This entry reviews a set of dives Mindy and I made in Freeport, Bahamas. I was due to deploy in June after three years on shore duty. A friend gave us ferry tickets and time in a TimeShare they had on the island. It so happens, this coincided with the coldest winter Florida and the Bahamas experienced in more than a decade. We went prepared for fun in the sun, and the air temp dropped to 52 degrees F; and one of the dives was at night. Here goes…
Diving was cancelled yesterday. Made me all the more anxious for today. Cold from for the Continent made for lots of wind here and heavy seas. Both calmed this morning so the dive went off.
Xanadu Divers – Dale is the shop manager. Very arrogant. I had trouble dealing with him. He seemed annoyed with having to deal with us. (Our dive buddies were) Dave with Xavior and Beatrice from Philly. John (was) from Connecticut; Mike and Carol, from Chicago, and one other diver.
Theo’s Wreck is a 238′ ocean freighter sunk in 1982. I have to question the date because there just isn’t that much coral on her. The Bud barge (FL’s east coast) hasn’t been down as long and has much more (coral) on her. (What I did not understand at the time was the difference in water temperatures and chemistry between the deep water around the Bahamas and the warmth and minerals of the Gulf Stream off Florida.)
Anyway, she lies port side down, bow faces NW. Penetration through the forward port area of the cargo deck is available, though on sinking most of the cargo bay is open as the hatches fell off when she hit the bottom.
Penetration is also possible from the aft deck, entering the upper levels on the engine room and proceeding through all three levels in a row, then turning aft to exit (through) a cut near the screw and rudder on the starboard side.
Ship looked formidable and foreboding as the hull disappeared into the (ever darkening) water. (light travels slower in the water and the deeper one dives the less light and fewer colors there are. Add to that the changing cloud cover of the weather front and visibility was under a hundred feet; less than half the length of the wreck.)
(Wreck diving is an additional certification with most of the Dive training organizations. We were only on and inside this one because the hatch covers were so open and passages mostly cleared. Wiring wasn’t drifting about, far less metal to snag ourselves on, and there were so many of us that if an issue arose we would have the capabilities to deal with it. This would come into play on the night dive at a later hour.)
There was a lot of frustration on this dive, and lots to be excited about. Some concerns about the dive operator…No one left on the boat on this trip (calm seas, good anchor set), but still two things concerned me. 1) They took three novice divers to greater than 60 ft (which is the Open Water dive limit), down to 100′ without any brief about possible affects of narcosis. (Pressure increases by on atmosphere [14 lbs] for every 30 feet. Breathing works the diver harder, more nitrogen is absorbed, air depletes faster, and a safety stop is required to ‘off gas’ the nitrogen. Otherwise is is likely to come out in the blood on the surface. The pain of ‘the bends’ isn’t trivial.) 2) The took all the divers into the enclosed are of the engine room without regard to experience levels. On of the divers did catch his wife’s trailing gear before it could hang her up on any equipment in the hull. The cargo bay is much more open so penetrating there was not really trouble. No extra equipment to catch dive gear on and very easy to leave though the 30′ high and 25′ wide cargo bay hatches.
Coming back from the first dive, we tried to get onto the 10am trip but we were rebuffed. They said the dive was full and wouldn’t discuss it with us further. We signed up for an evening dive at 5:30pm, which in February means a night dive since the sun is down by then. They said they needed at least four divers to make the trip worth their while. We had six, so the dive was set.
Xanadu had been written up in Advance SCUBA and Skin Diver magazine for their shark feeding dives. They wanted to get me on this one, but I wasn’t interested this time. Check(ing) old copies of the magazines, I remember a cover photo of this. (Never would I do a shark feeding dive. Seeing them naturally in the water is enough excitement for me. No need to build them into a frenzy, chain mail gloves or not.)
The night dive proved to be very interesting as a dive, and as a professional. This was only dives 42 and 43 for me and it was the first time we were diving outside of the reach of the Florida shore. So when we came up and found the boat gone, the seven of us were more than a little surprised!
First, though, it was very cold…beyond comfortable. I was warm only because I layered my clothes and stayed out of the wind as we motored out to the reef. The seas got heavier (since the morning dive) and the wind picked up, driving the cold down from the continent. Mindy and I were fresh (skipping the shark dive and relaxing around the pool), but Xavier and Beatrice, Mike and Carol had all done two more dives (including the shark dive). All kept their wet suits on, (which normally would have made them all very warm, but for this driving wind on the water the suits held had the opposite effect).
The crew had trouble setting the anchor, probably took 30 minutes to try, then 30 more to try again. Dale was boat captain and refused our help several times. (I wrote that he was arrogant yet again, but in rhetrospect, the skipper and his crew are responsible for the safety of the boat. I should not have interfered).
The dive was ‘ok’. The reef was relatively new. Brain coral was only baseball size and there were only three fan corals growing. Still, there were lots of puffer fish and a good sized hog fish. Some color was seen in others, but again, it’s night, low light, so the colors were in the green and blue spectrums.
(Clockwise, hog fish, puffer normal, puffer defense. photo credits http://wlrn.org/post/feds-consider-new-limits-hogfish; Miami FL, animals.mom.me, and wikipedia. representative of the dive, not our dive photos)
Mindy saw a yellow ray with Ki, the dive master for this splash. She was following him as close to his fins as she could stay after losing me. I caught up but lost Beatrice and Xavier. Mike lost us all from the beginning. Carol was too cold and stayed on the boat.
(I posted some lessons learned in my notes, but not the reason for the lessons. The story that when we came up finally, and gathered everyone together, there was no boat! We looked, whistled, shouted, shined our flashlights around, but did not find the boat. Ki and I rounded up the group and talked calmly about a surface swim toward the nearby shore. There were lights, a red one in particular, and so we began a slow paddle in that direction.)
(Mindy was the first to notice that Ki was on one heading and I was on another. Turns out there were more than one red light on the shore and we each picked a different one. About that time we heard the boat crew shouting at us and we swam that direction. The anchor was dragging on them and when they pulled it up the line got caught in the screw. )
(Cold, tired (exhausted really), and now in the water for more than an hour, we hoisted Mindy and the other divers onto the boat. Ki and I went to work on the anchor line, mostly untangling it, but doing some cutting. It was wrapped tightly around the shaft and the propeller and wasn’t going anywhere until we got it off.)
It’s been 21 years since we made this dive. Yet I can see the details of this story as if it were only last weekend. The most unsafe part of the dive was the exposure. Several members of the group were shaking uncontrollably. The other issues are not necessarily common, but also not uncommon. Ki was an experienced Dive Master, staying calm and keeping his group calm throughout the night dive and the issues. I’ll commend him here, and expect that Xanadu Divers has either closed as a business, or has learned much more in the passing decades to be more customer oriented and safety conscience.