A S S O C I A T I O N   OF   U N D E R W A T E R   E X P L O R E R S  

Date: Tue, 29 May 2001 19:27:12

AUE Weekend Trip Report May 25-28, 2001
Day Two - Rhein, Araby Maid, Oil Wreck

Our group woke up early on Sunday in anticipation for another dive on the Rhein. Again, a layer of grey clouds limited the amount of light in the water column. Regardless, visibility was stunning. I splashed to find incredible blue water with unlimited visibility; I could easily see the dive boat above and wreck below while at the 150-foot depth. I proceeded to the starboard side and dropped down to the sand to inspect for debris. The majority of damage appears on the starboard side towards the middle of where the boat and promenade decks used to stand. I was surprised to see little material on the bottom aside from some metal plating that appears to have flaked off the hull. I eventually headed up to again look about the forward section of the superstructure to inspect for bridge remains. After looking around for a while, I dropped down through a large hole into the boiler room. Much of the centerline area joining the boiler and engine rooms are full of collapsed material from above. However, one may slip down through the maze and get to the access areas that run alongside these sections. I observed several gauges mixed with material that is falling down from the decks above. One partially buried artifact grabbed my attention, though it will take a return visit to excavate it fully. I decided to head back through the upper sections and over the porthole graveyard back to the hook, ending my dive early around 24 minutes. The others soon regrouped at the line and the hook was pulled so we could drift off the wreck for deco.

Our attention now turned to the wreck of the Araby Maid (II). The Maid was a three-masted schooner built in 1868. She was the second vessel under that name and, like her predecessor, was owned by William Thomson & Company of Leith and Edinburgh. She spent most of her time in the Far East moving about China and Japan. In 1903, the Araby Maid was sailing in the Gulf of Mexico when she was involved in a collision that resulted in a large v-shaped gash in her portside bow. She came to rest upright and intact in approximately 220 feet of water. I was hoping to return to find and recover the ship's compass after recovering the ornate binnacle on our last trip. As we anchored up, large freighters and tankers passed close off our bow and stern, reminding us how the Araby Maid met her fate in these busy shipping lanes. We slipped in some fishing before our second dive of the day. Captain Jeff soon hooked into a very large blackfin tuna that he successfully boated. He hooked several other tunas, but they successfully worked free of the line, though several large amberjack were not as lucky...

We eventually dropped into stunning blue water with absolutely no current. Massive amounts of fish rose to meet us as we descended to the wreck. At around the 150 feet depth, the visibility dropped from the infinite blue waters above to a more subtle 100 feet on the bottom with a slight brownish-green tint. I immediately swam towards the stern and dropped in between the weather deck supports to get at the lower deck level. I saw the area I found the binnacle but did not see anything obvious protruding from the deep oyster shell hash. I began to dig through the mess immediately reducing visibility to zero. There was a good amount of fine silt mixed with the shell hash which complicated my efforts. I opted to work other areas while this settled a bit and pulled along the ship's lower deck. I observed large amounts of unidentifiable brass fittings, many heavily eroded from their century-long immersion. Heading back to my work area, the lack of current prolonged the sediment suspension. I picked around a bit and found some brass drawer pulls and other miscellaneous artifacts but sadly no compass. I worked on another unusual and ornate brass artifact when Joe dropped in to make sure I was okay. Apparently, the stern looked like it was on fire with the billowing sediment cloud appearing like smoke wafting over the stern of the vessel. Realizing I was not trapped and struggling but just foraging as usual, he waved and continued his exploration of the wreck. I headed up towards the bow to meet the rest of the team and them out into the sand to observe the three large masts that are laying off the starboard side. Content with the dive, I slowly worked over to the hook and started my ascent. While the dive was good, the decompression was great. Back in the insane blue water visibility, we were all amazed by the scene we were confronted with during deco. It was like fish soup! Massive schools of amberjack circled us as we ascended around the upline. Schools of massive permit swam around in the distance, while horse-eye and almaco jacks were also represented in abundant layers. Large, single crevalle jacks would slide in and out of the melee, while schools of little tunny and rainbow runners would zip around in contrast to the slowly circling jacks. The abundance of jacks replaced the ever present barracuda that were forced to the outer fringe of visibility. The massive flocks of fish followed us all the way to our 30-foot stop, by which we had drifted far enough away from the wreck to dissuade them from following further. I have never seen that many fish in one viewing! Aside from the lively marine life, aside from my brass trinkets Andrew managed to find a very nice intact wine bottle laying amongst the wreck.

After securing our gear, we motored on flat seas toward the Oil Wreck, an unidentified war casualty (tanker) that rests in 145 feet of water. The group fueled up on dinner with hopes of a repeat performance of last year's night dive on the Oil Wreck. On that dive, our group swam amongst no less than 5 turtles all resting in close proximity on the wreck. As we began to gear up, several sea turtles approached the bright lights of the boat. The pleasant company of the turtles were soon displaced with many, many small sharks that zipped around the stern of the boat. I would not have believed it if I had not seen it myself, but there were probably *at least* 20-30 1-meter long sharks that we could see zipping around the stern of the boat. Captain Jeff managed to catch several of the buggers and they looked quite feisty. Undeterred, our group geared up and splashed into the water, though strangely no one really wanted to go in first...

I followed Andrew down the line as his HID lights from his camera soon dimmed in the increasingly murky water on the bottom. This wreck is not known for stellar water quality and we soon found perhaps 20 feet of visibility. We were soon joined by numerous jewfish as we played about the stern half of the wreck. Several jumbo black and red grouper were spotted sleeping amongst debris, as well as copious amounts of large cowries that inched along the wreck surfaces. The group poked about the engine rooms and large boilers for a while, entertained by the numerous invertebrate and fish species that dwell on the wreck. After our allotted divetime had come and gone, we all began working our way up the line only to find a more menacing threat than the deadly sharks seen earlier. Around 40 feet we were joined by several red squid as they zipped around us. The squid were a harbinger of the danger that soon followed. In short order we were totally enveloped by a massive school of swarming cigar minnows. For the remainder of our decompression we were pelted on our faces and bodies by these crazy silver fish. It was a strange feeling when these spastic fish worked under your backplate and crotch strap. I think we were all laughing pretty hardily as we tried to avoid getting thrashed by these small critters. It was a great finish to a great day.

Continued...