Archive for August, 2010
It is absurdly beautiful here, no humidity, less than 80 degrees, full of hummingbirds… Oh yeah baby!1 comment
The Rowan University alumnus magazine Rowan Today has made me a poster child for non-traditionalism by featuring me on the cover of the summer 2010 issue, as well as producing a plump article about my career to date. Here’s the link to their page but you get also get the 10 MB PDF by clicking on this image:
One of the coolest thing about this is that Rowan sent out my old friend, noted photographer Kyle Cassidy, to do the photography. We had a good time and the photos look fantastic.2 comments
The Abrams was a sister ship of the Dixie Arrow, the wreck we visited the day before this dive. Unfortunately the visibility was not nearly as good, something I’ve been told is typical. The viz was OK until about 45 feet under, when it deteriorated to perhaps 15 feet at best. With the surge, lack of visibility, metal things to smash against and the presence of large animals, this dive wouldn’t be easy for a beginner, but if you do what you’ve been trained to do – stay oriented, be close to a dive buddy, etc. it’s not a big deal. It was my 100th dive, and I’ve dealt with much, much worse, but I couldn’t help but think about how it would have appeared to me a couple of years ago. A wreck reel would be a good idea here because it will give you a trail of bread crumbs to follow when the viz gets so bad that you can barely see your own fins. Of course, lines can part, so always try to memorize some landmarks too – or, simply don’t go that far from the anchor; there’s plenty to see.
Above is my favorite shot of the whole trip. Chuck is hanging on a weighted line dropped from the boat, doing his deco stop at 20 feet, illuminated by scintillating sun rays and accompanied by a sizable barracuda – standard behavior for this fish, which likes to hang out under boats and near divers who are doing their stops. I used to think that it was the shadow of the boat, or maybe the smaller fish that usually hang out near a floating object, but I’ve been kept company by ‘cudas even when doing stops on drift dives with no boat or lines above, and even in absolute darkness, so I’m not sure what this is about. I don’t find it threatening; perhaps they figure that I’m there, so I must have my reasons and they should hang out too. If the viz were better, you’d see the debris of the Abrams below Chuck, but the next image will show you what happened as we went through 50 feet of depth:
And it got much worse than that. Of course, with the sun gone, it became colder too.
Visiting a shipwreck – a real one, not a reef project – is reminiscent of Orpheus’ journey to Hades. The allegorical sequence of leaving the warmth of topside, surrounded by the happy excited camaraderie of my dive companions, then physically passing through a medium that gradually chokes off color, visual intensity, and temperature, eventually winding up in an inhospitable graveyard haunted by large menacing animals and the constant invisible dangers of diving, hits me over the head with unintentional references to the underworld. I think that this is a universal experience for divers, even if they cannot articulate it.
Anybody who does this has spent a lot of time and money to do it and must really want to be there, and I am no different. I am always thrilled to enter the water and fascinated by what I see there. Returning to the surface, I am usually reluctant to leave the water; but I always have a sense of relief that I’m going back where there are people, sunshine, and laughter.
Coming up the line, we are shadowed by big sand tiger and other sharks ( many larger than me) that stay almost out of visibility, like shady characters following me down a dark city street. To them, the visibility is not a problem at all; they know exactly where I am and what my visual limitations are. The currents that would sweep me away from the anchor line if I let go are no problem for the sharks; their thick bodies ripple with muscle as they casually position themselves just where they wish to be, maintaining a distance of 10-15 feet, right at the edge of the sphere of invisibility created by the darkness and the cloud of fine particles that surround us. Accompanied by an entourage of smaller animals – each shark is its own ecosystem – they fade in and out of sight, but not awareness. What beauty – how lucky am I to witness this?
There is the intellectual aspect of understanding what has occurred at this spot – the danger, confusion, fear, desperation, bravery, and struggle of the Abram’s crew – as well as the physical evidence of not just an event, but an entire age gone by. This ship was built not just by people who have passed on, but an entire age that is gone. The passions, struggles and urgency which with these people lived are now represented only by these things lying on the bottom and our memories of them. I know that a few survivors of that era are still around, but their numbers grow fewer each day, and they must feel like strangers in a strange land. As I wandered the remains of the old steam engine, strewn about the bottom, I reflected on how much labor went into the creation of these objects, how the events that led up to their winding up on the bottom were the defining moments of some people’s lives and the end of others (in the case of the Dixie Arrow, people died, but on the Abrams, there were no casualties). Now, in the summer of 2010, I can casually visit this site for my amusement. I hope that everybody who comes here knows what the place means, or meant, to somebody. What will I leave for future generations to meditate upon?
Down on the wreck, you are always being watched.
Beautiful, miniature corals strain the water for their living:
Every source of food is exploited; my own body’s protein is mine only by right of strength, or at least intimidation. The reef would be happy to make me part of it, and it wouldn’t take long.
Here is the whole bunch of images, plus a few extra “detail” shots.
The Dixie Arrow was a US tanker torpedoed by a German U-boat during WWII. Here is the story, as taken from www.outerbanksdiving.com:
<built> in Camden NJ in 1920 and 1921, <the Dixie Arrow and its sister ship, the F. W. Abrams> met their end in 1942 only a few miles apart in the WW II Battle of the Atlantic off the Coast of Hatteras. The Dixie Arrow was steaming from Texas City, TX, with crude oil when she was torpedoed by Kapitanleutnant Flachsenberg in U-71 just south of Diamond Shoals on March 26th, 1942. Despite being engulfed in flames, the lives of many of the Dixie Arrow’s crew were saved when ABS Oscar Chappell sacrificed his own life manning the helm of the crippled tanker to turn the ship and steer the flames away from the survivors gathered on the ship’s bow. All tolled, eleven died and twenty-two survived the sinking. <… stuff removed> Today both ships lie in about 90 feet of water less than six miles apart. The Dixie Arrow is better preserved: The shape of her bow and stern are easily identified–with high relief in the bow section rising twenty-five feet from the ocean floor. Both wrecks are regularly visited by large rough-tail and southern sting-rays, sand tigers, and huge atlantic barracuda.
So this is a storied wreck and also it hosts great clouds of life. I was trying out a new camera and the pictures are kinda crappy, but here they are. The most notable thing were the large number of robust, muscular sand tiger sharks, many of which were larger than us. At first glance you may think that it is scary to be around such large animals; indeed, they are kind of alarming, because of their numbers, size, muscularity, and how their mounths are formed into a permanent goofy grin of protruding sharp teeth. But they treated us with a laissez-faire attitude. I knew that they knew I was there, but I could also tell that I didn’t look like food. At that moment, anyway…
Another thing to consider is that their mouths are not meant for eating large prey. They don’t have a particularly nasty reputation for attacking humans, although it does happen occasionally. Here you can see the relative sizes of man and beast; if anything, the size of this shark has been de-emphasized, because it’s farther away than the diver (who happens to be Chuck of Columbia Scuba).
Other large predators inhabit the vicinity, such as these 3 and 4 foot-long barracudas.
Above is a shot of the tanker’s giant steam engine surrounded by a great cloud of life. The engine is beautifully exposed, and you can see the crankshaft and boilers when diving (although not in this particular image).
Divers may be interested to know that in the summer, the water here is very warm. The Gulf Stream makes a close approach to land here, and this wreck, being about 20 miles offshore, lies within it. I wore a 3-mil suit; the water temperatures were almost 80, avan at depth. There is a one-hour+ boat ride involved; the water has a reputation for being rough and you never know what you will find. It was something of a challenge this day, and some people puked, but overall the weather was gorgeous.
The town of Hatteras is well-known as a tourist attraction and I won’t go into any detail describing it, except to say that there is at least one good dive shop here (mentioned above) that dispenses nitrox, and there are numerous restaurants, quaint inns, and beautiful beaches.
It also has mosquitoes, and plenty of them. Since I’m outside having my blood drained by mosquitos in order to be near a hot spot to make this post, I’m just going to slap in the rest of today’s photos without comment:
I spent the day in Albuquerque, biking along the Rio Grande. Albuquerque struck me as a dusty, overcrowded place with a somewhat contrived “old town” area, but it says something that in August I was able to spend hours outside in the middle of the day without evaporating. It was hot, but not too bad, and also dry. Great for exercise; considering the nearby mountains and the way that the city is so bike-friendly, there are many places to explore.
During the golden hour, the synthetic brutishness of the road is transcended by the miracle of shimmering grass. The road may be hard, but the grass will always win in the end.
As you drive out of the city heading north, the desert gives way to arid plains with more plant cover.
As the sun set I was treated to thunderstorms too distant to hear. Peering through a splattered windshield on which innumerable insect lives had been extinguished, I witnessed lightning bolts crawling around the thunderheads as if insight, made visible, were seen flashing through a giant brain. The lawnmower blade of the milky way rotated overhead; the horizon was revealed in semi-second bursts of the prodigal energy our planet spends so freely. At Raton peak near the NM/CO border, I decided that should I ever need religion, I’ll worship the sky. Lightening demurely illuminated the clouds, choosing not to reveal its full nature.2 comments