First time to the Andrea Doria off the RV Garloo, July 5-8, 2013
By Forest Rothchild
In life, often there things we would like to do, an accomplishment to achieve, a goal to strive for. Every New Year I try to eat better, live healthier and take better care of myself. Then the first hurdle gets in the way, then the scheduling conflicts begin, and as we all know life gets in the way of our completing what can sometimes seem like straightforward goals.
This a trip report that has been nearly four years in the making and I very pleased to say I did it with my friend and dive buddy Stretch.
A little history on how we got here. In 2010 on a “drive & dive” put on by Scuba Shack of Rocky Hill, CT, my local dive shop, I was in a truck with two other divers and Edward Hayes (owner of Scuba Shack). This was the first time I met Stretch. We were going to Florida to do some GUE (Global Underwater Explorers) fundies training and checkout dives.
Successfully having passed GUE Fundamentals at a technical pass, during the drive home I scheduled my GUE Technical 1 (T1) for a few months later. In summer of 2010 I took T1 with Bob Sherwood and passed.
Fast forward to spring 2011 and an opportunity to take GUE Cave 1 came about. A friend suggested we take the course and thought Stretch would be a good team member. Unbeknownst to Stretch and I, this was the beginning of our paving a path to the Doria.
Prior to our actually starting GUE C1 (cave 1), Stretch and I were talking about what got us into diving and where we like to go. Though we both had read various books about the Doria and we each had various reasons for wanting to push our skill level to trimix advance deep diving, but we decided to take the path of caves first.
One evening Stretch calls and says “let do it, lets make a plan and strategize a means to progress our training and experience to the point we could dive the Doria.” While excited about the prospect, I know how life gets in the way and the best laid plans, well, you know where I am going with this.
So we talk about the training we would need, the potential gear and to set a date if possible a couple of years from then.
We started our cave class and simply fell head over fins for the cave systems. In GUE standards, post completion of C1, one is supposed to complete 25 C1 level dives before progressing to C2. After we had finished C1 in the later part of 2011, we immediately scheduled a return trip to complete our 25 dives and signed up for C2. During the spring of 2012 we completed C2 and proceeded to take 3 more cave trips to Florida that year alone along with a trip to the Mexico cave systems.
Due to all the traveling and diving, I reached out to an old friend, Peter, that does a lot of technical diving but is also a pilot. While conversing about diving he mentioned that he sometimes crews on a boat that goes out to the Doria. That is what it took to reignite the interest of progressing to the Doria.
July 2012 I had the opportunity to dive the Doria but as so often happens, life got in the way. It also didn’t help that at the time, nor would I have been able to do this dive with Stretch.
During one of our trips to Cave Country, I told Stretch about the opportunity and that we should be try to get back on track if we wanted to do the dive in 2013.
Stretch proceeded to sign up for his T1 class, taking it with Gideon Liew, and passed.
Knowing that we still wanted to progress and push ourselves prior July 2013, we start to structure what was later to be known as the “Wet Rock – Stay Dry” dive tour. Along with our cave dives we had planned, we put together an aggressive dive schedule ranging from open water to 200’+ dives. We would traveled to Canada to dive the river, to Florida caves, dove marble quarries in Vermont to North Shore Massachusetts charters and more.
One weekend Stretch and I drove to Florida on a Friday morning spent nearly 9 hours in the caves over several dives and then by Sunday drove back home (nearly 3000 miles round trip). All of this in preparation to feeling confident, competent, and comfort in our gear, with our skill set and each other.
Since the faithful first trip in 2010, we have driven nearly 30,000 miles and have spent hundreds of hours together both above and below the surface of the water.
Finally after all of that, we are here, 4th of July weekend 2013 on the vessel RV Garloo.
We actually arrived a day early and spent the evening out on the boat with the owner / captain Hank Gavin and watch fireworks all around Long Island.
After having been blown out 3 separate occasions this year already, we were nervous about what to expect. Mother nature is being kind and on Friday July 5 we departed from the docks for what is expected to be a 15 hour navigation to the dive site.
On the boat is a motley assortment of divers 10 passengers (Matt, Carlos, Andy, Dave, Ella, Jeff, Joe, Ken, Stretch and myself) and 6 crew (Captain Hank, Captain Mark, Chris, Pete, Mike, and Todd) 14 in total will be diving. There are those diving OC (open circuit) and some CC (close circuit / rebreathers). The gear collection includes over 180 tanks, 3 sets of rebreathers, 5 scooters, drysuits, garments, and more.
The part that amazed me most of all is that it truly varies across the board. Everyone has some version of tri-mix, some are planning 2-3 dives and at various durations but the common bond is the goal of diving the Doria.
There are people that have been diving this wreck for over 30 years, and there are those like Stretch and I that have never been before.
As for the RV Garloo, once known as the Wahoo, is a legacy for charters and dives in the Atlantic. About 10 years ago Hank Garvin took over the boat and has been captaining it since. Many remember when the accommodations weren’t as nice as they are now. That said, there were still challenges, including only half the heads were available for use. When under way in the heavy seas and waves, leaks around windows and drips in the bunks made for some Chinese water torture experience. Then there was the heat, half the bunks had working air conditioning where the other half didn’t. Unfortunately we were in the section that did not. Traveling 15+ hours, anchored in another 36 hours and then the navigation back in stale non circulating air didn’t help with the nausea or heat. The bunks themselves while adequate, made for some interesting sleeping arrangements. As many know, Stretch nor I are small people. I took the upper but narrower bunk and risked several times almost rolling out and crashing on top of Stretch. This lead to attempting to finding anywhere to sleep that had air circulation and if I was to roll over, not injure anyone.
As navigation was on its way, I let the power Bonine have its way with me. There is something to be said about doing a trip like this. Once you start, you have to be committed. In one direction 15 hours on a rocking and bouncing boat is its own challenges in itself. The thoughts start to creep in, did you remember everything thing, do you have backups? How often have you been on a dive trip and have one little thing go wrong or be forgotten that prohibits the dive? Once at sight and finally anchored in, it is going to be another 36 hours of being subjected to the conditions of the sea. This is all in hopes to be able to do 2-3 dives on the Doria.
Saturday morning we arrive on site, weather is a hot sunny day, the sea swells ranging 3-6 feet. The excitement starts to set in and the various teams begin to assemble their gear. Stretch and I were going to be one of the first teams in. The heat is starting to take its toll. I was drenched head to toe as I getting into my undergarments (thank goodness for wicking), then getting my drysuit on. I wish I could say that all went smoothly, but from the heat, exertion, and the motion of the ocean, both Stretch and I got sick and began heaving over the side of the boat. All the while, the boat crew are very supportive and assisting in getting the gear on, collecting our deco bottles, etc…. Finally it is time for splash in, there is that last final anxiousness and then giant stride off the side of the boat. The surface temperature of the water was a cool and welcoming 65 degrees.
We do a quick systems check and already we realize that one of our primary lights isn’t working. Fortunately we had 4 back ups between the two of us and we began down the descent line. Stretch took the lead. There was a current but not enough of one to really hinder the progress. All of a sudden at around 70 feet I couldn’t see Stretch any more. From 70-100 feet there was layer of just limited visibility under 3 feet. Holding the line I had to trust that Stretch was moving along, and as we cleared below 100 feet, I could see him again. Checking my depth gauge, it dawned on me we still have another 120 feet to go before we were to hit the wreck. The thermoclines were definitely felt, at about 150′ the temperature started to drop to about 46* and still the wreck was not in sight. At about 180′ the shadows of some structures begin to come into sight. 190′ we can see where the line was tied in and the beginning of the wreckage. 220′ we are fairly situated. We did a gas check, verify our descent time, originally planned for a 4 minute decent, reality was closer to 8 minutes. This meant we had 22 minutes to swim around and begin to get the lay of the land. For those interested in tems and comfort, Stretch and I both wore 4mm wet gloves. For undergarments, Stretch had on a Halo 3D with a Santi BZ200 heated vest and I wore a Santi BZ200 with the heated vest, both under our Santi E.Lite drysuits.
The timer had begun! Was there truly going to be treasures laying about? What are we going to find? Visions of grandeur quickly faded as we started to understand the evident reality of what laid at the bottom before us. This was a shipwreck that has taken its toll over the decades, it is not the grandness it once was. There are entanglements everywhere from structural to ropes and all sorts of netting. The timer was telling us that visit to the Andrea Doria was quickly coming to an end for this dive and we had barely explored but a fraction of what was still there. Time is up! We must head back to up line for what began our nearly 90 decompression obligation. While the current wasn’t too bad, 90 minutes is a long time to hang onto anything. We broke out our jon lines and tie in to begin our many stops to the eventual breaking of the surface.
The sun was still holding strong but the swells were starting to kick up. Our having to climb up the back of the boat was only possible do the the helpful crew removing our deco bottles and assisting with getting back on the Garloo.
As the afternoon rolled on and a surface interval of about 5 hours, it was time to do it all over again, and I mean ALL over again. Bring on the sweats, the nausea, the getting sick just before going in, but at least we were going in. This time there was one minor difference. My drysuit bottle was empty and that meant I was going to be using a helium back gas as part of my inflation. I can’t say I agree with Stretch’s choice but he opted to be matching and dive the same. Needless to say, this dive felt very cold.
The second time down we continued to explore more of the wreck and still only saw a miniscule amount. The simple fact is, we didn’t know where to look for the treasures and opted to simply enjoy our limited time that we had. When time was up, so began the deco routine. This time, when we hit the cloudy section starting around 100′ we had a little visitor, a 7 foot or so blue shark. He swam around for a while, which as cool as it was made for some rather harrowing couple of minutes, and then he seemed to just leave.
Once back on the boat, the toll of two big dives, the general conditions of the boat and the seas, we were spent. I fairly quickly fell asleep and to best of my abilities rested for the Sunday.
Sunday morning and while the weather is holding up, the currents were ripping. Most of the divers including Stretch and I opt that the double dive the day before was enough. By majority vote of the divers, consensus was to pull line and head back. In the end though, we weren’t going to be able to make it to any other dive site, so we stayed in hopes the seas would turn. By 11am the currents started to subside. Only four divers dared to to go in for a single dive. Congrats to Mike and Pete for being the only ones to bring back loot.
One of the pragmatic actions of the crew is noting the entry time of every diver and their estimated run time. If you come up early, no concerns, but even 10 minutes late, the captain and crew start an active watch for the divers.
Once all divers were back on board, the clean up began for the arduous ride back. Conditions weren’t looking favorable (storms, waves, and the sea at general) and what was supposed to be 15 hours ended up being a total of nearly 20 hours.
Over the years the Andrea Doria has been called the Mt. Everest of dive sites. The amazing part is that the dive itself is probably the easiest part of the whole experience. This without a doubt is an expedition grade excursion. The amount of gear that is needed, the physical time commitment once under way, never mind the time, training, and gear needed to perform dives like this.
When the dives were done, aside for the conditions of the seas and the boat, there were 3 divers that suffered minor DCS hits (remedy by O2, aspirin, water and rest) and one diver distressed from exhaustion by missing the hang line. Once back on boat he had to be cut out of his drysuit and put on O2. He bounded back to full resilience shortly after cooling off. I share this because I hope those reading this maintain a healthy respect for what a dive like this entails.
In the end the question of whether it was worth it, and I feel I can speak for both Stretch and I when I say a resounding Yes! Here is an experience that we planned for, discussed and finally experienced. There is no other diver I would have wanted to do this with, and am proud to say we completed this accomplishment!
So what is next? I think I am going back to the caves. 😉
Safe diving everyone!
[This article first appeared on ScubaBoard.com.]