By Tim Feeney, 05/04/2012
Fun. It’s what is always promised by DIR diving and by having a great set of core buddies to dive with, but sometimes it can get lost in the scramble for a higher c-card rating or in some skill level that borders on absurd. However, for the group of 9 divers that undertook the NAS 1 survey class, fun was as abundant as the top-notch whirlwind education we received.
The Friday started early, with the Maryland DIR contingent meeting and loading their respective trailer for the events of the weekend. Much BS-ing and loading was done, and before long, the trailer was packed and we were on our way to the illustrious archaeological site: Dutch Springs. But first, a detour to the hotel and classroom for three hours of what I thought might be boring lecture. I was wrong.
When we got to the classroom we met our northern Canuck friends who were there representing Save Ontario Shipwrecks. Chris and Allan were funny and always ready to inform us about the inaccuracies of our Canadian jokes. Canadians are such smart asses 😉 Anyway, lecture started and it was pretty awesome. We learned a ton about shipbuilding, nomenclature, and about how different areas of a survey are supposed to work. Further, we got to see some really nice videos detailing the way ships were built. None of this was super critical to survey per se, but I know it will make wreck diving much more meaningful, as now I know the nuances that make ships and wreck sites identifiable and unique. Chris and Allan were great at using their own experience and examples to help illustrate the process of shipwreck investigation too.
It was scheduled early. We all needed to be at Dutch to do more lecture on a brisk but beautifully sunny Saturday. We all crowded around the Sherwood-tron to watch lecture presentations on a television that has broadcast all the challenging tech 1 performances for most in the crowd. Much banter commenced between everyone…taking a class with 8 of your closest dive friends can cause some friendly teasing for sure.
To the Land Drills!! You cannot hope to learn how to survey without learning on land—this was apparent after our in water challenges. So we went up to the grassy knoll to practice surveying a land wreck of sorts…three items randomly placed. The challenge was to accurately draw and then measure the survey sit without talking and while only using hand signals…after all we don’t use comm units underwater. My team, team awesome, did pretty well, and after not long we had a remarkably beautiful drawing of the site.
To the water!! Add water and everything gets more complex. Then add an incredibly silty bottom like you can find at Dutch and try to survey there with three teams, and things become pretty hairy. And THIS is when the skills of DIR and GUE training become crucial. At times, we were measuring our survey site mere centimeters from the bottom, and it is absolutely crucial to not silt. Delicate movements slow and precise, along with stable body positions and immaculate team communication and position were a must; there could be no errant movements of vying for position amongst teammates. All that brought to bear, and we were finished with the in water portion. Back to the hotel for dinner, to warm up, and to finish lecture and draw up our surveys based on our in water measurements—team awesome produced yet another spectacular drawing. 8am-11pm, quite a full day.
This was the last day of class, and we got a later start at 9am. This was to be the day we survey a real wreck, which was sitting in 65’ of water in the middle of Dutch Springs. It was a rainy cold day, so we spent most of the day hanging out in our drysuits, discussing plans, and generally either teasing each other or telling Canadian jokes (jokes about Canadians that is ☺ ). We made the long surface swim out to the wreck, descended, and did out initial site drawing, which was far better than the other teams (sorry, had to get that jab in there). We surfaced, had a quick discussion about what measurements we wanted to take, and went back down to the wreck to complete the measurements. Again, teamwork, communication, and individual skills were critical to getting all the measurements and accomplishing our task, and we were able to get all we needed in 19 minutes flat, which was super fast and not bad for three people working to measure and entire sunken boat. It just goes to show that standard training and high skill level contributes to all things underwater (the secret about my team is that I had only dove with one of the guys in the team, but it was like we had been diving together forever).
We finished up at the site and headed back to the hotel to finish our survey and learn more about 3D surveying techniques, which are more complicated and are aided greatly by computer modeling software. After that we had individual pow-wows with the instructors. Everyone was successful, and all the teams performed extremely well.
Summary: This was an amazing class. Not only did it allow all the divers to learn a ton about survey and shipbuilding, but it solidified the teamwork and skills necessary to do even the most delicate work underwater. Of course, the company didn’t hurt either. I am confident the St Lawrence River Project Baseline will be an amazing experience of successful survey work thanks to the effort of all that participated in the class.
I want to thank my team, Team A (Awesome) Chris Malinowski and Piotr Kulczakowicz for being awesome buddies and survey teammates. Chris Phinney and Allan Rodek our Canuck tutors, Bob Sherwood for helping to organize this and everyone else that was there this weekend (Vincent Mallardi, Nate Kwiatek, Joanna Helon, Damian Chojnowski, and Claus Schmidt) for being a riot to learn with.
I would highly recommend taking NAS courses for anyone interested in wreck diving, although I think you will miss out on having the greatest class mates ever as they already took the class with me.