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Weekend Dive Report: June 8-9, 2002

Four of us departed Naples Friday evening to dive the Rhein. On the way out I got a call from a friend with numbers to a supposedly large, unknown wreck in deep water that hosted good fishing action. We arrived on the Rhein Saturday morning and deployed the shotline. After gearing up, Joe and I dropped in and scootered into a pretty strong current, unusual for this wreck. I eventually hit the wreck and secured the hook on the wreck for the next team. Joe and I then proceeded to explore the wreck in brisk 65-degree water. While visibility above the thermocline was easily 200 feet, visibility on the wreck was perhaps a murky 50 feet. The wreck appears to really be falling apart on herself, as the midship section has undergone some more deterioration and significant collapse since last year. Due to the strong cross-current, we had to scooter at an angle and side-slip across the wreck when traveling over the center of the ship. We ended up at the stern and dropped into the fantail structure. We then dropped down into the angled section of wreck to check out some small rooms. Several portholes were found laying loose in the sand below at 245fsw.

After playing around a little while, we hopped back on our scooters and moved forward. I soon was joined by a large manta ray that flew in over the sand onto the wreck. She was massive and amazingly swift. I could barely even keep up with her with the scooter wide open and the current pushing me, and she soon bolted away out of sight. After goofing off amidships and watching a massive jewfish at a cleaning station, we meandered back to the line to don our deco bottles and ascend to the surface. We eventually let go of the shotline due to the strong current and chose to shoot liftbags for deco. Just as Joe shot his bag, we were buzzed by two more fast moving manta rays. They rocketed past us towards the surface, but apparently did not clear the water and "fly" for a short distance like they are known to do.

With calm surface waters, the boat easily followed along. So did many of our friends in grey suits. We were joined by six small (3-4 feet in length) sharks. These guys were a riot. For a good period of time I was a bit (actually very) disconcerted about their appearance, as they were very curious and would approach within 10 feet of us as they quickly cruised around. However, when the boat would put its engines in gear, they would quickly head back into its wake, apparently expecting to find a meal of bait, etc. When they found nothing, they would quickly head back over to accompany us. What was so interesting about these guys was their schooling behavior. They would swim back at us in a tight echelon formation, which was both impressive and very intimidating at the same time. They would head right at us like a blitzing defensive line trying to sack the quarterback, until peeling away at the last second and circling around. Eventually, I decided to join in the fun and quit being just a spectator.

When they would head at us, I would scooter towards the formation and try to break it apart, in a perverted game of chicken. I would then try and follow them, which actually became quite entertaining. I could approach very close before they would peel away. I could then see the small nuances of their body and skin as it moved with their caudal fin motions. A few times a shark would get very close and I had to question whether I had shark insurance coverage on the scooter. While they appeared to be very attracted to the dangling reel below, they didn't display any aggressive behavior towards us. However, to be honest I was on edge for most of the deco. During the early parts of our decompression, we also had several dolphins swim by and play in the bow wake of the boat as it circled above; while conditions on the wreck were not optimal, the marine life was incredible.

After the second team completed their dive, we opted to motor north to check out the other wreck. Arriving on site, we soon spotted a large school of bonito or skipjack working a mass of baitfish. Large schools of fish also appeared on the bottom reader so we knew we were close. After circling for a while, we ran over a large spike in 260fsw. After securing the shotline, we decided to anchor in the sand nearby for the night. In the morning, we readied for our dive. We all speculated on what the wreck may be. With 40-50 feet of relief, I was hoping it was one of the numerous war casualties we were trying to locate. I geared up first and splashed, waiting for Joe on the shotline, 30 feet below the surface. As he splashed in, we scootered along the line towards the wreck below. Reaching the thermocline at 150fsw, we encountered a nasty water layer that reduced visibility to perhaps 10 feet. However, at 170fsw, the water opened up to perhaps 125+ feet of visibility. I soon saw a dark shadow in the sand and tried to focus in. As I quickly approached it, we soon realized it was not a freighter or tanker, but a large trawler. She sat upright on the bottom, listing 30 degrees to starboard. Her outriggers were out and her aft deck hatch open. Amberjack swarmed around the wreck, as well as numerous black grouper and a few jewfish. She was absent of gear, though the majority of her equipment was intact. Running lights, a large bronze spotlight, and portholes were obvious from the outside. Wiggling into the interior, I noticed several mattresses, a stove, refrigerator, several pairs of rubber boots (spooky), and some scattered bridge equipment. While several of her very large portholes were laying loose in the wreck, I opted not to disturb them so that future divers could observe them; the wreck is in only 260 feet of water, just over 100 miles west of Naples. Enjoy! <G>

After playing about in the wreck, Joe and I had fun scootering way out into the sand and then looking at the trawler from afar. With the incredible visibility, we could easily see the whole wreck, appearing like a toy boat on the bottom. Popping under the stern, I observed perhaps the largest black grouper I have seen in my life resting next to the large bronze prop. He easily exceeded 100 pounds, as a decent size jewfish next to him was dwarfed by his immense size. After completing our dive, we fouled the hook and drifted off for decompression. Passing back through the murk layer, we could see the boat patiently waiting adjacent to the poly balls from 140fsw. However, we didn't have any critters to watch this time, so deco was rather uneventful and boring. While the new wreck was not what we hoped it would be, it eliminated yet another previously unknown wreck off the list.