Billy Mitchell Wrecks

by Capt JT

After nearly 8 months of planning the trip to the Billy Mitchell fleet took place. Several changes were made as the trip got underway.

We were unable to find the wrecks we originally planned to dive (Ostfrisland 380 ft and Frankfurt 420ft) because the Loran C transmitter for our area was down. We only had the location of the wrecks in TD's, we tried to convert to Lat / Long but we could not locate the wrecks, as they had never been marked with GPS before.

The wrecks lay 70 plus miles NE of VA Beach. The wrecks G102 350ft and V43 400ft were chosen because both are German Navy Torpedo-boat destroyers and were sunk July 1921 as part of the Billy Mitchell fleet.

We departed around midnight on Wednesday and after 5-hrs boat ride began to look for the Ostfrisland, 1.5 hrs no luck. I made the choice of G102 to dive. Hooking the wreck would be the hard thing as it is so deep and small, only 312' x 30' x 9', we got it on the second try.

We ate a light breakfast and prepared to dive, Jackie Smith and Alston Trent would be buddies and Rick Atkins and myself would buddy up, I would lead. We would be followed down by Mike Scammon to 200ft to ensure gas switches were done and cover any problems, Rodney King picked us up at 200ft on the return, Dave Widen at 100ft, and Becky at 30ft with Dave staying down with her to help. I chose a mix of 10/60/30 with deco gases 32/68, 50/50, 100 02 for both dives nothing fancy.

We hit the water, at 200ft my right ear would not clear, I came back up to 160ft and my ear cleared, Rick went down and was there at the anchor waiting for me. As I came to the wreck he pointed at the hook it was in by one tine on an old piece of rope. I do not have anchor fear and it did not worry me, but I put another tine in the rope anyway.

We began to look around, vis was 40-50ft but dark, my light did the trick and things looked good, the wreck was covered with dog sharks laying all about, there was only about 5-8 ft of relief where we were hooked. My Beuchat DG read 349, my UWATEC stopped at 328, but the timer kept working and depth returned working above 328 ft temp was 52 on the bottom, 44 mid range and 64 on top.

Jackie and Alston had shown up behind me and began to explore the wreck. I picked up a slow moving Joanna crab to look at, we then moved over to one of the 4.1 guns and took a good look, 16 mins BT went fast and we started up.

The deco went good until I hit the 70ft stop, I did my gas switch to 50/50 and my o-ring on the hose at the second stage blow. The safety diver (Dave Widen) moved into help and my buddy did the same, a reg change was in order and was done with ease. The overall deco for me did not feel good, I can feel when I had a good deco and this was not a good one, weak a little and tired, I had to rest, I had not sleep all night.

Austin recovered a handwheel on this dive. We then moved to the wreck Ocean Venture depth 160ft all the support team dived this wreck and had a great time.

The boat pulled the hook and the wreck V43 was chosen because of its depth of near 400ft, the only deeper wreck is the Frankfurt and we could not locate it without Loran C. I marked the wreck V43 and we hooked it on the first try.

A dinner of steak and trimmings put us to bed early. The morning came with flat seas and light winds, a light breakfast was eaten, Rick had made the decision not to dive as he had injured his shoulder somehow.

Three of us would make the dive, I will admit that the most stress I felt was during my gearing up for the dive, to not feel some kind of stress prior to a 400ft dive would put one in the shadow of being untruthful.

I left the boat followed by Alston and Jackie, Rodney was already waiting to follow us down to 200ft, once I hit the water all stress was gone, this is were I feel at home. After hitting the wreck with a fast descent it as found that Jackie was not with us, he showed up a bit late but was OK. We were greeted by some very large fish, Austin said they were Snowy Grouper ???

We broke off to look at different pieces of the wreck, we were hooked midship and the chain was tangled in the wreck. Vis was around 100ft and I could see a great deal of the wreck with my light. I went over the side to the bottom and looked at my BT 393 ft, I could see at that point what looked like the makings of the bow and the washout, the deepest part of the wreck. I did not need to go there to put my depth gauge to get the deepest reading as someone else has done. I could see another 5-6 ft could be gotten there, but why?

Soon my time was gone and I started my ascent followed by Jackie and Alston, I dived 380 tables and got out of the water ahead of them, but this was no race, not getting hurt is the goal. My deco went perfect and I felt great. Jackie recovered a small door sight glass with glass intact.

We got back to the dock at 5:30 PM and I loaded my gear and went home to reload my gear to go dive Morehead, NC with my Girl Friend for the weekend. We had a great time there diving the wrecks Papoose and Atlas on the crew boat Diver Down. Capt. Bobby Cox has been introduced to my long dive times before and makes it a great place for us to dive together.

Thanks to all who went and helped set the dive up.