Well it’s that time of year again, time for Team IVS to make our annual pilgrimage north of the border, to link up with our Canadian counterparts for a fun weekend diving the wrecks of the St. Lawrence Seaway.
It was a long week of preparation, with American & Canadian passport information needing to be filed with U.S. Customs, boat manifests prepared and double-checked, nitrox fills all around, gear checked and packed, spares packed, and the final logistics of transportation and lodging figured out.
The carpool headed north from IVS on Friday afternoon, with Csaba Lorinczy leading the parade in his motor home. Accompanying him was daughter Niki, Donna Raleigh, Mike Noble, and John “I can’t seem to stop falling off boats” Scott. John Glodowski and Chris Perry followed, Mike & Jamie Petrochko, along with Brent Watts, were not far behind, and finally Dave Valaika was slated to bring up the rear, as he was still busy loading the truck and trailer and making sure all the “I’s” were dotted and “T’s” were crossed on his manifest for the Dueling Drysuits Demo trailer, since our friend Eric from Whites Drysuits told us how difficult it was to cross the border with any sort of products that may be considered “for sale”. More on this exercise later……….
Still sensitive from the near fiasco of last year’s border intrusion, Csaba has studied for this years crossing, and knows exactly where we going, why we’re going, who is traveling with him, where they live, and all the other details that nearly tripped him up last year at the border. Of course, just to keep you on your toes, the border agent threw a new question at our favorite Hungarian….”how do you know these people?” Yikes…just when you thought you had it figured out! Never the less, he managed to muddle through the answers and get the first of Team IVS safely into the foreign land.
And to add to the stress of preparing for this little international journey, we needed to get some last minute temporary bodywork repairs completed on the IVS truckster so we could tow the trailer with us. Why bodywork, you may ask? Well, let me share the story with you……it starts back in March, with a troubled young girl named Britney, and a concert called her Circus Tour. Seems that Dad taking daughter #2 Alex and one of her friends to Ms. Spears’ concert made daughter #3 Anna Rose feeling a wee bit left out. So, the ever-resourceful Alex came up with a brilliant idea…..up and coming country/pop star Taylor Swift is putting a tour together, and Anna loves her music, so we should go see her and take Anna this time! Brilliant!
So, the weekend before St. Lawrence, we head out to State College for Ms. Swift’s concert, and let me just say it was a fantastic show……different than Britney but even more entertaining! Of course being that far from home we overnighted, and decided to head to Hershey Park for a day of play on the way home. Every single roller coaster at least once, the best ones twice……but, wait, I digress…….
So, speaking as we were about Pennsylvania wildlife, one of the most beautiful animals we often see are whitetail deer. From a distance they are fun to watch, and up close, they are even more beautiful. But up real close, at say, 70 miles per hour, that beauty is truly a fleeting thing as the animal wraps itself around the front bumper of Dave’s truck….indeed we have passed the up close and beautiful stage. Well tenderized venison, a somewhat modified Dodge pick-em-up truck, and two traumatized daughters – what a way to start the day!
So, we just added one more little thing to the list of “to do’s” for this week – get the fender cut off and put a headlight back in so we can drive! OK, that got done, and the American crew gathered at IVS Friday morning to load up and start the journey north. Of course Dave, never being one to let that many hands sit idle, had a short laundry list of fun projects to do before we headed out….what a card that guy is! So, at 1:00, the gang finally headed out for their scheduled 10:00 departure. Pretty close, in Dave time. In fact, knowing where we were heading, it was probably the closest to being on time we’d be for the next three days.
So, back to international business and NAFTA – One of the last things we needed to do before pulling out was to inventory the Dueling Drysuits Demo Tour trailer, which was joining us this weekend for its first international visit. We have a bunch of folks in the great white north that wanted to try drysuits, so what better way than for us to haul a trailer load of them in with us. But, rumor has it, there will be a huge hassle at the border, and according to our friends at Whites Manufacturing, it could take two to three days to get across, and you might need the services of a registered import broker to expedite the process – they know this cause they cross the border a few times each year with the Whites factory demo trailer.
Well, you know I like a challenge, but just to cover my derrierre, I opted to have a complete and accurate inventory on the trailer when I crossed. But I had goals….no broker, no delay at the border…….that whole import thing is well, ‘guidelines’, in my somewhat twisted eyes. I rolled the dice and headed up a few hours after the rest of the gang, ready for my border challenge.
Well Csaba, and his crew, daughter Niki, John Scott, Mike Noble, Donna Raleigh, crossed the border with no problem, thanks to Csaba’s careful preparation. John Glodowski and Chris Perry had a similar experience, so the odds were looking good for the Dave-ster and his cargo of potential contraband.
But before I got to the border, I had 400 miles of threading my way through Labor Day Holiday Weekend police speed traps to look forward to. Things are looking good, and I am just 25 short miles from the border, when I decide to pull off in the small hamlet of Watertown, NY for a fuel stop. As I roll down Main Street looking for an open diesel-dispensing gas station, the night explodes in a fury of flashing red and white lights behind me. Yikes, cheese it, the fuzz! They must be onto someone…wait, no…they’re onto moi! “What the heck…..” I drive a little further down the road, just wanting to make really sure it’s me they want, and yep, it’s me they want, so I pull over and jump out of the truck, only to be greeted by not one but two of Watertown’s finest. Seems I was clocked at 51 mph (with the conversion rate, that’s 95 for our Canadian readers) in a 30 mph zone – geeeeez! Hmmmm…..need to think fast here…….well, one thing leads to another, turns out they are just starting a public safety dive team here, so we get into talking tactics and training, yadda yadda, you know the drill….bottom line, it ends with slaps on the backs, handshakes, and a stern “Don’t do that again!” “Yes Sir”, I say….and I’m back on my way, this time with directions to the local diesel dealer, courtesy of my new friends.
So I fuel up, and head for my border “encounter”. I wait my turn and then pull up to the guard shack, shut down the noisy diesel, and engage the suspicious border patroller in some lively banter, using my best Canadian inflection and plenty of “eh’s” at the end of my sentences. His questions are intense….”Where are you going?”…”What are you going to do?”….”What’s in the truck?”….you get the point. Of course, it is one guy, heading north for two days of diving, hauling $50,000 worth of Drysuits and 40 scuba tanks in the back of the truck…yep….that math works! Well viola, it all comes together, and I am “in”….no issues at all with the entire truckload of scuba gear, all those tanks in the back, the Rebreathers, and the trailer full of gear….all for one diver! This guy clearly needs a refresher in his training, but who am I to suggest that at this point! Time to boogie onward! Next stop, Caigers Resort.
So I’m in-country, but there is still one key ceremonial border-crossing task to complete….anyone recall Kevin Costner in Dances with Wolves? Yep, gotta go about marking yet another corner of the IVS universe! That completed, it’s an easy roll to Caigers and my room for the night. Csaba has nicely seeded my refrigerator with a couple of icy cold Coors Lights, so I am good for the night!
Saturday morning blossoms as a beautiful sunny day, and Team IVS is ready to do some diving. Today we are diving purely Canadian wrecks, so we pedal up the road to Brockville, where Wayne has positioned two of his boats for the day. OK…let me clarify…we are in Canada, and there are rules! Wayne is only allowed to dock one boat at a time, so one needs to putter just offshore while one loads, and after the first one leaves, only then can the second boat toss a line onto the dock! Geeeesh! However, in any case, the folks at 1000 Island Pleasure Diving can’t figure out how to put our group of 25 divers on one boat, so once again we dive as two separate groups – come on Wayne!
We head out, and our first stop is the wreck of the Daryaw, an inverted steel freighter, 219 ft long, and sunk in 1941 when it struck the shoals and punched a nice hole right through her steel plating. The wreck is penetrable, but upside down, making it a little dis-orienting. Depth is about 90 ft. and the current is ripping! Second stop was the Lillie Parsons, an old wooden schooner, sunk carrying a cargo of coal which is still there tumbling out of the upside down hull. Depth is 80 ft, and we hot-dropped in on this wreck from upstream, sailing along until we hit the anchor chain which runs from the point of Sparrow Island to the wreck. A tour of the wreck, and then it’s a head-over-heels drift-tumbling down the wall until you get to a marker rope that lets you know you are approaching a cove. Quick right turn into the cove, and then it’s a gentle swim in the protected area to get picked up by our dive boat.
Back to dock and we find the Canadian half of our party has disappeared. Oh well, time to haul tanks, and then a run to Dive Tech for fills. While the gas is being pumped, we motor on down the road and enjoy a leisurely lunch at the Rapid Valley Restaurant, famous for their buns & delicious poutine, a Canadian delicacy of French fries, smothered in gravy, and piled high with cheese curds (and absolutely not recommended by the American Heart Association!). OK, digestive system properly abused, we pick up our tanks, analyze gas, and head back to the boat for two more dives. First stop the Muscallonge, an old tug that burned and sunk, sitting upright but fairly wrecked at 99 ft. Lots of machinery, but not much boat left. Last stop of the day was the Robert Gaskin, a 132 ft long sailing barque converted to a work barge, which holds the distinction of being one of the only ships on the St. Lawrence River that actually managed to torpedo itself to death. Seems it was involved in a salvage operation, lifting another sunken ship using steam-filled steel salvage pontoons when one broke free underwater and shot right up through the Gaskin’s hull. So it sank right there, on top of its work. No problem, they managed to raise it, only to have it sink, again, same place. OK, back to the drawing board, raise it again, get it under tow, move about 600 feet, and it sinks a third and final time, coming to rest upright at 70 ft of depth.
Finally we head back in, unload, and make one stop at Dive Tech to drop off our tanks for fills early in the morning. Dan Humble, the owner, is still there waiting for us, and we know we’re in good hands with this group. Now, back to Caigers, hoping against hope that there is some food waiting for us there.
Alas, we arrive, and Mark, the owner & resort manager introduces us to his son, Tyler. They break the bad news…the food is gone…but the beer is flowing, so OK, we’ll hang, and we spend the next few hours helping educate the young man in all the wrong areas – I hope he was taking notes! We learned some new Canuck terms, like ‘cougar’ and ‘gilf’, but we’re probably safer not trying to explain them here.
So finally we call it a night, and as we’re heading off to hit the sack, a fellow pops out of one of the rooms and says, in a heavy European accent “hey, do you like to play poker?” Well gosh, does this sound like something right out of a life lesson? So Donna, Chris, and our new friend (and Donna-admirer) Christopher from Cleveland decide what the heck….how can this go wrong? Seems the two Ukrainian immigrants are here for the night on a fishing trip, and are looking for some entertainment, so they thought a card game might be fun. They don’t play seriously, they tell us, so we agree, let’s play. As we pull up some chairs, one of the guys pulls out an aluminum briefcase, pops it open, and there’s a casino-quality setup of chips, and brand new unopened decks of cards – yeah, they definitely don’t play seriously! We ante up with a variety of US and Canadian currencies, distribute chips, and start to play. Donna’s budding beau Christopher sits next to me, and he is truly a babe in the woods with regards to, well at a minimum, late night poker games. The bidding is fast and furious and in multiple languages, so the excitement is high, and you really need to pay attention! Never-the-less, we manage to get through an hour or more of Texas Hold’em, and finally only Chris, myself and one of the Ukrainians are still sitting on any chips. Enough I say, time to re-visit the money, we argue, and finally the pot is divided, and we head off to bed, none the worse (and none the poorer) for the experience.
Finally it’s Sunday morning, and after a quick stop at confession (we won’t name names), we head over to Dive Tech to pick up our tanks from last night and head out for our “8:30 a.m.” trip. Of course, U.S. Customs doesn’t open til 10:00, so the scheduled timing of the trip is a tad optimistic. John Glow is busy working the Dueling Drysuits Demo Tour, and he has quite a few of our northern friends diving in White’s Fusions that morning.
We load up and find out what some of the noisy activities we heard last night from around the dock were…it was the crew banging the propeller back into shape after the River Diver, our infamous one-engined cruiser from last year, managed to hit a submerged floating log on the way back in last night. This vessel is truly not blessed! Is that a bad sign?
But in any case, eternal optimists that we are, we load up, chit chat with the crew for a while, and finally motor over to Boldt Island to present ourselves for re-entry into our homeland. A big change this year – the customs guy actually gets up out of his chair and comes to visit the boat! Must be part of Obama’s Health Care Reform, eh? Woo hoo!! So we hang out til Officer O’Keefe strolls down, and makes sure each of us have a matching passport that helps ensure the manifest is correct, and we get the big green “Welcome to America” light. We begin the seven knot, one hour ride against the current towards the Vickery, so it’s a chance to rest, chat and goof off a bit more. We finally approach the mooring, and this year, everyone, including John Scott, manages to stay on board until we tie up! We opt for the downstream ball, avoiding the infamous Sherwood ball from last years visit.
So splash we go, and we head down to this intact wooden sailing wreck, 136 ft long, sitting in 120 ft of water. My plan is to visit the top of the masts, which broke off, and are now hanging upside down at 160 ft of depth. I am breathing 30% EAN in my back gas, but packing a 40 CF cylinder of air for the deeper portion of the dive. I leave the wreck, and head down deeper into the channel, exploring the rigging, dead-eyes and hardware still hanging from the top of the masts in the current. All good, and I am starting to accumulate a bit of a deco obligation, so I head back towards the wreck, explore a bit longer, and now, with almost a 40 minute deco obligation, I begin my ascent. I make my 80, 70, 60, & 50 foot stops, and I am halfway through my 40 foot deco stop when I decide to give my trusty Cochran dive computer a little tap and check out some of the info on the alternate screen. Bad, bad idea, as the screen goes insane, indicating a new current depth of 534 feet, and a new total ascent time of 4 hours and 13 minutes, and growing. Even worse, because my PO2 is now completely off scale according to the computer, I cannot even see my current depth displayed, making the balance of this lonely deco much more of a challenge! So, I do my best estimating of depth, trying to visually remember some of the depths I passed through on the way down, and double my deco times to be extra sure. So, 70 minutes after jumping in, I am finally back on the surface. Running through the DCS symptoms checklist, I have no funny feelings anywhere, no noticeable slurring (at least without the assistance of Coors Light), no stumbling (again, without assistance) and I am thinking OK, I think I am good.
We re-cross the border and stop at Canadian Customs to re-enter the country (what a hassle), finally make it to our second location, the Kingshorn (or King Horn, depending on your source of info). We splash, and on this second dive, I am like a true DIR diver, armed with only a minimalistic set of instruments – a pressure gauge and a wristwatch. My double 100’s a bit light after the first dive and extended deco, so I strap on my partially depleted 40 CF bottle – heck this dive is only 92 ft deep, how much gas can I need? It’s a nice 40 minute dive, and I top off my tissues with some fresh nitrogen. OK, maybe it’s time to head up, since we don’t really know how deep we are, relying on the computers of other divers that I take a peek at while I swim by them (is this in the manual?). So I make it back to the mooring line, and start to head up. Hmmm..is that stage bottle getting a little difficult to breath? Let me peek……uh oh…..some number in front of that ‘zero’ would be better, however, it is what it is. Switch back to back gas, and think about how long I might want to take to ascend, keeping in mind my earlier dive experience this morning. I am putzing along, breathing very slowly, maximizing the remaining gas I have, and think OK, there’s not too many witnesses, and there’s Niki, just above me…..her octo teasing me right there……OK..maybe just a little…..she’s not looking…who’ll know…..so I sneak the octo and am quietly sitting there, sipping away, noting that she has plenty of gas left, when suddenly there is Donna, camera in hand, immortalizing this moment – me, wearing three tanks, and buddy-breathing. Nice! Thanks Donna……within an hour that photo is on Facebook, and the comments come flying in!
And, for those of you familiar with the Key Largo ‘Z’ Ball, we now have a northern version, tagged the ‘C’ Ball, in honor of our lost little solo diver Csaba, who managed to select the wrong ascent line (from a choice of two!) from the King Horn. Not to worry, another little secret we’ll keep among ourselves……uh oh…wait….is this blog on the world wide web? Oooooops! Sorry Csaba!
Back on board, the River Diver seems to be sitting a little lower in the water than when we boarded this morning, and it has become apparent that we’re running the bilge pumps a whole lot more than usual, so we’re thinking maybe we want to check that out a bit!
Back at the dock, we open up some of the deck hatches and it looks like someone forgot to turn off the garden hose down there, as a veritable stream of water is jetting in from one of the mounting holes for the propeller shaft support struts. Seems like the excessive vibration we enjoyed all morning from the bent prop also managed to work the strut mounts loose and open up a nice hole right through the bottom of the hull! Our next wreck dive might be taking place in a few minutes, right here at the dock!
Well, in any case, it’s 4:30 p.m., and we load the tanks back in the truck [again] and head over to Dive Tech for refills. Today, however, we opt for a run down the interstate to Wendy’s for lunch/dinner, so our culinary turn-around time is a tad better than yesterdays. Back to Dive Tech, pick up tanks, and back to Caigers for our “2:30 p.m.” afternoon boat trip.
But wait….the adventure continues, as the River Diver is NOT going back out, seeing as how it is trying it’s hardest to sink right at the dock. OK…crank up the cell phone, get a hold of Wayne, and he is still on the river, thinking he is working his last dive of the day. Well so much for that plan Wayne, Team IVS is ready to dive, so he and the lovely Chantal agree to come back and get us.
So now it’s actually 8:00 p.m., and we are heading out for our afternoon dives. Yep, truly we are on Canadian time here! Of course U.S. Customs closed a few hours ago, so there is no going back to America now. We opt to head up to the Ash Island Barge, and do a fairly disorganized drift dive down the river from upstream, with our end point being the barge. Well, here is where all that pre-dive safety check stuff comes into play. We’re sitting along a steep wall, in almost 300 ft of water. I drop down, and am at 100 ft on the wall, in the dark, when I see a diver literally tumbling down the wall towards me. I reach out, and the combination of my hand and his grip on the wall finally stops Chris from dropping into the abyss. Seems his BC inflator hose is not attached, and I am sensing he is over-weighted, so that can make for a deadly combo, especially when you add in the fact that it is 9:30 at night and pitch black, not to mention a pretty high current being present too! You get the picture. Well we manage to get him hooked up, and back in control, breathing back to normal, and ready to start the drift dive. We sail along for about 40 minutes, and finally come upon the barge at 97 ft. That’s our signal to ascend so we work our way up the line and back on board. Donna and Niki had splashed first a few minutes ahead of me, and I am wondering, why are they already on board, undressed, and almost dry? Hmmmmm…..seems the girls had managed to enjoy a higher level of anxiety on this dark, fast dive, and ended up holding hands the entire time as they kicked themselves to the end to get out of the water as quickly as possible, managing to cover the 40 minute dive in only 15 minutes!
Back on board, we hold a little meeting and talk about how we are going to better plan our next dive, which is even later at night, on an even blacker river. Not only that, this is another wall drift dive, and there is no distinct target, like the barge, to mark the end of the dive. Safety is pretty important and a good plan will help maximize that. The girls, still terrified from their first dive, and just getting the feeling back in their hands from gripping each other so tightly, opt to sit this one out, so the rest of us plan our dive – 40 ft for 40 minutes, starting with a coordinated hot drop into the river. We splash, descend, and enjoy our most relaxing and organized dive of the weekend, all popping back up right there at the boat. Great way to end the weekend!
Monday and the crew is moving even slower than usual. The Canadians are gone, and half of the remaining team can’t muster another dive. No comment! We head over to Dive Tech, top off a few cylinders, hugs & high fives for the guys there, and then caravan back across the border. “Where are you coming from”, asks the America border agent. I’m sorry, but I can’t resist….”Canada”, I offer. “What were you doing?”…….duh…….”Diving”. “Who were you diving with?”…I lean out the window, re-read the name on the side of the truck…..and answer respectfully “Indian Valley Scuba”. A few more minutes of this intense grilling, until he is satisfied he has gathered enough facts, and finally we pass the test! Back in America!
J-Glow, John Scott, Chris Perry and I roll into Alexandra Bay and set up camp, and the Dueling Drysuits Demo trailer, along the river at the A-Bay dive park. We chat with the locals, make a few new friends, and gear up for a dive along the Islander, and old side-wheeler that burned and sunk here in 1909. IT sits right next to shore, with a max depth of 60 ft, and lots of structure still intact. Good final dive of the trip, and we finally pack the gear for the last time. Of course, this is the big Labor Day Bash weekend in A-Bay, so we park the truck in town, and stroll down to see the bands performing along the water, while enjoying lunch at a local eatery on the dock. Some more laughs, some more stories shared, and finally, we call it a weekend and complete the journey home.