May 23th, 2005

Hi Mom,

     Had a great dive last night on the St. Albans wreck. There were some minor problems; though they weren’t anything we couldn’t handle. We dove from fireman Todd's new boat. The St. Albans is a wooden passenger steamer that went down in 1881 about 7 miles east of Milwaukee. It struck an ice burg like Titanic, only this time the ice plugged the hole, allowing the ship to continue sailing. It tried to get back to Milwaukee, but as the ice melted, more and more water came in until it finally sank. Luckily there was enough time to get everyone off, and there were no deaths. As you know I'd never been on it before and couldn't wait to see it. Being that it was resting at 160 feet, Jane and I put together a planned decompression
Filling Doublesdive to get more bottom time. We all agreed to meet at Jerry's dock, where Todd's boat is moored, at 6:00pm. While on the way there, I had to stop at Pirates Cove to refill my doubles. During the time I was waiting for the tanks to fill, Todd popped in to say it would be more like 6:30pm. No worries, as that would give us more time to go over the dive plan. We had agreed to shoot for a 25 minute bottom time. At 160 feet that would be 55 minutes total with decompression, while using 50% nitrox starting at 70 feet as our deco gas. This dive would use two thirds of the gas in our doubles. I ran a table for the same dive without nitrox, in case of a stage malfunction, and confirmed we could still make it on only our back gas even though the deco jumped from 17 minutes at 20 feet to 38 minutes... Yikes. I ran a table for 30 minutes bottom time in case of a screw up but couldn’t do one for back gas only because we just wouldn't have enough air to do it. Just as Jane got there, I ran one more set of plans for a 20 minute bottom time in case we got bored or if there was poor visibility. I noticed the table for no deco gas was exactly double of the 20 minute table so I didn't copy it down but made a note of it on my slate. I put the contingency tables in my drysuit pocket and picked up my dive computer. My nitrox computer doesn’t acknowledge gas switches, so to keep it from thinking I'm getting bent on this dive I, as usual, set it to think I was breathing 28% nitrox for the whole dive. I’ve learned in the past when using my computer as strictly a bottom timer, faking it out with a 28% mix will keep the computer from getting bent. Although it will keep warning me that I’m too deep for that fake mix, it won’t lock me out. We then loaded up the tanks and gear into Todd's boat.

     It was a pretty tight fit in the boat with a combination of four divers; their gear, Janes's and my extra tech stuff, plus Todd's brother came along as Captain and crew. We finally left at 7:00pm and arrived on the dive site an amazing 20 minutes later. That boat really cruses. At the site everyone helped Jane and I suit up and get into the water. After clipping on the stage bottles and camera, we started our decent down to the wreck. The visibility was terrible! As we dropped down I would say we had only 5 feet of visibility. I was bummed. We kept dropping, adding air to both our drysuits and BCs on the way, until at close to 100 feet the water visibility opened up to a good 40-50 feet. Woo hoo!!! Back to shooting decent video again.

     We reached the wreck’s rudder post at 135 feet, finished getting neutral, and headed around the stern where the mooring line was attached. We turned and swam up along the port side toward the bow. The wreck was beautiful! We poked our lights into openings in St Albans Rudder Postthe wreck and found several 4 wheel carts and other artifacts used in maneuvering cargo.

     As we came around the damaged bow area, my camera suddenly stopped running. I checked the housing and started it again but it immediately quit. Damn, must be a dead battery. There was nothing I could do but drop it and let it float behind me on it’s tether while I tried to enjoy just swimming around looking at the rest of the wreck. I always feel like I’m wasting my dive if I’m not shooting video. How do Jane and the rest of the team do it? We continued swimming around while I made mental notes on how to shoot the wreck the next time we made it back. As we came around the starboard stern area there was an abandoned fish net clinging to the ship’s side rail. I could easily understand how, with the crummy visibility of the old days, that this would have been a major entanglement hazard. At this point, I tried again to run the camera, but again no go. Oh well might as well cut this dive short, if it’s OK with Jane. I confirmed this with her and we agreed on the 20 minute bottom time option. We passed above the large rudder and prop, took a short loop around the upper deck and when our bottom timers hit the 20 minute mark, we headed up. Our first deco stop was at 80 feet.

     After precisely one minute there we moved to 70 feet and Jane started making her gas switch. She opened the valve of her stage bottle. Her 50% nitrox started free flowing out of the second stage mouthpiece! She tried adjusting the regulator but it still continued to flow. I reached over and shut down the tank valve. After a second or two, I opened it again slightly, free flow, closed again, open again, free flow, closed again.  I reached down to my drysuit pocket and took out our backup tables figuring to start the deco without the gas. Right at that moment Jane got it working and made the switch. I switched to my stage and clipped the backup tables to my camera housing where they would be handy if we still needed them. We were a minute behind schedule but figured we would calculate and burn extra time at 20 feet. At the next stop I noticed the first stage regulator on that same troublesome stage bottle had quite a bit of gas bubbling out of it. I pointed at it and signaled 'OK?’ You OKShe answered 'OK'. I signaled back that when she runs out of gas, we can buddy breath from my stage. We always plan for twice as much deco gas as we need, for just this kind of emergency. While floating there continuing our deco, I watched Todd and his buddy Henry go past us down the line for a fairly quick bounce type dive. We continued to move up the line completing our stops until we reached 20 feet and our final 11 minute stop. Jane’s deco gas was holding though I was ready at any moment to start sharing. Our luck held and she made it to the end of our required deco!! We checked our faked out computers to find out that they still needed roughly 14 minutes to clear. Since the water was nearly 70 degrees above the thermocline, where we were hanging, we decided to relax and wait it out. After a time, quite a bit longer then I expected, Jane ran out of 50% and switched again to her back gas.

     We watched for Todd and Henry to return and about the time we could see their lights on the line our computers cleared. After moving up the line a little bit to get out of the way for their required deco stops, I signaled to Jane that she should go up first and since I had lots of gas, I would hang there for a few more minutes to give her a head start getting situated in the boat. I waited until my bottom timer clicked over to 60 minutes and went up. It was very dark out, by the time I was safely back in the boat. We quickly changed and helped the other team get in and situated. Soon we were all eating bananas, cookies and other snacks as the boat started taking us back home. It was a fantastic wreck and we’re planning to go back there soon. Hopefully we can get there during the daylight for better video.

Love you and I’ll see you soon,