CCR Anecdotes from Ron's CCR Travels
The stories below are reflections on experiences that I've had that are funny when you look back. They may have been awkward or embarrassing at the time, some were offensive, but time has a way of softening the hard lumps, just as wind and rain erodes at ugly rocks to transform them into natures beauty. Now I'm not saying that these anecdotes are equal to the Grand Canyon, but they are deep and craggy with lots of color.... And if you have not figured out yet that my pseudonym "Gib Anigav" is really my alter ego for being just a big softy. The irony of proximity is not lost on the fact that I have met so many, or am so close to so many aresholes in the dive industry, that the pseudonym is the perfect embodiment of said proximity.
After 40 years in the diving industry, I realize I have had my share, plus a couple too many extra helpings! And many days I wish I could pick up my kazoo, like the Pied Piper, and lead the dive industries rats down to the sea for one last dive.....
Snorkeling McGarvey Shoal
If this story is a lie, then it’s a whooper and I’m the Baron Munchausen on a great adventure with one tall tale! Now don’t confuse the Munchausen name with the syndrome or other malaise, but the real character: Hieronymus Karl Friedrich, Freiherr von Münchhausen was a real person, as real as I am and his tall tales are somewhat parallel to some of the adventures I have lead. But I implore you to follow along at least for a paragraph or two to see if you think this story could or should have happened, and allow an old story teller a bit of embellishment that’s not fiction, but a fact?
The location is a tiny town up north, far, far up north where the summer is only a few fleeting weeks of sunshine, then its back to snow and cold. Oh, and there are moose too. The water always stays cold in these parts and it is one of the reasons that the shipwrecks stay so well preserved. Cold, cold, fresh water that protects and preserves the wrecks in a state of almost infinite state of deep freeze. This tiny little tourist town of 50 people will see on average about 6-10 divers who come to see one of the greatest shipwrecks in Lake Superior, the Gunilda.
The names of the individuals have been preserved to protect anyone who could innocently be mistaken for, for… well, innocent? Just imagine if I changed the name of john to Dave, and poor Ol Dave is now harangued forever being mistakenly identified as john? Nope, I could not do that to a guy as nice as Dave, so the names are the names and believe me that none of these participants is innocent.
Every story has a beginning, a middle, and an end. And every good story has a theme, a plot, characters, and a setting. Well, I’ve given the setting as Rossport if you haven’t guessed that already. And the characters are divers that even Hollywood could not make up such unbelievable goofballs to hang out with me, so that leaves the plot and the theme. Now I have to weave a story or plot, so let me give you the theme so at least you know this story has one. Always be careful what you wish for. That is the theme, “Always Be Careful What You Wish For”. Now let the tall tales begin.
The Shipwreck Gunilda is a luxury yacht of the finest craftsmanship, finest African Mahogany paneling, fine crystal chandeliers, silver serving trays, and even gold leaf adorning the bow and stern. It truly is a magnificent shipwreck to see, but its cold, dark, and deep. It sits over two hundred feet below the surface, and rests next to a palisade that hides only a few feet below the surface and is known as McGarvey Shoal. You see the first person to wreck a boat on this underwater mountain that hides just below was a fisherman named Harvey McGarvey. Harvey was first, but Harkness was an industrialist multi-millionaire, and one of the founding partners in Standard Oil.
I have been taking groups of divers to this shipwreck for many years, starting with open circuit and when CCR’s became the in-thing, then groups of my students would join me for adventure dives or CCR trimix training. This group of Inspiration CCR trimix divers were here simply for fun and adventure as they had previously completed their mix training dives at Whitefish Bay. The group was six divers: gay john, john, sponge boB, Chris, and myself as group leader. Now back to gay john as I need to clarify that this is not a sexual slander, but gay is used as an exuberant, full of joy, merry use as the word was originally intended. Now this is actually a pun, as gay john is not merry, happy, or full of joy as john has always been a very depressing individual with no confidence or self-esteem? So gay john just stuck. The second john is called “little john” as he is a shadow of gay john and suffers from a Napoleon complex of being short but a mighty force? Sponge boB is just a guy named boB that happens to be a sponge, and everyone knows a few people who fit the moniker of “sponge”. As for Chris, well poor Chris has some problems dealing with reality as he tells stories of being in the CIA, being dropped in as a secret agent behind enemy lines, etc…. Yes, I am the sixth person, and with personality issues beyond imagination, I’m just Ron?
We were fortunate this year to charter a tugboat that was re-fitted into a luxury private yacht with a seasoned Captain. Don is a long time resident of Rosport, and he knew the reefs as well as safe waters to get us to the dive site, Gunilda, off of McGarvey shoal. The wrecks has a mooring on the bow and stern, not that it is terribly long, but at a depth of 250 ffw it burns up too much time, so we alternate days on the bow, stern, bow, stern, etc…. Our first day was a dive to the bow as my dive buddy, Sponge boB, and I had the objective of replacing the bell on the bow deck. This is actually another story, but it happened on this trip so you have to read the next tall tale to find out how the bell got knocked off, and how it got replaced. Back to the main story; on the first day I was a bit careless and jumped into the water with one of gay john’s DUI dry-suit Rock Boots. Well it was an honest mistake, honestly, no really it was… and I know you don’t believe me, but damnit it was just a mistake? All the divers lined their rock boots up on the outside stern of the tug as the captain had a beautiful interior that he did not want damaged by a bunch of wet divers. When I got back on the boat after a twenty minute bottom time and hours of decompression, there was gay john at the stern red faced, angry and yelling at me for wearing his left boot? WTF? Ooops, sorry gay john! But no, gay john was so put out that he was un-able to get into the water with my left boot, even though they were the same size, it was not his boot! So it was a typical trip with all the anal retentive, and anti-social behavior of gay john?
Time goes on and we dive the Gunilda, and little john uses his video camera to light up the bow as I replace the ships bell in its rightful location. See other story. And in the afternoon as we are tied up again to the bow, all the divers are hanging out on the stern deck of the tug, excitedly telling stories of their dives. Even gay john is happy, at least for a brief moment? And gay john is looking off the stern quarter at the pencil buoy that marks the shoal and he makes the statement, the fateful statement that opened the door to the theater that this play is based.
Gay john is looking at McGarvey shoal and waxing on about how he wishes he had brought a snorkel as it is a shallow reef and there must be lots of artifacts, or even a mark on the reef where the Gunilda ran aground 80 years earlier? The reef is visible during daylight, especially bright day light as a light green contrast to the water, and dark water around it as the reef plummets straight down. Now you have to understand that the stern deck of the Kelsee Rae, a small tug boat, is not very big. We were all spaced around the deck rail looking in as we are chatting, while gay john is looking away from the boat to the shoal marker. So out of gay johns mouth comes the statement “I wish I had brought a snorkel as I would like to swim over McGarvey Shoal”. And yes this is what I did: I unzipped my fly, pulled out my dick, and waggled it at gay john to the laughter of all the other divers. Then I followed up this insult with “I have a snorkel if you would like to borrow it, but its pink” And as gay john turns around and half-ways utters “I don’t care what color it is, OH SHIT, I FUCKING HATE YOU!"
So the moral or theme of the story is to always be careful what you wish for, especially if you go on a dive trip with Ron.
Buoy marks McGarvery Shoal The pleasure Tug Kelsee Rae
This was back in the day when Nancy still ran the rebreather tech week at Dive Tech, Grand Cayman, and I was having breakfast with Kim from Jetsam and Kevin Gurr from Delta P Technologies. I was very interested in buying and training on one of the newly released Ouroboros rebreathers that Kevin made and I chatted with him about opportunities. Kevin new I lived in the central U.S. and he said "I have a class coming up somewhere in the Midwest, are you close to Wisconsin?" Well as a matter of fact that is right next door and I would love to join your course. He replies "well I will have to ask the instructor first". The irony here is that I have been trying for about ten years to get a local TDI instructor to start diving rebreathers as I saw this as the future of technical diving. The instructor kept replying "No thanks, I'm just going to stick with O.C.". And the joke is that this very instructor was trying to get the jump on me, and become an Ouroboros diver and instructor. The last laugh is that the unit was a total expensive disaster that flooded for years, until they finally stopped the flooding and then all the electronics crapped out! I dodged an $18,000 bullet that was headed straight for my head! Today, I could kiss the instructor for taking the bullet for me.
Ron is standing in for Keanu Reeves on set of Matrix "dodging bullets"
Rats in Paradise
Chuuk also known as Truk was one of six districts of the Trust Territories of Pacific Islands administered by the United States. Or basically a "Welfare State" ever since the end of the Second World War. The U.S. has basically been pouring millions of dollars in "aid" or welfare into these islands and the people are typical welfare recipients who have no appreciation for charity, but a never ending hand held outstretched for more money, more money....
I had been running trips to Truk Lagoon for about five years, slowly developing more and more resources to support rebreathers and deeper diving with helium mixtures. In 2004 I had shipped a container of aluminum 40 stage bottles, twenty sets of oxygen / diluent cylinders, and industrial cylinders of helium to the Blue Lagoon resort. I did not ship oxygen industrial cylinders as the cost of a cylinder was "only" $200" whereas the cost of a cylinder of helium was $900! The understanding was that I would give the cylinders to the Blue Lagoon in trust that I would have them to use for my trips, and upon request from divers that asked me could use the CCR cylinders. It worked ok the first year in 2004, and in 2005 I was preparing for a photo shoot week with Advanced Diver Magazine where I hosted Curt Bowen as trip photographer. His task was to do a nice photo shoot to promote my CCR dive travel, as well as give the Blue Lagoon a huge advertisement in his magazine.
The group I had assembled were from all over the U.S from Seattle WA, Los Angeles CA Charelston SC, Mountain Lake NJ, Newark NJ, Miami Fl, several divers from Midwest states and one diver from Plymouth UK.
Now I recall going to Chuuk in 2002 just after a torrential rainfall caused landslides that swept dozens of people and entire villages into the lagoon. It also was a huge "toilet flush" for the island as I had visitors in 2001 gasping at all of the garbage blowing around the town, heaps of garbage in peoples yards, and dumps full of all manner of industrial supplies shipped to the island that are on a one way trip, to the island then the dump. But in 2002 it looked like they had a sudden change in conscience and ecology was keen. Nope, they had a hurricane! So with the island dump mentality, I should not be surprised to know that rats are abundant on the islands, but I was not prepared for the rats that I encountered.
The 10 day trip that I planned to Truk was going spectacular as we were doing two CCR trimix dives on the deep wrecks each day, and we even did 300 ft deep wall dives in the lagoon entrance channels as the lagoon is not much deeper than about 200 ft. We dived rare wrecks, we dived prized wrecks, and still the divers were complaining as they new there was a private photo boat. I had adult divers crying on my shoulders that they were being mistreated as they did not have their own private photo boat??? And these divers were doing two fantastic deep mix dives every day on rare wrecks. One wreck the destroyer in the north lagoon caused a dive master to blow an eardrum as it was his 3rd hot drop to try to find this rare wreck. The triangulation techniques that these dive guides use is beyond imagination, and beyond GPS accuracy, yet all they use is landmarks!
One of the first kicks in the nuts was when I met another IANTD CCR trimix instructor who was traveling with his dive shop in NJ and he was diving his inspiration. So, Jim what mix are you using??? He would not say, but I saw the Blue Lagoon dive shop giving my expensive helium away free to him as they are such nice guys? WTF! The second shock was to see the state of my CCR cylinders which some were half full of water? And all of my stage bottles were drained of helium as the staff needed some DIN valves for a group of German tourists traveling with DIN regulators?????
When Ritchie at Blue Lagoon learned that I had covered a photographers trip expenses to do a photo shoot, all he could see was dollar signs$$. So while they were catering to single divers in pangas, the boat for Curt was going to cost $750! I just about crapped my pants, but I confirmed that it was $750 ok??? yes it is $750.... well that was until the end of the week and it went to $750 per day! These greedy welfare rats do not care about the thousands of dollars in equipment that I trusted to the dive center, or the future advertising value. When they see a wallet, all they can think of is socialism, and that means your money is mine! The second photo diver in Curts boat all of a sudden could not remember that he said he would pay for part of a private boat, even if it meant he only split the agreed $750 and would not even talk to me when I got pimped for $3750 for a week. When the Blue Lagoon refuse to let you leave until you put your credit card down, what does a guy do? These greedy Rats could not even image the value of a full blow Advanced Diver Magazine photo shoot?
In the end, welfare is not a long term solution to any peoples best interest as it only serves to make fat lazy and greedy people who have no interest in taking any steps to succeed. They put their hands out and they should expect money. When I learned about the typhoon that struck Chuuk and how the Rats had looted all of the dive liveaboards, and burned one of them, well it was no surprise as this is the true nature of the island people of Chuuk.
Replacing Bell on a Shipwreck???
I know this sound crazy when I say that I actually took the time to take a shipwrecks bronze bell and replace it on the very ship, but that is exactly what I did! Normally divers would be posing on the surface with such a treasured artifact as a ships bell, fighting each other over who had rights to claim the bell, and dive buddies would start a feud that would leave the Hatfield's out in the pig pen..... But you have to realize that I had already spent almost ten years assisting a Great Lakes shipwreck organization that had as its mission to preserve, protect, and when viable to restore artifacts illegally stolen from wrecks. I had participated in a shipwreck restoration project at Isle Royale where I had reassembled wooden bunk-beds in 3rd class cabins, re-attached tongue-groove paneling on cabin walls, etc. The idea, somewhat misguided, was to give today's divers a chance to see a very popular shipwreck before it was damaged by the many divers who explored it. Some artifacts like spiral staircases were actually replaced on a wreck to give it the appearance of what the first divers experienced when they dived the wreck. After years of assisting this group, I had to get out as it was getting crazy and they just could not accept the natural deterioration of shipwrecks.
But we are talking about a shipwreck called the Gunilda which has been described by Cousteau as one of the finest shipwrecks in the world! And if you have had the fortune to dive this wreck, they you would have to agree that nothing shines quite like gold leaf on the bow and stern, as well as all the shiny brass, the ships wheel, spot lights, binnacles, sky lights, hand carved African mahogany panels, silver serving dishes, etc... It is or was a treasure ship when it sank.
Gold Leaf on Gunilda Bowsprit
Today sadly most all of the silver serving dishes, and fine china dishes have been taken, but there are still lockers with shelves full of running lights, all the ships wheels and the bell! It was after years of diving this treasure, that I returned to see one of the most heartbreaking sights that I can recall. The shape or outline of a base was the only thing visible where the bronze bell of the Gunilda should be??? OMG, some bastard has stolen the bell! Well, almost as it was in the process of being stolen as the bell has been rocked and tugged on for years, to the point that the "gooseneck" of the bell shows stress cracks. And it was a local diver Scotty who was inadvertently tugging on the bell to test its foundation when it fell off to the deck below. When I discovered the bell laying in the silt on the deck below it was some relief, but I knew that it could not sit here for long before someone would steal it.
Gunilda Bell leans forward as it has been wrenched on by divers trying to remove it
Gunilda bell sitting on deck below, having been knocked off accidentally
The plans to replace the bell to the deck were formed and the next trip to Gunilda, I returned with diver Sponge boB and we hired a local tug / dive boat. Now another point to the Gunilda is that it is fiercely protected by a group of Canuks in a club called SOS (Save Ontario Shipwrecks) and each time we returned to the docks, our boat and persons were searched by OPP (Ontario Provincial Police) and by local Ryan LeBlanc who knew us for years. All this time we also had to show copy of a "Permit to Dive" the wreck as authorized by Ministry of Tourism, which turned out to be a bogus story but we did not realize until a decade later that it was a made up shamm. And during this decade another Hoser from Thunder Bay who was doing solo night dives to steal artifacts?? So with all of the scrutiny, and paranoia, we certainly did not want to advertise that we were going to "F" with a Ministry protected Cultural Resource. It had to be a sneak dive, and sneak repair job.
We began with a commercial divers tool pouch full of $$$ Snap On brand; assorted wrenches, spud driver, hammer, bronze carriage bolts, bronze nuts, etc... and we had to slip this over the side of the boat, into the water, out of sight of boat captain so he would not get suspicious. As I jumped into the water to retrieve the tool pouch, it was a Gilligans Island moment. Who tied the bag to the boats side?? Well the Sponge boB forgot in the excitement to tie off the bag and now it sat somewhere within arc of the boats swing from mooring, in 270 feet of black water and silt! So we decided to swim from the stern, (starboard side) at 240 looking on the bottom. For some reason, around mid ships, I looked up as we were swimming underneath a life boat davit, and sitting perched on top of the davit was the tool pouch! It was a one in a million hit that landed on the davit arm!
It started with driving the bronze bolts out of the 3" oak deck and driving the mushroom top of the bolt out of the base of the bell. This bell was a heavy bastard, and at 250' in pitch black water with heavy layers of silt a fairly big project. Ironically the silt is the very silt that we were forbidden to disturb, by Ministry of Culture Tourism permit we held, as it was considered a layer of protection on this delicate wreck site. Fortunately I was on the Inspiration CCR and not OC, so I had the time and gas to do an arduous job at depth, silt be damnned! The bell I can only estimate, but somewhere in the 50 - 70 lbs weight range, was a hefty thing to lift at that depth! Once the bell was upright and held in place I could drive the new bronze carriage bolts through the base, through the oak deck, and apply a bronze washer and nut to hold tight.
Gunilda sits in 260 -270 ffw
Today when I take pictures of divers with the bell, engraved with ships name "Gunilda" , it is a proud feature of the boat that I am totally happy to see sitting right where it should be for ever and ever, at least until the wrecks collapses in another 150 years. And today, the only artifacts of the Gunilda that I hold in possession are the bronze bits of the bells carriage bolts. I did leave an artifact on the wreck that I could not find on subsequent dives, so if you are looking at the bell and you see a Snap On socket sitting in the silt on the deck, you can take it as your treasure from the Gunilda.
Dave Miller on recent dive
My treasure from diving the Gunilda
Now there was NO fanfare, no gloating on forums, no ego drive to make any claims. It was my intention to do some good, for all of the bad that I have done, and just give all wreck divers the pleasure of seeing the Gunilda bell in its original position. I hope you can get a chance to be photographed with the Gunilda bell, if you do then please be safe.
Desecration of a Grave Site or a Sailors Salute
I would never joke about such a shameless act as desecration of a grave site, so let me get that out of the way right away. But it may have happened and you need to decide if it was real or not?
Diving shipwrecks in the Great Lakes can leave you with an ominous feeling as the tragedy of the shipwreck is more than just a physical hulk of a shipwreck, but it also includes the deaths of many crewmembers who went down with the ship. And in the Great Lakes where the water can be frigid nine months of the year, and slightly less frigid on the remaining three months, is to say that it is damn cold diving in lakes like Superior. So cold that songs are written testifying to the fact that Superior never gives up her dead. In very cold water lakes, the bodies of drowning victims sink and do not rise to the surface. They are either dragged down with the ship as she sinks, or the cold water locks up their muscles and prevents the person from treading water any longer and they sink to a watery grave. I have witnessed skeletal remains, and I have witnessed full bodies that have become sopanafied human remains. Or basically white fussy looking human corpses!
So when I dive shipwrecks it is for many reasons which include, but are not limited to history, artifacts, challenges, excitement, tragedy and others... And I am mindful that on many of the wrecks that there has been loss of life, and may even possibly still contain human remains. If you were to search for "Cemetery Act" then you would find that there are laws written to protect and preserve human dignity, and the deceased. It was a situation that I found myself in when I met a Corps of Engineers marine historian and I was sharing photos of a shipwreck in Whitefish Bay, that the clothing artifacts actually showed some skeletal human remains and I was reminded by the historian that photos are prohibited and you cannot simply post pictures of human remains. It is such a time sensitive subject as we do not think anything of watching a Nat Geo show on mummy's of Egypt, or skeletons of early humans, but the point is that it is time and time matters. And this reminded me of a trip to Truk Lagoon where it is not unusual to find skeletons and human skulls from Japanese sailors that drown in battle. And once on shore at the dive resort we are in a dining room full of 80 year old Japanese men who could very well been friends or relatives with these same human remains that we see and photograph. One of the most striking instances was when I was walking boardwalk at marina in northern Michigan, and a lady started chatting with me as she saw my dive gear. She asked me "have you ever heard of the shipwreck Cedarville that lies just below the Mackinac bridge?" Oh yes I reply as this is a remarkably intact and exciting shipwreck to dive! "Well, my father died in the sinking of the Cedarville." Pssssst... was the wind getting knocked out of me. Well this was in the Rogers area of Michigan and a town that knows all too well the loss of sailors from many wrecks on lakes; Michigan, Huron, Superior..
Now this is how the story unfolds and it starts with a diver who's name was boB and he just happens to be a Sponge, so the name "Sponge boB" just stuck. But he had an idea after hearing one of the survivors of the Bradley shipwreck in Lake Michigan speaking about his jar of poker money that he kept in his foot locker. Well we had just started diving the deep wrecks and the Bradley was a deep wreck, but in remarkable intact condition. So we figure that it should be pretty simple to recover this jar of poker money as we know the guys name, his exact cabin location on the ship and we just dive down find the room and retrieve the poker jar. It was a good intention as Sponge Bob wanted to be the one who handed the sailor his jar of poker money as a memento of the ship and his crew-mates lost on the wreck. So we get a few other dive buddies and off we go to northern Michigan to dive the Bradley shipwreck.
Gifting a jar of a sailors poker money was the goal
It was not but a few minutes drive out of Minneapolis when one of the guys in our group lets the group know that due to leaked information that another team of divers wanted to beat us to the punch and get the jar of poker money before us. Oh-Phuck! What a bunch of panzy arse jackrabbitts, or something like that was stated. These two johns were former students of mine who after meeting up on a trip to Gunilda would be seen holding hands and skipping off into the sunset together. But they had an insatiable greed and ego for wanting to be know as the greatest shipwreck divers in the entire Great Lakes! Their egos were totally out of control. So after hearing this disappointing news, I knew that I had to send a signal in return for their greedy gesture of stabbing the Sponge in the back. My plan was to pull over at the next Walmart and stock up on ladies Granny Panties, and Bras and make a banner to fly from the bridge of the Bradley with their names on. So with Sharpie pens I wrote john n john on the ladies underwear and strung them out on a cloth line. The undies were attached to the bridge of the Bradley as a prominent location where one would find a steamship emblem or flag, but in our case it was a bunch of ladies undies! Now I knew this would get back to the two johns and I knew that they had the entire winter to wait for spring and summer before they could launch a dive and recover their pride and ego. You see the two johns were intent on doing a copy cat of the Edmunds Fitzgerald dive where an actual heroic diver wearing a Newt Suit cut the ships bell of the bridge and replaced it with a replica, engraved with all of the sailors names. So the two johns figure if they can do the same thing for the Bradley, and have it video taped, then they too should become national heros?
If I were a sailor the last thing that I would want to see on my wreck is a couple pansy arse egomaniacs, and would rest much easier knowing that someone cared enough to send me a panty-gram instead. And when my time comes, I sure hope someone cares enough to salute my passing with some frilly unmentionables!
Ron (center) ready to hang panties on bridge of Bradley
with "Gay John" n "Little Johns" names
Did you really tell a little Dutchboy To Go And Put His Finger In A Dike?
The location is Florida Tek USA show, after show cocktail hour at the host hotel. I was walking back to the room and ran across a group of old friends having after dinner drinks in the lobby bar and was invited to join in. This was a group of most every rEvo instructors, rEvo factory service rep, Shearwater manufacture, Shearwater sales rep and a little Dutchboy.
I was curious about why the rEvo was designed the way it was, so I had my chance to ask the guy who made it. I already knew the design of the Drager Dolphin which is 90% of the rEvo breathing loop design, aside from the unique re-design of the scrubber. And I was most interested in why the loop was not very flood tolerant? In all my years, I had never had a CCR flood, except in one instance in Grand Cayman where I was mentoring a group of new CCR divers. I was too busy being a shepherd to do my own checks and I had not entirely closed the scrubber lid and had a flood. I new it immediately, there was no danger and I owned it as my fault for not doing checks.
So I wanted to ask the lil Dutch boy in person about the design. When I relayed my mistake, and my question, he refused to comment on the design, but simply replied that I new nothing about rebreathers and that I obviously needed to be re-trained! I laughed at and told him that I did not know anyone who had more experience that could teach me anything new about reberathers? The group collectively shrank down into their chairs, holding their breath, trying to hide.... Now this was a cocky statement for me to make as the table held a number of old friends from the CCR industry that I respect, but yes I did tell a little Ductchboy to "Go stick your finger in a Dyke". And no I did not mean a retaining wall to hold back water...
I should put my finger in a Dyke?