Oriskany Dive Trip Report – April ’08

Day 1 – After driving 17 hours down through an overnight teeming rainstorm, our first morning in Pensacola starts off to a very interesting and auspicious start! Csaba Lorinczy, Steve Clem, Jennifer Vasinda and I got to the [name withheld to protect the innocent] dive shop at 7 am, when they opened for us, only to find we could not quite leave yet because our tanks could not be topped off ’cause the guy with the key to the compressor was not in yet. Geeeez! OK, so we hang out a bit, chat with the staff, and finally the “keymaster” shows up about an hour later, and so we topped off and left for the boat, about 7 miles away.

A short ride later, we find the marina, and we pull up to the boat, a beautiful 36 foot Newton dive boat, big, roomy and fast. As we walk up we get what has now become the traditional Oriskany “don’t unload your gear yet, we are having problems with the boat” speech. As it turns out, the new engine in the very nice boat was giving them some grief, and they were waiting for a call back regarding a needed part. Well, efficient souls that we are, we got to enjoy a great Blue Angels practice very close and overhead for he next hour or so, while the calls went back and forth about the needed engine part. Finally it was determined that the part was not coming today, so we shifted to Plan B, where the captain and/or the shop found us another boat for the day.

So now it’s back to the shop, for some more waiting time, to allow the new captain to get ready and to get his boat in the water. “So”, the shop says, “this is a much smaller boat and we are getting a much later start and the captain wants to know if we can do just one longer tech dive rather than the two we had signed up for”. Of course the answer is a diplomatic but emphatic “NO”, so we head on down, meet the new captain and load the smaller (25 foot) boat. Finally we are heading out onto perfect seas, get to watch helicopter landing practices take place on a small carrier on the way out, and finally arrive at our destination.

Finally it is time for the first dive, and as we begin to get geared up, we discover a few problems. First, our 100% Oxygen tank that we planned to use on our final deco stop was completely empty. Not sure what happened to the “please fill this with 100% O2” part of the morning’s discussion, but oh well. Not sure why, perhaps the valve had been knocked in the truck on the drive over to the marina, or maybe it was never filled, but never the less, we have no O2. We adjust the computer-generated dive plan on the fly, and start to finish the gear up. One of our divers then discovers a free flowing regulator, so out comes the tools and we switch it out with one of the now unneeded O2 regs. After all the technical details of getting the team to finish dressing, adjusting, and tweaking are worked out, the dive finally gets underway, and we enjoy a great 160 foot trimix dive (21/35 blend) for 30 minutes, followed by 47 minutes of ascent and deco on 50% Nitrox.

Meanwhile the captain has been grilling hot dogs for us in our absence so lunch is timely and good, and we spend an hour surface interval yacking and having fun, with a huge turtle surfacing next to the boat and entertaining us for a while. Then we are off to our second dive, 156 deep, 25 minutes at depth, 48-minute total run time, and an uneventful completion and re-entry to the boat. Finally, we head in, beautiful weather, cold beers for all, including the crew, and the day ends nicely. At the dock the captain even runs out and gets more beer for us all to enjoy, and then asks if we want to dive with him again tomorrow as the bigger boat is still down. Sure, we say, and we head to the shop to get our tanks filled for the next day. Gosh, he sure seems like a nice guy……more on that later in the report!

Now we are back at the dive shop with our tanks, still half-full of expensive helium trimix fills. Can you top these off? Well of course not, we have to drain them completely because the local technical dive center we are dealing with does not have a booster pump and does not have full helium tanks and so can only fill our tanks with helium first – fairly unusual for a pro dive center that specializes in tech diving….hmmmm. Then we get into talking about our fills for tomorrow and what time they will get done, so we agree to a later start tomorrow, to allow them time to complete the fills.

But to top it off, while we are getting our tanks filled, some other testosterone-filled yo-yo who did not bother to introduce himself joined out general group, and as we started to head out, we confirmed time for the morning, and the captain reminded us to remember that the seas would be a little more than today, so we said no problem, we traveled all the way here and no little wave action was going to stand in the way. So Mr. Nobody (maybe the shop owner??) says “we’ll call the shot on whether the boat goes out in the morning”. Who really needed this guy’s opinion???

So, IVS readers…..how do you think this will start out in the morning, will the boat go?? Stay tuned…..

Oriskany Diving – Day 2

Dawn breaks and all appears well in sunny Pensacola, but appearances can be deceiving. The group convenes and heads over to the Waffle House for a good belly-filling pre-dive breakfast. Then we truck over to the dive shop to pick up our filled tanks in preparation of heading over to the boat for another good day of diving. That’s when the drama begins…..

First, our captain from yesterday (remember the “he seems like a nice guy?”) is there, with the look of someone that needs to talk on his face. Well the look was accurate; as he starts to talk about what kind of money he normally gets for this type of diving, how much less he got because of the deal IVS had worked out with the other boat, and how we don’t have a divemaster today. And of course no one at the local dive center, who we set this entire trip up with, has anything to say; in fact they ignore us to the point of us starting to feel we are all wearing our secret Harry Potter “cloaks of invisibility”. Not looking good at all.

Well, it’s not Dave’s first time in a situation like this, so first, he thinks, let’s check out options. Cell phone call to the first captain, to check the status on the engine repair part. Sure enough, it was flown in overnight (that part of the story was true and accurate) but it actually flew into Mobile, Alabama (that part of the story was somehow overlooked with that “they’ll fly the part in” talk we were given yesterday). Well the dealer there needs to do something with the part, and then drive it down here, so the bottom line is maybe 1 or 2 o’clock before he is running. Not a boat that is heading out today. So it’s back to the group, and checking the feelings on throwing in a few extra bucks per person to negotiate our way out of this “hostage divers held captive at the dock” situation. OK, $100 will make it all better, so we begrudgingly agree to toss in an extra $25 each for today. Captain #2 accepts it, and first problem of the day is solved. And that lack of divemaster issue – well it went away with the extra $100 too.

Now let’s see how our tanks are doing. The six sets of doubles are still hooked up to the fill station, and the pressure gauge on the wall reads 3,500 psi. That sounds like a good start, so we ask “Hello, does anyone know if these are done?” “Hello? Hello?” Something is mumbled, so we think the most prudent thing to do is to analyze the tanks ourselves. So out comes the IVS trimix analyzer, and we test the tanks. The mix asked for was 21% oxygen, 35% helium, and the balance (44%) nitrogen. All six sets test out at 28% oxygen, 21% helium, 51% nitrogen. Our dive plan today is to a depth of 180 feet. That puts our partial pressure of oxygen at 1.82 ata. Now that sure sounds like a recipe for a “shaking all over while we convulse violently and spit out our regulators and drown sort of day” Hmmm……

So we ask, “hey, what’s up with the tanks?”, “what do you mean”, is the reply, then quickly “we had some problems with the helium, we don’t have enough tank pressure, and we have more coming over from the supplier right now”. “Well, I say, these tanks are filled completely, and if we dove them, we would all die from oxygen toxicity, no question about it”. “Is your tank filler a certified gas blender?” I ask. ”Of course!” is the reply. Yeah, right. I guess he was going to somehow ask some of the oxygen molecules to begin an orderly exit from the tanks, while he magically got the 2,200 psi helium supply to push its way into the 3,500 psi tanks. Maybe it’s me, but I have a hard time with that math. On top of that, I’d be dead, and so would my fellow divers. So, since the physics cannot be denied, and these folks don’t believe in gas blending software, the tanks are then opened and drained completely, once again wasting all the money in helium and oxygen that we left in there from before and the additional gas that was added by the local dive center last night. These guys apparently can only start from zero when they are filling.

And, one of our divers nitrox tanks are filled wrong, cause the fill technician had a hard time understanding the difference between a low pressure and a high pressure tank. Go figure, maybe, just maybe, that’s why all those numbers are stamped in the tank top! So instead of adjusting the mix, they “need” to drain the tanks completely and start fresh (Again, I guess that partial pressure blending concept is not practiced in Pensacola).

At least our EAN 50% deco bottles are right as is our 100% O2 hang bottle. Of course, we checked each one of these ourselves. Not a good sense of trust here with the shop personnel.

So now we wait while all the tanks that we brought over last night and that were filled last night and that caused us to delay this morning while the weather deteriorates are being refilled.

Morning fade into mid-day, various local boats are cancelling due to weather, and our group is losing the desire to go out and get beat up. Some decide to sit out the day, so of course now the financial accounting no longer works for the captain, and we decide this might be a perfect day to visit the naval base and naval air museum here in town. Enough said about diving today. The good news is that our tanks are finally full, and with the right blends this time!

After an afternoon of tooling about and enjoying the sights and sounds of Pensacola, the phone finally rings with the word from the captain of our first boat. “Gimme the good news”, I shout excitedly into the phone. “I’ve got no good news”, comes the somber reply, as he relates how the repairs to the engine did not go as planned, and he is down for another week or two.

The curse of the Oriskany continues!

Never ones to waste full tanks, and knowing that there will be no Oriskany in our plans tomorrow, we decide to plan a visit to one of Florida’s natural springs and caverns. So off to dinner we go, with laptops and mapquest and all the other tools needed to plan the alternate dive day.

Oriskany (not!) Diving – Day 3

With a revised dive plan clearly in hand, Team IVS awoke early, checked out of our hotel, and headed 90 miles east to Ponce de Leon, FL. Our destination was Vortex Springs, a site we have not yet visited, and one which certainly seemed worth checking out! We arrived on site around 9 a.m., got signed in, spent close to an hour with the very customer friendly staff in the dive shop, and finally headed out to get our first dive in. Vortex Springs is quite the gem as it has fantastic visibility, depths from zero to 160 ft, and open water, cavern, and full cave environments for everyone to enjoy! The fish life is great too, with Shadow Bass, American Eels, Koi, Bluegills and all the other usual characters to be found.

Our first dive was to familiarize ourselves with the site, and we enjoyed a great open water / cavern dive experience, with depths to almost 60 feet. We also worked on frog kick techniques for the cave environment, as well as buoyancy control and some fine-tuning on our weighting. After that, it was time to plan some limited penetration into the cave, and so we worked with the team to understand how to lay and use lines and reels, line arrows, jump & gap reels, and some of the finer techniques of avoiding silt-outs and maintaining team communications.

So off we went on our second dive, with some of the team deciding to remain in the cavern zone while the rest of us began the penetration. We managed about 300 ft of penetration into the black-as-night cave zone, passing the Grim Reaper signs, the Stop Signs, and ended with a max. depth of 100 feet when we reached the locked gate preventing us from further penetration. Some underwater discussion in a submerged bell ended in laughter as the high helium mix we were using caused all of us to sound like a bunch of diving Donald Ducks! We reached the turnaround point, using the rule of thirds on gas consumption, and headed back out to join up with the rest of the team. Another good, safe and fun dive under our belts.

Back on land, out comes the gourmet lunch fest that Steve’s wife Dena had prepared for us, and with Jennifer’s RV serving as our field kitchen, we enjoyed a fantastic lunch of home made soup, chili, spaghetti, sausage and meatballs. Team IVS sure knows how important a happy tummy is to diving! After lunch, we enjoyed a nap in the sun at waterside, just another perfect chapter in a perfect day.

So now it’s time to step it up a notch – let’s get the key to the underwater gate and see what lies beyond! With key in hand, we enter the water, and begin our descent again, through the cavern, through the first cave system, and to the gate at 100 feet. Escorted by eels, blind fish of several varieties, darkness, and the never-ending splendor of the submerged cave system, we were ready to see where this sub-aquatic path might lead us. Checking gas supplies, reconfirming the deco plan, we unlocked the gate, secured the lock to avoid being locked in, and began our penetration. We explored an additional 500 feet of the cave system, through some minor restrictions (read: scraping and clawing through but making it with all gear intact) and finally reached a major restriction at 156 ft depth, which coincided with being close enough to our turn-pressure to call the dive there and start to head back out. Through the restrictions, past the variety of sights and critters that dwelled there, closing and locking the gate, and finally emerging back into daylight – what a great dive!

Back on shore, the quiet is broken by the sound of the brewskies being opened, and the team enjoyed a round of fine Pedrone cigars while toasting a great upturn in what could have been a very disappointing dive trip. Moments like these really show the character of IVS divers and the ‘git’r done’ attitude when it comes to making the best of every dive opportunity that comes our way.

Count on a visit to Vortex Springs to be part of next year’s Oriskany dive plans!