A Tale of a Really Bad Dive – Part 3

Getting the dive ladder deployed in a bad sea state

Oh sh*t!

I think that’s where I left off. Let me go back and check…

Tale of a Really Bad Dive – Part 2

Yep – oh sh*t!

This dive has already taken a turn for the worse, though I didn’t realize it at the time. Not even left the marina and I’d already used up the first of my three available oh sh*ts.

So strap in, its going to get a bit rocky…

7:00am Aug 13th has us rolling out of Gloucester, MA aboard the dive vessel Daybreaker. Aboard is my buddy Michael, NEAq scientist Randi and one of her interns, a safety observer from Excelerate Energy, a safety diver, Captain Fran and his mate. The skies were overcast and blustery. A storm front had rolled through overnight and it was rough, even by northeast standards. Too rough in hindsight (are you counting?) but I had rolled the dice and, you know – plan the dive, dive the plan.

Gear for the dive, including the 300′ dropline

An hour and a half later Daybreaker rendezvous with our security escort, the 124′ patrol ship Gateway Endeavor, at a nondescript patch of grey ocean some 12 NM east of Boston. An hour and a half of getting beat up by the 5 foot plus, tightly stacked seas, while Michael and I turned inward as we mentally ran through the plan – and, speaking for myself, dealt with the usual stomach churning stress that always precedes a big dive.

Rehearsing the dive before gearing up
Michael visualizing the dive

Meanwhile the little Lophius was battling her way out of Boston Harbor. The small craft advisory most definitely applied to her, but she’s a hearty Eastern hull and is used to taking a pounding. Unfortunately JD didn’t fare as well (as I later found out). One particularly aggressive wave sent him airborne, striking his head on the hardtop, causing a pretty nasty gash. But he and Barb pressed on.

Getting the Interrogator set up to talk to the targeted pop-up

As we waited for the Lophius to arrive on site we set up the Interrogator and started running a search grid, using the interrogator to ping the pop-up whose GPS coordinates we had targeted. As Daybreaker continued running passes topside, the pop-up, laying some 280’ on the seafloor continuously reported back distance readings between it and Daybreaker . The numbers steadily ticked off on the Interrogator’s display – 400′, 390′, 380′,…,280′, 290′, 300′, 310′ – with me feeding Captain Fran course corrections until eventually I was somewhat confident the device was beneath us – or thereabouts – and ordered the dropline to be deployed. But it was basically finding a needle in a haystack.

Giving course corrections to Captain Fran based on Interrogator data

Okay – sidebar. Dropline. What’s that?

When decompression diving, in open water and subject to strong currents, it is absolutely critical you have a vertical line that you descend on, and more importantly, that you decompress along during your painfully slow ascent. Your dropline is literally your lifeline to the surface – you protect it like it’s your own child. You lose it and, well, not to be a broken record but, you can very well lose your life.

Referring back to my Andrea Doria dive, there’s a bit where I describe using a dropline in greater detail. I’ve been told I’m really wordy, so for those in that camp, here’s a direct link to that section of the video…

During my Andrea Doria talk I discuss using a dropline

For this recovery attempt the dropline was not only our safety line, but was also the guide to our target – we hoped. The pop-up lay on a featureless bottom, an endless sediment drape that once touched becomes an impenetrable silt cloud that no light can penetrate. I knew the bottom features completely because a month earlier the Aquarium had contracted a company to send down a ROV to see if it could locate the po-ups. Though it failed at that task, the video it recorded gave me a pretty grim visual of what to expect on the bottom. Compounding that, at 280′ in the northern Atlantic, there is absolutely no light – it’s so pitch black its oppressive. There is nothing for reference – no up or down, no left or right – just choking darkness. We needed that line – and my placing it at the right spot – to find the pop-up.

So prior to dive day I asked Captain Fran assemble a dropline – specifically a 300′ length of 3/8″ nylon line, with a turkey ball (a large round float) at one end and a 50lb mushroom anchor, with a rolled-up 80lb lift bag attached, on the other. Additionally, I asked him to install an in-line float such that it was 60 feet “up the line” from the anchor. The line was cut to 300′, rather then the expected 280′ depth, to allow for wave and tidal action, but this would mean the descent wasn’t a straight drop to the bottom.  Therefore the in-line float was to ensure the last 60′ to the bottom was a straight run down.

Right – back to the dive. Once I was happy with the boat’s position I had the dropline’s anchor tossed overboard, the line paying out from a tote on the boat (LOL, that sounds funny) until the turkey ball unceremoniously followed. There, bobbing in the rather intimidating seas, floated a blue ball that looked so innocent but, unknown to me, represented a really bad dive that I wasn’t sure I was going to survive.

The dropline deployed – and the starting point of our dive…


To be continued… (again!)

One Comment on “A Tale of a Really Bad Dive – Part 3

  1. Pingback: A Tale of a Really Bad Dive – Part 2 | john h hanzl (author)

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