June 20, 2011 - To Dive North Carolina

June 20, 2011  •  Leave a Comment
What it Takes to Dive NC

     Some divers visiting the Crystal Coast of North Carolina to dive the wrecks of the Graveyard of the Atlantic are instantly gratified on there first visits with perfect weather, top dive conditions and memorable marine life encounters with Sharks, Rays, Jacks, Turtles, 'Cudas' and rarer sightings such as Manta Rays and Mola Mola 


Ocean Sunfish or Mola Mola.  Photo taken in
Bali, Indonesia.  (Stock Photo)
     Other divers are sometimes not as fortunate and encounter more adverse conditions such as low visibility, strong currents and rough seas. All of which are endemic to diving in the open ocean. A worst case scenario is the divers who travel from afar to dive and never leave the dock due to strong winds high seas making it too dangerous to dive.  For these unfortunate divers I can only say without any self interest that patience is required.  Many veterans of North Carolina offshore wreck diving will tell you the same thing.  If you try and try again your odds of chalking up a 'top ten' most memorable dive here are very good.  


     A large percentage of Olympus Dive Centers business is comprised of repeat customers who are the divers who put forth the extra effort in the search of the 'perfect dive'.  They know from experience how great the diving here in North Carolina can be.  I have been very fortunate over the years to live and work in the dive industry in such places as Vanuatu, Truk Lagoon and Mozambique and experience some amazing diving but some of my top ten dives ever have been on the wrecks of the Outer Banks.  (stay tuned for a future blog on my Top Ten Dives) For example, my first Manta Ray encounter was on the wreck of the Keshina off of Cape Hatteras, NC with a second encounter with three of them on the wreck of the Caribsea.  I have seen more Shark species here than any other location such as Hammer Heads, Nurse, Bulls, Gray Reefs, Sand Tigers, Sand Bars and a Great White Shark.  Yes, that's right a Great White Shark.  


     In July of 2001, while crewing for Captain Robert on the Midnight Express I went in the water to do a bit of freediving and spearfishing while on surface interval after a dive on the wreck of the Carib Sea.  I wasn't in the water but a minute or two when this beautiful 15 foot Great White Shark passed within 20 feet of me on the surface.  Needless to say I was in a bit of a shock.  Not so much because I saw what some call a 'man eater' swim by me but seeing such a rare shark for these waters.  I decided being back on the boat was probably a better bet. As I climbed the ladder in a hasty fashion many of the passengers asked me, "why are you back so soon". I replied with a hurried voice "There's a Great White Shark in the water". The next thing I heard were mocks of disbelief.  "Ya right there's no Great White" said one person tauntingly (and you know who you are because I know your reading this right now). Before the skeptics could finish there disparaging remarks a huge dorsal fin cut through the water around the stern of the boat but 20 feet away. The next things I heard were "oh my God", "holy #@!&^," and a few gasps and oohs and ahhhs.  Of course I was obligated by all laws of good sense to retort at once "see I told you there was a Great White Shark".  If anyone accuses me of gloating at this precise moment they are absolutely correct.  


     What most didn't realize, but Captain Robert did, was that we had two divers in the water on a dive.  Robert wrote a message on a slate that said "Great White Shark No Joke", and attached it to a five foot long speargun and slid it down the anchor line so that the divers would hopefully see this, abort there dive and use the speargun as defense if needed.  We did not want to harm the shark if at all possible.  Us divers are shark lovers.  The gun was more to be used as a poker if the shark got to close.  Before the two divers read this message they had already seen this behemoth pass by them within a few feet and immediately began there ascent without the spear gun.  When asked later "why did you leave the gun" the diver answered, "I saw the size of the shark and then the size of the gun and figured the gun was useless". After a few more passes by the Shark the divers scrambled up the ladder safe and sound.  It was apparent that the Shark had no interest in making these foreign looking critters in to a meal.  Which by the way is the case with most shark encounters. It is a rare exception where you will hear about a shark eating a human.  


     Most often humans are mistaken for the sharks natural prey and are bitten accidentally.  Unfortunately the damage is already done for those rare few who have been bitten.  Curiosity was the only inspiration for this Great White Shark on this day. Needless to say the boat was abuzz with stories while everyones, including my own, adrenaline levels returned to normal.  A day or two later a story appeared in the Carteret County News-Times paper giving the highlights of the days events where I was merely called 'the divemaster' in the story while Captain Robert actually had his name printed.  Oh well my fifteen minutes of fame would have to come another day. The point of this story, if I may get back to it, is if you dive North Carolina waters long enough I guarantee you will have dives that will go down in your personal log as 'Top Ten'.  You just have to persevere the 'not so great days'.


The original Carteret County newspaper that published the story on August 1, 2001





Sand Tiger Shark on the wreck of the Spar.  (Stock Photo)
     This past weekend at Olympus Dive Center had been a little trying for the some of the divers traveling from as far away as Rhode Island to try there hand at the wreck diving here.  On Friday June 17 we had  what we call a 'blow day' or in other words trip cancellations due to high winds and seas.  On Saturday however the wind laid down long enough for both the Midnight Express and the Olympus to make it out to the inshore wrecks for a fine day of diving.  The inshore wrecks are closer to land and lay in shallower water of approximately 60 feet.  Although the diving here can be fantastic with great viz and big critters the conditions generally are not as good as the offshore wrecks closer to the Gulf Stream.  We had a group from the Kalipso Dive Shop in Rhode Island diving with the 'Midnight" who were interested in seeing some Sand Tiger Sharks. As luck would have it my mate, John spotted several rather large Sand Tigers after tying in to the wreck of the Suloideour second dive of the day.  The Suloide accidentally sank after colliding with the wreck of the Ario which was sunk by a German U-Boat during WWII.  The Suloide today is a scattered debris field due to the government depth charging and wire dragging the wreck because of the obvious navigational hazard that it was.  Some of the divers reported seeing a shark or two and someone even said they saw a large Nurse Shark hiding under a piece of hull plating.  Another rare and really nice find.  Overall the dive was a success and even though we didn't get offshore most seemed to be happy to get out for a dive no matter what.

     On Sunday the 19th the winds once again picked up and continued reports of strong currents by the fishing boats came in to us via the VHF radio.  Both the Olympus and the Midnight would play it safe and make way once again for the inshore wrecks.  This time a group of divers from Waterworld Dive Shop in Raleigh, NC would join Kalipso Divers for the day. Today though the trip out was slightly more challenging with large swells and a confused sea making the trip a little longer than usual.  We arrived at the wreck of the Indra with the morale of most of the divers appearing to be high after tolerating a bumpy trip out. All were briefed with safety tips for entering and exiting the water on rough days and one after the other all the divers made the splash and headed down to play on the Indra which sits in only 60 feet of water and was sporting about 20 feet of visibility this day.  Judging by the long 45-60 minute dive times of most of the divers I would say they were having a decent enough time to keep them down there. Not before long there heads began surfacing in to the rough ocean seas.  Everyone handled the ladders like a pro and safely made it back up to the deck of the 'Midnight'.  Once all were back on board it was decided that the second dive would be cancelled due to the winds and seas building.  We would quit while we were ahead and make way for Morehead City.  The Midnight would surf the swells back home with a steady wind pushing us along in a comfortable and timely fashion.


     Once back to the dock everyone began packing up there vehicles to head back to wherever they came from.  I spoke to a few and encouraged them to come back again and try there hand at diving in the Atlantic Ocean once again.   As I often say, you can go to Disney World and ride on Space Mountain for some fun but that ride gets predictable each time you go.  That's not the case with diving here in the 'Graveyard of the Atlantic'.  Part of the excitement is never knowing what your going to get.  For added proof, if your a first time reader to my blog please see some of my previous postings with photos and video shorts of some of the dives we have had so far this year.
A school of Atlantic Spade Fish seeking cover under the muzzle of a 5 inch
51 caliper canon on the wreck of the USS Schurz.


     This last week wasn't all wind and bad weather though.  On Thursday June 16th we took a charter out to the wreck of the popular WWI wreck site, the USS Schurz. We had calm seas, 60+ foot of visibility and 75 degree water top to bottom. She was about as pretty as I've seen her with thick bait balls darting about and a resident Sand Tiger Shark hovering on the outskirts keeping an eye on things.  I brought my camera in on this dive with no real plan other than trying to find a few handsome wide angle shots of the wreck to capture her beauty. The Sand Tiger Shark was not cooperative at all but I did find a small school of Atlantic Spade Fish who were schooling under the muzzle of one of the Schurz 5 inch 51 caliper canons. Getting low and shooting high with the gun pointing up across the shot I managed to capture a decent looking image of these somewhat innocuous looking fish and a retired weapon of war. After taking a few more shots I allowed the slight current to deliver me back towards the bow of the wreck where we were tied off but not before firing more images of the ships boilers in the background with some stunning purple sea fans and bait fish highlighting the foreground. These two photos I felt captured the essence of this wreck and offer a simple visual of what one can expect when the dive conditions are optimal on the USS Schurz. I hope you like them as well.

One of four 5 inch 51 caliper canons on the wreck of the USS Schurz.
Sea Fans and Fish with the wreck of the Schurz boilers in the background.


     On another note a dive magazine in Poland is going to publish a story that I have written on the German U-Boat the U-352 and include many of my photos along with it.  I am making an effort to break in to publishing and hopefully this will not be my last story.  Right now it is being translated in to Polish and should be in print next issue whenever that is.  I'll post this story once it is released.


Just a reminder that anyone seeking to take UW Photo lessons with me may do so by contacting mike@evolutionunderwater.com.

Please visit my web site www.evolutionunderwater.com to see a complete portfolio of my work including video excerpts from my documentary films "The Wreck of the SS President Coolidge" and "The Wreck of Truk Lagoon".  Fine art prints are available for purchase there as well as DVD's of the films.

If you want more information on how to dive the wrecks of North Carolina visit www.olympusdiving.com or call 252-726-9432.

Follow me on Facebook at Evolution Underwater Imaging (by Mike Gerken).  Don't forget to click 'like'.

  

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