Posts Tagged ‘Dive Locations’

Rediscovering the Bell Island Mine 

Friday, February 5th, 2016

By Robert Osborne

The Bell Island mine has lain dormant for more than 50 years; the last miner walked out in the mid 1960s. But it’s about to be rediscovered by a crack team of cave and technical divers, including Jill Heinerth, Phil Short, Sabine Kerkau and Steve Lewis, who will travel to Bell Island, Newfoundland, along with a scientific and support team, and attempt to explore the iron ore mine that runs under the island and adjacent bay. When the mine was shut down, the pumps were turned off and its tunnels, which stretch for hundreds of miles, flooded. Eventually the water levels rose, literally covering more than 100 years of mining history.

Exploring the Bell Island Mine: Why Now?

So why is this team mounting this expedition, disturbing this long-dormant underwater archive?  They cite a number of reasons, the first of which is the pure spirit of adventure. The divers want to go where no one has walked for nearly half a century and explore what amounts to a perfectly preserved underwater mining museum. When the miners left, they virtually dropped everything in place and walked out, and when the cold water rose, it preserved a perfectly working iron-ore mine. The divers, with the cooperation of local historians, will investigate what historical artifacts remain, and what should be preserved and catalogued in the local mining museum.

The expedition has caught the attention of adventurers outside the diving world, too. The prestigious Explorers Club, impressed with the potential for original exploration, has granted the team the rare honor of carrying one of their flags, which have flown at both polar poles and on top of the world’s highest mountains. Thor Heyerdahl carried on on the Kon Tiki expedition as did the astronauts on Apollo 11.

The expedition also has a heavy scientific bent. Divers Alert Network researcher Neal Pollock, assisted by scientist Dawn Kernagis, will use the opportunity to run a unique series of tests. Pollock will be monitoring the divers for bubbles in their hearts by taking ultrasound readings post-dive at 20-minute intervals for two hours. He’ll also be taking pre-dive and post-dive blood samples to look for blood markers indicating decompression stress. The overall goal of the study is to examine the effects of multi-day diving on people in high-stress environments, research that will ultimately benefit all divers.

Finally, the exploratory team intends to see if the mine can be made safe as a diving adventure destination. The divers will explore the tunnels and, if they’re stable, start to lay out a mainline and a network of secondary lines that other divers can follow. Rick Stanley, one of the expedition’s primary organizers, hopes that if the mine can be turned into a tourist destination, that the local economy will benefit. “If we raise the profile of the mine, then more people will visit to dive and to take the mine tour,” he says.

Bell Island Mine
Bell Island Mine
Bell Island Mine
Bell Island Mine
Bell Island Mine
Bell Island Mine
Bell Island Mine
Bell Island Mine
Bell Island mine
Bell Island Mine
Bell Island Mine 
Bell Island Mine 
Bell Island Mine 

Overcoming Obstacles

But in order to accomplish these goals, the expedition will first have to overcome a number of hurdles. First, a group of local volunteers has been hard at work in the old mine, preparing the tunnels that lead up to the water’s edge, clearing them of debris, as well as installing a proper lighting system and building a staging area for the divers, a floating dock and tables. After two weeks of back-breaking labor, everything is ready to go.

The hurdles don’t end at the water’s edge; the divers will face their own challenges. The mine’s layout makes the fabled Minotaur’s labyrinth seem simple by comparison. The old equipment presents a series of obstacles just waiting to trap divers, and fine sediment that can destroy all visibility just waits to be stirred up by an errant fin. The tunnels run deep; they’re pitch black; and there’s only one way in and one way out. A 2007 attempt to penetrate the mine ended in the death of one diver. There’s no doubt the expedition is a risky venture.

But these divers are the best of the best and there will be massive surface support: stand-by divers ready to help; first-aid attendants; a cast of scientists, including the best diving physiology researchers in the business; and scientists to keep track of what’s in the water to make sure there are no organic risks — oddly, living organisms have been detected in the mine (cue horror-movie music).

At the end of the week-long expedition, with a little luck, the team will have accomplished a number of firsts: they’ll have re-discovered a slice of history; they’ll have made some scientific discoveries; and they may have opened up a whole new opportunity for properly trained divers to explore the rediscovered Bell Island mine.

I’ll be filing daily reports from the expedition when it kicks off on February 15th from above and below the water — stay tuned for more.

The post Rediscovering the Bell Island Mine  appeared first on Scuba Diver Life.

Dive Sites: Wrecks of the Montana and Constellation, Bermuda

Tuesday, December 29th, 2015

By guest blogger Mark Diel

Bermuda is well-known for its shipwrecks, and this Bermuda dive site gives divers a 2-for-1: although they sank almost 100 years apart, the wrecks of the Montana and Constellation are literally on top of each other, some four miles to the northwest of the island.

The first wreck is the Montana, which was a Civil War blockade runner — similar to the Mary Celestia, which also sank in Bermuda waters. As was typical among blockade runners, these ships often operated under different names, hoping to confuse the enemy. This ship’s aliases included the Nola, Gloria, Paramount and Montana. Highly successful, the ship made numerous trips between England, Bermuda and North Carolina. Built in England, this sleek and fast — for its time — 236-foot paddlewheel steamer could run at a speed of 15 knots.

Like the Mary Celestia, Bermuda’s treacherous reefs were the ship’s undoing. Approaching Bermuda near the end of 1863, having traveled from England and hammered by winter storms, the Montana missed the easiest approaches to St. George’s harbor and tried to pick its way through Bermuda’s reefs from the north. This turned out to be an unwise decision as the ship hit the reefs and sank in shallow water between 20 and 30 feet deep. Although the crew and much of its valuable cargo escaped unscathed, nothing could be done for the Montana, which had a 10-foot-long hole in its hull below the waterline. Today, the scattered wreckage lies in a maximum depth of 30 feet of water in the middle of a large sand valley, surrounded by high coral heads. The ship’s bow is still relatively intact and heavily encrusted with coral. At low tide, its boilers and paddlewheels almost break the surface.

The second ship to meet its fate nearby was the wooden-hulled, 4-masted schooner the Constellation, which was built in 1918 and measured 192 feet long. The demand for ships became enormous with the outbreak of World War II, and so the Constellation, after a number of transformations, ended up in New York for conversion into a cargo vessel.

In July 1943, it was en route from New York to Venezuela, carrying a general cargo of building materials, medicinal drugs (in particular morphine ampules) and 700 cases of Scotch (Johnny Walker) whiskey. Not long after clearing New York, the ship began to take in water with the weather getting increasingly rough.

The crew struggled to keep the ship afloat, eventually resorting to hand pumps. Although this lasted for days, they could not keep pace with the water leaking into the doomed ship. It was decided to head towards Bermuda for repairs. On July 30, 1943, while waiting for a local pilot, the ship was driven onto the same reef as the Montana, where it rapidly sank given the state it was in by that time.

The Constellation’s cargo lies scattered over the bottom in around 30 feet of water, and includes assorted bottles, slates for pool tables, ceramics, crucifixes and, of course, the infamous ampoules. If this sounds somewhat familiar, it’s perhaps because Peter Benchley based his novel The Deep, set in Bermuda, on these two shipwrecks.

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Dive Site: El Minya, Red Sea, Egypt

Friday, November 20th, 2015

A liveaboard favorite, this wreck sits almost directly in the harbor of Hurghada, making it easy to reach for day boats and liveaboards alike, and offers great diving and an interesting bit of history.

The El Minya (numerous spelling variations can be found online and in guidebooks) was a Russian-built Soviet T-43 minesweeper, which entered into service in the Egyptian navy in 1956, one of a total of four such vessels imported into Egypt, and named for various Egyptian cities.

The ship was lost during the so-called War of Attrition, which comprised a series of attacks on both sides that linked the Six Days War with the Yom Kippur War, some of the numerous conflicts between Egypt and Israel in the latter half of the twentieth century. On February 6th, 1970, a number of Israeli aircraft approached Hurghada, targeting the city’s naval station. The El Minya was at anchor in the harbor at the time, and was hit by one of the bombs, sinking where it sat.

exploring the wreck
Hurghada bay

Today it sits in a maximum of 105 feet (32 meters), though the majority of the wreck is somewhat shallower, up to around 62 feet (19 meters). While the area’s bottom conditions can sometimes cause a precipitous drop in visibility and currents can occur, the sheltered nature of the area means that conditions are usually calm and currents are very mild, even in windy periods. The visibility, usually around 30 to 60 feet (10 to 20 meters), is considerably less than normal Red Sea conditions.

A number of marine animals have made their home on the El Minya, including lionfish and moray eels, so apart from the wreck itself, there’s plenty to see. There’s some limited penetration available, but the areas are cramped and silty, so only experienced wreck divers should attempt penetration. The wreck rests on its port side, and the hole where the Israeli bomb struck is still clearly visible on its exposed starboard side. A little way off the wreck you’ll find both the mast and its anti-aircraft gun, both of which were lost as it sank in an upside-down position.

Divers should note that the wreck sits in an active harbor area, and should take precautions when surfacing. Ideally, surface close to your dive boat to avoid the path of a vessel leaving or heading into harbor.

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Historical Wrecks: The SS President Coolidge

Sunday, November 1st, 2015

By Kieran Brown


A former luxury liner, the SS President Coolidge transformed to support Allied Forces during WWII and eventually came to rest in Vanuatu, creating one of the world’s best wreck dives. Accessible to both recreational and technical divers, the wreck offers the opportunity to travel back in time and experience the hidden secrets of the ship, preserved beneath the waters of the South Pacific.

Before the war

Following an order from Dollar Steamship Line, the Coolidge was constructed in a Virginia shipyard as one of two luxury liners capable of transporting guests across the Pacific to Asia. Construction on both ships was complete in 1931, and at the time, they were the largest merchant ships ever to be constructed in the United States. The Coolidge’s sister ship, the SS President Hoover, ran aground in 1937 and was declared a loss. A year later the Coolidge was arrested in San Francisco due to unpaid debt, and began service again a year later under the newly formed American President Lines, until the start of WWII.

World War II involvement

The Coolidge was first employed to help evacuate U.S. citizens from Hong Kong to the U.S. Following this mission, the ship participated in several more evacuations throughout Asia as tensions increased in the region. Throughout 1941, it was used as a troopship for the U.S. Navy, reinforcing the Pacific frontier. On Dec. 19, 1941, 12 days after the Japanese attack at Pearl Harbor, Hawaii, the Coolidge arrived to evacuate 125 critically injured naval patients to San Francisco. The following month the Coolidge returned to the Pacific, transporting troops, ammunition, weapons and P-10 fighters. The Coolidge performed all of these duties in its pre-war condition; it was only after this operation that modifications converted the luxury cabins and lounges and increased the carrying capacity from 988 guests to over 5,000 soldiers. Guns were mounted, the ship was painted a haze grey, and it was officially assigned to the U.S. Navy by the War Shipping Administration.

Loss of the SS President Coolidge

The Coolidge met its fate on Vanuatu in the South Pacific. One of Vanuatu’s largest islands, Espiritu Santo had been established as a stronghold for U.S. forces, containing an airfield, military base and a heavily protected harbor. The surrounding channels and ports of entry to Espiritu Santo had been laid with mines to protect against a water-based assault or Japanese submarines. For reasons unknown, the Coolidge hadn’t received coordinates on safe passage into the harbor and for fear of attack from Japanese subs, Captain Henry Nelson chose to enter the harbor through the largest channel, where the ship hit two mines on its approach. Nelson feared losing his ship and so decided to ground it, ordering all 5,340 men to abandon ship and leave all belongings behind.

Only two men were lost; Fireman Robert Reid was killed in the engine room after the Coolidge made contact with the first mine. Captain Elwood Joseph Euart had safely disembarked the ship only to hear that there were men still trapped in the infirmary. Euart returned and successfully helped all of the trapped men escape only to become trapped himself. A memorial was placed for Captain Euart on a nearby shore following his heroic actions.

The Coolidge, still heavy from its cargo, listed on its side and sank more quickly than expected. It slid down the slope into the channel, where it now rests on its port side with the bow at a depth of 70 feet (21m) and the stern at a depth of 240 feet (73m).

Declaration of a protected wreck and dive site

When Vanuatu gained independence from France and Great Britain in 1980, the local government declared that the Coolidge would become a protected wreck and dive site, and that no further artifacts would be removed. Since that designation, the wreck has been an ever-growing hit with both recreational and technical divers. The wreck is almost completely intact, and divers who visit Coolidge will see guns, cannons, Jeeps, helmets, trucks and personal supplies, although for most the main attraction is “The Lady,” a porcelain relief of a woman riding a unicorn, which is still in good condition inside the first class smokers’ lounge. The Coolidge also provides a home for marine life, with divers often seeing moray eels, sea turtles, lionfish, barracuda and the occasional reef shark.

With depths starting at around 70 feet (21m) and going all the way to 240 feet (73m), divers without technical experience can explore the wreck’s upper reaches, while those with tec training can explore the ships deeper reaches.

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HMHS Britannic

Sunday, October 25th, 2015

Everyone knows the fate of the Titanic, which sank on its maiden voyage across the Atlantic after striking an iceberg, taking some 1,500 people with it. Fewer people know of the Olympic, the Titanic’s sister ship, also owned by the White Star Line. Because the Olympic was the first of the two to be launched, comparatively few photos exist of the Titanic; the majority of the photos showcasing details from the ill-fated ship are actually of the Olympic. There just weren’t many photographers present when the Titanic steamed off, seeing as it was No. 2.

Even fewer people know that there was a third sister ship, the Britannic. While Titanic found its final resting place in waters deeper than 12,000 feet and the Olympic was scrapped in 1938, the Britannic sits at 400 feet, a diveable depth for only the most highly trained and experienced tec divers.

The Britannic was the last to be built of the three Olympic Class liners and was also the largest, weighing in at almost 2,000 gross registered tons heavier than the Titanic. While the Titanic met its famous fate in the Atlantic, both the Olympic and the Britannic sailed long enough to see active service in World War I. The Britannic was completed on the eve of the war and never saw civilian service before being drafted into British naval service. It was officially launched in 1915 and went into service as a hospital ship. It was re-christened the HMSM (Her Majesty’s Hospital Ship) Britannic, painted white with a large red cross on it, and sent off to the Mediterranean. After the campaign at Gallipoli, there was a huge need for hospital ships, and with its huge capacity, the Britannic was perfectly suited for the job.

In its military career, the ship completed five successful voyages to the Mediterranean before sinking in the Aegean Sea’s Kea Channel between the island of Kea and the Greek mainland. On November 21st, 1916 at 8:35am, Captain Bartlett gave the order to abandon ship, and at 9:07am, the ship was lost, becoming the largest ship to go down in World War I. Only 30 people lost their lives, with more than 1,000 saved by local fishermen and navy ships coming to the rescue.

The wreck was discovered by Jacques-Yves Cousteau in 1976, who was of the opinion that it was hit by a torpedo. A September 2003 expedition led by Carl Spencer, however, determined that the Britannic was sunk by a single mine. Spencer tragically succumbed to the bends in 2009 while filming a documentary about the Britannic.

The depth of the wreck puts it outside the range of most divers, but technical divers can, and have, dived the wreck since Cousteau’s initial dives. Several of these, including penetration dives in 1999, have been broadcast on The History Channel, National Geographic and Discovery Channel.

In 1996, marine historian Simon Mills bought the wreck of the Britannic. When asked what his vision was for the wreck, he replied “that’s simple — to leave it as it is!”

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