Thousand Islands, August 2008

The biggest dive trip of my summer is now behind me. On Monday, August 4, Marshall and Renee Allan picked me up at 7 a.m. to begin our trek to the Thousand Islands region of the St. Lawrence River. The Thousand Islands is a beautiful area, both above and below the water. It’s at the eastern end of Lake Ontario, where the lake feeds the St. Lawrence River. From a diving perspective, it’s one of the most unique areas of the Great Lakes. It offers warm water (72 degrees F this week) with no thermocline! Being a river (albeit a large one), it is fairly immune from wind and rough water, so you never miss a day of diving. Not only do you not get “blown out,” but the rides to and from the wrecks are short and calm.

Anyway, after picking up Paul in Plymouth, MI, we crossed the border into Canada and drove east for many miles. The only down side to the 1000 Islands is its distance from my house. Let’s fast forward to about 5 pm when we arrived at the motel in Mallorytown Landing, ON. We checked in, unloaded and headed out for dinner at Caiger’s Resort, which also happens to be the place where we caught the boat each morning.

Our group consisted of 11 divers including me. I had several certified divers along who just wanted to dive, plus a fair amount of students. Due to the number of students, I had to break them into 2 smaller groups. I dove with one group in the morning and the other group in the afternoon. I worked with Wayne Green of Thousand Island Pleasure Divers who was most cooperative in arranging two trips a day for me to the same dive site.

On Tuesday August 5, we started our trip by diving the Kingshorn, a really nice wreck about 5 minutes from the dock. In fact, you can almost see the mooring buoy on the wreck from the dock! It’s a surprisingly nice wreck only about 100 yards off shore in 75′-90′ with very little curent and makes a great first dive for those who have never dove the St. Lawrence before. I took the opportunity to present students with some impromptu situations, like out of air drills.

I was finished with both dives by about 3 o’clock, so we headed over to DiveTech for air fills and to browse the amazing inventory of dive toys owner Dan Humble has assembled in his store. For those that have never had the pleasure of visiting Dan’s store, remember the scene in Willy Wonka where Gene Wilder (Willy) first opens the door to the chocolate factory and everyone is awestruck by the wondrous sites? Well, DiveTech is like that, only for divers. And Dan doesn’t have a chocolate waterfall (yet). After hanging about at DiveTech, it was time to head into Brockville for dinner at Bud’s on the Bay. We enjoyed a nice dinner on the patio overlooking the St. Lawrence.

On Wednesday (Aug. 6), we had quite an outing. The plan was to dive the Keystorm, one of the best wrecks in the river. As it’s on the American side, and we were departing from Canada, we had to clear US Customs on Heart Island. Rather than go through Customs twice, we put everyone on the boat in the morning and stayed on the wreck for two dives. Our group was also joined by my longtime friend Steve Lewis and his group of divers. Steve is an SDI/TDI instructor trainer and is also International Training’s Marketing Director. The Keystorm is one of my favortite wrecks in the area. It’s large enough that there’s plenty to see and it lies on a shoal, affording you the opportunity to pick your depth. The bow of the ship is in about 30′, while the stern is at about 115′. Again, I presented students with the opportunity to practice some skills like manifold drills, lost buddy procedures and lost/malfunctioning deco gas. That last one wasn’t a problem I manufactured. The pressure gauge on Penny’s deco bottle choose this dive to malfunction. So she and her buddy Bob had a little extra problem to sort out (which they did). In honor of our dives that day, we choose to eat dinner at the Keystorm Pub in Brockville. It’s a great place to relax, eat and share a beer or two.

On Thursday, we took a break from wreck diving to do a couple drift dives in the river. Wayne dropped us near shore where we could stand on the bottom to get ourselves sorted out, and then we dropped down and drifted with the current. The two sites we dove weren’t as pictureesque as others I’ve dove in the river, but the dives afforded us the opportunity to get some depth and a little more deco time. At the end of the dive, students deployed lift bags and did deco drifting under the bags. Upon surfacing, Wayne was waiting to pick us up in the boat.

My Advanced Nitrox/Decompression Procedures students were finished on Thursday, but I had 2 Trimix Diver candidates diving Friday. For their dive, we chose the Roy A. Jodrey. The Jodrey is a 640 ft. lake freighter built in 1965. In Nov. 1974, she hit a shoal in the river and sank near the US Coast Guard station on Wellesley Island. She is a unique dive. As she sits in the channel, there is no mooring line to her. Dive boats tuck up near shore and you enter the water in a small cove. Then you drop underwater, swim out to the wall, drop over the edge and descend. If you’ve done it right, you land on the Jodrey’s wheelhouse at about 140′, since the wreck lies right up against the wall. There are many levels to dive on the Jodrey. The wheelhouse is shallowest at about 140′. The next deck level is at about 160′, the next around 170′ and the spar deck is at about 180. The ship also has a pronounced list to starboard, so the port rail is much shallower than the the port side.

The current was minimal when we dove it which was nice for the students’ sake, but unfortunately visibility was only fair. Our 20 minute bottom time flew by and then it was time to make our ascent. Since there is no mooring line on the wreck, one ascends up the face of the rock wall. As you ascend, you work your way upstream (into the current) so that you end up back in the cove where the dive boat is waiting.

We had some issues on our dive which I won’t go into here. I’ll just say “elegant” and “graceful” are not words that would describe our dive that day! But, everyone that got into the water, got out of the water safely, and that’s what counts.

That was our last dive of the trip, so it was back to DiveTech to say goodbye and hit the road. It was a long drive and the border crossing could have gone quicker, but I finally fell into my own bed about 1:30 am.

It was a great trip and I’m looking forward to doing it again next year. Thanks to all the trip participants for their cooperation, patience and good humor. Also thanks to Wayne at Thousand Island Pleasure Divers and Dan at DiveTech for their help.

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Thousand Islands, August 2008