May 1, 2011 - Welcome Aboard

Visit to see video shorts highlighting the shark action from the 2011 season at Olympus Dive Center.  
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Diver and Sand Tiger Shark.
May 1, 2011

Welcome to my first entry for my daily or weekly blog report on the latest activities as captain of the "Midnight Express" at Olympus Dive Center (see in Morehead City, NC.  (Also visit to learn more about Mike).  This is my third season as captain with Olympus and I am very excited to be back.  I will be posting the latest news and events of my dive charters visiting the famous wrecks of North Carolina, giving condition reports, interesting sightings and showing some of my latest topside pics and underwater photos and video.

Yesterday was my first charter of the 2011 season with Olympus and I could not have asked for a better day.  When I arrived at Olympus at 0545AM the dock was already abuzz with divers loading gear on to both boats, the "Olympus" and the "Midnight".  For divers who have have never dived the wrecks of North Carolina or who are newer divers the look of trepidation on there faces is only alleviated by their excitement to go diving where they have never been before. 

A school of Atlantic Spade Fish.
On this day we have 18 college students from Eastern Carolina University and there instructor joining us to complete a variety of training dives to go toward there college credit dive courses right before summer break sets in for them all.

Leaving the dock went as smooth as it could go.  The trip out to Beaufort Inlet was beautiful with a gentle wind blowing from the North causing the inlet to be smooth with only a gentle swell from the south.  Today the target destination was to be the USCGS Spar (see which lies approximately 28 nautical miles south of the inlet.  The trip took about 1:40 minutes with no delays.  After a long cold winter (with a bit of skiing) it was great to be back on the ocean and by the sound of the passengers milling below deck and on the upper deck they seemed to be happy to be there as well.

Arriving at the dive site my mate, Mike preps the anchor line and readies his gear to tie the "Midnight" up to the Spar.  For those of you have never dived off North Carolina, the process is very simple but exciting.  Well exciting for the mate that is.  With the use of electronics I maneuver the boat over the desired tie in location.  My mate is standing along the port rail dressed in full SCUBA and holding the grappling hook in his hands. He jumps off the boat on my go ahead while I am back down to prevent him from getting behind me.  He immediately swims straight down carrying the hook, chain and line.  If the drop was a good one he will end up within 10 feet of the desired tie in spot and secure the hook to the wreck.  At this point he presses the communication button on his full face mask and speaks to me directly in the helm where I am wearing headphones.  He tells me all is ok and gives me a condition report.  He says, "68 degrees with 25-30 feet of visibility on the bottom with plenty of Sand Tiger Sharks milling about". It is by far the fastest, most efficient and safest way to get a dive boat tied up to the wreck.

After giving a briefing and telling them how to dive with Sharks the excited but anxious divers start entering the water with a giant stride and a 4 foot drop to the surface.  Kirplunk. One by one they drop in and disappear under the water. 

After about twenty to thirty minutes the divers begin to return and clamber back up the ladder most with a look of excitement and even a few enthusiastic expletives from some of the divers.  For many this was the first time they had ever seen a shark up close and personal so much as a 8-9 foot Sand Tiger Shark! (See

With out a doubt Sand Tigers are one of my favorite marine critters to photograph underwater and the wreck of the Spar is a great place to see them.  The Spar sits in 110' of water with the very top of the wreck at 80'.  With the warm clear waters of the Gulf Stream pushing close to the Outer Banks, the visibility averages 50-60' edging up to over 100' on a good day.  Once the summer sets in water temps will climb to 80 degrees easily which is warm enough for most every fair weather diver.

The divers on board the "Midnight" all return safe and sound and settle in for a two hour break before conducting there second dive of the day.  The wind begins to pick up and the seas start to build immediately.  I sadly opt to stay on the boat and keep an eye on the weather rather than go diving.  So unfortunately I have no photos to show today but the season will be a long one with at the least 100 charters to come.

The second dive on the Spar goes pretty much the same as the first.  Awesome and more expletives are heard by the ECU divers.  "that was !@#% awesome!", one diver yells out with what sounded like a NY accent.  Judging by the stories and the excitement in which they are told I'd say all had a great day.  

Once all are back on board it is time to head home.  My mate jumps in and unhooks the "Midnight" from the Spar and then surfaces for me to pick him up.  I point the boat towards Beaufort Inlet and start beating in to the choppy three foot seas.  Going was a bit slow at first but once we got closer to land and on the lee of the wind the seas flattened some and we could make better time heading home.  Along the way I spotted a large item floating in the water in an unusual way.  As I got closer it became apparent that it was two Loggerhead Sea Turtles embraced doing what Sea Turtles do.  Happy days!
Carcharias Taurus or a Sand Tiger Shark on the wreck of the USCG Cutter Spar.

As I pulled in to the inlet and made my way back to the Morehead Water front we once again spotted another small Loggerhead Turtle that could have only been maybe 12-16 inches long.  A rare but not unheard of sighting within the Inter-coastal Waterway.  I just hope he can dodge the building boat traffic and eventually find his way back out to sea.

The season here is only just getting going and I do not have another charter scheduled for a week or so.  I will however be conducting presentations to dive clubs in the area in the coming weeks.  Please refer to my web site or Facebook page Evolution Underwater Imaging (by Mike Gerken) to get the schedule.  My home page link is as follows:

Stay tuned for more to come.  I will have photos, video, dive reports and the latest happenings at Olympus and with Evolution Underwater Imaging.

Happy diving!

Mike Gerken

For Mike's UW photo techniques and tips contact him to learn how to sign up for one of his courses that are available both in person and live online via web cam.

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Please visit my web site to see video excerpts from my documentary films and a complete underwater photographic portfolio of my work and purchase fine art prints and DVD's of my films.

If you wish to dive Graveyard of the Atlantic contact Olympus Dive Center for more information.

Olympus Dive Center, Morhead City, NC.
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Mike Gerken


Joe Eiche said...

Great Blog Mike! Takes me back to dives off the Midnight and anxious to get back to the waters of N.C. Look forward to diving with you over 4th of July.


smithju09 said...

it was an awesome dive yesterday, first time most of us have been up close with sand tigers.a big thanks to olympus dive center and mike from the ecu divers! pirates!!!arrghhhh!!!


Annette said...

this is so much fun to read! good Job!

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