Tuesday, July 30, 2013

BadDiverBill bares all about Australian diving

BadDiverBill is on top of the world over his dive trip Down Under.

Diving the famed Great Barrier Reef off Australia’s Queensland coast is on most divers “bucket list” and he is no exception. But it had a different twist than a more conservative diver would take. BadDiverBill’s first dive to the reef was in his birthday suit. Appropriately, it was on his birthday.

People thought he was crazy diving nude when there were sharks around, but BadDiverBill (his real name is Bill Hill) was more concerned that a nude dive would offend someone. That’s why he was the last to leave the boat, took off his trunks once he was discreetly underwater and a few minutes later put them on again.

He made his first nude dive on a much earlier Florida trip, which would influence the evolution of his “BadDiver” perception of diving. He went on two different dive boats on consecutive days in Florida. He likened the first one to a “military operation,” a good dive but something was lacking. On the second trip the diving was also fun and safe but the after-dive socializing was a big plus. The tipoff of party time was the boat captain’s shirt, which announced “rehab is for quitters.”

It was then that BadDiverBill realized that the after-dive libations and conversations were the icing on the cake of the scuba experience. That’s when he started his website and its short online shows (, illustrating dive spots around the world and the “adult beverages” consumed when the dive is overBadDivers is not a club with members but a vehicle to promote a lifestyle for scuba enthusiasts. Having fun after the diving is over for the day does not affect safety in the water, he argues.

Given that Australia has great dive sites and its citizens are known for their lust for adventure, the trip was natural for a free spirit like Bill.

He found Aussies interesting and a lot of fun. But native Australians were not alone on the Great Barrier Reef. “It’s interesting that people from all over the world were working on those dive boats. It’s a very touristy type of place. There were people from Europe, South Africa, The Netherlands, Germany, all over.”

On separate days, BadDiverBill took the 90-minute trip to the reef from the town of Cairns on two different boats – the Tusa (known as one of the best dive boats there) and the Silver Swift . Each trip offered three separate dives to the reef – two in the morning, then lunch and a third dive in the afternoon. He took all three dives each day, although some divers only took two.

It cost him about $300 a day for the dive boats, which he called “very commercial,” but it’s the only way to get to the reef. While most things tend to be expensive in Australia, including “adult beverages,” there is no tipping, he discovered, because bartenders are paid well. That was interesting news to BadDiverBill, who is a bartender by trade. Still, a kiwi drink featured in one of BadDiverTV’s first shows on Australia, cost $12.

The Great Barrier Reef dives involve a descent of about 20 metres. Divers were grouped according to their experience levels, but regardless of your ability BadDiverBill said it was worth paying an extra $10 for a guide who could take you to the sharks, turtles and wrasse (a pear-shaped fish).

The guides, who would take a maximum of six divers each, would also lead them through a tunnel under the coral. “Don’t ever touch a reef. It takes so long for it to grow back.”

Most of BadDiverBill’s dives were to the outer reefs, which are in good shape, but he was sad to see that the inner reefs were bleached out. Because of Bill’s love for the ocean and all waters, Bill and Ron Lynne wrote a BadDiversTV theme song called Weightless, for which they will shoot a video later this year. It is now available on iTunes and part of the proceeds will go to ocean conservancy.

“I dove Saxon reef and I dove a few different sites at the Great Barrier Reef . . . there was also Flynn reef. It was great. Along with chalking up three naked dives, I saw eight sharks in six dives over two days. One was a two-foot baby. They were white-tip reef sharks, one of few sharks in the world that can sit on the bottom. They don’t have to keep swimming to get water through their gills. They’re not aggressive at all. It’s nice to swim with the sharks. I’m more nervous about sharks when I’m surfing,” he says, explaining that when you’re under the surface in scuba gear, sharks and divers can see each other and they are less likely to mistake a human for food.

BadDiverBill says if he went to Australia again he would go to Port Douglas (north of Cairns) for a liveaboard night dive. Also to the north, he recommends a place called Cape Tribulation for its beautiful beaches.

When he wasn’t diving, Bill fed kangaroos, saw a crocodile come up to the boat he was riding in during a river cruise, and, on a sad note, at a lookout point along a river trip guides pointed out the spot where Steve Irwin, of television’s The Crocodile Hunter, was killed by a sting ray.

BadDiverBill did not see any snakes, but in Cairns he saw thousands of huge bats flying overhead at dusk and blackbirds that fly low and fast right around humans.

He also saw two cassowaries – the third tallest birds in the world that can grow up to six-feet tall and the second heaviest, weighing up to 130 pounds. They crossed the road right in front of a bus he was touring on.

Cassowaries don’t fly but they can be aggressive and inflict injuries on dogs and humans if they are provoked.

Fortunately, BadDiverBill had the cover of the bus – and his clothes – when he met them.

Kathy Dowsett

Tuesday, July 23, 2013

Scuba Diving in Canada

There are a multitude of Canadian scuba diving destinations that will enthrall divers with their beauty. From the Pacific Ocean waters off the British Columbia coast to the shipwrecks of the Great Lakes and the marine parks of Quebec, scuba diving in Canada has something for everyone.

History of Canadian Scuba Diving

While archeologists believe forms of diving began around 6,500 years ago as people acquired pearls and other sea bounty from the ocean floor, it wasn't until 332 BC that wooden diving bells were first put into use. In 1839, Augustus Siebe of England invented the first diving suit with a detachable helmet tethered to the surface where air was piped through.

In 1943, Jacques Cousteau and Emile Gagnan developed the aqualung or "self-contained underwater breathing apparatus" SCUBA. Canada, having the largest fresh-water areas in the world, became a hotspot for scuba diving. The Great Lakes offers thousands of shipwrecks to explore as well as the coastal waters with their off-shore wrecks and marine life.

Scuba Diving Equipment

Scuba diving equipment varies depending on the type of diving and water conditions. Thermal scuba diving equipment is required for cold water locations like Canada. • Diving Cylinders
• Diving Regulators
• Wetsuit or Drysuit for colder waters
• Shorty Wetsuits or Dive Skins for warmer temperatures
• Neoprene Diving Gloves
• Neoprene Diving Boots
• Safety Helmet with lamp
• Backplate for the diving cylinders
• Diver Propulsion Vehicle
• Dive Weighting to offset wetsuit buoyancy
Dive Fins
• Compass, Depth Gauge and Diving Watch
• Distance line to follow back in poor visibility

Types of Scuba Diving in Canada

• Commercial scuba diving in Canada is a big part of off-shore oil exploration. There are pressure-resistant dive suits that can reach depths of up to 450 m (1,460 ft) with no adverse affects to the diver.
• Scientific scuba diving is done in fields such as oceanography, marine ecology, marine biology, and archaeology. Environment Canada performs thousands of dives to locate and explore historic sites. Of note is the discovery of a Basque whaling galleon which sunk in 1565 at Red Bay, Labrador. Canadian Scuba diving is becoming a world leader in underwater archaeology.
• Recreational scuba diving in Canada is popular across the country, notably on both coasts and the Great Lakes region. The popularity has grown so much that Canada is at the forefront of scuba diving technology. Canadian diving contractor Can-Dive Services develops lighter, deep-water diving suits and Kybertec International develops submersible diving computers that give critical digital readouts.

Diving Schools for Scuba Training

With the popularity of scuba diving in Canada on the increase, scuba diving schools have been established across the country. If you want to learn scuba diving and obtain your diving certification, there are plenty of opportunities to do so. You can participate in scuba lessons for ocean diving at accredited diving schools on both coasts of Canada. For scuba training in wreck diving, the Great Lakes region offers the best dive training due to sheer number of sunken ships in these waters. Reputable scuba diving schools will be accredited by the Diver Certification Board of Canada.

Canadian Scuba Diving Destinations

The protected waters off the coast of British Columbia offer some of most scenic scuba diving in Canada if varied marine life is your preference. There are over 400 species of fish and thousands of species of invertebrates in addition to large octopus. Popular scuba diving destinations in B. C. include:

• Howe Sound
• Sechelt Peninsula
• Victoria Inlet
• Saanich Inlet
• Southern Gulf Islands
• Nanaimo
• Hornby Island
• Telegraph Cove

The Great Lakes are world-renowned Canadian scuba diving destinations if you enjoy wreck diving. These waterways have been used for over a century to transport people and goods from port to port. As with all marine travel, there are some ships that don't reach their destination. Some estimates put the number of sunken ships in the Great Lakes at over 4,000.

The Great Lakes are still an important shipping route and resulted in the introduction of the zebra mussel through bilge water. These mussels are responsible for cleaning up the water and increasing visibility to up to 30 m (100 feet). The water temperatures can still be quite cold in the summer especially for deeper dives. In almost all instances, scuba diving in Canada requires a wetsuit or drysuit.

Other notable scuba diving destinations in Ontario include:

• Tobermory's Fathom Five Marine Park is Canada's first underwater national park. Located on the Bruce Peninsula, popular for hiking in Canada, it offers numerous wrecks to explore.
• Kingston on Lake Ontario has many wrecks including a wreck "graveyard" where old ships have been sunk. The traffic can be heavy from those boating in Canada.
• Port Dover on Lake Erie has grown in popularity with "good condition" wrecks farther offshore and in deeper water.
It should be noted that removing artifacts from shipwrecks is against the law. As with laws dealing with hunting and fishing in Canada, infractions can result in your scuba diving equipment, vehicles, boats, or anything else that they deem part of the crime being confiscated...permanently!

Pointe-Au-Pere Maritime Historic Site in Rimouski, Quebec is a favourite scuba diving destination due to 1914 wreck "Empress of Ireland". It is easily accessible by Zodiac.

Arguably one of the best eastern North American scuba diving destinations, the Saguenay-St. Lawrence Marine Park is a protected area where 15 species of marine mammals have been reported. Enjoy whale watching in Canada by encountering the protected belugas that inhabit these waters.

Newfoundland and Labrador are prime scuba diving destinations with a 500 year history of shipwrecks. If you can afford the $40,000 price tag you can take a submersible to the Titanic. The Labrador Current and the Gulf Stream attracts thousands of whales. It is also an excellent location for bird watching in Canada.

Whether you enjoy marine life or wreck diving, there are Canadian scuba diving destinations to "fit the bill". Scuba diving in Canada is gaining in popularity and areas like British Columbia, Kingston, and the East Coast are actively promoting this sport.

Thanks to Discover Canada Outdoors

Kathy Dowsett

Wednesday, July 10, 2013

Ask an Expert: Is it OK to Drink After a Dive?

Long after that drink, alcohol can be a gateway to a host of problems

By Natalie L. Gibb

Hot sun. Turquoise water. Palm trees. Most divers’ preferred destinations are tropical and come complete with umbrella-laced cocktails and ice-cold beers. Alcohol is available in most dive locations, but drinking after a dive is not always advisable.

Although no studies have linked post-dive alcohol consumption to an increased risk of decompression sickness, a Divers Alert Network accident-analysis report states that up to one-third of divers with decompression sickness consumed alcohol within 12 hours of diving. Consider the following:

1. Alcohol is a diuretic and causes dehydration. Drinking one beer after a dive won’t cause a severe state of dehydration. However, drinking every day after diving — in combination with heat, cold water and immersion diuresis, and the dehydrating effect of breathing dry air — might cause chronic dehydration over the course of a dive trip. Dehydration is thought to be a risk factor for decompression sickness.

2. Alcohol consumption reduces glucose levels. Reduced blood-glucose levels lower a diver’s energy. Diving is a tiring activity, and divers might find that alcohol consumption makes them even more fatigued. Furthermore, extreme exhaustion after a dive is one of the most overlooked symptoms of decompression sickness. Alcohol consumption after a dive might lead to confusion when diagnosing a possible case of decompression sickness.

3. Alcohol exits the bloodstream slowly. Blood-alcohol levels reduce by about 0.015 percent each hour, but the effects of alcohol consumption might last for up to a day after drinking. These effects include impaired judgment, reaction time and concentration. Underwater, the effects of even a small amount of alcohol in a diver’s bloodstream might be amplified by the additive effects of nitrogen narcosis and other factors.

4. Alcohol might increase susceptibility to cold. A diver who has alcohol remaining in his blood from last night’s drinking might find he gets cold easily. Alcohol is a vasodilator and causes the blood vessels near the surface of a diver’s skin to dilate, increasing his heat loss. Cold is another predisposing factor to decompression sickness.

5. Alcohol’s effects might be felt long after it exits a diver’s bloodstream. Even when a diver has no alcohol left in his bloodstream, the effects of alcohol — such as reduced attention span, awareness and judgment — might linger. Some studies have noted the effects of alcohol up to 24 hours after a night of drinking. Regardless of a diver’s blood-alcohol content, a diver who feels exhausted or cannot think clearly after drinking should not be diving.

When deciding whether to drink after diving, a diver should use moderation, consider his personal alcohol tolerance and drink plenty of water. Time any after-dive drinks so the alcohol has exited the bloodstream before diving, and never dive with a hangover. Over the course of multiple dive days, avoiding drinking after diving will help to avoid dehydration and lethargy, and ensure that a diver gets the most out of his dive trip.

If you can’t escape it — or don’t want to — relax and enjoy, in moderation.

By Paul Cater Deaton

Let’s face it. On dive trips, especially
 to tropical destinations, there are practices that are almost predestined. It’s pretty much in the regulations that every band must play Jimmy Buffett and Bob Marley, Facebook posts will show someone’s feet in a hammock and every restaurant will claim that its jerk chicken is the best anywhere.

And people are going to drink.

Not surprising, most of the dive-safety community frowns on mixing alcohol with scuba-diving activities. DAN advises to, “think twice before combining alcohol and diving.” An ounce of prevention is preferred over an ounce of rum.

In the Caribbean, they are very proud of their rum. Almost every island has its own, and degrees of refinement run from rotgut to sublime. Not only is consumption of alcohol accepted there, it’s expected. In fact, it’s vigorously promoted. Every place has its own “national drink” or favorite local libation. It’s almost de rigueur to cap off a day’s diving by popping a few cold ones at the nearest beach bar. Says one veteran course director, “Nothing — I repeat, nothing — tastes better at the end of a dive than a cold beer!”

So long as moderation is exercised, I have a hard time finding anything wrong with enjoying a few drinks as the sun sets after the last dive of the day has been made.

Yet on vacation, “moderation” can be elusive. In the Virgin Islands, we see our share of tourists who think that because they are vacationing in a “foreign country,” anything goes. There is almost a perception of “diplomatic immunity” as revelers file into the rum shacks and start drinking with impetuous abandon.

The multitudes of “overserved” are quickly forgotten — those who party responsibly are remembered longer, and far more kindly. They do not pose a threat to themselves or others around them. They wake up hangover-free and can usually recall the events of the night before without cringing.

Diminished capacity on land is bad enough. Consequences range from embarrassing moments to a night in jail. When one takes alcoholic impairment underwater, things can go from nice to nasty in no time at all.

The moral is to exercise common sense. Be as prudent on a dive trip as you would at home. Enjoy a measure of libation but with a double shot of good judgment.

Kathy Dowsett

More great advice from Scuba Diving

Sunday, July 7, 2013

10 Facts About Sharks

There are several hundred species of sharks, ranging in size from less than ten inches to over 50 feet. These amazing animals have a fierce reputation, but fascinating biology. Here we'll explore ten things that define sharks.

1. Sharks are cartilaginous fish.
The term “cartilaginous fish” means that the structure of the animal’s body is formed of cartilage, instead of bone. Unlike the fins of bony fishes, the fins of cartilaginous fishes cannot change shape or fold alongside their body. Even though sharks don't have a bony skeleton like many other fish, they are still categorized with other vertebrates in the Phylum Chordata, Subphylum Vertebrata, and Class Elasmobranchii. This class is made up of about 1,000 species of sharks, skates and rays.

2. There are over 400 species of sharks.3. Sharks have rows of teeth.
The teeth of sharks don’t have roots, so they usually fall out after about a week. However, sharks have replacements arranged in rows and a new one can move in within one day to take the old one’s place. Sharks have five to 15 rows of teeth in each jaw, with most having five rows.

4. Sharks do not have scales.
A shark has tough skin that is covered by dermal denticles, which are small plates covered with enamel, similar to that found on our teeth.

5. Sharks have a lateral line system, which detects movements in the water.
Sharks have a lateral line system along their sides, which detects water movements. This helps the shark find prey and navigate around other objects at night or when water visibility is poor. The lateral line system is made up of a network of fluid-filled canals beneath the shark’s skin. Pressure waves in the ocean water around the shark vibrate this liquid. This, in turn is transmitted to jelly in the system, which transmits to the shark’s nerve endings and the message is relayed to the brain.

6. Sharks sleep differently than we do.
Sharks need to keep water moving over their gills to receive necessary oxygen. Not all sharks need to move constantly, though. Some sharks have spiracles, a small opening behind their eyes, that force water across the shark’s gills so the shark can be still when it rests. Other sharks do need to swim constantly to keep water moving over their gills and their bodies, and have active and restful periods rather than undergoing deep sleep like we do. They seem to be “sleep swimming,” having parts of their brain less active while they remain swimming.

7. Some sharks lay eggs, others give birth to live young.
Some shark species are oviparous, meaning they lay eggs. Others are viviparous and give birth to live young. Within these live-bearing species, some have a placenta like human babies do, and others do not. In those cases, the shark embryos get their nutrition from a yolk sac or unfertilized egg capsules filled with yolk. In the sandtiger shark, things are pretty competitive. The two largest embryos consume the other embryos of the litter! All sharks reproduce using internal fertilization, though, with the male shark using his "claspers" to grasp the female and then he releases sperm, which fertilize the female's oocytes. The fertilized ova are packaged in an egg case and then eggs are laid or the egg develops in the uterus.

8. Sharks are long-lived species.

While nobody seems to know the true answer, it is estimated that the whale shark, the largest shark species, can live up to 100-150 years, and many of the smaller sharks can live at least 20-30 year.

9. Sharks are not vicious man-eaters.
Bad publicity around a few shark species has doomed sharks in general to the misconception that they are vicious man-eaters. In fact, only 10 out of all the shark species are considered dangerous to humans. All sharks should be treated with respect, though, as they are predators, often with sharp teeth that could inflict wounds.

10. Humans are a threat to sharks.
Humans are a greater threat to sharks than sharks are to us. Many shark species are threatened by fishing or bycatch, amounting to the death of millions of sharks each year. Compare that to shark attack statistics - while a shark attack is a horrifying thing, there are about 10 fatalities worldwide each year due to sharks. Since they are long-lived species and only have a few young at once, sharks are vulnerable to overfishing. One threat is the wasteful practice of shark-finning, a cruel practice in which the shark's fins are cut off while the rest of the shark is thrown back in the sea. The U.S. is considering the Shark Conservation Act of 2009, which would eliminate the practice of shark finning in the U.S.

Thanks to

Kathy Dowsett

Thursday, July 4, 2013

Decompression Sickness vs Nitrogen Narcosis - What's the Difference?

Both Are Caused By Nitrogen, So What Is the Difference?:

During the open water certification course, student divers learn about both nitrogen narcosis and decompression sickness. I have noticed that students tend to get the two conditions confused because both decompression sickness and nitrogen narcosis are caused by nitrogen gas. Nitrogen narcosis and decompression sickness have very different symptoms and must be treated in very different ways.

What Is Nitrogen Narcosis?:

Nitrogen narcosis is an altered state of awareness caused by breathing a high partial pressure (or concentration) of nitrogen. The deeper a diver goes, the greater the partial pressure of nitrogen, and the stronger the diver's narcosis will be. Some divers have compared the feeling of nitrogen narcosis to being pleasantly drunk, while others find it terrifying. Nitrogen narcosis is one of the factors that will limit how deep a you can dive.

What Is Decompression Sickness?:

Decompression sickness is a physical condition caused by the formation of nitrogen bubbles in a diver's blood and tissues. Although they are generally quite tiny, these nitrogen bubbles can block blood flow to various parts of the body and may irreversibly damage tissues.

The Differences Between the Nitrogen Narcosis and Decompression Sickness::

1. The Causes of Nitrogen Narcosis and Decompression Sickness Are Different:

• Nitrogen narcosis is caused by breathing such a high concentration of nitrogen that the gas functions as a mild anesthetic. The nitrogen causing nitrogen narcosis remains dissolved in a diver's blood and tissues and does not form bubbles.

• Decompression sickness is caused by nitrogen coming out of solution (no longer dissolved in the body) and forming bubbles. Where do the bubbles come from? During every dive, a diver's body absorbs nitrogen from his breathing gas. As he ascends, the nitrogen expands according to Boyle's Law. Normally, the nitrogen travels in the diver's bloodstream until it reaches his lungs, where it is exhaled. However, if a diver stays underwater too long (past his no-decompression limit), or ascends too quickly, his body cannot eliminate the nitrogen effectively, and the excess nitrogen trapped in his body forms bubbles.

2. The Symptoms of Nitrogen Narcosis and Decompression Sickness Are Different:

• Nitrogen narcosis is most commonly described as a state of intoxication, similar to drunkenness. Fuzzy thinking, incoherent reasoning, confusion, and impaired manual dexterity are all symptoms of narcosis.

Divers experience nitrogen narcosis while underwater during deep dives.

• Like nitrogen narcosis, the symptoms of decompression sickness may include confusion and impaired thinking, but also may include pain, loss of feeling in an isolated area of the body, tingling, visual disturbances, vertigo, and paralysis (among many other symptoms). A bubble may even block blood flow to the point that body tissues and organs are permanently damaged.

Divers typically experience decompression sickness a few hours to one day after a dive, or during ascent from a very deep or long dive. Unlike nitrogen narcosis, the symptoms of decompression sickness are not noticeable during the deepest part of the dive.

Learn more about decompression sickness and nitrogen narcosis:
• Decompression Sickness
• Drunkenness and Confusion: Nitrogen Narcosis Part 1
• Sobering Up (Eliminating Narcosis): Nitrogen Narcosis Part 2

3. Procedures for Dealing With Narcosis and Decompression Sickness Differ:

• Nitrogen narcosis is related to a diver's depth. To treat nitrogen narcosis, a diver should simply ascend at a safe ascent rate until the symptoms abate. As long as he feels normal, the diver can continue diving, but should not return to the depth at which he experienced narcosis.

• Decompression sickness is caused by nitrogen bubbles. To treat decompression sickness, a diver must eliminate the nitrogen bubbles by undergoing re-compression therapy in a hyperbaric chamber. The longer the bubbles remain in a diver's body, the more damage they will cause. Decompression illness is dangerous and sometimes life-threatening.

Decompression sickness and nitrogen narcosis are often confused because they are both caused by nitrogen gas. However, when the specifics of each condition are understood, it is easy to see that the two conditions are very different!

Thanks to

Kathy Dowsett

Monday, July 1, 2013

Exploring the Civil War’s underwater history

His father’s passion for archaeology and history spurred Lee Spence’s interest in shipwrecks.

“When I was a child my father was in military intelligence. We travelled all over the world and he would point out historic sites. He bought me books. The first one I remember was Robinson Crusoe. I was probably nine years old and that got me hooked, as if I wasn’t hooked enough already

His father had already taught him to put his face in the water, cup his hands above his eyes and blow a bubble into them, so he could see what was on the bottom. Eventually he got a real mask and started finding small treasures. At age 12 he built his first self-contained dive gear. “It almost drowned me. It’s not something I would recommend,” he says of his experiment in build-your-own scuba equipment.

Spence found his first shipwreck before he saw a real set of scuba gear and had been discovering wrecks for four years before he became a certified diver in 1963.

While Spence’s explorations also included ancient ruins, subterranean caves, castles and palaces, it was shipwrecks – particularly Civil War ships sunk off the South Carolina coast – that really intrigued him.

He is probably best known for his discovery in 1970 of the H.L. Hunley, which during the Civil War became the first submarine in history to sink a battleship. “It could go under another vessel and stay down for over an hour.”

But among the scores of named ships and hundreds of unidentified wrecks he has discovered, his favourite is the SS Georgiana, a Civil War blockade runner that was sunk off the Atlantic coast of South Carolina. He started researching it in France because he knew his family would be moving back to Charleston, South Carolina.

“It was the one I got really fascinated with and it taught me more about research than anything else . . . all the things necessary to track information.”

This included researching documents in government libraries, and touching base with sources such as Lloyds of London, various museums, government officials in England and the U.S. and even with the police department in Liverpool because detectives there had investigated the SS Georgiana to determine if it was a war vessel or not.

Newspapers described her as a privateer and reported that the SS Georgiana was faster and stronger than any of the other Confederate cruisers. Still, the ship was sunk on its maiden voyage on March 19, 1863. It was carrying a cargo valued at one million dollars, a fortune by the standards of 150 years ago. The cargo included munitions, medicines and merchandise. The supplies were paid for with cotton and gold from the South.

Federal ships were anchored off the Confederate coast to blockade the ports and intercept and capture vessels bringing supplies to the Confederate states from England and Europe. Spence says the crew of the USS America spotted the SS Georgiana and sent up flares to alert the rest of the fleet. They converged on her a mile off shore near Charleston.

“They came alongside her and, despite her having an iron hull, the rounds were passing through one side of her and out the other. At one point the enemy ships were so close the Georgiana’s crew could hear the orders to fire,” says Spence. “She almost got away but an exploding cannon ball that went off under her stern damaged her propeller.”

No one died on the SS Georgiana because the captain ran her aground close to shore.

The SS Georgiana was officially owned by Charleston entrepreneur George Trenholm, who was fiercely loyal to the South and had decided to dabble in privateering. Privateers were privately owned vessels sanctioned by their government to enforce their laws and capture enemy commerce. Spence says before the Civil War the U.S. was one of the few major countries that did not outlaw privateering. “It had used privateers to successfully fight the British in two wars and had used them against the French and even against the Algerian pirates.”

In investigating the history of the ship, Spence came to believe that Trenholm’s life was the basis of Rhett Butler’s character in Margaret Mitchell’s famed novel, Gone with the Wind. That was later confirmed by several of Mitchell’s relatives. The Charleston shipping magnate had made a fortune by running blockades, and many of the unique events described in her book came directly out of Trenholm’s life.

Despite his extensive work underwater exploring shipwrecks, E. Lee Spence has quite a portfolio of work on dry land. He has a doctorate in marine history and has written about 30 books, one of which is Shipwrecks, Pirates and Privateers: Sunken Treasures of the Upper South Carolina Coast, 1521-1865. His website is

Kathy Dowsett

Update July 1, 2013

E. Lee Spence has just been credited with the discovery of the SS United States, which was built during the American Civil War. Spence, along with Brandon Fulwider and Mike Stearns, were the first to dive to the 19th-century steamer found in 16 feet of water off the South Carolina coast. The ship disappeared in 1881 and is part of a cluster of vessels that were lost on Cape Romain’s outer shoal.