June 14, 2011 - The Coolest Job

Please refer to my previous postings to familiarize yourself with the theme of this blog.
The Morehead Waterfront at sunrise.  
Over the weekend, on a single tank half day charter, an enthusiastic young man said to me after his first or one of his first ocean dives on the wreck of the USS Indra "you have the 'coolest' job in the world!".  I was a little taken aback at first and didn't know how to respond until I merely said something like, "Thanks, yes I do enjoy my work".  I walked up to the wheel house and mulled over what he had just said to me.  Every once in a while I need to be reminded of how lucky I am to be able to do what I do and earn a living doing it.  He was right.  I do have a 'cool' job.  I get to take people diving and use all my powers to show them a good time.  Luckily, more times than not my crew and I are successful with plenty of great stories to be passed around at the end of a day. I should also however add that every so often a diver will say to me "you have an awesome job it's like your are on permanent vacation".  I politely correct the individual and respond "don't be mistaken, this is a job.  An exciting, fun and fulfilling one albeit but a job all the same".  So in short, thank you to the young newly certified diver who reminded me in his excited way that I do have a very 'cool' job.  
The Wreck of the USS Indra.  (Stock)
This past weekend contained some fantastic diving once again with Olympus Dive Center.  The "Midnight Express" was host to an assortment of divers from all over with a first time visit by instructor and group leader Miko Chavchavadze of Patriot SCUBA in Northern Virginia.
I first met Miko on board the Truk Odyssey back when I was the captain in 2007-2008 (I will be writing about my experiences in Truk in future blogs).  Miko had heard I was captain of the "Midnight Express" with Olympus and figured the diving must be pretty good so he grabbed a bunch of divers and headed on down to check it out.  His group was here for only two days so it was in the order of priorities to hit the 'must dive' wreck while the weather was cooperating and head out to dive the German WWII submarine, the U-352.

The wreck of the USS Schurz. (Stock)
But before diving the sub we dived the wreck of the USS Schurz on Saturday since it is a few miles further offshore.  The Schurz had not disappointed a few weeks ago and odds were in our favor that another great dive was to be had.  Sure enough we had at least 40-50' of visibility and 72 degrees on the bottom with a few Sand Tiger Sharks to be found amongst the dense fish population down there.  All the divers seemed to agree whole heartedly that the Schurz was a top dive.  Since all the planets were aligned and the weather was nice I decided I would do a dive here and take some photos underwater of this stunning wreck.  Over the years I have gotten in to a 'fail safe' routine in making sure my housing that contains my Nikon SLR was water tight and fully functional.  I test fire the strobes and checked that my controls are all working.  I did nothing different today and was handed my camera by Mike, the mate on the 'Midnight', and headed down to the wreck.  I slowly swam about the Schurz looking for a worthy subject.  After about 4 minutes I came across what seemed like a very cooperative Sand Tiger Shark.  I got my strobes set up, my exposure settings adjusted and framed a nice close up of this shark with a bait ball swirling around him.  I squeezed the trigger and whammo!  Nada, zilch, nothing.  No strobes fired.  I tried again and again.  Zippo.  @!#%^ I colorfully mumbled in to my regulator.  I'm at 110 feet and my camera malfunctioned and was useless.  An underwater photographer without a functioning camera is like a painter without a brush.  I quickly ascertained that water probably seeped in to the strobe cable shorting out the wiring.  I couldn't even stay down to merely enjoy the dive.  I had to ascend immediately and check out the gear.  The camera nearly always takes priority.  It just costs too much darn money to ignore.  So I got up to the boat, got my happy face on and went about my business.  "Stuff happens" I said in not those exact words.  It's that simple.  I soon ascertained that the camera had no major damage and the day on the ocean was a beautiful one so no sense in whining.  There will be other dives.
The wreck of the German U-Bpat the U352. (Stock)
As soon as the boat was ready we headed over to the U352 so everyone could get there first glimpse of this incredible historical WWII artifact.  The visibility was about 30-40 feet with temps in the low seventies.  Not the best viz but certainly far from the worst.  Once the divers began returning I started to hear the same pleasant superlatives that I hear most every time.  "Awesome", "incredible", interesting" were a few of the words used to describe the 'Sub'.  One diver even approached me and asked if we could go to the U-352 again tomorrow.  I said $100 cash in my back pocket and I will take you anywhere.  Of course I'm only joking.  I said "if you can get the consensus to go back I will try to get you there.  No problem."  Unfortunately for this guy the group had bigger plans for the following day.  With my camera still drying off and suffering from a bad dive I turned the 'Midnight' for home and headed back with a boat load of contented divers.
Enjoying the ride on the deck of the "Midnight Express".
Divers Jennifer and Bill at the stern of the "Midnight Express"
soaking in a few rays on a calm day.

Sunday June 13, 2011
Today Miko and his band of Patriot Divers wanted to see the wreck of the W.E. Hutton aka Papoose.  If I haven't already explained this name I will do so again.  There were numerous ships sunk off the coast of North Carolina during the war.  With much of the unfortunate chaos going on not all of the wrecks names had been identified correctly.  In short, the wreck of the Papoose was actually the W.E. Hutton.  The wreck of the W.E. Hutton was actually the Ario.  Get it?  Since the Papoose was called the Papoose for so many years it is hard for everyone to agree on saying the proper name.  Too much confusion ensues.  But since I am somewhat of a history buff I prefer to state the facts when ever possible.  So I call the Papoose the W.E. Hutton aka Papoose in the name of historical accuracy. I think I may write more about this in a future blog.  In the mean time lets move on.  

Looking out of the hold of the over turned
wreck of the W.E. Hutton aka Papoose. (Stock)
The wind and seas once again were beautiful.  Not flat calm but very close to it.  We made great time navigating out to the W.E. Hutton aka Papoose in about 2 hours and fifteen minutes.  Inevitably, one or two guys always poke there heads up in the the wheelhouse during the long journey and ask like a couple of kids on a family outing from the back of the station wagon "we almost there yet".  I smile and say "yes we are almost there".  I really do love this job.

I sent my mate Mike in to tie up and he quickly reported that we had about 60+ foot of viz and 73 degrees or better on the bottom.  Mother nature seemed to offer us a great dive opportunity on this day.  As it would be the mother ship of Olympus Dive Center, the M/V Olympus captained by Robert Purifoy arrived a few minutes before us and would be tied up about 150' away.  We would both be privy to some great diving.  Soon enough we began getting the excited divers in to the water one after the other and watch them slip beneath the waves on there way down to the wreck.  Now the crew and I needed only to enjoy the sun and calm seas and wait for the divers to return.  After about 25 minutes the first diver clambered up the dive ladder and began to give a very positive report about the dive.  
You all know I like smilin' divers.
"Sand Tiger Sharks aplenty, tons of fish and great viz" they would say as each returned.  As the divers were returning I looked over to the Olympus and noticed Captain Robert suiting up for a dive.  I yelled across to him "you heading in?"  I quickly realized that was dumb question.  What was he getting his wetsuit on to relax on the sun deck?  Anyway, I saw a great opportunity to go diving with Robert and this coincidence does not occur every day.  The odds of both captains getting to dive at the same time only happens a few times a year.
Zach's back!  'Peace out' Zach.
Since my still camera was in the hospital I would break out my UW video rig and shoot some video with Robert and the Sand Tigers.  Just before I jumped Robert yelled over "one of our divers shot some video of a 'school' of Gray Reef Sharks.  "a school", I said.  "Hmmm, it was on", I murmured.  Gray Reefs are not unheard of but are rare all the same here on the wrecks in NC.  To see multiple sharks at once does not happen often. I grabbed my faithful oldie but a goodie Sony VX2000 and leaped over the side.  As I headed down the anchor line the wreck very quickly started coming in to focus 70-80 feet beneath me.  I spotted Robert milling about under the rudder and slowly dropped in to the sand to shoot the entire upside down stern section with dozens of Groupers eyeing me from the fringe of my view.  After swimming around the inside of the wreck with Robert and shooting the dense bait fish my video lights crapped out on me and I headed outside the wreck to shoot with ambient light.  No need to abort the dive without lights.  There was plenty of sunlight to shoot with down there today.  I managed to get a few shots of Robert videoing the Sand Tigers and then I ventured out in to the sand a little to see if the Gray Reefs were about.  Sure enough I spotted one in the distance and then another.  
A Gray Reef Shark taken in Truk Lagoon Micronesia.  (Stock)
After waiting patiently for a minute or two and breathing very slowly and quietly a Gray Reef came in closer for a look at the funny looking fish with the big metal things and bubbles pouring out of his face.  I managed to get a few decent video shots of the Gray Reefs before turning my attention to the multitudes of large Groupers swimming about the sand as well as the Sand Tiger Sharks.  My video camera was rolling steady now.  At last I focused my camera on the enormous school of Amberjacks terrorizing the dense school of bait fish.  The school of Jacks would attack in large numbers and chase the bait in to tight bait balls within the cracks and crevices of the wreck.  Many of the bait fish sought refuge within the wreck.  At one point as I was filming suddenly everything got dark and there were bait fish completely surrounding me.  Visibility dropped to a few inches.  I kept the camera rolling and waited for the swarm to dissipate. As it did the Jacks came in to focus as they swam aggressively about me.  It was a stunning site to watch over and over again the Jacks dive down like German 'Stuka' dive bombers creating a deluge of fear on the bait and then climb hard and fast upwards until disappearing from sight.  Nature is amazing in that it is both beautiful and serene yet hostile and brutal all at the same time.  She never ceases to amaze me.  
Check out this link to my web site below where you can watch the edited video short of this wonderful dive on the W.E. Hutton aka Papoose.

Link to Video W.E. Hutton aka Papoose June 12, 2011

Dustin with his Canon SLR and Subal housing.
I regretfully returned to the "Midnight Express" and began preparing the boat to get underway and looked over to the Olympus and merely shrugged my shoulders at Robert as though words could not describe the dive we just experienced.  We both mumbled something at each other over the short stretch of ocean probably not understanding what either of us said but getting the point all the same and merely went about our business.

The Olympus decided to stay on the Papoose for a second dive while we made way for the USCG Cutter Spar.  Miko's gang wanted to check out another wreck site since they only had two days to dive with us and I was happy to oblige.  The Spar was indeed a nice dive but the legendary horde of Sand Tigers inhabiting the wreck the years past has been somewhat absent so far in this 2011 season.  There were a few Sharks on the wreck and a plentitude of other fish species with about 40' of visibility.  The wreck all the same seemed to be a hit with the divers due to its shallower depths and intact structure making it suitable for a longer dive that is easier to navigate and penetrate within it.  It looked like Miko had been performing some training dives with his students and the Spar is certainly ideal for that.  
Miko pondering his dive.

All in all it was a very successful day of diving and the crew got the 'Midnight' underway and headed towards home with a calm sea and a slight tail wind making the trip all the easier.  Once at the dock hands were shaken, business cards exchanged and hopes of return trips back to Olympus and the Wrecks of North Carolina were made.  Thanks a million to Miko and his band of divers from Patriot SCUBA and also to Jennifer, Bill, John, Bud, George and all the others whose names  regrettably slipped my mind.
In the mean time I am patiently waiting for some parts to repair my camera housing with and I hope to be up and shooting stills by the weekend.  I will admit, I have been enjoying shooting video once again this past few weeks.  I haven't shot much of it since leaving Truk Lagoon in 2008.  I wanted to focus all my attention on still photography these past few years instead.  I don't have a favorite medium to work in its just that sometimes it is hard to do both really well when you have limited time underwater.  If I had another one of me at my disposal I would be shooting both video and stills.  It looks like I may have to upgrade to an SLR camera that shoots quality stills as well as HD video such as the Nikon D7000.  Lots to think about.  
This is how divers catch a few zzz's on
surface interval.

Many thanks to Fred Dion of Backscatter East for getting my camera housing parts out to me as quickly as he did and for always giving solid advice.  Backscatter Photo and Video specializes in underwater photo and video systems and has stores on both the East and West Coast of the USA.  There services to this small specialty industry are enormous.  Thanks Fred! 

Please visit my web site www.evolutionunderwater.com to see a complete portfolio of my still photography and video excerpts from my documentary films.

Also, follow me at my Facebook company page, Evolution Underwater Imaging (by Mike Gerken) for latest updates and dive reports.

Contact www.olympusdiving.com to find out more information on how to dive the Graveyard of the Atlantic with Olympus Dive Center.
The Olympus tying up at the dock.
"Good catch Bud!"

Happy Diving!

Mike Gerken

1 comment:

Renea said...

Great read as usual. So sorry about your camera! Ditto on Backscatter....love them!

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