September 22nd, 2004

Hi Mom,
   Glad everything is going as it should. I’m sure I’ll be seeing you soon. Thought I’d write you about last Wednesday’s “interesting” dive. I’d like to let you know ahead of time this wasn’t my smartest dive, but I’m physically OK. Looking back it’s a bit embarrassing but I may as well write it down and promise not to do it again.
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     Our usual Wednesday night charter through Pirate’s Cove was scheduled to take us to the #6 Dredge roughly straight out from St. Francis, Wisconsin at about 65 feet. I have quite a bit of video of this wreck but figured it would be another good dive to get practice on.  I set up a steel 85 cubic foot tank and loaded up the truck. When I got to the charter I noticed none of the usual divers were there. After loading my gear on the boat, I chatted with Captain Jerry about the fact that for such a beautifully calm warm summer evening there were hardly any divers on the charter. We departed on time and headed out. While the boat was underway I continued my chat with Jerry. The last time I was on this wreck, we noticed a tow cable trailing off away from the stern section on the lake bottom. I asked Jerry if once the dredge flipped and started heading for the bottom if the tow cable had snapped or if it was cut to save the crew on the towing ship. Jerry replied that the cable was run out to its full length and spun off the reel before they could turn around and look for survivors in the water. He also said the cable was so long that you couldn’t get to the end of it on aluminum 80 without a scooter. I thought, now there’s a challenge… and kidded back, “But ‘I’ have a steel 85…” I asked if anyone wanted to go on a long very boring “follow the cable” dive along the bottom of Lake Michigan. There were no volunteers, so I stupidly decided to break one of my own rules and dive by myself. I mean, what could happen? It’s a shallow dive, no obstructions, flat lake bottom, fairly warm temperature and little to no current.

     At about 6:15pm we arrived at the dive site. We moored to the wreck and being that I was already suited up and ready to go, I grabbed my video camera and jumped into the water. The water temperature was comfortable and visibility was about 20 feet. I followed the mooring line down to the base of a stabilizing arm. The #6 Dredge lies upside down on its structure and crane. It’s large flat barge type bottom hull sits roughly 25 feet off of the lake bottom allowing an experienced diver to actually dive underneath the wreck and swim up inside. I followed the inverted stabilizer arm down the side of the wreck to the dredge’s rub rail. I then quickly pic02followed this to the stern and dropped down to the lake bottom. There was the cable leading off away from the wreck. Without wasting too much time I confirmed my air supply was now at 2600psi and started to follow the line out into the blue. I could easily see the cable on the bottom ahead of me as I swam about 5 feet above it. My video camera, on a short tether, floated behind me as I continued along the bottom. I grinned as the swimming song from the movie “Finding Nemo” went through my head. “Swimming, swimming. Just keep swimming…. Swimming, swimming. Just keep swimming…“  After a little while, the cable disappeared under the sandy bottom. I continued to swim in the same direction for about 40 feet or so and picked it up again. I was at roughly 1800psi. Half of a full tank would be roughly 1500psi where I would have to turn around, so I continued to swim. Soon I came across a discarded fish net lying perpendicular across the cable.  “On the way back, if I have time, I’ll have to shoot some video of that.” I thought. Another air check, now I was down to 1550psi time to turn around… I guess. This is about the time I started to be stupid on purpose. As I kept on swimming I thought to myself, “Actually I think I started the dive with just a little over 2700psi. That would mean I could actually go closer to 1350psi before turning around. The end of the cable has to be pretty close now. What a waste to be almost there and turn just a little early.” I was checking my air quite often now, just trying to squeeze out a little more distance. “Damn, I’m at 1360psi. Now I have to turn back.” “Well, I’ll just take it to 1340psi, but then I’ll turn.” “There’s a slight current against me so when I turn I will get back a little faster.” “Hey! I just remembered, at the wreck I had 2600psi that means I can actually take it down to 1300psi.” About this time, I saw in pic03all its glory, the bent end of the cable!!!!  Finally!!!

     I pulled up my video camera, turned on the lights, shot less then a minute of video, turned around and headed back. I turned off the lights on the fly and let the camera float behind me again. About this time I noticed it was quite a bit darker then when I started. The sun above must be going down. I looked again at my air. I only had a little more then 1000psi left. I started chastising my self… “Rick, you idiot, on a normal dive I would be heading toward the mooring line to go up and start my safety stop by now. Here I was as far away from the wreck as possible, with a lower amount of air and it was getting dark. As I continued swimming it was starting to get hard to follow the cable in the dim light. I pulled up my camera again and used the spotting light to keep an eye on the line. “Boy, am I stupid.” I kept thinking.  Back past the fish net I was at 800 psi. I already resigned myself to the thought that I was going to come up short of the charter boat. How far away will depend on how long I can follow the cable back while my air supply lasts. At around 550 psi I lost the cable!  Remembering that it dropped under the sand for a portion of the dive earlier I tried to keep swimming in the same direction while scanning the bottom with my light. After quite a swim and constantly watching my air, I spotted the cable already on top of the sand and curving back in front of me. Now I was down to 300 psi. I knew it was still quite a swim but I had to start going up. I quickly checked my computer again to confirm I didn’t have any deco obligations and started up. Doing a slow ascent in the dark without a line is difficult enough. But add in keeping a constant eye on your air supply, dumping air from both my B.C. and dry suit not to mention juggling the spotting light on my video camera to watch everything, I had my hands full. I stopped at 20 feet for a few moments then suddenly I was out of air! It’s not a good feeling. I slowly breathed out the air I had left as I continued my (actually still pic04purposely slow) ascent. I tried the regulator again and got another breath. I dumped air from my B.C. and drysuit, continuing upward, slowly breathing out and then broke the surface. “Boy was this stupid” were my first thoughts. I looked around at a beautiful sunset and spotted the boat. I was only about 150 feet away. I could see Captain Jerry leaning on the rail. I reached my arm over my head to signal I was OK. He looked at me and squinted so I tried to repeat the signal. He quietly said, “Are you OK?” I laughed. Sound travels so far on the water that I heard every word perfectly on this calm evening. As I slowly swam back to the boat, I started to contemplate whether I should tell anyone how stupid I was or not. Jerry asked, “Did you make it to the end?” “Yes”, I replied. “I took some video of it for proof, but I sure didn’t make it all the way back to the boat.” He was amazed that I made it that far. I climbed into the boat and changed my clothes. I had a slight headache which I attribute to CO2 built up in my system from the constant swimming, but I otherwise felt fine. I didn’t say anything much about the dive that evening but the more I thought about it the more I figured maybe someone could learn from this. So here it is and it will be out on the internet when the web site goes up. Moral of the story: never sacrifice or abandon safe diving practices for any mission. There is always another dive. As a post script note, the next day, as I downloaded my dive computer onto my laptop and found out as I came to the surface I did bend my computer! I remember checking it before I started up but I was mostly concentrating on the air and depth as I ascended. I must have picked up and violated a small amount of deco time someplace and the computer timed me out for the next 36 hours. I learned another lesson the hard way from this dive and will not let my future dive objectives get in the way of safe diving again.

  I’ll be seeing you shortly,
   Your Eldest Son ~~~