Miami Wreck Exploration Project

Technical diving in Miami since 1990

Narwal Dive

Posted by Rick Thomas on August 6, 2012 at 8:40 PM

Miami Wreck Divers' Dive Report August 4, 2012

Saturday morning we met at the dock at 0800 with the hope of getting out onto the ocean ahead of a Tropical Wave sitting just east of Miami-Dade/Broward Counties. The first good sign was waking up at 0530 and not seeing a text message from Jody on my phone! We loaded out the Tiara, Carlos again making this adventure possible by driving the boat and being our top-side support. Today's manifest was David, Jody and myself as one team of three. It was also Jody's first dive in over a month since breaking his scapula in a bike accident. So today's dives were two "recreational" dives on some shallow wrecks. Of course it's worth explaining that when you see a Miami Wreck Diver suited up for a recreational dive, the configuration looks a bit different than the 'typical' recreational diver. First off, even though these are single-tank dives, we go into the water in a DIR configuration: back-plate and wing, balanced rig, long-hose and necklace. Primary light and two back-up lights, a spare mask, wet-notes, a surface marker buoy, reels and spools, primary and back-up depth gage and bottom timer, compass, multiple cutting devices, and of course, DPVs (underwater scooters). David and I also configured the first deeper dive with an Aluminum-80 stage (for reasons Alex knows well), with our LP-95 pressed with EAN30 in a 'cave-fill' as redundant gas, to be used on the second dive. A casual observer may feel we were in a bit of an over-kill configuration, but truly when one puts him or herself into an underwater environment, there is no reason not to be self sufficient, even if diving in a team of three experienced divers. The plan was to do the first dive on the wreck of the Narwal; a 137-foot freighter scuttled into the Haulover artificial reef site in April of 1986. She lies in 125-feet of water just NE of Haulover inlet. We powered out of Government Cut Saturday morning onto a very calm Atlantic Ocean, with clear skies and a light breeze, just enough to add an element of comfort in the hot morning sun. We arrived on site to find a very light current, perfect diving conditions. I'm not sure if it was from the comfort of the ride out in the Tiara, the low-stress of the dive plan, the perfect conditions on-site, or elements of all of the above, but our dress-out into our gear was as relaxed and casual as I can ever remember! That said, once suited up and ready to go, we met as a team one last time in the cockpit of the Tiara to do our equipment check and establish the team responsibilities. Jody would lead the dive, I would take the number two position as the photographer, and David would take the number three position. Jody would run our decompression, and I would shoot the surface marker from 60-feet once in our ascent. During our equipment check, I discovered that the camera battery was dead, in spite of the fact I put a newly charged battery in the camera on Wednesday in my dive prep. Needless to say I received a ration of shit from the others, and will likely continue to in the foreseeable future!

Carlos gave us the "dive!, dive!, dive!" command, and David, Jody and I dropped into the water in a splash of bubbles, turning ourselves in the water to a horizontal 'sky-divers' position, primary lights on, scooters pushed out in front, allowing the weight of ourselves slightly negative to "fall" towards the bottom 125-feet beneath us. Carlos using the bottom-finder and his experience in understanding the currents should have given us the dive! command in such a way the current will have brought us over the wreck by the time we drifted to the bottom. By the time we were at 50-feet the three of us were grouped up as a team, watching as the bottom came into view... no, not the bottom... it was the top deck of the wreck coming into view! Carlos dropped us dead-center onto the aft deck of the Narwal! Nice! The water was warm, 82 degrees at the bottom, with around 60-feet of visibility. Not bad. Coming over the starboard-side of the wreck I immediately saw a large Lion Fish near a debris pile in the sand, and powered my scooter directly at the fish; smiling inwardly as I watched the fish at first try to stand his ground, then flee at the last second into the debris pile! Check gas, 3100-psi in my AL80 on the bottom at exactly :02 minutes into the dive. Good. We swam aft around the stern, looked at the rudder bent over as the ship had settled over towards its starboard side. The aft end of the ship looks to be in decent condition, certainly is still recognizable as a freighter. We powered on the scooters and moved up the side of the wreck. Soon enough we could see the damage caused by hurricane Andrew; the bow section was torn away from the rest of the ship. While this has certainly caused additional deterioration of the ship, it also makes the wreck an interesting wreck to dive. We saw lots of marine life on and around the wreck. During our descent we fell through a school of Atlantic Spadefish at around 60-feet. On the wreck we swam through large schools of Schoolmaster and yellow tail snapper. I observed a couple Gag Grouper, several Hog Fish, quite a few large Blue Parrot Fish, several Queen Angels, and lots of live corals, sea fans and basket sponges. We turned at the bow and scootered back towards the stern. I saw a white cloud of disturbed sand off the port side of the wreck and went over to investigate, in time to see a large stingray hover up off the bottom and then "fly" away on its graceful wings. Noticing David and Jody looking onto an open section of the stern section, I rejoined them in time to see an incredibly large Goliath Grouper, easily a 500-Pound fish! This fish was "all mouth" as we directed the beams of our light towards her in the wreck; I believe she was 30" from one side of her jaws to the other, and as she turned and went further into the wreck I would estimate her length at somewhere between 7 to 8 feet. Where was my camera?! We were at :18 into the dive and it was time to go. The SMB shoot went nicely, and Jody brought us up in a nice slow ascent, with short stops at 30-feet, 20-feet and finally at 10-feet. While technically a recreational dive, 20-minutes at an average depth of 120-feet does bring on a decompression obligation, and it's always a good idea to practice precise buoyancy control on the ascent of any dive.

We spent a short thirty-minute surface interval to off gas a little more nitrogen, motoring in closer to shore near the majority of the wrecks sunk as part of the Haulover Artificial reef project. On the way over we saw an interesting bottom profile on the bottom finder, and decided to drop in a little east of the wrecks to explore this section of the reef. We planned a fifty-minute bottom time at an average depth of 60-feet. Dropping back into the water we were quickly back on the bottom in eighty-feet of water. The section of reef we dropped onto looked pristine. We thought maybe we would find an area dredged for the beach re-nourishment project, but instead we found corals, rocks, sponges and abundant sea life. We took a south-west heading on our compass and scootered over this reef, passing by a pile of concrete culverts, then landing shortly on the wreck of the White Coast, a small tugboat in fairly good condition laying in seventy feet. We swam the wreck and came to an opening of broken wreck near the bow. Looking into the cavernous opening, a swim-thru opportunity beckoned. I went first, swimming directly into the ship. Once a few yards into the structure I saw daylight off to my left, turned and swam towards the light. Pulling through a slight restriction I came face-to-face with a Jewfish about half the size of the fish we saw on our first dive; still a large fish! She looked at me as if to say "what the flip are you doing in MY house", and for a moment I thought she would swim directly towards me and my team. Instead she turned and swam out the opening I saw in the side of the ship. I followed and in a moment later was back in open water. I directed my primary light on the opening and soon watched Jody emerge from the hole, with David close behind. The Jewfish had gone out into the sand-flats, likely waiting for the unwelcome trespassers to leave his home. We scootered on, SW over the sand. I directed our attention to an interesting sight; a large whelk had overtaken a smaller conch, and was in the process of consuming the smaller univalve. One can imagine the slow-motion race that must have recently occurred when the conch, a herbivore realized that he was being "chased" by the larger whelk, a carnivore. Obviously the larger whelk won this race! We came upon the wreck of the C-One a larger tug, sitting upright in the sand. Her prop was removed as was her engine, a fairly sterile wreck. We scootered on and came upon the Timothy Allen Reed, a small barge, where we startled a large stingray. Being on scooters we were able to swim a short distance with the ray, able to enjoy seeing her natural grace as she flew through the water. Time goes by quickly under water, and before we knew it, we had scootered back to the C-One and a bit further on the Concepcion, and soon were at our planned fifty-minute bottom time. Jody thumbed the dive and we shot our surface marker. A short time later we were through our decompression obligation and back on the surface. Two relaxing dives in the morning; what better way to start the weekend?! Looking out to the east, we could just see the line of showers on the horizon that marked the boundary of the approaching Tropical wave. Perfect timing.

Dive safe~

Rick Thomas

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