August 23, 2011 - "Ain't Over Till It's Over"

Visit to see video shorts from the 2011 season at Olympus Dive Center and click here for more info about myself.

Photo of the Week.
The Bow stem of the Caribsea. (New)
I have been happily slammed with work this past few weeks so I had to throw this blog report together rather speedily. I hope you enjoy it all the same.

Sunset before the Spar night dive.
Night diving 28 nautical miles from land in the open ocean on a wreck with sharks can be intense for the divers participating in such an event as well as the captain who must wait in the dark for all of them to return safely to the boat. On Monday, August 15 my vessel the Midnight Express took a boat load of anxious divers to the wreck of the USCG Cutter Spar for such a dive. Basically, we motor out to the wreck during the afternoon, hook in to it and conduct a day time dive on there followed by a night dive after a surface interval.  Diving during the day time in rough seas is difficult enough. Factor in darkness and logistically it can be a little hairy to say the least. For example, performing any kind of surface rescue at night is challenging for a rescue swimmer since they are doing a rescue the dark. Ladders bobbing up and down can clobber an unwary diver at night due to low visibility and the list goes on.
Snorkeling with Dolphins on the surface interval.
On this evening, to set me at ease, the sea conditions were very calm and the forecast promising. The first dive went off without a hitch on the Spar and the surface interval was more than entertaining when a pod of Dolphins swam around the boat while snorkelers tried to swim after them.  Only my mate, John Thompson, came close but still inches away from touching them. This is exactly how the Dolphins want it. "Look but don't touch", is the motto of most of them. Can't say as I blame them really. Once the surface interval was up and the sun set behind the calm ocean, I briefed everyone on how to safely night dive and opened the 'pool' for a night time of fun and games. Everyone made there way down in to the darkness without a hitch and returned as safe and sound as they had left. Sand Tiger Sharks were spotted on the wreck but not as many as had been in years past. That didn't seem to matter though.  All indicated the dive was great.
Joisey Boys, Rich, Joe and Brian waiting to dive the Spar at night
and then one of them under the dock.
Now it was time to head home under cover of dark to Morehead City. The ride in was fairly uneventful with the exception of a intimidating squall with heavy winds and a bit of lightning overhead. A short detour around the heart of this mess rectified this problem. We arrive back at the dock, I say good bye to everyone and indicate to watch there step departing the boat since the tide was full making the gang plank rather steep. Most heeded my words but for one individual. This is where it got interesting. As I stood at the fish cleaning table at the foot of the ramp cleaning a fish that I had speared during the day time dive I heard someone slip and fall.  As I spun my head around with a filet knife and fish slime all over my hands I see this nameless person slide down the ramp on his butt with a heavy steel dive tank in his hand twisting his arm backwards. If he continued to hold the tank it may have very well snapped his wrist and arm in two. So what did he do? He dropped the tank in to 15 feet of water beneath the dock. After a quick heart pounding assessment I realized the individual was ok and unharmed with the exception of his ego. With steam coming out of my ears I pretended like nothing happened and went back to cleaning my fish. I just travelled 28 miles offshore with 13 divers to dive with sharks at night and returned them safely to the dock to have someone almost break there arm getting off the boat on to the dock. "It's ain't over till it's over", the wise Yogi Berra once said. Man is that ever true. My crew, John and Mike looked at each other with eyes that said "I'm not going in for it". So I told the individual to don a tank and head down in the inky water to look for his tank if he wanted it back. The adventure continues. This person decided to jump in with only a back up tank called a 'Pony' bottle and a mask minus the fins and weight belt. After a few minutes of groping around in the muck with the threat of Bull Sharks ever present while trying to hold himself on to the bottom without a weight belt, he located his tank, placed a line on it and surfaced hugging one of the pilings until his head broke the water. After struggling back up on to the dock, the good natured man now feeling humility surging through him, dried himself off and hobbled his way back to his hotel with his friends ribbing him the whole way there, that evening and well in to the next day (and maybe even for the rest of his life). In the end no one was hurt (at least physically) and all equipment was recovered. End of story.

This guy was a little to far away for a quality shot but I
thought I would share with you anyway. (New)
On Wednesday we managed to dive on the W.E. Hutton aka Papoose with 50-60'  of visibility and water temps in the mid to upper 70's. I managed to sneak away from the boat for a little while and do a dive on her myself with my camera in hand. As I dropped down the last 40 feet I instantly saw a large Loggerhead Sea Turtle bouncing along the bottom with his head erect giving me his full attention. For a moment I had hoped that this turtle would be approachable and I could get a stellar shot of him along side the wreck but it became apparent that he was having nothing to do with humans on this day and slowly ambled his way back out in to the sand all the time never taking his eyes off me and giving plenty of distance between us. I did manage to get a few shots but with a wide angle lens I was way too far away for any kind of quality. 
Capt Robert Purifoy of Olympus Dive Center. (New)
Sometimes you can come across turtles that don't seem to care at all that you are present. Obviously, they make for great photo subjects but not today with this camera shy specimen. I then made my way down towards the other end of the wreck to see what was brewing keeping my eye open for the Dusky Sharks that have been present here throughout the summer. No sign of Dusky's but I did see Captain Robert Purifoy (my boss) of the Olympus. The Olympus was diving the same wreck at the same time. I snapped a few shots of him for posterity purposes before moving on to a covey of Sand Tiger Sharks hunkering down under the wreck. They looked awfully suspicious loitering under there as though they were hanging out in a dark alley. After a few photos of these 'bad boys' it was time to head up. I had a long swim back to the anchor line and my gas supply was getting a tad low.
Sand Tiger Sharks loitering under the wreck of the W.E. Hutton, AKA Papoose. (New)
Evan Kovacs and Maryann Morin on
the deck of the Midnight Express.
On Thursday, besides having a mixed bag of divers from all ends of the Earth diving with us we had a special visit by Evan Kovacs who is the director of 3D photography for the Woods Hole Oceanographic Institution. If you watch much television chances are you have seen some of Evan's work at one point or another. He and his wife Maryann Morin who also works with Woods Hole was just finishing up a job for the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) who have been surveying the WWII wrecks off the Carolina Coast. (Check out the above link for more information on this since I do not have time to elaborate more). Evan was spending a few days scoping out a few of our wrecks off Morehead City for this project while testing one of his underwater 3D video camera systems that was custom built by himself and Woods Hole. As you can see in the photo this rig was fairly substantial and took a little bit of effort to get it in to the water from the deck of the Midnight. I have seen some of the footage that these cameras can take and it is truly amazing.
A custom made 3D underwater camera built by Evan Kovacs
and the Woods Hole Oceanographic Institute.
This baby is powered by a Flux Capacitor.
On this day we dived the Atlas Tanker which has been a stunning dive weeks past (see It Keeps Getting Better Dive Blog Report). Today however, visibility was only around 10-15 feet but these divers wanted to see sharks and they got to see sharks. With visibility this low it is downright creepy diving with dozens of Sand Tiger Sharks but everyone seemed to be pretty jazzed by the dive and not too put off with the 'viz'. In an effort to find better visibility though I relocated the 'Midnight' to the wreck of the 'Hardee's' which was sunk as part of the artificial reef program of NC some years ago. This time we were handed ripping current above the wreck but with 70-80 feet of visibility. I was sure to instruct all the divers to NOT let go of the anchor line on the way down otherwise they would go for a ride. All followed my advise to the 'T' and pulled themselves down the line until the current slacked off some on the bottom. Once again all enjoyed this dive thoroughly with some experiencing strong currents for the first time. If there was a day that bestowed some hearty dive conditions upon the divers it was this one.  First they get low low visibility with Sharks on the Caribsea and then they get a Six Flags anchor line ride on the Hardee's wreck. What a day indeed.
Mate, Mike Philips posing for a shot on the U-352. (New)
On Friday, it was time for our usual visit out to the German Sub, the U-352. This wreck was one that was on Evan's hit list and he for one was pleased to be heading there since he wanted to obtain some preliminary footage of the famous U-Boat from WWII. Hearing that the 'viz' on the Sub was pretty good the past week I too was looking to get some photos that I would be using for an article I am to write for SCUBA Diving Magazine early next year. (I'll keep you posted on when the article is to appear.) I am in need of shots that had divers in them since many of my other Sub photos do not have any. Quite often for a wreck photo to have greater impact on a viewer it requires the addition of the human element. Models can add scale to the image as well as perspective.
Another fine pose by Mike on the conning tower
of the U-352. (New)
Magazines quite often are keen to print photos with divers in them for this reason. Today, I asked my mate Mike if he would model for me next to the Sub where he happily said yes. Let me clarify that his participation was strictly voluntary. In the end I scored a few nice pics of Mike peering in to one of the hatches and hovering around the conning tower. I still need a few more photos but this was a good start.  Evan on the other hand had some technical issues with the camera and did not manage to record any needed 3D footage. Such is the case when you are dealing with an elaborate piece of equipment as this. He took the incident like a true professional and wrote it off as a trial and error experience. One good thing that came out of this day was Evan indicated he may be back to accomplish what he set out for. We would be happy to have him, Maryann and his crew back anytime.

The D2D group on the sun deck of the Midnight Express.
The weekend arrived with the arrival of the D2D group. D2D or Diver to Diver is an online SCUBA chat board through SCUBA Diving Magazines online site. This group of around 13 divers was a great bunch that could have a good time diving in muddy swamp water. However, the dives they did were a long cry from this. On Saturday, they managed to hit the U-352 once again as well as the wreck of the Spar. The conditions on both wrecks were 50-70 feet of viz.  Some said they could see the conning tower of the Sub from the stern which is at least 80 feet away. Pretty good if you ask me. The Spar has had some Sand Tiger Shark sightings this season so far and she did not disappoint. Most divers got to dive with at least three or four sharks.
D2D divers prepping for a dive.
Sand Tiger Sharks schooling over the wreck of the Caribsea. (New)

The bow stem on the Caribsea. (New)
The following day, hearing reports of decent dive conditions on the east side of Lookout Shoals, I decided to take the D2D's over to the wreck of the Caribsea to swim with yet more Sand Tigers. Sure enough upon arrival my mate added that the 'viz' was kind of low at about 15-20 feet but plenty of Sharks to be had. In short, all the divers seemed pretty excited about the first dive so we stayed for a second one. This gave me the opportunity to go in for a dive myself and take my time in the water. As I swam down the line I immediately saw a dozen or so Sharks in mid water swimming in all different directions with a batch of about 30 schooling in to the mild current. I started to snap some pics here before heading over to the bow stem or what's left of it and shoot the bait fish swirling about it with Sharks in the shot for added flavor. After about a 40 minute dive I called it quits and headed on up. No matter how many times I go diving with Sharks I never get tired of seeing and photographing them. It is more fun than one human should be allowed to experience. After I briefed many of the divers that the sharks were mostly on the forward section of the wreck I cut them loose on it. In summary, they all seemed to have a great dive once again.
More "Chuck's" spotted on the Midnight. 
Many divers had handfuls of sharks teeth that they found scattered around the sea bed. With the shark population such as it is here the pickin's were easy. D2D managed to get two great days of diving in and I was happy that I could show them a good time. I hope to see you all back here again soon.

All in all Olympus Dive Center had a very busy week with successful charters had on both boats. At press time on Tuesday night, tomorrow's charter is questionable due to foul weather although we will be checking it out in the morning. We are also tracking Hurricane 'Irene' at this moment and it does not bode well for the Carolina Coast. It looks like this weekends charters will be cancelled and the boats hauled out of the water for safety. This is not the first hurricane that has threatened Morehead City and it likely won't be the last. The great diving offered up by Olympus will be here when it blows over. Let me inform you that September and October are fantastic dive months here. The water is still warm and clear and openings on the boats are plenty. The weather is a bit cooler offering some beautiful days on the ocean and underneath it. Just because the end of summer fast approaches does not mean the diving is over. Call us up and check it out for yourself. See below for links.

Happy Diving!

Mike Gerken

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1 comment:

Joe Eiche said...

Great blog Mike. As for the guy that fell off the dock he must have been very brave and very skilled in order to do a dive like that. You might say that his clumsiness on land is offset by his agility in the water. He is probably from New Jersey which breeds the best form of diver.

Joe Eiche

PS I think I dropped some keys off the dock and will be back next week to fetch those.

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