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Invasion equals recipe for fun
By Forest Rothchild

A lifetime ago, I used to be a chef, and when in the kitchen, there are recipes that need to be followed to ensure a proper dish. The same is true in dive planning. You lay out your strategy, plan your dive, & dive your plan. In event planning, it is the ingredients of activities, the mixing of people, and having the patience to make modifications and changes to try and get it just right. Now take all of that, and you start to have the beginnings of the “Invasion.”

“GUE is not just a style of diving, but a mindset, and it carries out to planning a group event as well”

So what happens when a couple of divers invite others to join them and go diving in the nearby river? If you are Chantelle and Steve, it ends up turning into an international gathering of fun spirited divers.

This is but one person’s perspective of the 2011 “Canadian Invasion.” From the beginning, communication was spot on. I was told by a friend of mine that he was going to go to Brockville, Ontario, Canada, and that there would be some diving in the river. For years, people I know from my local dive shop (Scuba Shack in CT) talked about diving the river. In 2010, having taken my GUE Tech 1 class with Bob Sherwood, my baptism to the river concluded, and I was hooked. The pleasure of diving in the river offers so many benefits. During the summer / autumn months, you can tech dive, be 200’ down and still be in 72* water. If you want to dive wet or dry, you can, it is fresh water, and there is diving for ALL levels.

“Scuba diving in the 1000 Islands one cannot help but to appreciate the beauty and the rich history of the St. Lawrence River. The poor visibility of the wrecks in the St. Lawrence River have been lifted since the introduction of the Zebra Mussel, over the past few years divers from all over the world were able to discover the intriguing marine disasters of the great lakes and the St. Lawrence seaway. This has created an explosion in the scuba industry, making the Kingston and 1000 Islands area one of the most exciting dive location in Canada. The wrecks laying beneath this body of water present many different levels of diving from novice to advanced. Not only can one explore the mysterious history of lost ships but also explore the amazing marine life.”[1]

Between e-mails, texts, Facebook, Zen Diving, and phone calls, Chantelle ruled the communications, and truly was the point person for all of planning. Questions were answered, timely and promptly. To simply put it, she was the “diving goddess” though frequently will be seen in “Diving Goodness” t-shirts (which is often mistaken for “Diving Goddess”).

So what does this all mean? The Invasion has now become an international dive event four years running, and growing each year. While majority of the divers are GUE or like-minded divers, it is about FUN. I have chatted with numerous individuals and couples that come here for the social aspect of the diving. To share experience, and know that it isn’t about drinking the Kool-Aid (another t-shirt Chantelle can be seen in), but rather the love of the water, respect for the conditions, equipment, and your fellow diver.

On Thursday, I arrived, having driven in from Rochester, NY (though home is in Massachusetts). Customs was a breeze, and the resort Caiger’s is but 10 minutes north on 1000 Island Parkway. Caiger’s is a river front resort. The rooms are accommodating, and there is complimentary wi-fi. To both USA and Canadian residents, know that you are literally on the border for mobile coverage and depending on your plan can waiver back & forth for international coverage (beware of fees).

Having checked in, kicked back, I found a river side cabana to just sit back and read for a little while. There is a beauty to the tranquility of being near the water, and stepping back in time. I felt as if I could go back in time 50 years and be having the same experience. Fortunately, the weather was co-operating as well. With temps in the mid to upper 70s (or around 25 for the Canadian’s) blue skies, and a warm gentle breeze, life really wasn’t getting any better.

After a little while, came the tale tell signs of other divers. First signs were what looked like parts of a scooter, so I had to investigate a little more. Turns out Becki and Dan had just arrived from Indiana, and they had some other friends that were arriving soon as well. As it was, they have been here since the beginning, and this was their fourth year attending. For the rest of the evening, divers from Maryland, Virginia, New York, Connecticut, Canada, and more started to arrive, and the invasion was officially on.

So who was this Chantelle? Over the past several months, there had been all sorts of correspondence, but I had never met her. We know many of the same divers, but until you met her in person, you don’t realize just how contagious her joy and love for this is. In mere moments, you understand why people want to hang out, dive here, and invade this area. It is FUN! This is a theme that obviously will pop up again and again, but it is incredible to see the variety of personalities, and yet all a kindred spirit of checking the egos and simply being able to enjoy the experience of it all.

Friday morning started off with hardy breakfast and the first dives of the weekend. The wreck of the day was the Kinghorn. Divers broke into two groups, those with scooters and everyone else. Being that I have yet to break down and purchase a scooter (though probably will sooner than later, and do me a favor, don’t tell my wife) I was on the first boat.

Never having been to the Kinghorn before, it is situated just a couple hundred yards from the dock in Rockport. This wreck was (re)found in 1995.

“Still the source of much debate, some no longer believe it is really the Kinghorn, and the leading contender for the true identity is the dith Surwell. Well, at least it was until someone suggested the Surwell (or Cirtwell) was a fishing tug that has yet to be found, and that this particular wreck is the Sophia (which actually lies not far away). Due to the sources who say it is the Kinghorn (namely wreck guru Rick Neilson), my money is on the Kinghorn.

Sitting upright in 88′ this is an aging steel hull with no superstructure. It has several openings on the upper deck (one reportedly from an anchor dropped a little too close to the target) so there is a good deal of light penetration into the hold which can be explored easily provided you have good finning technique (if you don’t you will be in the middle of a silt storm and other divers may finally have a use for the dive knives they have been carrying around for years). The upper deck is collapsing at a steady rate, and any penetration should be done with great caution if at all.”[2]

I am very pleased to say that for the most part, it wasn’t the divers affecting the visibility. There was a bit of a flow outside the wreck, but the swim thru was an excellent chance to practice buoyancy and fin kicks.

Afterwards, the group headed out for lunch, then came round two on the Kinghorn. As Friday evening came about, more and more divers arrived. The crew from Caiger’s continued to take wonderful care, dinner was delicious, and the live band upstairs was very entertaining.

Saturday morning is when the true mayhem began, with at least 4 boats in the morning, and more boats in the afternoon, groups of divers were split apart based on destination, recreational or technical dives. Being on the 8am departure for the Jodrey, we got the boat loaded and ready to go. First stop USA customs, then to our dive sight. Captains Scott and Wayne took great care getting us to the destination, and knew how to help all the divers get ready. They were in place for when we needed help, and knew how to stay out of the way. This truly was one of the best charter boats I have ever been on.

“The Jodrey is THE technical-level wreck in Southern Ontario. It attracts divers from all over, and for good reason: there are few places in the world where you can dive a modern freighter over 600′ long. To put that length into perspective, it is the length of two football fields.

It lies down a steep slope, starting at 140′ and going down to 235′ at the break where it starts to get shallower. Due to the depth and darkness it’s a hard wreck to get a read on, allowing you to only see as much of her as your light can illuminate (unless the visibility is particularly good).

The pilothouse on this style of freighter is towards the bow which means some of the most interesting parts of the wreck are also the shallowest part of the forward section. Going deeper you will find the iron ore loading mechanism and cargo holds. As if the wreck and location did not present enough challenges, divers have strewn it with lines, perhaps in an effort to aid their navigation (which does not seem necessary at all). Great care should be taken to avoid these lines, and if the line seems to move by its own accord, it might be one of the resident eels”.[3]

Ken and I dropped down, following the pipes over the edge, and at about 130’ found the shelf that is right across from the pilot house. Twenty five minutes later, we began our ascent. On a personal note, this is the wreck I did my GUE T1 experience dive, and it was nice to be able to truly enjoy the dive from a non-student perspective.

Back on the boat, the other divers began to surface. With a brief layover in Rockport to check in with Canada customs, then returning to Caiger’s, the boats prepared for round two. For me, it was time to take a little siesta. Upon awakening, I spent the rest of the afternoon lounging and people watching from the restaurant deck, and watching the divers come and go.

While I can reminisce about times past, I wonder of how this all came to be. Not only the event of the Invasion, but the whole 1000 Islands area.

“The Thousand Islands is the name of an archipelago of islands that straddle the Canada-U.S. border in the Saint Lawrence River as it emerges from the northeast corner of Lake Ontario. They stretch for about 50 miles (80 km) downstream from Kingston, Ontario. The Canadian islands are in the province of Ontario, the U.S. islands in the state of New York. The islands, which number 1,793 in all, range in size from over 40 square miles (100 km2) to smaller islands occupied by a single residence, to even smaller uninhabited outcroppings of rocks that are home to migratory waterfowl. The number of islands was determined using the criteria that any island must be above water level all year round, have an area greater than 1 square foot (0.093 m2), and support at least one living tree.”[4]

Now back from our little lesson on the 1000 islands area. In the evening was the main dinner. Pictures were taken, prime rib was the entrée of choice, and merriment was had by all. But that is not the end of Chantelle’s bag of tricks (or should I say prizes). Many names were drawn, and prizes were given away. Afterwards, many broke off to prepare their gear for Sunday’s dive and departure, but a crowd including the diving goddess meandered back upstairs to where the Karaoke was set up. To cheering delights, and twisting of the arm, ok not really, Chantelle made her way up to the stage. I will simply say, that little woman can belt out some serious tunes.

Finally, it was time to call it a night and get ready for Sunday’s dives. Having set the alarm for 6:00am, to my tired self, I woke up at 5:57am. I don’t know what that was all about. Looking back, I wonder if I was just so excited for my next dive, or wanted to get in as much fun before having this weekend come to an end. Bags were packed, gear was loaded onto the boat, and the truck was repositioned for rapid departure.

Back onto the Osprey with the DC (Maryland / Virginia) crew, plus Ken and I, for one more dive of the Jodrey. The dive itself was a blast, Ken and I went looking for a calling card I spotted the day before. At about 180’ down near the bow of the wreck, along the wall on a railing was a laminated piece of paper with an email and phone number. I copied the information and have since sent an email, no reply yet. Back on deck, and returning to Craiger’s, it finally downed on me that this was all coming to an end.

To my pleasant surprise, Chantelle was there at the docks, camera in hand, but more importantly hugs and good byes. The recipe for this past weekend was created by a blending of passion, diving, checked egos, and Chantelle. With a deep gratitude, I say thank you to Chantelle for creating an opportunity for sharing a love of the water and more importantly lasting memories.

Until next year’s Invasion, take pictures and leave nothing but bubbles and safe diving to all.

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[1] Wreck Diving in the 1000 Islands and Lake Ontario, Canada

[2] ScubaQ » Blog Archive » Kinghorn

[3] ScubaQ » Blog Archive » Roy A Jodrey

[4] Thousand Islands – Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia

[This article originally appeared on ScubaBoard.com.]