The Allure of Lobster Mini-Season

Part IV in our Six Part Blog Series is by David Hartman of Key Largo, Florida

Every year the Florida commercial lobster season ends on March 15th and reopens in early August 1st for traps and harvesting.  This little break gives the lobster population a chance to spawn, tend to their eggs, and create the next generation of tasty crustaceans.  It also is a time for lobster movement, often from deeper waters, to the shallower reef systems inshore, where food is plentiful and the habitat offers a lot of great hiding places.  The last Wednesday and Thursday of July every year are reserved for recreational divers and boaters to get first dibs on all the spiny lobster that have been spawning all spring and summer before the commercial fisheries set their lobster traps.  This very special time of the year, as far as the lobster hunters are concerned, is called the ‘mini-season’!  For two days people from the around the country descend down to Key Largo to try their best efforts at catching Florida Spiny Lobster.  Although anyone with a Florida fishing license and crawfish stamp can hunt for lobster Aug 6-March 15th, most non-locals come down only for mini-season.  Late July in Florida is a recreational divers Mecca and a frenzy unmatched on the local waterways and reefs during the rest of the year.

Lobster Tails Abundant at the IVS Lobster Feast

Lobster Tails Abundant at the IVS Lobster Feast

For the past seven years, customers of Indian Valley SCUBA (IVS) have traveled from Harleysville, Pennsylvania to Key Largo to take part in Lobster Mini-Season.   The size and popularity of the IVS Lobster Mini-Season group has grown steadily over the years starting with just a few people in 2005 to a full boat of 24 divers the past few years.  IVS combines the two days of Lobster Mini-Season with the group’s usual weekend of Reefs and Wrecks dives with Amoray Dive Resort in Key Largo, and also adds a two-day Florida Keys Wreck Trek from Key West to Key Largo option at the beginning of the week to round out a complete week of summertime diving.  The 2011 Edition of the IVS Lobster week included 17 divers on the Wreck Trek, 24 divers for Lobster Mini-Season and over 30 divers for the Reef and Wrecks weekend. The diving conditions all week were a bit windy but manageable for the IVS team.  Catching lobster on the shallow reefs off Key Largo was a bit challenging on the bumpy conditions but smaller recreational vessels stayed inland to avoid the rougher seas of the outer reef which meant more lobster to catch for the courageous IVS crew.  By Thursday evening, Team IVS captured 172 legal sized lobsters in two days of Mini-Season shattering the group’s 2010 record of 107 lobsters and providing the bounty for fantastic annual feast at the Key Largo Conch House.

Forty-Five Attend the 2011 IVS Lobster Feast at the Conch House

Forty-Five Attend the 2011 IVS Lobster Feast at the Conch House

The Conch House, established in 2004 by Ted & Laura Dreaver, started as the Key Largo Coffee House, and quickly established itself as a great place for a good breakfast.  In no time at all, they expanded to lunch & dinner, and at the same time, changed the name to the Conch House to better reflect their all-day fare.  Today, with the addition of daughter Stephanie, and sons Justin & John, the family owned Conch House is one of the best restaurants in the Upper Keys due to the establishment’s unmatched combination of ambience, unique culinary delights and friendly service.  Most often, it’s one of the family members who takes care of you while dining at the Conch House.  For the annual IVS Mini Season Lobster Feast, the staff of the Conch House graciously takes in hundreds of lobster gathered by the IVS crew and cooks up tasteful dishes of lobster cerviche, lobster fritters and of course broiled lobster tail with drawn butter…Hmmmm!!  For the 2011 IVS Lobster Feast, the Conch House served up over 150 lobsters with no leftovers to spare.  Forty-five hungry people attended the lobster feast including the complete weekend contingent of IVS Reefs and Wreck divers, the owners and staff of Amoray Dive Resort and a few local friends who dive with the IVS crew.  Everyone at the annual lobster feast ate like kings and had a fantastic time.  The warmest appreciation and thanks go out to the owners of Amoray Dive Resort and the boat crew of the Amoray Diver for making another successful IVS Mini-Season possible.  Plus, a big thank you goes out to the professional staff of the Conch House for once again putting together a wonderful annual lobster feast.  See you all again next Lobster Mini-Season!

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A Special Wreck Trek Starts Off Lobster Week

Part II in our Six Part Blog Series is by David Hartman of Key Largo, Florida

Indian Valley SCUBA arrived early in South Florida to take in the sites and some serious wrecks prior to Lobster Mini-Season arrives on Wednesday and Thurday.  David Valaika headed to the Dry Tortugas for an adventure excursion on a private boat to dive some deep wrecks.  Sue Douglass, Bev and Butch Loggins, Brian LaSpino, Jesica Tyre headed to South Beach for some R&R. Bill and John Zyskowski arrived in Key Largo Saturday night to get a head start on the Indian Valley SCUBA Wreck Trek-Lobster Week by taking a private all day wreck charter with IVS South’s David Hartman. The Z-Brothers Wreck Trek included three dives on the Spiegel with lunch and a gorgeous dive on the Duane to end the all day affair. Excellent conditions on both wrecks plus sunny skies made for a fantastic dive day.  The highlights of the Spiegel dives included the “Belly of the Beast Tour” of the Pump Room and Aft Engine Room, The Ulimate Tour with the “Chute” Snoopy, Galley, Mess Halls and Machine Shop and pressing some shirts in the ship’s Laundry Room.  A special thanks to the Captain Pete Lacombe (The Mustard King), Divemaster Justin and Keys Diver II for taking good care the Z-Brothers team.

The Z Brothers on the USS Speigel Grove

The Z Brothers on the USS Speigel Grove

Read More on the IVS Wreck Trek in Part III of the Blog Series……..

Warming up for the Keys Invasion – Dry Tortugas Tech Diving

This is Part I of a Six Part Series on “Team  IVS Invades the Keys”

The IVS Truck Loaded for Our Extended Trip to the Florida Keys

The IVS Truck Loaded for Our Extended Trip to the Florida Keys

Well it’s late July, and we all know what that means – time for Team Indian Valley Scuba to invade the Florida Keys for our annual lobster mini-season event and lobster festival dinner!  This year we’ve made the trip even better, by growing it to include three days of nothing but wrecks before we hunt, and then a Wreck Racing League event after the festival.  Heck, we’ve even thrown in a day of cave diving to round out the nearly two weeks of Florida diving we have planned

But before we get into all of that – let’s not forget how weather and traffic teamed up in perfect harmony to destroy my chance to dive the Andrea Doria last week.  I am still hurting inside from that “non-trip”, and this is made worse by the fact that I have to walk around the huge pile of scuba cylinders custom blended and tagged with Trimix in the garage, that we had prepared for that trip.  Where and when will I ever use all this great gas, I think to myself each day as I gaze with teary eyes at the pile of tanks.

Fate is a funny thing, sometimes our friend, sometimes our foe. So, sensitive soul that I am, consider how I felt when the phone rang and it was my good friend Joe Weatherby calling from Key West, to let me know that a private tech charter there had just gotten a cancellation from one of the members, and they asked Joe if he could recommend anyone and thankfully he thought of me. But of course, before he could commit, he needed to see if I was available.

“Three days on a private 43 ft Bertram yacht diving and spearing fish on some of the most famous technical wrecks in the Dry Tortugas, and the spot was mine if I could make it  down.  “OK, OK, when is this scheduled”, I asked, and Joe replied “next weekend, July 21-24 – can you make it?” Wait a minute, I am thinking, that is the four days before our upcoming Wreck Trek in Key West….so just to make sure, I ask Joe to repeat himself.   Yep, those are the dates, but he has to know if I can make it, and if I have time to blend gas for it!  “Let me look at my schedule for a micro-second”, I say, and then “Count me in!”

I ask you, what are the odds that a diving opportunity will come up like this, with dates that dovetail into our already arranged trip perfectly, and to wrecks that require the exact same gas that I have blended in the garage.  Is there something I am missing here?  I pinch myself a few times, and immediately begin making the necessary adjustments to my travel plans! This will work, just need to move a few things around, get packed, and head down a bit earlier, with an expected departure at noon on Wednesday.  That will allow me to have plenty of time to enjoy a relaxing drive south – so unlike me!!  Well keep reading to see how well this part of the plan / fantasy worked out.

The crew that is putting this adventure together includes Zach Harshbarger, a USAir pilot that owns a yacht in Key West, Steve Moore, spearfisherman supreme and owner of Keys Mobile Diving, Kenny Rad from the Great Lakes, John Herrera from Boca Rotan, and Laura Pettry from Lake Worth.  Joining me and this select group will be Michele Highley, who was already on board to drive down with me for the Wreck Trek.

The plan is to motor out to the Dry Tortugas for four days of technical diving and spearfishing, visiting such great wrecks as the Araby Maid, the Rhein, and the former WWII German U-Boat S-2513.

We’ll have two boats, Zach’s 13 meter (43 ft) Bertram Trojan as our mother ship, with it’s roomy 17 ft beam and spacious galley and cockpit, along with Steve’s 23 ft Glacier Bay catamaran will be alongside to serve as an alternate dive platform and chase boat for the spear-o’s.  In order to conserve the smaller boats fuel, the plan is to tow it out behind the Trojan for the nearly 100 mile run out to the Dry Tortugas.

Well plans are one thing, execution is another.  For starters, what was I thinking when I said we’d leave at noon?  I’m finishing up mixing a few bottles of gas in the morning, then starting to get my gear together, when I remember I need to get an IVS newsletter out!  Yikes!  So to the computer I go, shift gears, put my “creative helmet” on tight, and type away, sharing Amir Stark’s fantastic Bonaire movie, Randy Rudd’s NOAA award, Rob Tenilla’s ride to cure cancer, and a few more tidbits of timely news.  If you don’t get the newsletter, you can subscribe to it by clicking here!

So finally that is out, and now I need to help Ray with a few Nitrox fills for a customer. Then Bev has something I need to look at, Brian has a few questions, the contractor who is painting the house needs some time with me…you get the picture!  I am thinking I should make it a practice to just sneak out quietly during the night!

Eventually the truck is loaded to the hilt, 38 tanks of various gasses on board, tech gear, sidemount gear, lobster gear, more gear…for some reason I can hear the voice of Captain Quint from Jaws, saying, “We’re gonna need a bigger truck!”  And look at the clock on the wall – it’s 7:00 pm!  That’s almost noon-ish, and using the same math as America’s major airlines, I consider it an on-time departure!  Only 22 hours to go, and we’ll be in Key West!

Well the trip is uneventful, and we make good time, finally arriving in Stock Island, just outside of Key West, for a pre-departure dinner with the group at the Hogfish Bar & Grille.  This great little restaurant is right in the marina where our condo is and coincidently where the Fish Happens and Keys Mobile Diver are docked.

We enjoy some fresh grouper that Steve had shot earlier in the day, and start to load the boat.  We put most of the tanks and gear on the Trojan, to keep the Mobile Diver as light as possible for towing.  Let’s just say, that when we are done loading that we have one impressive pile of tanks on board!  Personal gear is brought down, we draw straws for the bedroom assignments, and start to settle in and prepare to begin our journey.  This is perfect – what could go wrong now?

Oooops!  Starboard engine fires up, but Port engine does not want to crank for nothing!  Not cool, considering we are planning to spend the next four days alone on the ocean with no support in sight.  So as is so typical on an IVS trip, the engine hatches are opened, tool boxes brought out, and the crew assumes the characteristic “head down, butt high” position of men on a mission!  It appears that perhaps the problem is as simple as a dead battery, but it’s a little late at night – it’s 1:00 am now – to get any parts, even in Key West.  So we call it a night, and bed down dockside to await the morning and the opening of the local ships chandelary.

The sun wakes us up and we re-check the nights work – yup, it still won’t start.  OK, with that confirmed, we get some breakfast and Zach heads over to West Marine and picks up a new battery.  Installation is not too big a job and even Michele is in the engine hatch helping get the job done!   Finally we test our work and shazam! We have two working engines!

We’re pretty sure we’re ready now, so we throw off the lines, and slowly motor out the channel.  Once outside, we rig up a tow line from the Trojan to the Mobile Diver.  Now I hardly consider myself a sailor (as anyone salutes my personal navigation marker in Key Largo), but I did sleep at a Holiday Inn Express one night, and I am sensing the tow line is a little light for the job.  Reassured by the crew that it’ll do the job, we head out, and sure enough, at 7 knots, it is doing well.  But as soon as we begin to open the throttle up a bit, ‘Zing!’ there goes the line flying by, putting an end to that tow rig configuration.  We leave Steve on his boat to put another rig together and we crank up the big Detroit Diesels and start making good time on our trip.  The plan is for Steve to catch up to us along the way and we’ll re-visit the towing concept there.

The sea is as flat as you can ask for, the sky clear blue, and the sun just shining down on our boat as we motor past schools of playful dolphins on the way …ah the life of a sailor indeed!  Of course, without all the deck swabbing & plank walking parts!  Our plans are to make way directly to the Araby Maid where we will tie up for the night.  Steve has caught back up to us, so now, at towing speed, that equates to about 12 hours to make the 94 mile run from Key West. With our delayed departure due to the battery problem, that puts us on the wreck at about 9:30 this evening, a little late and a little dark to think about that being our first dive of the trip!  Usually better to get the bugs out on something less than 200 ft deep, night dive on a natural wreck covered with nets and fishing lines.  So, what to do!  Wait, John remembers he heard of a wreck called the Night Lady, a wooden fishing boat lost in a storm many years ago, that happens to fall almost directly in our path. Well, as Gomer Pyle would say, “shazam, shazam”, we have a plan.  We’ll stop on the wreck, get the gear wet, and be in good shape for our technical night dive later!

We locate the wreck 64 miles out from Key West, sitting in 110 ft of water.  It hardly shows up on the depth finder so we are not expecting to see much left of the wreck.  But dive we must, and we head in, to practically unlimited visibility and 86 degree water.  As we descend, we hit a thermocline at about 80 ft, and a “vis-o-cline” too, with very cloudy water the rest of the way down.  I get a few pictures in the less-than-ideal conditions, and kill two lionfish, but am unsuccessful in feeding either of them to the four huge Goliath groupers that are following me around.  Oh well, this is all I have to offer them today, so they can find their own dinner!  Meanwhile spearfishers John & Laura nail four Mango Snappers and a grouper, so we have dinner for tonight!  We get in a good 20 minutes of bottom time and a nice easy ascent back up to re-board and get on our way, to the Araby Maid for the night.  Good way to start it off!

We fire back up, tie the Keys Diver in for the rest of the ride, and continue our journey.  John & Laura go about prepping our dinner, with a whole plethora of fresh fish offerings, including ceviche, sashimi, and grilled fish – this is living large!  The grille is fired up, and dinner is served enroute.  We are loving this!  We enjoy some cocktails as we work our way towards our tie-in tonight, with an anticipated arrival of 11:00 pm.

Here’s a great shot of our two captains enjoying cocktails and conversation in the bean bag chairs on the bow as we sail into the sunset…I don’t know, but why did I just think of those darn Cealis commercials?

As we head into the night, Zach cranks up the music on the boat’s surround-sound system, and then the Kracken emerges!  No, not the mythical Nordic creature made famous by the Johnny Depp movies, but rather Kracken, the dark & potent rum!  At this pace the disco ball will be dropping from the ceiling soon here!  And we still have dives to do tonight!! It’s not easy being “good” with this crowd, but you can see here I am as studious as ever, working on the blog for our readers.

Finally the engines slow down as we approach the GPS coordinates of the 3-masted wooden schooner Araby Maid, sitting upright in 215 feet of water since colliding with the SS Denver in 1902 and sinking directly to the bottom. Steve and Kenny climb back aboard the Mobile Diver and we cut them loose to get an accurate location on the wreck.  They are carrying a grapple hook with a few hundred feet of ¾” line attached and a 36 in. diameter float.  Attached to the bottom of the float is about 20 ft of additional line, and another small float with a small loop tied in the end of it to grab with the boat hook and loop our main line through.  Did I mention that this line between the main float and the small one was negatively buoyancy, in fact, substantially negative?  More on this coming up!

So it’s 11:30 now and the boys in the small boat have dropped the hook and believe they have snagged the wreck.  They back away, and now we maneuver the large boat into place to make the tie in.  I am on the bow, boat hook in hand, peering down into the black water with no moon to provide any illumination at all.  Needless to say, this was looking like it was going to be a bit of a challenge.  There was a bit of a wind blowing in a different direction than the current, so it was doing funny things to how the balls were floating as we approached them.  It took us several passes to get us in alignment with the balls and anywhere close enough for me to get the hook on it.  Did I mention the hook was black?  And remember that negative buoyancy of the tag line?  Well the result of that was the line dropped straight down from the big ball, and then looped back up into the bottom of the small ball, giving you absolutely nothing to snag with the hook except the small 6” loop on the small ball itself.  With the black water, black sky, and black hook, this was no easy matter for me to snag the loop, but finally I succeeded and we were able to tie off.  Our celebration was short-lived, as we realized that we were in fact NOT tied into the wreck, but simply dragging the anchor across the sand at a decent clip.  Once this became obvious we untied the line, the guys brought all the gear back on board, and we repeated the process once again.  So at 1:00 a.m. the radio crackled to life as Steve reported that they had hooked the wreck once again, and we could tie up to the line.  So we approached, dealing with the same wind/current issues, blackness, negatively buoyant lines, etc.  We made a couple of passes and I missed the loop not once, but twice, as the ball drifted from one side of the boat to the other.  We were idling, and the wind shifted again, pushing us sideways towards the balls, when suddenly the little ball disappeared, and the next thing you know the big ball is coming towards us at way too fast a pace.  That can only mean one thing – yes, the small ball and line must be bonding with our propeller shaft….ruh roh!!

We quickly shut down the engines, but the damage was done.  Zach and I jumped in the water and began sorting out the mess.  The first thing we did was tie off the main line going down to the hook, so we could work with slack line as we cut & untangled the mess.  As we tied off we noticed the GPS was indicating we were still making about a knot and a half, so we were dragging the hook again.  Go figure.  So into the water I went with Zach, and we spent the next two hours dicing and slicing and avoiding getting beat by the bouncing boat overhead and getting stung by passing sea life and avoiding slashing our own hands with the knives in the dark.  Finally at 2:30 in the morning it was mission accomplished and we set the big ball free to be picked up by the Mobile Diver, cleared all the line off the propeller and prop shaft, and climbed back on board.  We had now drifted about 4 miles from the wreck, dragging the anchor the entire time,  so an executive decision was made – the anchor from the small boat was not large enough to hold the big boat in place!  So enough of that, we ran over the Araby Maid for the third time, dropped our 60# anchor and 350 ft of chain and line, and hooked in solid.

So at 3:00 a.m. we made an executive decision – we were going to pass on our dive tonight and save it for first thing in the morning.  Probably a wise decision, but at least we made it here, in spite of all the challenges thrown our way!

The morning sun came shining down on the crew, scattered about the boat in various sleeping spots.  Beanbags on the deck, sleeping bags in the cockpit, the couch in the salon, and the bedrooms too.  After our late arrival and the additional in-water work we did during the anchoring process, no one was exactly jumping up and heading in for a Bonaire-style ‘Dawn Patrol’ dive.  Breakfast was made up, and we starting setting the rest of the gear up for our morning dive on the Araby Maid.   Upon checking the GPS, we discovered that we had drifted approx.. ¾ of a mile during the night, dragging our anchor across the sand.  So the first thing on the agenda was to pull the anchor, re-position, and drop again, hopefully right on the mark.  We reset the anchor, and let out about 400 ft of line to help reduce the chance of dragging again.  Some gear movement between the two boats and finally everyone was ready. Zach & I went in from the mother ship, but Steve suggested that just in case we were drifting again, that he drag us over with the current line to the marker ball.

Well let’s just say that some plans definitely look better on paper than in life, and this in-water dragging fell into that category.  The extra drag from the four bottles we were each wearing, managing free-flowing reg’s due to the current as we motored over, and the extra physical stress of holding on to the line as we bounced through the waves, made for a somewhat winded start on our deep dive.  We recovered well though, helped by the excitement of discovering the 200 ft plus visibility stayed with us all the way to the bottom today.  The wreck was covered with life, from the large goliath groupers to big tropicals and schools of swarming amberjacks.  With the fantastic visibility this was a photographers dream come true, however, I had opted to not bring any extra gear down not knowing what the conditions would be.  Neither did I bring my lionfish spear, and boy what a target rich environment we had here!  Probably a hundred of them on the wreck – would have made for some easy pickin’s for sure!  Zach & I enjoyed a 215 ft dive on Trimix, with 30 minutes of bottom time followed by 90 minutes of deco and hang time, for a total run of 2 hours – sweet!

Back on board for lunch, and then the spear-o’s went back for one more visit to the seafood aisle.  Before we broke camp though, there is a lot of discussion about what we should do next, with some wanting to stay here and dive this again, or possibly head further out to the Rhine, or north to the U-Boat, or back closer to Key West and home.  With our group of 18 IVS divers coming down on Sunday for the Wreck Trek, it is imperative that I am back at the dock by early Sunday afternoon to begin the next phase of this adventure, so that information helps finalize our plans (for now).  We opt to get moving and head back in the general direction of home, to our third destination, the wreck of the Chelsea.  This former ocean-going tugboat, which was featured in the movie The Mysterious Case of Benjamin Button, starring Brad Pitt.  This was the boat that he worked on in that movie during one phase of his life.  It has only been down for 2 or 3 years, accidently sinking as it was making passage out of Key West.  It sits perfectly upright in 175 ft of water, and even though it is a relatively new wreck, the sea life is really being attracted to this wreck.

But the challenges on this trip are hardly over!  As we approach the Chelsea, we stop about 30 minutes out, to cut the Mobile Diver free and let it run ahead and mark the wreck site with it’s grapple and float.  Since only a few of us are making this dive, we decide to streamline the process and hot drop on the wreck, letting the two ships idle nearby and pick us up when we complete our dive.  Pretty cool, night diving on a new wreck, middle of the ocean, black night, 185 of water, no civilization within 80 miles of us – perfect night dive planning!  So we pull the Mobile Diver up close, Capt. Steve climbs aboard, and we cut him loose to fire up his boat and run ahead.  Well, as we pull away, the radio crackles to life, and Steve informs us he cannot get his port engine started and has no electronics. Seems he left something on earlier today and it drained his batteries.  He managed to get one outboard started, but that was it.  So we back up to him, and pass the generator over, so he can begin charging his batteries while he motors over to the site with us.  Of course, nothing comes easy, and an hour later, the situation has not changed.  So now we are thinking a hot drop might be in order, and the creative minds are hard at work here with plans, alternate plans, and various other scenarios that are making my head hurt!  Finally we get the ball dropped to the wreck, and the Mobile Diver tied off to it, and leave the Fish Happens to idle nearby and await us.

Only Zach, Steve and I make this night dive, finally getting in the water at 10:00.  Now we often talk about “pinnacle” dives, and what you should do and what perhaps you should not do.  So, considering this might end up being my deepest, longest, technical night dive, on a brand new never-dove wreck, with a new buddy, 85 miles out to see…yeppers, this falls smack dab in the middle of the “what not to do” list.   That being said, we decided to dive, and dive we did.  Now back when Steve was dropping the hook, he felt he was “right on the numbers” meaning his GPS was telling him that the wreck was right below him. His sonar was also on the fritz with his electrical problem tonight, so we just said the heck with it, it must be there!  Just in case though, I had the presence of mind to take a 450 ft reel with me on this dive.

Kenny maneuvered the big boat over alongside the ball, and Zach & I dropped in.  Down the line we went, and the viz was kinda murky. Not a problem, we are looking for a wreck of some sorts, that neither of us have ever seen before.  No problem mon!  So I set a strobe at the 20 ft mark on the down line, and another just above the chain at the end of the line.  We looked up to see the wreck and saw…nothing.  So with the fact that we are 175 ft down, in an unknown area, and can’t see anything, I decide it might be appropriate to tie off the reel and use that as our virtual “breadcrumbs” to find our way back to the ascent line when it is time to come up.  I tie off, and Zach & I begin the search.  I pay out line as we go, and have about 400 ft of line out when we decide it is probably not to our right.  So we pick up and begin a big arc towards our left, using the reel as our guide, just swinging along and maintaining our search pattern.  Seventeen minutes into this technical dive, suddenly Zach is waving his light to me, indicating he has something of interest to show me.  Well it’s a wreck of course, and we are right at the  propeller.  Had we had 20 ft less line we might very well as missed that too, but fate has once again been kind.  We tie off the reel at the wreck, and begin our exploration.  A couple of huge Jewfish are there to check us out, swimming nonchalantly around us, letting us know who owns this wreck.  Schools of amberjack are there hunting, and a good cross-section of the marine food chain is represented here tonight.  The ships name ad homeport of Norfolk, VA is clearly visible, and evidence of the surprise and speed that this boat sunk was everywhere, with suitcases full of clothing, shoes and other personal items, and plates and other sundry supplies can be found all over the wreck.  This is a very cool wreck indeed and I am very glad Zach and I decided to do it.  Funny, at no point in the dive did we run into Steve – it seems he dropped in, didn’t quite follow the anchor line to the bottom, and as a result, he never found the wreck!  Oh well!

Well this wreck was so cool, we could hardly pull ourselves away.  Now I was diving double 100’s on my back with 17% O2 and 30% Helium in them, plus a single 40 CF sling cylinder with 55% O2, plus another 40 CF with 100% O2.  Now I had used the 100% bottle earlier this morning, so it only had about 1,500 psi remaining in it.  The boat had an O2 line hanging at 20 ft, so I figured just in case I needed it, at least that was there to tap into.  Well forty minutes into this pinnacle night / deep / tech dive, my “time to surface” was showing about 3 hours before I could breath air again.  Hmmm, I am thinking, re-thinking my gas supplies, and I figure it is really time for Zach and I to head up!  But wait, there is a navigation lamp sitting there, calling my name.  So we stop, and I remove the light, sawing the cable off against the sharp edge of the wreckage, and we head towards the stern to begin our path to ascent.  At the reel, Zach offers to carry my prized navigation light, so I reluctantly hand it to him so I can have both hands free to rewind the line on the reel.  So we coil up the line, get back to the hook, and start our ascent.  Bottom time is now at 50 minutes and total ascent time has exceeded 3 ½ hours.  I am thinking, this is not going to be pretty.

My first deco stop is at 100 ft, so I begin the slow ascent.  90 ft, 80, and finally I can switch over to the 55% bottle.  My partial pressure of oxygen hits a little over 1.7 ATA, but I am relaxed, my breathing is controlled, efficient, and slow-paced, and I am thinking we should be fine.  Well the 70 ft stop alone was 17 minutes, the 60 was similar, the 50 even longer. I am watching the needle on my stage bottle get lower and lower, and thinking about alternate plans.  Meanwhile, Zach, diving with similar yet different gases, and using a Liquidvision computer vs my Cochran, has a different decompression profile and different stops, so we are ascending as two solo divers, not as a buddy team.  Hmmmm, I am thinking, he is a real good breather, and I am wondering what he is planning to do with his deep deco bottle.

Well at 50 ft my regulator starts to breath a little hard, and I eek through that stop but this 40 ft stop is going to be a challenge.  By slowing my breathing even further, thinking happy thoughts, and really getting as “Zen-ish” as possible, I manage to suck the last drop of gas from that cylinder just as it was time to head to my 30 ft stop.  Here I needed to make a judgment call, and Zach was too far above me, so I opted to split my 30 ft stop and my 20 ft stop, combining them into a 25 ft stop and switching over to O2 a little early.  The Cochran was able to do the math, and adjusted my times, recognizing that I had reached my switch point for my final gas.  With my limited supply of 100% O2, I had planned as a contingency to utilize the ship’ hanging O2 supply to finish my obligation, plus an extra five minutes for good measure.  It all worked out, and we finally surfaced. But just before we surfaced, Zach hits his leg on the mooring line, he same leg he had tied my navigation light too, and yes, you guess it.…it dropped to the bottom of the sea. We signaled the mother ship, and started our swim towards them.  But wow, the sea had really kicked up here and it was everything we could do to make it over to the boat.  Big confused waves, lots of chop, the wind is howling, the boat can’t back up to us cause it is so rough…yeah, this is the way to wrap up a great dive!

Of course that same weather was here to play hell with our towing plans, and we began looking at the hook-up in the dark.  We send additional fuel over for the generator, plus supplies and drinks for Capt. Seve to spend the night on board his boat.  We get hooked up, and begin the tow, As soon as begin to make way, the first three waves crash right over the bow of the small boat,  OK, looks like we have to slow it down, and we do, and we slow it again until we are making 2.4 knots.  This is going to be one long ride; that is for sure!  This probably also impacts our morning dive plans, but of course safety comes first, so we’ll re-visit things once the sun rises and hopefully the seas have subsided a bit.

So much for the seas subsiding, at least during the night.  That bit of wind and waves that we encountered at the end of our dive was just a prelude to what was to come.  We ran through the night with winds in excess of 25 mph, and waves exceeding six feet in height, along with periods of driving rain, made for a 2 knot speed all night long.  So starting from 104 miles out, we were still 80 miles from home come sunrise!

Oh well, we decided to cut the Mobile Diver free and let Steve work on his problems as he tagged along behind us.  Of course, with him only running one engine on a catamaran, that limited his speed, and also limited our matching speed, to about 4 knots.  This could be a long ride home!  But one again, the wheels were turning, and Zach jumped ship to head over to help Steve out on the Mobile Diver.  Four hours later, a couple of new spark plugs, a bit of education on how to jump start electronic ignitions, and the Mobile Diver was up and running!  Woo hoo!   So we fired up all the engines and made haste back to port, finally arriving at Key West at 4:30 Sunday afternoon.

A quick unload, hugs and handshakes all around, and it was time to head to Duval Street to meet the Indian Valley Scuba Wreck Trek gang!  See Part III of this blog report for more on that!

IVS Heads South to the Land of Dixie

The Basic Facts…
It’s summer time and you know what that means…the Gulf Stream has shifted westward and is at its closest proximity to the continental US. In areas such as Beaufort, NC, where the coast juts out into the Atlantic, that means the warm clear waters traveling northward from the Gulf of Mexico are within 15 or so miles offshore and very reachable by boat.

IVS Trip to Cooper River July 4-6, 2011

The IVS Team with Some Serious Shark Teeth at Cooper River

So it is not coincidental that we have scheduled our first North Carolina dive adventure for this holiday weekend. We’ll spend three days diving the wrecks off the coast there, then we’ll depart on the evening of July 4th to enjoy a collection of fireworks displays as we travel down the highway. Some of us will head north and homeward, while the more adventurous (or crazy!) will head south to dive in the murky alligator-filled waters of the Cooper River, in search of fossilized Megaladon sharks teeth.

Traveling South…
But first we need to get to North Carolina, and of course that might make for an adventure in itself! Some of us, like Csaba Lorinczy, daughter Niki, and Craig Bentley, opt to head down an entire day early. They depart Thursday evening, stopping in the big honkin’ RV at a campground on the way down, and arrive in NC early Friday morning. Early enough, in fact, that they were able to get a 1-tank dive in on Friday afternoon with Olympus Dive Center, visiting the Indra. Conditions were acceptable, with 30 ft of viz and a slight current, a good way to get a 60 minute head start on the bottom time for the weekend.

Herb Dubois, with sons Sheldon and Ryan, head down early Friday morning, and Judy Mullen and Ashley Carpenter drive up from Savannah, GA in the morning also. Mike Barnhardt drove down from Maryland, and Shelly Liu and Stephen Francke came from New York to round out our crew of twelve for the weekend. Training-wise, the Dubois men, along with Ashley, will be completing their Advanced Open Water dives this weekend with us, so we are hoping for some stellar conditions and great weather!

Meanwhile I still have a few things on my desk screaming for attention before I can head off, so I need to spend a few hours in the shop Friday morning. No problem, I can get out around 11, that will get me there in the early evening. Well 11 rolls around and now noon is looking good, but we need to do some more service work and fill some oxygen tanks for a client, so now 2-ish sounds feasible. Nope, a few more things need attention, and I must get that darn newsletter out, so 2 comes and goes, as does, 3, 4 & 5. Finally, I am packing gear and loading the truck, and as the wheels start to roll southward, the little hand is on the 6! At least we are going! In nine-ish hours, I should be in sunny North Carolina!

Well as luck would have it, Michele didn’t have any plans for the weekend, so she offered to help with the drive down and maybe, just maybe, if the seas are really, really flat, she’ll come out and dive. Based on our experience in Riviera Beach earlier this year, we’ll see about the diving part, but I am thankful for the driving part indeed! Off we go, and we make it to the Harbor of Mercy, Havre de Gras, Maryland, where we stop for a dinner and some music along the waterfront there. McGregor’s Pub is always a great choice for some local seafood, and the soft shell crabs are in season. We’re not disappointed in the least! We get back on the road and I make it til almost midnight, until we need to stop for fuel and a change of pilots. I kick back for a few zzz’s while Michele drives, and I am really enjoying a nice nap when I am rudely awakened by those darn flashing blue lights. Seems someone wants get to know us a bit better here, and he’s walking up to the drives door right now.

Well for those of who remember last year’s drive to Florida and Mark Hughes run-in with Officer Napoleon Bonaparte Jr., I am thinking, as I look over at the drivers window and just see the top of blue hat and the end of the over over-compensating big flashlight, that this must surely be his little cousin! It usually sets a bad tone when the diminutive cop needs to look up at the lady in big truck and ask her to pass down the paperwork. “Well hello officer”, I say from the passenger seat, “what brings about this meeting tonight?” “I clocked your vehicle doing 75 in a 55 zone, sir”, he announces, and I am thinking good, we are making progress here, a little ice breaking so to speak. “Where y’all heading?”, he inquires, and I think about saying Beaufort, but rather than botch the pronunciation like only a true Yankee can manage, I opt for the easier to pronounce ‘Morehead City’. “Going diving?” he asks, like the name on the truck and the stack of tanks sticking up in the back didn’t give him a clue. “Yup, we are, we’re here with the stimulus program and about to spend a lot of money at the local businesses”, I say, thinking maybe this might inspire him to think of the overall positive impact our visit will have on the North Carolina economy as a whole. “I’ll be right back”, he says, and walks away with the registration and Michele’s license. Well a few minutes later he’s back at the door, and I am about to slap myself on the back for my intervention, when he announces “I’ve written you up for doing 75 in a 55 zone”, he says, as he hands the paperwork back. “Hey, thank YOU for the consideration”, I offer, and before I say anything further, that little voice of sanity and prudence inside my head tells me it is time to go. You gotta love North Carolina cops…NOT!

So now we really have to push it a bit to make up for the time we lost, and I am thinking, he might have baited us into speeding! But no, that would require a little more thought process than the little man in blue could likely muster, so I take over the helm and finish up the last hour to the lodge. Nice way to be welcomed into the state! Oh well, we are here, that is what matters most, and the engines on the boat have not started yet, so that is progress for me! And I even have time to relax a bit!

Saturday Morning, the Diving Begins…
The rest of the gang stirs on Saturday morning and we start to gather at the dive shop in preparation of our day on the water. Releases are signed, gear is loaded, and we await our departure. Wait, who is that walking across the parking lot? Well it’s Paul Highland, our neighbor and owner of Divers Den in Lansdale, He’s down for the weekend also, with a group from his shop, so I am wondering who we left at home to dive Dutch this weekend? We exchange hellos and bid each other safe diving, as his group departs on one of Discovery’s other boats. We’re on the big boat, the Outrageous, a 47 ft former crew boat with owner/captain Terry at the helm, and fellow captain Steve working as crew. Boat briefing complete, final gear checks done, and we head out to sea.

Stop number one is the Schurz, [history] 83 surface, 74 bottom temp, 50 ft viz, covered with baitfish so much that you could hardly see other divers 20 ft away, big stingrays buzzing with shark escorts, a few lionfish, 111 ft of depth, 37 minutes of bottom time, great starting dive to kick off the weekend.

Many of our readers are familiar with our practice of honoring great undersea navigators, and have visited many of our commemorative sites, such as the ‘Z-ball’, ‘C-ball’, and ‘Lynn’s ball’ during some of dive adventures. Needless to say, when you are leading a group underwater, and your name is associated with one of these infamous sites, it comes as no surprise that your navigational decision-making is sometimes questioned. So it should have come as no surprise to Csaba as he led Niki and Craig back to the anchor on the Schurz, and proudly pointed it out to them as the ascent line, that the two of them simultaneously shook their heads and indicated “No, that is NOT our line!” Csaba. His confidence rattled, decided OK, maybe they’re right, and continued down the wreck, second-guessing himself all the way. All the way, that is, until they got to the other anchor line, and he looked at the big “Divers Down” written on the lift bag attached to it, that he turned to his two companions and said, as best as can be said underwater, “That’s what you get for doubting me!”. So back to the original (and correct) anchor line they headed, Csaba chuckling and knowing that this won’t be the last time he’ll have to redeem himself.

Once everyone is back on board, its only a short motor away, and a little more surface interval, until we splash for dive #2, this time on the famous U-352, a former German U-boat sunk in action during WWII. A perfect example of bad decision making, the loss of this U-boat can be attributed to it’s captain’s decision to take on a US Coast Guard cutter, the Icarus, on a clear day in only 100 ft of clear water…not exactly ideal conditions if your plans go awry and you need to hide your submarine. Oh well….thanks for the wreck go dive on! Here we enjoy another amazingly similar profile, 111 ft for 37 minutes, finally returning to the surface for a little work on our tans and some degassing as we head to site #3.

Keeping it consistent and taking advantage of the great conditions, we opt to stay deep and head over to the USCGC Spar for our third and final dive of the day. Another 111 ft dive for another 37 minutes (how’s that for consistency?) and did I say “sharks?” Let me say that right here, we were surrounded by sharks, sharks, & more sharks! Small one, big ones, huge ones, and every one laid back and just checking us out as we were checking them out, literally within less than 2 ft away. Let me tell you, I was close enough to brush those big snarly teeth, I kid you not. After I sent everyone back up to the surface, except Shelly and Stephen on their rebreathers, I just spent another 15 minutes suspended in the water with the sharks. Truly, truly a magical dive, another “top 10’er” for me.

And meanwhile back on land, the folks in the “Darwin Awards” Department were picking a local winner today, and Michele, who has joined us on this trip but opted to not test the seasickness gods, had the chance to enjoy quite a show in the harbor this afternoon. She was waiting to take a ferry over to the uninhabited island across the harbor, and of course with it being the Fourth of July weekend, she expected to see and hear fireworks all around. So it sounded like a couple of vintage M-80’s exploding right there at the fuel dock in front of the ferry landing, where a line of boats awaited the chance to pull up and get some go-juice in their tanks. “Hey, check that out”, someone shouted, and Michele noticed one of the boats pulling away from the dock spewing smoke. Then she saw the flames, thinking wow, this was getting interesting! And the people screaming on board as the fire really got going on the boat. But wait, time for some decision-making on the captain’s part….he needed to get the people off his boat, and hey, there’s a convenient dock right there so he started towards it….totally ignoring everyone else screaming at him “Stay away from the fuel dock!”. Yeppers, he was bringing his burning boat right back into where enough gas was stored to create one mother of a fireworks display. Out of nowhere, a Coast Guard launch and a tow boat were there, getting a line on his boat, pulling him away from the potential disaster, and encouraging his passengers to leap into the water to get picked up. Crisis averted, remind me to not invite this guy to a barbecue!

Back to port, we fuel up the boat and tie up for the night, ready to repeat it all again tomorrow! Some of us head over to the Stillwater Café on the waterfront for dinner, and to share photos and swap stories of today’s awesome events, including these shots of the fuel dock episode…

Sunday the Diving Continues…

We headed out again at 7 this morning to slightly less inviting conditions with a bit of a chop and 3 to 4 ft seas. Our plan was to run east to the Caribsea, but the pounding would have made for a less-than-pleasant travel experience, so we shifted to a more southerly course and made for the Westland, a wooden barge carrying scrap iron that went down in 1941. Most of the scrap iron had been run through a compactor, so you essentially had solid steel boxes, measuring 18” square by about 3 ft long, stacked as far as the eyes could see. And we could see pretty far, as the viz was probably 100 ft or better today. Lots of life covered this oasis in an otherwise barren sandy bottom, with sand bass, tropical, moray eels, amberjack, sheepshead, spadefish and plenty of other varieties to make for a very interesting dive. One of the most prominent life forms that selected this particular place to call home was bristle worms, numbering in the thousands, and stretching to 8 inches or more in many cases. They were literally everywhere you looked and crawling on every surface, nook and cranny. Now many of you know that I have a special relationship with these guys, where I inadvertently offer them parts of my body to sting and they oblige by stinging it. I am sensing a few years of nightmares are in the works now with the visual of this wreck burned into my memory. A good dive overall, with a bit of current, 108 ft deep and a 45 minute run time.

Next stop on the hit parade of wrecks is the HMS Bedfordshire, a 162 ft long British armed trawler, which was performing escort duty and anti-submarine patrols along the middle Atlantic coast. It was sunk in 1942 by the U-558, under the command of Kapitanleutnant Gunter Krech, which had been prowling the east coast seeking merchant ships to send to the bottom. Not having much luck in that department, when they spotted the British warship on patrol they decided any sunken Allied ship is a good sunken Allied ship, so sink it they did. One well-placed torpedo split the boat in half, and according to the U-boats report, actually lifted it out of the water. The Bedfordshire was lost with all 37 hands aboard, and in fact was not even known to have been sunk until two of it’s crewman’s bodies washed ashore on the beach in Ocracoke.

We dropped in to a bit more current, and the viz was probably down to 50 ft or so, but hey, we’re diving! Water is still 80 degrees, wrecks are still covered with life, a couple of big stingrays with us on the bottom, big amberjacks swooping by, very nice. Another 50 minutes of bottom time, max depth 96 ft.

En-route to our third drop for the day, we come upon a huge leatherback turtle sunning himself on the surface. Very cool to see this majestic endangered species out here!

Our destination is the Ashkhabad, a Russian freighter converted to a tanker that met it’s demise on bright sunny day in April, 1942, when the U-402, right under the nose of her escort ship the HMS Lady Elsa….hmmm..are we seeing a trend here with the British anti-submarine efforts during WWII? I’m just saying…..

Anyhow, the story gets better. As the leaking gasoline and fire spread across the ocean, the crew abandons ship, but the captain’s lifeboat is right in the middle of the fire. He orders the crew to jump overboard to escape the fireballs blasting from the ship, and they do, going under with each explosion. When it finally quiets down they surface only to find their lifeboat on fire. They manage to get that under control and begin to row to shore, joined by the other two lifeboats. The Lady Elsa, incompetent at keeping the subs away, at least serves as a nice ride for the crew back to port, as the Ashkhabad quietly sits on the surface, with fires still burning in the cargo area.

The captain returns the next day to the wreck, still floating and smoldering at sea, and they re-board the vessel. Much to their surprise, the ship has been looted, and personal belongings, valuables, and some navigational equipment stolen. What the heck, they are thinking, can this get any more embarrassing?

They return to port and again visit the ship the next day, only to find the HMS Herfordshire tied up to her, and the Herfordshire’s crew taking even more booty off the Russian ship. Busted, the British sailors are forced to return everything they took from what they claimed to believe was an “abandoned ship”. Nice try, boys.

So now with personal items back in hand, the crew goes back to port to prepare to reboard the vessel in the morning and prepare it for a tow to a shipyard. But before they can get there, the USS Semmes, a destroyer, comes upon it and deems it a navigational hazard, and begins firing a few rounds into the Ashkhabad to sink it. The Semmes is joined in the target practice by the HMS St. Zeno, and as Captain Alexy Pavlovitch steams over the horizon with the US naval tug Relief, he is greeted by the site of his vessel, torpedoed, burned, looted, un-looted, shot, and now sinking below the waves. What a report he must have to send back to Mother Russia, eh?

Well with all that wacky history behind it, our dive today was a great way to celebrate the collective military fumbles that brought us this wreck. Broken now on the ocean floor, this looks like the Benwood on steroids, a huge, busted open wreck, marked by two prominent boilers sitting in the center, and an equally large condenser blow off into the sand about 40 ft away. We’ve got more fish of all flavors, a huge green turtle sleeping inside one of the boilers, morays, shrimp, crabs, toadfish, and some really nice healthy cowries too! Towards the end of the dive, we’ve got everyone safely back on the ascent line except Shelly and Stephen, so I have some quiet time to really enjoy the wreck without teaching or leading…these are the best times for me!

As I approach the anchor line, I notice a huge cloud of lower visibility water coming towards me in the current. Why is the viz down, I am thinking…..well it is because of the millions of stinging jellyfish that are floating right at me!! Yikes! I need to back away from the anchor, retreating to the relative safety of the big boilers, as the cloud starts sweeping by me, nothing but thousand upon thousands of pulsating jellies, trailing long streams of stinging tentacles behind them, in some cases extending back 3 to 4 feet from the larger specimens. I brush a few away that come to close, and as I am hiding there, I notice Stephen and Shelly coming. I signal to them to come my way, and they do, as their eyes widen watching the cloud of jellies go by. While they are hanging with me we check out the turtle again, play around with some little critters, and finally there is a break in traffic, and we bolt for the anchor line. We ascend to just about the thermocline at 60 feet and that’s the magic number for the jellies, as they are working in the colder water below. Whew!! Our ascent is uneventful, with 60 minutes of bottom time at 60 ft, and we re-board, and begin the two-and-a-half hour bumpy and wet ride home. Another great day in the books!

For dinner tonight the entire group gathers at the Spouter Restaurant, where we enjoy a great meal and a lot of laughter, stories and jokes…OK, we enjoyed them; I can’t vouch for all the other patrons in the restaurant with us! After that it was time for bed and one more North Carolina wake-up to round out a fantastic weekend!

And now, it’s Monday….and Mother Nature has not been kind to us, with rough seas and high winds, high enough in fact that Discovery’s captains have unilaterally decided to cancel operations for the day. No ship is leaving the port, so there’s no diving today. Bummer!

So we enjoy a leisurely morning, unload the gear from the boat, and pack for traveling. Herb, Ryan & Sheldon Dubois, Judy Mullen, and Ashley Carpenter are heading south to South Carolina with me, while the rest of the crew head north and home. It’s a five hour drive to Charleston, SC, so I get in a mornings work at the “office” and then follow the guys south, arriving in North Charleston around 9 in the evening. Time for a quick bite and then some rest before we swim with the alligators in the morning.

Tuesday we gathered for a 6:30 a.m. complimentary breakfast in the Sleep Inn lobby, and go over our plans for the day. We’re doing four dives today, so we need to supplement our tank count a bit to make it through the day. Bill Routh, owner of Off the Wall Charters, and our guide for the day, joins us with the extra tanks in tow, and we load up and convoy over to the Cypress Gardens landing on the Cooper River. He runs a 33 ft long pontoon boat, nice and roomy and stable for playing on the river.

We load the boat up on the trailer, and Bill slips it into the water without a glitch. We climb aboard, get our briefing out of the way, and chug on down the river. We are just between tides now, per our plan, and the river is slowing down on the outbound tide. We are planning to dive the inbound tide, where the ocean tide backs up and overcomes the downriver current, so this tide is a lot easier to manage than the other. The downside is that the visibility is reduced due to the amount of silt and vegetation in the water, but we’ll manage.

Stop at the first sight, tide stops, but before we can get in, it turns and begins moving in the other direction. This area has a lot of eddy currents so we opt to visit it tomorrow and move to an alternate site for our first dive. A quick dive site briefing and then Capt Bill drops us in, one by one, spread along a massive gravel bed that runs through this section of the river. Five first time Cooper River divers with me, and every single one comes up an hour later with wide smiles and bags full of sharks teeth, fossils, and some pottery pieces too. Way to start it off!

That certainly sets my mind at ease for the rest of this trip, as this is true solo diving here. With visibility of less than 2 ft, there is no staying in touch with your buddy, in fact, on the outside chance you run into another diver while you are down, you can hardly recognize them, and have to shine your light on various parts of their kit to figure out who it is.

Meanwhile, a pod of bottlenose dolphins are in the river with us today checking us out and playing around the boat…very cool, especially since we are about 25 miles upriver from the Charleston Harbor and the ocean. Ashley is a little freaked out about this, since she has now twice on this trip related a story about an incident in Hawaii, where a female swimmer was sexually assaulted by a male dolphin, with him allegedly wrapping his extended penis around her knees. Well, after the laughter died down a bit, we talked about dolphin anatomy and endowments in general, and concluded, in our little study group, that surely a male dolphin must have originally told this story, complete with all bragging rights and exaggerations. We assured her that we’d keep a close watch on her knees in the event of a dolphin encounter, and she felt better knowing we had her back like that.

Dive #2 was a second location just around the bend from the first, and we get another 60 minutes of bottom time here also, with a max depth of 41 ft. And again, we have scored well in the tooth-gathering department.

We take a short surface interval after the second dive to allow the peak tide to pass, and then we’re in for dive #3. Another hour of solo diving, max depth about 40 ft., and more teeth in the collection bags. Sheldon scores a really nice fossilized turtle shell, Ryan is coming up with some amazingly small teeth that the rest of us are missing, and Ashley is kicking butt in the overall number of teeth collected. Everyone is having a blast!

When we surface from each dive, we inflate a small safety sausage on a 10 ft. jon line, allowing us to mark our location and take a moment to hang safely below the depths of propellers from boats that might be ignoring our ‘Diver Down’ flags in the river and on the dive boat. The nerve of some people! Once we have ascertained that there are no incoming propeller sounds, we surface, and Bill runs the boat over to pick us up. On this particular dive, Ashley surfaces, gives us an OK sign, and hangs quietly on the surface awaiting her pickup. We’ve got another diver ahead of her to get, so she has to wait a few minutes, and she is enjoying a little ‘Zen’ time basking in the glory of kicking our butts in the collection totals. Well, this was not a great idea at this particular time, as we watched the grass part on shore and a nice big alligator slip into the water, swimming right over to see what sort of gift has been left on his doorstep. Ashley is oblivious to this, and we are shouting out to get her attention. Finally, as the ‘gator is less than about 20 ft. from his potential dinner, she hears us yelling to her to make noise and wave her arms, and she obliges. With that, the ‘gator realizes she is not carrion, an alligator delicacy, and he submerges and turns away, leaving Ashley for the dolphins. Anyhow, we breathe a collective sigh of relief, and are thankful that this crisis has been averted!!

Bill is an absolute wealth of historical information regarding the river, the artifacts, and the history of the area over time, and shares factoids and stories with us during our time aboard the boat. One of the lesser-known artifact facts he shares concerns Prohibition-beating South Carolina Dispensary Bottles that are often found in the river. These unique bottles were used to package and sell liquor in a manner much the same way as “medically prescribed marijuana” is sold today..by some pseudo-prescription…proving that once again, some laws tend to be, as I like to say, “guidelines”…

Dive #4 is more of the same, and the animal life is aggressive on this one…as I drop to the bottom, I feel “bang, bang” on the back of my legs, and then again, and I am thinking, what is trying to eat me? Of course I can’t see that far, so I rotate slowly, and sure enough, there are the culprits, two catfish who are thinking they have found the mother lode of a dinner here. Not happening today, boys, I think, as I shoo them away and begin my dive. Again, everyone spends an hour solo diving and everyone comes up with teeth and smile. Very cool day of diving indeed.

Back to shore we unload the boat, clean the silt out of our hair, and then head out for a local dinner, before calling it a night and getting ready for our next day of fun on, and in, the Cooper River!

More to come…including photos!!!