my mouthpiece and get things back to normal. I look at our depth; we’re still below 100 feet and have a long ride ahead of us. The current lets up as we get shallower and I relax for most of it. One computer is already clear but the other one still has another 20 minutes to go. I always knew it was on the conservative side but I didn’t realize it was that different. I have to fly for work the next day though so it’s probably just as well that I follow the ultra-conservative computer.

While I’m waiting, I decide to unclip my tanks again. I notice a piece of Sargasso weed is wrapped around my line. If I didn’t know any better, I’d swear I was in North Carolina again. As soon as I get to my gear line, the current picks up. I’ve already clipped one part of the bottle to the line so now I’m committed to unclipping the second one too. It takes me several minutes but I have plenty of time anyway and I figure it’s good practice.

Then the current gets even stronger and incredibly warm like bathwater. I hold on to my line as tight as I can and exhale to let some air out of my loop but I find myself at 10 feet. I had planned to complete my deco at my preferred 20 feet. Luckily my computer shows a ceiling of only 5 feet anyway but I make a note to myself to complete my deco on the anchor line next time. Just as suddenly, the current slacks and the water turns cold. I think about the crew telling us how last year the water seemed to be boiling off the stern of the boat—the result of the Gulf Stream and Labrador currents having a smack down. This happens a few more times and just when I think my arms can’t take it anymore, the computer finally clears. I decide to climb up the ladder with the other tank rather than risk another sleigh ride.

It was another fantastic day of diving and wish we could’ve stayed out there another week. I’m know there are better, deeper wrecks out there—wrecks that still look like ships, where you can go inside and navigate without a reel but you just can’t beat the cachet of this wreck. I freely admit to being a wreck name-dropper, i.e. mentioning the name of the wreck when it has no relevance to the story, “I was diving on the Texas Tower when I heard this joke…” Most of the wreck names result in blank stares from non-divers but mention the Andrea Doria and their eyes are wide open.

I always thought that diving the Doria once would be enough but I’d go again tomorrow if I could. It’s still an amazing wreck and I’ve only seen such a small part of it. If only I could dive it often enough to know it as well as the Mohawk…that might take another ten years but I’m willing to try!

Dave doesn’t do the Doria (again).

Monday, July 23rd, 2007

Well, the official score is Doria two, Dave zero. The front that went thru this weekend blew out our off shore trip. Instead we ended up diving off Block Island. While it was a pleasant weekend of diving, it was a bit of a let down. One of the other divers said that he has scheduled nine trips to the Doria, and is yet to make it there. It’s all part of the mystique.

Cape May diving: Indian Arrow and Moonstone

Tuesday, July 10th, 2007

I’m just in for the day, so I’m putting up a quick post.   The first two weeks of July, the Independence II is down in Cape May to hit some wrecks off south Jersey. With a questionable off shore forecast, we stayed a little closer to shore.

Our first dive was the Indian Arrow. The winds were flat calm when we left the inlet. Unfortunately this also meant fog. Going was a bit slow at first, but we arrived at the site in 2 ft seas. Captain Dan quickly found wreck, and we were set to go in. Surface vis was a little cloudy, but the bottom vis was easily 50+ ft. This wreck is enormous! At first, I thought I was on the bottom, but it turned out to be the top of the wreck, she is turtled in 190 fsw. As my first time here, I started a little tour. First toward the bow till I hit the break. There were a few places here where penetration was possible. We then circled back to the stern. The huge single prop is an awesome sight. Time is short at this depth, especially with a bottom temp of 44. The decompression was cold until the thermocline at 50 ft. We thawed out by the time we hit the surface. Other divers went inside the wreck picking up lobsters along the way (one was 8lbs). Again this is a huge wreck, a 468′ tanker torpedoed in 1942. There is lots to see.

Our second day out we headed to the Moonstone. She lies in 130 ft of water a little further south. The run out was quick, as the seas were near flat, and there was no fog. Visibility here was a clear 40+ ft with a bottom temp of 50. A much more comfortable dive. We were tied into the stern making navigation a snap. The wooden decking is still in place in some areas. Here in the warmer water, fish were darting about everywhere. Large seabass, and one of the largest Tog I’ve ever seen. He darted by me a few times. I’m guessing he was over 3′. Swimming about this wreck, you can clearly make out many features, deck gun, depth charge wrecks, e.t.c. Peering into one hole, my gaze was met by a large set of claws. After a few moments of indecision/fear, I coaxed the 8lb critter into my bag.

We headed back with a cooler full of lobster and scallops. Two great days of diving!