August 13th, 2004
Glad to hear you are happy and everything is good. You asked how the penetration dive went, well...
So as not to make this another 10 page letter... lol. I'll skip the facts about the Charter boat not being at the dock when we got there etc. and skip right to the dive. Crystal was going to be my buddy and dive leader. She’s the one that does all that cave diving in Florida. Our plan was to dive our 112 cubic foot single tanks, enter the Milwaukee Carferry wreck and do a 30 minute dive on 31% nitrox with a bottom depth of 120 feet. This meant roughly (along with a minute of deco every 10 feet coming up) 12 minutes of deco at 20 feet. We agreed to use our nitrox dive computers as a bailout plan in case something went wrong. We jumped into the lake and dropped down to the wreck. The current was fairly strong, though the water was warm down to 45 feet where we hit the thermocline. At that point the temp dropped to a frigid 38 degrees.
Being that the dive boat was moored to the Milwaukee’s bow, heading to the amidships stairway that leads down to the engine room, was a bit of a swim to start off with. The Milwaukee is 325 feet long and the engine room is at about the half way point. The current was flowing against us, but that would help us out later on the return trip. When we got there Crystal turned, climbed under some rubble, and wiggled inside. We had to go head first down a thin stairway ducking under some wreckage and a beam that partially blocked the way. Because I knew I couldn't get through holding my video camera, I turned it sideways and passed it to Crystal, already inside. She held onto it while I used my finger tips to pull myself down the stairs and squeeze under the beam while trying not to stir up any of the silt that seemed to be everywhere. Once inside, she handed the camera back and swam forward. The room opened up larger then I expected, but there was a lot of silt along the bottom. We would have to stay close to the ceiling to avoid stirring it up and losing our primary way out. Shortly Crystal turned a corner and pointed her light at a small opening we could use as a backup way out. Though I couldn't see her, I could still see her light. I started to edge forward to get a better look, but as I did, my tanks gently banged the ceiling and something above my head stopped my progress. I couldn't fin any further forward. No big deal, there was a lot of low hanging pipe and beams etc. forever in the way. I backed up, dropped down a little and tried again, still no forward movement. One more time I tried backing up to drop still a little lower. This time I couldn't move either way, forward or back. I was stuck on something I couldn't see and now it held me stationary. Not wanting to stir up any silt, I hung there as motionless as possible and waved my camera light back and forth to attract Crystal’s attention Very quickly she noticed I wasn't following her, turned and came back. She signaled, "OK?" I pointed above my head to the area around my tank regulators and she nodded. She easily unhooked me from what looked to me to be a fallen line of BX electrical cable from one of the carferry's indoor lights. The low hanging cable had worked its way between my head and the 112’s H-Valve. Crystal and I continued around the engine room amidst the constant bit of rusty silt that snowed down on us caused by our bubbles hitting the ceiling. A little farther in, Crystal, using her light beam, pointed out a hand held light still floating from a valve where a crewman must have hung it. Amazingly the pressure hadn’t shattered the bulb as the wreck plunged to the bottom. After some hopefully very good video, we exited. Crystal climbed back up and out of the stairway we had entered and I again passed her my video housing. Camera in hand, she exited the wreck and waited. After carefully working my way up the stairs, I realized that I had given Crystal my primary light with my camera. I looked up and even though evening was setting in above the water, I could still barely see the ambient light of the lake around me through a crack in the debris at my right. "She certainly wouldn't have fit through there, I thought." I looked up to my left and saw a slightly bigger area. "I could make it through there if I had to, but I know Crystal didn't go that way or it would be a little more silted up from her squeezing through". Right then from around more debris, and behind me, I could just pick out her (and my) lights. I quickly followed the light and exited the wreck. Returning my camera and checking our gauges Crystal realized we might just have enough time to do a quick run through the flicker or crew quarters. A cryptic message found days after the Milwaukee’s sinking in a water tight case, stated that the sea gate was bent and that the flicker was flooded. After checking that I was good with this plan, Crystal swam farther toward the stern and headed down inside. This entrance passage way was a little bigger, but narrower. I had to again hand off my camera and retrieve it once inside.
The crew quarters seemed to be even more full of silt then the engine room. As we moved carefully along a long hallway I noticed a previous diver had run a cave line along the wall. This would be vital if somehow a total silt out would occur and we needed to get back to the entrance totally blind. We then passed some of the crew's bunks. The mattresses had long ago dissolved into the silt but the frameworks were still there. It was amazing how intact some of these artifacts were. Then, on the floor next to a doorway, in Crystal's searching beam, I saw what looked to be one of the crew member’s shoes and then a couple more. Taking a closer look, the shoes looked as though they were still tied, leading me to believe this may have been the final resting place of some of the crew. Fifty two crewmen never came home from this disaster. As we continued down the corridor looking into one room after the next, I saw more beds and was amazed that you could actually still see the white paint pealing on the 1929 wooden walls.It was time to go!!! We quickly exited and headed back toward the line. Two minutes left before our scheduled departure for the surface and we were still at the stern of the second largest wreck in Lake Michigan. We swam post haste with the current toward the line at the bow. As I was swimming I was thinking, "Geez, this is a big wreck”, and “Where ‘is’ that damn bow?" By the time we hit the mooring line we had already started to ascend. We stopped for our one minute intervals and then stayed at 20 feet until our computers were clear of deco. Since the water was warm and we had spare nitrox in our tanks we hung there and extended our deco another 7 minutes for extra safety. Being the last ones still in the water again, upon surfacing we helped get the boat underway and head back for the long ride home.
It was one of my greatest dives to date and hopefully I have some decent video, even though I still keep thinking a little solemnly about the shoes...
See you as soon as I can.