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: Fri, 13 Jul 2001 23:20:54

I thought I would post this now, as I am off for more diving this weekend before hitting the Monitor on Monday. The engine is being prepared for recovery so I will attempt to keep the list appraised of current events...

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AUE Trip Report
Andrea Doria, July 9-11; Oregon and USS San Diego, July 12

We mustered a group of the usual suspects and some of our friends to hit the famed Andrea Doria aboard the dive vessel Sea Hunter III, captained by Sal Arena. We were all familiar with the wreck of the Doria and decided to give it a shot and see what all the hoopla was all about.

BEFORE CONTINUING: We all acknowledge that the wreck of the Andrea Doria was probably an incredible dive when she was intact. However, the past few years have really put a hurting on the "Grand Dame of the Sea" and she is now a shadow of her former self, destined to continue her path toward further degradation and decay. Furthermore, we all acknowledge that previous explorations on the Andrea Doria that employed air as the primary breathing gas (i.e., before the evolution of prudent technical diving practices) rightfully earned the Doria the moniker the "Mount Everest of Wreckdiving." However, recent advances in technical diving (if adopted) make this dive relatively easy for an adequately trained and experienced technical diver. I don't want to offend any other divers that place the Doria near-and-dear to their heart. I have seen some awesome video and cool stuff recovered off this wreck. Please keep in mind that this is just my take on the wreck after my dives to it this past week...

Our group of nine filtered into Long Island Sunday and got familiar with the marina in preparation of our loading and scheduled departure on Monday. The forecast earlier in the weekend was not promising and a cold front that had chased off another Doria trip earlier in the week was still dominating the area. However, projected forecasts indicated that our trip would occur, though under less than optimal conditions, with 3-4 foot seas expected.

We eventually met at the marina Monday morning and began the grueling task of loading our tons of gear onto the back deck of the Sea Hunter III. Space would be at a premium on the trip due to our three sets (each) of doubles, our stages and decompression bottles, as well as our argon supply, scooters, and personal dive gear. With the addition of the crew's gear, it was a full boat. After getting everything in order, we threw the lines promptly at noon and headed out from Freeport towards the wreck site of the Andrea Doria.

We arrived at the site around 8 a.m. on Tuesday, and the crew prepared to establish our mooring on the wreck. The first team entered the water and secured a shackle to the portside of the wreck at around 180 feet. Apparently, Sal was not satisfied with the status of the mooring and sent a second team in to secure another line to the wreck. We were all confused with the operation, but we hung out and awaited for our time to gear up and visit the wreck. Once things were satisfactory to Sal, our team geared up in groups and splashed to descend to the wreck of the Doria. I hit the water with my buddies to conduct our initial dive, planning only to goof off and meander along the remains of the promenade decking aft towards the stern. The two lines attached by the crew passed by each other, one at the outside edge of the promenade deck, the other continuing down to a piece of wreckage on the boat deck. The crew had no real idea what the relation of the two lines were to each other due to the required use of air (by the Captain) to moor into the wreck; they were a tad buzzed due to the darkness and current. The advantages of current technical diving practices have apparently not been embraced by all sectors of the diving community. It was the belief by the Captain that it was "safer" to tie-in on air, rather than mix, as the divers could quickly ascend in an emergency. Needless to say, this came up in conversation later as we briefly discussed our diving practices and worked to dispel misinformation with the Captain and the portion of the crew that was interested in learning. More on this later...

Our first dive was just a simple tour to familiarize ourselves with the wreck. Our entire team was content with simply diving the wreck and seeing as much as possible, and there was a total absence of "tunnel-vision" to recover artifacts; any recovered artifacts were simply icing on the cake. Unfortunately, the dive conditions were less than ideal: bottom temperatures ranged from a high of 49 degrees on one dive to a low of 46 degrees on most visits; visibility was a misty 20 feet at best, though due to fog and rain, ambient light was minimal on the bottom and every dive was akin to a night dive; and there was a constant midwater current, though nothing compared to the currents we commonly deal with in Florida. At the end of our bottom time, we slowly headed up, still wondering what all the hype was all about. Decompression was uneventful and boring, in part due to the hazy visibility that we experienced top to bottom. Soon, the team was faced with the true "Mount Everest of Wreckdiving" when we surfaced and had to climb the "Ladder from Hell" on the Sea Hunter III. It was a horrific workout, but by the end of the trip, most everyone had learned the "step and slide" that works well with this type of ladder. It still sucked though...

After our first dive, the team compared notes and attempted to figure out where on the wreck we were; I don't think we ever established exactly where we were tied into with 100% confidence. Warming up over lunch, we made preparations to splash for our second dive approximately 3.5 hours after surfacing. The majority of the usual suspects employed the exact same profiles (including repetitive dives) throughout the trip; for a 31 minute bottom time (at 240 feet), the total run time we experienced was 96 minutes; 25 minutes produced a 78 minute runtime.

On the second dive I found myself exploring the debris field amidst a lumber yard of teak decking that used to form the promenade deck of the Doria. Again, we had very dark bottom conditions, this time due to a dense fog bank that rolled along the surface of the Atlantic over the wreck site. Swimming about the wreckage, we found several of the promenade deck windows, though we didn't see any that were "wrapped and ready" for easy recovery. Heading further out into the debris field, I poked about looking for goodies and playing with random lobsters and large flounder resting in the open. I eventually happened across a loose port that I was later told was one of the gimbaled windows that are very desirous, though I didn't have long to admire it; I noticed one of my buddies signaling me with his HID, so I raced over to see what was up. He had come across a beautiful bronze framed window. It had several dogged handles around the perimeter, with a hinge on the top that allowed it to open a short distance. He made preparations to recover the object, rigging his lift bag and swimming it over to the designated goodie ascent line. I swam ahead and pulled out one of my trusty rigging lines to use as a choker with which to send the artifact up along the mooring to the surface. Successfully sending the window up, we headed back to our other ascent line and slowly worked our way up towards the boat. On the line, I noticed my buddy was especially lucky, as he also came across an intact first-class dish and a miscellaneous bottle from the wreck. Due to the cold water and boring deco, I was very happy to board the boat and warm up. Tami apparently found the remains of an infirmary, as she recovered several small medicine bottles embossed with "ROMA, ITALY" on them, as well as eye droppers, syringes, and other tiny artifacts from some drawers. Joe also scored on his second dive, recovering a very attractive O2 bottle with ScubaPro regulator apparently left from a recent trip on another boat.

After dinner, six of the team planned to run a quick 15-20 minute night dive around 10:30 p.m. I opted to stay high and dry (and warm), and captured some entertaining shots of the other divers as they entered the water. The divers found the wreck teeming with marine life, as a plethora of crabs meandered about the wreck. Also, the visibility appeared to be much better at night. The team emerged from the water less than an hour later, after which we had a short forum on diving protocol. Suffice it to say, Sal was very "interested" with our ability to run three dives in a day, one of which was a night dive, which are not frequently conducted on the Doria to say the least. Unfortunately, there is still a lot of misinformation out there, as well as a reluctance to move forward. Books such as "The Last Dive" help to foster this bad information, in particular the notion of how "dangerous" helium is and the amount of deco that is necessary when using helium-based mixes. Hopefully, this will eventually change. We eventually crashed for the night, rocked by the 3-4 foot seas that slapped the hull.

The next morning we were made aware that a front was approaching and that we would most likely be pulling out a day early. The news prompted us to hit the water early, in order to squeeze in at least two more dives. Due to the bands of clouds rolling towards us, again we were not blessed with high ambient light on the bottom. My buddy and I poked around the wreck a bit, though it appeared the debris field thinned out the farther forward we went. We eventually turned back and proceeded to inspect some wreckage near the base of the hull of the Doria. We both found several bulkhead lights about the wreck, though the one I came across would take a tad more work. We also found what appeared to be the autoclave to the infirmary, as well as a smashed deck light. I poked my head into a few openings into the hull, but not knowing exactly where we were encouraged me to just goof off outside. Decompression was a tad more painful today, as the thermocline which provided a general warming trend around 60 feet was not found until 20 feet today. I spent the time trying to think of warm places...

During our interval, several violent storms passed through, bringing massive downpours and nasty lightning. During one of the blows, one of the crew's drysuit blew overboard and started to float away. Another crew member tried to swim out amidst the pouring rain, lightning and thunder. Unfortunately, the wind and surface current carried it off too quickly and he couldn't reach it before having to be pulled back in. Two of the crew were forced to board the zodiac and motor out into the storm to rescue the suit in the distance. We were all entertained by the unfolding drama and captured some very funny images of the events.

Captain Sal kept us on standby to see if the bad weather would continue. The seas had increased a bit to a white capping 5-7+ feet, though it still hadn't gotten too bad to require us to cut the lines. After another hour, things subsided a bit and Sal cleared us to conduct another dive. We quickly suited up and splashed for our last dive. Tami and I pulled towards the bottom, finding pitch-black water on our descent. Reaching the bottom, we worked to clean out the last of the cabinets where she found the tiny bottles. We picked up some various brass fittings and a crystal soap dish, but missed out on more meds. I dropped down to grab another deck light as Tami poked around a bit more, eventually content with my final dive on the Doria and looking forward to heading to the warm surface.

Overall, the dives were fun, but I don't think any member of our group was blown away by the wreck of the Doria. Compared to other Doria trips conducted by other groups, our artifact haul was meager at best. However, we were happy to spend some time on the wreck and were not motivated by the sheer volume of recovered artifacts. In contrast to other trips that have the benefit of vast crew experience on the Doria and appear almost to be a "follow the leader" type of dive in order to recover artifacts, we were quite content to see as much of the wreck as possible. While china would have been nice, the dives on the wreck itself was reward enough and we saw no need to obtain a piece of china to validate our dives. As evident from past incidents, that motivation has ended the lives of several divers.

After everyone was safely onboard, we pulled our mooring and headed back towards Long Island. Early Thursday morning, we found ourselves positioned over the wreck of the Oregon, a signature New York wreck. After we tied into the wreck just aft of the towering engine, our team splashed to play around on the bottom. Mikey and I headed down to find the wreck bathed in sunlight, a pleasant change from the Doria. It was just as cold as the Doria, however, with a 46 degree bottom temperature. I worked my way along the starboard side, slowly checking for goodie holes. Eventually passing the boilers and reaching one of the cargo holds, I passed Jeff and his dad Tom, who gave me an assist with bagging a slow lobster. I poked around a bit more, working my way back aft and around the magnificent engine while Andrew filmed amongst the structure. I happened to spot another lethargic bug in the open so I pounced on him. Tami was nearby with her camera, so we posed for a few shots before I meandered over to the upline. The Oregon was definitely a great dive that everyone enjoyed.

On the surface, we goofed off for some more pictures, whereupon I noticed that the two bugs I caught were plagued with pittings along their carapace. A "disease" has been noted in other areas the past few years, particularly closer to shore, but this was news to the crew and local divers I showed the bugs to when I told them they came from the Oregon. Anyway, we pulled the line and motored over to the wreck of another well-known New York wreck, the USS San Diego.

Finding another boat occupying the mooring line, one of the crew dropped in and tied us into the bow of the inverted armored cruiser. I dropped down and proceeded to explore all the openings into the interior along the starboard side of the wreck. I came upon two small bugs in a silty room that used to house the ship's china and managed to get a hold of both of them with one hand and successfully get them into the bag. These were both healthy and very frisky, which complicated my task a bit. Happy with the snack, I continued aft checking out other rooms of the warship, observing some warheads and powder canisters. Aft of amidships, I turned the dive and wandered back along a row of portholes just above the sand. Of all the New York dives, I think this was my favorite, an opinion that several other divers concurred with. Boarding the boat, we all made preparations for our departure and attempted to break down our gear so we could unload the boat at the dock.

The trip was great, although I don't think any of our team was enamored with the mystique of the Andrea Doria. Again, these opinions were cast after diving the wreck now that she is falling apart and is perhaps not a fair comparison to dives conducted 10 years ago. In any case, for most of us, it was a wreck that was on our "must-do" list, and for me personally, it was one of my arbitrary goals before turning 30. However, in retrospect, I don't think it is a wreck that will be remembered as one of our favorites, nor will we be in any rush to get back to the Andrea Doria. However, a few of us are talking about returning next year though, so I guess time will tell.