Southbound & down….NC bound again

And so the adventure begins………..time for another visit to the Land of Dixie and some great wreck diving in the Graveyard of the Atlantic! We’ve got another three day dive adventure planned, with two days of three-tankers, followed by a light 2-tank day on Monday and a drive back home.

Our crew for this trip includes one of Philadelphia’s finest, Officer Dan Leone, his sidekick Bill Burgess, along with Matt Hoysa, John Glodowski, Ken Brock, Stefan Picone in from Arizona, John Schnauss, & Brian Miranda. Unfortunately at the last minute Brian and John S needed to bail, so we’ll be a little light but we’ll set a place for them at dinner each night!

Friday was our travel day, so most of the crew managed to make their way south.Dan & Bill however opted to take the “Dave Train” to North Carolina, and drove up to the shop to carpool down with me. Yes, you are already asking yourself, what were they thinking? Well it gets better!

Seems that just yesterday I had a great meeting with our township to review some permit applications we had pending, including our pool, new sign, some site grading, and some fencing. We’ve been pushing to get this done before the upcoming Dive In Festival, so I was thrilled with the opportunity to meet with the powers that be and get things sorted out. It was a great meeting, the officials of Franconia Township are truly a pleasure to deal with. Once I had the ‘green light’ and the official handshake, I knew it time to move quickly to get rolling on this. I called our excavator and he had just landed a new project starting Monday, so if I wanted to get this done it had to be on Friday. OK, I am thinking, how much can that delay my planned mid-morning departure for North Carolina? We should be able to fit this in and still get on the road in short order.

So 7:00 a.m. Friday I am standing in the field with Bob, our excavator, and Jim Swartley, IVS diver and contractor extraordinaire. Well Jim says, hey this is such a great day weather-wise, why don’t we form and pour the concrete for the sign today rather than wait til Monday. OK, I think, we can fit that in, how long can that take. “Sure”, I say, “let’s git ‘er done!” Great, we pull out the marking paint, and start to lay things out. One of our neighbors decides to come see what’s going on, and we explain the sign installation to him. Next thing you know the township is there, explaining once again what we had been approved to construct at our zoning board hearing months ago. OK, that distraction aside, we lay out the sign, and all the trenching that will go along with it. “Well gosh”, Jim says, “while we are digging for the sign why don’t we trench for the electric and ethernet and telephone and cable tv wiring runs that we have on our list to do?” “Sure”, I agree, “great idea, let’s get ‘er done!!” I am thinking, this might cause a wee bit of a delay, but we should still be good to go for our nine hour ride – I am thinking dinner in NC will be nice tonight!

So we start to dig, and get our seismic-proof sign footing dug, and the trenches opened up all over the field. While Jim and I are setting rebar for the sign I realize that Bob has disappeared, but I don’t think much of it until he returns with 2,000 feet of conduit on his trailer. “Let’s get this in the ground today so I can close up the trenches”, he says. Alright, now I’m thinking we might still be here for lunch in Harleysville, but we should still be OK. I call Dan to tell him to take his time getting here, but he’s already on his way. Oh well.

Now as we’re trenching away Bob digs in with his backhoe and we’re greeted with a nice POP! and puff of magic blue smoke coming out of the ground. What’s magic blue smoke, you ask? It’s what makes anything electrical work – if you let the magical blue smoke out, the electrical thing doesn’t work anymore! So now we have no power to the garage, so we need to address that. I give Sally DiBartolo a call, as she was planning to come out to install some wiring to the pool area next week. “You’ve got the trench open?”, she asks. “Yes we do”, I tell her. “Great – I’ll be right over, I just happen to have time today to work on it, and I can fix that broken wire today too!”. Fate is kind, it seems.

So Sally shows up, and sees the trenches are so tantalizing close to where she needs to run her power that she coerces Bob into extending the trench to the pool area so she can get her conduit in today too. So she runs out to get material, and as she pulls away, the concrete truck is coming in with our six yards of ready-mix for the sign base. This might take a little time, I am starting to think.

As Jim and I are pouring concrete, who pulls in but Dan and Bill, ready to load up the truck and head south. I intercept them in the driveway and give them the update, but with a Dave-twist. “Hey, when’s the last time you guys were in the water?”, I ask. Been a few months, they tell me, so I suggest rather than driving all the way to NC and then finding something is amiss, why don’t I give them a couple of tanks and let them go up to Dutch Springs for a warm up dive this morning? Brilliant, I am thinking, and I send them on their way, telling them to take their time, maybe grab something to eat on the way back too.

OK, that taken care of, I am back onto the projects now. We’re running conduit all over the place, finishing concrete, fixing wires, backfilling, and heck, Mark McElwee shows up so we put him to work painting temporary signs for the festival. Next thing you know it’s Chris and Sharon Whitpan in the parking lot, and they are ready to take our festival banners out today and place them all over the county – excellent! Lynn Swartley stops by to go over some festival details, and here comes Bob Stitzinger to finalize some of the festival food prep plans…….Yes, we’re still heading to NC today, not to worry!

Well when it’s all said and done, we end the day with 2,500 feet of conduit buried, electric repaired, concrete poured and finished, township inspections signed off, trenches and excavation backfilled, signs painted, banners installed, and a few other things off the list. And we are looking good, all I need to do is pack and we can go! So pack I do, and finally, at 8:00 p.m., we are on our way! Almost on time, in some universe!

So we head south, and Bill starts the drive so I can start the blog. “So how did the dives go today”, I ask, and then the confessions begin. Seems our boys did not get wet today, but snuck out and went to the movie theater to see Resident Evil. Geesh! So much for that warm up dive idea! So we head south, and the conversation runs the gamut all over the place as you might imagine. One of the cool things about traveling with law enforcement (no, I’m not referring to riding in the back seat) is what you can learn from what they see every day. Today I picked up a few tips on the latest narcotics phenomenon from Officer Dan, “smoking wet”. Seems that embalming fluid contains a lot of PCP, and if you dip your cigarette into it before lighting it’s quite the ride. Probably also pretty toxic for you, but not sure that is the highest priority to the users. So the city is suffering quite a rash of funeral home break-ins – shaking my head here, amazing how much effort goes into escaping life as we know it. Well the discussion is entertaining to say the least, and we chat well into the night. Finally Bill starts to wane, so it’s time for me to take over the driving duties. Dan is still up; he’s not able to rest well as he is still nursing his injuries from the two Hispanic girls that beat him up (badly, Bill added) at the Phillies game Wednesday night. I am chuckling at the thought, but Dan glares at me, and I laugh silently inside.

Well it’s 3:30 a.m. on a road trip and you know what time that is? It’s Metallica time! Nothing like a little head banging to some blasting tunes while rolling down the highway! This provides the energy and adrenalin to manage the last 100 miles or so, and finally, just before 5:00 a.m., we are puling into Discovery Diving with time to spare for a 45 minute power nap and blog update! Perfect planning!

OK, nap time is over, and it’s time to start assembling the gear and loading the boat for our 6:00 roll call. The rest of Team IVS is stirring and making their way over from the dorm, and we get the introductions out of the way. John meanwhile makes a beer run, as they can’t sell beer on Saturday’s until 6 in the morning in this county – what kind of rule is that?? Meanwhile paperwork and waivers get completed, and our bleary-eyed crew settles in for the long ride out.

Two hours later I awake to the sound of the boat engines slowing as we approach our first site, the famous U-352. This German U-boat is one of the most popular wrecks in the area, and a great “history” dive. There is zero current, the seas are under 1 ft, and the blue water is here – life is good! We drop down in the 85 degree Gulf current and enjoy visibility in excess of 100 ft nearly all the way to the wreck, sitting in 110 ft of water. It’s a little cloudy at the bottom, but not enough to take away from the excitement of today’s diving. The wreck, 115 ft long, is absolutely teeming with life, with schools of baitfish so huge that when they pass overhead, you’d swear it just turned into a night dive, they block the sun so much. I get 40 minutes in on this dive, thankful for that Cochran technology and an algorithm that matches my diving style – aggressive!

Finally back on board, everyone is smiling and it was a great first dive to kick off the weekend. Steve our mate goes down, pulls the hook, and we motor slowly over to our second site, the US Coast Guard Cutter Spar. This wreck was sunk as part of the artificial reef program and sits upright on the bottom in 110 ft of water. Similar conditions meet us and we drop down to explore this one. The sharks are here, checking us out as we visit their ‘hood’, big toothy smiles on their faces as they slowly swim past us. There had been some recent storm activity, so some of the bottom had been stirred, and I use this opportunity to head off the wreck and do some exploring to see what I might find. Well lo and behold, I score a really nice Megalodon shark tooth in the 3 inch size range, and a pile of really nice shells to decorate the shop. I have so many that my hands are full, so I slip some shells, as well as some turtle bones, into the front of my wetsuit to carry them along.

Well, sometimes that’s a great idea, but sometimes, it’s not! As I’m swimming along a feel a familiar tickle on my chest, and I am thinking uh-oh, is that another bristle worm story in the making here? What’s the odds, I figure it must be my imagine, and I continue my dive. Fifty minutes after dropping in I ascend, and sure enough, there is definitely some sort of animal party taking place inside the front of my wetsuit. I get back on board and drop my gear, then start to reach in to my suit to find out just what sort of new friend I have made! Well thank goodness, it is not a bristle worm, no not at all, it’s an octopus! Crawling around inside my wetsuit none the less! Well let’s gently get this little guy out, and he cooperates, eager I am sure to meet my dive buddies, who are slipping into paparazzi node at the opportunity to document another ‘up close and personal’ animal encounter from inside Dave’s wetsuit! The octopus brings out a couple of three word phrases that most men shudder to hear – “it’s so small” and “isn’t it cute”. He crawls out on my arm, looking at us, moving along, as cute as a button, right up to the moment he realizes he is either hungry or scared or both, and chomps right down on the back of my hand! Holy smokes does he have a set of jaws on him!! I figure this too shall pass, so I grimace and wait for him to figure out that he isn’t really into consuming divers. Finally he lets go, and moves further up my hand, and as he does, you can see the blood running out of the gouge he left in my flesh! Well, I can’t vouch for my new little friend, but I am thinking it’s time for him to go home, before he samples another piece of me, so I gently slip him back into the water and he swims off to find a new shell. I clean up my hand, check the wound, and snap a few more photos of the carnage – wow can those guys bite!! Who’d of thunk??

Another hour or so of surface interval and we find ourselves at site #3, the Indra. Again we splash, and again we are greeted with near perfect conditions on this wreck. I get 75 minutes of bottom time at 70 feet and add a few more nice shells to my collection, sans octopus. A few more sharks are here, and some stingrays – very cool. Finally we head back on in and call it a day.

My carpool buddies are fading fast so a quick dinner is what we need, and we head over to Outback for some great steaks. From there it’s to the motel (Dan & Bill aren’t into the dorm scene) and an early night, to re-charge the batteries for tomorrow. Good night Louise!

Sunday morning and it is pouring rain in Beauford as we get up for our 6 a.m. check in on the boat. And I mean pouring – the skies have truly opened up here on us! I get up, robo-diver that I have become, and call over to Dan & Bill’s room – “you’re going out’ they ask incrediously. “Yes I am”, I tell them, “let’s get up and moving!” I give them some time and head over to pound on the door – Bill opens it, Dan is still in bed, this in not looking good. They opt to pass on the day, so I bed them adieu and head over to the Discovery Diving. The rain is relentless, coming down in sheets and the wind is blowing too. I am soaked already by the time I had loaded the cooler and my backpacks into the truck. Visibility is maybe 50 ft, so the drive is little edgy. I get to the dive center and we load the boat in the pouring rain; this is going to be some sort of morning. One of the other boats is coming back in now, they have already called the dives for the day. We fire up and head out, our boat being larger at 65 ft and better able to handle Neptune’s wrath. As we pass through the inlet out of the mist and fog comes a 100 ft fishing boat heading in, and the captain gets the bad news… is not getting any prettier out here! We motor on, hopeful, watching the biggest part of the squall line move ahead of us, knowing, hoping, that this will lay down. Well we are getting absolutely pounded, and making about 5 knots in this sea, and wisely, Captain Terry makes the decision we knew was coming, turning the boat about and heading back in. There are no other boats here with us – this is going to be one nasty day. We make it back to the dock, almost two hours of sailing and with the winds at 25 knots and constantly changing direction, we did not get 5 miles from the slip! We unload and then the team starts to fall apart….Ken, Matt & Stefan opt to bail, John Glo does too, so now it is back to the motel to see how my guys feel. MIght be a very short trip!

Whew…..thank goodness Dan and Bill feel re-energized after a good long nights sleep, and they are up for diving tomorrow and finishing their Wreck Diver specialty. My gills are relieved, this will be a very short dry spell! Meanwhile, in the tradition of my ongoing DAN studies, it is a good opportunity to study the post-trauma effects of yesterday’s unprovoked octopus bite. The actual site is reddened, but, much along the lines of lionfish injuries, the damage appears to be more neurological and extends halfway to the elbow and completely around the hand and wrist. Interestingly the actual site of the bite is pain-free. So, remember, when you want to consult with someone for first-hand information on marine animal injuries, it’s 1-800-valaika!

So, it’s time for some icey-cold libations and Sunday afternoon football to pass the time. I let the boys choose, and they vote for Hooters because they have huge ones there……no, not those kind of huge ones, but huge big screen TV’s for us to watch the Eagles play. Our server is Ariana, a nice wholesome sensitive girl, or so it seems, until I order the oysters and she starts with the “oil spill conspiracy” nonsense to support why they don’t have any. So, I take the time to slip back into educator mode, and help the young lady grow by ‘splaining the spill, where oysters are caught, and a few other things about the sea. Well of course in the conversation she asks about dangers of the sea, and Dan says “show her your octopus bite”. So OK, I do, and Bill pulls out the camera and says “here, take a look at it. We’ve got pictures”. So he’s showing her the photos and she says, without any provocation at all, “It’s so cute” and then to drive the point home “It’s so little!!” I hate these guys.

Breaking news…after Ariana and the rest of the orange-short clad waitstaff read the blog, she corrected me…her words were “It’s so tiny!” I hate her too! I am smiling cause she is choking with her own laughter……fate is kind! Finally it is time to go, the Eagles have tanked, Ariana has been hurtful, and our bellies are full….back to the motel to pray to the weather gods for a good day tomorrow.

Monday dawns clear and bright, and our prayers appear to have been answered. We load up on some bagels (gotta keep the Philly cop well nourished) and head down to the boat for one last time. Some new faces on board and some new friends made, and we head out to sea. One of the smaller boats had headed out an hour earlier, and reports back that the seas are still angry from yesterdays squalls, so we opt to stay inshore and re-visit the Indra. It’s OK, as today is wreck diver specialty training day for Bill & Dan, and all we need is a wreck. We tie up and head down and the viz on the Indra is well under 20 ft. There was no blue water at all, not even up top, so it will be a good training dive! We drop in and Dan ties off, running a line almost 200 feet through the interior of the wreck. Once ran, the plan is to have them remove their masks and practice a zero viz exit using only contact with the line as their reference. Often we have to simulate this, but today our team has done so much thrashing about in the wreck, that coupled with the minimal viz to start with, has ended up providing us with true near zero viz conditions. So they tie off the end of the line, and turn, with Bill leading, and Dan following, and I shadow them, enjoying the view as they manage to find every pointy and sharp edge in the wreck with their hands or heads on the way out. Good lessons learned! Some entanglement thrown in for effect adds to the stress levels, and finally they make it back to the beginning, and masks are replaced and eyes are opened. Whew – you can see it in their eyes – they would NOT want to have to do that for real, but they both know now that if the proverbial fecal matter were to strike the rotating blades on a dive, that they truly have the ability and confidence to make their way home using the line only. Of course they managed to do a good job draining their tanks during this exercise, so I wave goodbye to them and let them know I will go back and retrieve the line. Well as you can imagine it is zero viz in AND out for me, but heck practice is a good thing, and I finally emerge with the line and head back up to the surface. Good dive overall for what we wanted to accomplish.

Our second location is the Parker, a 1973 sinking of a 400 ft ship as part of the original artificial reef program. This wreck is located further inshore of the Indra, so you can imagine if the viz was terrible on the first site it is even worse here. “Excellent”, I say to our team, “even better for our second line exercise!” You can read the excitement in their eyes as we suit up and head down. This time Bill is our leader and with the non-existent visibility he manages to weave quite the macrame project in and around the wreck. He probably gets 300 ft of line out before he turns, and we repeat the blind diver drill, except this one is truly no simulation. I can’t see 6 ft here even with a bright light, so it really makes it a bit more of a nail-biter, as a training dive should be. Needless to say the team executes flawlessly, they run the line, conduct the drill, and make it back to salvation, with the difference that this time gas management was much better and they are able to retrieve their own line. Back at the anchor I bid them farewell and tie my own line off for a little ‘Dave time’, as i head out into the murk to see what I can find. Another hour long dive and I finally call it a day, and head up to re-join the team on the surface. It’s a short run in and a few Coors Lights later, we are back at the dock.

We settle up, load the truck, and start the drive home. Our timing is good and except for a few construction delays we are home by midnight. Hugs all around and the boys head home, with another great weekend of NC diving under our belts. In fact it was so good, storm aside, that we have booked three trips for next season, so check the Trips & Travel page of the website and get on board with us in 2011!