Archive for July, 2008

Diving the Texel on the Independence, July 27

Sunday, July 27th, 2008

Lately, it seems, more often than not, that the NOAA forecast changes at the last minute, and remains marginal. This weekend was no different. We delayed our departure until daylight to better assesses the conditions. Leaving the inlet we were met by 3-4 ft seas with an occasional 5 thrown in to keep us on our toes. Unfortunately we were taking them on our starboard bow. This made the ride a bit bumpy, but observation of the actual wave height made it clear that the conditions were safe to dive.

Today’s trip was to one of the Black Sunday wrecks; the Texel. Back in 1918 the U-151 sank a number of ships in one day know as Black Sunday. The Texel was a steamer carrying sugar from Puerto Rico to New York when she was sighted by the U-151. Rather than using a torpedo, the U-151 forced the Texel to stop by firing warning shots across her bow. The Texel crew was forced to abandon ship, and Germans then sunk her with demolition charges. The wreck now lies some 60 miles off the coast in 230 ft of water.

When we arrived, Bill and I started to get ready to splash. Now that the boat not running into the waves, everyone was more comfortable. The echo on the depth finder did not show much relief. We made several passes and dropped the shot on the best piece we could find. Bill and I jumped in for a closer inspection. The time was about 11:00, and the sun was bright in the sky.

There was a mild current the whole way down so the shot line was angled off into the distance below. We knew the shot weight was not heavy. This prevented us from actually holding onto the line or pulling ourselves along. We swam into the current the entire decent. The surface visibility had been great, and it continued to be clear. We switched on our lights as standard procedure, but they were not necessary. As the bottom started to come into focus, we were still swimming to follow the line. Soon the shot came into view, and the wreck loomed off in the distance.

Bill unhooked the line, and started off toward the wreck. At first I started pulling on the line to give him slack, but he signaled that I should get on with my job, shooting the shot. I quickly hooked up a bag, and filled it for its ascent. Then went over to help Bill hunt for a good spot. We had to search for a little bit before finding a heavy beam that looked and felt sturdy. Wrap, clip, and off we went to inspect the wreck.

I tied off a reel and we started off along the wreck with Bill close behind. The decking along the centerline had collapsed to the sea floor, but the two sides of the ship still provided some relief. We swam down the centerline trying to avoid the fishing line strung above us. Soon two large boilers came into view, and a large engine to the side. Now that would have been a great place to tie in! We examined the deck plates looking for anything out of the ordinary. Here and there we found the holes where port holes had once been. Now large eel pouts made them their homes. Given the remote location of the wreck I was surprised at the lack of fish life. Neither of us saw lobster or scallops which normally litter these deep wrecks.

Unfortunately our time was short, and we had to head up. The dive had been a warm 48 degrees at 220 ft. There was a moderate current all the way up, but the thermoclines were deep enough to be comfortable. The long 20ft stop was a balmy 76 degrees.

Lobsters, Mermaids and Dolphins, Oh My

Monday, July 14th, 2008

Even though NOAA’s offshore forecast was marginal, the Independence II headed out to the Bidevind for an overnight charter.  The ship was a Norwegian freighter on her way from Cape Town with a load of manganese ore. She was sunk by U-752 in 1942. Now the wreck lies in 190′ of water west of the Texas Tower. Given the distance from shore, and the proximity to the popular Texas Tower, this wreck is not hit frequently. We reaped the benefits of that neglect.

On the way out to the wreck we found the NOAA’s 5 foot rollers which unexpectedly died down a bit as we got further out. We arrived at the site around 8:00 am. Bill and Terry quickly had us tied in. The surface vis looked good with a medium current pushing the equipment lines at the surface. The divers started gearing up and rolling in.

I was diving with two Trimix students on their first mix dive. We reviewed our plan, and discussed some signals, discussed the decompression, then geared up for the dive. With the entire day before us, there is no rushing to get into the water. We dropped in and did our bubble checks on the line, then descended down to the wreck. Below 30 ft the current dropped off completely, and we just dropped down past other divers on their ascent.

When we arrived at the end of the line, the students found out why people dive these deep wrecks! The visibility was 70ft with enough light to see clearly. The plan was to tie off a reel and head out over the wreck, but with the clear water and light, we could easily navigate, and the strobe on the line could be clearly seen from either side of the wreck. We were tied in at a high point of 160′, and there was a mild current. We dropped down a few feet in the lee and started off on a sight seeing tour.

Below the line were the remains of two small boilers. Since speed is not as important to a freighter as it was to passenger vessels, these may have been the ships main boilers, but I could not make out an engine. We followed the prop shaft back toward the stern. We moved slowly along, looking here and there at the debris below us. Observing the lobster, eel pouts, and schools of ling cod. It was a shame that our planned depth was only 170, as it was tempting to drop down lower. It was soon time to turn around and head back. In the clear water, we soon saw the strobe on the line and started our ascent. The current picked up again at 30 ft, and it was a bit stronger now. Captain Dan headed down past us as we were finishing up our deco.

When we got back on the boat for the debrief, my first question was “did you notice any narcosis?” None. Clear water and a clear head. It does not get much better. We all discussed what a great dive it was, and wondered why no one comes to this wreck. With the dearth of divers, the wreck was covered with lobster. After tying in, Bill and Terry had put the remaining part of their dive to good use, and were now banding their catch. Captain Dan found a port hole, but said it was to difficult to get to. (My guess is that after you have a few, you think twice about the effort before perusing another.) Dan and I discussed the boilers. He also thought them to be small for the main engine.

Many of the passengers were now catching some sleep before heading in for the second dive. The wind had picked up and the forecast was for a front to come through at night. The decision was made to do one more dive, then head in. We geared up for the second dive and dropped in. The current on the surface had picked up, so we pulled hand over hand until we dropped below it. Bubble checks again, and we dropped down to the wreck.

With the sun lower in the sky it was noticeably darker on the wreck. The vis was still good, and the strobe was even more prominent. I stopped briefly to grab a lobster just forward of the line, then we headed out toward the bow. The current on the bottom was gone, so we made good time swimming over the wreck. Below the hatch covers for the cargo holds were clear, and the bow loomed up before us. Again schools of ling were hiding here and there with huge eel pouts everywhere. Of course, no NJ wreck would be complete without the omnipresent cunners. We stopped at the bow briefly then turned back to the line. The ascent and deco were uneventful save for the current above 30ft. On the surface Capt Dan was grilling up scallops, lobster, and assorted stakes and sausage. A hot meal was just the ticket for cold divers.

Bill and I had planned to splash together and pull the hook, but my second dive was delayed and I would not have enough surface interval. Bill went in with a request for a few minutes of hunting prior to the pull. He would get in a nice twilight dive and grabbed a few more lobsters as we prepared the boat for the trip back. Overhead the sky was showing signs of change in weather ahead. It was time to get going.Lobster in his native environment.

The sun was setting and the strobes we put on the ball were now clearly visible. On occasional we could see Bills light panning around as he hung on the line. While these lights are to attract our attention, they also attracted a pair of curious dolphins. We saw them checking out the strobes on the surface, and could only imagine Bill’s reaction if they stopped by to check him out. When Bill got back on board he confirmed our suspicions, they scared the hell out of him. That is until he figured out they were dolphins.

On the ride back we were treated to a following sea which made for a comfortable ride. Most of the group got in a few hours of sleep. A nice end the a great day.