Nov 2-3, 2002 Lake Jocassee Project
Lake Jocassee is a dammed valley with depths at times to 350ft. After last years trip to the lake ( read about it below) a new project was born. When the valley was flooded around 1968 several structures were left and is the bases for many rumors as to what is still there and who left what. With forest, roads, peaks, and who really knows what is down there, it was a challenge to find a starting point to began a search for some of these rumored things.
Jackie Smith who has many dives to the lake had started to follow a road that would lead him to a bridge, sound easy? Once you add in the depth of 300ft and distance one might have to swim while poking a rod down through the muck to feel for the road you get the feeling this will take some time.
Capt Bill Routh owner of "Off The Wall Dive Charters" (www.offthewalldiving.com)
had done 3 years of interviews and archives of old aerial soil assay pictures
from the 60's. After endless hrs motoring around looking Bill contacted friends
with a Side Scan Sonar , Jonathan Royer & Danelle Haley with Deep Seekers
to help map the bottom. After a few days an area was located that showed what
could be a bridge with a creek/river, the bridge was over what used to be
White Water River that ran adjacent to a camp. An old photograph taken from
someone standing on the bridge revealed a place called "Camp Jocassee".
Camp Jocassee established in 1922 for girls ran until late 60's the summer
before the DAM, it had a main building and residence for the camp owners and
several concrete block cabins for the campers.The entrance to the camp was
lined with stone walls with pillars on each side of a white picket fence gate
as shown in the picture taken from the bridge looking toward the camp entrance.
I asked Jackie if I could help and the project was born. Jackie arranged for the charter with Capt Bill Routh owner of "Off The Wall Dive Charters"( www.offthewalldiving.com ) and I assembled the group, I had at first limited it to 8 divers. Knowing that many would back out once the time came near I allowed 12 to commit. Saying you can do a 300ft dive in cold water in very low vis and actually doing it are 2 different things. The first only takes your mouth, the second takes much more.
As the date came within a week the excuses started rolling in, I even heard
one guy say his wife was planning on getting pregnant that weekend and he
wanted to be there when it happened, so he couldn't make the dive. (not really
true, but sounds good don't it)
With the group down to 7 we headed to the lake, one guy said his engine blew up, so we were down to 6 at dive time.
Capt. Bill with Samantha Swenson as crew (who did a great job) dropped a shot line in what was believed to be the old creek bed, the level of the lake was low and the depth here was only 315ft, some trees remained on each side of the creek and we believed that we could scooter it until we found the bridge and a lift bag would be deployed and secured to the bridge, then a permanent line could then be attached to it.
Tom Sawicki, Bill Ripley and myself were tasked for this and geared up for the dive. The air temp had warmed up from the morning cool of 33, to a cool of around 43. We entered the water carrying all gas needed for the dive, we were diving gas mixes and tables recommended by Tom, I am not allowed to disclose the mixes and tables. The water temp was 65 on top down to 80ft and did a drop to 46 degrees, vis went from 20ft down to 5ft around 200ft. Tom stopped at 225ft and called the dive during the descent, I could not understand why. Everyone returned Ok signs back to me and yet Tom still was calling the dive, I could not understand why. I asked Tom why and on his wet notes he wrote "VIS", I was pissed........ It is a standing rule that if one calls the dive we must all surface, but that did not mean I had to be happy about it. At one point I knocked my own mask off while moving stages around because I was so pissed. Once on the boat he explained that scootering in that low vis was not doable and we were getting to far apart for such low vis, he was correct, but we did not know it was that bad on the bottom yet, but later we would find he was right about that and was only concerned with every ones safety.
The plan was then changed and Jackie Smith, Charlie Johnson, and Rodney King (not that Rodney King) would go down another line that was dropped and hoped it had hooked the bridge(if it was there) or near it, hopefully not in the trees. We watched as they went down and could see they were not leaving the line. They surfaced to report that the hook had in fact snagged the bridge, but vis was less than 5ft.
With the first day gone, plans were made for the second day. Tom, Bill, Rodney, and myself would go down the line we left buoyed to the bridge,Tom would run a line from the bridge in a direction we believed the camp to be, Rodney would video, Bill and myself would stay near them and survey.
Once at the top of the bridge which was at 289ft I waited for everyone to show up, Rodney videoed while Tom and I secured the line to the bridge that would be run. Once everyone made the move away from the bridge I was at the rear and checked my gas(I was the only one using the same tanks from the first dive and they were less than full when we started, I had gave my second set of doubles to Tom to use). I had reached my turn pressure and returned to the bridge, vis was so bad they were not aware of this and I chose to remain close to the up line and just inspect the bridge to conserve gas. They returned with excitement in their eyes having run the line to a white picket fence that surrounds the camp which has stone pillars at the entrance and can be seen in the video, the reel was left on the fence for who ever goes next to run the line into the camp house which should be just inside.
Jackie and Charlie were tasked to take down a permanent line and chain it into the bridge that would be left for future dives, a keg was placed on the line 20ft under the surface and GPS coordinates were taken.
Hope you have enjoyed this report
Nov 2001 Lake Jocassee
This past weekend 4 members of the VBtech group took a road trip to Salem, SC to dive Lake Jocassee.
The dive, was for the purpose of adventure, training, and survey/study an accident that happened in May of 1999, the accident report can be seen at http://www.cisatlantic.com/trimix/other/lakejoca.htm . At the end of this report I will add an emailed I received from one of the divers explaining their view of the accident verses what is stated in the report.
Jackie Smith, our guide for the dive, is a local techdiver with over 100 dives to the lake most of which are in the 320-350 ft depth range we would be diving to. Jackie made arrangements with Capt Bill Routh owner of "Off The Wall" charters( www.offthewalldiving.com ) to provide us with a safe and suitable diving vessel for the dive we plan to conduct. Capt. Bill and crew (Samantha) did an excellent job.
The lake, which is a dammed valley, is known for being the location that the movie "Deliverance" was filmed at. There are several locations to dive at the lake which include a graveyard, forest, and a school/bridge that lay in 350 ffw.
We arrived at the lake and Capt Bill had his vessel in place and ready for departure for the dive site which was about a half mile or more across the lake next to a vertical wall. I was informed of a couple of things that would and would not be happening. First Jackie had the misfortune of getting a ear infection just days before the dive and would not be diving with us, but would be helping with surface support. Second, there would be a photographer on a separate vessel taking photos for the new "Off The Wall" diving brochure, no one had any problem with this and it had no effect on the dive. Third, and the only thing that made any difference in our dive plan, the lakes water level was nearly if not more than thirty feet down from normal. We had planned to reach a depth of 350ffw water on this dive, it was clear the max depth we could now obtain on the dive would be 320ffw at best. Dave Widen and Bill Ripley who were diving as buddies on this dive reran tables to reflect this change. We were all diving a 10/60 bottom mix, Dave and Bill were diving deco mixes 20/30, 50%, and 02. Tom Sawicki and myself chose 24/30, 50%, and 02 as our deco mixes.
After a briefing by the Capt. and inspection of the boat (you will get it if you read all the reports and look at the photos that will be on my site, also it is NOT the same boat,Capt or crew that was involved in the accident I am referring to) by me, we departed for the dive.
Once the boat was made fast to a permanent mooring on the site we suited up for the dive. Bill and Dave departed, then Tom and myself. We all agreed to meet at the "Chinese Junk" (a vessel placed down there) which rests on a horizontal ledge which is usually at a depth of 70ft, it was at 40ft on this day. Dave and Bill then lead down the wall which slopes at a slight angle, I would follow last just behind Tom. We would be following a permanent line that leads down the wall to a barrel which could be at a depth of 170-200ft, depending on who had been messing with it. Jackie had told us of the numerous lines divers had tried to run in failed attempts to dive the site. Many divers have died in the lake, often diving beyond their skill level as in the accident report.
As I followed down the wall I could see the trail of slit the others were kicking up, I was becoming a bit pissed at the amount the group was stirring up. It was not until I looked behind me that I could see I was doing it also. The angle a diver must swim in the head down position while maintaining distance enough from the sloping wall causes the diver to angle himself with the thrust of his fins back to the wall, causing all the fine sediment to get stirred up. To move away from the wall will cause you to lose it as a reference and vis below 70ft is clear , but a darkness that your light does not do well in. We found that our descent took much more time because of the slope with degree and sediment , while dodging the boulders that were sticking out. We found the barrel at about 180ft, Bill indicated to Dave that he was having an inflator malfunction and they called their dive at that point. I asked Tom if he wanted to continue and he did. We pushed on down the slope, we ran no line and there was none to follow from that barrel, we plan to shoot a bag to deco off of should we not find our way back, the boat and Capt was aware of this. At 285ft we came across a pile of wreck reel line and a wreck reel half buried in the slit, neither one of us touched it, because the slit was so fine it would only invite an entanglement with the line that lay around it. I wondered if this could be the reel with line that nearly took the young mans life on that dive in the accident report. We pushed on, no more boulders did I see, nothing but slit and muck. I stopped and stuck my right arm to the elbow in muck, vis went to shit and I called the dive. At 19 mins and 292ft on my gauge 294ft on Toms we headed back. Deco was uneventful, water temp was 64 degrees down to 70ft, 46 degrees after that.
The dive is not an easy one for the first time diver to go there, I am so used to having nothing around me on my descents in the ocean, I found it difficult with the sloping wall. Tom who is an avid cave diver, found it much easier to deal with than the rest of us. To dive solo is bad enough, but to dive solo a 100ft deeper than you have ever been before in the conditions we found there is crazy. That alone was the biggest factor in the accident. One should chose a professional to take them to that dive site, the cost is so reasonable it is crazy to chose a private boat. If you do chose a private boat for any dive, leave nothing for granted, "most" private boat owners are almost never prepared for an accident, professionals are...... they do happen.
Below is the email I referred to about the accident. Printed with permission:
To: 'Capt JT' <firstname.lastname@example.org>
Subject: RE: Jocassee incident
Date: Thu, 13 May 1999 09:23:33 -0400
X-Mailer: Microsoft Exchange Server Internet Mail Connector Version 4.0.995.52
Content-Type: text/plain; charset="us-ascii"
You may use my original e-mail as you like, but don't take things out
To: "'email@example.com'" <firstname.lastname@example.org>
Cc: "'email@example.com'" <firstname.lastname@example.org>
Subject: Jocassee incident
Date: Tue, 11 May 1999 13:38:58 -0400
X-Mailer: Microsoft Exchange Server Internet Mail Connector Version 4.0.995.52
Content-Type: text/plain; charset="us-ascii"
A Belgium communicant of mine informed me of the latest round of
Internet rumor, innuendo, and general misinformation and e-mailed me
some the messages running rampant. Normally I consider this type of
hyperbole trash not to spend time on. But since I know you to be
professional and seriously interested in the facts and data that
lessons can be learned from, this once I will intervene and pass along
the true chronicle of events. The unreliability of trying to get to
the truth from second hand sources on the Net is vividly illustrated
here where even the small bit of data I gave Dave Widen has been
distorted or is plain incorrect as it apparently has appeared on the
First of all xxxx was released Sat. and is back in Va. Beach. He
wants nothing to do with the Net, so don't expect to contact him. I
want nothing to do with drawn out debates about his misfortune except
those of you whom I know can contact me.
The dive trip was the result of a chance meeting in Mexico that xxxx xxxxxx
(now in Saudi Arabia) and xxxx had with xxxxx and his wife
during a cave diving trip. xxxxxx lives in N.C. and owns a small
pontoon boat used to dive the lake. He invited xxxx and xxxx to come
over and dive with him and his friend xxxxx. When xxxx had to bow out
because of TDY overseas, he connected me with xxxxxx and I was invited.
I had no organizing, divemastering, supervising, or any other kind of
responsibilities period. This was an informal get together for some
xxxx had some unused mixes from a wayward Key West trip the end of
March where not a single dive was made. He wanted to dive mix to
avoid blowing off his gas mixtures. My understanding was that xxxxx
would dive mix also. xxxxxx and I would only be loose partners since I
intended to dive deeper than he probably wanted to go on air.
However, the day of the dive, xxxxx planned to dive on air also
leaving xxxx to dive solo or go shallower than he had originally
planned. He decided to go alone.
xxxx bottom mix was 12/42 Heliair with a max depth planned of 325.
Deco mixes were N32, N50, and N80 carried in steel side tanks. His
dry suit was inflated by a six cu ft air bottle, his wings from his
bottom mix. Main tanks were Pressed Steel 120s at, I believe, 2700
psi or maybe 2900. Before I left MD, I asked him if he wanted to
borrow my O2 rig. He said no; he was covered by what he had plus
xxxxx would have O2 also. Now for the dive setting.
The lake is a dammed valley with steep sides. There is a subsurface,
buoyed line about 50 yards from shore that ends at 55 ft on the bow of
a Chinese Junk (that's right) with the bottom at this point at about
65 ft. You must swim to the Junk's stern to pick up a second, very
thick permanent line that extends out about 15 ft and drops almost
straight down a slope then ends at 170 ft. Here has been attached a
comparatively thin cave diving line whose condition was uncertain plus
the bottom is 350 or so. Therefore, xxxx and the rest of us carried
individual cave diving reels. Surface temp was 59 and bottom 48. The
water is clear, but at depth it is dark with a viz of only 10 ft or
so. Now for the operation.
xxxx was to enter first. Since the boat is small, only two or so can
suit up and enter together. In any case I was NOT diving with xxxxx
and xxxxx as a permanent team member. Only they were planning a 190
ft dive. (more on the Rangers misinformation later) I was to enter
next and wait on the Junk's bow for a while. If they took too long, I
would go ahead with my plan which was to go as deep as I felt
comfortable with. I carried my own O2. Internet distortion no 2. I
did not need three gauges. Do you remember the two gauges I took on
the Panam dive?! After that dive I miraculously was given by a friend
a brand new original Beauchat bottom timer/depth gauge that had been
stored nine years unused. I wanted to compare the readings of the
three of them together. However, in consolidating gear to save space
on the small boat I put two of them in an unusual place and couldn't
find them quickly while suiting up, so I left them. They WEREN'T
required gear as implied in somebody's message. Last but not least,
this was not a practice dive for any of my super deep trips-another
Internet piece of garbage!!
After waiting for 8 (eight) minutes at 50 ft using up my air, I went
on alone. I never saw xxxx, but passed his reel line at 170 ft. I
turned around (as I told Dave) at 277, again, 277 ft not 297 or 298 as
I've seen in some of these messages. I passed the other two on the
way up, but was unaware of any problem until hearing the boat start
up. On surfacing, we three found that xxxxxx wife had taken xxxx to
shore for help. Thus, we swam the short distance to shore and awaited
another boat that she sent to pick us up. Now xxxx story.
xxxx descended to 170 ft and clipped on his own line. But at 250 ft
he became untangled. This was probably abortion time. However, he
got untangled and kept on. He got entangled again at 308 ft. This
time seriously. He had to cut himself lose and found himself out of
sight of the slope. He made an ascent to first DECO stop at 120 and
did 110 ,100, and then found himself in trouble. He was unable to
deflate his dry suit after doing the 90 ft stop. He was practically
out of bottom mix for his wings and his little 6 cu footer was empty.
He was afraid if he pulled his neck seal he would therefore sink to
350. Why didn't he consider using his N32 to inflate the wings if he
dropped?!? I don't know. It's easy to criticize at the dock. So he
blew stops 80-10. And was paralyzed on hitting the surface. He was
lucky to have survived. There is lots of room for discussion here,
which I won't do now because of time. One final scene.
On getting to shore the three of us were, of course, interviewed by
many people. Including xxxxxxxx whom xxxxx had to rescue from a
face down in the water position a few years ago. Mr xxxxx started an
argument with me about xxxx having violated SOP. I wanted to know
what SOP, Whose SOP, and where did they get their authority. He even
wanted to say that N50 had a PO2 over 1.6 at 70 (seventy) feet.
Finally, he kept quiet and seemed more interested in giving a story
to some reporters than consolidating the interviews from the three of
us and verifying everything. Some quick conclusions.
Remember hindsight is easy!! xxxx was over task loaded for his
experience level. Going to his deepest ever dive, carrying three
extra tanks, laying line in a head down position in a cold, limited
viz setting. You may criticize his judgement, but there is many a
self appointed Rhadamanthus who is guilty of the same. I've seen more
outrageous plans succeed. They let someone dive the DORIA a few years
ago who only had 50 dives. I'm told a not- to- be-named organizer let
a woman dive the Monitor a few years back right out of her open water
class!!! I've got to get back to work. Best of success to all of
I have made this report as accurate as I can, please inform me of any errors
or misunderstandings and I will correct them.
Hope you have enjoyed this report