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  

Mon, 26 Jun 2000 09:27:43 PDT

AUE Tortugas Trip Report June 22-25, 2000

DAY 1 - Rhein

The team started arriving in Ft. Myers around 5:00pm Thursday night and proceeded to hump all our gear to the boat. After a pleasant dinner on the beach at the Barking Shark, we headed back to further discuss our dive plans and get some sleep. We awoke to find ourselves approaching our first target, the Rhein, in calm seas. The Rhein was a 454' long German freighter built in 1926. At the outbreak of World War II, she attempted to make it back to Germany from Mexico. Before making it out of the Gulf of Mexico, she was caught by the Dutch Navy sloop Van Kinsbergen. The Captain of the Rhein attempted to scuttle the ship by setting it afire, but before it sunk the British cruiser Caradoc joined the fray and placed several 6" shells into her hull. The Rhein now rests upright and intact in 250' of water.

Knowing that we were only the second group of divers to visit the site, we were all very anxious when we saw the massive profile appear on the bottom reader. After securing the downline, running tables, and setting up our gear, we all hit the water and headed towards the wreck below. There was a healthy current, but the water was extremely clear and warm. As we neared the bottom, the massive wreck came into view. We were hooked amidships towards the rear of the superstructure. The forward kingposts, still standing proudly upright, were visible 100'+ feet from the hook.

I began exploring the wreck, heading towards the stern. The midships superstructure had begun collapsing on itself; many of the vertical bulkheads had fallen outward, leaving only support beams and the decks remaining. Portholes were everywhere, a testimony to the lack of visiting divers. Swimming towards the stern, it appeared this section received the most damage due to the sinking; the masts were laying on the deck and there was a large fracture about 70' from the stern. The stern, consisting of a small house that contained what looked like the auxiliary steering station and steering quadrant, was kicked over at an extreme angle towards the sand. A neat skylight structure still adorned the upper deck of the house.

I headed back towards amidships admiring the incredible wreck; she was well encrusted and adorned with massive amounts of white telesto (a neat pink/white gorgonian that forms large tangled clusters). The guys nicknamed the forward cargo hold the "greenhouse" as this coral was so dense that it draped down everywhere off supports and the edges of the decks, looking like vines or ivy. I poked around in some of the rooms of the superstructure finding numerous portholes and other brass artifacts. A solitary tub remained on deck, its enclosing bulkheads having collapsed outwards. I also happened to piss off a large jewfish that I hadn't noticed, which proceeded to "thump" me several times as I digged around his house. Mark was lucky to come upon a glass fresnel lens from one of the running lights. All too soon we had to head back up, though we were glad to be able to do one more dive on this great wreck later in the day. Back on deck we all discussed the site with most agreeing that this wreck quite possibly was one of the top wrecks Florida had to offer. There simply were just not enough superlatives to describe this wreck. Later in the day the current slacked up, making for a really pleasant second dive. The fish really came out in force, apparently having hunkered down out of the current during our first visit. I proceeded to recover a porthole that was loose and close to the line, sending it up shortly after hitting the deck. I swam about the midship structure a bit, checking out the layout. The rooms of the upper deck were fairly open making for easy exploration. I never made it to the bridge area which is a priority on our next visit. As I was heading back to the line I happened upon another porthole laying loose, so I went ahead and rigged it and swam it back to the line. Satisfied with the dive I walked it up a bit and checked out the wreck from above. The rest of the team was converging on the line to begin their ascent so I let the porthole head up. After a few minutes I began to feel the line vibrating again alerting me to the fact that something was amiss. I looked up and saw the potholes heading back down the line. While the Captain was securing the first porthole, he saw the second bag coming up. Apparently the overpressure valve malfunctioned as the Halcyon bag continued to spill gas after hitting the surface. Trying to deal with both situations at once, the first bag (Carter bag) filled with water and became too burdensome to handle and both portholes dropped back down the line.

I managed to catch the top bag and shot enough gas into it to send it up while Mikey caught the second bag and shot enough gas into it to send it up. This time, the Halcyon decided to really crap out and burst its seams about 20' from the surface. The Captain was ready for a battle this time though, and quickly attached a safety line to the artifacts once they neared the surface. The whole event was pretty humorous as it looked like a damn porthole conveyor belt for a while during deco. We all hit the flat calm surface laughing about the course of events. We secured all our gear and began to fill our stages in preparation for the next day's dives on the Araby Maid and U-2513. We dropped anchor for the night over the Araby Maid, rocked by a gentle sea breeze as the sun dropped over the horizon. Captain Jeff did some fishing that night, managing to land some nice mutton snapper and amberjack, though it was always a race to keep the fish away from the thieving barracuda.

DAY 2 - Araby Maid and U-2513 continued later...