Wednesday, February 20, 2013

Canada’s oldest shipwreck to be resurrected in replica of 16th-century Basque galleon

It’s the oldest shipwreck ever found in Canada and one of the most important in the world: a 16th-century Basque whaling galleon that lies at the bottom of Labrador’s Red Bay, a sunken relic from the Age of Discovery that symbolizes the early spread of European civilization — and commerce — to the New World.

Now, the 450-year-old San Juan, a jumble of thick beams and broken barrels lying in shallow waters off the site of a 1560s-era whaling station in the Strait of Belle Isle, is to be resurrected by a team of Spanish maritime heritage experts planning to construct a full-scale, seaworthy replica of the original 16-metre, three-masted vessel.

Parks Canada underwater archeologists, who discovered the 250-tonne San Juan in 1978 after following documented clues about a lost galleon traced by federal archivist Selma Barkham, will meet this week with Spanish officials to begin sharing decades of amassed research on the ship’s design and construction, Postmedia News has learned.

Then, to mark the Basque city of San Sebastian’s year as Europe’s “cultural capital” in 2016, Spain expects to christen its floating tribute to the whaling crews that — for several decades during the 16th century — transported millions of barrels of whale oil to Europe from the future Canada, a treasure every bit as valuable at the time as the gold taken by Spanish conquistadors from more southerly parts of the Americas.

“Right from the start, we thought this was a really, really great idea,” said Marc-AndrĂ© Bernier, Parks Canada’s chief of underwater archeology. “For archeologists, this is basically the ultimate final product. You’re taking all of the research from a site that’s been excavated, then you take it to the maximum in experimental archeology,” physically recreating “what is lost.”

For Robert Grenier, Bernier’s predecessor as Canada’s top marine archeologist and the leader of the Red Bay discoveries more than three decades ago, the planned construction of a San Juan replica is “like a dream.”

The 75-year-old Grenier, whose work at Red Bay was featured in a National Geographic cover story in 1985, is now retired but has agreed to serve as a consultant to Spanish shipbuilders on the San Juan project.

He previously collaborated with Basque heritage experts on the recreation of a chalupa — a smaller boat used by whaling crews to pursue and harpoon bowhead and right whales — that was also found at the Red Bay site.

“To the Basques, this is the Holy Grail,” he said of the planned San Juan replica on Monday, while visiting a display on Basque whaling operations at the Canadian Museum of Civilization in Gatineau, Que.

The Canada Hall exhibit features a 20-to-one scale model of a Basque whaling galleon, as well as a full-scale reproduction of the stern of the ship.

“They are so thankful to us — Canada and Parks Canada — to have restored to them the glory of their golden age,” said Grenier.

The replica galleon to be built in the coming years is expected to travel between European cities during 2016 to mark the San Sebastian celebrations, then set sail for Labrador and other East Coast destinations in 2017 — in time for the 150th anniversary of Confederation — to help spread awareness of the deep historical connection between Canada and Spain.

“It’s their heritage,” Bernier said of the Basques, who live in the coastal region straddling the border of northeast Spain and southwest France. “But it’s also a shared heritage.”

Significantly, Bernier noted, the Red Bay wreck dates from an era before European shipbuilding had developed to the point of creating blueprints prior to construction.

“There were no ships’ plans — they were built with traditional knowledge,” he said. “Everything was in the shipbuilders’ minds. That’s why the data from the archeology is so critical.”

In the decades following the New World discoveries of Christopher Columbus and John Cabot, the expert shipbuilders, sailors, fishermen and whalers from the Basque country began making transatlantic voyages to exploit coastal Canada’s cod and whale populations.

Lamp oil from whales killed in the Strait of Belle Isle became the key commodity for Basque entrepreneurs, who developed shoreline “factories” to render hundreds of thousands of barrels of oil and organized regular shipping schedules between Canada and Europe to deliver the product.

The sinking of the San Juan, which was loaded with thousands of barrels of rendered whale blubber when it foundered close to the Red Bay shore in 1565, was essentially Canada’s first oil-tanker disaster. Much of the cargo was, however, recovered before the vessel was crushed by winter ice.

Although the presence of Basque whalers in 16th-century Canada was long known to historians, it wasn’t until Barkham presented fresh evidence at an Ottawa archeological conference in 1977 that plans were made to search for physical traces of the whalers’ activities in present-day Labrador.

Along with the wreck of the San Juan, Parks Canada archeologists eventually found traces of three other galleon-class cargo ships, as well as the well-preserved chalupa rowboat.

Land-based excavations led by Newfoundland archeologist James Tuck also yielded burial sites, clothing, tools and countless other relics that recalled a time when hundreds of Basque workers might spend a whaling season in 16th-century Canada.

Today, Red Bay is a national historic site and Parks Canada tourist centre. An image of the San Juan is used by the United Nations as its logo to promote the preservation and celebration of the world’s underwater heritage, and a five-volume, 2008 compendium of Red Bay archeology written by Grenier and Bernier has been hailed internationally as a model for scholarly research on shipwrecks.

Red Bay is a leading contender to become Canada’s next UNESCO World Heritage Site.

Thanks to

Kathy Dowsett

Saturday, February 16, 2013

Making the Most of Your Day on a Dive Boat

Arrive at the boat well before departure time. If the crew says it’s okay to board, climb on and take advantage of your punctuality for an unhurried look around. Check out the boat’s layout, find a good spot for your gear that’s out of the way or close to the gate or that offers protection from the sun.

- If you don’t need it, leave it in your dive locker. On a busy dive boat there’s not much space allotted for each diver, so bring only what you’re going to need for the morning or afternoon dives. That way you can stow all your gear at your dive station without it overflowing into your neighbor’s space. If you can’t carry everything in one trip, you’ve probably got too much.

- As soon as possible, assemble you reg and BC on your tank and give them a quick test to make sure the tank is full and all systems are go. That way, if you got a short fill or if a gear failure occurs you still have a hope of getting a replacement. Also, do a final inventory check to make sure you have everything you need for your dives, like both fins, your mask, maybe a trusty pocket light for checking out the holes in the reefs, and, if the boat requires it, a safety signal tube.

- Don’t be shy about asking questions. All dive boats have their own rules and routines, so if you’re unsure about how to secure your tank, where to stow your weights, or which bucket is for mask rinsing and which is for cameras, simply ask. A good crew will always choose answering easy questions up front over scrambling to catch a tank that’s about to topple over or tripping on an errant dive bag. Knowing the proper boat procedures makes life easier for everybody.

- When you arrive at the dive site, resist the temptation to start obsessing on your gear and instead pay close attention to the pre-dive briefing. This is when you’ll learn about bottom contours, prevailing currents, depths and compass directions. Having this info tucked in your head before the dive will make all the difference in your comfort level and confidence during the dive, plus it can avoid having to be retrieved by the dive guide when you get lost, which is always embarrassing.

- Don’t forget to bring some cash for tips. A top-notch boat crew and dive guide who have both skills and sunny attitudes are instrumental in delivering to you a really enjoyable day in the water. Show your appreciation; they’ve definitely earned it.

From Sport Diver

Kathy Dowsett

Monday, February 11, 2013

DAN Case Study

Reprinted with permission from Chantelle Taylor-Newman of Dive Medic

DAN Case study 8

This diver was a 61-year-old male in good health, taking no medications.

He was on a liveaboard dive vessel in the South Pacific, vacationing with his son. He had completed 700 lifetime dives over 35 years. On this trip he had performed 13 dives over a five day period breathing air (two or three dives per day). His deepest dive was to 148 fsw (45 msw) and he reported having no problems with any of the dives. This was his typical style of diving.

His final day of diving started with a 148 fsw (45 msw) dive for 37 min with a customary safety stop. Upon surfacing, he became disorientated and had numbness and weakness in both legs. He required help getting back into the boat. The only oxygen immediately available was a nitrox blend. He was able to get up and walk to his cabin without assistance after breathing the blend; but his symptoms had only slightly improved. He was then taken to a medical clinic and placed on 100% oxygen. From there he was transported to a remote chamber facility.

His only improvement to this point was a slight reduction in disorientation. Six hours after initial symptom onset he received his first USN TT6. A physician’s evaluation revealed numbness, weakness and hyperreflexia in his legs. His mental clarity issues resolved, but his other symptoms progressed to lower extremity paralysis, severe pain in the abdomen and legs and loss of bowel and bladder function.

His symptoms worsened by the next morning, whereupon he received a second USN TT6 and a USN TT5 each day for two more days. He was then transported to a second hyperbaric medical clinic and received two more wound healing treatments without improvement. He was then evacuated home.

Two years from the incident; his legs remain paralyzed with minimal movement, he had limited bowel and bladder function and was medicated for his chronic pain. Further diving was not possible for this individual.

kirkscubagear published this post not to scare divers, but strickly as an informative piece.

Kathy Dowsett

Wednesday, February 6, 2013

Scott's Descending Life

For Scott Wilson, the underwater mysteries of the Solomon Islands were a highlight of 13 one-hour “Descending” documentaries he produced along with business partner Andre Dupuis for the Outdoor Life Network.

There, they explored wrecks of vintage Second World War aircraft on the ocean floor. “The artifacts are still there,” says Scott, a pilot and aviation enthusiast. “It throws you back in time.”

While they also saw submarines and ships on the bottom, it was the aircraft that intrigued Scott. They included a B-17 (a four-engine bomber), Zeros (Japanese long-range fighters), a P-47 Thunderbolt (a single-engine fighter-bomber) and a Corsair (a carrier-based fighter).

But the wreck of a PBY Catalina, an American flying boat used during the Second World War for transporting cargo, search and rescue, convoy escorts, patrol bombing and anti-submarine missions, was special to Scott and Andre.

“The guy who took us is the only one to see it before us,” says Scott. “The flaps were down so it crashed either on takeoff or landing. The Solomon Islands (due east of Papua New Guinea) were a wonderful location for me. I was in my element, checking off these wonderful aircraft.”

Another of his favourites in the Descending series was Iceland. When it comes to diving he is ordinarily a “wreck person,” but in Iceland they were diving for geological purposes. This included the Silfra dive site in inland Iceland, where two tectonic plates – one North American and the other European – had separated and created a crevice in the Earth. It was only about 25 to 30 feet wide and 100 or more feet deep. “It is filled with glacial runoff water and the horizontal visibility is great. You can see forever. It’s a surreal dive – amazing.”

In Iceland, they also dove into the crater of a volcano that was filled with water. “Gases were coming off. You could see it bubbling.

The roots of Descending, a spinoff firm from parent company Echo Bay Media that Scott and Andre founded and own, go back to “Departures,” their first series. Departures, a travel documentary, involved 42 one-hour programs. One of them was a trip to Brazil, where they first experienced scuba diving. “Andre and I came out of that experience having fallen in love with diving.”
After training and getting their certification, the Descending series was a natural follow-up to Departures.

The two business partners became friends when they were both students in the media arts program at Sheridan College. They observed that many of the students wanted to emulate the full Hollywood movie process with enormous crews.

“We found when we were working together that it worked better with two people. If we needed a third person for lighting we would get somebody. The other side of it is we are kind of perfectionists. We want to edit it, colour correct it . . . we have a hard time letting it go. Sometimes that’s a negative.”

They started their company as a partnership in 2000 and incorporated it five years ago. As owners and creators of their shows, they have the luxury of choosing their own path. Decisions are made only after a lot of research.

“We wanted to show in Descending that diving wasn’t just seeing pretty fish in warm places,” says Scott.

It is also about sharks, diving in places such as South Africa, Iceland and, in Canada, in the Great Lakes and British Columbia.
“We wanted variety. We wanted to show there are lots of reasons to get into the water and see the other 70 per cent of planet, which is water. We would try to do it from a diver’s perspective. We would seek out local knowledge and have people take us to the best sites.”

If a dive required a greater knowledge or skill set, it was important to the two producers to make that point. On a dive to a wreck that involved risks, the film makers would go down with someone who knew the wreck. “We don’t want to send the wrong message.”
But they also wanted to illustrate there are plenty interesting dive sites to explore that don’t require someone to be a technical diver.

Ironically, the only injury Scott suffered in travelling the world for their documentaries involved an accident involving his passion – flying. They were at a marine sanctuary in Raja Ampat, Indonesia, where oceanographers have been setting records of counts for fish species and corals on a single dive. It is quickly becoming a hotspot for divers.

Andre had just completed an aerial photo shoot in a small ultra-light type float plane and suggested Scott fly with the pilot next. They were flying low over dugongs (large marine mammals similar to manatees) and decided to take another look. The pilot pulled the plane into a climb before making a 180-degree turn. The aircraft stalled in a fairly steep bank and crashed nose first into the water.

Fortunately, both survived. Scott had lots of scrapes and scars on his legs but no broken bones. There would not be a new aircraft-wreck dive site.

Their contract with Outdoor Life Network completed, Scott Wilson and Andre Dupuis will now seek markets for Descending elsewhere.
For the Hamilton-Ontario-based film makers, that job just became a little easier. In January, they learned that Descending had been nominated for four Canadian Screen Awards (formerly known as Geminis).

Kathy Dowsett

Saturday, February 2, 2013

Ask an Expert: Should Surface Markers Be Mandatory When Diving?

Con, by Chris Parsons: Dive-training agencies should teach SMB use, not mandate it

When I was asked to be the “con” on this topic, I almost said no — I rarely dive without a surface-marker buoy. After some thought, though, I realized that while there are definitely times when an SMB — or other type of surface marker — should be considered essential, mandating its use doesn’t really solve the problem.

One easy argument against mandating surface markers is that some dives simply don’t need them, and they might, in fact, get in the way — ice diving in a Minnesota lake comes to mind.

So who should mandate surface markers? Government? No, thank you. Training agencies? They don’t teach SMB use in the basic classes; it would be a huge jump for them to suddenly mandate them.

That really just leaves dive operators.

Operators can and sometimes do require SMBs. Unfortunately, that doesn’t mean that a diver is able or even willing to use an SMB properly. I’ve seen many divers in situations that clearly indicated a surface marker ought to be deployed, but the SMB often remained clipped to their BC. When I asked later why they didn’t inflate it, despite being a mile away from the boat, I generally got a puzzled look rather than an answer.

There is a larger point here, and it is that divers simply need to be better prepared, and moreover, to take responsibility for their own safety. If conditions or a location prescribe that a diver should have a surface marker, it should be incumbent upon the diver to have one. Mandating a piece of gear doesn’t train the diver, nor does it prepare them.

I’ve been on boats where SMBs are required and seen divers show up without one. The dive operator will typically loan the diver one, and often the diver needs a quick lesson in how to use it. Note that this represents two strikes against the diver already — they showed up without an SMB, and they don’t know how to inflate it. Worse, they don’t understand when to deploy it — if the boat is a mile away, it might be too late. Strike three.

When there is boat traffic or significant current, the prudent diver might deploy the SMB from depth using a reel or spool. Once on the surface, the diver should be focused on boat traffic, not fumbling to inflate a surface marker. To do this, divers need to be trained and able to practice the skill. To my knowledge, SMB deployment from depth is not taught in Open Water or Advanced classes. Rather than mandating its use, perhaps the training agencies should teach its use — and its importance.

I understand why dive operators feel compelled to require SMBs. Ideally, they shouldn’t have to, but too many divers show up unprepared. That shouldn’t happen. Divers who show up at a dive operation should take the time to get trained, understand the consequences of diving in that area, and arrive with the gear needed for the dive.

This one should be on the diver.

Pro, by Alice Darwent: You never really know when you might need it

Ending your dive safely and getting back on board the boat are undoubtedly the most important aspects of diving, especially if you’re drift diving. This is why every diver should carry a surface-marker buoy and be shown how to use it safely.

In Tobago, where the majority of dives are done as drift, guides carry an SMB so the boat captain can monitor where they are at all times. The currents around the island can be strong, which is why the Association of Tobago Dive Operators recommends that you dive with a guide and not on your own. All ATDO member dive shops make sure their guides dive with an SMB. The Professional Association of Diving Instructors even runs a specialist course to teach divers the knowledge and techniques required for the safe use of SMBs.

There have been well-documented cases of divers going missing; happily, most of those divers are found. Inves- tigations into what went wrong usually reveal that the dive leader was either not carrying an SMB or that the SMB was not large enough to be seen by the boat captain. In cases where divers do go missing, having more than one SMB to blow up and wave around on the surface of the water will greatly increase their chances of being found. This is why every diver should have an SMB in his BCD pocket when he dives — to use in case of an emergency. You can be the world’s most safety-conscious diver, but sometimes Mother Nature throws you a curve ball, and you find yourself in an emergency situation. Carefully planning every dive you do will minimize risk, and that careful planning should include what you do if you get lost and what equipment you need — an SMB is part of that equipment.

SMBs also identify you to other marine traffic. Underwater, it's hard to determine the direction of sound, such as the noise of a boat propeller. Bear in mind too that the captain of the vessel will not know you are close to him. He might see bubbles, but by then it could be too late. Carrying an SMB, which is usually bright orange or yellow, clearly identifies where you are and warns marine traffic to stay away.

Personally I never dive without an SMB, even if it’s a shore dive. You never know when you might need it.

Chris Parsons is an underwater photographer, boat captain, rebreather diver and former PADI instructor. He is the rep for Nuticam and Zen Underwater photo gear.

Alice Darwent has been affiliated with the dive industry for 25 years. President of the Tobago Dive Association, she is owner of AquaMarine Dive, Speyside, Tobago.

Thanks to Scuba Diving

Kathy Dowsett