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: Mon, 11 Sep 2000 14:13:41 GMT

AUE - Association of Underwater Explorers
7-10 September Tortugas Trip:  Rhein, Araby Maid, U-2513, Oil Wreck, Baja California

Day 1

Rhein

Eventually, the entire team arrived at the boat on Thursday night and we successfully completed loading all of our gear onto the boat without sinking it outright at the dock. After securing our massive assortment of equipment, I was pleasantly surprised to find the guys remembered my birthday as a cake and other party favors appeared (thanks guys). We also had a 5th team member appear to join us on our trip; the pictures from this should be pretty humorous...

We headed out around 3 a.m. for the long run to the Rhein, a German freighter that was sunk in 250' of water northwest of the Dry Tortugas at the outbreak of World War II. The trip was longer than expected due to sloppy sea conditions and we didn't get on site until around 10:30 a.m. on Friday. We eventually hit the water for our first dive, Andrew and I leading with Joe and Jeff staggered shortly thereafter. We were hooked into a lifeboat davit on the aft end, portside of the midship superstructure. We could easily see the wreck spread out beneath us on our descent, joined by flocks of barracuda, amberjack, and rainbow runners. Hitting the deck, Andrew dropped off his stages as we proceeded to swim about the wreck in the excellent visibility. Massive fish swam about the deck, unconcerned by our intrusion; 20 pound hogfish, 50 pound black grouper, and jumbo (!) amberjack all cruised about the wreck in abundance.

We headed up and over the superstructure as I noted one of the ships whistles on the top deck. Reaching the forward section of the superstructure, I ducked into an area that I thought may be the radio room. In this area, I came upon square ceramic tiles that were adorned with (possibly) the foundry name and design all written in German pretty neat looking. I exited this area after passing a tile to Andrew as we headed over to another area. I took a quick jaunt up past the forward kingposts to check out all the assorted machinery resting on deck before heading back to poke around the superstructure. It became quickly apparent that the bridge would be buried under an assortment of wreckage, as the middle-front of the superstructure appears as if someone stepped on it; decks are all collapsed downward onto each other with equipment and assorted debris tumbling into the innards of the wreck. Two tubs are exposed in this general area, one possibly part of the Captains quarters due to the proximity to where one would expect the bridge. After poking around a bit and pulling myself up and out of some holes in the wreck, I started back towards the hook as I passed through the more intact aft section of the superstructure. I noted one area that looked like a porthole graveyard, as ports were visible laying on the deck every 5' or so, after having collapsed from the outer bulkhead. All too quickly our allotted bottom time expired and we headed up to conduct our deco. We were joined by the usual smattering of barracuda and other pelagic visitors during our decompression stops. At one point, a school of large rainbow runners smashed into a ball of baitfish that were hiding around our marker buoy which provided a neat scene to watch. A school of mahi, as well as a few dolphin (mammals) passed by Joe and Jeff while they finished up their deco.

We all talked about our dives on the surface; Joe spent most of his dive scootering the wreck while Jeff investigated the engine room area, noting several panels of gauges in the dark interior.

After a sufficient surface interval passed, we all splashed in for the second round. I started scootering for the wreck with Andrew running video; we both wanted to check out the stern area and the fracture in the hull. We immediately noticed that the current had picked up substantially. I aimed downward as Andrew grabbed a fin. I eventually made the wreck, towing Andrew in as we saw the side of the wreck appear out of the gloom; the side view of the massive hull created a different (and very cool) perspective of the wreck. Andrew dropped off at the edge of the wreck as I headed back to the stern. Unfortunately, I must have dropped my reel as I unclipped my light during the scooter run as I noticed it missing during my ascent - crap. I poked my head into a hatch of the stern superstructure, as well as into the skylight that sits atop as I checked out the interior. I motored around the stern, noting the rudder and wheel which lay flat on the sand; this section of the wreck is kicked over and rests at an approximately 50 degree angle to port. As I headed forward, I noted a whole row of closed portholes in the hull; possibly, this may be part of the crew quarters which we will investigate closer on our next visit. Proceeding further forward, I reached the large fracture zone in the hull. One can easily pass inside, with the aft mast looming overhead as it rests flat on the deck. As I moved into the middle of this area, I observed a large sea turtle swimming vertically for the surface joined by several small jacks. It made a very cool image seeing the turtle cruise for the surface in the excellent visibility with the wreck in the foreground; this wreck is teeming with marine life! Andrew entered this area and began filming as I motored forward to the superstructure. I cruised along the starboard hull, noting the tremendous amount of bushy gorgonian growth that crowded the vertical surfaces. I dropped the scooter on the deck as I decided to work a bit on a nice porthole on the starboard side. A few minutes into the job, I saw Jeff and Joe reach the wreck. I decided to head over to the other guys, as Joe didn't note any portholes on his first visit, as he was scootering the entire wreck to get an overall picture of the wreck on the first dive. I met them at the hook, and motioned with my light two portholes within 10' of the hook -- one with the swingplate open as it still remained on a bulkhead -- as they ditched their stages. As the corridor of portholes was just forward of the hook, I swam into the wreck with Joe following to point out "a few" portholes. Every 5' or so, I would circle a port with my light so he could see the disguised artifact. After seeing 6 or 7 of these, he turned back to fetch his tools and return to shop for a good specimen. I decided to keep heading forward towards the room with the tiles. I again checked out a large piece of equipment in this room, although I am unsure of its purpose. It has several panels, inside of one appears heavy-gauge wiring and porcelain insulators. Andrew joined Joe as they worked to free the porthole. I headed back to the line with more tiles and hung 30' off the deck waiting for Andrew to appear. A few moments later he showed up with his own porthole, fetched his stages, and we began our ascent. Joe, with his prize, and Jeff started ascending a short while later.

We all exited the water discussing the previous dives, as we stowed our gear and motored for the Araby Maid, which we would be diving in the morning.

Continued....