It was the morning of Saturday the 21st of July, 2018. We were up earlier than Kirill and Per, but as we started moving around both of them woke up shortly after. We gathered our stuff for the day and put some drinks in the cooler. Everyone had their undergarments in the dryer from the night before. We we got those out and sorted. They wreaked of smelly sea water and sweat.
Tina and I slept ok, but both of us were anxious about finally doing a real (deeper than 100ft) tech dive. Since so far in training, all the dives we have done were 100fsw or less, and our decompression schedule, gas switches and SMB deployments were mainly to simulate what we would be doing on this day. We would also be diving 21/35 (21% Oxygen and 35% He) for the first time, which was pretty cool. Kirill, Per, Myself and Tina made efficient use of the morning and we were out the door fairly early. We piled into the Tundra since parking at the marina is limited and headed out. On the way we stopped at Starbucks to get some much needed coffee. At least this coffee would be consistently Starbucks. I’m not a coffee snob. And I really don’t know what the different types of coffee’s are. I like smooth coffee that I don’t have to add a ton of sugar to it to tame the bitterness. Starbucks to me is bitter but anything was better than the gas station coffee from yesterday.
We arrived at Pompano Dive Center (PDC) right around 8am and began unloading our gear. Rick was there but again we had to wait until the PDC boat was out of the slip. We were fairly lucky that we were able to get a parking spot near the shop. The next order of business was to go analyze our gas (Doubles and deco bottles) that had been left at the fill station the night before. We ended up getting something closer to 18/45 which we were ok with. The higher the helium content the better to a point, as long as the O2 content is ok for the depth.
Everyone helped each other analyze and put the doubles on to carry them to the picnic table near where the boat was. Since the doubles were sitting on the floor it was more difficult to get them up form a sitting position. It can be done but it’s not as easy. We found that it was easier if Per or I lifted them up and then one of us would bear hug the tanks and balance them on our hips, while the other person got in the harness. It was a bit of a production but it worked.
While we waited for the PDC boat to leave, Krill went over our dive plan and we got into our drysuits half way. I decided to go with some thicker undergarments today, since I was really cold the day before. I wore my standard cave undergarments, which are the fourth element arctic, a light wicking shirt and arctic socks. I decided not to wear a hood which would help maintain the right temperature if the water was warm close to the surface. Once the PDC boat was off the dock, Rick brought his boat in and we loaded our gear onto it. We did the same safety brief and were off, heading out to the ocean.
Our plan was to do two dives on the wrecks in approximately 150 ft of water. For the first dive, we headed South from to the Guy Harvey first, which is in approximately 144fsw. The wreck is an artificial reef and the vessel was built in Holland in the 1950’s. She is a 185ft freighter and sunk in 1997.
As we arrived over the Guy Harvey we began to do our final gear preparation and dropped the shot line on the wreck. I hoped that the current wouldn’t be ripping, but as Rick drifted north and then south taking note of his speed, then taking the difference between the two, he determined that the current was 3-4 knots again. As we sat on the edge of the boat waiting for the call to dive, I was nervous. I checked my gear over a few times, mostly out of anxiousness. There was a sense of urgency or a point of no return as I was sitting on the edge of the boat. My aluminum 80 deco bottle hung off my left side slightly throwing me off balance. The gear was heavy and uncomfortable. It was also very hot , so we took turns hosing our selves off with the fresh water hose. The time seemed to slow until finally Rick yelled “Dive Dive Dive”. Kirill back rolled then Tina, then Per and Myself. The water was cool and refreshing. The weight of the gear was was now gone. We regrouped for a few seconds at the surface and I could see the float ball tied to the end of the shot line as we drifted towards it. We began our descent approximately 150-200ft from the ball. As we descended, I stretched out my drysuit, checked my valves, looked at my buddies for bubbles and just tried to relax. Here we go I thought. There really wasn’t any visual reference other than my buddies and a few particulates in the water. We were sinking fairly fast as you must do in high current to hit the wreck.
At around 80ft the shot line appeared out of the murkiness, As we drifted towards the line, I could see it was at a 45 degree angle and the current was moving us rapidly closer to it. The whole team kicked towards the line. Kirill was able to grab it, then I was able to as well, but Per and Tina just missed it. The current had me stretched out like a flag on a windy day. I was holding on with one hand and reached back with the other to hopefully grab Tina. I could see that there was no way she would be able to kick against the current and she and Per were getting further away from us despite her best effort. So I let go of the shot line to rejoin my team. The current was so strong that when I did let go it was as if I was yanked away. The shot line instantly seemed 10 feet away from me. There was no chance I could have kicked back to it. We continued our decent thinking maybe the current was less on the bottom and we could swim at a deeper depth back to the wreck.
I remember feeling a bit of excitement as my depth gauge read 100 feet then 110, 120, 130. I had never seen those depths on my gauge. Finally I could see the sandy bottom as we hit 140. The current was still very strong as we arrived at the bottom around 150ft deep. There was nothing but sand, sponges and old bits of fishing gear. The shot line was no where to be seen. We tried to swim against the current in the direction that we suspected the wreck was, but it was hopeless. We missed the wreck and there was no telling how far off of it we were. It’s likely that it was only a few hundred feet away, hiding in the murky water just out of site. But we had no chance to find it now, so we began our ascent.
Just like all the days before the ascents got better and better. I was still a little slow off the bottom though. We were drifting with the current since we left the bottom and I remember thinking that we must be hundreds of feet off the wreck by now. The sandy bottom disappeared in the murk at about 130ft. From there, we had no visual reference, just blue water, bubble sand my buddies. Within minutes we arrived at 70. We shot our SMB to the surface to mark our position, did our switches to our deco gas and began our slow ascent to the surface.
At some point during our ascent from 70ft, I noticed a large remora swimming around and between us. I thought it was really cool and they are a strange looking fish. The fins are arranged in an X shape and it has a flat head with wrinkly ridges on it. At first the remora was really friendly as it swam around, and we all got a kick out of the fact that it was so interested in us. However the thought didn’t occur to me at the time, but they often attach themselves to bigger predators like sharks. Then out of nowhere, our friendly remora starting nipping our fingers. I guess he or she was hungry. It didn’t really hurt that much. But it did draw blood and it startled you when it happened. The teeth are like little rasps. We had to do the last bit of our deco clenching our fists, because if you dangled your fingers out, the remora would come from nowhere and bite them. No amount of shooing the fish away seemed to deter it.
We arrived at the surface and Rick was there waiting for us. We told him we missed the wreck and he said that we drifted over a mile north. We were further off the wreck than we thought. It’s really tough to hot drop on a wreck in 3-4knot current. You have to get down fast or you will fly pat the wreck or not even see it at all. Kirill did his debrief and we had to keep our hands out of the water because the remora would nip our fingers if we put them in. Mean and nasty thing. Originally I thought the remora was cool but at this point, I was over it. We survived our first real tech dive. Although it wasn’t a glamorous dive by any means. We saw lots of sand and blue water.
Everyone climbed back on the boat and we got out of our gear. We planned our second dive to be on the Miler Lite but we had to wait a while before we could get back in the water. Rick drove the boat south and retrieved the shot line that was still on the wreck. I was amazed at how far south it was from where we surfaced. This really highlights the importance of using an SMB to mark your position in the water as soon as possible.
During our surface interval, we snacked on crackers and had some gatoraid. We talked a bit about strategy for the next dive to actually see the wreck, while Rick set the shot line on the Miller Lite. I was much less nervous this time, when thinking about the next dive. The training was working and I think we all had a confidence booster that even if the dive didn’t go as planned we could handle it. Drifting deco is not an easy skill to master. You have to maintain your depth and position in the water with precision while being task loaded. I was pleased to hear that we were improving on each dive.
Soon our surface interval was over and it was time to try again. We got back into our gear, and awaited the signal from Rick to dive. We were motoring over the Miller Lite figuring out the direction of the current. As we passed the float ball you could literally see the current pulling the ball partially under the water. The current was strong here too, “Another 4knot current” Rick shouted. The Miller Lite is a freighter, approximately 206′ long closer to Pompano/Hillsboro inlet. She sits in approximately 165fsw and is a tech dive wreck only. She was originally a Germain vessel but later purchased by the county to serve as a reef. Miller Lite donated money for the cleaning and it was sunk in 1987.
Rick gave us more of a lead this time and we hit the water roughly 300 yards from the ball. Surely we would see the wreck this time I thought. We did our decent just like before. Dropping as fast as we could. Rick dropped us due south of the wreck so I was watching my compass as we descended. I was waiting anxiously to see a giant looming shadow in the distance but nothing appeared. I kept watching the compass heading. We were drifting north-north west.
The bottom was in sight and each of us looked in all directions looking for the wreck. We squinted our eyes, held our hands up to our masks as if we were shielding from the glare, but nothing could be seen except sand and blue water. Kirill asked me what direction we should swim and I kept us going north thinking maybe we would drift into it. The current seemed less on the bottom but still there. After 10 minutes of swimming around, we gave the thumb. We missed the wreck again.
The ascent went just as before only this time I don’t recall the remora being there. Once we were back on the surface Kirill did his debrief and again Rick was right there. We drifted pretty far north again. Kirill bestowed us the honor of being the first of his Tech 1 students to miss the wreck twice in a row. We climbed back onto the boat. We were 0-2. Feeling somewhat defeated and humbled, we got out of our drysuits and into shorts as Rick motored back to the marina. It was nice to have the cool breeze and ocean spray hitting us after being in hot drysuits all day. We joked with each other about missing the wrecks.
The next order of business was a shower and food. Everyone was starving and we began making our plans even before we were back at the dock. The ritual of unloading doubles and taking them to the fill station was familiar now. Tomorrow we would be diving a deeper wreck called the Hydro Atlantic and we needed 18/45. Which we already basically had in our back gas, so the shop just needed to top them off over night.
Once we got back to the house, everyone showered, Tina fed Marley and hung out for an hour or so. Marley was doing really well so far this weekend. We kept her in our bedroom while we were out diving. The bedroom had nice cool tile floors and she seemed to like them. Dinner was planned for a little pub that had a good beer selection and for the life of me I can’t remember what it was called.
We met Rick at the pub and had a nice relaxing dinner. The fun thing about this class is that for the most part, nobody talked much about class at dinner. We didn’t talk about diving much at all. It was a way to unwind with friends and it was nice to hear stories. We all had fairly varied backgrounds and it made for a fun evening. After dinner we did our normal evening routine of drying undergarments, bring lights in to charge and relaxing. Everyone was in bed by 9 or 9:30 because we were all tired.