2005 CUSS Alabama Daily Project Log
(Photo Album Link)
Pre-May 27 Departure Activities - Before I get into a daily log I thought I'd fill you in on some of the work that leads up to a project like this. Gordon says this will be his last Alabama project so our goals for this years project are to do a good job of documenting the current state of the site. We will do this with a photo mosaic of the site and detailed drawings and photos of unique parts of the site. He is also hoping to bring back the large aft pivot cannon and the galley stove. Other than that the only artifacts they are planning on recovering are "at risk" artifacts and only if they don't already have a like artifact in their inventory. As my part I volunteered to put together the equipment and work on the photo mosaic since I have done several of these before of Isle Royale wrecks and I thought I could contribute best in that part of the project. A photo mosaic is a composite photograph of a wreck site made up of many individual images stitched or tiled together. Due to poor visibility you can rarely see an entire wreck. To document what the deck or site looks like we systematically take a series of images and stitch them together in a photo editor. The Alabama site is a challenge since it is 200 ft deep and has little ambient light. What we needed was a very flat light so when we tile the images together we don't get dark and light areas. To solve this problem I designed a fluorescent lighting system made up of a 3' x 4' clear PVC tubing frame that houses the fluorescent lights. A video camera sits in the middle and the entire system is strapped to an underwater scooter or DPV (Diver Propulsion Vehicle). The plan is to do systematic down-looking passes over the site then grab a video frame periodically like every 5 seconds to make the images that will be tiled together. For the last three months I have been designing and testing equipment and approaches to do that job and at least have a plan of how to approach the problem. Part of the equipment was shipped in the container and part I'm carrying with me on the plane.
In France deep diving in controlled by law not by a self-regulating certification agencies as in the US. As a result it is illegal for a diver not certified by a French agency to do decompression diving from a French vessel. Since none of the team have time to go through a French certification course the project is forced to ship over an American flagged boat to do dive from. Shipping a 30' boat across the ocean is expensive as you might guess. This time Gordon decided to buy a boat, ship and it to England then re-sell it instead of paying to ship it back. So the first step in this project is to schedule and ship a boat by freighter to France. The boat he bought and outfitted for the project is a 30ft cruiser named the Spirit of Mobile. Most of the other equipment is shipped via freighter in a shipping container. Unfortunately shipping trans-Atlantic appears to be a difficult thing to schedule accurately. Our boat and container was shipped early May with a schedule to arrive in Europe by May 20th. The boat was being shipped to South Hampton, England and the shipping container to LeHavre, France. Then the first part of the team was to arrive in South Hampton, May 23 and start getting the boat ready to cruise across the English Channel to Cherbourg in time for the first diving period which was to start on May 28. Unfortunately the shipper arbitrarily put our shipments on later ships and now our boat is going to arrive on May 28 and the container is arriving in LeHavre also on May 28. The boat is being shipped to England this time because it is too large to be trucked from LeHavre to Cherbourg. So right out of the chutes we have to adjust our plans and expectations. The first part of the team did leave on May 22, but took the ferry directly to Cherbourg to assist the French dive group in any way possible until our equipment arrives. Gordon delayed his and my departure until Friday, May 27. We will meet the boat in England, get it ready and cruise it across the English Channel to Cherbourg. Unfortunately May 28 is a Saturday. Customs doesn't work weekends and Monday is a holiday so the earliest we are likely to see the boat is Tuesday, May 31. By the time we get the boat trucked to a Marina, launched, outfitted and make the six to eight hour Channel crossing then get all our equipment ready in Cherbourg we will most likely miss most of the first diving period. This puts more pressure on us to get everything done the second period. I managed to spend the delay time getting more testing done of my light frame and work on figuring out how to get software to automate the job of making the photo mosaic. I figured out what we needed and a friend Rick Schmidt wrote a Visual Basic program to stitch the images together.
Meanwhile down in St. Augustine Florida, Curtis Deyo has been busy planning and putting together dive profiles and equipment to support the 200' mixed gas diving. It's another logistical nightmare. The gas is being shipped from England pre-mixed to the percentages we need so all we need to do over there is boost it using a booster pump to the 3000psi scuba tank pressure.
So for now blast off is May 27 arriving in London, Gatwick, on May 28 then twiddling our thumbs until May 31. I don't envy Gordon's job. Logistics on this project are a nightmare.
May 26 Thursday- I busy packing three large suitcases of equipment and just received an email from Gordon. Our equipment container that was to arrive on May 20 then May 28 had just been delayed to June 4 which puts it in Cherbourg June 7 now. The shipping agent claims these kinds of delays are the norm. How do companies do business through shippers like that? Looks like a business opportunity for someone like Fedex.
May 28 Saturday - Well we made it to merry old England. We landed in Gatwick Saturday morning and took the train and taxi to South Hampton. I see no way I could travel with all my equipment that way on the return. Wrestling with my three large 70 lb suitcases and carry-on and laptop will never work by myself on the train. We barely fit into an English taxi and Gordon only has one suitcase and a carry-on. We have found the Brits all to be very helpful and friendly. After checking in to the Southern Royal Yacht Club rooms, sending a few emails, downing a pint or two of ale and looking around the town we are both in a jet lag stupor. The yacht club building was built in the 1700's. My room is at the top of some narrow winding stairs that make lighthouse stairs look gentle. I wonder how many drunken sailors have slept it off in this room. The streets and buildings look just like what you'd expect to see if you modernized the set from an old English pirate movie. Plus there are no phone jacks or bathrooms in our rooms. I guess I will have to wait until France to upload this part of the daily log. Boy everything is twice as expensive as in the US. The weak dollar is really killing our budget.
May 29 Sunday - We are in a holding pattern until Tuesday so I made the best of the situation and did some touring in Southampton. I did the Southampton castle wall walk, toured a couple of small museums and did some shopping. I discovered we were not far from Stonehenge which sounds like a great choice for a tour tomorrow.
May 30 Monday - It's a bank holiday in Britain. Can't seem to find out what the holiday celebrates other than a day off work. Both of us wanted to see Stonehenge so we took the train to Salisbury and a tour bus to Stonehenge - pretty amazing. Of course no one really knows what its purpose was. In Salisbury we toured the cathedral which took 40 years to build in 1200's. It was a very impressive gothic architecture. The spire stands 400 ft tall and is one of the tallest in the world. I think it's the most impressive cathedral I've ever been in. Like in the Raiders of the Lost Ark movies it had all kinds of stone coffins and burial stones in the floor marking where famous knights, royalty, and war heroes from 1200's to the early 1900's were buried.
May 31 Tuesday - Morning - Well our boat has landed and cleared customs, and we are waiting for a trucker and police escort to deliver it to a marina. Weather forecast looks good Wednesday and Thursday for a crossing. Hopefully we can get everything together by then. Evening - Well in spite of good intentions the boat will not be trucked until tomorrow. We spent the day making sure launch arrangements were made. There are three Hamble marinas -- Hamble Point, Hamble Bay, and Hamble Marine Services. We walked to all three and made arrangements with each until we discovered that our agent had really contacted the last and made arrangements for launch tomorrow morning. We will meet them early tomorrow and hopefully lift the boat right off the trailer and into the water. Then we have a lot of shaking down and electronics installation to do.
June 1 Wednesday - The boat arrived at 10:30 AM and we were in the water by noon. Wind and currents were a little on the strong side but we eventually got it into a slip and started putting things together. The fenders and our flag were both stolen along the way so Gordon had to buy some new ones. We installed the radar, GPS, radio, antennas, radar dome, and did a general clean-up. Oops forgot to pack the 12VDC PC adapter for the navigation software. Looks like the charger for the underwater lighting system has the same plug. Time to adapt. Gordon has been checking weather every few hours. Looks like it will be a little foggy, but if we don't go tomorrow from the forecast it looks like there won't be another chance to make the crossing until next Tuesday. We decide to plan to leave tomorrow morning and if it works it works.
June 2 Thursday - We are up at 6:30 AM, had our English eggs and bacon breakfast and are at the marina by 7:30 AM. Gordon is still uncomfortable about the fog we see but by late morning it has cleared considerably. Visibility is about a mile. We had borrowed a drill to mount the radar display and when we got ready to turn it on -- no power. We had no power to any of our accessories. After wiggling a few wires Gordon headed to buy a voltmeter and I went to the marine service place to return the borrowed drill. When I told the fellow at the yard our dilemma he loaned me a voltmeter. After 15 minutes of probing I found the broken lug. We were actually glad it failed in the marina and not in rough water. Now it was time to go. We moved the boat to the dock in front of the Yacht Club and quickly got chased off, but then were allowed to tie up for 15 minutes to load all our gear. We threw everything into the boat and headed down the river forgetting to return our keys to our rooms. We were rapidly in one of the busiest boating and shipping channels in the world. Normally I wouldn't consider fog to be a problem where I boat in northern Lake Superior since you rarely have to keep track of more than three boats on the radar screen. There were so many boats, it was hard to tell the boats from the sea clutter -- probably 20 on the screen at any one time in a 1.5 mile radius. Gordon steered and I wired in the jerry rigged 12vdc adapter for his laptop so we could get the electronic charts and the GPS tracking software working. We had it all working by the time we hit the Solent, which is the large channel behind Isle of Wight. Waves weren't too bad one to three feet. We were running about 11 knots to keep from pounding. After three hours the waves calmed and we were out in the English Channel. We kicked it up to 16 to 17 knots and zoomed right along to Cherbourg. I love cruising. You go from being hopelessly in deep shit to the glory of the day all in a matter of minutes or hours and now we were enjoying a beautiful cruise to Cherbourg. Of course my ears are still ringing. Diesels have never been known to be quiet and the one on the Spirit of Mobile is certainly no exception. We arrived in Cherbourg at 5:30 PM to a welcoming party of the rest of the crew Curtis, Mike, Rick and Shelley, and Billy Ray and Karen. They were just returning from the dive of the day. Since none of them have dive equipment until the container arrives on June 7 they have been helping the French do their dives. The French team is surveying the site and looking at what it will take to salvage the canon and galley stove. We checked into the Cercle Naval and went out for a good French dinner. Now that I have a phone jack in my room I hope I can uplink this page to the website.
June 3 Friday - Well I didn't have any luck with getting on the internet last night to upload this log, I'' have to try again tomorrow. We met in the morning to talk about the game plan and I showed what I had put together for the photo mosaic. Everyone is looking forward to doing something. I joined the French crew on site today to film the French divers. I took about 20 minutes of surface video. Weather was pretty good. We had a short period where the waves built to three or four feet, but they dropped right back down to a foot or two. It was good to see the procedure again. Curtis and Rick help on the French boat Little Pocket and Mike runs the Zodiac. Jacque Flambard directs Mike and sets up the decompression station on the mooring line. The Little Pocket doesn't tie to the line. It just circles the site. We ate out at my favorite restaurant, what used to be called the Gargantula, but has since changed names. They cook all the meat on an open fireplace. I also got my first Crem Brullee in three years. It was as good as I remembered. I didn't have a chance to get to a store again or wash clothes. I'm down to recycling clothes as is everyone. We all shipped most of our clothing over in the container which doesn't arrive until Tuesday.
June 4 Saturday - This is the last day of the first dive period. The currents are picking up now so diving won't start again until next Thursday or Friday. The dive period changed from 3:00 PM to 9:00 AM today. The weather forecast didn't look good yesterday so Mike slept in and missed the boat. I filled in for him in the Zodiac with Jacque. Jacque doesn't speak much English and my French is pretty minimal, but we managed to get the job done. The waves were about as bad as anyone could rationalize diving in -- probably 4 to 5 feet, but the French divers are all very good and had no problems. They are still surveying the site and trying to plan how to raise the canon and stove. The stove is bolted to the deck and the leg wraps around the heads of the bolts. Plus it is all buried in the sand so they are not sure if they can lift it without damaging the legs. Well after we returned and put equipment away I finally had a chance to do some shopping and much needed clothes washing. As you can see I finally found an adapter so I could get my laptop talking to the internet and upload my logs. Things will slow down for a few days until the shipping container arrives and we can get on with what we came to do.
June 5 Sunday - We went to St. Mary Igles for the D-Day commemoration. There was supposed to be 300 parachutists doing a jump into a field outside the town, but weather and a low cloud ceiling put a damper on that. We returned and took the opportunity to review the ROV video from the 2002 project with Gordon. Now I have a much better feel for what we are going to be filming. One more day until the container arrives, we think. Tomorrow we will work on the boat and start getting ready to go to work.
June 6 Monday - More bad news. As unbelievable as it sounds, the container has been delayed for the fourth time. Now the shipping agent is saying it won't be here until Thursday which means most likely we won't get it until Friday. At absolute best we are now looking at 10 days of diving during the second period and more likely 9 days and there appears to be nothing we can do to fix it. Billy Ray, Gordon, and Curtis are staying into July and will get three more days during the third period. This has been the most demoralizing news yet. Now Gordon has to figure out how best to salvage some value out of the project without spending a lot of money. Where do you cut your losses and save money and where do you spend more to try to make something happen. To get our minds off the dilemma we decided to go to the Cite de La Mere, the marine museum in Cherbourg. The exhibits included a tour of one of France's retired nuclear submarines. It was worth the visit. When we returned and talked to Gordon we found out that the project priority had shifted. He is now putting the top priority on the recovery of the aft pivot gun. The plan for the photo mosaic is now up in the air which was really disappointing to me.
June 7 Tuesday - Today was a boat work day. When we talked about what we needed to do on the boat it originally sounded like we only had an hour or two of work to do. Of course after we got to the boat and looked around it wasn't difficult to keep several of us busy the bulk of the day and we still have more to do tomorrow. Like any boat, the Spirit will take all the work we are willing to apply. Today we went through the wiring, fixed the vent cowls, fixed several port lights, and tightened engine belts and did a thorough job of clean-up. Hopefully we will have the boat totally ready to go when the container arrives.
June 8 Wednesday - This morning after shopping for mooring line we had more bad news. Imagine that, the boat carrying our container was in Antwerp and now not due to make La Havre until Monday, which meant we would at a minimum lose half our the diving days in the second period too. Gordon told us if we wanted to take off and do some touring we could certainly do that. He was still trying to figure out how to salvage some value out of the project. All of us were very disappointed and really amazed how any project could suffer so much bad luck. I thought about heading for Paris, but really didn't feel much like touring at that point. I decided I'd prefer to just go work on the boat. I really enjoy just putsing with my boat when I'm not under pressure to finish major tasks and decided that would really be the best therapy for me. I popped the 25 Euros for a drill and decided to fix the broken port lights and mount the hand rails. (Our drill is in the container) Sometimes being successful is not as much luck as being ready to "carpe diem" seize the day when an opportunity does arrive. I decided if and when our equipment arrived having everything else ready might buy us another day of diving on the site. Plus for me it is therapeutic. I fixed two of the port lights and by that time Gordon and Billy Ray came over to help with the handrails. Billy Ray left shortly thereafter to go to talk to the shipping agent. He returned in a half hour with news that the ship had broken down in Antwerp and they were unloading all containers. For an extra 600 Euros, about $700 they would load the container on a truck and deliver it Friday. That was the best news we have had yet although by now we don't believe anything we are told. So Gordon left to finish the negotiations and for now we are expecting the container on Friday which means we could be in the water Saturday or Sunday. Right now the priority is to bring up the large 8" aft pivot canon although I suggested that it might not be useful to have all of us trying to work on the gun and requested that Curtis and I be left to do the photo documentation. We are of course ready to do whatever works for the project. We are still hoping to be able to complete the photo mosaic but the sponsors of the project prefer to see artifacts to display in the museum. Both causes have value. We hope to be able to do both.
June 9 Thursday - Robert Edington head of the, CSS Alabama Association, arrived today with the papers for the container. The boat documentation also arrived so we are all legal now. Unfortunately the shipper won't release the container without permission from the original shipping company so we are stuck again. Three of us went out on the Little Pocket to support the French divers of the CNP Cherbourg Natation de Plongee. I'm getting the procedure now. Gordon managed to contact the shipping company and they released the container, but of course getting it shipped before Monday looks unlikely. It's a 500 mile trip so if it leave Monday morning, we won't see it before Tuesday morning at best after it goes through customs. We are slowly losing our second dive period also. I've been working on new reflectors for my fluorescent lighting system in case we still get a chance to do the photo mosaic. Now we are hoping to get five dives -- quite a drop from the twenty dives originally planned.
June 10 Friday - Nobody is talking much about the container. It will get here when it gets here. We took the opportunity to fuel up the boat and two of us went out again to support the CNP divers. There rest of the crew took the Spirit out on site so Robert could see the operation first hand. Chris Hensey, a US diplomat from Paris, arrived with Robert yesterday and met with the French Navy GPD to negotiate with them to raise the canon when we get it dug out and slung. He got the GPD to loan us a dredge head and hose. After the dive, Michel and several of the CNP divers said they would work on getting a compressor to do the dredging since now it is unknown what will happen with our container. At this point we are just trying to make do with whatever we can. It was a beautiful day on site -- flat calm and 45 ft of visibility from the surface to the bottom. The divers have surface light at 200 ft down. All of us are just sick to be missing such great conditions -- especially for some photography opportunities. After the dive I finished the reflectors for my fluorescent lighting system. They look pretty good and I'm guessing I should get maybe 50% more light now, which will be a great help especially if we have the visibility to fly the system 8 to10 ft off the bottom.
June 11 Saturday - Still no container. We went out again and crewed for the CNP divers. We are hoping for Monday now.
June 12 Sunday - Mike was feeling better so he and Gordon crewed for the CNP divers. The rest of us did some touring. We went to a small air show, which wasn't much, then toured a castle in Tourelaville. It was built in the 1600's so it wasn't too old as castles go, but it had some beautiful gardens. The drive up the coast was also very nice. That part of the shoreline is sand beaches and blue-green water. I also used the time off to run my decompression schedules to get my schedule synced up with the ones everyone else will be running. We are using two different dive computers, but we would all like to hit the 30' stop and cross over to the trapeze at the same time so the boat can be cut loose. We then do the last three stops drifting with the current so you are not like a flag waving in the current from a stationary line.
June 13 Monday - It's 12:30 AM and I just returned from working over at our work area in the CNP. It was a BANNER DAY - Will wonders never cease - our container arrived about 9:30 AM. We were at Cherbourg Maritime, the shipping agency, when the truck arrived. We made quick work of unloading the container, but couldn't take anything out of the bonded area until it cleared customs. Of course customs really didn't want to come inspect the container before the two hour lunch time, even though they didn't have any other customers waiting. They arrived at 2:10 PM did their spot check sampling and we were off and loading. The top priority now is to get the mooring put together and the compressor mounted in the boat to work the air dredges so the CNP divers can start digging out the large aft pivot canon. We spent the afternoon and evening assembling the dredges, the mooring and air hoses. Plus everyone also collected all of their clean cloths that we have living without for two to three weeks. Our cloths have been sitting in a shipping container on a stinky boat for a month and all smell like diesel exhaust. After dinner Curtis, Rick, and I returned to spend time arranging gear. Curtis handles all the equipment organization. He gets everything laid out and organized so equipment can be easily accessed. I took the three hours to start assembling my light frame and got it about three quarters together. For some reason my new battery pack has no voltage. Either it ran down for an unknown reason or I have a broken wire. I also discovered I didn't pack the second battery charger to charge it, so I will have to re-assemble the one I cut apart for the plug for Gordon's laptop to run the navigation software. We won't need the laptop until they cruise back to South Hampton. It's late and there is a very remote chance we might dive tomorrow so I'm hitting the preverbal hay.
June 14 Tuesday - It's midnight again, another long day, but we made progress. With the help of the French CNP divers we got the mooring for our boat, and air hoses attached to one of the 32 pound canons on the wreck and both of the dredges to the bottom. We also installed the brand new Ingersoll Rand compressor into the boat. It was donated by the Ingersoll Rand Company for use in the project. What a beautiful machine compared to the one we had last year. They didn't get to fire it up on site to do some dredging, but the dredging should be in full swing tomorrow. Curtis and I stayed back in port to get the gas filling station set up and fill tanks in hopes of diving tomorrow. We got most of the filling station set up, but only got the argon and main tanks filled. We still have to fill the stage bottles and won't have time to fill them before the dive time tomorrow. We switch from the evening high tide to the morning low tide period tomorrow. We meet at 9:45 AM and there is far too much to be done before we go out so we lose another dive day. If all goes well we should be in the water Thursday.
June 15 Wednesday - My report on Wednesday is a day late. After two late nights of racing and setting up equipment I fell asleep when I hit the bed. It was a good day or at least as good as it can be if you aren't diving. All the crew except Curtis and I went out again to test the dredging system. It was pretty rough and very marginal for diving. The French divers went anyway and our boat supplied the air for the dredges. The Ingersoll Rand pump worked great and the French divers got a good day of dredging in. Captain Mike had to keep the boat idling the entire time and periodically tap it into gear to keep it from going sideways in the waves. The compressor has an automatic shutoff if it rolls to too great an angle so Mike had to stay on top of the wave situation. With no hand rails on the front deck the mooring and connecting the hoses is a bit of a challenge. Meanwhile back at the ranch Curtis and I set up equipment and I continued to work on assembling the light sled. It is amazing how much equipment a project like this takes. When you are putting together a few thousand items for the project invariably a number of items get left behind so we had to either buy them here or make due with something else. I discovered that the connector on my new $600 NiMH battery pack was burned out for some reason so I had to butcher the chord and wire it directly to the lights. Now instead of having a switch and wearing the battery pack I will fasten the pack to the light frame and connect it before getting into the water. I said all I needed to get a photo mosaic was one good dive and as things are going now that may be all we get. Equipment is pretty well set up for a dive tomorrow morning.
June 16 Thursday - Well this was supposed to be the day we made our first dive on the wreck. Unfortunately now it's the weather's turn to kick us in the shorts. Boy we are just not supposed to dive this thing. We had all our gear loaded in the van and when we got to the boat and stood in the 25 knot wind Gordon and Billy Ray called the dive. Our equipment was OK for a good weather dive, but Curtis was uncomfortable with the rigging for a ball-buster first dive day. Gordon hasn't been in this gear setup before. It was the right call for where we are right now. I suggested we do a tune-up in the harbor in the evening, but no one wanted to do that. So another day lost for us diving. The French made a dive, but it was not fun. Our boat again supplied the dredging air. The divers dredged down to the wood of the deck. Now it appears the heavy canon broke through the upper deck and smashed into Captain Semmes quarters, which means it may be very difficult to get a strap around it. The other bad thing is now the visibility is turning bad. The visibility is generally worse on the low tide dives and this last six days is all low tide. Gerard said we lost three to five meters of visibility from yesterday to today and there is now no surface light on the bottom. My hopes of getting some good video and a dynamite photo mosaic are starting to dwindle as we are now down to four diving days before I leave and worsening visibility. I found and bought a soldering iron and finished all the wiring for the light frame. I also checked the exposure with the addition of the reflectors I made. It is very close to being ready for action if we can only get a break before I leave. Curtis now has the equipment all perfectly setup and nicely ordered in the dive locker. Now it appears it all depends on the weather.
June 17 Friday - Friday's weather was much better and we finally got two divers down on the wreck. At the last minute Billy Ray became uncomfortable with putting four divers down on the first dive since the surface crew had only ever seen the French approach to diving in the channel and hadn't seen our version of the very successful French method. So Billy Ray was the safety diver with Rick and I was on the boat with Chris, a French diver and Captain Mike. I knew at that point the chances of getting the light frame into the water just went to zero. I needed a dive to orient myself on the wreck before I started running passes over it. During the 2002 project I only got to see about a 40 ft area of the wreck. Now the visibility is much worse than during the high tide period. There is little surface light penetrating to the wreck now and visibility had dropped from 60 ft to 15 ft. Gordon and Curtis did the dive and Rick and Billy Ray were safety divers. Unfortunately Curtis forgot his hood so Rick loaned him his and dove without a hood. He managed to do the dive, but had to come back to the boat shortly after he ran the crossover line. Billy Ray filled in to carry the back up stage bottles. It all worked out but there was a little bit of scrambling to switch over how we were supporting the dive. Gordon got to look at the progress on the canon first hand and is starting to realize that the plan to lift it is probably at risk. There is a very large teak timber laying over the canon and only one side of the canon has been excavated. The concern now is that the canon is laying partially under the decking and the large timber. They decided to try to move the timber with a large lift bag, but first they will finish excavating the canon to see if there are any other problems with lifting it.
June 18, Saturday - Now that the plan to lift the canon is at risk, the importance of the photo mosaic has been elevated. After looking at my departure schedule I realized that there was no practical way I could dive Monday evening and get my gear dried out and packed for departure Tuesday afternoon. That meant I could only get two shots at doing the video for the photo mosaic. It would take a lot of luck to do it in two dives. Our first dive was to orient ourselves to the wreck site and Curtis and I were going to swim the camera from the propeller to forward of the boilers and back. Billy Ray offered to be safety diver for one chance to launch the light sled and scooter today since he wanted to dive the Alabama on Sunday with Gordon on the anniversary of the sinking. Running the scooter and lighting system on its first at depth test in 200 ft of water, on an unfamiliar site that that slowly erodes from sight, in 15 feet of visibility sounded like a great way to end up scootering into never-never land and doing an open water decompression in the nasty currents of the channel. Once I had a little familiarity with the wreck I was willing to take the scooter and light frame for a spin, but his offer sounded a bit foolhardy. We opted instead to swim the camera on two passes up and down the baseline to get oriented to the site. At dive time Curtis and I suited up and were hoping to get in slightly earlier than the French divers so we could photograph the site before the dredging got into full swing and dropped the visibility. When Gordon said we could go anytime I rolled in. The current was still humping. I told them I was OK and decided to just hold onto the surface line until the current subsided a bit. I was still ahead of Curtis. I waited for a few minutes comfortable at the stern of the boat and then surface crew decided to pull me to the bow and let me try to make it to the line. We have an exceptionally long mooring on the boat and we have to swim from the boat to where the mooring line meets the water. There was no way I could make it so I dropped back to catch my breath on the tow line. Then they towed Curtis to the bow and encouraged him to swim to the line. He took off and made it so I followed and made it -- huffing and puffing, but I made it. I gave Curtis the OK sign to start the descent, but no dice. Curtis was totally winded and gave me the scrub the dive sign. I gave him the wait OK sign, but it was no use. We headed back to the stern of the boat and I thought given a minute to catch his breath he'd be OK, but he was really winded and quite uncomfortable with doing the dive. In tech diving the rule is you never argue when your buddy scrubs and you never apologize when you do since it happens to everyone at some time. As it turned out we were almost fifteen minutes early for the dive which of course gave us the ripping current. Lesson well learned, but another dive day lost.
June 19 Sunday - With the currents increasing the thought of putting the large light frame down was less appealing and I was uncomfortable trying to navigate the wreck site on the scooter with only 15 foot of visibility. Instead I came up with a way to use my light frame mounts to mount the camera with Gordon's HID video lights on the scooter. That would make the system much less unwieldy, but still allow me to get several shorter passes of the wreck site. Everything looked like a go until I tested the Farallon scooter. I pushed the triggers in several combinations and sequences and could not get it to work. The prop made one quick half turn and quit. It tried to fix it, but it was far more complicated than I was going to be able to figure out and fix in a the short time we had. Now the only thing we could do is to try just swimming the camera on two passes three quarters of the way up the center of the wreck. Without the scooter to overcome the current and steady the camera it was difficult to say how steady I could hold the camera. The plan was to put three divers in the water -- Gordon, Billy Ray, and I. I was going to try to hold the camera steady pointed down toward the wreck site and swim up and back from the propeller to forward of the boilers and back. Gordon was going to spot me as a safety diver and Billy Ray was going to look at the boilers. This time we waited for the French divers to enter the water first which gave us the key as to when the current had dropped enough. Gordon followed me down and I headed to the propeller lifting frame and adjusted the camera for a run eight feet above the bottom. Although the visibility was not the greatest eight feet looked like no problem. That gave me an eight foot swath. The run down the wreck went well. I held it reasonably steady and before I knew it I was at the stove. The swim back was a bear cat. I was swimming at more than a 45 degree angle to the baseline to keep from getting pushed off the run. By the time I made it back to the pivot gun area, which is near our mooring I was ready to pause, catch my breath, and shoot a little of the dredging. I got the two passes as planned, but I was unsure if you'd call it a cold-water moderate work dive, which is what I had planned my decompression schedule around. To compensate I added over ten minutes on to my decompression schedule for safety. As Gordon and I headed up the line neither of us knew where Billy Ray was. He was trailing us down the line and neither of us had seen him during the dive. We reluctantly decided to head up hoping he was ahead of us. Buddy control is always a problem when diving a threesome. When we reached the 60' stop safety diver Curtis gave us the OK so we knew Billy Ray had made it back.
June 20 Monday - This is the last day of the second dive period, and it has taken us the four days to get into the rhythm of diving the channel. The English Channel or the Manche as the French call it, is some of the most challenging diving around due to cold water, currents and at times bad visibility. The Cherbourg CNP divers are some of the best I've seen. They have a good system and dive it with ease. Now we are going to make one more attempt to capture another couple passes of video for the photo mosaic and the French divers are continuing to dredge the canon although they are less and less confident that they are going to get it done. Gordon, Curtis and Billy Ray are diving. Rick is safety diver, Mike and I are surface support. Gordon took my camera to make the next passes. Billy Ray and Curtis are taking measurements of the site for accurate positioning of site plan. The dive went well but the currents are now at their maximum limit for diving. Gordon made it to the front of the boiler but could not swim against the current to get the next pass coming back. Billy Ray and Curtis got most of the measurements Gordon had assigned. When is was all over it felt good that we at least got something done or should I say started. We are totally disappointed as we think what could have been done if we would have had the full time planned or even another week. I leave tomorrow but Gordon still wants to continue collecting video for the photo mosaic. Monday night I put together the computer system he bought to assemble the photo mosaic with the new software system I had come up with.
June 21 Tuesday - After I found out Rick's wife took a taxi for a reasonable price from Portsmouth to London, Gatwick, I figured I could take the late ferry back to Portsmouth if I took a taxi from there to the airport instead of the train. Taking the taxi also solved the problem of how to manage moving three large 70 lb suitcases while changing trains. It also gave me time to take the first cut at assembling the photo mosaic video into strips of the photo mosaic image. From the initial images Gordon got to see how important is was to hold the camera very steady as you swim the tracks up and down the wreck. His hope is to swim a few more passes of video in the final four diving days of the last period. I got to say good bye to all the CNP divers after the dive yesterday and today I spent copying photos, packing gear, and doing the initial tests of the photo mosaic software and video and saying good bye to the rest of the team. Gordon and Mike took me to the ferry terminal and helped me wrestle my bags. I'm setting on the ferry boat now on my way to Portsmouth, catching up on my updates to the web page. I've been so busy the last few days since we started diving it was impossible to keep up. The chances of spending much time on the photo mosaic before the end of summer is almost nil since I start my charter season the day after I get back to Minnesota. Most of the summer I'm home three days then on the boat the next four. I'm sure I'll be making up for lost time all summer. The project is down for a week now until the currents subside again. It's full moon when the tides and currents are at their highest. Activity picks up again in seven days and I hope to hear from them when it does.
June 22 Wednesday - After the taxi driver ran me around to seven or eight hotels last night I finally found one for 56 pounds which is very good of Portsmouth. I only had to drag my suitcases by myself from the ferry terminal to the taxi stand so I strapped them together with a ratchet strap and it worked fine. I raised a few eyebrows in the process. I took a taxi to London Gatwick for 48 pounds and arrived two and a half hours before my flight. It was a long flight as expected, but I got to watch three and a half movies to pass the time. I arrived home around 6:00 PM exhausted but glad to see my family. I thought I'd be able to do some packing that night but quickly faded off.
June 23-28 Thursday - I was up at 5:00 AM still a bit out of sync with the time zones and packed as much as I could before going to work. I worked a full day and still managed to get out by 9:00 PM to head up to Grand Portage for my first charter. Luckily Ozzie, my crew for the trip, drove the whole way. I was out like a light the full five hours. The trip went well and I appear to be back into the Minnesota swing of things again. When I hear how the last dive period went in Cherbourg I'll post the final results.
July 6 Wednesday - I received the following email from Gordon :
Glad you got back OK and had a successful trip. We are now facing the bitter end of the project. We were able to make a couple of more dives before Curtis and Rick left. I did make several more video runs although the current never dropped out like it did during the second period. We have pretty much concentrated on the big gun and the French divers finally got the last strap on it today. We hope to lift it with the Elan tomorrow, but weather has been tough. Most of the days have been rough and today we had another day with 10 foot seas. Mike and I will try to return to Hamble on 12 or 13 July and ship the Bruno home ASAP. ... I will be in touch if the gun comes off the bottom!! Thanks again for all you did to beat some success out of this situation!!
July 8 Friday - They finally got the canon off the bottom. The GPD (French Navy) divers helped in the process. To view photos from the CPD divers site of the canon and the whole project click on the French CIRN link. The French date 8 juillet is July 8 with the photos of the French Buoy Tender lifting the canon. For other photos of the project click the Photo Album link at the top of this page.
Junly 9-10 - Dives were made to retrieve other at risk artifacts and remove the moorings.
In spite of the unbelievable delay caused by the shipping company at the start, the project was a success with the recovery of the aft pivot gun. It was the only canon that they did not have a sample of. In spite of lack of time and equipment problems, we probably got about half of the site covered for the photo mosaic. It will be a lot more work to assemble the image with the hand held video, but we should still be able to get a reasonable product.
And so ends the CSS Alabama Project -- a project that has spanned the better part of 20 years and has seen the aging of all of the early participants from young gung-ho divers to greying gung-ho divers -- all dedicated to preserving this unique and precious piece of history. This was Gordon's last project and most likely the last time Naval funds will be allocated for the project. I think the museums that receive the artifacts and everyone who will get a chance to enjoy these pieces of history or study the information gained from the site can say thanks to Gordon for spending months away from home and to the dedicated team of French and America divers who worked on the project. I also have to say thanks to Gordon and the Alabama societies for the opportunity to participate in this unique cooperative effort.