June 29, 2011 - The U-352 or Bust!

To all newcomers to my dive blog report please see my previous postings to get the gist of this blog.
The Olympus Dive Center, Morehead City, NC.
This past weekend the Midnight Express had many divers joining us including a group from Columbia SCUBA in Maryland who drove down for two days of diving on Saturday and Sundays charters.  Unfortunately, on Saturday, Mother Nature had a different agenda for these folks other than diving.  She blew her winds pretty hard forcing all the boats to stay at the dock (see last weeks blog).  Everyone looking to spend a day on the ocean and underneath it with Olympus Dive Center would have to use there imaginations and find other attractions in the area to preoccupy their time.  Some went to the North Carolina Aquarium at Pine Knoll Shores, others might have walked the beaches while some wandered around the dive shop with hands in their pockets. You see, dive shops are much more than a place to get dive training, purchase equipment and sign up for dive charters.  They are places where some go to socialize, find old friends, make new ones and tell a few dive stories while they wait for the weather to improve so they can GO DIVING!  
The Olympus Dive Center, the crux of all diving
activities on the Carolina Coast.  (Notice the cool photos on the wall ;)
Saturday was such a scene.  Divers could be seen lurking in the T-Shirt section staring at the same shirts over and over again while others sat slouched at the table with rueful looks on their faces but with optimistic attitudes.  Various conversations popped up amongst different circles of people about the best diving, the best regulator or the best place for a slice of Pizza in Morehead City (which happens to be Luigi's).  I do love the dive shop environment.  There are few places where I can go to share my love for diving. One such place to find this type of camaraderie that is better than the dive shop would be on my dive boat the Midnight Express doing 17 knots due south on  flat calm day heading for the wreck of the Spar, the U-352, the W.E. Hutton aka Papoose, or any of a dozen stellar dive sights off the Carolina Coast.
The T-shirt section of Olympus Dive Center where many a diver
wander aimlessly on 'blow days'.
Sunday morning I awoke at the usual hour of about 0445 and stumbled across my townhome in to my office and flipped open my Mac and powered her up.  The intense light from the computer screen causes me to groan and hide my face as though I'm some sort of vampire.  After my eyes adjust to the sting the first web site I head to is the National Oceanic & Atmospheric Administration buoy reports.  These ocean buoys positioned in many places around the globe report information such as water temperature, salinity content, currents, and most importantly to us wave height and wind speed.  After a precursory glance I deemed the conditions to be much improved than the prior day with a good chance of making offshore to our desired dive locations.  The rest of my morning is spent packing up some food, inhaling breakfast, throwing on a crew shirt and heading out to the dive shop (yes, I also put shorts on).

I arrived at the shop and life is abuzz again with word spreading that we are a go for the days diving.  Tanks are loaded and equipment stowed on board. My group from Columbia Divers heads up the roster while an assortment from other destinations rounds it up to 18 divers on the Midnight Express.  I already knew from the day before that the vast majority of passengers want to dive the infamous German U-Boat, the wreck of the U-352.  I said I would do all that I can do within the realm of safe boating and diving to make it happen.  Once all were on board my crew cast off the lines and we headed out towards Beaufort Inlet.
The U-352 during WWII.
After getting out past the criss crossed choppy currents of the inlet we head south directly in to a fairly large ocean swell but with ample space between the waves where I could make decent headway but not without feeling like you were on a low budget amusement park ride.  Uuuuuup and dooooown, uuuuuup and dooooown.  We make it to our destination in a timely fashion and dive mate, John Thompson, would be the one to tie us in to the wreck.  
John dons his flaming pink weight belt and layers up with a mere 3mm neoprene sleeveless vest and his board shorts, grabs the anchor and leaps over the side on my orders holding a very expensive well insured SLR housed camera in his free hand. John is a man of many contrasts indeed.  After about a half a minute I get a pleasant call up from John on the headset.  "About 50 foot of visibility with a Giant Southern Stingray and a Loggerhead Sea Turtle within eye shot" he reports. Very cool.  This had the potential for a good dive.

I head to the back deck and immediately assess that some of the divers were looking a little green in the gills due to the pitching and yawing of the vessel from the large swell left over from the rough seas the day before.  A quick but thorough briefing was in order for this dive.  "190' long tube with a conning tower in the middle, starboard list, 110 feet max depth, no current and 50 foot of visibility now lets go diving!" I say.  Of course I also went through the safety routines as well but, today I would have to spare them though the details of the in depth and fascinating history of this wreck and get them all on there way to the bottom.
Mate,  John Thompson making the perfect 'jump' with mate, Mike Phillips assisting.
Notice the SLR housed camera in hand.  An insured SLR camera that is.
Photo courtesy of Chris Walker www.chriswalkerphotos.com.
After a few minutes nearly all of the divers made a drop over the side of the boat, drained some air from their buoyancy compensators and disappeared down the anchor line heading for the U-352. New readers to my blog can  peruse previous postings and find lots of information on the U-352.  Plus I will be posting a story I wrote on the wreck that is to be published in a European dive magazine.  In the mean while I will skip to the end of the dive.  Once all the divers were back on board it was no surprise that all enjoyed the U-352 emphatically.  Many even wanted to stay for a second dive on this epic wreck but it was my suggestion to get the vessel underway as soon as possible due to the prevalent seasickness on board.  A moving boat at slow speeds is a better remedy than sitting at anchor bobbing up and down, back and forth.  It was decided to head over to the USCG Cutter Spar for our second dive.

In short, the Spar proved to be a worthy dive on this day and all were very pleased that we managed to salvage the weekend and get offshore for some diving amongst adverse weather conditions.  As the day progressed, the seas diminished some and the ride home with a following sea was considerably more comfortable then the ride out.  Once back at the dock I said thank you all for diving with Olympus and we hope to see you again.  I then gave advice to the many hungry divers on board where to grab a good cheeseburger and a cold beer.  Most had not eaten a thing all day and once back on to the stable platform of the dock the ill began to rise back to life with powerful appetites and not to mention a few awesome dive stories.
The stern of the Midnight Express with Josh on
the leftCapt. Mike Gerken in the middle and mate,
Mike Phillips on lower right.  Photo courtesy of Chris Walker

The balance of the week was pretty quiet for myself and the crew of the Midnight Express in preparation for the 4th of July weekend that is fast approaching.  As of press time the weather forecast is promising and the schedule looking good as well.  In my next blog I hope to have lots of new photos, a video clip or two and a few funny anecdotes to share as well.  The hour is getting late for me right now and I have a charter tomorrow Thursday, June 30th and I will have to cut this short.  My alarm is already set for 0445 once again.  I'll see you around the dive shop.

Happy Diving!

-Mike Gerken

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Please visit my web site www.evolutionunderwater.com to see video excerpts from my documentary films and a complete underwater photographic portfolio of my work.  Purchase fine art prints and DVD's of my films here as well.

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

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