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 16:43:53 GMT

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

Day 2

We awoke to find that during the night a pump on the generator crapped out and that we were without electricity to run our laptops or charge cameras and scooter batteries. Furthermore, we would be without A/C and the microwave to cook, but we all agreed that was secondary to doing the dives. The Captain worked to resolve the problem for several hours in the early a.m., but determined that the fix was not possible without switching out the pump. However, we adapted to the situation as Andrew and Joe started dismantling the boat to hardwire into the cabin lights to get power to run the laptop; without the computer we would be unable to cut our tables for the remaining dives. The guys accomplished securing a line run through an inverter which successfully powered up the laptop we were back in business...

Andrew and I geared up and splashed into the idle blue waters, descending 215' to the wreck of the Araby Maid. The Araby Maid was a schooner sunk in 1903 due to a collision. Sunk for almost 100 years, she is in amazing intact condition. Schools of amberjack quickly joined us on our descent. At 100', I could make out the wreck as our downline was positioned amidships through a cargo hold. It was an incredible sight viewing the entire wreck from above during the descent. I aimed for the stern in order to poke about some of the cabin areas, eventually touching down 30' from the aft end of the wreck. I dropped down through the deck supports and quickly re-located the area where I spotted china on our first visit. Numerous pieces littered the bottom, as well as broken bottles. I worked aft and quickly spotted numerous artifacts protruding from the debris. Eroded brass objects littered the bottom; I found a few long, thin brass rods with wooden t-handles that may be some sort of instruments. I continued working, eventually spotting an unusual object nearby. I managed to pull it free of the debris, realizing that it was a large three-legged bronze support or table. The legs actually consist of some sort of marine creature with its fins and scales artfully cast into the long portions of the legs, the head making up the base. To say the least, I was amazed at the find. I rigged the find for recovery and continued searching around the area. I started finding numerous brass objects, possibly the decorative edges of a trunk or box as I found a large swing latch in the area as well. I wasn't able to penetrate through the debris too far as the oyster shells and other debris made it difficult to dig. I also found a quarter section of a very large fresnel lens, blown out of blue glass pretty neat. I saw numerous other objects in this area; I probably could have recovered many more artifacts in this one small productive area but I stuck to my plan and swam my bag of goodies and bronze stand back to the upline at the allotted time. Andrew rejoined me from his scooter trip around the wreck as we headed up the line. With absolutely no current, I was able to carry the liftbag and objects towards the surface. It was kind of neat seeing the large liftbag and artifacts wait patiently in midwater as I did my gas switches for deco. Deco was uneventful, aside from a brief visit from a fast moving bull shark. Joe and Jeff appeared to have successful dives as well, as Joe recovered an intact fresnel lens and Jeff spotted several portholes on the wreck. Upon reaching the surface, we realized how the Araby Maid met her fate, as we had numerous freighters passing off our bow and stern in the busy shipping lanes.

After anchoring up on the U-2513 (a type XXI German U-boat sunk in 215' of water) later in the day, Andrew and I made plans to penetrate into the bow section, hoping to reach the torpedo room to document it with his camera. We descended down the line, joined by the largest school of amberjacks I have seen in a while; at times I could not see Andrew as there were so many fish passing between the two of us! About 70' off the bottom I started making out the wreck and veered off towards the damage hole, as our downline rested near the bow torpedo doors. Andrew joined me at the deck as we doffed our stages and prepared to enter the wreck. I followed closely behind as we headed through the jagged edges of the hull. The twin HID lights on the camera rig cut through the darkness of the interior, illuminating every nook and cranny of the sub; it was like daylight inside. We were pleasantly pleased that no jewfish blocked our way and that the calm interior waters of the sub were extremely clear of sediment. We proceeded all the way to the torpedo doors, checking out all the gauges and handwheels in the room. We loudly chattered to each other as we were both amazed at the sights in front of us. A button stating "flood tube" was visible under the thin layer of rust and sediment next to tube II. Apparently the u-boat was Americanized after the war as all placards and gauges were in English. After filming the area (incredible footage!!), we sat the camera down and checked out the torpedo doors and associated machinery. Cleaning off the various placards, we read the instructions for loading a tube and safety precautions for firing that was mounted on tube IV. We were constantly talking to each other as we were both excited at the panorama before us. We eventually turned and headed out, taking time to check out the battery areas as Andrew filmed me inspecting some wreckage. We eventually exited and swam towards the conning tower to do some more filming there. Several large jewfish were observed swimming about the wreck, occasionally obscured by the clouds of swirling amberjack. As Andrew headed back to gather his stages, I swam up on the bow to inspect some recent damage; it looks as if a trawler may have hit the bow deck, as this section is crunched in a bit. This damage was not noted in the preliminary visits in 1989. As I swam back I noted that the bow torpedo loading hatch was open. I joined Andrew on the upline as Joe and Jeff started their exploration. Several times on deco we were joined by bull sharks; as I was sleeping on deco, every time I would feel Andrew shake the line to get my attention I would only see the tail of a large shark swimming off into the distance. We were entertained by Captain Jeff hauling up several large amberjack from the depths as we watched while doing our deco stops which helped pass the time.

After everyone's successful dives, we made way for the Oil Wreck, an unknown vessel that sits in 145' of water. Possibly, this wreck was a convoy or yard oiler (supported by her design) sunk in WWII. Oil still escapes from the hull on a daily basis, forming a slick on the surface that trails off towards the horizon. The wreck sits almost turtled, though the portside rests about 15' off the bottom. After having some dinner and cutting tables, we planned for a nice night dive on the wreck. Around 10:30 p.m. we headed in, swimming through a large mass of baitfish attracted by the deck's bright spotlights. Jeff took the lead as his intense HID light cut through the darkness. Andrew followed with his camera; I turned my light off as their bright lights made an incredible scene as we descended towards the wreck. The wreck usually has murky conditions on the bottom, however, tonight we had very clear water top to bottom. Joe and Jeff went to the hook in order to place a strobe up on the line as Andrew and I dropped to the sand. Immediately in front of us, a large sea turtle was sleeping up under the wreck. We all grouped around the turtle checking the massive creature out. He began stirring, most likely unhappy at all these morons with their bright light disturbing his pleasant sleep. He slowly walked about, swimming out from the wreck. As I turned back to the wreck, I spotted another turtle sleeping under a bit of wreckage. As I looked back to signal to Andrew about this turtle, I saw he had already found yet another sleeping turtle and was already filming it. I looked back at the one closest to me and then noticed just past that was a fourth turtle! Another turtle, possible the first one we woke up was observed swimming around one of the large boilers that had spilled out of the wreck. I looked back down to the turtle next to me, checking out all the barnacles on his shell which were busily feeding as their host slept. We were all thrilled at this spectacle of turtles on the wreck. After enjoying the turtle show for a while, I headed out to find a porthole I noted on my first visit. It was in close proximity so I quickly got to work. It was attached to a bulkhead off the wreck, the intact glass swingplate open to the skeletal remains of the wreck. After about 5 minutes of work, the porthole fell loose from the badly eroded bulkhead. I rigged the porthole as Andrew came over to film the process. In the darkness, I hadn't noted that there was an overhang directly above me; I began to wonder why the porthole wasn't rising after adding a substantial amount of gas to the bag. I then noticed my predicament, deflating my bag and starting over. I am so glad Andrew was there to film that little snafu ;>)

We eventually headed up the line to complete our deco, enjoying the bioluminescence in the calm, warm waters.