1st Dive on the Lake – April 23rd

Well, we had two full boat charters set up for April 16th & 17th and mother nature blew me off the Lake.  Such is life.  The following weekend was Easter and Windy City Diving had nothing scheduled so it was time to do some personal diving.  Saturday, my crewmembers Mike & Bob (who are both now captains) and I headed up to Milwaukee to dive with Jitka and Lubo of Shipwreck Explorers and a couple of other divers.

The plan was to shake out the cobwebs with the first tec dive of the year, and boy were there cobwebs.   Some of the drysuits seemed to have shrunk over the winter (including mine).  Two guys ripped neck seals causing one to become a non-diver and the other a wet diver.  I had to patch a wrist seal with gaffer tape and during deco is saw one of the boys lose two regulators.

It has been quite sometime since I dove the Milwaukee area, not because the wrecks are bad (they have some great wrecks) its just that over the years I have dove them all.  The group plan was to dive the St. Alban and the Emba, both in the 160 ffw range.  My plan was to dive the St. Alban, as it had been quite sometime since I was there, and with the water temp hovering around 39F I knew I was good for one dive.

About 30 minutes after leaving the harbor we were circling the wreck site looking for a submerged marker, which we spotted relatively quickly.  We sent Steve in to lift the pendant to the surface so that we could tie in the Molly V.  Speaking of cobwebs, after going into retrieve the pendant Steve will definitely remember to connect his lp inflator next time.  After catching the line and his breath we began diving.  After running into a problem with my drygloves I hit the cool waters of Lake Michigan with wetsuit gloves and instantly revised my dive plan from 30 to 20 minutes.

At about 90 feet I could make out the outline of Alban, who’s deck was still another 50 feet a way.  After getting to the deck and surveying the area I realized that I could see easily 80 feet and maybe 100 feet in every direction.  Totally excellent!  I dropped down to view the prop, which is about the size of a Volkswagon Beetle and then I headed toward the bow checking out the debris field along the way.  After clearing the bow I swam down to the dirt and grabbed a Burbot by the tail that I saw moving through the starboard side debris field.  We poked around the inside of the midship area marveling at the shear size of the boiler.  At 20 minutes I called the dive as my wet gloved hands were getting cold.  After stops clearing all my stops I reboarded the Molly V, thanking both Jitka and Lubo for an excellent dive.

Though I think Windy City Diving and the R/V Aquatica are the best dive operation on the Great Lakes, I have to admit that if you’re not diving with me you should be diving with Jitka and  Shipwreck Explorers.  For the recreational diver they offer some great wrecks that you won’t see with WCD and that should be on every divers “bucket list” and for the technical divers they travel to all the cool wrecks in Superior and Huron.  They run a nice operation.

After the Storm

Friday night gave us 8.5 Ft seas out of the north.  The weatherman said that the winds would back to the NW and drop by Saturday morning.  This they said would give us 3 Ft seas.  I had a small group of highly motivated and experienced divers who wanted to go dive Mack and due to schedules it was Saturday or nothing.  So we decided to hedge our bets and we pushed back the meet time to 0900 to allow the Lake to settle.

Sure enough the weatherman was right the winds had shifted and its intensity had dropped a little.  I decided to hug the shoreline until Belmont and then I headed out into the Lake.  The in-shore ride was nice but as we moved off-shore the waves built to 3-4’s.  With the lighter than normal load of divers and equipment we made the longer trip in our standard 55 minute time.  We took the stern mooring with a longer than normal bridle to compensate for the high sea state.  The divers had 50F water and viz only around 15 Ft. but they still able to punch out two dives on the Mack.  In between dives we had WCD Pineapple and hot chocolate.   For the ride back to port, I motored toward shore at 10Kts. and then once the waves abated I jumped on the throttles for a nice ride back along the shore.

1st Wednesday in November

It was the day after the American voters told the democrats that they should have been focusing on creating jobs rather than trying to compromise with republicans and passing a bunch of  laws that neither the left or right liked.  Politicians of all  parties just suck.  Weather-wise it appeared to be the best day of the week.  I had a boat load of divers from Scuba Emporium and we were headed to the Buccaneer.  We loaded up the R/V and headed out of Burnham.  As the previous Sunday’s charter was canceled due to wave, the in-shore waters were still murky and I was a little worried about the viz.  As we neared the Buccaneer the color of the water reminded me of my early days of diving Lake Michigan, dark green.  As the wreck is not moored we used the sonar and marked the wreck with a drop buoy and then swung around and dropped two divers on the wreck with our temporary mooring. The SW winds have given us flat seas in-shore but now we were in 1-2’s but as all my divers were PADI instructors taking specialty classes things went off without a hitch.  The divers had 54F water top-to-bottom and viz was in the 20-25Ft range, not great but quite nice for the time of the year.

I say things went off without a hitch but during dive two on the Buccaneer our mooring line was severed as it had rubbed against the Buccaneer’s torn roof.  Of course when the mooring broke, the stiff wind pushed us abeam and we drifted over and snagged the granny/tagline.  That meant I had to send one of my divers over the side to unsnarl us, as it wasn’t summer anymore and I wasn’t going to jump in the 50F water in just my fleece.  Once we got Mark back on board we motored back to the dive site and as our divers surfaced we picked them up.  Dive three was the Holly Barge, Chicago’s first artificial reef.  Being within 3 nm of shore we had flat water, which is always nice.  There was no buoy present but you just got to love technology, as we simply pulled up to the coordinates and as we were circling the 35′ x 120′ wreck we spied a mooring line and I simply pulled up to it and tied us in.  The nice thing about the Holly is its close proximity to the Illinois.  Dredges like the Illinois made the Chicago shoreline that we know today.  The divers (new instructors) saw what a great “teaching” wreck the Holly is and we then headed back in.

My day on the Lake wasn’t quite over as  Patrick Hammer of Scuba Emporium also teaches a Resort Training Course (RTC).  This is where instructors learn skill sets to make themselves more marketable to those warm water resorts all us divers want to go to.  So I spent the next couple of hours showing two instructors how to maneuver a boat in close quarters and docking procedures.

Overall another great day on the Lake and it was the first week of November!

VIZ is Back!

That’s right the viz is back!  After a couple of weeks of bad viz, we had rail-to-rail viz on the Mack this past Saturday.  No thermocline, 54F top to bottom.  I picked up my divers at our usual spot at the fish/touch-n-go pier in the northeast corner of Burnham Harbor.  We had sunny skies and a good stiff SW breeze, so when we left the harbor we had a following sea for part of the trip.  I say part of the trip as the Lake was confused.  The 17Kt wind gave us new SW waves  but there were old rollers too.  These rollers were coming from due south so I had to work the R/V to get her to the Mack and still be comfortable for the divers.  Once on site, we tied into the stern mooring on the Mack.  After getting the divers in the water, the wind picked up to 23kts and I lengthened the bridle  to ease the strain on the mooring.  Rather than nodding off, I kept an eye on the gps and watched the R/V swing 4 points of the compass as the winds rotated to the west.  The divers came up after dive one talking about how warm the water was and how great the viz was too.  We hung out for a surface interval and then the divers punched out dive two on the Mack.  35 minutes later I collected our divers and with solid 3ft waves I headed into near-shore waters at about 11 mph.  Once the waves dropped to 1 footers I brought the R/V up to speed and cruised back to Burnham at 20 mph.  It took a little longer this way but it was way more comfortable for everybody, including me.

Sunday’s charter was canceled due to high seas.

Wreck-tober Rocks Again!

It was our 3rd straight weekend of diving in October and it started out a little “sporty”.  The weather report for Saturday was marginal at best.  I brought my gortex (jacket & pants) as I expected to get wet.  I picked up my divers at 0800 and things went downhill from there.  The divers wanted to do both the Buccaneer and the Mack.  I explained to them that I never do both together as they are too far a part.  After being told that I’m a liar and that I had done it before for them, I told the mutinous divers that I have never done it before but if they wanted to pay for the gas and the extra hour of boat time I would be happy to take them to both wrecks.  They declined, so we went to the Mack, as I originally suggested.  We had stiff SW winds so the ride to the Mack was pretty nice with 1 – 2 ft following seas.  I had let divemaster Bob run the boat as he is thinking about getting his captain’s license and time running a boat is a requirement.  We tied into the stern mooring without much problem and got our divers off the boat and on the Mack.  About 30-minutes later the divers started returning to the boat.  One of the divers noted that we had a line wrapped around our port prop.   A line on a prop is on of those things that you need to take care of, so DM Bob suited up and dove in to clear the line.  Now the seas had built to 2 – 3 feet and this made Bob’s job harder.  He tried a knife, a hacksaw and even some clipper but nothing worked, well he did cut his knuckle.  So we got DM Bob back in the boat and headed near-shore to lower seas and the Wells Burt on one motor.

Dive Report:  water temp = 54F; viz = 35FT

It took an hour but we got to the Wells, tied in, got our divers in the water and then Bob got in, who cleared the line on the prop.  On the way to the Wells, some of  the divers decided to break not only a boat  rule but a standard rule for all dive training agencies and drink some alcoholic beverages.  Fortunately DM Bob caught them after only a few swigs of the bottle but the damage was done.  A short time later one of the drinking divers pukes right in the center of the floor.  Quite a mess the divers left for themselves.  As no one likes to be accused of being a liar,  I smiled thinking of them getting ready in the puke which I simply hosed down the scuppers while they were diving.

Dive Report:  54F & rail to rail viz = 35FT of viz.

Late Saturday I decided to scratch Sunday morning’s charter as they had a couple of divers drop out and the weather report was iffy.  This allowed me to sleep in and get a better grip on the weather for the afternoon charter.   I contacted the afternoon group had them move up their meet time and headed down town.  It was a Bear game so the plan was to meet my divers at Belmont.  I cruised up nice and slow, topped off the tanks while there and then loaded up our divers for a run to the Hume.  Though the Buoy was reading 3.3 ft, the South winds gave me good conditions and made the diving up north must have bee a little “sporty”.  We had 1 FT seas!  The divers had 80 Ft of viz and 52F water and had an ideal dive on a great little schooner.  The Lake had settled to less than 1’s and we had a great cruise back into shore.

Another Great Weekend in RECtober!

Its the middle of October and I am thinking, we might want to change its name to . . . RECtober.  Windy City Diving had another great weekend on the Lake, as we completed three charters.  Saturday I woke up to sunny skies and a weather report of South Winds (which I like almost as well as Westerlies) and 1-foot seas.  I picked up my divers, a group I had put together via emails and posts, and we headed to the Buccaneer.  This was an eclectic group:  2-guys from Scotland, 1-from Israel, 1-from Japan, and 2-from Chicagoland.  The near-shore waters are still murky so the plan was for 2 on the Bucc.

I must be a little spoiled with all the flat water I have had this season, as the waves, which were mostly 1’s but with an occasional 2-footer, had me a little edgy at first, but the twin hull catamaran design of the R/V made the beamy seas, seem quite gentle, like a “walk in the park”.  In 35-minutes we were over the Bucc and we dropped divemaster Bob right on the pilot house and he tied us in,  in short order.  So after a pre-dive briefing I sent our divers on their way.  For those who haven’t been to the Bucc in awhile, the 11-Foot seas of October 2nd have torn off a majority of the roof.  This has left quite a few nails and screws exposed, so be careful!  Diver report:  Everyone had a great time and had 25FT of  Viz and 57F water.

Sunday was a Bear game and that meant parking in and around Burnham would be nearly impossible, so the plan was to meet and pick up my divers at Belmont Harbor.  When I left Burnham for the 30-minute trip to Belmont, it was still dark but having  good radar and a gps/chartplotter made the near shore run up the coast a breeze.  After a few conversations with divers about the “parking lot full sign” (which of course it was not at 7AM) we loaded up the R/V and headed to Mack.

Now this is where the adventure for the weekend begins.  Though I had >1-footers for my run up to Belmont, the Lake began to pickup as I moved off-shore toward the Mack.  My 1’s built to 2’s and then the 2’s built to 3’s.  The 15 knot NNW winds offered us no protection as we ran the 8-miles out to the Mack.  I said to myself, that I was glad we were running from Belmont rather than Burnham as the running distance was cut in half.  Though 3-footers are not bad,  the seas were bad enough for a 700-foot freighter to  veer over 1.5 nautical miles outside the shipping lane for a smoother ride.  That’s right a freighter passed between me and land as we were tying into the Mack!

Anyhow all are divers, were able to punch out two dives on the Mack.  Diver Report:  57F with 20-FT Viz.  The ride back in with a quartering sea was smooth and uneventful.

You have all heard the expression, “what a difference a day makes”.  Well on Lake Michigan it should be, “what a difference an hour makes”.  After dropping my first group of divers off at Belmont I gassed up the R/V and noshed on some cheese and crackers and chit-chatted with the gas dock manager Charlie, a old student of student of mine.  Shortly thereafter the divers for charter #2 of the day started showing up.  After loading the R/V I briefed our divers and explained to them that it might be a “little rough” so  be prepared and remember “one-hand for you and one for the boat”.  Well as I cleared the harbor’s mouth and took my 50 degree heading I was surprised not to see one white cap.  The Lake had laid down to 1-footers!  The wind still NNW had dropped to 7-knots and within 30 minutes we were tied into the Mack.  Two dives later we were headed back to Belmont and then after dropping off our divers I was headed back to Burnham.  With just me on board, I brought the R/V up to 25 knots and cruised back home as the skies began darkening.  A beautiful ride home at a great day on the Lake.

3-Great Days on the Lake – In October?

Remember, about a week ago I wrote you all and said “Don’t Give Up on Lake Diving, Just Yet”?  Well, I wrote  that after we had gotten blown out for the entire first weekend of October and then by mid-week we were able to punch out a dive on a new wreck.

I don’t want to say “I told you so” but this past weekend, may have been the best weekend of my season!  Saturday we had sunny skies, light winds and flat seas.  With a full boat of divers, one who actually captained the Buccaneer, we headed to the Bucc.  It was really cool for everyone to talk with one of the guys who was involved in running of the Bucc and then go dive her.  What was even cooler was talking to him after he dove her.  Very Cool!  Anyhow, water temp was 57F and viz was around 10Ft, not great but you have to remember that 7-days earlier we had 12-FT seas!  I knew that the Underwater Archeology Society of Chicago was coming out to dive her later that day and as they were a major factor in getting her ready to sink I did not want to obstruct their dives on her, so we headed to the Tacoma.  Here, the near-shore waters were much murkier giving the divers only about 3-foot of viz, but the light west winds we were able to stern into our second wreck of the day.

After getting the divers back to Burnham Harbor, I loaded up my wife and daughter and we completed my daughter’s certification dives.  So I now have a new dive buddy, congratulations GG!

Sunday, was pretty much the same as Saturday, ideal:  Sunny, Light Winds & Flat Seas!  We again headed to the Buccaneer, this time we planned 2-dives on the Bucc as the near-shore waters were still murky.  As the seas were flat, we again sterned in on the mooring to give our divers easy access to the wreck.  The divers again had an excellent set of dives on Chicago’s newest wreck.

Again after returning our divers back to the harbor I picked up my new dive buddy Gabby, my wife and WCD divemaster Bob’s, he really is an instructor, wife, Leanne, and we had back out to the Buccaneer for Gabby’s first dive toward Junior Advanced Open Water.  After punching our a 25 minute dive in 57F water with 10FT of viz, Gabby’s first words on breaking the surface was “I want to go again!”  A diving father, has never heard finer words!

GG in the Wheel House!

Monday, the 3rd day in row of calm seas, was a special last minute trip.  I had planned a family day but there were lots of requests to dive the “new deep-water” schooner, after last week’s posting.  As the weather forecast was ideal, I said “Let’s Go!”.   We loaded up the R/V and left Burnham at 0800.  90 some minutes later, we again sterned -in on our mooring.  54F and 70-80 Feet of Viz.  The divers’ profiles varied from 25 to 40 minutes and everyone wanted to go back.  She is a great little wreck, well worth any diver obtaining advanced training to explore her.

Don’t Give Up on Lake Diving, just yet. .

I know some divers and charter boat captains out there think that diving the Big Lake is done for the year, but I am here to tell you it is not!!

Windy City Diving was out diving yesterday October 5th and though the near-shore waters were murky, we were diving off-shore in 1-Foot Seas, had over 80-Feet of VIZ and  54F water.   Though the trip there was longer than normal, the swim through, beneath her +100 year old deck, which was just beyond recreational dive limits, gave our group of divers one of the best dives of the year.  To a man, as each diver re-entered the R/V Aquatica, each  commented on how this three-masted schooner was the best dive in southern Lake Michigan.  Better than the schooners:  St. Mary, Wells Burt, Lumberman, and Emba, all of which I have been on.

Though most of you have not seen me dive, as I typically pilot the R/V, I still do dive, but only on special occasions.  I have been searching for this schooner for a few years and to see its image on the Humminbird Sidescan was too much to keep me topside; this was a special occasion.  As I descended the line, at 60-feet I could make the outline of the wreck.  Unlike schooner barges, which are big and bulky, this wooden schooner  was long and lean, and undoubtedly a greyhound in her day.  As I neared the deck, just aft of the windlass, I looked to my left and to my right and could almost make out the entire wreck.  Though her masts were laid over her starboard rail she was an impressive sight as her bowsprit pointed toward her intended destination.  She looked majestic sitting upright on the bottom.  I planned a 25-minute dive and enjoyed every minute on this wreck and really begrudge leaving her, but I vowed to come back and visit her again.

If you want to find out more about this most excellent shipwreck you need to come to Our World-Underwater this coming February 18th – 20th and see Valerie Van Heest’s presentation on her or contact me for a charter.

Sunday, The Best Day of the Weekend. . .

Sunday September 12th was the best day for diving this past weekend and it was the best we have had in quite a few weeks.  It was also the Bears’ opening season game and that meant that parking would be impossible or prohibitively costly.  So we decided to pickup our divers at Belmont Harbor to avoid all the hassles and it worked out great!  The weather report was sunny, light winds and great seas.  I left Burnham at 0730.  The trip up to Belmont was magnificent.  The sun was shining and the Lake was as flat as glass and I was the only one out.  It was hard to believe that there were 6-ft seas the day before.  Anyhow I met my divers at the Belmont gas dock and we headed out to the Straits of Mackinac.  As we got off shore the seas picked up to about 6-inches.  When I got out to the Mack I was surprised to see that my mooring on the bow was gone and that there was a new mooring on the stern of the wreck.  As I had been here earlier in the week and my old mooring was here, this meant that someone was out here in 4-6 foot seas on Saturday!  That had to be one horrible ride.  Anyhow we tied in to the new mooring and our divers punched out a 30 minute dive in 50F water with 25-ft viz.  Next stop, the Wells Burt.  As we were only 3 nm off shore the Lake was flat and we sterned in on the mooring.  Our divers had a great dive on wreck.

The Plan was to Dive the Bucc, but. . .

The plan was to dive the Buccaneer, but when I checked the NOAA buoy at 0600 she was reading 6-FEET and the winds were out of the southeast, so we needed a new plan if we were going to offer our divers as safe and as comfortable trip as possible.  I met my divers at 0800, explained to them that I felt the Bucc was not going to be an enjoyable experience (probably 3-4 ft seas) and that we should dive two near shore wrecks  to avoid the big seas.  I wanted to get going as to me the weather dictated that the  the Material Service Barge and the Tacoma where the best choices and other dive boats might be headed there too.  We left the dock at 0825 and headed south.  As we cleared the mouth of the harbor I looked back to ensure that everyone’s tanks were strapped in and my divers’ faces were in awe of the 3-4 footers we were encountering.  I told them not to worry that where we were going was going to be much flatter.  35 minutes after leaving the mouth of the harbor we were tied into the bow mooring on the MSB.  Waves about 1-foot.  Though viz was down to around 10-feet the divers did a nice 40 minute dive with lots of small mouth bass.  Next stop, the Tacoma.  Rather than motor the 2 miles north slowly, I powered up and we were on site and tied in, in less than 10-minutes.  We swung out tanks and the divers punched out a 35-minute dive on our best historic tug.  We had a nice following sea ride home back to Burnham and everyone had a great day.