Posts Tagged ‘wreck diving’

Tribute to Yasuko

Sunday, July 31st, 2011

I was going to write a description of this day, but Rob Infante did a better job than I could:



Sunday 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 inflables 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, messages to her, 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), and 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 the piece, 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 moving the stone 125 or so feet.  Before splashing I was warned that it had settled into a hole 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 on the descent.  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 add or subtract gas from 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.

Yasuko in the surf

Yasuko in the surf

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, and yet still their irrepressible enthusiasm helped lighten the mood, reaffirming the good in life.  Inside, the cabin table was filled with tasty foods, including Yasuko’s beloved scallops. Laughter and good food were definitely part of how we remembered and appreciated 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 carpet of petals slipped away on the current.

Diving Virgin Shipwrecks

Thursday, July 7th, 2011
Fish on the windlass

Fish on the windlass

Armed with a set of numbers from a befriended fishing boat captain, Captains George and Roger gathered the usual suspects and headed out to investigate.  The forecast was for thunderstorms all day, but the skies were just hazy, with a slight breeze.  The seas were near flat with a small swell.   On the way out we stopped at an old familiar wreck to stock up on carpa hinchable lobster, fluke, seabass and sinker (a clear indication of a popular wreck).  Surface conditions were not as clear as last week, but there was still blue water above the standard Northeast green.  The bottom vis dropped to 25 ft, but still bright with clear water above.  We all kept our dives short given the anticipation of the next wreck.

We were quickly underway and headed out on the discovery mission.  Once we arrived on the numbers, Dr, Captain Roger spent some time mapping out the wreck.  Chris splashed and tied in.  George and Roger gave us a brief on what they had seen on the depth finder, and gave instructions to mark larger pieces.

Tied to chain

Tied to chain

With great anticipation, we all quickly splashed and found that Chris had us tied into a rather large chain.  It was not a chain pile, but a length of chain stretching along side of wreck.  The wreck itself was a low lying wooded structure, and very old.  While the conditions were calm, Chris was probably correct to pick the large metal chain link rather than a soft wood rib.  It was clear that we were on the side of the ship, so I tied off my reel, and headed out to look for the other side.  The bottom here was not so much sand as gravel.  While hoping to see fluke, there was naught but Sea Robins, and large groups of them at that.  Given the slight surge, this bottom structure helped keep the silt down and the vis clear at about 30+ ft.   It was quickly apparent that I had picked the wrong direction, so I swung back to the spar to find Roger on the other side.  The relief here varied from a few inches to 2-4 ft.  Larger portions were covered with seabass, and lots of ribs with obvious signs of excavation (lobster).   Smaller parts were populated with juveniles and cunners.  We swam along checking holes here an there until the we ran out of wreckage.  Roger turned back, making sure to examine the ribs on the other side.  I continued along on our initial heading to see if the wreckage continued further along.  Nothing ends without reason.  Just out of the range of visibility, the spar continued.  Here again, the relief varied, and now the width of the wreckage started to increase, and I suspected I was approaching the bow.  Off toward the right, movement caught my eye.  A large gill net was snagged on the wreckage wrapped with line, it was swaying in the surge.  I kept my distance, but did notice it was still catching fish.

A few minutes later, a large shadow loomed up ahead.  On approached it was evident that it was a windlass, and a very large one.  It rose off the bottom 5-6 ft, and with the surrounding structure, was about 15-20 ft long.  The structure was covered with fish.  Tog, seabass and Pollock were all swimming about openly.   Unfortunately, I was fishing with my camera, and could only bring back images.  My reel was nearly empty, so I dropped it, and proceeded to take photos and look about.  Before long, my camera’s moisture alarm sounded, so I left the reel for George, and quickly headed back.

The jaunt off the wreck into the “sand” had cost me some line, but the reel is 400 ft, and there were only a few wraps left when I dropped it.  Also, our start point was not at the stern.  Other divers reported more wreckage on the other side of the tie in.  That makes this a big wreck.  That also explains the size of the windlass.  Chris tied us into a chain that had been deployed covering the length of the wreck.  The end of that chain probably includes a large anchor buried out in the sand.

I surfaced to find George getting ready to splash.   Other divers had briefed him on the structure they’d found.  With my camera out danger, I offered to join him, but he agreed that he would follow my reel, taking sisal and a bag to mark the windlass.   From the bow of the boat Dina Dee II, we watched his bubbles head off in the distance.  Soon, we saw his lift bag a good distance off the port bow, and we laid bets on the condition of my reel. When he surface, it was clear that he had made significant dent in the local seabass, lobster and fluke population with one notable exception… No sinkers.  Clearly very few fishermen know about this one.  Apparently George and reels don’t get along, as mine was in his bag, and looked more like a ball of twine than a reel. At this point, we had a serious dilemma, where to put all the fish.  The 56qt  cooler was already over full.  We had to empty out the mask bucket and use it to keep the overflow.



Chris did another short dive, then pulled the hook.   Once on board, Captain Roger headed over to mark the numbers of the windlass and grab the bag.  As we steamed for home we all exchanged descriptions of where we had gone, and what we had seen.  It was clear that we only saw half of the wreck, and this wreck calls for more investigation.   It may have only been a barge, but it was a big one, and covered with fish and lobster.  As one diver pointed out, even barges can have interesting artifacts. We were there for fun, and everyone had a blast.  There’s much more to see, do, and catch.

Back a the dock George and Roger cleaned fish while the rest of us cleaned gear and boat.  There was plenty of seabass, fluke and lobster for all that wanted it.  We even arranged to ship some down to South Carolina.   After stopping to see my mom in Manahawkin, my gear got the forecasted fresh water rinse as those thunderstorms finally appeared.

Another great day of diving courtesy of the Dina Dee II.

July 4 Dive and Barbeque

Monday, July 4th, 2011
Click for Gallery

Clear water on the hang

We had lots of family commitments over the July 4 weekend, but we finally got out for a relaxing day of diving with friends. After spending much of the spring with students in the pool and up at Dutch, it was nice to hit the ocean.

Topside, there was just a slight breeze under a hazy sky. Given the small group, Captain George picked a small wreck that is not often hit. Condition reports this spring had been spotty, so we were very pleasantly surprised at the 70 of surface vis, and 30 ft of bottom vis. At 75 ft, the temp was 51 degrees with a very slight surge It was an old wooden barge with chain pile and small donkey boiler. Like most wooden vessels, the barge provided rows of low holes for lobster and seabass. The chain pile had holes large enough for larger seabass and tog. Some nice size lobsters came up along with piles of seabass. While there were a number of fluke on the wreck only one was found large enough to catch.

Back at the dock, we set up tents, and unpacked the grill and beverages. Many tales were told, old and new. After an enjoyable barbeque, we all packed up and headed home. A relaxing end to a very busy week.

Notes on Diver Etiquette

Monday, November 15th, 2010

The other day, I found myself in a discussion with a group of instructors and experienced divers over the issue of diver etiquette.  Everyone agreed that this varies wildly from diver to diver, and shop to shop.  While there is no explicit place for this discussion in the training curriculum, it is a subject that should be brought up.   We all agreed the best time to teach this is as part of the Open Water class (teach good habits before divers learn bad ones).  Many of us do include a few minutes to discuss this in class, then try to reinforce the concept during the open water dives.

Unfortunately, there are other instructors that do not understand the need, do not have the time, or just have bad etiquette themselves.

Ultimately, a diver’s etiquette will reflect their own personality.   A diver that only thinks of them self, will never follow good etiquette.   Someone that is considerate of others will try their best to be considerate while diving.  However, many of the latter do not know how to do this as new divers.  Here are some points to consider.

  1. On the surface:
    In many dive locations, gear space is limited.  This is especially true on dive boats.  Being conscience of this and trying to minimize the space we use is good etiquette.  Here are some points to consider on a dive boat.  These points also apply to other dive sites, but boats are usually the most space limited.

    • Gear boxes and bags. Try to keep gear containers no larger than necessary.   Try to bring containers that fit neatly under benches.  Divers showing up to a boat with over sized bags or too many bags are being inconsiderate of others, and will often get glares or rebuke from the crew. I recommend three containers:
      1. One for the BC and dry / wet suit
      2. A small one for dry gear.  A backpack works for me  (phone, towel, snacks, a few spare parts …),
      3. A small crate (about the size of a milk crate) for misc Scuba gear (reel, lift bags, lights… with fins on top)
    • This configuration works well in most environments of the North East.  On a boat, the crate  should fit well under the bench where you are setting up your tanks.  The drysuit goes in a dry location until needed.  The backpack is always in a dry location.
    • Put gear away promptly. Once your gear is loaded, set up your tank and stow your gear neatly out of the way.  The same is true after a dive.   As you take your gear off put it back into your crate and stow it neatly out of the way.  Not only is this good etiquette, but it can prevent gear damage or loss on a busy deck.
    • Dive Planning: Keep in mind that your not the only one on the boat. I recall several occasions where the entire boat was waiting over half and hour for one customer to finish his dive. If you plan on doing longer dives, then try to get into the water quickly.
    • Clean up after yourself: It’s amazing to see how much debris is left after the divers remove their gear from a dive boat. Half empty water bottles, cans, partially eaten bags of food … Yes, the crew will clean the boat, but all of this is in everyone’s way during the trip too.
  2. Gearing Up This is a process that takes up both space, and time. Here are some items to consider when working to don our gear in limited space.
    • Timing: If you know that you take longer than others to gear up, then either start gearing up early, or wait for others to go first.
    • Lend a hand: If you decide to wait for the diver next to you, then give them a hand.  That way they are out of your way quicker.
    • Be self sufficient:  This takes some time to learn, and practice. Most boat crews are eager to help in any way they can. However, there are often a lot of divers gearing up at once. Before strapping on tanks, prep the gear so that it is in reach as you don your kit. Watch an experienced crewmen.  Most can gear up with no assistance.   Again, it’s not that assistance is unavailable, but if you need lots of help, then you’re preventing other divers from getting any.
  3. Underwater: This can be difficult, since it’s not easy to know where other divers are in relation to yourself.  However, here are a few items to keep in mind.
    • Look around you. There may be other divers near you that you’re not expecting.   This is especially true on or near the up-line.  Be careful of your finning when you know other divers are near.  Fin slowly until you know your not going to kick a fellow divers.
    • Steer clear of classes. If you see an instructor working with a class, try to keep a reasonable distance.  Otherwise, you may confuse and distract the students from following their instruction.   Also, additional divers in close proximity makes it difficult for the instructor trying to keep watch over his students.
    • Photo ops: This is more of an issue in warm water diving, but keep in mind that other divers may want to take a picture also.  I’ve had video footage ruined by a diver sticking his fin in view while recording.  On the other hand, I try not to take too long, and let the next photographer get a chance.
    • Reels: Keep your line reel low and secure.  On several dives, the wreck looked like spider web with lines draped here and there.  Near the up-line it’s important to tie your reel low and put wraps close to the wreck.  A line 10 ft off the wreck can become an entanglement hazard as it is out of an approaching divers view.  When passing across another line, pass your line underneath.   Assuming your on your way out, the other diver should be on his way back before you, and will not be delayed by your line.


Again, many of these points apply anywhere, not just to dive boats.  Any time space is limited, we need to work to make maximum use of it.

These were some of the points our group discussed.  Let me know if you have others.

Good to get wet

Monday, September 13th, 2010
Mooring Bits

Mooring Bits

After a few students backed out on my Saturday dive, I reviewing the weather forecast,  and checked with Roger to see if there was any room.  As it turned out, they needed crew for a student dive.  Life is good.   My gear was already prepped and packed, just set the alarm.

The morning was calm with some light clouds. The boat was quickly packed, and we were headed out in nearly flat seas.  Given a group of open water students, bouncy castle the destination was for an inshore wreck in less than 60 ft of water.  In my mind, that means more bottom time, and perhaps fluke.

On the way out, I found out that only half of the group was in Open Water, and the rest were newly certified divers getting in some more practice.   This became evident by the number of question about my KISS Rebreather.  Not wanting to take attention away from an instructor with a class, I tried to be polite, but kept the answers short.

We were quickly at our destination and Chris jumped in as I threw the hook.  Within minutes he had us tied in, and we started getting everyone geared up.   The students went in last as the other divers went in armed for some of the Tog this wreck is know for.   By the time they were in, Chris was up with a vis report.  Not good.

I tried to keep a positive attitude, and rolled in with the camera.    The surface was a little cloudy, but the bottom was downright dark.  Vis on the bottom was 5-10 at best.  I’m not familiar with this wreck, so out came the reel.   I left the gun topside as light, camera, reel, and gun just seems like a bad combination.  Of course, I immediately ran into some nice Tog on top of the wreck, and a fair size fluke as soon as I hit the sand.

The wreck was mostly intact with some areas where you could penetrate.  A quick inspection for lobster came up blank.   The camera was just about useless.   Some part of me was tempted to go back up and exchange it for my spear.   Instead, I fell back to my age old plan of just looking around when on a wreck for the first time.  Even in the tight vis, there was lots to see.  In addition, it’s good to just practice using the camera controls and playing with different settings.  It was good to get wet without students of my own to watch.

After a complete loop around, I doubled back.  I could hear some of the divers starting their second dive, so I headed back to the boat.   We got the class back in the water, and Chris prepared to pull the hook.  Once everyone was aboard, we were quickly free, and on our way home.

Back at the dock we set to work cleaning fish and the boat.  The new divers were obviously excited about the dives, and asking when they could go again.  I only wish I could have gotten some pictures for them to remember the day by.