Archive for August, 2008


August 31, 2008

That’s what the flags were doing as we pulled into the Marina’s parking lot.  The weather had changed dramatically overnight from warm and muggy to bright and brisk.  The wind was forecasted to be from the northwest at 10-15 knots, but I could tell it was already building on that.  So we were going south.

We’d driven around the potential sites with our morning coffee/tea and picked the Back Shore as the best place.  This is a huge area extending, for us, from Brace’s Cove to Good Harbor Beach.  As it turned out, we stopped at The Silo near Bemo Ledge for the first dive.  With Bethany B., Mary M., Jacki K., Andy and LD as customers, we were lucky to have a group of great divers with us.  Veronica, Pete and I were crew.  The Captain maintained everyone’s decorum.

It was 55 degrees at 40 feet with decent visibility, but no prey.  The schooner races were underway and we watched them glide and float and thought of how it must have been 150 years ago, when that was a common sight.  Lots of boats were trolling for blue fish or speeding over to the harbor to watch the boats race, so I was glad I’d taken my Bonine.

For the second dive, I moved north around the point to get calmer water with less passing boat traffic.  This time I anchored just off the flag pole of the Atlantis Motor Inn.  I could see huge boulders on the shore that told me they might just be continued into the water along the same line.  I was right.  There were lots of ups and downs in about 55 degree water at 25 feet.  The wind was driving the warm surface water off to England, so we got clearer water welling up along the shore. 

The Captain and I found several holes that must have once held lobsters that were now eerily empty.  Where’d everybody go?  Peter said he’d gauged 12 too big ones and/or found females with eggs and had to put everybody back into their hiding places.  I guess that’s good news for the next generations of lobster stock.   We packed up and headed back with the tide falling and everyone and his brother lining up to get back through the Blynman Bridge.  We were behind a sailboat that was using every bit of power and some mental imaging to beat the tide’s rush into the Annisquam.  Pete took his time and didn’t rush him because there were some large standing waves right in the middle of the cut that could have caused his spreaders to jam under the bridge’s upraised roadway.  Not a pretty thought and we’ve seen it happen to another sailboat that got to rocking too much as it passed under the open bridge.

We used guy lines to ease the boat back into the slip with a 20 knot reverse wind fighting our efforts.

We won.


August 30, 2008

Today was going to be a hole in the donut.  There were showers as we woke up.  We were hoping for some sun and then there would probably be showers or a thunderstorm in the evening.   If we were lucky, there’d be a window of opportunity for diving.  Because the winds were slated to be from the south west, we went up the river to the north side of Cape Ann.

We had Pat and Karen Hatcher, Linsley and Kevin Mordasky, and LD with Pat Walsh, Peter Donahue, Kathy Cardinale and me as crew.  The Captain reigned supreme.  Because we were trying to video as well as search for lobsters for Pete’s cookout on Monday, I picked the restaurant at Folly Cove for our first dive.  The sun was getting stronger as we anchored in about 25 feet.  The tide was rising to high at 11:30 AM, so we had plenty of water.   I directed the out-of-towners over to the wall for scenic critters and hollowed out areas with lobsters and crabs peeping out.

I went down the downline and saw clear water.  Of course, I had sunk to 40 feet over a bottom of jumbled granite blocks and they leant themselves to clear water with little silt.  I saw four abandoned lobster traps in various stages of decay, but none had any decorator crabs on them.  There was a curious striped bass following me along the wall.  I think he was waiting for me to catch a lobster and then drop it as being too small.  He’d then dash in and pick off the victim before it landed on the bottom again.  Too bad for him that I was videoing and not hunting.

The water was about 55 degrees at 40 feet.  Visibility was 25-30 feet down there, but only 10-15 feet in the warmer shallows where the water was probably 60 degrees or more.  We saw lots of little cunners and I videoed a crab wedging his crusher claw into a mussle shell and then eating the insides with delicate dipping motions of his other claw.  The mussle had barnicles and limpets on it, so I think it was pretty old.  Interesting image.

For the second dive, I moved out of Folly Cove and started back down the Lanesville shore line.  There was a large tarp spread on poles at or near a local landmark called Tide Rock.  There were people diving from shore who looked like they were part of a large picnicking group.  I anchored before we got to that site and nearer the cemeteries just outside Folly Cove.  We passed Fran Linnehan and Down Under anchored right at the point.  That area had too much current for me, so I pulled further in towards shore and 25 feet of water. 

This time the visibility wasn’t as good at 40 feet, but Peter and L. were down on the sand hunting.  Visibility was 20 feet or better up in the shallows in about 15 feet of water.  Here the sun was glinting through tall stands of sea weed that were gently waving in the surge.  It was past high tide by this time, but the area was almost still.  Clumps of cunner and some small striped bass were cruising the area too.  It felt like an octopus’ garden, according to Kevin and Linsley.

The weather closed in as we were packing up and got ominous as we powered back down the Annisquam.  Little dribbles and spits of rain was all that happened, but the clouds were scudding from the northwest and over-spreading the area quickly.  We were glad to get home before something worse blew up.

Wonderful day with nice people.

Even Gorgeous-er

August 24, 2008

Yup. Wouldn’t have thought it possible, but it was warm, breezy, and just a little more humid this morning as we had our DD breakfast overlooking Magnolia Harbor. But there was fog. There were banks of it that drifted in and completely obscured Kettle Island. That was not a good sign for going south. So we didn’t.

The customers wanted good visibility for videoing, lots of potential lobsters for catching and Catie Childress needed relatively shallow and sheltered conditions for her gaining-experience dives. Her father, Tom Childress, was going to be easy to please. Linda G. and Myanna were not picky either. LD would go anywhere. The crew was Veronica, Pat, Pete, and me with The Captain at the ready.

We filled up with diesel at $3.50 per gallon so we could go anywhere we thought would be good. I picked Thacher Island’s dead light. But, due to the fog, we had to go there via the long route up the Annisquam River, over the top by Sandy Bay and Rockport Harbor, and then through the cut at Straitsmouth Island and over to the island. It was a long ride and we didn’t get into the water until 11:15 AM, having left the marina at 9:30 AM.

The water was a lot colder here than it had been yesterday at Folly Cove. Pete registered 63 degrees at the thermocline at 25 feet and 58 degrees below that at 45 feet. Visibility wasn’t bad at about 15-20 feet, even in the shallows. Pat, Linda, Myanna, and I were all diving wet in our Mares semi-dry suits and we felt the cold immediately upon jumping in. There were high pitched squeals coming from Pat’s regulator as she waited on the down line for her buddy. Catie didn’t seem to mind the cold water, even though she was diving wet too. We figured kids don’t have many sensitive nerve endings developed yet and that’s why.

The second dive was at Fisherman’s Canyon near Cathedral Rocks. Here the water was a little warmer at 64 degrees above the thermocline, but the same temperature, 58 degrees, below it. The tide was coming in and bringing colder water with it. I understand that Pete and Catie liberated some trapped fish from an abandoned lobster trap. I think there was a sculpin, a flounder and a “mean yellow fish.” Veronica was enthusiastically in support of this effort, because she’s been known to do the same thing. Fish-huggers of the world, unite.

We swam through cuts with huge boulders and canyons that were much more kelp-covered than they have been in the past. Lobsters used the screen to their advantage and no one caught any at this site. But there was good video-quality visibility of about 10-15 feet and lots of stuff to shoot.

Our trip home was back the way we’d come because the wind was picking up. Off Lanesville Shores, we found full sun and took the wind abeam. Not too much splashing and riding behind the windscreen gave Pat a chance to warm up. This may be the last weekend we dive wet.

Like Veronica says, it was close to being the last chocolate chip cookie in the cookie jar.

We need to savor every crumb.

Gorgeous, Glorious, and Warm

August 23, 2008

What a beautiful day we had today – full sun with high wispy clouds and light breeze from the south.  The air was warm, but not hot at about 78 degrees.  We had Tom and Catie Childress, Deb Greenhalgh and Fred Ward and Jon Bulman as customers along with Kathy Cardinale, Pat Walsh, Peter Donahue and me as crew.  The Captain was in charge of it all.

With the breeze forcasted to be freshening from the south, we decided to head north.  Folly Cove sounded good to everyone, so we planned our dives with that in mind.  As we rounded the point, I could see that the cove was almost empty.  One dive flag hugged the cove’s wall and there was a group getting suited up on the beach.  I wasn’t surprised to see so little activity because it was almost exactly dead low tide.  Diving the cove from the shore at anything other than high tide can be challenging because you have to negotiate the popples and rocky shore entry with all your gear on.  It’s tough going.

I anchored off the point on Folly’s west side.  Jon, Peter and Catie were working together on skills and Jon’s NAUI Instructor rating.  Catie was “the student.”   Tom and I dived under the boat at 55 feet.  We later learned from Peter that the water was 55 degrees down there.  Deb and Fred worked the wall, looking for anemones to video.   I found a lobster hiding on the sandy bottom under a lost divers flag and Tom helped out by herding flounder towards the camera.

For the second dive, we moved into the little cove next to the Lobster Pool restaurant on the east side of the cove.  It was about 40 feet under the boat with an incoming tide bring exceptionally clear water that was also frickin’ freezing.  Visibility was between 20 and 30 feet in the cold and 10-15 feet above the thermocline in the shallows next to the rocky wall.  We saw lots of fish in the nooks of the wall and Catie caught a crab for the video which she showed me very confidently.  There was no surge and I found a hollowed out area in the wall to use for a set-up, close-up where I could look up into the sun and have the camera be able to see into my mask without any artificial light. 

Peter and Jon worked with Catie again for practice with a “student” in open water.  She was very helpful in just being herself.  It gave Jon a chance to experience what it will be like when he teaches his own classes.

As we packed up to go home, I counted 15 boats moored in the cove and five dive flags among them.  I guess everyone had the same idea today.  “Let’s find some calm water with good visibility and just relax.”  Works for us!

Tomorrow’s expected to be just like today.

I won’t complain.

The Froggies

August 17, 2008

Six members of the North Shore Frogmen were with us because two of their members won a free trip and others wanted to join them. They sure picked a great day. Weatherwise, the air had cleared. Heavy humidity was gone as were the threat of afternoon thunderstorms. There was full, bright sun – I have crispy shoulders to prove it. There was a noticeable southwesterly breeze of about 10-15 knots. Everyone and their cat were out and powering about to enjoy the day.

Because we had a person with very little experience, I suggested the wreck of the New Hampshire as the first dive site. Everyone seemed OK with that, so we powered south. As I neared Graves Island, we saw Cape Ann Divers‘ large boat with Captain Steve already on the site. They’d chosen a place inboard of the wreck, so I anchored outboard of it. That way, we were able to pinpoint its site for the divers as being between our two boats and below a particular lobster buoy. Arnie P., another Froggie, stopped by as we were getting suited up.

We were happy to get everyone in the water thanks to crew members Laurent, Veronica, Peter and Pat. I stayed topside to be sure we weren’t dragging anchor and The Captain was vigilant. He was on a video expedition, looking for divers doing interesting things, and found Mary H. taking photographs. I think there was some “in my face” time, according to Mary, but the results were usable and clear. Her camera setup looks unique and, of course, so does she. Ray was herding a lobster but looked like he was enjoying the effort. Peter, Doddie, Becca and Daryl were all doing fine too.

The water was about 62 at 25 feet with 10-15 feet of visibility, depending on whether anyone was excavating near where you were. There was a lot of banging and that indicated spikes were being sought.

For the second dive, I wanted a place with a little less rocking motion from passing boats. The cat and everyone else had been powering into Kettle Cove for a lunch-time gathering. That laid down wakes that just didn’t quit. Taking those rollers broadside, due to the wind’s direction, isn’t fun for anyone on the boat.

A picnic broke out on the bow as we looked for better conditions.

The choices were getting slim as we got closer to Gloucester Harbor, but Norman’s Woe looked good. There were several small fishing boats already anchored deeper into the cove and they were lying calmly. I picked a spot that looked like it would be good for the hunters aboard. Again, 25 feet of depth for Becca’s 11th dive with water temperature about 62 and the air in the high seventies. Visibility was better here at between 15-20 feet. The sandy bottom was littered with granite boulders in front of the boat, nearer the island. I staged a shot for the video to see if I could herd baby cunner around a rock simply by slowly circling their home. I rousted a lobster in the process, so the video is better than I thought it would be.

Everyone spent about 40 minutes hunting, exploring, and relaxing in some of the warmest conditions we’ve recently experienced.

The trip home was exciting because there were so many Boulevard cars trying to get near the Harborfest at Stage Fort Park. Matt and his bridge crew were opening the Blynman for many short periods rather than long ones like they usually do. The tide was still high enough that they had to open for most vessels. On our pass, there was a jet-skier right in the way, along with several small boats coming down river after the harborside boats had started to come in. Two of the river vessels were proceeding obliviously towards the opening. One guy was blabbling on his cell phone when we yelled to him to wait because five big guys had already started in. He got knocked around a bit by the wake of the 50 footer right behind me.

Unloading was not bad because the ramp was almost flat. Thanks to everyone for the food and the their upbeat attitudes.

Froggies are fun people.

Thacher Island and Loblolly Cove

August 16, 2008

It was a very lovely and warm summer day.  We had Jeff Croll of Sandwich and Laurent Dubois as customers with Kathy Cardinale, Pat Walsh, Peter Donahue and me for crew.  The Captain kept a sharp eye out.  The little bit of breeze was from the southwest so I decided Thacher Island would be a good destination for our first dive.  It was.

Here’s an aerial view of the island:

Thacher Island with Its Twin Lights

Thacher Island with Its Twin Lights








I anchored between the dead light, the northern one, and the boat landing for the island in about 30 feet of water.  In the picture, we’d be on the far left, at about 10 o’clock.

The water looked very, very brown.  It wasn’t that surprising given we’d had about a week of rain.  However, once you descended below the brown layer to about 20 feet, the visibility went from 2 feet to 20 feet.  The tide was coming in to high and the water was 62 degrees at 40 feet.  Visibility varied according to where you were, but averaged a good 15-20 below the brown layer.  Critters were out and about, marching along as though it were midnight.  They’re nocturnal you know.

I took video of Laurent videoing and hunting.  It was so-so.  I have to work on getting moving action centered in the frame.  Thank goodness we can come home to Magnolia and review the footage right away to find out how we did.  It was very unusual to see the brown kelp and tan Irish moss in the light filtering down to 20 feet.  The whole scene was awash with golden light and everthing seemed to glow yellow-gold.  The closer I got to the surface, the more glinting the surroundings became.  It was magical, not a visibility disaster as we’d feared. 

For the second dive, I moved to a more protected area at the southern edge of Loblolly Cove.  There were still low ocean rollers moving in, but the boat seemed to lie more calmly here than it had been at Thacher.  The bottom was strewn with huge boulders and sandy patches.  We saw a group of divers approaching us from the shore.  They had a long swim to the 40 feet of water where I’d anchored us.  But the water was warm here too.  63 at 30 feet, according to Pete.  Visibility was better because there was no brown water layer here at all.  It was 20 feet of visility all the way from the surface to the bottom. 

Laurent got some interesting footage of Peter foraging:

Peter Lobstering

Peter Lobstering







and a beautiful shot looking up at the sun’s rays entering the water around a surface swimmer next to the boat:

Diver on the Surface

Diver on the Surface

We’re going to try to recreate this one again tomorrow to make the shot longer and steadier.






Fun day.

Divers’ Leap and USF NH and a Scuba Newbie

August 10, 2008

The day was going to be devoted to helping 16 year old Yelena Taytslin finish her NAUI basic scuba skills training. Her dad, Ilya, was going to “stay out of the way,” he said although we certainly didn’t require that. I think Tom and Kathleen Childress saw something of their own youngster, Catie, in Yelena’s calm competence in the new sport. John Bulman was aboard as a NAUI Instructor candidate and he helped with the details. Pete, Pat, Veronica and I were crew, while The Captain maintained a tight ship.

I wanted a flat sandy bottom for Lena’s first training dive of the day. It looked great at Divers’ Leap so I anchored, facing into the light easterly breeze, just below the steepest part of the cliff. It was about 20 feet deep and, it turns out, about 68 degrees all the way to the bottom. The visibility varied from 10-20 feet depending on how protected the area was from the surge.

I joined Tom and Kathleen for a video-the-critters expedition. We found lots of hermit crabs who are quick to right themselves if you pick them up. This works great for video because their antics of peeking out of the upturned moon snail shell look quirky and shy. We found one that had recently molted. The shadow of its former self rocked gently just outside the shell’s opening. I could even see the faint outlines of its eye balls in the pale blue discarded tissue. Its new shell was glinting and golden in places as it reflected the bright sunlight from above. Nothing had had a chance to grow on its carapace yet.

We harassed a skate and several flounder. It seemed there were dozens of solitary lobsters in sandy pits on the bottom. Maybe there just weren’t enough hiding places in the rocky shore for all of them. We also saw sand dollars that had left a track as they moved across the bottom. Usually there’s too much turbulence to see such a trail, but it was obvious today. The water was so warm, it almost felt hot in my three finger mitts.

For the next dive, we went just a little way over to the wreck of the USF New Hampshire. Again, we were happy to see relatively good visibility – about 15 feet. Here it was “only” 63 degrees on the bottom. We suffered through it though. I videoed a smashed lobster trap with lots of perch lazing through its wrecked openings.

Peter, John and Lena were finished with her final skills early and spent the rest of the time treasure hunting. She returned with a full cup of nails, pins, and copper bits from the wreckage. Peter described the glory hole they found as being so full of metal objects that they were scooping them out by the handful.

After we unloaded the gear and Lena logged her final training dives, we presented her with her official NAUI Scuba Diver certification card. There were lots of hugs and much clapping as she received a ceremonial apple for the student. She’s truly a great kid. We were glad to have had her with us.

We had a wonderful day of warm water diving with nice people.

Captain’s Choice and USF New Hampshire

August 9, 2008

We had a week of rainy afternoons, with occasional spectacular thunderstorms.  The weather lady on Channel 5 said today would be better than that.  No rain (probably), with light winds and lots of sun.  Well, she got that right.  We were glad to have better weather with no fog because we had people coming from very far away – Rhode Island and Amherst, MA.  They deserve to have a good time after a long trip.

So – we powered south to see what looked good.  On the way, we were approached by the scuba charter boat, Daybreaker.  Its captain, Fran Marcoux, warned us that his people had just been hastled by a lobster boat at Kettle Island.  We thanked him for the heads up and took note of its name and home port for future reference.  As we motored between Coolidge Point and Kettle Island, Captain Fred decided we would anchor on the lee side of Egg Rock for the first dive.  With the gentle breeze from the southwest, that meant it would be the east, or shallower, side.  There was already a small dive boat anchored near the notch as we approached but they were finishing up.  I anchored at the bulge which was pretty much where I wanted to be. 

We had Pat Walsh, Kathy Cardinale, me, and Peter Donahue today as crew.  The customers were Tom and Kathleen Childress (their daughter, Catie, is at marine oceanographic camp in Maine for two weeks), Tim Maxwell, Deb Greenhalgh, and Joe Finkhouse.  Everyone was happy with the location, it seemed, and were quick to suit up and get wet.  Deb and I agreed to dive together to try to get some video for our next movie of people doing things underwater. 

The water was very warm on the surface and the time was going out until about 11:30 AM.  We saw lots of coppery-colored cunner in the thermocline at about 15 feet.  The water was 58 degrees at 35 feet.  It was warmer still in shallower water.  Deb and I saw several black sea bass, orange sponge fingers growing up out of bare pink rock, and some surgey conditions close to shore.  The visibility was 15-20 feet in the shallower water.  It was great fun to stage shots with a busted and smashed abandoned lobster trap.  Later, back at the condo, we saw that The Captain had managed to get some interesting angles on the same trap on the same dive.

We talked about where to make the second dive and the customers voted for the wreck of the US Frigate New Hampshire, just a few minutes away.  OK by me.

Pat Walsh anchored right over the wreck and everyone was thrilled to have it so accessible.  The glistening copper pins shone brightly as the divers investigated beams with frilly anemones and squishy sponges adorning them.  The water was in the low 60s on the bottom at 25 feet. 

Towards the end of the dive, we were approached by two different lobster boats who needed to have their traps dislodged from something that was snagging them on the bottom.  Pete got to log two additional dives in freeing each of them.  It was fun to be able to help these guys out.  We figured one got about $200 worth of stuff from the two traps, the line, the buoy and three legal-sized lobsters.  Both lobstermen were very careful about the potential for divers in the water when they came near us and we thanked them for that courtesy.

Funny how the same day could have two such different types of lobstermen show up.

Kettle X 2

August 3, 2008

We were expecting cloudy with PM rains, but it was a little better than that. How about sunny with huge thunderclouds and lightening and driving rain and then sunny and windless and then stormy again? That was our day.

We had a full component of customers: Linda Giles and Myanna, Laurent Dubois, Ilya Taytslin with his daughter, Yelena, and Mike Russo. The latter two were students working on their basic certifications. Yelena and I were dropped off at Kettle Island’s rocky-rubble beach. We needed to work on her basic skills before going into water over her head. Mike was with Peter for his final skills work before graduation.

Yelena had had one previous day in the ocean, but it was that foggy weekend earlier in the summer when we couldn’t get out of Gloucester Harbor. Today we were in water so warm that we took off our mitts. The scuba stuff gelled quickly for Yelena and we were off to survey the area near the beach. We saw crabs, little lobsters and a striped bass. She was even able to clear her ears and her mask at 15 feet. The water was considerably colder here so we went back to the inflatable which was our surface support vessel and got our gloves. This eliminated the slimy factor so we could explore more and I could give her a crab to hold.

Ilya and Veronica, from the crew, were buddies with the rest of the divers at the northwestern point of Kettle in about 25 feet of water. He reported that the visibility was 20-25 feet there, but there were few lobsters. The water was very warm. After our session completed, Yelena and I snorkeled back towards the big boat as they came to pick us up. We had the inflatable in tow, so it was all hands on deck to clamber aboard with all the gear from the Zodiac while not anchored and while not running aground and while not hitting or being hit by any of the other boats nearby. Peter handled it masterfully.

Our second dive was at the deep wall side of Kettle. Here it was 15-20 feet of visibility on the surface with water temperature in the upper 60s. Ilya’s computer actually registered 72. On the bottom, there was better visibility, but it was colder as the tide rose to high. Yelena made a dive down the down line to its bottom and then we surfaced to go down the anchor line as we practiced her clearing her mask and ears at nearly the same time. It seems that when she smiles (or grimaces, for that matter), her mask tends to fill up. We’re working on having that not happen.

As the divers climbed aboard from their second dive, we could see huge thunderclouds building in the west. That was going to mean a chilly ride home in rain and possibly lightening. So, we packed up quickly and powered back to the harbor.

As we tied up, the crackling and booming was too close for comfort. I got soaked just getting the tanks up the nearly flat ramp and our stuff back into our truck.

At least I didn’t have to wash my gear.

West Kettle and Wreck of the USF New Hampshire

August 2, 2008

The day was forecast to be cloudy with rain in the PM. Another damp weekend. Darn.

But we had nice customers – Janet McCausland and Mark Paul, Darron Burke, Laurent Dubois, and Pat Walsh’s niece, Maggie. The crew was Peter Donahue, Pat, and me. The Captain maintained a tight ship. The trip down to Kettle Island included a slow circumnavigation of it for video purposes. We anchored at the deep wall on the west side of the island in about 50 feet of water. This is a beautiful site with lots of fish and critters to video. The bottom is sandy spaces between boulders and the slope is toppled boulders with trenches, gullies, and a swim through or two.

The tide was coming in and there was a noticeable thermocline at about 15 feet. The surface water was in the high 60s and it was 50 degrees at 50 feet. Cunners were everywhere and very curious about the dome lens on my camera housing. Their google-eyed posing and snaggle-toothed grins were fun to watch. In the beginning, they always dove for cover when I exhaled. After a few minutes of that dance, they got bolder and bravely advanced to check out their “rival” in the lens. There were no lunges or attacks, but there was definite curiousity in their fishy little brains.  Here’s a photo from Flickr that highlights their need for orthodontia:

I also saw a solitary black sea bass and several striped bass in the shallows. They are too elusive and quick to video these days. Maybe I’ll bet one later in the season when they’re fatter and slower.

The second dive was at the Wreck of the USF New Hampshire off Graves Island. We’d stuffed Maggie in my Mares wetsuit and she was swimming around the boat, climbing into and flipping out of the inflatable, swimming around the boat, climbing into the boat, jumping off the swim platform and swimming around the stern. Then, with Laurent as a ringleader, there was lots of jumping off the flying bridge and more swimming around the stern. Such energy in an 11 year old. I’d forgotten how much they resemble those pronging antelope who just jump right up into the air in sheer joy and youthfulness. That was Maggie on Saturday, August 2, 2008.

We ended the day at Jacki K’s for a tasty cookout/eat-in as the rains came.