If you subscribe to the philosophy that a bad day diving is better than a good day at work then Tuesday’s trip on the Independence was likely to make you consider quitting all together! We departed Pt Pleasant, NJ around 0230 for the long haul some 70 miles offshore to the wreck of the WWI era passenger liner SS CAROLINA. This wreck in 240 fsw is one of my favorites and rarely disappoints.
After a smooth ride out we tossed the shot line around 0800 and waited to check the current. There was a small wake behind the ball indicating some current but it didn’t look terrible so Bill Trent and I geared up to tie in. Turned out the current was only in the top 20 feet and we passed through with relative ease. Made note of the thermocline at 45 feet on the way down to know when I could expect feeling to return to my extremities on the long return to the surface. Mid water was pretty clear (and COLD) with some reverse thermoclines and it actually warmed up again on the bottom to about 46 F. The shot was just off the starboard side of the wreck in the sand. The visibility was quite good at ~50 feet, but it was pretty dark with the sun still low in the sky and after a little orientation swim found we were just aft of the boilers. The CAROLINA is pretty low lying due to her age and state of collapse but navigation is pretty simple. The starboard side is high (~10 feet) and lists to port, with the port side eventually fading into the seabed at about ~235 fsw. Shards of china and broken ornate sinks lie scattered nearly everywhere as if a pipe bomb went off in Pottery Barn. Closer inspection of the sinks reveals intricate nautical patterns that betray the stateliness of this former Porto Rico line steamship that now appears as rubble on the sea floor thanks to German U-boat aggression. It seems as if you could probably spend hours fanning the sand in one spot without moving and still pull stuff out on this wreck. Brass fittings and lighting fixtures also fill nearly every nook between decking, but it takes some time to find something bag worthy. I next find a porthole with the glass intact but it is pinned under a couple beams. I give it a shake just for kicks and sure enough it is loose but it will take more time coaxing out from its trap than I am interested in spending so I move on. Up ahead the boilers appear out of the darkness and the yellow eyes of small cat like chain dogfish sharks reflect my light like they are leading the way. These beautiful 2 foot long fish are only found in deeper waters and are very docile and will even allow you to pick them up adding an unique element to these offshore wrecks. Time seems to pass faster than normal on the CAROLINA and I am always left wanting more.
After an uneventful decompression it was time for the surface party to begin. While Capt Dan and Mike Pizzio were finishing their dive the surface erupted with activity. A pod of finback whales was circling the boat, spouting and breaching, and it seemed like there were dolphins splashing in the sun as far as you could see. The ocean was literally boiling! Every once in a while the dolphins would break off in small groups and speed toward the boat as we drifted. They would stay just beneath the surface and go by so fast it was impossible to get pictures. They even did this as we were boarding Capt Dan as if to say their farewells. All in all an amazing experience and one of the reasons these offshore trips are often so special.