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
"The Ultimate Choke"
June 21-22, 2003
Three of us ventured down to Cudjoe to dive the USS WILKES-BARRE (250fsw) and USS KENDRICK (320fsw) with Jim Wyatt this weekend. We experienced a wonderful streak of good luck throughout the weekend. The rain actually let up about an hour before we showed up at the boat, and then let loose again just as we left Key Largo today.
On Saturday we motored out to the WILKES to find absolutely no current. The visibility was average at around 40 feet on the deck of the wreck, and the water temperature was 85 near the surface, low 70s to about 210 feet, and then about 55 in the hangar and around the base of the wreck. We had a blast scootering around the wreck and just goofing off in general. We also had the good fortune to dive the wreck during a white margate spawning aggregation. Around the superstructure there was a mass of 40-50 *large* margate all schooling together. It was really cool to witness an agg like that. The rest of the wreck was alive with fish as well -- schools of horse-eye jacks, bonito, AJs, a solitary goliath grouper, speckled hind, scamp, etc., etc. The highlight of the dive however was when we stopped next to the funnel to figure out what we want to do next and all of a sudden I spotted a HUGE shape slowly cruising behind Joe and Heather. I let out this crazy helium-induced scream and pointed to a very large (~30 foot long) whale shark that was lazily cruising behind them and alongside the wreck, with a large school of fish in tow. I almost had to hold my reg in my mouth to keep it from falling out. We all shot off in pursuit of the beast, and were able to get right next to and behind the shark. Trying to get the perfect National Geographic-esque shot, I almost got whacked by the wall-sized tail as it slowly wooshed from side-to-side. I don't think any of us could believe what we were seeing. I kept looking down to make sure we didn't loose the wreck and could just make out the stern turrets. When I finally lost track of the wreck, we had to bid our friend goodbye as he lumbered off into the west and off the stern of the WILKES.
We departed the wreck after 40 minutes of pure glee, and ascended over the funnel and superstructure. Since there was no current, we were able to continue watching the wreck and schools of fish until we hit around 50fsw. I was giddy the whole ride in, and could not wait to watch the video replay of the dive. Now, some of you may have already guessed what happened based on the title of the report. Yes, we got back to the shop to view this incredible footage only to find no footage! Watching the video slowly revealed the screw-up. Apparently, the camera was recording unintentionally when I thought it was on standby. You can see it pointed towards the funnel, you hear my scream, the camera comes to bear on the whale shark (yes, you can see it for a split second), and then it goes blank as I turn the camera off, thinking I was actually turning it on. @#!!%&***%$#!!!!!! I could have swore I saw that it was recording as I was scootering along with the beastie, but I guess I was a bit too wrapped up in the moment. Well, at least I got to see one during a dive (I have to keep telling myself that so I don't try to kick my own ass).
We had another great dive today on the KENDRICK. On the second try we hooked our shotline into stack #2 of the destroyer. With any current running, the wreck is hard to hit, as she is less than 40 feet in beam, and she runs just slightly angled off from the prevailing current. We only had about 1 knot on the surface, but closer to the bottom it was trucking along at a good clip. After Jim chased away a curious hammerhead swimming around our ball, we dropped in and quickly scootered to the wreck. After passing through the thermocline, we easily had 150+ foot of clear blue visibility on the bottom -- but we also had a bone numbing 48 degree water temperature below about 180fsw. OUCH! Once we adjusted the hook for later recovery, we slowly motored up current towards the stern, and checked out the slice that transects the ship. With the wonderful vis you could see quite a bit of random debris out in the sand. Hitting the stern, we turned the corner with the current, and hauled ass back towards the bow. I could just make out the shadowy bridge wings past both stacks while still on the stern - it was simply beautiful. Due to the frigid water, there was an obscene lack of fish. There was only one or two stupid AJs that followed us around, but other than that the wreck was empty. After scoping out the beauty of the wreck some more, we motored past the bridge and back to the hook to depart the KENDRICK a couple minutes early for warmer climes. While I didn't want to leave this awesome scene, I was *very* glad to get back in the 85 degree bathtub water near the surface.
It was a great weekend of diving, and we can't wait to go back to hit the USS FRED T. BERRY and USS SAUFLEY later this year. I just hope this La Nina bitch takes her frigid ass and goes away! It is going to be weird travelling to North Carolina in a couple weeks and to be able to dive in warmer water!