If it’s Labor Day it must be time for IVS to visit the St. Lawrence Seaway! And visit we did, with a contingent of eleven Americans and nine Canadians converging on Caigers Resort in Mallorytown, Ontario for a four day dive-a-thon. James Dahlberg, Sherwood Probeck, Csaba Lorinczy, Sue Douglass, Donna Raleigh, John Glowdowski, and I, as well as John Scott, who was traveling under a one-day pass from his lovely bride, Theresa, enjoyed motoring up in a convoy Thursday evening. We stopped off at Bingham’s Diner and enjoyed a great meal, even buying up a few loaves of the fresh baked banana-nut bread to enjoy between dives later in the weekend. A hundred miles later, Csaba was our driver and designated speaker with a heavy Hungarian accent as we passed through the Canadian border patrol station, and let’s just say we should have rehearsed a little bit before letting him lead us into Canada. Maybe the first hint was on the way up, when he said “We are going to Canada?”. When asked by the border agent where we were going, he drew a blank on the resort name and town. When asked where everyone was from, a second blank. Hmmm…not off to a good start. He did finally get it figured out and we passed the test, being allowed into Canada, in spite of the fact that we were carrying weapons (dive knives) after Csaba assured them that they were “very little knives”. Note to self: team briefing before the next border crossing! We finally arrived late that night at the resort and were greeted by some of the friendliest resort staff we have ever encountered. The folks at Caigers are unbelievably accommodating, and we are thrilled already with our lodging choice. And to top it off, they have some fine imported beer on tap at the bar, Coors Light!! I’m in heaven!
Friday started off with us getting our tanks filled first thing in the morning at Divetech, in Mallorytown. Owner Dan Humble and his staff turned out to be a tremendous asset on this trip! This is a technical dive center in the middle of Ontario province, on a country road, fantastic service, great inventory, with no water in sight – an amazing resemblance to Indian Valley Scuba. Multiple compressors, over 200 bank bottles for gas storage, two Haskel pumps to top off oxygen to 3,000 psi – these guys are VERY serious about filling scuba tanks with everything from air to trimix to argon. We really feel at home here with this group. Before we knew it our 20 tanks were filled with Nitrox, analyzed, and loaded back on the truck for the 20-minute ride back to the resort. Sweet!
While we were hard at work, John Scott was on the phone for his 11th? 12th? 13th? call to his wife, and got the green light to stay and do the afternoon dives too, rather than just the morning! Way to go John!
Back at Caigers, we loaded the boat with our tanks and gear, and then reviewed the manifest which had been electronically forwarded to U.S. Customs. This is an amazing complicated and absolutely BS-laden process designed, I hope, to protect our borders from those invading scuba divers, but alas it really seems to simply provide a job to a lazy civil service employee, specially selected from a special genetic pool to ensure they have zero personality, zero incentive and zero motivation to get things done in any fashion other than slower-than-molasses. Once we ensure the manifest is correct, we fire up the engines and head over to the US Border Patrol station located on the dock at Boldt Castle Island. Our captain goes to the window, they bring up our manifest on the computer, print out the obligatory multiple copies, and then, with their official GSA-issue little black pen, they make the official checkmark on multiple official copies of the manifest as each diver stands before the agent and holds up their passport to match the face and name with the divers listed on the manifest. Amazingly, each of us looks like the diver listed on the manifest so we are allowed to re-board our boat and head out to dive on a wreck which happens to lay on the US side of the bottom of this riverway. Friggin amazing, but sadly, true. And, it gets even better!
Once we have been cleared to transit from Canada into the US to tie our boat to a mooring in the middle of this river that just happens to be on the US side of the invisible dotted line that runs down the middle of the river, we can do the dive. However, when we are done, and start to head back across that dotted line again into Canadian waters, we must stop, and the captain needs to call the Canadian Customs from a “designated phone” and let them know they brought us back into the country. So if dive #2 is on a Canadian wreck, we need to travel to a dock where one of those “designated phones” are located, make the call, then head back out to the dive site and do what we came to do. And of course, the borders have been kept safe for all!
OK, I feel better now…let’s talk about diving!
Back to Friday – our boat is loaded, manifest checked, customs paperwork is reviewed, and we are ready to head out. Our crew for the day is Captain and owner of Thousand Island Pleasure Diving, Wayne Green, assisted by his young and wonderful captain-in-training, Chantal. This team was perfect and sync’d with the IVS gang within moments. This was going to be a good day. So we motored out, and stopped at US Customs, processed through quickly, and headed out to the wreck of the Keystorm. This steel canal boat, measuring 250 feet long and 42 ft wide was built in 1910, and was less than two years old when she ran aground on a foggy night at Scow Island Shoals, and sank with no loss of life. She sits nearly upright in 118 ft of water, and her tall intact profile and easy penetration makes this a great dive for all advanced and technical dives alike. The wreck provides lots of opportunities for penetration with minimal entanglement issues. Our second location was also in US waters, and was the America, a former drilling barge that flipped over and sunk in 1932 while it was drilling and blasting the rocky shoals to widen the shipping channel. As it blasted the rock one of the four legs that were extended down to stabilize the barge was kicked out, and the barge capsized and ended up settling up inverted on the bottom at 78 ft. This wreck sits right in the shipping channel so the entry is on the shoals at 30 ft and then follow a permanent guide line about 100 yards to the wreck site. A good wreck for fish, with lots of walleye, perch, and large sheepshead.
Back to the dock, we make the required call to Customs, and disembark to unload tanks and grab some lunch. A quick run over to Divetech, filling 20-plus tanks, and back to Caigers. For lunch we stop in and meet Darlene at the Mallorytown Diner, a Canadian version of a greasy spoon sort of diner, suffering from some identity confusion about whether it is a diner or a pizza parlor. Let’s just say we enjoyed Darlene a lot more than the food. After lunch we re-board the boat and head out at 6:30 for our scheduled 1:30 afternoon dive , this time to dive on the Canadian side of the St. Lawrence, negating the need to involve U.S. Customs and all that goes along with it. Felix Gryn has arrived and opts to join us on our night dives. Our selected dive site was the Kingshorn, a wooden sailing barge that sunk in 1897 while being towed as part of a convoy of seven barges loaded with grain. Only three of the barges actually made it to port, with the others lost somewhere in the dark abyss of the main channel which is in excess of 300 ft deep in places. Some of you may recall this divesite as the the last known invasion of Canada, which was accomplished last year and ended up wht the IVS crew being summarily arrested and detained in Canadian Customs until they realized we were but harmless and misinformed scuba divers from America. Well this year, instead of the half hour internment and rush of excitement, we opted for the far more conventional and waaaaay more slow process of actually informing the other country that we were coming in for a visit. Next time, go back to Plan A! Anyhows, this wooded wreck offers a fairly intact hull, sitting in about 90-120 ft of water, upright and easily penetratable. We dropped in at 6:55, enjoying the dive at twilight, and ending as a night dive. We hung out on the boat for a short surface interval (thank goodness for dive computers and Nitrox), then revisited the wreck for a true night dive, going in at 9:00 in the evening. Another good hour-long dive, with Donna and her buddy John G giving us a nice unplanned macrame performance in tieing yourself up while trying to practice using a reel at night for penetration. No harm, no foul and everyone came out of the wreck wiser for the exercise.
Back at the resort, Mark the owner and his fine staff take care of us at the bar, keeping the libations flowing well into the evening. You can imagine that the Indian Valley Scuba gang brings just a little more energy, excitement and late-night laughter to a resort that normally caters to a more mundane crowd of early-morning fishermen and their families. Finally it’s off to bed, get some well-deserved rest, and be ready for the a.m.
John S managed to rack up a few more hours of international cell phone charges, but it resulted in him getting his pass extended to the morning dive trip.
Saturday morning we start off with another tank-filling run to Divetech, hauling and humping another 22 steel tanks and doubles in for filling and reloading them into the IVS truckster. Back at Caigers, we repeat the boat loading process, and this time we board a different boat than we had yesterday. Different in many ways, perhaps the most important one being that although both boats were equipped with two inboard engines, only yesterday’s boat actually had both engines operating! Broken boats seem to be an IVS tradition, so what the heck, we load up and begin to prepare to slowly head out to visit our friends at US Customs to seek permisssion to come home to dive for the morning. Except, a quick review of the manifest shows that we had missed the 24-hour advance window to notify U.S. Customs that John Scott had gotten permission to visit America again, so it was hold the boat, bacak to the computer, re-send a revised manifest and make some sort of official phone call, and finally, finally we are ready to depart. Except now, with that circus behind us, we tell John in no uncertain terms that he owes us the afternoon dive, so he might as well recharge his cell phone battery now in preparation of the call(s) he’ll have to make to his wife.
OK, the mooring lines are untied, and we start to motor out towards the border. Our boat was joined by a another vessel, this one loaded a bunch of Canadians, led by IVS-North instructor Jim Cormier. The group included Jim, his lovely wife Peg, and kids Sarah and Matthew, along with Earl ‘the hugger’ McLean, Brian Post, Steve Mueller, John Beck, Brian McPherson, and Steve’s lovely counterpart, Brenda. Needless to say, our progress was much slower so we waved goodbye to our northern neighbors as they quickly pulled away from our boat. Customs today was far less simple than yesterday, being Saturday of Labor Day weekend, and also by virtue of the fact that it was approaching noon by the time we arrived. Progress is amazingly slow, and the experience is the same as yesterday, only slower. No welcome home hugs for us from the Customs agent, boo hoo.
Once we clear customs, we begin to head upstream to the Vickery. The boat is making about 6 knots, and the current is running about 5 knots, so you can do the math here. You can almost here the Gilligan’s Island theme song “three hour tour” as we plod slowly towards the dive site. Thank goodness it is a beautiful day and the scenery along the river is phenomenal, so there is plenty to look at and enjoy. Our captain for the day, Rick, has something to say about everything we see on both sides of the river, but unfortunately, most of it is wrong or has no ending. Interesting to spend your entire life working on this river and being so clueless about what you look at each day. It’s a little past one now, and we have the dive site mooring in sight now. We are excited and start to slip into wetsuits and re-check the gear. Putt-putt-putt, we’re almost there, when suddenly with a look of shock and amazement in his eyes, John “first in the water, whether we’re at the dive site or not” Scott falls off the back of the dive boat into the river! Well we immediately roll into our man-overboard drill, and question whether we want to tell the captain since it has taken so long to get this close to the dive site, and to go back for John would mean we would have to retrace a good chunk of our route. Well after a quick vote and a rock/paper/scissors tie-breaker, we decide to turn around and get John. We pull his sorry butt back on board, and he knows the incident is blog-worthy material already.
With all divers now re-accounted for on-board we finally make it to the mooring and tie into the wreck. Our selection for this dive is the Vickery, a 136 ft long schooner that struck the shoals and sunk in 1889. She lies on a sloping rocky bottom from 65 to 120 feet in depth. Off the stern the two masts invite divers to travel down to a little over 150 ft to see the crows nest and rigging that lie near the extreme end of them. The current is smoking here, so careful use of wreck reels and using the wreckage to shield yourself is key to a safe dive experience. The rudder is a dramatic site at the stern, rising almost 15 ft vertically. Very nice dive overall, and it was finally time to head back to our boat. Well, time for most of us to go back to our boat, as Sherwood “Inspector Gadget’ Probeck opted for mooring line #2, heading off to make new friends on another boat, and helping take a little of the blog pressure off John Scott for his earlier escapade. This makes Sherwood 0-for-2 on making it back to the boat he jumped off of. We are confident we can improve that this weekend!
Once roll is taken, Captain Rick suggests a dive site that is even further upstream from where we are, and we unilaterally tell him he is out of his freakin’ mind if he is thinking about plodding any further against the current in the S.S. Minnow. That being said, he says he has another site for us, and we turn the boat downstream and make some decent headway down the river. We cruise along for a while, and I think perhaps it might be wise to see what ideas are rolling around in our captain’s head with regards to dive #2. So I head up to the bridge and we talk about the site, and what is there, and why we might enjoy it. Then I ask what country the site is located in, and he says “Canada”. “Wait one cotton-picking minute here, you mean we have to go back to shore and tie up while we are making that call from that “designated phone” and requesting entry back into Canada?? I don’t think so. Stop the boat!” “Where are we now?” “America?” “Yes”. “Good. We are going to drift dive the wall right along the island that we are passing, right now.” “Well we never dove here” he says. “Well you are about to”, I say. So we gear up, jump in, and drop down for a pretty cool drift dive along Deer Island, which is owned by some secret society that Captain Rick couldn’t remember much about. Nice dive, lots of big fish, good wall structure, and nearly an hour later we drift into a quiet bay and get picked up for the short ride home to Canada. Mutiny over.
Once back at the dock I sit down for a little pow-wow with Wayne and we work out a plan to salvage this day for us. Unload the boat, get the tanks filled, and let’s head about 20 kilometers east and jump on his other boat in the town of Brockville. Sounds like a plan! We unload the gear, hump a kazillion tanks into the truck, stop by our new buddies at Divetech for gas, and, choices being limited, visit the Mallorytown Diner for a bit more of Darlene and the fun we enjoyed yesterday. Finally it is 7:30 and we are pulling away from the Brockville dock with Wayne at the helm. Our first stop for this afternoon’s dive (yes we are still working on our 1:30 trip) is the wreck of the Muscallonge, in it’s day the largest tugboat to work the river, which suffered an explosion and sunk in 1936, settling upright but badly damaged on the bottom in 99 ft of water. It’s always an extra thrill to do your night dive on a new site, in strong current. This is an adventure trip for sure. The dive was enjoyable but the damage to the wreck made it more of a ‘Sanford & Son’ junkpile than a shipwreck, taking a little out of the experience. Back on board (all of us, including Sherwood!) decide to keep the adrenalin flowing, and we motored over to another brand new site for our second night dive of the afternoon, dropping in at 9:30 p.m. on the wreck of the Robert Gaskin. This 136 ft long triple masted barque actually sunk not once but three times while working on a salvage project to re-float a train-carrying ferry that had sunk in the channel. They say three times is a charm, and that proved to be the case here, as on the third attempt to raise the ferry one of the pontoons they had attached to the sunken vessel and were filling with high-pressure steam to float actually broke loose and rocketed to the surface, striking the Gaston, making this perhaps the only Canadian ship in history to torpedo itself. The damage from this event was too great and they left the wreck on the bottom, but coincidently did manage to re-float the train ferry. This wreck sits upright in 55 to 70 ft of water, with more good penetrations thoughout. Another great first visit on a night dive, with current and penetration! What were those guidelines again?
Thankfully all of our dives this afternoon were in Canadian waters, so no calls to Customs were required as we returned to the dock. Unload gear, hump tanks, and head back to the resort for some more laughs and brewskies at the bar. John S boogies for home now, leaving at 11:00 p.m and due home in time for his wife to leave for work at 5:00 a.m. – way to cut it close John. It’ll probably be a long time before he is allowed out to play with us again! Meanwhile, Dave West and Ray Graff had arrived this evening, and joined in the beers, merriment and story sharing. We ended the evening with Csaba and Ray enjoying some fine Cuban cigars (available in Canada) on Caigers waterfront patio while the stars treated us to a nice show.
Now it’s Sunday and we kick off the morning with our daily exercise, humping 20-some tanks and doubles for gas fills at Divetech. Down to the boat, load gear on the S.S. Minnow again, and head out to meander upstream to a couple of locations on the Canadian side – enough of the customs nonsense. Our first site is a drift wall dive along Eagle Point and highly rated by Captain Rick. It was a pretty cool dive, and I hit depths to 160 feet along the wall, which dropped down that distance again to the bottom. Lots of fish, some really dramatic rock structures, and a pretty nice current to kick along with. For our second dive we opted to forego the planned second drift location and instead visited the Kingshorn, to actually see it in the daylight hours. A nice dive for everyone, and thanks to the location, a quick ride back to the resort for us.
After unloading the gear and packing the trucks for the tank fill run and transfer to the Brockville boat, we decided to try a new location for lunch, and headed west to Rockport to dine at the Boathouse Tavern. Great food and more chances to enjoy local Canadian fare such as poutine, which is french fries with brown gravy and cheese curd on top – yummy! Lunch was a blast as every gathering with this gang has been, and we wrapped it up and hustled over to Divetech to get our tanks filled once again. The guys there work like we do at Indian Valley Scuba, with the scheduled 5:00 closing time coming and going with no one even thinking about quiting as there were still plenty of customers in the shop and many tanks to fill. Finally we finished ours, and headed into Brockville again to load the boat. This was the closest we were yet to actually making an afternoon dive in any part of the day that resembled the afternoon as most of us know it. We loaded up and headed out to the wreck of the Daryaw, a 220 ft long steel freighter that ran aground in the fog in 1941, turning turtle and wedging itself in a deep crack in the shoal. The top of the wreck, actually the keel of the ship, lies at 55 ft deep, while the superstructure is about 90 ft below the surface. The current was ripping along this wreck from bow to stern, so a firm grip on the downline and the tag line running along the wreck was a necessity. Just prior to entering the water, Dave W managed to tear his dry suit neck seal right down the front. Well, try as he may to use this as an excuse to call the dive, those of you who know me know that you need to have bones sticking out to be allowed to call off a dive, and we made no exceptions in this case. Even Sherwood, who has had an endless supply of tools and spare parts in his kit for us all weekend, doesn’t have a new neck seal to remedy the situation. So Dave sucked it up, and we went in and enjoyed a great dive exploring this wreck and making some exploratory excursions into the interior. His suit did not flood completely until we were on the ascent line, so kudos to him for managing his trim in the water and keeping his neck down the entire dive. And a good chance for everyone to see that flooding your dry suit on a dive is not life threatening in spite of the yarns that some instructors like to spin. Bottom line, very cool wreck, very disorientating as it sits completely upside down. In addition to the dry suit damage, Dave W and Ray also were suffering a little light envy, as Csaba, Donna & Sue were all styling and showing off their brand-new canister light systems. What a difference a great light makes for deep, dark wreck dives like these! All in all, a very nice dive on a very nice wreck, and well worth the drive to Brockville.
Since we were well versed in the art of visiting and exploring brand new wrecks in the dark and swiftly-moving waters, we figured we were ready for our final Brockville dive, opting to visit the Lillie Parsons, a 130 ft long inverted wooden two-masted schooner which met it’s demise during a blinding squall in 1877, hitting wall along the edge of the channel head on and sinking immediately. Her cargo of 500 tons of hard coal is very evident all around the wreck, with the material that they were not able to salvage still dropping out of the hold. The neatest part about the wreck is the entry to the dive site. Due to the currents here, which were without a doubt the strongest we encountered all weekend, you actually drop in at a point about 300 ft in front of the island that the vessel wrecked on. Once in, we dropped down immediately and kicked a little to the left to ensure we made it to the right side of the island as the current separated around the land mass. We hit the wreck in about 20 seconds so you can imagine the speed of the current. Once on the wreck we made sure everyone was OK, then proceeded to explore the wreck around the perimeter with some very minor visits underneath it to check out the cargo hold. The masts heading down into the dark abyss were calling our names, but we opted for caution (whoa, did I say that?) and chose to not head down to see what may be at the end of them. Once we were done playing around the wreck, we re-positioned ourselves between the wreck and the rocky shoal wall, finding a crack to ascend up from our 60 ft depth to the 30 ft range, and we literally sailed head over teacup along the wall, bumping into fish, scaring the large crayfish, and just having a laugh on this ride, as we kept out eyes open for a rope that marked the turn into a sheltered bay where our boat was waiting for us. Here it comes, grab it, hold on for your dear life, and slide on up to the 15 ft mark for our safety stop. Cool!! Once done, we kicked around corner into the bay, and swam to our boat. What a ride!!!
Finally, it’s Monday and time to head back to the land of opportunity, America. We say our goodbyes to our new friends at the resort, run out for a final tank fill at Divetech, and start to head across the border. ‘Start’ is the operative word here, because the process for a truckload of Americans to return home was, in a nutshell, ridiculous. First we have about six border agents directing traffic into the clearly marked lanes to pass through customs, as if we could not figure that out on our own. Then we inch up to the front, and finally we are next in the queue for the agent. Large, clear signs indicate that you should advance when the lane clears, so we wait. The car in front of us appears to have answered the customs agents’ questions incorrectly, and are being directed to the body cavity search area. Since the lane is clear, we begin to pull up, only to see the agent throw up here hands to tell us to stop. Realizing that we have advanced about 24 inches closer to our homeland, she throws up her hands again in obvious disgust at our failure to read her mind. So she signals us to advance a little bit more forward, but not quite to the booth. I feel like we are in “tweener land” between two countries, and had war broken out, it would be a crap shoot as to which way to run. She takes care of her business with the occupants of the car that did not pass the test, and turns her attention to us. We have been studying and practicing furiously, and are hoping that she is grading on a curve today. Mickey’s girlfriend is Minnie, it was the Yankees who won the world series in 1952, Grover Cleveland was the 14th president of the US….what else might they ask to authenticate our citizenship? Oh no, while we were waiting in tweener land, they switched agents in the booth, and we are not prepared for the new male border guard. I pull up, careful to stop at exactly the prescribed line at the booth. “Passports please” he says, and I hand them over. Csaba has already been briefed to feign sleeping, while Donna, if questioned, will be our token deaf/mute. Sounds like we have the bases covered! I hand over the passports, and he asks if I can shut off the truck so he can hear my answers. Geeesh…ready for the interrogation! Sure, I say, and I shut it off…then to add a bit of levity, I ask “so, do you have jumper cables?”. “You must be kidding”, he says, without a change in expression or tone. Hmmm, I am thinking, maybe I should compliment him on how well the scar is healing, from where they REMOVED HIS PERSONALITY!! OK, I think, maybe he would not appreciate that joke since it was so close to the truth, and I refrain. “Where were you”, he asks, and I tell him. “What were you doing?” “Scuba diving”. “What are you carrying?” “Duh, dive gear!”. Truly working with a rocket scientist here, I refrain from offering more info than he can process. When he asks if we are bringing in any alcohol and tobacco, I almost say “No, Ray & Dave have that in their car behind us”, but again, I refrain. We are finally allowed to resume our place as resident taxpayers, and pass through the golden gates into America. I pull over to the side after going through to wait for Ray & Dave, and you would have thought I was slipping into my suicide vest as the border guys dropped what they were doing and started gesticulating wildly for me to move further away from the customs station. I am thinking they really need to get a life there.
We head over to Alexandria Bay, NY for a nice little shore dive right next to River Hospital. Things could not be more perfect as we snag two parking spots right on the water, gear up, brief and head down under the water. We expore the wreckage of the former townfront, visit the Stonehenge of the St. Lawrence with neatly arranged chairs, tables, glasses, plates and beverage bottles all at 70 feet. Slipping along the shore we pass under the floating bar, see more former pilings and piers, and end up with a nice exploration on the wreck of the former wooden passenger ship Islander. This was a sidewheel steamer, 125 ft long and displacing 118 gross tons, which operated as a mail boat and passenger steamer between Clayton and A-bay from 1871 until she burned and sank at the dock in 1909. It sits in 15 to 60 ft of water, with minimal current, making it a nice easy shore dive and training site for local shops. A nice 60 minute tour and we are ready to slip out of the gear for the 13th and last time this weekend.
It’s time to start for the 5 hour ride home, but first, hey, let’s get something to eat here. I recommend Cavalliaro’s where we enjoyed a fine meal last summer. We agree, and we pull into the lot and park. They have tables outside, so we figure how perfect is that, we can eat and watch the gear in the truck at the same time. Well, it’s 3:30, and they don’t open until 5. “Sit down and have a drink with us” is what the gang on the porch says, so hey, who are we to argue! There is some minor rumbling from the gang, thinking why do we have to wait 90 minutes to eat and still have this long ride home. Well, we put those concerns to rest within the first two minutes as the girls on the porch, Cindy, Shirly and Joanne, along with Tara the owner, pulled up extra chairs to their table and ordered libations to share with us. What a perfect fit, us and them, as we shared stories, told jokes and basically laughed our butts off for the next three hours. They don’t serve dinner on the porch, we are told, and haven’t since they opened in 1962. “Sounds like a guideline to me”, I say, and yes, you can guess it, the IVS gang enjoyed the first-ever meal served on the porch! Our new friends were an absolute hoot, and it ended up being a most wonderful way to end a great trip. Cindy shared some of her observations with us, pointing out that perhaps I was not very good at advertising and should keep my mouth shut! Dave West enjoyed a prime rib that took probably two cows to make, and the rest of us enjoyed the finest food of the weekend. After dinner, desserts and more drinks, along with additional doses of laughter. Our bellies were full and hurting from all the laughter by the time we shared hugs and goodbyes with everyone there.
Four hours and 22 minutes later, we are safe & sound back in Harleysville, and planning for next years trip already!