Friday, April 19, 2013

Diving Canada’s East Coast for virgin shipwrecks

For Terry Dwyer, diving is all about shipwrecks – but not just any wreck. Exploring the same wrecks that dozens of others have viewed is not for him. He’s looking for “virgin” wrecks that no one else has seen.

“I think divers need a purpose to keep them diving,” he says. “I prefer exploring. It’s more fun, it’s an adventure and it’s motivating. I got into scuba solely to dive for wrecks. For me, it’s always been about wrecks and always about a purpose. I’m not a fan of run-of-the-mill commercial charters for known wrecks.”

Dwyer, of Halifax, remembers watching Jacques Cousteau on television when he was 14. He had Cousteau’s encyclopedia and watched his movies. At 16, he learned to scuba dive and discovered his first wreck.

He is a big advocate of diving off the coasts of Nova Scotia, where he says there are more than 10,000 shipwrecks. There are several reasons for this, both geographic and historical. When you combine a hazardous coastline with arriving ships from Europe whose crews were not only unfamiliar with its waters but also did not have the luxury or benefit of today’s technology, you have a recipe for frequent disasters.

When ships approached Nova Scotia’s rugged coastline and experienced the unpredictable winds, fog and snow, “they quite often paid a price with their ships. Nova Scotia has some of the most unpredictable weather in the North Atlantic.”

Dwyer’s all-time favourite dive site for virgin wrecks is St. Paul Island, off the northeast tip of Cape Breton in the Gulf of St. Lawrence. “There are over 350 ships wrecked on that one rock and there’s 100-foot visibility in all directions. It’s unexplored, very remote and very hostile.”

His second favourite area is the eastern shoreline of Nova Scotia, where he is currently exploring the hundreds of lost shipwrecks.

His initial book, Wreck Hunter – The Quest for Lost Shipwrecks, published in 2004, went to a second printing in 2008. It will be followed up by a new book called Wreck Hunter – Shipwreck Hunting 101, which is due out this year.

Terry has also worked in the movie industry, providing diving support services and safety divers in situations where actors are in or near the water. The films he has worked on include James Cameron’s Titanic, as well as K-19: The Widowmaker, the story of the former Soviet Union’s first nuclear ballistic submarine that had a malfunction in its nuclear reactor on its maiden North Atlantic trip.

His next big project is a “shipwreck-hunting school” in Nova Scotia, which will teach divers how to search for virgin wrecks, including the use of today’s high-tech equipment. This includes side-scan sonar, which maps the ocean floor, and a marine magnetometer, a device that measures the earth’s magnetic field. It detects metal man-made objects.

Operating out of an area that is remote and virtually unexplored, the courses will offer divers first-hand experience in locating shipwrecks. There will also be other courses offered to train divers on the use of other specialized equipment, including underwater camera systems, underwater metal detectors and Remote Operated Vehicles. In all there will be nine different training modules to choose from that will soon be posted on his website,

Dwyer says training of this nature is offered nowhere else in the world. “Right now, the biggest interest is from the UK and the United States.” He has already booked his first group of shipwreck enthusiasts from the USA.

The groups will range in size from four to 10 divers, who will be “serious shipwreck people.” Dwyer says any Advanced Open-Water recreational divers can participate. “It provides a once in a lifetime opportunity.”

People can sign up for private, semi-private and group training. Costs vary greatly from about $1,000 for a person who is part of a group up to $5,000 for private or semi-private instruction or a full one-week expedition experience. The courses and expeditions involve 40 hours in a classroom and 16 to 24 hours or 40 hours on a dive boat prowling the mysterious and rugged coastline of Nova Scotia.

Dwyer says his instructors work on a part-time basis for him and range from divers who work full-time in the scuba industry, to current military instructors and people who are professional geophysical equipment operators.

Kathy Dowsett

Friday, April 12, 2013

Diving Doc: Preventing and Treating Coral Scrapes

Scuba diving is traditionally a look, don't touch kind of sport. But even careful divers can inadvertently run into trouble. By far the most common diving injury is the common scrape, usually from coral.

Irritations often occur as a result of a brush with coral or sponges. Coral scrapes can be painful and sometimes difficult to heal because the living organisms in the coral can get into the wound and cause infections. Contact with a sponge can leave irritating fibers in the skin, producing an itching rash that can range from mild to severe, possibly with pain and blistering.

Even if you're careful, it's likely you'll come into contact with coral someday. If and when, here's what to do:

1. An ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure. Makes sure your body is covered, even if just by a dive skin, and wear gloves where allowed.

2. Regularly irrigate a scrape with copious amounts of vinegar over a period of about 30 minutes.

3. Apply triple-antibiotic to the wound twice a day for a couple of days.

4. Scrapes can become infected even with proper initial care. Watch for hotness to the touch, redness or red streaks around the site, swelling, discharge of pus, or fever. If you see them, contact a doctor.

5. Fragments of coral sometimes become lodged beneath the skin and the body mounts a prolonged allergic reaction to them. In some cases, debridement is required to resolve the reaction.

Even in the absence of embedded coral remnants, it is not unusual for a marked hypersensitivity response to a coral injury to continue for three to four weeks before significantly improving. Sometimes the lesion will resolve, then return.

If a scrape doesn't substantially resolve within a month, or gets worse, you should consult a dermatologist.

Editor's Note: Even innocent injuries can turn deadly if you have an allergic or severe reaction. After any accident, watch for severe swelling, dizziness, blurred vision, breathing difficulties, weakness, muscle pain, cold sweat and a rapid heartbeat. If any occur, call 911 (or DAN's emergency hotline 919-684-4DAN if no emergency services are available) immediately. Injectible epinephrine can help calm allergic reactions. CPR may be necessary until help arrives.

Thanks to Doc Vikingo has been scuba certified for more than 35 years and has dived all over the world. He is a practising doctor in the Baltimore/Washington D.C. area and has held faculty positions at several major hospitals, including Johns Hopkins. With an interest in diving medicine, he serves as administrator at Scuba Clinic Online.

Kathy Dowsett

Monday, April 1, 2013

Shipwrecks of April 1

1814: Picture SS AZTEC.

"The following is used with permission from Dr. E. Lee Spence's daily blog Today's Shipwrecks™ (copyright 2013 by Dr. E. Lee Spence) on"

The United States Revenue Service schooner Gallatin, Captain John H. Silliman, was sunk a few yards off the end of Blake’s Wharf at Charleston, South Carolina, on April 1, 1813, by a violent explosion in her powder magazine. Her stern and quarterdeck were blown entirely away and she sank in just a few minutes. The cause of the explosion was not known and First Lieutenant Philips, who had left the vessel just prior to the explosion, reported that the magazine had been locked. There were 35 men aboard her at the time of the explosion. Gunner’s mate Thomas Feld; George Segur; and another man were reported missing and presumed dead. Gunner William Pritchard; John McCoan; Benjamin Chart; George Craft; and a boy named William Hunter were severely wounded, and several others were slightly wounded. As late as February, 1814, the vessel still had not been raised despite announcements that efforts to raise her were to have begun the day after the explosion. (Note One: She had been originally purchased at Norfolk, Virginia, in December, 1807, by Captain Hugh McNeill as a Treasury Department Revenue Cutter for the Charleston station for $9,432.93. She was named for Albert Gallatin who had been Secretary of the Treasury under Thomas Jefferson. During her career she was active in suppressing smuggling and frequently assisted merchant vessels, which were in distress. Acting under Navy orders during the War of 1812, the Gallatin intercepted a British privateer on August 6, 1812, and took her after a fierce battle that lasted 8 hours.) (Note Two: The “Charleston Courier” of February 26, 1814, reported that a diving bell had been constructed at Charleston, South Carolina, for the purpose of raising the guns, etc., from the wreck of the United States Revenue Service schooner Gallatin. All previous attempts to raise the wreck intact had failed.)

1816: A small sailboat plying between Sullivan’s Island, South Carolina, and Charleston, with a crew of two, was upset in a squall on April 1, 1816, near Castle Pinckney in Charleston Harbor, South Carolina, and one man was drowned.

1818: The vessel Keddington, Captain Bacon, from Jamaica to London, was lost on April 1, 1818, “on Atwood’s Key,” Bahamas. Her crew and part of the cargo were saved.

1835: The sidewheel steamer Augusta caught fire at her wharf at Augusta, Georgia, on April 1, 1835. Four lives were lost and the vessel and her machinery were destroyed. The passengers escaped with their luggage. [Note: The Augusta had a wood hull and was built in 1833 at Savannah, Georgia, which was also her first home port. She was 151 (or 157 tons). The Augusta was owned by the Steam Boat Company.]

1844: The British brig Helen, of Swansea, Captain Simpson, 49 days from Newport, Wales, went ashore on the Hunting Islands, South Carolina, on April 1, 1844. The Helen was also reported as “ashore on the breakers at South Edisto,” South Carolina. She carried a cargo of railroad iron, consigned to J. Gadsden & Nephew, of Charleston, South Carolina. The crew was saved.

1846: The schooner Commerce, Captain Burnham, bound from St. Johns, Florida, for Nassau with a cargo of lumber, was “wrecked at Harbor Island” (Harbour Island, Bahamas) on April 1, 1846.

1859: The steamboat Augusta was destroyed by fire on April 1, 1859, while she was tied up at Grey’s Point, below Silver Bluff on the Savannah River, forty miles below Augusta, Georgia. Mr. Henry Day (the first engineer who was a citizen of Savannah) and “three negro men” were drowned. The Augusta was burned to the water’s edge and, along with her cargo, was a total loss. (Note: She carried 778 bales of cotton and 538 barrels of flour, which was insured in New York, Boston, and Savannah. The boat originally cost $15,000 and was not insured. If based on the price of gold, her cost in today’s dollars, would have been well over $1,000,000.)

1860: The small steamboats Cherokee and Calhoun were burnt at Rome, Georgia, on April 1, 1860. (Note One: The Cherokee was owned by the Alabama Planters Steamboat Company and the loss was put at $14,000. $4,000 was covered by insurance. The Cherokee had cost $17,000 and had run about fourteen months.) (Note Two: The Calhoun was owned by the Oostanaula Steamboat Company. She was a new vessel, having run only three or four weeks on the Oostanaula River. She had cost $6,000 and was not insured.) (Note Three: These losses don’t sound like much until viewed in today’s dollars, which would have been over $3,000,000.)

1917: The first armed American merchant ship sunk by a German submarine in World War I was the SS Aztec. The Aztec, 3,727 tons, bound from New York for France, was shelled and torpedoed on April 1, 1917. She sank very near the Ile D’Ouessant (Isle d’Ushant). She carried foodstuffs; general supplies; tinplate; 448,195 pounds of refined copper ingots; 42 barrels of lead acetate weighing a total of 23,385 pounds; 1949 barrels of zinc oxide weighing a total of 265,325 pounds, and 52 boxes of metallic cadmium weighing a total of 7,500 pounds. Today the copper would be worth over $1,500,000; and the cadmium another $90,000. The zinc and lead would also have considerable value. But don’t get too excited, the copper was partially salvaged by an Italian firm in 1956.

1942: The British freighter Eastmoor, 5,812 tons, bound from Savannah to England via Halifax, was sunk by the German submarine U-71 off the Virginia coast in latitude 37°33′ North, longitude 68°18′ West. She carried 273 tons of zinc, 317 tons of steel ingots, 1,063 tons of pig iron, 1,052 tons of zinc bars, 91 tons of magnesium metal ingots, and 444 tons of cannon powder. At $0.90 per pound, the zinc is worth about $2,385,000. Depending on its purity, magnesium sells for about $2.45 making it worth about $445,900. Based solely on the time period, she may have also carried some silver.

Thanks to Dr E Lee Spence

Kathy Dowsett