Friday, February 2, 2018

The Rusty Ruskie

The opportunity to dive the wreck of the Russian cruise liner “Mikhail Lermontov” came up, so I jumped at the chance of some more hours exploring her dark and silt covered decks. Setting off from my home on the Thursday, I caught the ‘Interislander’ vehicle ferry “Arahura” in Wellington to set sail on the three hour crossing to Picton in the Marlborough Sounds, South Island.

My station wagon car was loaded to the gunnels with dive gear. I had my AP Inspiration rebreather, Silent Submersion underwater scooter, various cylinders, and a set of open circuit dive gear, just to name a few of the things taken. After spending a few hours in Picton sightseeing, I met up with our 60ft charter boat “Affinity” which was berthed next to the ferry terminal and proceeded to load my gear aboard. When all the divers and crew were aboard, we set off down the picturesque Queen Charlotte Sound to moor for the night at Ship Cove (so named because Captain James Cook used the site as an anchorage during various expeditions whilst exploring and mapping the New Zealand coast line). That night I took the time to sit outside and reflect on the good times I‘d had with my dearly missed dive buddy Nigel Lees as Affinity swung gently on her anchor in the slight breeze. The water was still and stars twinkled brightly in their reflections off the water’s surface.

At sparrows fart (or first light to the uninitiated), our skipper Brian pulled the anchor and we headed to Cape Jackson where almost 20 years earlier the Mikhail Lermontov collided with a reef that resulted in her sinking. On the mid tide, Brian took Affinity over the actual bit of reef that the Lermontov hit showing up at 6m to the top using the depth sounder. About an hour later we were in Port Gore, the final resting place of the “Rusty Ruskie”. The wind had got up and was howling off the steep flanking slopes of the natural harbour, but we managed to secure the mooring over the wreck.

Divers spent the next three days acquainting themselves with the 578ft long ship, exploring areas such as the swimming pool, gymnasium, and medical quarterdecks, the bow with it’s cargo hatch, the bridge, and even the chain locker. The Rusty Ruskie lies on her starboard side in 37m of water and this can prove a real challenge to get your head around when moving through the internal decks of the ship.

I dived with Pete Mesley and we had both dived the Rusty Ruskie together before, so we visited a few areas within the ship that we were very familiar with and found a few new spots too. The first thing we noticed was that the marine life had significantly increased around the ship. I even heard red spiny lobsters cracking away from within the interior.

In no time at all, everyone had logged up a many hours on the Lermontov and it was time to head back to Picton to catch the ferry back to Wellington. This had been a great trip for all.

Monday, January 1, 2018

Advanced wreck course

My weekend consisted of swimming around a rusting ship sitting in 32m of water off the Tutukaka coast. I was diving the HMNZS Waikato as part of an advanced wreck diving course run by Pete Mesley (instructor and all-round good guy ). The rebreathers were fitted with side-mounted tanks and long hosed regulators for open circuit bailout. In addition to this redundant air system, we carried extra lights, reels and cutting tools.

The first dive was spent adjusting to the new configuration of gear. I usually carry my redundant bailout slung from my harness, so having it on the rebreather case was interesting due to the extra width on my back. This became all the more apparent when squeezing through narrow spaces only to be abruptly halted as the unit hung-up on things. Gentle backing up freed me and allowed second attempts on passing the obstruction. The laying and tying off of line was also a skill we practiced throughout the dive in addition to anti-silting finning techniques. Christian Blaschke, my course dive buddy, had to put up with the occasional fin in the face as I laid line around the helicopter hanger of the ship. Oops!

The surface interval passed quickly and we got straight into skills on the second dive. Pete got Christian and myself to lay line and then swim back in silt-out conditions (lights switched off and eyes closed to simulate the silt-out). This was real test of communication, but being on rebreathers, Christian and myself could actually talk to each other throughout the task whilst supplementing the communication with line tug combinations and body squeezes. Surge through the hanger made it particularly exciting when passing corridor hatchways, usually with the result of being sucked out of the hanger bay and spat back into your buddy seconds later!

The next day started with a bumpy boat ride out to the wreck site. Christian decided to "can" the diving for the day (he was looking very ill) and chose not to do the dive. Pete became my dive buddy and we made our way down to the wreck. After spending a period of time laying line and doing silt-outs procedures, we set off to explore more of the wreck. Pete asked me to lead, and while I was tying off the line in an access to the engine room the surge really got up so Pete called the penetration. Just as I untied the second to last tie-off, a huge surge rushed through the access and spat me out of the guts of the ship (most kewl!!!). Pete joined me as I reeled in the last of the line, then we ventured off and did a turn about at open circuit bailout on the long hoses.

The small boat that took us out to the dive site was jumping about in an increasing swell, so we quickly cut a course back to Tutukaka harbour. I found a few guys sitting up front and they all appeared to be suffering the early effects of sea sickness. In no time at all I was telling them my favourite story about someone being sick after eating spaghetti and how a long string of it came out of their nose. Sure enough, the guys on the boat turned a strange shade of green and looked very uneasy… my work was done.

The last dive of the course was planned and a penetration from the stern of the ship to the engine room was conducted. Line was laid, tie-offs selected and fastened, unique features memorised, and Pete finally turned the dive with a simulated silt-out. Lights switched off and eyes closed, Pete communicated with me constantly alerting me to his whereabouts and well-being as I reeled back through the ships interior. Yay! Upon completing the task, we went for a tour of the ships bow and guns that now lie torn and separated from the ships main superstructure.

This was amongst one of the best diving courses I’ve done to-date.

Sunday, April 2, 2017

Dry Dive and a Full Frontal Exposure

After eight weeks of waiting, my Inspiration rebreather was finally reunited with its electronics (the working heart of the machine). The first thing I had to do was check that the "repaired" parts were working, so I decided to do a dry dive on the unit.

After setting everything up, I strapped my Inspo onto my back and began the 'dive' from the comfort of a chair in my lounge.

Being first thing in the morning, I was still wearing my dressing gown. This presented no problems until my wife asked me to go and get the mail. "Okay, no hassle", I thought. Pulling on a pair of sandals, I walked out of the house and up the driveway to the mailbox whilst monitoring the oxygen level I was breathing on the rebreather. As I approached my mailbox I could hear a car coming up the road. I picked up my pace a fair bit and lunged towards the mailbox, hauling the mail out. All good, but my neighbour was away on holiday and wanted me to collect their mail too.

The neighbour's mailbox is separated from mine by a planted border of small bushes and a concreted driveway. I was now sprinting as the sound of the car got closer and closer. I ran around the end of my driveway, past the end of the bushes and over the concreted driveway. Almost tearing the mail from the box, I turned to catch a glimpse of the car coming into view. "Bugger!", I thought. Not wanting to be caught milling about in a dressing gown, and more strangely, wearing a rebreather, I quickly fired off a list of options for evading being seen:

    Run down the neighbour's driveway and out of view.
    Squat down and hope that the car occupants are not looking my way.
    Try and get back to the safety of my comfy lounge via the shortest/quickest route through the bushes.

Hmmm, well I chose the third option! It was a good plan and went well up to the point I tried to get through the bushes. Fate being fate (and it's always cruel), the car passed me at the exact moment my dressing gown was pulled open by knee high bushes on either side of me. What a sight for the poor car occupants!!! It was enough to make them slow the car down to a crawl as they watched me free myself of the bushes, look at my controllers to check the oxygen level, and then to peg it back into my house. What a surreal moment to have in an otherwise average day! :-D


My dry dive lasted 1 hour and 20 minutes. I watched the controller readouts run erratically for the first 15-20 minutes and then settle down to give consistent readings for the remainder of the time. A linearity check carried out as per the manufacturers instructions showed the new style R22D-AP cells were performing well.

I flew the Inspo manually for 50 minutes and conducted 'dil' flushes, high and low oxygen drills, bailout to open circuit and back onto the loop drills, and flew semi-closed for about 10 minutes to finish.

My positive and negative pressure tests went well prior to the simulated dive. I did discover that after a few dil flushes, the dump valve on the exhale counterlung failed to seal properly and developed a slight leak (I will service it immediately).

Wednesday, March 1, 2017

More New Toys

Yesterday was an interesting day, but for all the wrong reasons! I started the day with a nagging thought in the back of my mind, namely, “What’s happened to that order from Australia.”

Ten or so days ago I placed an order for an Oxycheq helium/oxygen analyser kit and various other bits of dive gear with a company called Scubaroo Diving Supply. I had no means of tracking the parcel, so after ten days passed with no contact from NZ Customs to say how much duty they wanted before releasing the consignment, I got a bit worried about its whereabouts. Best thing would be to contact Scubaroo and ask for a tracking number, I thought.

Having quickly composed a short email enquiring about a tracking number, I paused for a second before pressing the ‘Send’ button. A thought had entered my head about how it would be typical for the parcel to arrive before Scubaroo had time to reply with the tracking number. I dismissed the thought and pressed the ‘Send’ button anyway. As I watched the ‘Sending mail’ progress bar race across my screen I heard the sound of a person getting out of a vehicle outside my window. “Bugger!” It was a courier delivering the parcel. “Spooky coincidence”, I thought as I signed for it.

In the blink of an eye I moved on from the whole spooky coincidence thing and entered the ‘new toy’ mode. The superbly packaged goodies were extracted from their bonds and carefully spread around me in an arc so I could survey them all at once. I finally could no longer resist the temptation of opening up the analyser kit and playing with the analysers.

Inside the box, in a pre-moulded foam tray were three small objects. One was a charging unit, and the other two were the oxygen and helium. I proceeded to turn on the oxygen analyser. Nothing happened, the display was dead. I tried again and again but it wouldn’t start up. Okay, time to see if the helium analyser would show more signs of life, but it too was unresponsive.

Not beaten, I looked out some tools to remove the back of the oxygen analyser. The voltages of the three AAA batteries inside all carried a full charge. Dead batteries was not the problem.

Time to get in touch with Scubaroo and advise them that the analyser kit was ‘dead on arrival’. Thoughts of overzealous postal workers throwing the poor analysers through an x-ray machine with the power setting set to somewhere between fry and incinerate raced feverishly through my head as I composed a frantic email to Scubaroo. It was all too much to take, so I sent the email and quietly abandoned the analysers in their box.

Both units had the same power-on switch marked clearly with the letters ‘Pwr’. My instinct with new things is not to force anything where it doesn’t feel like it wants to go. In this case the switches were pushed in a left/right motion, no movement. Pressing the end of the switch caused the switch bar to sink into its housing and then return to its previous position, but the units would not power up. I even tried various lengths and sequences of pushes. Nothing.

My wife came home and opened the box containing the analysers. Seeing the ‘Pwr’ switch on the oxygen analyser indicated where the power-on switch was and she turned on the unit. The display gave an indication of the oxygen cells reading in all its yellow back-lit glory.

It appears that I was a ‘slow maze learner’ that day. Apparently the switches had an up/down action, not a push or side-to-side action! “IDIOT!”

Both units work extremely well when powered up.

Wednesday, February 8, 2017

New toy - Silent Submersion UV-18

The 'Inspo' lid was dispatched back to Ambient Pressure Diving this morning, and as predicted, my new Silent Submersion UV-18 (underwater scooter) arrived into the care of Nigel Lees, who also took delivery of two new SS UV-18 scooters for his wife and himself.

Each scooter was broken down into three boxes for shipping, making the consignment total a grand nine boxes that required a forklift truck to lift the pallet off the delivery wagon. Nigel quickly found my three boxes containing the battery, hull and charger, and the motor section. As we loaded them into my station-wagon, I soon forgot about my scrubber lid.

Assembling the batteries and scooter took no time at all. I’d seen how to do the assembly when I was lucky enough to be a support diver on the TSS Niagara 2004 expedition. Hopefully I’ll get into the water tomorrow morning and work out how the bloody thing operates! ;-)

Tuesday, January 3, 2017

Back to open circuit

I’ve just spent most of the evening carefully packaging my rebreather electronics for an exchange to a replacement scrubber lid from Ambient Pressure Diving. The turn-around time from New Zealand to the factory in England and then back to New Zealand usually takes three weeks. This is a major bummer. Somewhat typically, on the same day that the courier will take my scrubber lid away, my new Silent Submersion UV-18 DPV (Diver Propulsion Vehicle, or for lack of a better description - an underwater scooter!) will arrive here from the good folks at Silent Submersion Inc., Florida.

I guess this means that I will have to dust off my trusty twinset (Hogarthian rig) and go open circuit again. To be honest, I enjoy open circuit as much as diving closed circuit, even with all the noisy bubbles that churn their way to the surface.

What the hey… It’s all diving and time in the water getting wet! Bring it on!

Wednesday, December 14, 2016

Freshwater rebreather dive

My "breather" finally got out for a dive this month. After a couple of false starts earlier in the month, I packed the scrubber, checked the battery voltages, lubricated the o-rings and reassembled the Inspo (Australian slang for the Inspiration rebreather) ready for a freshwater dive in Lake Taupo on Sunday 10th April.

During the positive pressure test after assembly, there was a loss of pressure in the rebreathers loop. With the aid of soapy water, the leaks were quickly found and resolved (a small leak in the exhale hose connection to the counterlung tee-piece and from the dump valve.) The unit now held both its positive and negative tests. The auto diluent valve (ADV), manual inflators and Auto Air all worked without any problems.

Nigel Lees drove Dave Maddox and myself across to Lake Taupo via the Forgotten World Highway. After almost three hours of snaking through tight turns and unsealed sections of road and we were standing at the side of the lake in a small settlement called Pukawa. Our three Inspirations were unloaded quickly from the vehicle and the side slung tanks (for open circuit bailout off the rebreather loop) were placed at the waters edge for putting on in the water. After calibrating the rebreathers to account for altitude (Lake Taupo being at a height of 356m above sea level) and ambient air pressure, we pulled on our drysuits, strapped on the VR3 dive computers, and donned the Inspirations for pre-breathing the scrubber.

Pre-breathing the InspoAs always, a small group of onlookers watched as we approached the water and proceeded to ask the usual set of questions. Nigel took the role of spokesman for the day and answered with a knowing tone which seemed to appease the onlookers curiosity. I was getting too hot in the drysuit and walking about with the 32kg rebreather didn’t help, so I made a beeline for the water and geared up. Nigel and Dave pulled on their fins and side-slung tanks in the water. Dave had a 40cu.ft. aluminium tank, Nigel was using a 7litre Faber steel tank and I had a 10litre Faber steel tank (with an extra connector allowing it to be used as an off-board diluent source via the ADV.)

We all submerged and met up at the edge of a ledge in 3m of water. Here we checked for any bubbles (a sign of a leak in the unit) and adjusted the gear for comfort. Dave set off down the steep slope with Nigel and myself following behind. The water was 18C and the visibility dropped to about 8m after 18m of descent. Setpoints now at 1.3bar and using a modified frog-kick, we pushed out deeper following the now gently sloping contour of the lakes’ banks to a depth of 38m (Lake Taupo can get to a depth of 160m in places and we were diving a spot that went to 85-90m.) A thermocline in the water at 27m made the temperature drop to 15C and it was very noticeable (I heard Dave let out a yelp as he passed through it!)

Nigel was photographing the cheeky freshwater lobsters. At only 3-4 inches long, they would try and take you on by jumping up and snapping their pincers at you. The lake bottom is composed of mud with a fine silt sitting on top. Great care with buoyancy and finning technique are required to prevent a silt out. After 35 minutes of bottom time we turned and followed the slope upwards, taking care to stop at our first required stop depth.

The steep slope had occasional large rocks embedded in it. These rocks seemed to be places where small fish and freshwater lobsters congregated (they looked like they were having committee meetings or something very similar.) Nigel and Dave pressed their masks up close to one such gathering, but nothing seemed overly bothered by their presence. Ah, the joys of no bubble diving!

It was time to play at 14m with Dave deploying a DSMB (Delayed Surface Marker Buoy) which was yellow and had the word "EMERGENCY" written down its length. This type of SMB is fired off when there is a problem on a dive and assistance is required! When he pulled it out and was about to inflate it, I grabbed his attention and asked if he really wanted use that particular SMB and not his orange one for doing deco on. Dave signalled back that all was well and the SMB shot off to the surface dragging the line out of his reel effortlessly.

With all our stops completed, we switched our setpoints to 0.7bar just before the 3m ledge and made our way up the shore. In water shallow enough to stand in we closed our mouthpieces and walked out of the water. Very quickly we were all reminded of how heavy the units are when not supported by the water.

A quick check on the dive computers showed a runtime of 77 minutes.

We got all the gear packed and loaded into Nigel’s vehicle and then we headed home with one stop for refreshments and a blueberry muffin.