Bridging the Gap, VBTech meets the WKPP

During my first few months of subscribing to Techdiver nearly 2 years ago, I had a debate with Dan Volker in which he suggested who I dive with. I answered by asking if that was an invitation to dive and if it was I would be bringing divers with me. Last weekend I did.

An invite by George Irvine lead to a group from VBtech to travel nearly 1000 miles and engage in diving activities with George Irvine and Dan Volker. The group of (7) divers, ages 16- 52, are in my opinion normal divers, the 2 most experienced divers were Rick Atkins and myself. We have been mirroring the WKPP suggested diving techniques and modifying them to fit wreck diving as best we could. The changes we made make little difference to the total package and really are not noticeable. There are many things that still do not work for me and I had hoped to have answers at the end of the trip, but this did not happen. The following is a day by day trip report with my conclusions and thoughts.

On March 2, 2000 at 17:30 VBtech members Brad Baskins, Ike Bullock, Dave Widen, Jim Cobb, Bill Ripley, Rick Atkins, and JT Barker depart from my (JT) house in 2 vehicles and a large trailer owned by Rick full of tanks, gear, He and 02 , also equipped with banks and a haskle pump. The next 16 plus hours were spent driving and sleeping in shifts. We arrived at Boynton Beach at 10:30 am to do a 200ft dive at 13:00 on the wreck "Skyecliffe" on the dive boat "Deeper" with Capt. Leo and the dive boat " Little Deeper" as a chase boat with Capt. Doug. The mates where Roger & Dave on the "Deeper" and Alan Pelstring & Brad Baskins were support for the team on the "Little Deeper", diving with us would be Craige Smart who dived with me on the wreck in January. For those that do not remember, Alan had his girlfriend lose her life on a training dive down there when the instructor failed to do his duty in my opinion on her fatal dive.

The " Little Deeper" departed before us to hook the wreck with a float ball and flag, Capt. Doug radioed to report that it had been done but the ball and flag had gone down out of sight due to the current. Everyone in my group had Apollo or Dacor scooters. It was my thinking that if the first 3 we dropped did not make it to the wreck then we would call the dive off. Dave, Bill, and Craige were chosen to test the waters current. If they did not send up a lift bag in 5 mins we would go in, as this would indicate that they had made it down to the wreck. No lift bag came up and so the remaining 4 divers went. Capt. Leo dropped us about 1/8 mile ahead of the wreck and we scootered down to it, at 160ft I stopped and looked up to see the other 3 , but did not, I then looked to the left and I was about to pass the wreck on its STBD side in the current. I used my scooter to pull me in behind the bridge to block the current and meet up with the others. I did not know that Jim and Ike had missed the wreck and had landed in the sand off the stern. They told me had it not been for the scooters they would not had made it to the wreck as they had to kick and use the scooters to get there against the current. We had planned that the first group would do 25 mins BT and group 2 would do 20 mins BT and I would pull the hook.

The hook was off to the port side in the sand hung on a piece of debris, I saw the first group make the line and I signaled the others it was time to go. I got to the hook and could see the line laying nearly straight down the sand out of sight, the current was much stronger now and getting worse. I unhooked the line and was dragged for nearly 100ft before I could get my scooter in line to pull me past the chain, so I could invert the hook at the top of the chain. All the divers were on the line cause I had seen them go to it. The float and flag came to the surface to let the boats know we were on the drift and starting our deco. Alan came down with wet notes with everyone's name on it and each was to cross his own name to show he was on the line. I was at the bottom of the deco line and all names should have been crossed off before it got to me. Imagine the horror I felt to see that all 3 of the first group did not have their name crossed out when the wet note was handed to me to cross my name off at 100ft , there was no one below me. I signaled to Alan that they all should be crossed off and he wrote for me to keep decoing . Brad had entered the water to monitor us during this time and the stress could be seen on Alan's face and mine as he left to go to the surface.

I did not know that all three had let go of the line after I had seen them go to it as they could not hold the line in the current and the ball was nearly down to the bottom. They had become two groups of their own with Dave Widen & Bill together and Craige on his lift bag. Capt. Leo had foreseen this could happen and had the "Little Deeper" move in and drop a float line to Dave and Bill and monitor them during their deco. I did not know any of this was going on and was dealing with a great amount of stress thinking about it during my deco. I have not tried to hide the fact that I have been on 3 trips that divers have lost their life on, none of these deaths had anything to do with me other than I was there to dive just like everyone else. But it has caused me to become a bit of an asshole at times and the guys refer to me as "mother" now. Experience is more valuable than money and the price we pay for it is unmeasureable and I have the experience.

It was not until I was at my 50 ft stop that Roger came down with a note that all were OK and doing their deco. Everyone had done their deco and were on board the boats, I remained in the water for nearly 12 mins longer than them as I did not feel like I had done a good deco with all the stress I had. I am usually one of the first up and done but this was not one of those times.

Back at the dock we all planned to have dinner together with my friend Carlos Rico who owns the "Cuban Café" on 3350 n. west Boca Raton blvd. in Boca Raton , FL, Capt. Leo and Alan Pelstring planned to join us there. We went to our hotel to freshen up and Mike Kane got there (he was to room with me) along with Dan Volker. I had never met Dan and he was not what I had pictured. We invited them to join us but they had already made plans. He did seem to be surprised to hear we had dived the "Skyecliffe" and stated that it was one of the most challenging wrecks down there. At dinner Carlos was his usual self , a big joker and a lot of fun.

We slept in on Saturday and were to dive with Dan and George to the "Hole in the Wall" on Jim Abernethy's boat. We got to the boat a bit early to make sure we could find it, Mike dived with Dan that morning and was already there. We were told that George would not be there and was diving with the WKPP team as the water was clear and they were setting up for a big push.

Jim Abernethy was a very nice man and very much seem to enjoy diving. We all dived the Hole in the wall and were very happy with it , the current was very strong and the scooters would only hold you to it, even push you back at times. The depth was 139ft and the wall came up to 126 ft in some spots. The hole was an impressive site that went into the reef and seem to be about a 100ft long. I would do that dive anytime. It seemed like we covered a couple of miles and did a 30 min BT, Dan and gang did 22 min BT, so they were not present at the show of poor buoyancy control that wreck divers have when they do not have an anchor line to hang on to. I have done the drift dive before and Rick is a caver , so we were somewhat OK, the others had a hard time and I was not happy about it, Cobb could care less as he came on the boat and told how the show went. The second dive did not seem like much to me, as I am a wrecker and a reef is a reef. But I did like that "Hole in the Wall " dive.

Mike went out to dinner with Dan again and we went to do our gas fills for the next days diving. We ate pizza at our rooms while mixing gas in the trailer. Mike came back to what seemed like a party in my room with empty boxes and drinks, we were having a lot of fun .

The morning came and at 6am we got up to go do a single dive with Capt. Doug on the "Little Deeper". I had asked Capt. Leo to take us out early to dive the Bud and the Becks. They sit in 90 and 80 ft and are over 700 apart. We dived both wrecks in one dive as we scootered from one to the other. The Bud had 2 Jew fish on it and one was about 500lbs if not bigger. They seemed very curious about the scooters and did not swim away. Cobb on the other hand did just that, as he did not listen to the briefing, he went to the wrong spot to look for bugs early and did not stay with the group as planned. I knew what he had done wrong and he is a big boy.

The afternoon dive was back on Jim Abernety's boat , Cobb had complained about the belly board and wanted a ladder to get back on the boat. Jim A. had his other boat switch for us cause it had a ladder. We all got our gear and mixes ready for the dive, it was to be a wreck dive to the "Andy" in 190 ft. We all were talking and wondering if George was going to show. I happen to look up and in a Van there was someone waving to me, it was George. He got out to greet everyone and I felt as if all were expecting something to happen, it did not. Just as everyone had said there is a "George" and a "Internet George", but everyone told me later that a chill could be felt in the air and it had nothing to do with the tempature. We never really talked on the boat , only short meetings. I do not hold hard feelings for long and I had none towards him. I have said he is almost always right, but I do not like the delivery of the message. George was quick to show us he was the real deal, he removed his shirt to show what great shape he is in as he unloaded his gear.

We loaded the boat and headed out, I was informed that the plan was to drop in 2 groups on the wreck and send up lift bags to deco on. We were joined on the trip by Kurt Bowen ,Steve Grasso, and a female diver whose name I don't recall, she was a good diver , but could never dive up here. She was so seasick on that short boat ride in flat seas the long boat rides up here would kill her.

I chose to dive in the second group with her , George, Cobb , Rick, and a couple of others. I was the last to jump off the boat and scootered down as fast as I could go. I came up on the STBD stern , the wreck sits west to the east with the Stbd side south. The current ran north and was strong , but not as strong as on the "Skyecliffe". The wreck sets on its keel and is covered with fishing line, trouble for those not paying attention to it. Rick and I seem to be buddies on this dive as well as Cobb. At the end of 20 mins we left the bow and started up, at 100ft we sent up our lift bags to began our deco. It was plain that the current moves different people at different speeds and Cobb who, has more area to cover with water, was moved away from us.

Rick and I did our deco and had 2 schools of Mai Mai come by us and I had a school of cobia come by me when on the wreck. We came to the surface to look for the boat, it was speeding north to pick up other divers. I keep looking and could see the boat was very far from us. It never crossed my mind that we could be left to drift and never get picked up. We got on the boat and started our SI , the next dive was to a reef and did not interest me or some of the others . A school of spinner sharks were jumping out of the water and all were trying to get photos of this, then it happened.

The engine cut off, Jim A and the Capt. tried to get it started again, but did not work. Someone said " I'm glad that didn't happen while we were in the water" it made me wonder what was the plan if it did happen that way. A call was made and another boat came to tow us in. I know how hard it is to keep a boat running , so I don't think anything about it happening.

Back at the dock we all planned to eat dinner together and Dan had told me George would do a DIR presentation. So we all went to a small restaurant (even some from another boat) to eat and listen. The group was a loud one , wings and drinks were served, orders were taken for dinner. George and I sat at different tables. We all ate and talked but not George nor I to each other. I later asked Dan when George would do his talk and he said that it would not be a good place for it. Dan came over to our table to answer any questions we had about DIR , I really was disappointed until George came over and things got quiet. He began by telling us we were the only ones up here doing like it should be done, he went one to say that he wanted to come up and dive with us, it seemed as if we were talking to each other and everyone else was listening in. I explained how I ran my deep trips and minor details that I taken to ensure the safety as best you can diving wrecks to 400ft that are 75 + miles out to sea. I then offered George to join me on one of these trips or a trip I have just started working on. The dive will be a deep penetration into the wreck to do what has to be done, I am not going to say what wreck or what we are doing , but it is of a real task and challenge for all. He seemed very interested in that dive and said he would come. Then we all had to go to our rooms as we had along ride home the next day.

I could not understand why we did not get the DIR demo and I finally emailed George and asked,

Capt JT wrote:
> > I will be writing my post dive report tonight and need to clear a few
> things. Did you not do a DIR demo because we are already there, no
> time or something else. Do you intend on really diving up here per my
> offer.

George wrote:
>JT, I can see you have your act together. I did not want to say anything
> that might appear contrary to your program, but will be glad to come
> up there and do a show after talking it over with you, and would like
> to dive with you guys.

I do believe there is much we can learn from each other and this will be done when we dive together up here, we will be on the boat for a great deal of time he will see that things are a bit different up here.

As for the VBtech guys, they now know what current is all about, they now know what poor buoyancy is like and need to work on. It was a learning trip for us and with each dive they get better. Good job guys and thanks for all who made it happen.

Capt. JT