September 4th, 2003

Hi Mom,

     Here's your latest dive installment from that Labor Day Charter.
 I got a call from a friend, Gert Grohmann, asking if I wanted to dive the Rouse Simmons wreck (The Chicago Christmas Tree Ship), with him and some other divers. The wreck went Rouse Simmons in Snowdown on November 27, 1912.  Captain Herman Schuenemann was on his last trip of the season when he sailed out from Manistique. The ship would bring Christmas Trees to Chicago and was the traditional start of the Christmas season. Schuenemann tended to overload the ship because every extra tree he could get on board would mean more money on that final trip of the season till spring. This time, the captain not only stuffed the cargo hold as full as he could, he even lashed trees onto the deck. On the way to Chicago he got caught by a blizzard gale, the deck trees started collecting both snow and spray from the waves. This quickly turned to ice and started weighing down the ship. As the ship started taking on water, Schuenemann had the trees on deck cut loose and dumped them overboard, but by then it was too late and the Christmas tree ship sank. It had her regular crew plus about 10 lumberjacks aboard. 15 souls lost total. The wreck was found in 1971 and is sitting in 165 feet of water near Two Rivers.


    I called Jane, my usual dive buddy, to see if she got invited also. She did, and we made a rough plan for our dive together. We calculated a dive to 160 feet (the depth of the lake bottom, so we were told) for 20 minutes. With a 50% nitrox stage bottle, total decompression would end up being roughly 22 minutes. We also planned enough gas to deco; longer if need be for safety reasons. As usual I got lost on the way to Jane's house and was late, so instead of meeting Gert at his new dive shop, we drove directly to the harbor. We arrived in Two Rivers, Wisconsin at 8:00am, right on time, with my truck full of dive gear and video equipment. We quickly loaded the boat and started heading out. There would be six divers total, all diving in pairs pretty much right after one another. The captain, Greg Such wanted to dive also, so he called one of his friends with another boat to meet us at the dive site so they could tie up together and not leave his boat unattended. Our charter boat was somewhat smaller then Jane and I were accustomed to, it had few extra amenities and no head (bathroom). Generally not a problem as it was basically just to get us to and from the wreck site. But then of course when we got there, after a large juice and a bottle of water, Jane announced she had to go to the bathroom. "Great, I have a camera." I chided. This evidently wasn't the sympathetic answer she was looking for as she nearly pushed me overboard into the lake. She decided to wait until Gert and the other divers Back Up Planswere already in the water and down on the wreck before attempting this tricky maneuver so there would be less people on board to have to turn their heads… grin. The wait actually worked out in her favor. Just before Gert and his buddy got into the water, the other boat motored up and tied on to us. They did have a working bathroom on board and Jane jumped ship. Whew!!!


    O.K. back to the dive... After Jane rejoined us on our boat, we made some bail out plans in case of emergency. Deco plans for; 5 feet deeper, 5 minutes longer, plans for deco gas regulators not working... etc. We suited up and got ready to jump in. Jane entered the water first with no problem. On this boat, instead of doing our usual giant stride entry (standing up and taking a big step off the boat), it was more customary to back roll in. With all of your gear on you sit on the edge of the boat and just fall backward into the water. I put my right hand on my mask and my left hand on the edge of the boat for support and flipped in. My mask strap slid up off my head, which was no problem as I was holding it from the front, but when I tried to flip upright to put it back on, the little bit of air still in my drysuit floated up to my feet causing my legs to become two little balloons on the surface. It looked very comical as it took me a couple of attempts to push them back below the surface and replace my mask strap. "Well that was graceful!” I laughed. Captain Greg yelled back," At least you didn't lose your mask." He then handed me my stage bottle and video camera. After a brief rest on the surface, we submerged.


      We did a bubble check at 15 feet; just to be sure nothing was leaking and headed down the mooring line. Gert and the other diver had already finished their dive and were near the bottom of the line getting ready to start their deco. We passed them and continued on down. The wreck was beautiful. The first thing we spotted in the clear 35-degree water was the cargo hold hatchway. The hold was packed full to the upper deck with Christmas Trees... Wow, I could see them stuck everywhere. Even with 91 years of settling Cargo Holdthey filled the hold right to the top. No wonder it foundered in the storm. We then headed toward the bow. Even though there was a fantastic 50-foot of visibility, there was a bit of silt floating in the slight current causing my camera's auto focus to swing in and out. This happens often on dives, so as in the past I let the camera focus on a closer object and locked the focus in. Unfortunately, just before I locked it, the camera unfocused a slight bit. It wasn't noticeable through my little viewfinder but later when I watched the video; it wasn't as crisp as usual. Damn, guess we’ll have to plan to come back.


     Though the spinnaker was now lying on the bottom, the bow was still in pretty good shape. The windlass lay silent with anchor chain littering the deck and the partially exposed cargo hold. Past the bow, on the bottom of the lake, there was some fishnet wrapped around the crow’s nest attached to a broken mast lying in the clay. Jane pointed out the aluminum floats and we were careful to avoid any entanglement problems. I checked my depth gauges again at this point and here, still well above the bottom, I was already at 160 feet. Luckily I checked when I did as I didn't want to drop deeper then our plan and it would have been easy to drop just a little farther with my face glued to my video camera. We then turned and headed toward the stern. The rudder helm was still intact, though the ships wheel was long gone. As we dropped over the stern transom, I shot video of the large rudder. The bottom of the lake had tapered away slightly and I again had to watch my depth. Right then I noticed Jane below me examining some debris on the bottom. I flashed my light and tapped on my depth Jane Too Deepgauge. She missed the signal and instead went to pose in front of the rudder. I tried signaling again, but she still waited for me to shoot. I suspected we both had some narcosis. I gave up, shot some quick video and signaled her to come up. When she reached me she signaled “You OK?” I acknowledged and tried to figure out a way to easily convey she had gone too deep. It was too late now; a longer decompression would be needed. We headed back to the line and started heading up as we hit the 19-minute mark of our 20-minute bottom time. Jane noticed a nice dive light lying on the wreck near the line and took it up with us. We stopped at 70 feet switched to our stage bottles and did our three-minute first stop. Around this time Greg and his buddy went by us heading down the line.


      While we were hanging I moved in close to Jane to see if I could read her depth gauge. As I thought, it read 164 feet. I pointed it out to her... she hit herself in the head as if to say "duh!” I pulled out my slate with the bail out plans on it and confirmed the new deco times. We did the extra time and then did a few minutes more just to be safe. We finally surfaced with a 49-minute total dive. When we got back in the boat, Jane asked about the light she found and learned that earlier in the week some unknown divers on the wreck ran out of air at 30 feet and had to shoot to the surface. We figured they must have lost it in the turmoil. Jane decided to see if we could identify them and return it. By the time Greg and his buddy had gotten back into the boat, we had our gear stripped and put away. A more or less successful dive with no injuries. My deepest in Lake Michigan thus far, and because of her depth violation, Jane's deepest dive ever.


I'll see if I can send you video stills this week.
See you soon, no worries.