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Jul 20, 2013

Episode 164: Things go awry on a deep dive on one of Sydney's old ship wrecks: The Tuggarah

Interesting day on Sunday, dove the wreck of the Tuggarah, which was in "150 feet of water", just off the coast of Sydney.

The current on the surface was strong enough to push the small boat into the breeze. It took them four or five tries to hook in, dragging the anchor over the wreck using the fish finder as a visual aid. Not easy in these conditions. Eventually one of the old blokes, double tanks and all, did a commando dive head first over the side and went with the anchor to hook it in. Came up with one eardrum bleeding…. didn't make any fuss, just kind of joked about it. They make them tough here.
I suggested he see a Doctor, and he said he'd just look at it with the shop's scope that he inspects tanks with. A good sense of humor given the circumstances. Made me smile anyway.
Tank inspection/eardrum damage assessment scope


He reported the conditions :
"a ripping current, all the way down to the wreck. It's really up to you whether you want to dive it…."
Everyone looked kind of blank….

Somehow, despite no decision really being made, we, with four exceptions who were either seasick or smarter than us,  found ourselves gearing up.
My buddy and I looked at each other and talked about being careful, as there'd already been some 'mishaps'.
We'd already talked about this crew's plan of action for the scenario of a diver losing the anchor line. ("see you in an hour hopefully... you got a big surface marker buoy?" same as the North East Atlantic diving that I'm used to)

I had double steel 100 cubic foot tanks and a smaller 40 with 53% oxygen for decompression, and borrowed regulators, buoyancy compensator and halcyon harness all of which I'd dove before....  and a camera with lights (pic).
The plan was to do 18-20 minutes at 150 feet which gave us about 25 minutes of decompression including some deeper stops during our ascent. 

I was surprised as I jumped in and grabbed the line off the back of the small dive boat that the current was so strong.
It was probably doing about 2 knots. I was having to hold the rope with both hands to stop from being pushed back. It was hairy, but dive-able if you were used to heavy currents.

Juggling the video camera so I could clip its tether lanyard on to a D-ring on my harness, I could now let it go and get back to the business of making hand over hand headway along the boat's water-line railing to the anchor line, which was running almost horizontal.
My dive buddy, experienced, and a big strong bloke carrying a large Gates housing was straining to do all of this one handed, unbeknownst to me, as he couldn't manage to clip the camera off because it was a two handed job. It looked to me like he was doing just fine, but looks can be deceiving.

At the bow of the dive boat, I had an elbow around the anchor line which I was worried would rub a hole in my drysuit as the boat heaved up and down. 
"Do you want to rest here for a minute and catch your breath?" 
I yelled at my buddy through my regulator as he reached the end of the railing. 
He nodded, and we paused.

A few minutes later, after beginning our slow descent, I looked up the line from twenty feet to watch his progress. He was making a methodical, repeated one handed pull motion towards me. The current was blowing us both upward too, so getting down the line took some muscle. He seemed fine still.

Looking back up the line from seventy feet, I saw the line flick forward out of his hand as the boat pulled it taught. He immediately gained some depth, but he was away from the line and couldn't get to my fins to pull himself back to the line, and gave me a very hurried "I'm heading up, you go ahead" signal.

I paused for a moment on the anchor line to make a decision: "Go, or No-go".
Quickly realizing that I could no longer offer any help to him, as letting go of the line would mean two exhausted divers instead of one diver needed to be handled on the surface and brought back on deck.

Having been trained in solo diving, I switched into 'solo diver' mode, and put thoughts of 'how is he going to get back to the boat' out of my head as much as possible, and started checking gauges.
The double tanks held lots of gas, and I was just running a few minutes behind the plan, which was fine.

Things were much calmer at maximum depth on the sand, and the silver lining was: the current was blowing very clear blue water over the wreck, so you the visibility was great for video, but I'd just spent 8 minutes of my planned bottom time muscling down the anchor line, so only about 10 minutes left.
After spending some time filming a beautiful specimen of a wobbegong shark, and having a bit of a look at the remains of the wreck, I saw that my time had come to an end.

This video starts with the Tuggarah wreck footage, and the large wobbegong shark:



Garvin Hook on a Jon Line
Decompression was entertaining in the current, and I wished I had packed my jon line. The Aussies hadn't heard of a garvin hook before, which I reckon would sell well here (invented by a skipper whose boat I dive off in New York) , but it would have been great to have a bit more space at 20 feet where 4 of my colleagues were doing a similar amount of decompression.

Meanwhile…..
My buddy had surfaced 10 feet behind the boat's safety line, and was kicking as hard as he could but not making any headway, and by the time they let the line out ten feet for him, he was so exhausted and crippled by lactic acid build up that all he could do was hold on while they pulled him and his camera rig in to the boat and hoisted him aboard, one piece of equipment at a time. Safe.

Moral? Be able to use both hands at all times. Always carry a Nautilus Lifeline. Be fit. Descend together close enough to your buddy to be able to lend a helping hand.

Here's a nice little interview about diving in Australia: ScubaDiverLife 
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