Archive for October, 2008

Last Trip of the Season

October 25, 2008

There were some Frogs on board today for what turned out to be the last charter of 2008.  Pat, Pete, Kathy and I crewed while The Captain kept the whole thing going.  We had Meg, Dan H., Paul S., Todd R., and Alli R. with us for a trip north under cloudy skies with a steadily increasing south wind.  We were going to get wet with Alli as a first step to helping her get her basic scuba certification.   On the way north, we saw a seal in the Annisquam just south of the railroad bridge.  It swam on the surface towards Gloucester Harbor and I passed it on our starboard side.  Its huge black eye seemed to be checking us out, but by the time I’d gotten everyone’s attention to look at it, it dived sleekly in a quick plunge.

As we exited the Annisquam River, I couldn’t see any other boats out at all.  Maybe everyone else had heeded the weather forecast which promised rain and 20 knot winds.  So far, the breeze was manageable because it was from the dead south direction.  The Restaurant at Folly Cove was going to be a good site for our newbee. 

It was – on the surface.  Underwater was suffering from the week’s worth of northerly winds that had blown silt and debris into the cove’s mouth.  There were underwater patches of 15 foot vis right next to where someone had just been adjusting their weights and stirred up the bottom.  The water was between 52 and 54, according to whom you asked.  The air was in the upper 50s.  Meg, Alli, Todd and I made our dive away from the pretty stone wall because there were fishermen and hooks at the walls’ deepest point.  Everyone was doing fine until the chill got too be too much.  Luckily for me, Peter descended to point us back to the boat without me having to ascend to find it.  The muck had gotten my sense of direction all twisted, so I didn’t have any idea where the boat was.

Meg and I continued the dive after Alli got out.  We saw some large crabs and several ghost traps with tiny starfish on them.  No decorator crabs anywhere, however.

For the second dive, we motored over to Lanesville Shores, off the cemetery.  It was calmer here because we got pretty close to the shore.  The underwater terrain was huge boulders and deep crevasses, but no dogfish.  Some of the hunters were happy with the place, so that made it OK.  Again, I dived with Meg, who did very well with her air.  I ran out of steam before she did, so asked if we could go back on the surface.  Turns out my drysuit had leaked down the folded neck seal because I’m not being careful enough as I tuck it in.  That could have added to my feeling of being cold, no doubt.  The bottom was about 30 feet with visibility in places in the 15 foot range. 

Pete cooked chili and we all used it to warm our hands and innards.

Too bad that the season’s over, but good to have had the last day end well.

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No Diving Today

October 19, 2008

We canceled the trip due to cold and windy conditions.

Pictures of Last Weekend’s Site and Divers

October 19, 2008

Deb G and Fred W. sent up some pictures they took of the USF NH and their group.

First is Betsey and Andrew of the USS New Hampshire, taken by Deb:

Betsey and Andrew of the USS NH on the site of the wreck of the USF NH

Betsey and Andrew of the USS NH on the site of the wreck of the USF NH

Next is a copper pin sticking up from some ribs, taken by Fred:

Copper Pin Sticking Up in a Piece of the Wreck

Copper Pin Sticking Up in a Piece of the Wreck

Last is a flounder, taken by Fred:

Flounder under Wreckage
Flounder under Wreckage

Thanks, guys.

Chilly and Breezy

October 18, 2008

We had Todd R. and Bryan H. with us today.  They were easy to please.  I explained that the predicted conditions of a north wind would have us going south.  The Captain wanted to try Bemo Ledge, but as I turned left out of the mouth of Gloucester Harbor, the swells were splashing on Mother Ann rock.  I could tell Bemo wouldn’t be a good place today.

Instead, I turned south to Kettle Island and anchored inside the island in about 25 feet of relatively calm water next to Fran Marcoux’s Daybreaker.  He and his son were on board and their people were just finishing their second dive of the morning.  Pat and Kathy helped everyone else get ready.  The Captain and I were bubble watching today.  Pete and Bryan were diving together, while Todd was on his own.

The water was 55 degrees with about 12 feet of visibility.  The air was only about 50.  The wind was 10-15 out of the north.  It was partly overcast, but when little shards of sun broke through, the warmth was luscious.  Pete cooked vegetable soup and we used it to get our hands warm.  It was the first hot lunch of the fall.

The hunters returned happy, so we motored over to Coolidge Point for the second dive.  This time the water was a little shallower, but the visibility was about the same.  I aimed Todd at Saddle Rock and explained that there were often big lobsters in the fissures along its front (southwest-facing) edge.  He agreed that there were some big ones that were too far back in the hole for him to get.  His high-powered light was a great help in finding them.

As we motored home, the day brightened a little, but the wind kept up.  Angling back into the slip was a ropes and muscle affair.  Everyone did well, according to The Captain.

Todd was very generous with his catch so that anyone who wanted a lobster was able to take one home. 

Too chilly to be as much fun as it has been in recent weeks.

The people are what makes it doable under these conditions.

USS New Hampshire Meets the USF New Hampshire

October 12, 2008

NAUI Instructors, Deb G. and Fred W. brought three divers with them from Connecticut.  Andrew and Betsy had ties to the USS New Hampshire and wanted to dive on the wreck of the frigate New Hampshire, if possible.  The other diver, Kerri, had ties to the USS Dallas and wanted to see the wreck too.  We were happy to oblige.  We had Pete, Pat, and Veronica as crew.

The tide was just turning as we glided under the bridge.  What a surprise to see Lynn C. and her blond-haired daughter, Nicolette, waving from the sidelines!  Then, we turned south as we exited Gloucester Harbor and were anchoring over the wreck in no time.  We saw Arni P. and his buddy just finishing up as we settled in.  Their boat was anchored right over one of the well-known “glory holes.”  No wonder he has such luck in finding treasure at the site.  Thanks again, Arnie, for giving us the key chains made from USF NH copper sheathing nails. 

Everyone was quick to splash in and get oriented with Pete as the guide.  When one of the divers had trouble getting down and staying down, I rowed over with another three pound soft weight for her BC’s pocket.  That did the trick, she reported later.  I was also able to relieve some of the divers of their booty so they could continue to dig unhindered by copper shards and nails in their gloves.

When everyone returned to the boat, there were lots of exclamations over the variety of loot.  I think the digging frenzy exhibited by Pete must have swayed them, because the vote was to stay in the same place for the second dive.  As they were getting warmed up a little, I was visited by a tiny, disoriented sparrow up on the flying bridge.  It bumbled and banged its way onto the pile of net bags we use for lobstering.  I called Veronica up to ask her expert opinion about what kind of bird it was and what we should do about it.  She suggested it might be an Ipswich Sparrow

Maybe Our Visitor was an Ipswich Sparrow

Maybe Our Visitor was an Ipswich Sparrow

and recommended just leaving it alone to get destressed and reoriented.  Sure, enough.  Before the second dive started, it had recovered enough to fly up and off over to Graves Island.

More copper sheathing, complete with embedded nails, was recovered by Kerri with Pete’s help during the second dive.  She is a volunteer at the Mystic Aquarium and carefully washed away any sea creatures that accompanied the crumpled copper up from the bottom. 

Andrew and Betsy found a large ray during their second dive and followed it around the site.  Deb G. pulled out her wreck reel and showed its use to her students while Fred pondered what had caused his new dry suit to be not entirely dry.

Great day.  Very nice people.

The Silo at Bemo Ledge and Jacki’s Joy

October 11, 2008

The day was predicted to be picture perfect – little to no wind, cloudless skies, and mid-60s.  Plus there were going to be few boaters out to create bouncy wakes to rock us around as we sit at anchor.  So, the Captain picked going south to Bemo Ledge and then Jacki asked for Bass Rocks.  No problemo.

We had LD, Andy from Worcester, Jacki, Linsley and Kevin Mordasky from Connecticut, and Greg B. on board.  Pete and Pat were crewing.  The tide was high and just turning as we drifted up to the Blynman Bridge for an opening.  They called us “Easy Does It” in the conversation asking for a lift, but we didn’t correct them.  I think that’s as good a name for our enterprise as the real one. 

We anchored just off shore from the clapboard silo east of Bemo Ledge.  It’s a remarkable landmark and one I can be sure to return to.  The sun was bright and we suited up quickly.  Greg and I worked on his scuba skills in about 30 feet of water.  The visibility was surely 30 feet in the 55 degree ocean.  Some of the underwater vistas reminded me of the Florida Keys because there were bowl-shaped formations in the rocks and sand patches between them.  There was a pinkish cast to the rocks from coraline algae.  Greg’s new mask from Freedom Diving really made a difference as he practiced clearing it.  He now had a 100% success rate, compared with ~60% with the old one. 

As they climbed back on board, everyone exclaimed about the great visibility.  It made good sense to try another spot for the variety.  Jacki asked if we could return to the flagpole at the Atlantis Motor Inn along the Back Shore.  It was a very good decision.  Such a good one, in fact, that we decided to officially name the spot in her honor.   It’s now Jacki’s Joy.

I anchored in about 25 feet and was amazed by the variety of huge boulders right under the boat.  Again there were hollowed out amphitheatre shapes as well as sand patches for Pete and Greg to use for doffing and donning practice.  I found a  huge lobster under one of the largest boulders and many smaller ones too.  The water was very clear in the bottom 10 feet, with less visibility as you surfaced.

We remarked over the quantity of sparkles on the water surface as we powered back to the marina.  I think it’s a combination of a low sun and low humidity as well as the clear sky that gives the wavelets that Fall shimmer.

Beautiful, beautiful day with a brand new NAUI Scuba Diver graduating as well.  Congratulations, Greg!

Training New Divers

October 5, 2008

We had two beginners today.  The rest of the crowd included one of their fathers, Peter K., and two civilians.  That made the site decision easy because it would need to accommodate the just-getting-started folks.  The two civilians were good eggs, Paul S. and LD, who are always willing to go anywhere.  It turned out that Kettle Island beach would be calm enough for the newbees and everyone else could get wet at the west side of the island, but within sight of the beach.  The Captain stayed alert while Pete and Pat herded scubas and drove the boat.  Veronica and I were beaching it with the students.

There were dark skies but with no wind and a flat calm sea.  Not a breath of air was stirring as we paddled into the beach.  That made it easy to perform skills in waist-deep water.  The visibility was about 15-20 feet just off the pebbley shore.  In fact, there was kind of a steep drop off as the bottom transitioned to muddy sand from the pebbles.  But the tide was coming in and we could easily moor the inflatable and divers flag with just a 5 pound weight on the end of the painter.

Everyone did great in clearing their ears and learning to breathe from the scuba unit without a mask in the 55 degree salty water.  This assists them when it comes to mask clearing, I think.  It’s just hard to do it when the cold water makes you feel like gasping as it washes over your eyes and nose.  We donned our tanks and made short forays out into the 20 feet zone to circle large boulders that housed lobsters, green crabs, hermit crabs, and little fish.  Bobby got to practice retrieving a lost fin and a slip-sliding weight belt, while Greg got to practice towing stuff, turning on another diver’s air (mine), and wrestling scuba gear out of or into the inflatable.  On the bottom, we saw the shed carapace of a lobster that had molted and moon snails that retracted their gray mantle slowly as you held them on your palm.  Bobby pointed out a teeny flounder that was no bigger than your little fingernail.  I would have missed it.

When we’d spent about an hour playing around in the beach front area, we decided we’d swim over to meet the Easy Diver where it was moored about 1/8 of a mile away to get warmed up.  All our scuba gear was back in the inflatable and we lazed along on our backs, using just our swim fins.  Bobby K. and Greg B. were comfortable and talkative as we moved along together, listening to the voices coming over the water from the other divers getting back onto the big boat.  They powered over to meet us and we gave each other great gobs of glory for our fin swim efforts.

Since Peter K. had to catch a plane at 6 PM, we agreed that we’d be “one and done.”

We had good fun.

Making Lemonade Out of Lumpy Lemons

October 4, 2008

The weatherman had said the wind would be from the wsw.  Uh-uh.  It was more like nnw when we exited the Annisquam River and headed towards Halibut Point.  The weatherman had said 8-12 mph.  Not here.  It was at least 15 and maybe 20 mph with the fetch bringing lumps and swells between 1-3 feet.

Riding across the top of the cape meant taking the waves on our port beam.  That made things wet and windy on the deck.  However, we knew that going south wasn’t going to be much fun for the beginner who was with us for his first scuba lesson.  The wind had been blowing from that direction for most of the week.  Greg B. was going to have to be in stand-up water and nothing along the north side was looking good enough.

Then we got to Folly Cove and I could see that wa-a-a-y inside was flat.  I anchored in about 15 feet of water just under the A.R.E.R. graffito on the wall.  The tide was coming in from dead low.  The wind was not noticeable at all and we could see the sandy bottom from the flying bridge.  We were quickly good to go.

Peter, The Captain, and LD helped NAUI Instructor candidate, Seth R., and me get Greg into his wetsuit and the rest of his rubber goods.  Then we put all the remaining gear and a divers flag into the inflatable and Seth towed it to the beach while Greg and I fin-swimmed along side. 

Richard Brandolini and LD were able to make their dives along the wall while Seth and I worked with the beginner in waist deep, very clear, green-tinted water.  Looking down through the surface layer showed a distinct thermocline or else a layer of freshwater lying on the salty lower layer from all the rain we’d had.

Greg was a quick learner.  He had the basics covered after just being shown them one time.  Snorkel swimming and surface diving and snorkel clearing and fin swimming and regulator retrieval and regulator clearing were easy beans for him.  Mask clearing was going to take more practice, but he had the fundamentals down.  Peter swam into the beach to help and agreed to be our guide back out deeper.  After double-checking Greg’s air supply and sending Seth back on the surface with the inflatable, we made Greg’s first real scuba dive back to the Easy Diver underwater.  We saw lots of hermit crabs and several baby moon snails on the way.  The visibility was about 15 feet.  The water temperature was about 55 degrees.

Then it was weightbelt ditching time.  Greg’s weight belt was tied off to the boat and he practiced how it felt to ditch it after jumping in from the swim platform.  We emphasized how important it is to be able and willing to throw it away.

Greg’s and my second dive was right under the boat in about 20 feet of water.  He was able to clear his ears on the downline.  We did bouyancy control skills, fin removal and replacement, took off our tanks and swam around with them under our arms and saw more critters along the way.  He did great.

The way back to the marina was as bumpy and uncomfortable as it had been on the way out.  Now the wind was even more northerly and we were taking the swells and chop on the starboard stern corner.  It’s not a fun ride that way because the boat tends to fishtail and the driver is constantly compensating.  Our track from a GPS screen would have looked like it was made by a drunken sailor.

But, the good news was that it had become almost high tide by the time we needed to schlep the gear up the ramp and into the parking lot.  Many hands made light work.