Monday, July 05, 2010

July 5 - Wreck Diving in Thunder Bay

After geting back to the US in time for the 4th of July fireworks, I packed and prepared for a dive charter to Lake Huron in Thunder Bay -  my first time diving the wrecks of Thunder Bay.

My regular dive team of Wes and Keith and myself accompanied by our instructor extraordinaire James and with our friendly fellow (and more advanced) diver Mills went on the trip, Chad having bailed this very morning and missing a fine charter.  Traffic was light as we rolled north to Thunder Bay and we made it in very good time.

The boat was a six-pack, run by Captain Frank Rosinski of Great Lakes Dive Charters.  It is a nice boat but not to easiest to gear up on prior to striding into the water or getting back onto from a dive, but the Captain had a very efficient system worked out that served quite well. He's also stronger than an ox, really knows his stuff and does a great charter - what more could you ask for?

These were the final dives of our UTD Rec 2 Class with James supervising and videotaping but othwerwise not inserting himself into the dive planning process or execution.  For each dive he wanted to hear our dive plan and he gave us a mission for each dive tailored to the ship

We first dove the Grecian and then the Montana.
Here's the Grecian, a  296 foot long freighter of the Turtleback design (the turtlebacks were successors to the interesting looking whaleback freighters)  underway:

The Grecian sank in 1906 two miles from Thunder Bay while being towed after she had run aground.  The propeller design was quite interesting - each blade was removable and replaceable independently so that if a blade was lost the entire prop would not have to be removed and a new blade was just bolted on.

The Grecian is split in two with the bow detached allowing access to all levels of the stern of the ship and its huge cargo holds - as you approach the break you can see the entire cross-section of the ship open and waiting for you.

The mission for our Grecian dive - find the replacement propeller blades in the cargo hold in the stern section of the ship.

So we headed down the line in some medium level current onto the stern, admired the propeller at about 100 feet, which was missing two blades and headed up to the deck rail at 75 feet:

Over the rail and onto the stern deck we went.

We traveled forward along the top deck, passing over the open cargo holds.  We'd be coming back to the stern inside and through them to inspect them more closely.

And slipping into the cargo hold we found the replacement prop blades:

After traveling through the cargo holds we ascended up the last open hold and surveyed the stern until we reached our no deco limit and began our ascent, saying goodbye to the awesome wreck of the Grecian.

Visibility was incredible for Lake Huron and again, my camera got nice clean shots as long as the flash was off.

After a surface interval we headed off to dive the Montana.

The Montana was a 235 foot long steamer built in 1872 that burned and sank in 1914.  We decided to stay on the stern as it has Montana's most impressive feature - the huge boilers and coal fired steam engine that is intact and rises from 70 feet up to 30 feet underwater.  Our mission on this dive was to find the huge wrench located on the stern.

Can you say needle in a haystack?

Fortunately it is a really big wrench and it stood out:

It weighed about 45-50 pounds and it was impressive.

The fireboxes on the boilers have their doors intact and now house gobies where coal once burned.

The boiler and engine is immense.

Here's the top of the engine, and then a shot of the same with Wes in for scale.

The manufacturer's plate on the boiler is still legible after almost 100 years underwater.

After viewing the engine and boilers we traveled through an overhead and went to look at the Montana's prop:

  We then looped back for another look at the engine and boilers and then took the up-line back to the surface.

After the dives when we returned to port we were able to see the winch system for unloading tanks in action.  It was amazing - the tanks were hooked up, raised and then lowered right into the bed of Wes' truck - making it the easiest boat unloading ever.  The we battled massive holiday traffic, made worse by a goofball on Highway 75 who had a flat in the left lane and instead of pulling over stopped right there in the lane - that blockage cost us 45 minutes just by itself.  So tired and after a long day I returned home after having two fantastic wreck dives - visibility was great, the weather pleasant, the waves cooperative, and the Lake a balmy 58 degrees.

A great way to spend a day on the 4th of July holiday (even if it was the 5th).

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