Harbor Beach Trip Report (7/24-25/2009)

This past Friday and Saturday I once again had the pleasure of diving Lake Huron near Harbor Beach, MI. The object of the trip was to complete the dives necessary for Brian, Glenn and Jeff to achieve certification as TDI Advanced Nitrox/Deco Procedures Divers. The plan was to dive the Dunderburg Friday afternoon and the bow section of the Morrell Saturday morning.

As planned, we met Gary Venet at the marina about 2:30 for a 3pm departure. The Sylvia Anne is without doubt one of the most comfortable dive boats I’ve ever been on and Gary runs a ship-shape operation. When I reserved our spots on the boat a couple months ago, the guy at the dive shop said we got the last 4 spaces and the trip was full. When we arrived Friday however, we were pleasantly surprised to find out we were the only 4 on the boat! A beautiful Friday afternoon, calm seas, and only 4 divers on the boat. Now that’s living!

We arrived at the Dunderberg, reviewed the dive plan and hit the water. I have to say that I’ve done this dive more times than I can count. But instead of becoming repetitive and boring, the Dunderburg is like an old friend: you may only get together once in awhile, but when you do, it’s like you never were apart. It’s especially fun to take divers on it for the first time. The Dunderburg is one of the prettiest, most intact, and accessible wooden schooners in all the Great Lakes. Visit this link to see some of Andy Morrison’s excellent photos of this beautiful wreck.

After returning to port, we had dinner, debriefed the dive, returned to the motel and rigged equipment for the following day. The “dive in the afternoon one day and early morning the next” schedule doesn’t leave much time in between dives. We finished rigged equipment as the sun set and just before the rain moved in.

Saturday morning it was cloudy and windy. I went to the boat at 7 a.m. and Gary had the weather satellite image on his laptop. There were lots of thunderstorms in the area, one right over the site of the Morrell. Not good. Even worse, there were more lines of storms lining up further west, heading our way. But, if the storms missed us, we might, just maybe, be able to get to the Dunderburg again. We waited. The storms kept marching towards us. At 9 a.m., Gary canceled the morning dive. Our friends from Divers Inc in Ann Arbor, MI were disappointed. My friend Rich Synowiec, owner of DI, had the morning charter booked, so we had booked our spaces through Rich. Long drive for no dive. My team was especially bummed since the cancellation meant we couldn’t finish our coursework. Gary called Dale Musser from Sea Level Scuba, who had the afternoon charter booked and asked if there was room for my students and me so we could finish our course dives. Luckily, there was space. Now if the weather would just cooperate.

Brian, Jeff, Glenn and I went into town for breakfast at Al’s Restaurant. Breakfast at Al’s almost makes it seem OK that the dive was canceled. Homemade food at reasonable prices and outstanding coffee. We headed back to the boat about 11, where we stood under an awning in a downpour, but the wind had dropped to nothing. Storms still on the radar, we still wait. Finally about 1:30 Gary said, “OK, load up. We’ll give it a shot.” It may be cloudy and drizzly, but it should be calm. We headed out to the Dunderburg. There was no disappointment on our part doing the “D” two days in a row. During our debriefing the previous evening, much of what I heard was “And the next time, I want to check out the holds,” and “If we get to dive it again, I have to go out to the crow’s nest.” The conditions were surprisingly good after a stormy morning. Not much wave action, no rain, and even a few peeks of sun.

My team was the second team in the water. They executed the dive nicely and stayed within all the parameters we had discussed on the surface. And they managed to enjoy themselves at the same time. The water seemed warmer than usual; 43 degrees (F) on the bottom, 67 at the surface with the thermocline lurking around 70 feet. We had an excellent dive and there were smiles all around on the boat ride back in.

After unloading the boat and debriefing the dive, we split up to head our separate routes back home. Thanks to Gary and his loyal minions Charlie, Skippy and Tom. Thanks Dale for letting us “stowaway” on your afternoon charter. And most of all, congratulations Brian, Glenn and Jeff!

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