07 May 2011

Diving the Ancient Mariner with Scubatyme

Guillermo, Leonardo and Felipe signed up for the shallow reef dive with Scubatyme. I got them equipment from Underseas Sports and we got to the boat about 6:45 am on Saturday morning. The parking lot was already pretty full, but there
was room for two more cars. We signed the releases, loaded gear and left with Captain Dave and Divemaster (divemistress?) Amanda.

Sands Harbor Marina is about 20 minutes from the ocean via the ICW. Winds were calm and the sea was flat. We were going to be diving the Ancient Mariner, which is a 165-foot steel ship sunk as part of the Broward County Artificial Reef Program on 9 June 1991.

The vessel was built in Point Pleasant, Virginia, in 1934. She was commissioned as a Navy search and rescue vessel. During WW II, she served as a Nazi submarine hunter until decommissioned in
1964. In 1979, she was converted into a floating restaurant and bar, but financial problems forced the sale of the vessel to a new owner, who

rescheduled the restaurant's opening to 1981. Just before the opening, however, she capsized
and sank at the dock, for no apparent reason. It cost more than $85,000 to refloat and renovate the vessel. When it reopened, the Ancient Mariner operated as a popular eatery until 1986, when more than 100 customers and employees contracted hepatitis A from an infected salad maker employed at the restaurant.

Divemaster Amanda tied off to the wreck and reported that there was a moderate to strong current running South on the bottom and suggested that we stay in the lee of the boat. The four of us entered the water and began pulling ourselved down the descent line. I had set up my camera with a 28-105 mm lens and a dome port for wide angle shooting, but couldn't set up the shoot and hold the line in the current. When I got on the bottom I tried to take all three guys into the wreck where we would be protected by the current. Guillermo and Leonardo were eager to penetrate, but Felipe held back. Guillermo and I left through a hole in the port wall and swam to the bow of the vessel, but neither Felipe nor Leonardo followed. Guillermo and I returned and found them exactly where we had left them.

Once everyone started exploring the wreck, Guillermo signalled that he was really low on air and needed to go up. I nodded okay and went to get Leonardo and Felipe to swim to the line. When we got there, Guillermo was nowhere in sight. We went up the line and I indicated a safety stop at 20 feet. As I hung there, I kept watching the air bubbles leaving the wreck. I was fairly certain that they were just air pockets left by the divers who had explored the vessel. But what if Guillermo was still on the wreck. I had plenty of air, so I dropped back down and went through the vessel to be sure that Guillermo was not there, then returned to Leonardo and Felipe so we could surface together and re-board Scubatyme. Guillermo was already on board. He had not had a watch or computer, so his safety stop was really just a pause, which was why I could not see him when I got to the line.

Our second dive was a drift dive on Turtle Ledge. There were a lot of interesting fish to see, but the wide-angle setup I had chosen for the camera prevented me from getting any good shots. There was too much haze around the reef to get good seascape photos, so I took a few shots of the guys and called it good.

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