Jersey / Dutch / Jersey – where am I today??

 

This past week saw quite a variety in diving for Team IVS.  Wednesday we headed out on the Venture III to dive the wrecks of New Jersey.  Dave West, Keith Beaver, Matt & John Yaroch and I headed down to  Belmar and joined Paul & Ruth Hepler for a great mid-week day of diving.  Conditions heading our were clear and flat, with all the makings of a superb day on the ocean. 

Our first location was the Notheast Sailor, and we dropped in for about an hour of bottom time on this 75 ft. deep old wooden wreck.  Lobsters were everywhere, but pre-school must have been in session, as they were all too short to be legal.  Stiill a great dive with good conditions and decent viz, probably 30 ft or so.  The thermocline was right at 45 ft, with water temps in the high 60’s above and high 50’s below. 

Stop #2 was the Rockland County,  an old intact tug sunk as part of the artificial reef program.  Nice dive, good viz again, and Dave W and I managed to snag four legal bugs on this one!  Another 40 minutes of bottom time, and we headed up the line, only to find the weather deteriorating fast.  That ruled out a third stop for the day, as we headed in through the pouring rain and called it a day.

Saturday we headed up to Dutch to rinse the gear and enjoy a day with Donna Raleigh and the Buxmont Dive Club crew.  The day was perfect and we had about 30 IVS divers join us during the day.  This was also open water presentation day for our Instructor Candidates, and they did fantastic!  The class consists of Carlie & Leslie Adams, Rob Tennille, Bill Bobowicz and Sue Mendez.  Congratulations to each of them for completing the requirements for PADI Assistant Instructor today!  Next week we’ll be working to get each of them ready for the upcoming PADI Instructor Examination, and have them join the ranks of PADI instructors worldwide!

And now that the gear was clean, what better way to celebrate than to take it swimming in the ocean again!  Sunday morning we headed back out on the Venture III and joined the Buxmont Dive Club crew for a morning 2-tank charter to visit some intact wrecks offshore, including the Ventura and Travis Stevens, both part of the Shark River Artificial Reef system.  Another fantastic day of diving on the water, with clear skies, ultra flat seas, no current and decent viz once again.      

The Lobstah’ Whisperer strikes gold in Jersey!

 

Team IVS headed out today for some lobster hunting off the coast of New Jersey.  We sailed with Capt. Al aboard the Sea Lion, seven hearty souls with a common goal…lobster in the pot!  The day started off a bit overcast and raining, but more importantly there was no wind.  The affect of this was apparent as we cleared Manasquan Inlet – the Atlantic was flat as far as the eye could see.

Our first location was the wreck of the Mohawk, and early ‘passenger liner / cruise ship’, sailing from New York to Jacksonville and onward to Havana, Cuba.  It collided with another vessel on a crystal clear cold night in January, 1935.  Nineteen souls died, primarily from exposure, before the rest were pulled from the sea as the vessel slipped beneath the waves.  Originally it went down on it’s side, but six months later a summer storm uprighted it, Speigel Grove style.  In fact, with the depth at 80 ft to the sand, the masts were actually sticking up out of the water, and this is how it remained for until the Army Corps of Engineers cut it down by wire dragging it to allow safe passage over the wreck.  

All was good until WWII, and with the U-boat activity up and down the eastern seaboard, the Coast Guard was taking no chances.  German submarines were known to take advantage of structure on the bottom to hide alongside, masking their presence, so every time an anti-sub vessel would pass the Mohawk, they’d throw out a depth charge or two for good measure.  Although no U-boats were ever discovered, you can imagine the damage this caused to the remaining wreckage.  Today the site looks a bit more like Fred Sanford’s backyard than a ship, but you can figure out enough of the pieces to know you’re diving on a wreck. 

So we located the site and our able first mate Jen dropped down to tie into the wreck.  We followed as soon as the hook was set, and got right to work on our mission.  Watching most of the guys bear left, I opted for  a right turn at the anchor, dropped down low, fired up the canister light, and got down to business.  One, two, three bugs in the bag….good start….keep looking…four…..more….all keepers, being careful to gauge them right there and ensure they are legal before putting them in the bag.  Kicked up a nice flounder, lots of sea bass and blackfish there, sea robins walking about on their fins, and all the other typical Jersey sea life.  The water temp was 58 degrees, allowing me to dive without a hood and with light gloves, better to shove my arm in the holes to snag my objectives!  I was wearing a Whites Fusion, and this suit is fantastic with it’s form-fitting design.  Even with a medium weight undergarment on, I was able to dive with no weights other than my double steel 100’s.  The viz varied, but at times was easily 60 to 75 feet – Nice!

We got back up to the boat, and I had six bugs for my cooler.  The others did not score so well…OK..they were skunked!  So we talk a little about technique during our surface interval, and get them pumped up to do better on dive #2.  Because this wreck site is quite large, we opted to stay for our second dive on the same spot.  Four more bugs in my bag, and two for Matt Yaroch and his dad – way to go guys! 

Checking my personal biological meter, I recognize I am a quart low on nitrogen, so Capt. Al offers to make a third dive on another location.  We motor over to the “120” wreck, and we’re down to only two of us plus Jen making this one.  This is an old unidentifed wooden sailing vessel, and it has some fantastic lobster habitat on it, as well as fish life.  The problem is that the habitat is all through the wooden timbers and deck planking, giving the lobsters a huge advantage with being able to slip around a corner of far enough down a hole to be beyond the reach of the hunters.  Missed a few, but still managed to get one more in the bag, bringing my daily total to 11.  The rest of the team accounted for another 2 – what’s wrong with this picture??      

Finally it’s time to call it a day and we sail on back to the Brielle Boat Basin.  Hugs & handshakes, and I head home to boil up my bounty – we’ll be serving it up at Dutch Springs this weekend!

  

NJ Wrecking it – Again!

Dave West, Robin Valicenti and I responded to the 4:30 a.m. alarm and traveled down to Belmar, NJ for another great day of diving aboard the Venture III.  We could not have asked for a more perfect day to sail out to sea – the sun was bright, the sea was calm, and the company was great!

Our first site was the Algor shipwreck.  This was an Andromeda class attack transport built by the U.S. Navy.  This class was also known as a “Victory Ship”, although often incorrectly referred to as a Liberty Ship.  It was one of a series of Navy transports named for stars; Algol is a star in the constellation Perseus, also known as the Demon star.   Originally constructed in 1943 in Oakland, Calif as James Barnes , it saw service in a number of conflicts, the most recently being the Vietnam War.  It is a large wreck measuring 459 ft x 63 ft, with 13,910 displacement tons, and a registered crew of 429 crew, including embarked Marines.  It was sunk as part of the NJ Artificial Reef Program on November 22, 1991, and sponsored by the Federal Aid in Sportfish Restoration group. This intact wreck sits in 145 ft of water, with the upper decks accessible as shallow as 70 ft.   This was a great intro-to-reel work dive for Robin, who quickly learned how difficult it is to multi-task with reel, depth, wreck and dive to deal with.   Good start, a nice dive with viz in the 40 plus foot range.  We ended up with a 130 ft dive for a 50 minute run time.

The Algol was a Navy transport ship that had a long and successful service career from World War II to the Cuban Missile Crisis. After lying in the mothball fleet at Norfolk for some twenty years, she was transferred to the New Jersey Artificial Reef Program and sunk with little fanfare, unlike the much-hyped ( and not much bigger ) Spiegel Grove in Florida.

This is the largest vessel yet used in the New Jersey Artificial Reef Program, and ranks as one of the largest vessels ever used as an artificial reef anywhere. She is also the largest vessel of any kind sunk in this region, excluding the Andrea Doria, and narrowly edging out the San Diego in tonnage.

The Algol is completely intact, upright, and huge. It would take several trips to fully explore it, without doing any penetrations. A good dive can be had on this wreck at almost any depth you want, from the top of the superstructure at 70 ft to the main deck at 110 ft to the sand at 140 ft. Since its sinking, currents have scoured out a hole around the hull that is significantly deeper than the 125 ft of the surrounding area.  The cargo holds are also quite deep, but are filling up with silt.

Since it was sunk as an artificial reef, considerable effort was put into cleaning and opening up the Algol before it was sunk. All windows and doors are removed, as well as the cargo hold hatches. As a consequence, there are many areas that can be penetrated easily, including much of the superstructure and the cargo holds. Because of its multi-level nature, the Algol is often used for advanced training dives.

No part of either the hull or the superstructure has even begun to collapse yet – even catwalks and railings are solidly in place. The superstructure is like a large three story building. The smokestack has been removed, leaving an ugly teardrop shaped scar which can be used to orient yourself. The fat end of the teardrop points toward the bow, and the narrow end points toward the stern. At the bow and stern, paired tubs for anti-aircraft guns are still evident. There is a large hole into the hold in the port-side hull near the sand below the superstructure, where a hull plate has fallen away.

Our second location was the Klondike Rocks site.  All along the coast there are natural rock formations in the otherwise sandy or muddy bottom of our underwater environment. The Shrewsbury Rocks are the largest and most well-known of these; the Klondike Rocks further south are similar but lower. Many others are not clearly defined, but are listed as “lumps” or ‘ridges” on fishing charts.

The Artificial Reef Program has greatly augmented the natural hard bottom of the region with millions of tons of dumped rock from construction and dredging projects.  These low outcroppings appear in small to large patches over a two mile area called the Klondike, and elsewhere, at depths ranging from 60 to 90 feet. The overhangs, crags, and holes afforded by the piles of rocks and boulders provide excellent homes for fish and lobsters. Visibility can be great here at times, but today it was in the range of 10-20 ft, mostly due to the silty bottom in most places. It’s easy to get lost here, so it was another dive for the reels to be employed to make sure we had our “breadcrumb trail” to get home. 

This site proved productive as we ended up with four nice bugs in the bag, and I missed a monster that had to be at least 10 pounds!   Our profile for this dive was 81 ft for a total run time of 60 minutes.  Bottom temp was in the 54 degree range, but we were toasty and warm in our Whites and DUI drysuits!

Diving the Jersey wrecks again!

Our intrepid group of pillaging wreck divers headed down to Belmar, NJ again today to visit some more of the thousands off wreck sites off the Jersey coast.  What a most beautiful day greeted us, blue skies, bright sunshine, flat seas, and of  course the great Venture III crew!  Today’s group consisted of Csaba Lorinczy, Donna Raleigh, Rob Lunny, Mike Noble, Jenna Murray, John Glodowski and myself.   We met a few other regulars on the boat and we (well at least six of us) prepared for our scheduled 8 a.m. departure.  Finally our group was intact and accounted for (no names mentioned on the sleeping beauty) and we headed out to sea.

Our first stop was the Cranford, a 200 ft. long x 44 ft. wide former ferry boat owned by the Central Railroad of New Jersey, and sunk in 1982 at a depth of 70 ft.  This was part of the very succesful NJ artificial reef program.  There was a bit of current running at the surface but not enough to cause any undue concern.  We splashed in, and headed down into the peasoup-ish like waters, expecting a nice improvement in visibilty once we got past the thermocline.  Well, good viz was clearly not in the cards for us today, and the dark green murky waters were the same from top to bottom.  Thank goodness for the quality wreck reels we had purchased from www.scubagearplus.com !  It was however, a very good first taste of Jersey wreck diving for Rob & Jenna, who came up smiles and laughing after the experience. 

Second on the list was the Spartan, a large steel hulled commercial tugboat, built in 1957 and sunk in 1986.  This 85 ft. long x 23 ft. wide intact wreck is covered with fish and life, and proved to be a nice dive, in spite of the continued poor viz.  Bottom temps of 54 degrees at 68 ft. were tolerable.  The gang managed to bring up copius amounts of fresh mussels from this wreck.

Finally, we hit dive number 3 for the day, an Indian Valley Scuba signature when out on the Venture III.  Todays stop was the Northeast Sailor, which essentially is remains of a large, unidentified sailing ship. The absence of towing bits is an indicator that this was probably not a schooner barge, while the presence of a boiler and steam machinery place the vessel in the mid to late nineteenth century.  No other information is known about this mystery wreck, sitting in 70 ft. of water.  It does, however, contain lots of holes for lobsters to hide in, and we managed to bring quite a few on board today!

NJ Wreck Diving on the Venture III

If it’s Wednesday it must be time to go….Diving!  And that we did, heading out to sea today on the Venture III, captained by the always great Ruth and Paul Hepler.  Located in Belmar, NJ, the Venture III is convenient to hundreds of dive sites off the mid-jersey coast.  Our group today included Donna Raleigh, Dave West, Andrew Roebuck, our secret diver who we’ll refer to as “SK”, John Gladowski, and myself.  We headed out and visited three sites today, starting with the Golden Eagle wreck, a fishing vessel that went down in a storm in 1936.  Sitting intact and just a little worn after 70 years under the sea, it is a nice wreck to visit and explore, covered with sponges, mussels and life.  Loads of fish call the Golden Eagle home, so it is always a busy place.

After a short surface interval, thanks in part to the quantity of diveable wrecks in the area and the short distance between them, and also because of the advantages gained by diving with computers, we found ourselves moored to the fisherman’s barge, a rather non-descript 150 ft long steel barge that sank upside down in 78 ft of water.  The viz had really deteriorated in this area, probably down in the 15 ft range, so exploring much off the main wreck was clearly a ‘reel’ challenge.  

Finally, it was time to turn up the heat and put all those spearguns and bug bags we had brought along to good use, so we headed over to one of the many rock piles in the area, and dropped in for our third descent of the day.  Viz was better by a bit, and the water temperature was clearly a tad cooler on this site.  The dive proved productive all around with black sea bass, lobsters and mussels making the final ascent of the day with us, to head home in our coolers!   We’ll be back in two weeks for more of the same!