1st Annual North Carolina Wreck•Shark Shootout
by Mike Gerken
Pulling up the marine weather forecast 48 hours prior to the start of this event, I was pleased by what I saw. 5-10 knots NE wind with a high in the upper 70's. That would work, I thought to myself. When Thursday afternoon of May 29 arrived all was set and all I could do was wait for the participants to arrive from as far away as Michigan and Canada and as near as Havelock, NC. The 1st Annual North Carolina Wreck•Shark Shootout was a go and I for one was very excited. For years now, I had hoped to pull this event off but, was unable to due to a conflicting work schedule as captain of the very boat I intended to charter, the Midnight Express at Olympus Dive Center.
Thursday night was the meet and greet at the dive center where a schedule of what was to come was given, rules were stated and introductions made all around to the 14 participants. Those who attended were as follows: Kathy and Abigail Coakley, Bill Eckart, Andy Bennis, Maris Kazmers, Frankie Womack, David Dewhirst, Mike Love, Scott and Sara Faatz, Timothy Fischetti, Liz Logan, Chris Bronk, Andre Labuda After meeting everyone, I had a positive vibe with the chemistry of these people. Here we had divers and photographers coming together to share a common love of sharks, wreck diving and the marine ecosystem as a whole. In addition, Olympus Dive Center was the perfect venue to bring this all together.
Friday morning brought light winds and calm seas as predicted. Cool temps in the morning caused everyone to don sweaters and the like but, moral was very high. I decided that, with these conditions, a trip to the Caribsea on the east side of Lookout Shoals was warranted. The Caribsea of course is infamous for large numbers of sand tiger sharks, the primary targets for this photo/video shootout. Upon arrival at the Caribsea we had a choppy sea but, it was bad enough to cause any discomfort on the boat. Justin Smith, one of the Midnight mates, radioed up from the bottom to indicate conditions were nice with about 30-40 foot of viz and plenty of critters to be had. It didn't take long to get these trigger happy divers off the boat and swimming with the sharks. Both dives this day were a total success and moods were of a happy nature. Once back to the dock, there was a grill set up that pumped out plenty of dogs and burgers to the hungry divers. Only the smoke in my face from the grilling caused me to grimace, otherwise all was right in the world.
That night I conducted a presentation at the local chamber of commerce office where I talked about wreck diving with sharks and showed a few pics and videos to get everyone even more excited than they were. Weather for the next day was still promising and everyone went home to get some well needed rest after the presentation. At least that is what they told me.
It was time to make a run due south on the second day. The W.E. Hutton aka Papoose was calling and I wanted to see if there were still sharks dwelling there such had been the week before. The ride out was slick calm and beautiful. The Northeast wind once again caused a minor chill in the air but, was certainly not a detriment. As luck would have it there were plenty of sharks on the Papoose and vis was decent at around 40-50 feet and even better up off the bottom. Divers spread out up and down this 400+ foot long ship that lay upside down in 120 feet of water. Shutters were snapping and video cameras rolling. Once we were done on the Papoose we made a run in to the wreck of the USCGC Spar, which also had a big population of sharks on it the weekend prior. The Spar definitely scored points with the divers with plenty of marine life and shark activity to be had. The hot water shower was definitely the most popular amenity on board the Midnight with shivering but, smiling divers enjoying the steamy water. The cabin heater scored a second place award with many hunkered down in there regaining their core body temp. Later that night, a photo/video workshop was offered to anyone interested and nearly everyone showed up. I was happy to share what secrets I knew in taking better photos and video. By all reactions, I believe it was a big hit.
High Northeast winds threatened are diving for day three but, we were lucky to make it out to the inshore wrecks of the Titan Tug and the Ario aka W.E. Hutton. The shallow dives of only 60-70 feet made for some great bottom time and the calmer seas were well appreciated. Only a few sharks were spotted on this day but, amazingly moral was still very high. All present were laughing and carrying on with big smiles. By this point friendships were being forged and camaraderie was present everywhere.
Once all returned to the dock, it was time to scramble around and get photos and video files in to me before 5pm which was the cut off time for submissions. There was lots of excitement in the air and last minute decisions to be made. Now it was time for myself and my lovely girlfriend and partner, Annette Papa to assist me with the winning selections. We both agreed that it was not an easy thing to do. After about an hour of debating we had our winners and it was time to head over to Floyd's 1921 restaurant for our awards dinner. The spread of food that was put out was wonderful with chicken Piccata, shrimp and sausage pasta, sautéed string beans, salad and dinner rolls. Most enjoyed a glass of wine or a cold beer to wash it all down.
Once everyone's appetite was sated, it was time to announce the winners. I thanked Robert Purifoy of Olympus Dive Center and all the staff and crew then the prizes were announced and images displayed on the screen. Here were the results:
3rd Place for Best Shark Photo went to Liz Logan who won a Wreck Diving Magazine t-shirt and U352 water bottle.
2nd Place award for Best Shark Photo went to Maris Kazmers who won a 1 year subscription to Wreck Diving Magazine.
1st Place for Best Shark Photo went to Scott Faatz who won a 2 day dive package with Olympus Dive Center.
3rd Place for Best Video Short went to Sammy Faatz, Scott and Sara Faatz's daughter who produced a cute video on the realties of the food chain. Sammy won a Mike Gerken fine art print, a Wreck Diving Magazine and a Tshirt. She was so excited and anxious to continue to produce more great films in the future. Ya gotta love this.
2nd Place for Best Video Short went to Liz Logan with her wonderful profile shot of a sand tiger. Liz won a 1 year subscription to Wreck Diving Magazine.
3rd place for Best Wreck Photo went to Andy Bennis who won a Wreck Diving Magazine t-shirt and magazine.
2nd place for Best Wreck Photo went to Scott Faatz who won a 1 year subscription to Wreck Diving Magazine.
1st Place for Best Wreck Photo went to Andy Bennis who won a dive package to Dive Aventuras, "Mexicos Riviera".
The 1st place award for "Anything Goes" category went to Frankie Womack for his wonderful video short that had a bit of everything going on in it. Frankie won a Scubapro Mark 25MK regulator.
Once all the awards were given I then handed out a The Wrecks of Truk Lagoon and a The Wreck of the SS President Coolidge video to all those who participated but, did not win an award. Everyone was a winner at the 1st Annual North Carolina Wreck•Shark Shootout.
By time the event was over, most everyone was eager to sign up for next years event. This was a big indication that it was a huge success. I for one had a great time organizing this event and cannot wait until next year. Speaking of which, pencil in the 2nd Annual North Carolina Wreck•Shark Shootout on May 28 thru May 3 of 2015. This time I will be chartering both the Midnight Express and the Olympus and taking over the entire dive operation in search of the most sharks on the best wrecks. There will be more sponsors, guest speakers and bigger prizes awarded and lots of friendly competition. Stay tuned for additional news on this event. If you want to put a deposit down now and secure your spot, email [email protected].
Lastly, I wanted to thank again, Robert Purifoy whose assistance would not have made this event what it was or even possible. Additional thanks to all the staff at the dive center, the Midnight Express crew, Buck Wilde, Justin Smith, John Fifer. Also, thanks to Joe and Heidi Porter from Wreck Diving Magazine, Karen Doody of Dive Aventuras, Scubapro and Annette Papa who was such a huge help to me in every way.
See you all next year.
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