Tuesday, September 05, 2006

How I spent Labor Day: Diving the S.S. Wexford

For my birthday, my wife gave me a fine present: a Wreck Dive Trip. This was no small present, not only was there a cost, but for me to be out of the house with a newborn afoot and a toddler under foot was quite a loving sacrifice on her part.

So thorough my local dive shop Sea The World Scuba, I signed up for many a wreck dive, only to see them cancelled for lack of participation. Finally on Labor Day one was going to go! I immediately signed up.

This was my first Great Lakes Dive, and my first boat dive. The charter was with Rec & Tec Dive Charters, Inc, and it departed from Port Sanilac at 8 am to proceed to the wreck of the SS Wexford.

I made the trip up to Port Sanilac starting at 5:30 am and arrived at 7:30 and found the Sylvia Anne, Rec & Tec's vessel. I then filled out the waiver and started loading my gear, and the 10 divers and crew then departed the shore.

The SS Wexford, built in sank in the Great Storm of 1913 and was discovered in 2000. It is located off of grand Bend in Ontario, on the Canadian side of Lake Huron. The ship is 250 feet long. The wreck lies upright, the only wreck from the storm of 1913 that does so. All 22 of her crew were lost with her. The ship lies in 78 feet of water, on a north/south orientation. For the story of her discovery and excellent photos and images see: The Wexford

For a first wreck dive, it was absolute heaven. While the water at 46 degrees was a touch cool for a wetsuit (I had the only wetsuit on the charter, everyone else dove dry), the visibility was fantastic.

In addition to my dive buddy, the divemaster from the crew kept a close eye on me as I was the newbie on board, which certainly added to the safety factor and was quite comforting. Everyone was very helpful to me as the new guy from showing me how to stow the gear to other necessary things.

The first dive began with a giant stride off the bow and into the cold water of Lake Huron. Of course, it wouldn't go perfectly and my mask was slightly dislodged and I got a face-full of cold lake water as a welcome. 46 degree water in the face caused quite a double take, but I warmed up quite quickly. With the mask issue cleared up and united with my dive buddy and the Divemaster, we went down the mooring line towards the stern. This first dive was on the stern of the ship and we saw some sight glasses used to peer into the boilers, and many other artifacts strewn about. The upper deck has multiple holes in it for easy penetration, and for safe exiting. After about 22 minutes I was back on board after a safety stop at 20 feet.

The second dive, after a one hour surface interval was at the bow. We approached down a cable to the bow and proceeded amidships. It was there my dive buddy and I found a white china plate, mostly buried in silt. The plate on the back read "Royal Ironware Sheffield England". Given the ship was built in England in 1883, this could have even been an original plate. There was no date on the plate sadly so its not possible to tell when the earliest time when it could have come to the ship. We left the plate where it was found for other divers to inspect in the future, and given the good ethics of the divers who visit this wreck, I expect it will still be there on my next visit.

The dives were simply incredible, and the weather cooperated magnificently, with calm seas and a warm sun. It was a fantastic first wreck diving experience, and I certainly plan to dive the Wexford again. Rec & Tec runs a fantastic charter, if you are in the area I highly recommend them.

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