July 18, 2011 - The Year of the Shark

July 18, 2011  •  Leave a Comment
To all those who are new to my blog to get the gist of it please read "Welcome Aboard"  from the May 1, 2011 posting and peruse a few of my other Dive Blog Reports. Click here for more info about myself.
Photo of the week.
Annette swimming wit da fishes. 
If you Google "The Year of the Shark", the results are numerous and mixed.  You will find news media sites claiming that years past and present were and are "The Year of the Shark" due to the unfortunate shark bite occurrences at the beaches each summer (but they don't mention how rare these attacks are) or you will find environmental groups claiming that the Sharks year is this year or some say last year or the year before in order to promote the conservation and protection of sharks (which I am wholeheartedly for).  I'm not sure when the official "Year of the Shark" is though.  All I can say is, this is my year of the shark, here diving on the wrecks of the Outer Banks of North Carolina.  I am continually impressed by the shear numbers and variety of shark species that I am seeing with my own eyes this season and I'm loving every minute of it.  There are few marine species that get my attention like the top of the food chain dwellers.  I just completed a dive today, on board my vessel the Midnight Express out of Olympus Dive Center, on the wreck of the W.E Hutton a.k.a. Papoose some 33 nautical miles south of Beaufort Inlet.  It was stunning and adrenaline pumping to say the least.  My charter was a group from Canada that trekked all the way down to Morehead City to check out the diving.  On their first day they get 5-10 knot winds, calm seas and a smooth ride all the way out to the Hutton a.k.a. Papoose.  When your lucky your lucky.
Annette on the wreck of the
USCG Cutter Spar. (New)

My first mate, John Thompson, was on deck to set the hook today once we arrived on site.  He reported up to me on the com that there was a hazy 40-50 foot of visibility with a mild current running down the length of the wreck. He also confirmed yet another report of many this season that there were Caribbean Reef Sharks in multitudes swimming in mid-water. Due to the moderate viz it was hard to determine the quantity of these sharks. There were of course the usual Sand Tiger Shark residents wandering around the wreck as well but when the much rarer Caribbean Reef Shark shows up the Sand Tigers suddenly take a back seat.   My divers in a timely fashion began to take to the water like seals from a floating dock.  One by one they slipped in to the water from the deck of the 'Midnight'.  As divers return, I always ask them "how was your dive?"  For one, I want to make sure all went well from a safety standpoint and that no problems arose.  Secondly I want to know if they are enjoying themselves for when they do have a good time I feel a higher level of satisfaction in a job well done.  Lastly, I'm scoping out ideas for photo or video shoots.  In other words, I want to know what's hot and what's not on the bottom.  Today my ears perk up every time someone mentions they saw some sharks that weren't Sand Tigers.
Annette outside the pilot house on the Spar. (New)

Once everyone is back on board, I decide that with the hazy viz and the chance of seeing numerous Caribbean Reef Sharks that video might be the best way to capture this exciting dive.  So I load up my old faithful video camera and jump in to the water for a dive on the 'Papoosie'.  My descent down was fairly uneventful. The usual Barracudas loitering around under the boat made their presence known as well as the passerby Jacks and schools of bait fish. After a few minutes I finally see a Caribbean Reef Shark off in the distance in mid water of depths of around 80-90 feet.  Then I see another and another.  Of course the video camera is rolling.  Then I try an old trick from the days of when I used to conduct shark dives in Truk Lagoon.  I would take a dive knife and tap it hard on my dive tank producing a clanging noise.  As I did that today on the Papoose the sound was like a dinner bell to Cowhands on a cattle drive.  The sharks suddenly came in from all angles swimming directly at me until the last second before turning away realizing that all that racket was not a meal but an obnoxious SCUBA diver banging his tank.  In the back I could see a dozen more cruising by on all levels.  Some were above me and others below.  I had never in my life seen so many Caribbean Reef Sharks accumulate in one spot even when there was chum in the water. There were so many around me I could not begin to count them and I could only see 40-50 feet away.  How many more were lurking outside of my range of vision?

The maximum depth on this dive was 120 feet and I was drifting at around 80 feet.  As long as I could see the wreck below I could find my way back to the anchor line.  What I had to try to avoid was drifting off the wreck in to the sand while in awe of the Sharks and not be able to navigate back to my boat.  As I started my swim back up current I noticed the shark population dwindling.  I tried rapping on my tank again to bring them back in to me but they are smarter than you think.  They didn't fall for that prank again.  After a few minutes I barely noticed a single Caribbean Reef Shark.  I took a glance at my dive computer and realized it was time to ascend.  I climbed back up on to the boat and took a deep breath and chalked up this dive as one of my top ten North Carolina dive experiences.  You will now have to click on the link below to see the video short of this dive.  Seeing is believing.

Click HERE for a link to my web site and the "Year of the Shark" video.  It will be the first thumbnail in gallery.

The past three day weekend produced some great diving as well.  On Friday, Saturday and Sunday another group from Cherry Hill, New Jersey, "The Dive Shop" came a calling to Olympus Dive Center headed up by part owner/operator, Arin Centrone.  My first impression at 0600 in the morning on Friday was that I was in for another zany weekend of Jersey divers based on the high decibel sound level coming from the dive deck.  Well, I was right, it was zany but in a great way.  The entire group from "The Dive Shop" conducted themselves professionally and with superb dive skills.  When I had to tell them the first day that weather conditions mandated that we stay closer to shore in shallower water to avoid rough seas, they didn't blink an eye.  They merely said "we just want to go diving".  My favorite kind of customer.  So we headed over to my ace in the whole spot and made a pair of dives on the USS Indra.  Depending on who you talk to depends on how good a dive the Indra is.  Some love it while others tolerate it.  All my divers from Cherry Hill seem to have loved it or, at the very least, liked it a lot. Needless to say even though we were inshore diving the winds were strong enough that the 'Midnight' was pitching and yawing pretty hard but these Jersey pros had no trouble with the sea state.
Some of "The Dive Shop" divers gearing up.
The next morning proved yet again to be much the same weather as the day before meaning we would have to stay close to shore yet again and dive the wreck of the Ario and the Suloide back to back.  Both of these wrecks were sunk in WWII and were depth charged by the US government due to their being a navigational hazard thus creating 400 foot long debris fields.  For the second day in a row the Jersey team made the dives in 20-30 feet of viz with smiles on there faces and had a great time even though they had not yet made it offshore.

Day three, Sunday July 17 however, would yield different results.  The winds would lay down allowing us to make the milk run offshore to the USCG Cutter Spar.  With warm water in the mid to upper seventies and the viz ranging from 40-60 feet (depending on who you speak to) the dive would go so well that they decided they wanted a second shot at the Spar.  I was happy to oblige and very relieved that we managed to get out to one of the 'must dives' of the Outer Banks.  My underwater model and girlfriend, Annette joined me for diving on her day off until I put her to work posing for me on the Spar with the Sharks and massive school of Spade Fish.  I managed to get a few decent photos rounding out the day on a high note.

A few more of the guys from "The Dive Shop".

Surface interval on the sundeck with the Olympus in the background.

Diver preparing to make the jump.

Once we made it back to the dock Arin and her dive team would have to pack up and drive all the way back to Jersey that evening.  I was very pleased to have taken such a well trained and easy going bunch of divers out for three days.  I hope they all return again next year.  It was good fun.

The hour is running late so forgive me for rushing and leaving behind a few typos and brief stories in the process. The Midnight Express and Olympus have very busy schedules this week with outstanding conditions.  I have but a few hours left to eat and sleep before heading back out tomorrow. I will have another blog posting early next week so stay tuned.

Happy Diving!

-Mike Gerken

See below for the shameless self promotion
section of this blog!

Please visit my web site www.evolutionunderwater.com to see video excerpts from my documentary films and a complete underwater photographic portfolio of my work and purchase fine art prints and DVD's of my films.

If you wish to dive Graveyard of the Atlantic contact Olympus Dive Center for more information.

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