Marine Electric Dive
The Marine Electric was a T-E Bulk carrier T-2 Tanker and was converted in 1962 from 504x68x39 to 605x75x47. On Feb 12, 1983 only 3 of the 34 crewmen on board survived the sinking of the "Marine Electric", of the 31 crewmen who lost there lives, six were never found. The wreck now rest in 130ft 85 miles NNE of Rudee Inlet,Va.
On June 9th at 2am the dive vessel "Miss Lindsey" departed for
a 2 day trip to the "Marine Electric", the boat was rigged with
O2 and HE (and argon for our drysuits), a Haskel, cascading whips and the
boat has a compressor with banks. I don't know how many dives are planned
out that well, but VBtech always does it.
On the previous expedition VBtech divers had encountered a watertight door that prevented them from entering the engine room by way of the pump room. The team had taken on the task of going in there to see if any proof that the 6 missing crewman were left in the engine room as they had been standing watch when the ship went down.
The main group had resigned up for the task and a few more guys were able to go. Everyone went for the fun of the trip and each person was task for different things based on their training and experience. Some had even gotten additional training (full cave) to help with the dive.
The new guys that signed up for the trip proved to be a match for the plan. Those that could only offer support did so and reached a new level of understanding how well a team effort can produce results. No one went away feeling like they did not have something to contribute to the dive.
A total of 8 divers were slated to enter at least to the watertight door, that was way up from the 3 that did it last year, we are growing in numbers and skill in the VBtech group.
The plan was to remove the watertight door as that would put us into the engine room at the shortest distance to get in, while at the same time the buddy team of Rick Atkins and Eric Deister would continue to push a line from the extreme stern to the engine room. All other passageways to the engine room had proved to be blocked on the previous trip.
Jim Cobb was task to tie us into the wreck and return to brief us on the tie in and diving conditions. He returned to report that the hook was at the break between the pump room and mid body, the best possible place to be for our plans, temp was 60 on top and 6ft of vis, 48 on the bottom and 30ft of vis.
I held a detailed briefing on the upper deck with all tools, drawings, and cable jacks for everyone to operate and get familiar with. All divers that were to enter inside the wreck chose trimix for the dive, at a max depth of 130ft the low mix I chose of 24/15 for the dive worked well.
The teams went as follows, Rick and Eric started the long push in the tight places from the very stern. Bill Ripley, Tom Sawicki, and JT would go to the watertight door inside the pump room. Bill and I took the jacks and tools, while Tom carried an extra 80 stage of bottom gas to be placed at the door should anyone need it for the remainder of the trip. We rigged the 2 jacks to pull the door off and started the process. I called the dive at 25 mins due to the fact we had no more rope to use as a hold back line to keep the door from falling towards us when it popped off. Three man teams were task for the door removal, 2 to work the jacks and one to hold the light and watch for anything that seemed unsafe and call the dive if needed.
During our brief deco, the team of Dave Widen, Rodney King, and Todd Clagett entered the water to follow up the task. An exchange of information was made by wet notes from me to Dave and I had ran a line from outside the wreck to the door and placed a strobe on the line so they could find it.
Within a short period they had completed the task and the door was removed, the only problem was Rodney said Todd needed more ass to work the jack;-), but the plan had work perfectly. They returned to the boat after a short dive outside to let the silt settle back down inside.
The 3 man teams were then broken down into buddy teams Dave Widen/Rodney King, Bill Ripley/Todd Clagett, and Tom Sawicki/JT Barker. Dave /Rodney went back down after a 2 SI to remove all tools and ran a line in the ER, they ran one from the watertight door through another watertight door and to the extreme other end of the space. After they had been gone for 1 hr Tom and I left for the ER, as they should have been out. I let Tom lead because of his background in cave diving (he had been trained by JJ) and I felt he was best suited for the dive. We had planned to branch out off the line and start to search the ER, at only about 35ft into the ER I called the dive, the silt level from Dave and Rodney was much to high for me, Tom wrote on his wet note "Which Way" once we had left the ER and I wrote "I think it is too much for me" meaning the silt in there, and he agreed. We then left and I showed him the other areas we had dived inside the wreck. During deco Tom wrote "I think it will be hard to find anything in there" and I wrote "Stirred up". Bill and Todd had plan to enter after us and they also called the dive on silt level.
On Rick's and Eric's second dive they were able to connect the lines in the ER and the passageway from the stern, they also recovered nearly 100 pieces of china and some was placed outside of the wreck for other divers to recover, to keep divers out of the wreck.
On our 3rd dive everyone plan to scooter the outside of the wreck, if you ever do that you will see one of the most impressive wrecks there is. I took Tom on a complete tour of the wreck, the bow which is so big we were able to scooter into and inside it, the wreck which is massive in size and length, is best done on a scooter to get the full picture. During our deco Tom wrote to me, he'd had a good time.
Everyone went to bed and dreamed about the next day(I did anyway). Everyone opted to do one long dive in the morning and head home. Only Rick/Eric and Tom/JT plan to enter the ER again, Rick would video and I would shoot stills. Tom and I entered through the pump room and Rick and Eric the stern, we would not be in the wreck at the same time. Tom and I went first.
The silt had settled and I would lead in order to get clear shots, I had told Tom I would be moving very slow and be pointing things out to him as I'm taking photos and looking for any signs of the missing crew. Retrieval of line reels and removal of entrance lines were also tasked. I entered and took several photos, showed Tom various things like gauges and stuff that were covered in silt, we moved through one engine compartment to another, there were snags everywhere, I had told Tom not to touch anything for fear that it may fall on us. We reached the aft BH and I tied the line, cut it and place the reel on my D-ring, then it happened, the loudest "BOOM" I have ever heard underwater, total SILT OUT, I did not move. I could see only a faint glow from Tom's light, he had been right behind me and then I saw his hand move in front of my mask, neither of us made a move to get out and the silt started to settle. I tried to put my knife back in its sheath, but could not and chose to just hold it. I placed my other hand on the line which was now becoming visible again. It was so tight it felt like a piano string, it was clear something had fallen. Tom had moved very close to me and I was unsure exactly what had happen, I still could not see very much or if we could get past what had fallen, what seemed like an eternity(only a few minutes), Tom signaled to follow him, he could see how to get over the thing that had fallen, I was unaware that he had seen it starting to fall and had tried to hold it up while I was tieing the line, it was a piece of the catwalk or foundation for that space. We were able to pass over it and re find the line, we made it to the other space and I stopped to place my knife in its sheath and look a bit more, Tom waited at the pump room watertight door for me. He retrieved the stage and I removed the line leading into the wreck. Once outside Tom made a gesture as if he were wiping sweat off his forehead, as if that were a close call and I agreed.
During deco, Rick past me and I stopped him and told him of the "cave in" and he understood my words underwater, he and Eric entered at the stern and plan to video that swim in, near the ER they came across a life jacket with shirt, pants and shoes stuck in the overhead, it appeared to be the remains of a crew member and video was shot, the cloths not touched, I have viewed the tape and to me it does not look like it could be one to me, but I am not 100% sure. It was sometime before they made it to the ER and they were able to video the catwalk/foundation that had fallen, it is quite big and had it fallen one minute sooner or later, I am not sure I would be writing this report.
During one of our decos, Tom had shown me his brand new Jonline, and wrote me a note "you guys are turning me to the darkside" as a joke. I told him that if we had died in there, they would have found me with my knife out and would have said I tried to kill him and take his air. Then they would have said he died from breaking rule number one, I said jokingly. I also said I would get a ton of emails from the guys who do nothing but dive on the "net" , because I always tell the truth about my dives. I felt pleased when he said to fwd him the emails and he would handle those flames, I was happy that he had been trained so well and never panicked. Lesser divers have been known to freaked out. Tom had brought a "Banana" on board which is rumored to be bad luck on a boat, were we lucky to get out or unlucky it happened, beware of the "Banana" curse. ;-)
It will take a hundred dives I think to totally search that ER and it is very risky to do so, I will have to reconsider going back in there and suggest only the very best and trained divers attempt to go in there.
I would also like to thank the others who helped Leo MacEntee, Jerry Setlock,
Erika Troutman, Nancy Hite, Debbie Cacace, and Tom Adams who did a great job
of clearing the wreck of those pesky lobsters ;-)