ScubaQ » Tom http://www.scubaq.ca Home of Ontario Scuba Diving Tue, 11 Aug 2009 01:00:51 +0000 http://wordpress.org/?v=2.7.1 en hourly 1 North Carolina http://www.scubaq.ca/?p=419 http://www.scubaq.ca/?p=419#comments Sat, 01 Aug 2009 19:19:24 +0000 Tom http://www.scubaq.ca/?p=419

Wreck Summary

Type  Shipwrecks Build  Steel Location

 Moorehead City, North Carolina, USA

Depth  60-120 feet Length  Various Built  Various Sank  Various Access  Boat Experience Level  Beginner to Advance Orientation

 Various

To say that diving in North Carolina offers a unique experience is an understatement akin to saying the Grand Canyon is larger than a bread box. In a relatively limited area it has some of the best of what diving is all about.

Most of the wrecks date from World War II, sunk in numerous ways, mostly from German U-boats (submarines). In one of those ironic twists where the hunter becomes the hunted, a U-boat is one of the most popular wrecks that brings divers from around the world. To be honest, the idea of diving a sub, at least in this instance, is better than actually diving it. From what I have seen, many people who dive it leave somewhat disappointed, myself included. The reasons for that are simple: the exterior of a sub is minimalist by design, everything is on the inside, and this wreck does not readily invite penetration since it is tight and silty (bad combination) with numerous entanglement hazards. Much of the outer hull has rusted away and it does not much resemble a submarine anymore.

Having said that, the sub was the ONLY disappointment about all of North Carolina diving, everything else exceeded expectations by an order of magnitude. Due to its location the gulf stream flows just off shore, meaning although dives are done miles out into the ocean, water temperatures are in the 70 degree area for most of the summer. Ditch the drysuit and get out the 3mm wetsuit - you can be forgiven for thinking you’re in the Bahamas, it’s that warm. That warm water makes for easy diving and prolific marine life. I was not prepared for the colorful critters and the absolute abundance of life. When our captain briefed us in a truly enjoyable southern drawl saying, "When you get down you may not be able to see the wreck, it’s usually covered in fish but you can drop just below them and you’ll see the wreck just fine," I was entirely certain he was kidding. He wasn’t.

As if wrecks of every shape and size, along with myriad fish species were not enough there is another major item which draws divers to this spectacular region: sand tiger sharks. The Australian name for this species seems much more appropriate - ragged tooth shark, because they have more teeth than can fit in their mouths, making them look entirely sinister and dangerous. It was difficult to tell how many sharks were on the few wrecks they elect to congregate around due to the way they swim in and out of your range of visibility, but a conservative estimate would say 30-50 on a wreck like the Schurz, ensuring you’re not about to fall asleep on that dive. Check out http://www.nc-wreckdiving.com/shipwrecks.html for a list of North Carolina wrecks.
 

 

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Florida Wrecks http://www.scubaq.ca/?p=416 http://www.scubaq.ca/?p=416#comments Sat, 01 Aug 2009 18:45:10 +0000 Tom http://www.scubaq.ca/?p=416

Wreck Summary

Type  Wrecks, reefs, caves, you name it Build  Mostly by union members Location

 Florida, USA

Depth  20 to a lot of feet Length  Variable Built  Variable Sank  Variable Access  Boat, Shore and Parachute Experience Level  Guppy to Dive Guru Orientation

 Every which way you can imagine

Here is a list of all the things Florida has to offer. No wait, that would take too long. It might take vastly less space to mention what Florida doesn’t have: volcanoes, mountains, and senior citizens that can drive well. That’s about it. Particularly for divers, Florida seems to have just about everything: caves, wrecks, reefs, and all in abundance.

Even if you’ve never cave dived, and aren’t cave certified, you can still get into a "cave" in Ginnie Springs which is one of the most famous cave diving locations in the world. If you do happen to be cave trained then you likely already know all about northern Florida, no matter where on the globe you call home.

Off the coast there are plenty of wrecks to dive, and more by the day. An active artificial reef program seems to drop a wreck frequently, giving divers more places to play and fish more places to call home, which attracts even more divers. Having had only a precious few days to dive the area I’ve only seen three wrecks (Duane, Bibb and Eagle) but by the accounts of those who have done vastly more diving there than I ever will, they are among the best the state has to offer.
 

 

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Bay Islands (Roatan, Utila, Guanaha, in Honduras) http://www.scubaq.ca/?p=414 http://www.scubaq.ca/?p=414#comments Sat, 01 Aug 2009 15:26:47 +0000 Tom http://www.scubaq.ca/?p=414

Tropical Reef Summary

Type  Tropical Reef /w a Few Shipwrecks Build  Mother Nature Location

 Bay Islands, Honduras, Caribbean Sea

Depth   feet Difficukty   Formations   Marine Life
  Current   Access  Boat witj some Shore Diving Experience Level  Guppy to Advanced

What do you get when you take a working boat from the Great Lakes, refit it, and turn it into a liveaboard vessel in the tropics? You get the cheapest date in the Aggressor fleet.

Roatan, the area where most of the diving was done, is touted as the "macro capital of the world". Not sure who started calling it that, but they likely weren’t too far off. Colourful little critters are plentiful so photographers and eagle-eyed fish lovers rave about the place. Aside from the fish there are two shipwrecks which were intentionally sunk not long ago, so they don’t have much life on them, yet.

Perhaps the highlight of the trip were the dives spent in a cavern that had shafts of light pouring in from holes in the "ceiling".

The boat itself was more than large enough (120′ long with 10 passenger cabins), quite spacious overall, had good food and plenty of room in the dive areas which helped make things very comfortable and easy to like.
 

 

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Turks and Caicos http://www.scubaq.ca/?p=412 http://www.scubaq.ca/?p=412#comments Sat, 01 Aug 2009 15:13:41 +0000 Tom http://www.scubaq.ca/?p=412

Tropical Reef Summary

Type  Tropical Reef /w One Wreck Build  Mother Nature Location

 Turks and Caicos

Depth  20 to 100 feet Difficukty  Variable Formations   Marine Life
  Current   Access  Shore and Boat Experience Level  Beginner to Advanced

Ever look back at old family albums and laugh your posterior off at how bad the shots were, how old the hairstyles look, and utter repeatedly "What the hell was I thinkin?" Welcome to mine. These shots date back to 1998; my first underwater camera, my first trip to "the tropics", and my first escape from a rather brutal Canadian winter.

The resort was called South Caicos Ocean Haven, a decidedly small resort that likely wasn’t any bigger when it went by the name Club Caribe: 22 rooms, nearly as many air conditioners, no TV’s and no phones. Favourable adjectives that come to mind are: basic, rustic, simple, tasteful, off-the-beaten-path, diver-centric, unencumbered, comfortable, clean, and… did I mention basic? The less flattering ones would be: spartan,  lacking, undeveloped, and provisionless (if that’s a word). When I was there the new owner had taken over the place less than a year before and was still in the rebuilding phase - I’m sure it’s better now, if it’s still in business (it appears their website is no longer functioning).

The selection of dive sites available at the time was somewhat limited since they had not yet fully explored the area’s potential, but the sites we visited were excellent. Fish are plentiful since it is in a national park area which prohibits commercial fishing. Sharks, eagle rays, stingrays, crabs, trumpet fish, barracuda and  eels were common sightings at each of the sites which were a maximum of 15 minutes from the resort.

As a wreck aficionado the highlight was likely the plane, reportedly a DC-10 but seeming much smaller than that, complete with requisite swash buckling tale of it being a drug runner. The Arches was another favourite - a small coral arch that seemed to attract a rather abundant amount of marine life. Due to the out-of-the-way nature of the locale, it being the only resort on the island, and diving being just about the only thing to do on South Caicos, this is a destination clearly intended for divers only. The island is small, the population is small, the number of divers it sees is small, and the number of activities is small, but that all adds up to one valuable asset: the place has not been "dived out". The diver impact I could see was nil, the fish weren’t harassed regularly so weren’t as afraid of you as is common at more frequented destination, and having such short boat rides (particularly given the way flat hulled little Carolina skiffs like these abhor waves of ANY size) is a true blessing.
 

 

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Peacock http://www.scubaq.ca/?p=407 http://www.scubaq.ca/?p=407#comments Sat, 01 Aug 2009 14:28:59 +0000 Tom http://www.scubaq.ca/?p=407

Cave/Cenote Summary

Type  Fresh Water Location

 Florida, USA

Depth   feet Cost   Operational Hours
  Experience Level  

Having been cave trained in Mexico where, let’s face it, there’s a great deal more detail to see in the underwater caves, I was greatly concerned about what there would be to see in their Floridian counterparts. There would be no amazing formations hanging from the ceiling, no corresponding spires from the floor either.

Fortunately I was pleasantly surprised when I saw Peacock. The walls were not as smooth as Ginnie or Little River, and there were actually a couple of really interesting formations: one a horizontal hole and the other a near-vertical column. Ok, so there are likely many more interesting things than those in this very system but hey I was new, and didn’t make it all that far.

 

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Orange Grove http://www.scubaq.ca/?p=405 http://www.scubaq.ca/?p=405#comments Sat, 01 Aug 2009 14:18:24 +0000 Tom http://www.scubaq.ca/?p=405

Cave/Cenote Summary

Type  Fresh Water Location

 Florida, USA

Depth   feet Cost   Operational Hours
  Experience Level  

So this is duckweed. Doesn’t look much like a duck. It’s the green stuff contaminating the surface of the second last photo. It’s actually millions and millions of little green circles, micro lily pads of a sort. They infest the surface of some cave systems, and here they’re quite good at it. I’ve heard they were artificially introduced years ago to clear up the visibility which sounds rather like adding more dynamite in the hopes of getting a smaller explosion.

I was a Florida cave virgin before this site, so in essence, she was my first. While she wasn’t exactly the Marilyn Monroe of caves, it was still a nice introduction despite having been rather heavily used as a training cave so it was more like a Janeane Garofalo. Finger and fin prints in the sand were frequent, and you could see bright spots on the walls and ceiling where divers had bumped their tanks.

It didn’t take long to see how seriously they take cave safety - ran into the stop sign in the first shot virtually right away. My guess is that’s a good precedent to set, yet likely remains something most people don’t stop to actually read.

 

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Madison Blue http://www.scubaq.ca/?p=403 http://www.scubaq.ca/?p=403#comments Sat, 01 Aug 2009 14:01:57 +0000 Tom http://www.scubaq.ca/?p=403

Cave/Cenote Summary

Type  Fresh Water Location

 Florida, USA

Depth   feet Cost   Operational Hours
  Experience Level  

Florida caves can be deceiving. The "lake" you enter through can be quite sizeable, suggesting wide open spaces while lying to you through it’s aquatic smile. Madison Blue is one of those places. Descending the stairs to a sizeable pool of water you’re prepared for a nice easy entrance, not the kind of squeeze necessary to get just about anywhere. Short but wide, would be a good description, similar in stature to my own, which compresses poorly into such restrictions but this is cave diving and squeeze you must.

The passages of the cave system were considerably wider than the entrance (thank goodness for that) but still narrow overall, and the fine sand and silt made it necessary to keep close tabs on any gear that hung a little lower than it should. Not the kinda place you’d call particularly camera friendly when your camera is 7′ wide, but the frequent air pockets that clung to the ceiling were too attractive not to shoot.

 

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Little River http://www.scubaq.ca/?p=401 http://www.scubaq.ca/?p=401#comments Sat, 01 Aug 2009 13:47:04 +0000 Tom http://www.scubaq.ca/?p=401

Cave/Cenote Summary

Type  Fresh Water Location

 Florida, USA

Depth   feet Cost   Operational Hours
  Experience Level  

I’m glad this hadn’t been my first cave system in Florida, or I could have been in trouble. This is the kinda place that you hear about, the ones that make people give up normal lives in normal places, sell it all and move to Florida’s cave country and live in a mobile home (not that I have anything against mobile homes).

Some of the passages look like they’ve been painstakingly carved by miner, perfectly straight and round, with little scalloped cut marks lining ever surface of every wall. It’s truly bizarre, they look too perfect to be natural but that’s exactly what they are.

With tremendous good fortune we were there when the flow of the water was particularly low which meant that only a mild current was encountered while swimming. But I would imagine when you get into one of those perfectly round tunnels while the flow is high and you’ll find out what the spitball feels like getting shot out of a straw.

 

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Ginnie Springs http://www.scubaq.ca/?p=396 http://www.scubaq.ca/?p=396#comments Sat, 01 Aug 2009 13:32:57 +0000 Tom http://www.scubaq.ca/?p=396

Cave/Cenote Summary

Type  Fresh Water Pring Location

 Florida, USA

Depth   feet Cost   Operational Hours
  Experience Level  Family to Technical

There is a good chance if you’ve only heard of one cave system in Florida then this is it.  Perhaps the most commercialized of any location in the state that features cave diving there is also a considerable open water area for "normal" divers (who haven’t lost their mind yet), tubing, canoeing, as well as swimming.

If you’re diving the caver zone, which any Open Water diver is allowed to do, what you will see is similar to the first shots on this page. Cool stuff, particularly if that’s all you know. Underwater trees, ground that percolates with the bubbles of the divers below - showing just how porous the rock here really is, which in part explains how the caves were formed in the first place. You may even be able to find the grate, essentially a manhole cover with a lock on it that prevents divers from trying to get in somewhere silly. When you swim up to the grate and feel the power of the water flowing out you get a sense of how good an idea it really is.

Now, if you’re silly and are cave trained, the pictures which follow might be more in line with what you recall of Ginnie. There’s still more than a little bit of flow from time to time, particularly at the restrictions, but it’s a good place to work on your pull-and-glide technique while trying in vain to save your fingerprints from getting sanded off. Good luck with that. Some areas of the cave are gorgeous with bright tan coloured sand and limestone walls, while others are nearly black. Being a relative cave novice I haven’t been very far but you could spend more than a dive or two trying to find your way around in here (understatement alert!!).

 

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Truk Lagoon - Page V http://www.scubaq.ca/?p=394 http://www.scubaq.ca/?p=394#comments Thu, 30 Jul 2009 23:05:53 +0000 Tom http://www.scubaq.ca/?p=394

Wreck Summary

Type  Shipwreck City Baby Build  Steel Location

 Micronesia

Depth  40-210 feet Length  stinkin huge Built  Vintage World War II Sank  1944 Access  Boat Experience Level  Beginner to Technical Orientation

 Every which way you can imagine

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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