Miami Wreck Exploration Project

Technical diving in Miami since 1990


The Miami Wreck Exploration Project was founded by Don Scholen. In 1990, he started making a series of dives on Miami's wrecks below 130FT. At this time, deep diving was very much taboo, and as a dive instructor he didn't want his friends and students to follow his example, so he made the dives solo.

Don didn't just dive solo, he made the entire boat trip solo, heading out on his 25 foot Sea Vee, anchoring and diving, sometimes bringing the anchor up with him so that he could do his decompression drifting, free from current. Don's favorite wreck was the Star Trek, a 200FT long landing craft lying on her starboard side in 220FSW.

Around the same time, Dan Nafe was working at Brownies in Fort Lauderdale, and was experimenting with Tri-mix. He designed his own decompression tables using an Excel spreadsheet which incorporated Buhlmann's ZHL-12 decompression algorithm.

Don used his See Vee as a six-pack charter boat, and one weekend Dan chartered the boat to teach some advanced open water students. Joel Svendsen ("Jody") dived regularly with Don, and was aboard. Dan told Don and Joel about his experimentation with Tri-Mix. He said that he found making dive tables with his Excel spreadsheet very time consuming, but was encouraged by the results. Joel was a programmer, and offered to make a program to automatically generate dive tables.

The result was a program called MiG Plan (For Mixed Gas Planner), which was ultimately released as freeware. A series of practice deep dives was put together in 1991. Dan recruited Bill Marchiony to join the team, and Joel recruited Ron DeMarco. Initial dives were from the Reef Cat in Fort Lauderdale, making dives on the Hydro Atlantic (170FSW) and Miller Lite (165FSW). Later, the group joined Don for dives in Miami on the Hopper Barge (165FSW), Railroad Barge (165FSW), Mystic Isle (195FSW), and the Star Trek (220FSW).

Don recruited a large number of people to the group, including Ray, Buck, Nadim, "Big Steve", and Brad. Joel recruited Simon Curtis, who went on to become one if its most regular divers. Together, they surveyed most of Miami's wrecks between 130 and 220FSW.

Don's cancer, which had been in remission for 20 years, came back in 2000, and he later died. Without Don's leadership, the group's numbers and activity level slowly dwindled. In 2002, Joel Svendsen took on the task of recruiting, and became project director in 2003.

Joel made the use of DIR equipment and procedures mandatory, and strongly encouraged GUE training for all of its members. Joel brought in Matt Hoelscher (who served first as a mixed gas diver and recruitment manager, later as captain).  Matt recruited David Buhlinger in 2007. 

In 2014, successful completion of the GUE DIR Fundamentals course or at least one GUE or UTD Tech or Cave certification course became mandatory for all project divers.

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