June 8, 2011 - Keeps Getting Better

Newcomers, feel free to peruse a few of the previous postings to get the gist of my blog dive report.

The M/V Olympus heading out to sea through
 the Morehead City Waterfront.
This past weekend continued to produce some fine diving conditions on the wrecks of the Carolina Coast with Olympus Dive Center on board the M/V Midnight Express.  After a few days off from the Memorial Day weekends mad dive rush we ran full day charters only on Saturday the 4th and Monday the 6th with a half day on Sunday. This lull in the action is only temporary since many school systems in the south and on the East Coast have yet to let out.  We are anticipating running seven days a week soon enough and we are geared up for it.  In fact this weekend coming will be jammed for me and my crew with full day and half days trips Friday through Sunday.  Let me quickly explain the difference between a full day and a half day charter.  If you already know the difference then skip to the next paragraph.  A full day charter leaves the dock at 7AM with the intention of diving two dives while the half day trip departs at 4PM and is a single tank dive on an inshore wreck with a maximum depth of 60 feet.  These half day trips are great for new divers looking to get there feet wet before heading out to the deeper wrecks or who can't fit a full day of diving in to there schedule.

John Thompson returning to the
"Midnight Express" for the 2011
season.  Welcome back John!
I wanted to announce the return of first mate, John Thompson to the "Midnight Express".  John had previously worked as first mate for the "Midnight" a few years back and after traveling around the Caribbean and working in the dive business he decided he needed a fix on Outer Banks wreck diving.  John will be offering his great level of expertise and his 'special' brand of humor to the operation of the "Midnight Express".  John also has the distinct honor of being the founder and president of a non for profit organization, Soldiers Undertaking Disabled SCUBA(SUDS) at Walter Reed Army Medical Center (WRAMC) and Ft. Belvoir, VA is designed to help improve the lives of injured veterans returning from Iraq & Afghanistan. By training the warriors in a challenging & rewarding activity it can help facilitate the rehabilitation process & promote mobility. Offering this venue provides the soldier with a sport they can enjoy throughout their life.which specializes in training our wounded war veterans how to dive with disabilities incurred while defending our country.  I will be writing a special blog later in the season when the SUDS divers will be joining us for some wreck diving.  Please stay tuned for much more on this.  Otherwise, welcome back John to the Olympus team!

A few of the ECU dive clan.
This past Saturday the "Midnight" had a mixed bag of divers from various locals. We had the usual crowd of rambunctious divers from Eastern Carolina University.  I may have to hire a third crew member to act as bouncer for when these guys get out of hand.  Seriously, it's always a pleasure to have the ECU crowd on board. I'm sure I'll be seeing more of you soon enough.

Once again we were blessed with great weather and it was decided by the group that the wreck of the U-352 followed by a second dive on the USCG Cutter Spar was the order of the day.  The visibility on the sub was about 30-40 feet with a temperature on the bottom about 70 degrees from 70 feet to the bottom at 110' with a toasty temp of about 78-79 degrees F from 70 feet to the surface.  These temperature differences known as thermoclines are not uncommon occurrences in the ocean waters of the Outer Banks.  It is here where the cooler northern waters of the Labrador Current collide with the warmer tropical/sub-tropical waters of the Gulf Stream creating these temperature gradients.  It is also not unheard of having 'reverse' thermoclines occur here where the denser heavier cool water sits on top while a warmer lighter layer sits beneath it.  How exactly this happens is unknown to me but I have seen it happen or should I say felt it on numerous dives in my career diving the Outer Banks.  Generally, in the summer months it is the Gulf Stream that wins over the Labrador creating temperatures from top to bottom in the low eighties with blue water diving to be had.

After all the divers enjoyed themselves to the fullest on the U352 it was time to let them get a taste of the 'Spar' but not before I got to jump in on her first. Once the 'Midnight' was hooked in to the wreck I jumped in with camera in hand to snap a few pics and just chill out for a few minutes.  Anytime I feel a little stressed out at the 'office', I go for a dive and within the first few seconds of being submersed all of the wrinkles get ironed out.  Having this type of therapy at sea is a perk of working in the business.  Prior to making the diving business a full time career for me in 1998, I was employed in the financial printing industry in New York City.  "The financial printing what?" your saying to yourself right now.  Let me just say it was a hectic and boring existence for me and leave it at that.  The job just never felt right on me and since leaving my wing tips and commuter pass behind I have never looked back.  Today my worst day at sea is been better then the best day at the office.  The expression "swimming with the sharks" relates to the struggle to compete up the corporate ladder.  From my own experiences I can say this is a fitting metaphor but the irony today is I swim with the sharks for real and love every minute of it.
Another Sand Tiger Shark.  Do I get tired of
shooting these critters?  No way. (Stock Photo)
Speaking of sharks after ascending down to the Spar it became apparent that the population of Sand Tiger Sharks, usually so prevalent here, has dissipated somewhat.  I found maybe three different sharks milling about but that was all. The dive was still a stunning one with an abundance of other marine life to be had.  I took a few photos of the wreck and decided to call it a dive and head back up.  After briefing the passengers that I only saw a handful of Sharks the divers eagerly began to don there equipment all the same.  It then occurred to me that maybe I was a little jaded.  "Only two or three Sharks" I said laughingly to myself.  For many divers this is all it takes to have a great dive and as well it should be.  The Atlas dive last week (see previous blog 'Sand Tiger Shark invasion') certainly was trippy due to the dozens upon dozens of sharks seen there but not every dive will yield such results.  One must put things in perspective and have a good time regardless of the conditions.  Half the fun of diving is the searching for the unexpected.

By the smile on her face it can be said
she had a great dive.
Once the divers began to return from the Spar, sure enough, most if not all of them enjoyed themselves to the fullest.  One man even showed me a tooth that may have been from a Sand Bar Shark although identifying sharks teeth is not my specialty.  He indicated that the tooth was embedded in the steel hand railing of the wreck.  This shark evidently was gnawing on the rail to purposely lose a few teeth.  Whatever the case may be the shark tooth was a nice find and I'm sure a great memento to the diver.

'Red' and his works of art on display.
Monday June 6, 2011
The "Midnight Express" on Monday had the good fortune of hosting the Giant Stride Dive Shop from Rhode Island who have been diving with Olympus Dive Center since Friday of last week.  Headed up by the owner of Giant Stride, 'Red' Goodin the Rhode Island 'boys' wanted to dive the wreck of the Hutton aka Papoose since they got here and today was to be there last chance for 2011.  So without fail I pointed the bow of the 'Midnight' due south to the Hutton at 0700 on Monday morning.  As you may have read in previous blogs, the Hutton is one of the further trips offshore but usually well worth the long haul and today would prove to be no exception to that rule.  After about two hours and fifteen minutes we arrived at the wreck on a calm and clear day. My mate, Mike got us secured to the wreck and reported at least 60 feet of visibility and plenty of sharks wandering around on the bottom.  All the ingredients for a stunning dive were in place.  I went to the dive deck at the back of the boat and gave all the divers the 'skinny' on the dive to come and stressed that the max depth was about 120' and to use caution on this deep dive.  After giving a few other safety pointers I started to notice the divers eyes beginning to glaze over with there minds inevitably focused on the dive that was to come if I would ever finish the briefing.  So without further adieu I dropped the chains that prevent passengers from falling over board while underway and began throwing them overboard.  Well maybe not throwing them but guiding them in to the water.
'Red' and the 'Boys' from Giant Stride Divers.
See you next year!
Soon after the divers began to return one by one and all seem to have another fantastic dive.  Some couldn't stop talking about the enormous Groupers they spotted peering out from behind wreckage with there big bulbous eyes.  Others of course commented on the prevalent Sand Tigers.  Some divers merely liked exploring and having a swim around inside the wreckage.  Whatever they all did it seemed to be a dive for the log book with four stars scribed at the header.

Zach sporting some brand new
dive gear by SCUBA pro.
Once all were back on board it was my turn to see what all the hoopla was and try my hand at some photography.  When diving in such deeper depths you don't have as much bottom time so you have to work steady but quickly.  Devise a plan for your shoot and stick to that plan.  My plan was to head to the stern section of the wreck.  The Hutton today rests upside down and the keel juts upwards ending at the rudder post making it one of the more prominent parts of the wreck.  I wanted to find a spot down low and shoot this section of the stern with sharks and bait fish swimming about it.  Simple plan right?  Now I just need to get the sharks where I want them.  Not so simple right?  Patients is key when trying to get 'the shot'.  At first I set myself up on the back side of the wreck but noticed there were only a few sharks in the area and none where I wanted them to be.  So I quietly swam around to the other side and found a bit more action over there.  I hung in one spot and simply waited.  Sure enough one medium size shark swam up along the wreck with a healthy bait ball swirling around him and I managed to squeeze off a few shots that went in to the keeper category in the back of my head as soon as I took them.  Sometimes you just know when you got a decent photo.  The composition of these shots was not exactly what I wanted but nice all the same.  I waited a few more minutes to see if anything else would develop but with no luck.  It was time to head up.  
As a photographer, if you can come back
to the boat with one decent picture then
the dive was a success. (New)
Even though the dive at the bottom was over in no way was the dive or the photo shoot over.  You never know what will swim out of the blue on your way to the surface.  One's eyes should always be diverted up and down, left and right.  Something interesting will swim by you such as a turtle, dolphins or today a very large school of Barracuda.  As I swam under the boat to head up I saw them down current a little ways and decided to trail back to get a few shot.  There were so many Cuda's I couldn't count them.  Luckily I was able to get close enough to the school and snap a few photos without loosing site of the "Midnight".  Once I had what I wanted I swam back to the ladder, climbed up and said "hey there are a bunch of Barracuda under the boat".  If I had a nickel for every diver that climbed the ladder and said the same thing I would be the owner of brand new Nikon D3. I could only chuckle at myself.

Just a few Barracuda on the wreck of the
Hutton aka Papoose. (New)
Sand Tiger Shark on the wreck of the
WE Hutton aka Papoose.  Not the shot
I wanted but I was happy with it.  (New)  

A diver making the splash with a pair of doubles.

For the second dive we headed a fewmiles closer to shore and dived the Spar once again.  She is a great second dive wreck since the upper portions of her sit in around 75 feet of water with a max depth of 110 feet which will yield longer bottom times.  The Spar had the same conditions as two days prior and all seem to enjoy it as usual.  The weather held out nicely making for a nice ride home especially when a few dolphins came swimming up to us to play and ride our bow.  I slowed down some and got the attention of the passengers and invited them up on to the bow to watch them.  For several minutes they darted in front of the 'Midnight' before disappearing from site just as I had my camera in hand and readied to take a shot.  Oh well.  I'm sure I will have another opportunity soon enough.  Another perk of the job I guess.

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Also visit my web site http://www.evolutionunderwater.com/ for additional photos for this blog plus see a complete portfolio of my photography and video excerpts from my documentary films.

To dive the wrecks of North Carolina with www.olympusdiving.com please contact us for more information.

Happy Diving!
Mike Gerken

1 comment:

Renea said...

Hey Mike, great reading! I could picture every bit as I was reading this (pun intended!) :D So when ARE you going to purchase that new D3 and sell your old stuff? LOL

Thanks for the blog though...I enjoy reading them!


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