Archive for the ‘ Trip Reports ’ Category

Trip Report: Northwind Expedition

Ever since the Dawnlight went out of commission two years ago, there was no convenient way to dive the wreck of the Northwind, which sits in about 115′ of water off Manitoulin Island. Last year, Steve Tiernan (Tobermory AquaSports) mentioned to me that he’s thinking about putting together an expedition to dive the Northwind the following fall. It was a no-brainer: in between nods, I was figuring out in my head how to get my husband Norbert excited about the trip and get something organized.

Last Friday, our little group of eight set out on our excellent adventure to dive a wreck we’ve never dove before. As mentioned in my previous post about the Northwind, the trip includes a drive to Tobermory, getting on the Chi-Cheemaun, and driving from the ferry dock on Manitoulin to Gore Bay, where Steve had tied up our favourite dive vessel, the Teak Isle.

We might be gung-ho for diving, but our little group liked to come back after a day’s diving to creature comforts! I booked us into Susan Mathia’s beautiful B&B, The Queen’s Inn. Make no mistake, however: the team was more excited about Susan’s delicious eggs benedict than about the comfortable beds and beautiful 19th century house right by the harbour in Gore Bay.

There’s not much more I can add to Vlada Dekina’s and Tom Wilson’s great reviews and photos of the wreck, which you can enjoy on their websites, and respectively. This was my first local trip with my underwater camera system. It was a great challenge, and I’m glad I’d been training all spring and summer for deco dives: I needed all the time I could get underwater. I didn’t manage to produce any images I’m proud of, but I did include a couple shots that vaguely resembled passable photos.

What I can add is that on our two days of diving this past weekend, the water was calm and warm, so it was perhaps too much to ask for great visibility on top of that. Nevertheless, at just less than 300′ long, the Northwind was chock full of entertainment starting at 75′ and bottoming out at about 115′. Temperature at depth was a balmy 54F and 64F closer to the surface; the deco stops were almost unbearably warm!

Two amazing things that struck me about this wreck: after more than 80 years underwater, many of the portholes still had glass in them; and perhaps even more mysterious is the fact that the doors on the wreck still swing freely. Other noteworthy points that Vlada has already pointed out in her write-up of the Northwind is that the painted wood on the wreck is still visible after all this time. The metal hull, on the other hand, has mostly been colonized by the mussels, which I might add, haven’t done a great job last week filtering out the particulates in the water.

Next year’s expedition dates are already set: Oct 8 – 12, with the first and last days being travel days. Yes, it’s a longer trip because everyone on this year’s expedition wanted a third dive day. At this time, all eight of us are already on board for next year’s trip, so there’s room for four more divers. 🙂

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Closing out the Season: Tobermory

This past weekend, I lucked into a trip to Tobermory. Last one for this year, and we couldn’t have asked for better weather.

We dove Forest City, the Dufferin Wall, and Arabia – flat calm waters and 80 foot plus visibility. Water temperature at depth was 46F. All in all, pretty comfortable dry suit diving.

Arabia has always been my favourite wreck in Toby. There’s something beautifully evocative about her that’s indescribable (by me anyway). Her bowsprit still pointing proudly skyward after more than a century, while the rest of her continues to crumble into a pile of lumber that’s surprisingly free of zebra mussel encrustation. I never get tired of coming down the mooring line and seeing her come into sight. Now there’s a dive to write home about.

For better pix, click here. See also my photos of Arabia.

Chillin’ on Tioman

Back in September, my brother Tze-Yaw and I went on another of our dive trips. I look forward to these more than any other. Living on opposite ends of the earth as we do, these dive trips are the precious and rare occasions where we have the luxury of enjoying each other’s company for more than 48 hours at a time. Continue reading

The Horror…The Horror…The Screeching

I have to admit, I was very apprehensive about the whole screeching business. I’d been threatened with it for some months now, ever since I announced my decision to go to Newfoundland.

It was awkward; entertaining; went on a bit long; and half the time, I had no idea what the Newfie was saying, which I think is part of the point.

When we were screeched in, our Screecher sang a song that almost brought tears to my eyes. I know, I know, seems a bit melodramatic now in hindsight, but I was moved at the time, OK? Must’ve been all that screech and rye I had…. Continue reading

Four Enormous Shipwrecks And One Man-Sized Jellyfish

The Man-Sized Jellyfish
We ended the week’s dives with something unexpected.

As I neared the end of my dive on the PLM, I looked out over the wreck and saw something approaching just beyond visibility. Ah, another of those beautiful Lion’s Mane jellyfish.

Except this one had a body that was bigger than I was and tentacles that trailed back forever.

Where is Lucy English? I had seen her hovering nearby. She wouldn’t forgive me if I didn’t share this sight with her. There she was. By then, the rest of our group was re-grouping nearby as well. I finally sighted Norbert and gestured impatiently for him to come over with his camera. Tom English and I, in telepathic fashion, instinctively swam into view of Norbert’s camera to give some sense of scale.

And there we all were, hovering in awe of this massive life form pulsating with this indescribable inner glow, the shipwreck beneath us all but forgotten.

Four Enormous Shipwrecks and…Part 3

PLM 27
Fresh from the rush of the kill, Wissman next trained U-518’s gun sights on PLM 27.

Short for Paris-Lyon-Marseilles, PLM 27 was a Free French ship which escaped Ruggeberg’s attacks that sank Saganaga and Strathcona two months earlier, saved by the counter-fire from the valiant Evelyn B which was anchored nearby.Wissmann tied off the loose end left by Ruggeberg, firing a single well-aimed shot that dispatched PLM 100 feet to the bottom almost immediately, taking 12 crew members with her.

The shallowest of the 4 wrecks, PLM was the favourite of the fishy kind. What I remember most about her is not that she’s so mangled – her shallow depth exposes her to the worst of the weather, including the icebergs that occasionally scraped by. The PLM I see in my mind’s eye is throbbing with marine life. Truly, the sea has claimed the wreckage. If it’s true that we all came from the sea, then it is fitting perhaps that we return to it.

Near the entrance inside the aft cabin, I see a single half-decayed shoe. I signalled for Norbert to come by with the video camera he was aiming about the wreck. As he swam slowly into the room, the light illuminated a bathtub, along with other detritus of everyday life.

As Norbert swam back out of the room, I backed up and noticed another shoe on the deck. It strikes me that these shoes were very large.

Four Enormous Shipwrecks and…Part 1

Thanks to my current state of unemployment, I finally have the opportunity of time to dive the massive ore carriers sunk by 2 U-Boats during WWII off Bell Island, Newfoundland.SS Saganaga & SS Lord Strathcona
September 5, 1942. It was a beautiful fall morning in Conception Bay with clear skies and mirror calm seas, probably much like the conditions we experienced this first week of July in 2006, some 64 years later.Beneath the calm surface of the sea, however, U-513 lay in 80 feet of water. Her captain, Rolf Ruggeberg, was eagerly awaiting his first kill.SS Saganaga, fully loaded with 8,800 tons of Bell Island iron ore, anchored in wait off Little Bell Island for a convoy to escort her to the smelters in Sydney, Nova Scotia. The 48 crew members were enjoying a quiet Saturday; some had even launched a boat to try their luck at catching a cod dinner.

Saganaga wasn’t alone. SS Lord Strathcona and Evelyn B were also anchored nearby. Strathcona was loaded with iron ore, awaiting escort to Nova Scotia while Evelyn was waiting her turn to unload her cargo of coal.

Across the sheltered channel between Little Bell Island and Bell Island, SS Rosecastle and the Free French ship PLM 27 (Paris-Lyon-Marseilles) also lay at anchor. Like Saganaga and Strathcona, Rosecastle and PLM were also Nova Scotia bound. Rosecastle was being loaded with ore, while PLM was already loaded and ready for her voyage west. They would escape the fates of Strathcona and Saganaga that September day.

11:07 am Atlantic Daylight Time. William Henderson, Chief Engineer of the Lord Strathcona, hears a sickening sound of explosion as the first torpedo hit the Saganaga about midship on the port side, tearing her in two. In less time than it takes to say Saganaga, Henderson reports that “a second torpedo literally blew the Saganaga to pieces. Debris and iron ore was thrown up about 300 feet and, before the last of it had fallen back into the water, the Saganaga had disappeared.” With 8,800 tons of iron ore on board, Saganaga landed upright on the bottom of the North Atlantic in 15 seconds.

Quickly recovering from the shock of the attack, Henderson gave the order to abandon Strathcona, knowing she faced the same peril. All 45 crew members got off in 2 lifeboats, then attempted to rescue the survivors from Saganaga. Most of the rescue efforts, however, came from the men of Lance Cove. For 30 of the Saganaga crew, September 5 was their last sunrise.

In the days immediately following, morbid curiosity would drive Rees and his friends to row out to the wreck. She lay in such shallow depths in water with such good visibility that they were able to look down on her and still see the spread-eagled body of a sailor with an arm pinned on the deck.

11:30 am. While efforts were underway to rescue the Saganaga survivors, the crew of Strathcona would witness 2 torpedo strikes against their abandoned ship. Strathcona sank within a minute and a half, but not before U-513’s inexperienced crew accidentally rammed into her stern as it manoevred for attacks, damaging its conning tower in the process.

I enjoyed diving the Strathcona tremendously. Subconsciously, I think, part of it was due to the fact that no lives were lost in her sinking. She’s beautifully decorated with anemones and populated by cod, conners, lumpfish, sculpin, star fish, and various jellyfishes pulsating with their otherworldly inner light. Strathcona’s deck is in about 75 feet of water; the day we dove her, the sun penetrated 75 feet down and illuminated a large area of the wreckage. In my mind, I will always see Strathcona with her debris strewn deck bathed in the dappling sunlight.

I didn’t get a chance to dive Saganaga. It was only my second day diving the frigid North Atlantic, and I was shaking uncontrollably when I surfaced from my dive on the Rosecastle. I called off the second dive of the day, which was to be on the Saganaga, since we planned to dive on her again the next day. Unfortunately, the weather did not cooperate. There would be only one dive on Saganaga this trip.

I guess I have unfinished business in Newfoundland.

For pix taken by real professionals, which is to say, far beyond my ability, go to the following sites:
Marine Life

Rupprecht de Thomas