When I tell people at work I’ll be gone diving for a few days in warm, clear water, they ask where I’m going. Florida? The Bahamas? No, I’m not leaving the Great Lakes. “Oh, so it’ll be cold,” they say. Nope, 73 degrees. “But that’s on the surface probably.” Wrong again, it’s 73 degrees top to bottom, no thermocline I tell them. “Ooooo-Kayyyy” they say, now convinced that perhaps I do need a few days off.
The 1000 Islands region of the St. Lawrence River is one of my favorite places to dive. The St. Lawrence connects Lake Ontario on the west to the Atlantic Ocean on the east. The 1000 Islands region is the section of river nearest to Lake Ontario. The St. Lawrence has long been a major transportation route, even before the man-made “Seaway” existed. Hence, there are all sorts of shipwrecks to dive. And due to the constant mixing of the water by the current, there’s no thermocline and the water warms up quite nicely in the summer.
This year, I seem to have picked the worst possible week to go to the islands. Everybody I asked was already busy or couldn’t get vacation time, so it turned out my “group” trip consisted of Marshall and Renee Allan and me. Renee was completing her Adv. Wreck course, so wreck penetration was the objective.
Our first dive day we dove the Ash Island Barge and the Kingshorn. While “Ash Island Barge” isn’t a very glamorous name, it’s actually quite a nice little dive in about 100′. The Kingshorn is always a favorite of mine. She’s a wooden schooner in about 85′ in decent condition and only about 5 minutes from the resort dock. We jumped in on the Kingshorn and it was time for Renee to do some coursework. She ran a guideline inside the wreck, we followed the line out blind, went back in, did lost line drills and just as she thought it was over Marshall threw in an out of air for good measure. After returning from diving, we headed to Brockville for dinner at the Keystorm Pub, in honor of our dives the next day.
Day 2 found us doing two dives on the Keystorm. The Keystorm was a 250′ steel steamer built in England in 1910. She was only two years old when she ran aground in dense fog October 26, 1912. Her crew escaped and she lay stranded on the shoal for five hours at which time she slid off the shoal into deeper water. Today, the Keystorm is one of the most popular dives in the area. Still lying on the shoal that sank her, the Keystorm offers a variety of dive profiles. Her bow lies in only 25′ of water, with the deepest part of her stern in 115′. We moored amidships. On our first dive, we swam to the deeper part of the wreck and went into the engine room. On our second dive, we headed to the bow (shallow) and visited the captain’s bathtub as well as the wheelhouse and forward superstructure.
After returning to Caigers and cleaning up, we headed over to Dive Tech for air fills and to see owner Dan Humble. Dan has a knack for finding new gizmos you just can’t live without. In all my travels around the Great Lakes, I have to say that Dive Tech has the most extensive retail offerings, largest gas blending operation, best service and all around most pleasant atmosphere I’ve seen. Our tanks filled, we headed back to Brockville for dinner at Bud’s on the Bay for dinner on the outdoor patio. It was a beautiful evening to sit outside and have a piece of chocolate chip pie for dessert!
On day 3, our dive objective was the Daryaw. The Daryaw, originally named the Marinier, was built in France in 1919 and came to the Great Lakes in 1922. She was 216′ in length and sports the unique feature of having twin screws (two propellers). Her name was changed in 1935. She ran aground in a dense fog on November 21, 1941 and sank near Brockville, ON. The Daryaw lies in about 90′ of water, upside down. Her upside down orientation on the bottom makes it easy for divers to view both of her propellers. Once again, we did two dives on her. On the first dive, we ducked under her upside-down hull and visited the bow briefly before heading to the stern. We penetrated the aft cabin area and conducted more drills for class. On our second dive, we explored the stern further and, at the end of the dive, we drifted off the wreck and did our deco drifting along with the current, rather than fighting it on the mooring line.
On our last dive day, we headed to the Roy A. Jodrey. The Jodrey may well be the signature dive of the 1000 Islands. A modern day, steel freighter, she was built in 1965 for the lucrative ore-carrying trade. She’s a huge shipwreck at just over 600′ in length.
In November 1974, she was carrying 20,000 tons or iron ore pellets on their way to Detroit, MI when she struck Pullman Shoal. Taking on water, she tried to beach in shallow water near the US Coast Guard Station on Wellesley Island. Unfortunately, there was no shallow water to be found and she eventually filled with water and sank in a little over 200′ of water. The Jodrey lies against the wall of the channel just beneath the US Coast Guard station.
As the Jodrey is in the channel, there is no mooring attached to her. Divers enter the water upstream of the wreck and navigate down the wall to her. Our captain suggested we try a new route to the wreck, one not familiar to me. We decided to give it a try. Dropping down the wall where we were directed, we didn’t find the wreck. I couldn’t believe it. How could we have missed a 600′ ship? I figured the current must have carreid us a bit too far downstream, so we started working our way upstream. After about 8 minutes, I decided I made the wrong choice so we turned around and drifted with the current and sure enough, before long I could make out a large shadow looming in our path. The shadow soon materialized into the bow of a huge ship. Drifting in the current plays funny tricks on one’s mind. As you drift towards the wreck, it’s easy to believe that you are stationary and the ship is actually coming at you!
We were able to enjoy our dive on the Jodrey and explored the forward area pretty extensively despite losing precious minutes finding the wreck. Our ascent was much less dramatic than our descent. As our captain predicted, following the wall up brought us up just upstream of the boat. In fact, we spotted the anchor line when we arrived at our 15′ deco stop.
Sadly, that was our last dive and it was time to leave. By the time we got back to the hotel, packed up and got on the road, it was nearly 3 pm. Now, all we have to do is drive 9 hours and we’ll be home free. We ended up arriving at my house about 12:30 a.m., so with brief goodbyes, Marshall and Renee continued on home and I went to bed.
As always, our trip to the 1000 Islands was great. Thanks to Caigers Resort, Thousand Island Pleasure Diving and Dive Tech. I’ll be returning to the 1000 Islands in 2010 to teach a full range of technical diving courses. If you’re interested in doing a course, or just joining in our group to go diving, drop me an e-mail.