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AUE Weekend Trip Report, June 16, 2003

FINALLY, the weather allowed us to get out and do some fun dives this past weekend. On Saturday we motored out to the wreck of the LUBRAFOL, a Panamanian
tanker torpedoed in World War II. She now rests in 180fsw, 38 miles east of Ponce Inlet.

There was a very gentle northward push, which was pretty much irrelevant since 8 out of 9 divers were scootering. The thermocline started at 30fsw with a hazy water layer. On the bottom, most Uwatecs hit 64 degrees, but were still dropping on ascent; one diver's computer registered 55 degrees. The brisk temperatures influenced the profiles quite a bit, with most divers opting to bug out early at around 25-30 minutes max. We had a bit of green water, with perhaps 50 foot of visibility on the bottom. The wreck was stacked up with lots of red snapper, as well as the flocks of AJs. Also observed were some nice warsaws and a few fat gag. Once on the bottom, one of the divers who is also an FBI agent and is apparently very dedicated to the job, deftly spotted a couple of illegal aliens -- two adult lionfish (P. volitans). I moved in and got some nice close-up footage of the exotic species before moving off to explore the rest of the wreck. The tanker is lying hard over on her starboard side, 95% turtled. As you move aft, the wreck is less turtled and more lying on her starboard side. The sides of the bow are separated like a peeled banana, with the hawse pipes and chain disarticulated from the hull. The masts and forward gun tubs lie off in the sand. Amidships, the hull is torn with a large boiler spilling out from the interior. A large stern deck gun can be found on the stern, resting in the sand, with the barrel pointing aft. The entire wreck is fairly bare of encrustation, with just a thin coating of rust and crud; browns were the dominant hue, randomly punctuated with a white sprig of Oculina coral.

The interior can be penetrated easily, but I would exercise extreme caution:  Joe and I popped into one of the forward holds, and when I cast my HID up I realized the entire upper portions of the hold had trapped an unknown quantity of jelled oil. I was confused at first, as the light was simply sucked up by the black substance. Upon closer examination, I could see bubbles trapped in the goo. I did not tempt to see how solidified it was.  I signaled Joe that we should get the hell out, though he didn't understand my signals until I explained back on the boat. I could just imagine how bumping into that muck would really ruin your day.

The second dive was also relatively short due to the lack of anyone wanting to put up with the cold water for very long; after about 25 minutes I had had enough fun.

Sunday off Canaveral was even colder. There is a major upwelling going on south of Canaveral, with the tongue of it wrapping around the Cape. Fishermen  told us the bottom bite was way off, and they could hardly mark any fish on the bottom along the pinnacles (which usually holds thick amounts of fish). They were also catching numbers of warsaw grouper in only 100fsw, evidence that the fish were moving inshore to escape the cold water.

We had around 48-49 degrees below the thermocline at around 80fsw (which, like the 30-foot thermocline on Saturday, is rather shallow); there was a nasty water layer from 80-130 where the visibility was around 2-3 feet. We ended up scootering down almost elbow-to-elbow so we didn't loose each other in the soup. Busting through that you were nailed by the frigid water, but the visibility opened up to about 70-80 feet on the bottom. We got some nice Oculina footage that is supposed to be used for a PBS series "Ocean Science" about the ongoing research/restoration work on Oculina Bank, but we only spotted a random gag, angelfish, warsaw, or scamp due to the seriously cold water on the bottom. All the normal little fish (red barbiers and roughtongue bass) that hang out around the coral thickets were no where to be seen. The wreck was basically barren of the typical amounts of marine life.

It was a shame to leave the bottom early, as we had plenty of gas, good vis (though dark), and no bottom current, but after 20 minutes I could barely hold the camera steady. On our second dive, as we were ascending through the soupy water I kept hearing the distinct clicking noise of dolphins. I tried to communicate "dolphin" to my buddy, but he couldn't hear their noises with his thick hood and he kept thinking I was signaling "shark". That probably didn't help when we were suddenly buzzed by several dolphins in the gloom that passed within touching distance. I saw the quick moving dolphins swoop by and then behind me so close that I could feel the pressure of their passing. They stuck around for several minutes until we got into clearer water around 70fsw. We could see about a half dozen large spotted dolphins playing around and jumping on the surface, before finally moving off. The rest of the deco was occupied with a visit by swarming almaco jacks, some bonito, a lone shark, as well as a lengthy game of "whack a remora".

Can't wait for next weekend!