Miami Wreck Exploration Project

Technical diving in Miami since 1990

Skye Cliffe - Miami Wreck members diving further north

Posted by Rick Thomas on November 25, 2012 at 10:50 AM

Dive Report: Skye Cliff

November 24, 2012 Underwater Explorers; Boynton Beach, FL - Captain Kevin at the helm

Team 1 (OC) Rick Thomas & David Buhlinger (Miami Wreck)

Team 2 (CCR) Henry Silva (Miami Wreck) & Terri Simpson

Team 3 (OC) Brian Patrick & Dave Kelly

 

Saturday morning was a beautiful, sunny, cool Florida autumn day, and my wind chimes were silent! This is important information, as we have had less than ideal weather here the past week, with a lot of north winds and building seas. Just two days after the capsizing of South Florida Dive Center's 'Coral Princess' in the Hillsboro Inlet, no one was being complacent with the seas this week. Silent wind chimes at my home is a good indication that the winds are calm enough to allow a dive; sorta my "go / no-go" gage.

 

This is not going to be a candy-coated dive report, it was not a perfect dive, some mistakes were made, and when Murphy wants you; he will pull out all the stops to get his way. Looking back on the charter, our first mistake was David and I suiting up side-by-side instead of across the boat, facing each other. The trip out was quick, and for a number of reasons both David and I decided to dive dry on this dive. It had been well over a year since I last dove dry, as last winter's dive season was warm, and I dove wet the entire season. That said, I am very comfortable diving in my drysuit, so I didn't concern myself much about this change in my equipment configuration. David and I have not previously dived the Skye Cliff, so we decided to use our scooters to circumnavigate the wreck, and minimize our time inside the wreck. This was a 200-foot dive on 18/45, with two deco gasses. David and I use Ratio Deco to get back up to the surface. David and I did our pre-dive check sitting side-by-side on the boat and then positioned ourselves on the swim platform for our hot-drop onto the wreck.

 

We entered the water, and my first hint that this dive would be challenging was right after squeezing the air from my suit, I still felt buoyant at the surface, even with all the steel strapped to my body. Blame the 200g Thinsulate I was wearing instead of my typical ski undergarments. I did get negative, and we made our descent towards the bottom, in a slight northerly current. The water temperature was about 78-degrees, and the visibility was easily 100-feet! As we neared the bottom we were greeted by a fleet of large Bull Sharks! Serious, as Brian says this was an "epic dive" in regards to the number of sharks we swam with! My best estimate from what David and I observed; 15+ shark over 8-feet, many in the 10-12-foot size. We reached the bottom at around 180-feet and realized we missed the wreck by a good margin to the west, having to scooter laterally in the current to reach the stern in 200-feet. Looking up from the collapsed rudder, its obvious she's a big girl! Hovering still above the bottom I begin to consider thumbing the dive, as I am still not feeling comfy with my buoyancy, the drysuit is adding too much buoyancy, and my scooter is masking this situation. Fine on the bottom, VERY sub-optimal once we get to deco depth and have to maintain buoyancy! Fortunately, this is a well-fished wreck, and there was literally tons of lead on the bottom and on the deck of the wreck, so as we explored the ship, I loaded my pockets with lead, as David watched (and laughed). David and I stopped on deck about 8-minutes into the dive and checked my buoyancy, decided I was now weighted properly, and continued the dive. The ship is amazing, truly. She shows some signs of deterioration, and divers with us who have dove her in the past tell us that Sandy did some damage to her last month. As we swam along the decks, we saw a large number of Crevale Jacks, Amberjack, Snapper, Black Grouper, Hog Fish, Lion Fish, Queen Angels, Schoolmasters, and numerous other fish; obvious signs as to why we see so much fishing line floating all over the ship. One of which managed to find its way into David's Gavin-prop. We swam into a room on the main deck superstructure to be greeted by a stunning visual; the bright yellow soft corals that carpeted the decks, bulkheads and overheads everywhere we shined our lights, moving and undulating in the currents. Swimming out of the superstructure and looking off the side of the ship, we were reminded agin who were truly the owners of this wreck, a large Bull Shark never too far from view. We never did come across any Goliath Grouper, which we have seen in great numbers on the wrecks to the south all sumer long. I guess on this wreck they are not the apex predator! As we neared our planned bottom time David and I moved up the superstructure as I deployed our yellow surface marker buoy. Shooting the bag went uneventfully, and we left the wreck and started our long ascent to the surface. Looking back down, we saw the sharks following us up from a distance.

 

We stopped at 120-feet for our first 'deep-stop'; did one-minute slides from there up to 70-feet for our first gas-switch. As we approached 70-feet, we pulled our deco regulators and turned on our bottles. David presented to me and to my horror I saw that he had presented me his MOD-20 bottle! Giving him a clear closed-fist "Stop" signal, he realized that something was wrong, and stowed his regulator to switch to the other bottle. 'Fuck'! His second bottle was also a MOD-20 bottle!! I stopped him again, and I could see the moment of realization cross his face. When we suited up, the crew helped us with our deco bottles, and managed to snap two MOD-20 bottles to David's harness while I got the two MOD-70 bottles. In our pre-dive check, David and I didn't catch this, nor did anyone else on the boat. Okay, no problem, we trained for this, while maintaining (sorta) depth at or around 70ish feet, we switched deco bottles. Now, we have been at our 70-foot stop already for about 3-minutes and the clock is ticking, so again we verify the bottles, and David switches. Immediately he gives me an OOG signal! Unbelievable! I have been schlepping an empty deco bottle on the dive, no wonder I felt a little buoyant! When and where we lost the gas, we still are trying to determine. The fact is that when we did our pre-dive check and I turned on and off each deco bottle, I have to own up to my own complacency as we are fairly sure we didn't lose 40-cubic feet of gas during the dive. Our pre-dive check has us checking the pressure in each bottle, but I assume with the 4-6 foot seas and the "felt-urgency" to get through the pre-dive check (we were the first team to go in, and the others were waiting on us to be ready to go), I must have looked right past the needle not moving on the SPG, or simply saw what I wanted to see. So now we have to execute our lost gas drill. We sent the empty bottle up our line to the surface, and I did the required 6-minutes on 50% at 70-feet while David was back on his BG. Once I did my obligation, David took the regulator and did his 6-minutes, then we moved up to 60-feet and repeated the procedure. We did the 50, 40 and 30-foot stops on schedule, on BG, subscribing to the deco theory that we optimized the oxygen window on our 50% mix at the deeper stops. For what its worth, the remaining gas in the MOD-70 bottle was consumed during the 40-foot stop, no accident that when planned properly, there is sufficient gas in a 40-cu/ft bottle to get two divers through the first two, most important stops on the proper deco gas in a gas-share situation. Once at 20-feet we verified and switched to our 100% oxygen, and I sent the empty bottle up the line to join the first bottle sent up. Now able to relax a little, we looked down and were able to see our escorts swimming just within our range of visibility about 80-feet below us, certainly following our progress but not coming very close. We had a small Remora swim with us during our deco at 20-feet, a reminder that his usual benefactor was probably not so far away from us. Good news was there were no Moon Jellies in the water!

 

Post script to this report:

What David and I experienced was unexpected, and most of which could have been prevented prior to going in the water. Here is a list of our mistakes:

- We suited up in such a way we were unable to clearly see each other. Properly situated on the boat, we could have and should have noticed the mix-up of the deco bottles.

- We rushed the pre-dive check. We allowed (either perceived or real) pressure to get ready to enter the water to get in the way of a slow, methodical pre-dive check. The empty bottle should have been discovered on the surface, and the dive aborted, or deco plan changed.

- We changed equipment configuration on a deep dive with a serious deco obligation. First dive back in a drysuit should have been done on a shallow recreational dive.

David and I were able to deal with these issues and surface safely and cleanly because of our training, because he and I dive a lot together as a team, because we have frequently discussed and planned what our procedures will be in a lost deco gas situation, because we agree with and use the same decompression strategies, because we have established clear and specific communication in the water, because we take our gas switching and bottle verification very seriously, because we trust each other in a crisis, are able to maintain a calm demeanor and ensure we both reach the surface together as a dive team. In posing this dive report on this forum I accept all well-deserved criticism, and simply hope our experience yesterday will serve as an example of what can happen to a very experienced dive team. Take from our experience what you will.

 

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