|Posted by reddevilscuba on November 7, 2012 at 9:30 AM|
by Kristy Penney
From the moment we brought home our very own copy of The Great Lakes Diving Guide by Cris Kohl, my husband, John, and I have been researching ship wrecks we’d like to dive. We have our PADI Wreck Diver certification but are not technical divers and we don’t have dry suits. So we to pick our dream dives to fit within those constraints. In the Great Lakes, that still left us with many opportunities.
One of the wrecks described in the pages of our Kohl book quickly caught John’s eye: the steel steamer, Wexford. Resting under 80 feet of Lake Huron waters, the Wexford was one of eight freighters that were lost with all hands during the Great Storm of November 8-10, 1913. We had already explored the Regina, which sank during the same terrible storm, on two previous dive trips. The Regina lies upside-down, which makes it more difficult to get a sense of what she looked like in her glory days. The Wexford, however, rests perfectly upright. That fact may be what drew us to her.
With baited breath, we watched the dive trip schedules of our local dive shops. We even brought up the Wexford in conversation while we were in the shops. No luck. While everyone agreed the Wexford is a great wreck to dive, with so many interesting Lake Huron wrecks an easy boat ride from the U.S. side of Lake Huron, why travel to Canada? Still believing the Wexford would be well worth the trip, we turned to Google. That’s when we found the July 15th 2-tank dive trip to the Wexford with Red Devil Scuba. One or two phone calls later and we were booked.
July 15th arrived quickly, but due to our pre-dive anticipation, the drive from Livonia, Michigan to Grand Bend, Ontario seemed to take forever. At long last, we stood on the docks of the Grand Bend Municipal Marina. And we could not believe our good fortune! The day was sunny; storms were possible, but not here. Not now. The air temperature was reasonable – my 7mm wetsuit would be warm, but not insufferable. Most importantly, most happily, Lake Huron herself was calm. No waves. No wind. Our imaginations began to run wild with visions of unlimited visibility dancing in our heads. Soon we would see her. The Wexford. The wreck we had been waiting for.
But first things first. We needed to find RDS Owner Gary, the boat and the other divers. As this was our first dive with Red Devil Scuba, we didn’t know who we were looking for. No worries there. In general, divers are a friendly bunch and the divers on our trip were no exception. First we met Lauren, who was a Red Devil regular and she pointed us in the direction of Gary and our boat. There we also met Brian (the divemaster du jour), Stephanie and Adam. After a few minutes of gear loading and organizing, we were on our way.
The boat ride over the glassy surface of Lake Huron was as smooth as the lake itself. We took the time to get to know our fellow divers and trade stories about favorite dives. Gary and Brian filled us in on the previous day’s Wexford dives. In a word: amazing. Before we knew it, we were there. Time to gear up. One quick backwards roll and we were wet. John and I signaled that we were ok, then signaled each other to descend.
In no time at all, a dark shadow began to materialize out of the blue. The Wexford. We could see nearly all of her before we had even finished half of our descent. The line led us to her stern, where we began our initial wreck survey. Though the cold fresh waters of the Great Lakes tend to keep wrecks in good condition, the Wexford is not immune to the ravages of time. Her bow decks, teeming with aquatic life, are starting to collapse. Past divers have plundered her, removing plates and the like for their own personal treasure collection. But to us, she looked radiant with much left to explore. Our first dive seemed to end far too soon. During the surface interval, we all bantered excitedly. “Did you see…?” were the first words out of everyone’s lips. And we learned there was much we did not see.
A good diver learns something on every dive. Our lesson of the day, tracking bottom time, came during our surface interval discussions. We had always used the dive time (starting the moment our computers begin tracking our descent and ending the moment we reach the surface at the dive’s conclusion) as a substitute for bottom time. But there is a potentially serious flaw in that logic. If, heaven forbid, something were to go wrong and I needed to spend time in a decompression chamber, my bottom time would determine how long I needed to spend in the chamber. Including all of the ascent time and the time for my safety stop in my bottom time would result in extra, unnecessary time spent in the chamber.
Back in the water for our second dive, the excitement in our eyes had not dimmed. This time, we swam to the bow, descended through the open hold to the lowest deck and swam back toward the stern. When I reached the boilers, I took a passage to the left, on the starboard side, shining my light into every nook and cranny I could. On the other side of the boilers, John and I joined Brian, who was hunting artifacts. I looked on in amazement as Brian reached into what seemed to me a pile of muck and pulled out bits of china. There were remnants of a boot – just the heel and a bit of the sole remained. I couldn’t help but wonder if the boot had been in a poor sailor’s locker or on his foot when that terrible November storm struck. When I gazed upon a seemingly pristine piece of round porthole glass lying on the deck, I pondered what the last sailor who looked through that porthole had seen. Did he know his fate? Did he say a prayer for himself or the loved ones he would never see again? As I ascended out of the dark blue, I said a silent prayer for him and all the other souls the Great Storm had claimed that day.
The boat ride back to Grand Bend seemed much quicker than the ride out to the Wexford. Storms were coming. None of us minded. Every one of us was happy. At the docks, we unloaded our gear and said good-bye to our new friends. We had learned of other dives that Red Devil Scuba sponsors that would be easy for us to join. And, babysitter availability willing, we will.
When we crossed back into the U.S., the customs official asked us if we were bringing anything back with us. “No,” we replied. While that was physically true, we did bring back something from Canada that day: memories of a day of great diving with Red Devil Scuba and hope for more.