February 1st, 2006

Hi Mom,

      Glad to hear things are good as always. During the last week in January I got an invitation to dive with our Buccaneer dive club, and since my series of colds was finally over I signed up. Jane was over swimming the night before the dive and it was pouring out. An icy slush came down all evening. She insisted that Jerry would take the club charter out to either the Milwaukee wreck or the Prins Willam V wreck the next morning. I really didn’t think so and after she left, I checked the weather one more time. The rain/slush was supposed to continue through the night and into the next day. No way are we going out. Just in case though, I packed up my gear and got things ready to go for the 9:00am departure. I decided if we were to go anywhere, it would be the Willie, and so I put the Prins Willam V tape into the camera to continue to shoot some set up shots for the “Letters To Mom” section of the website.  Several times I woke up in the night listening for the rain on the skylights in the living room. It was always there. In the morning at 6:30am I made coffee and checked the weather again. It was still raining and it was still supposed to rain all day. At 7:00am, I called Captain Jerry’s cell phone and got the message; “The charter is “on” for the 9:00am departure.” Boy, I guess even though it was raining, the lake was flat enough to go out.

      I packed up the rest of the stuff I needed had a quick breakfast and headed out to the dock. Everyone was already there, in the rain, loading their stuff on the boat. I set up my gear for the Prins Willam V at 90 feet, but brought enough stuff to dive the Milwaukee at 120 feet if needed. Promptly at 9:00am we left the dock fully loaded with 10 divers on board. As we exited the river and started to cross the harbor toward the main gap, Jerry got a signal that the engine was overheating and quickly shut down the motor. The current was slowly pushing us toward the south break wall so we dropped the anchor. While Terry, one of the regular experienced divers on board, Jerry and others started to take apart the cooling system on the engine the rest of us chatted and gave whatever help that was needed. After a little bit of time Jerry came up to the wheel house and called out on the radio. “Barge and Tug entering the harbor, this is the Len-der over”. After a couple of calls they finally answered and together switched to a different channel. At this time I looked out the window and noticed a huge barge full of what looked like roadway pieces heading right toward us. It was being pushed by an equally large tug. “We are having engine trouble and cannot get out of your way. Suggest you go around us on the North side.” He answered, “I’m sorry, I’ve already started the turn, but I should be able to pass you on the south side. Stay where you are.” Jerry acknowledged” Ok, staying still.” I looked at the distance between the wall and our boat. It sure didn’t look like you could squeeze a huge barge in that spot. I joked about putting my drysuit on a little early… in fact right now. The experienced Captain of the tug slowly moved up on us and impressively threaded the needle right past. He then continued out to the open lake.

     Soon we were back to the matter at hand of fixing the cooling system. Using what parts were found on board in an hour and 15 minutes the anchor was pulled and the charter was back on the way. But to where? Jane suggested to Jerry that he take the charter to a new wreck that Jerry found last summer called the “Transfer”. It was an old Schooner Barge that brought coal to The Milwaukee Electric Railway and Light Company, the predecessor to Wisconsin Electric. The wreck lies at 115 feet roughly two miles east of Milwaukee. Jerry agreed and pointed the Len-der east. On the way to the site we were informed there was no mooring on the wreck. Terry volunteered to set the mooring but needed help placing a mooring chain around the wreck’s rudder or some other heavy object on the wreck. Though Jane and I had agreed to dive together, I suggested she dive with Terry and I would pick up another dive buddy. This way she could practice gas switches with a qualified buddy and still help out with the mooring. I opted to dive with William, a long time member of the Buccaneer dive club. He didn’t mind that I would putz along shooting video of this new wreck. I changed the tape in my video camera to a new one for a new wreck, hoping the extra humidity in the Len-der’s wheelhouse wouldn’t fog up the inside housing lenses after I hit the cold water. Jerry left a marker float at the wreck site the last time he was there and with a stroke of luck it was still floating in the water ahead of us. This would give Terry and Jane a line to follow down to the wreck. They quickly suited up, got the mooring line etc. together and got ready to giant stride into the cold and deep Lake Michigan water. As a last thought Terry grabbed a couple of Styrofoam coffee cups and tucked them into his drysuit pocket before jumping over the side. Then they were gone. Jerry moved the boat away from the float and we watched the bubbles coming up around the line. While Terry and Jane labored to set up a mooring, William and I suited up. I checked and rechecked the new video tape and camera batteries. I wanted to take full advantage the rare chance of shooting a newly found wreck. After nearly 30 minutes we were starting to worry that the two divers may run out of planned bottom time before getting the mooring finished. I volunteered to forgo shooting to finish the task if they had to come up before it was complete. Then all of a sudden, we saw the two coffee cups float to the surface. It was Terry’s signal that the mooring line was attached. Jerry slid the Len-der into place and his able crew collected the floating debris and hooked the new mooring line to the bow.

     William and I, chomping at the bit, stood up to jump in the water when Jerry mentioned a warning. “By the way, be aware there may be a body on this wreck…” he said. I looked at him confused, if the wreck went down in roughly 1905, and is broken up on the bottom, how could there still be a body on it? “A plane went down roughly a half mile east of here in deeper water. The young pilot survived the crash, and called for help but as his plane was sinking under him, he tried to swim to shore. He was never seen again, presumed drown. He would probably have swum in this direction.” Wow, and with that in mind we jumped into the frigid 37 degree Lake Michigan water.

     The visibility was stupendous! After descending down the line just a little way I could see the wreck spread out in front of us 80 feet away. After we got to the bottom and squared away our buoyancy, I looked up and could see the Len-der rolling lazily with the waves 115 feet above me. I turned on my camera and started shooting. Even with the ice cold water around me, I was quite comfortable in my drysuit. Instead of using standard air to relieve the squeeze of the suit as I descended, I used a small tank of argon gas. The argon being a heavier gas insulated me like a warm blanket. Our mooring line was located on the stern of the wreck. We followed along the port side rail about 4 feet off the bottom, checking out the broken masts and timbers etc. along the way. The bow had broken off and was angled so it pointed out to deeper water. After briefly filming the bow, we turned and started back down the starboard rail. At about amidships we accidentally disturbed a decent size burbott resting on the bottom. He slowly turned and swam off to find another place to relax with less commotion. Well aware that our bottom time was dwindling we continued down the starboard rail to see the awesome rudder standing up as the highest point on the wreck. The area was a little silted up and upon investigating we noticed the mooring line, that was so carefully placed, was slightly lifting the huge timber it was placed around with every wave that lifted the charter boat. Nothing we could do about it now as we already had two minutes of decompression to complete and our pressure gauges along with the temperature dictated we start for the surface.

     After a few hand signals toward each other to communicate our intentions we slowly started our accent. As we went up I vented the expanding air from my buoyancy compensator and got ready to dump argon from drysuit. I lifted my arm, to allow my automatic dump valve to do its job, and nothing happened! The arm of my drysuit was billowed around like the Michelin man, but nothing was coming out. This could be bad! I dumped more air from my BC to stabilize my ascent. That air was almost gone. Soon I would ‘have’ to dump the argon somehow before it started expanding, pulling me up past my decompression stop and to the surface. I shook my arm again. I banged the valve with my other hand, nothing worked. Finally with no other choice I stuck my gloved hand into my drysuit's neck seal, pulled it out and let all the excess gas bubble out around my head.  The cold water that rushed in for that brief moment was frigid but not as bad as I expected. I was neutral again and completed my decompression obligations. As I went from 20 feet to 10 feet I stopped for a quick extra safety stop. I lifted my arm again and this time the valve worked perfectly as it was supposed to. I waited underwater while I watched William climb into the boat and remove his gear. When his feet disappeared from the ladder I surfaced and started to hand up my gear.

     Once in the boat, after informing Jerry about the loose mooring, and after removing my now wet underclothes, we discussed the valve malfunction. We came to the conclusion that the water pressure on the heavier gas didn’t allow the valve to open as it did in the past. When I get back home I vowed to call the drysuit manufacturer and get the valve repaired or replaced. Turned out all it needed was a good cleaning and some new silicone. All in all even with the little bit of excitement it was a fantastic dive on a new wreck at the end of January.

See you soon,
Rick~~~