Incredible Wreck Dives and Film Editing Galore!

This is the first free time that I’ve had in two days to write (or sleep!) so right now I’m in the airport terminal catching up on entries. The past two days have been filled with amazing wreck diving and lots of video editing. My only previous experience with this kind of stuff was with iMovie for a presentation junior year. iMovie is a lot simpler than the Stayer’s professional production equipment! They have Media100 which is used in conjunction with Photoshop7 and Adobe After Effects. I started using the camera gear and editing software the first full day I was here so luckily I got the hang of it before leaving.

Last entry I thought I had spent all day editing….nope, not even close! Wednesday I was up until 3:45 am and then on Thursday was up until 6:15 am finishing it up. Pat almost pulled an all-nighter with me, she was up to 4 am this morning! We were worried that we wouldn’t finish in time, but thankfully Jim got it onto VHS before my trip home; it is roughly 13 minutes and has a lot of footage from the wrecks!!

THE DIVES: We have been in major crunch-mode but the four two five hours we spent diving on both Wednesday and on Thursday were incredible. The water was about 66 degrees on the surface and we all used drysuits again because it gets a lot colder at the bottom. Wednesday we went out with Bill, another charter captain and friend of the Stayers, to dive the Mary Alice B. and the front half of the Regina.

The Mary Alice B. is a 65 foot steel tug-boat sitting perfectly upright in about 92 feet of water. She took on more water than the pumps could handle while being towed from Rockport to Detroit in 1975; the Stayers discovered her in 1992. Diving on this wreck was an amazing experience, I felt like I had gone back in time. Although many of Mary Alice’s surfaces were covered in zebra mussels (a non-native species that invaded the great lakes but, because they filter water, also made the water more clear), she looks perfectly preserved. Not only are the wood and ropes intact from sinking, the wheelhouse is picturesque and complete with the wooden wheel. It’s breathtaking. We swam around the tug and peered in the head, the galley (which had the remains of some plates), and the engine room. I wish I could have stayed down there forever! Our second dive that day was awesome as well.

The Regina is a 250 foot steel freighter lying upside down in 77 feet of water that is thought to have sunk in the “big storm of 1913” on Lake Huron, in which many large ships were consumed by the sea. She was found by a local man in 1986, her hull completely ripped open midship. As we descended onto the Regina, a massive looming shadow came into view. Getting closer I almost choked on my regulator when I saw the size of the prop. Jim had told me earlier to swim behind it for the camera once we got down there because it was “big” but I did not imagine it to be THAT enormous!! I felt a little spooked getting so close to it, the whole wreck had a very eerie feel. I followed Jim around the bottom of the wreck, he showed me the smokestack and one of the masts, and we peered underneath her hull to see the cargo area inside. The sand is littered with countless artifacts, from whistles, to bells, and anchors to glassware and the dozens of portholes just LAYING in the sand. It was shocking. I think I know a few people who wouldn’t be allowed near this wreck! Needless to say, Wednesday was a spectacular day of diving.

Thursday was just as interesting because we got to see the other half of the Regina, the bow. We logged a bottom time of 29 minutes and I reached 78 feet where the cargo dug into the sand. The bow is covered in a row of intact portholes and the bottom, similar to the stern, is filled with artifacts. I shined my light under the hull and saw gigantic pieces of wooden decking and a few ladders. Since the wreck is upside down, Jim took me up to the keel to see the huge rip that caused the freighter. The sheer size of it was intimidating. It had to have taken something really powerful to rip through that hunk of steel. That was our only dive on Thursday, but still a stunning one to end on. Jim let me use his video camera on each of the wrecks so I was able to get footage of them all, documenting my first time freshwater wreck diving.

My trip with the Stayers continued to open my eyes to new worlds of diving, and also of video production! The amount of effort Jim and Pat put into producing their videos or other people’s videos is impressive, and a full-time job in itself. A lot of time is put into making a little segment of video. I got the chance to learn about what goes on “behind-the-scenes” when making an underwater movie, during my stay with Jim and Pat. Not only does one have to be artistic and have a creative eye, he or she must have the skills on multiple levels, from camera control in currents and waves to color-correction and other editing abilities, in order to produce a pleasing finished product.

When it Rains, it Pours: A Day of Video Editing

Wow. Today is the first day on the internship with heavy rain. Nearly every dive has been in fine weather with great water conditions (with exception to yesterday!), how much more lucky can I get? I guess when it rains in Michigan, it pours.

It has been pouring almost nonstop since last night’s thunderstorms. We didn’t get to go out today, which was not totally a bad thing as it was time well spent on the intern video. I am amazed by how long it takes to put a just few frames together, this project is going to take a long time!! Pat and I worked on the project ALL DAY. She had an appointment at 2:30 so we took a break from editing. During this time Jim took me to see the lightship Huron.

A lightship is a floating light house. It is quite practical because it can be used in multiple locations, as Huron was, and can be anchored in the parts of the Lake too deep to build an actual light house. Huron marked the entrance to the Lake Huron cut, and was the last light ship to be used on the Lakes. In the 70’s Huron was beached and later it became a museum. It’s a neat piece of history to explore. After the lightship, Jim bought some “sea foam,” air vacuumed malted candy covered in chocolate, on the way home…it’s delicious and only found on the shores of Lake Huron. Spent the rest of the night editing away!

First Wreck Dive in Lake Huron

Today is our first day of diving and my first time in freshwater! We dove from the Stayer’s boat, Wildkat, with Mike and Deb who are close friends of the Stayers. If I hadn’t known we were on the shores of Lake Huron, I would have thought we were looking out onto an ocean. I was excited to see the crystal-clear stern wake we left behind, and that we didn’t have salt spray stains all over our gear…different from San Diego and Massachusetts! When the time for the first dive came, Pat stayed behind with Deb while Jim, Mike, and I descended on the first wreck.

The wreck of the Sport was so cool because, having sunk in fresh water, the wood was intact-another sight you could never see in Massachusetts, or any salt water location! Sport was the first steel hulled tug on Lake Huron, it sank in a wintry gale in 1920, and lies on her starboard side in 49 feet of water. After giving me a tutorial on land, Jim let me try using his video camera underwater and luckily it turned out to be much easier to use than I thought! I had to compensate for its weight by adding air to my BC, but I was able to watch what I was filming on a small LCD inside the housing (which was a GATES housing, by the way!). To make the film pleasing to the eye, Jim told me that I should not use the zoom, move very slowly and steadily through the water, and let the motion in the frame be natural, not just panning.

The Sport had some amazing artifacts lying on and around it. Aside from the anchor, winch, and bell on board, I saw the wheel, many portholes and her enormous brass whistle!! Portholes and especially whistles are rare finds in the ocean and can be taken by divers if the wreck is not part of an underwater preserve. We circled the Sport a couple of times and on our way to the ascent line I saw Jim do a huge double take, the ascent line was gone! All that was left was the chain wrapped around the wreck. Jim and Mike tied a reel line around the wreck and we surfaced together. Luckily the boat was only about 100 yards away but the surf was huge and the current at the surface was substantial. The forecasted 2 foot seas turned out to be 4 to 5 footers; I wasn’t scared out of my drysuit because I had two experienced men on either side of me, but we seemed to be drifting pretty fast. Deb and Pat were able to keep an eye on us the whole time after the line broke and immediately tossed us a life-ring to pull us in. About five minutes later everyone was safely onboard. Needless to say we didn’t make a second dive today.

Back at the house we celebrated Deb’s birthday by relaxing in the heated pool followed by a sausage cook out. It was a good way to end what they called a “shaky” day. No one can predict what will happen on a dive, complications always occur. Today was an excellent learning experience for me. Before heading off to bed Jim and Pat taught me how to edit the footage we took by using Media100 to digitize, color-correct, and edit the film.

From Lexington, MA to Lexington, MI in 15 Hours

For the second portion of the “sleep-away” half of the internship, I will be staying with Jim and Pat Stayer, a couple interested in wreck diving and exploration. They are the founders of Out of the Blue Productions and charter dives on their boat, Wildkat. Jim and Pat have discovered eight shipwrecks in Lake Huron, and I will get the chance to dive on some wrecks in the Sanilac Shores Underwater Preserve. I met the Stayers this morning at a coffee shop in Connecticut, and we packed away my luggage and dive gear so that we could start the 12 hour drive to their home in Lexington, Michigan.

A couple of days ago the Stayers had told me that we might have the chance to stop in Canada on the way back, and we did! This is my first time visiting Canada, and we stopped at NIAGARA FALLS. It was so cool, they are magnificent. Getting up close to the ledge, you realize the power of water, seeing the huge rapids and the sheer volume of water passing right by you is amazing. The Stayers are going to teach me how to put together a short video, which will be documenting the summer, so Pat took a few video clips of my first time in Canada. With our break at the Falls, the 12 hour trip actually turned into a 15 hour trip; the traffic jam we sat in trying to cross the American border reminded me of all the traffic I was missing back in Boston during today’s Democratic National Convention.

We reached the Stayers’ home by 10:30 and after unpacking the truck we are all ready to sleep. Before I went to bed, though, I noticed beautiful and intricately drawn pictures of shipwrecks hanging in the hallway; Jim told me that these were some of the ones that we would be visiting and mentioned that Pat had drawn them all. In amazement I went to bed dreaming of what it would be like to dive on one of these vessels…

Diving the YUKON and the RUBY E.

Steve wasn’t able to make the dives today, but he hired a guide who took us to dive two cool sites in “Wreck Alley” of the San Diego coast. We went out on the panga captained by Doug, Julie’s mate, to the first site the wreck of the Yukon. The Yukon is a 366 foot destroyer that was sunk four years ago to create an artificial reef for the wildlife, and to create a safe, penetrable wreck for divers. The water was pretty choppy and sitting on the bouncing raft with the tight neck seal around my neck didn’t make me feel to great, but I felt a lot better when I actually got into the water.

We descended down the line to the wreck, and once it came into sight (the visibility was about 20 feet), the looming shadow was enormous. The sunken vessel lists to the starboard side on the bottom, and is covered with many large white metridium (anemones). I saw a few fish on the tour that the guide led, but not too many. The Yukon is a fully intact wreck, which makes it a popular site to dive. We didn’t go inside, but explored the many surfaces onboard. It was amazing. We logged a bottom time of 36 minutes and had a maximum depth of 91 feet.

After the Yukon, we ate a little lunch and then rolled into the water around 2:30 to start our dive on the Ruby E., a coast guard boat that sank 12 years ago. The dive was BEAUTIFUL!!! The visibility was a little better on this one (around 25 feet) so we saw a ton of life-it was so cool. The wreck is covered with all sorts of anemones, including the little strawberry anemones we saw on the kelp bed dives. There were fish everywhere, which made it a very lively scene! We explored all around the wreck and dove down to about 77 feet. By far the best part of the dive was finding bunches of teeny little nudibranchs on the decks and other horizontal surfaces.

My favorite part was finding a huge brightly colored navanax, which resembles a nudibranch but is actually a type of sea hare that preys on nudibranchs! I thought it was a nudibranch, but Marty’s book told me otherwise : ). This little guy was black with thin bright yellow stripes covering its body. Two orange tipped ribbon-like protrusions ran along its back, and were spotted with bright blue patches. It was soooo cool. I sat there for a while just looking at it, and actually realized there were a whole bunch of nudibranchs right beneath me too! Our dive only lasted about 40 minutes because our guide was low on air, but it was by far my FAVORITE dive in San Diego!!

Back at the house we told Steve about our dives, and I was totally surprised when he gave me a mounted picture of a nudibranch—just like the one on Destiny! Unfortunately Pat and I didn’t get back to the house until around 10:30 pm because we had to spend the rest of the day waiting in the hospital (ugh!) because my glands were pretty swollen and I had come down with strep throat. Regardless, I still could not stop thinking about that awesome dive on the Ruby E.!

Depart from San Diego, CA

Amazing! That is one word of many that could describe this trip. Pat and I got up early to pack our gear into our suitcases because today we fly back home. I’ve had such a wonderful time staying in San Diego, I can’t believe that the week is already over. From the beautiful slide shows in his living room, to conversations at breakfast or in the car, Steve has shared wealth of knowledge with me. He has given me invaluable advice and has shared great pointers on how to improve on something everyday. Needless to say I was continually amazed by what he had in store for us each day, not to mention the star-studded list of people he introduced us to! Steve and Hiroko have been incredible hosts. I’ve had so much fun staying here, I’m going to miss them. They are headed off to Africa soon, followed by a trip to the Pacific. Thanks Steve and Hiro for an awesome week in San Diego! : )

Diving Unlimited International…DUI – A Tour

Today was a very action packed day! We started the day off with a nice long breakfast and then hurried off to the DUI Factory, where we were cheerfully greeted by representative Faith Ortins. Diving Unlimited International (DUI) is a distinguished dry suit manufacturing, company famous for its top-of-the-line custom dry suit products and is considered the leader in the trade; DUI caters to everyone from the general public to the U.S. government. Faith took us on a tour of the factory, and described how a dry suit is made from start to finish. DUI prides themselves in the construction of their products; every dry suit and accessory is made by hand.

A suit starts out in the back with the cutters. There are two cutters who each cut their designated patterns. The man who cuts the patterns for the style suit that Pat wears has been cutting for around ten years, which ensures manufacturing consistency. DUI uses materials such as their own version of crushed neoprene, trilaminate, and cordura; the neoprene is cut uncrushed, so at the cutting table it looked thick and spongy. The next room we went to was a large warehouse-style room filled with tables and busy workers, this is where the suits are sewn together and the seams are sealed with rubber. A dry suit is a dry suit because of its seams. Water does not pass through neoprene on its own; wet suits are thus “wet” because water leaks through the suit’s seams. With snug latex wrist and neck seals and properly sealed seams, a dry suit has the ability to keep a person not only dry when diving, but also quite warm because of the ability to put layers of insulating material between the person and the suit. Therefore, dry suits are usually used in cold water environments, but also in situations where divers remain stationary for long periods of time, such as with Dr. Hanlon’s squid divers in Australia.

Our next stop was outside where the products are pressure tested in long horizontal pressure chambers, and then we went into an adjacent building where employees were also sealing up seems and putting together the suits. The zipper is another important component of the suit. This, too, must be impermeable to water, and is one of the most important pieces of the suit to maintain because a dry suit filled with water is bad news. Every suit is carefully inspected for leaks, they want to catch even the tiniest ones which could have formed from a popped bubble within the rubber sealant. The suit is zippered and plugged up at each of the opening then inflated with air. The testers submerge the ballooned suits in a trough of water and look carefully for rising bubbles. They also go over the seams with a soapy spray bottle if further inspection is needed. I can not believe how trained their eyes are; they pointed out a leak but I could not see the bubbles in the soapy water even though they said they were there, and that the suit had to be sent back.

At the end of the tour, Faith showed us DUI’s dry bag that soldiers in the military use to transport their machine guns underwater. Needless to say, seeing firsthand the dedication and the precision with which each dry suit is constructed is quite impressive. After DUI we stopped by John Jackson’s house.

John Jackson is an incredible shell collector, author and founder of Odyssey Publishing Company. His house is like a museusm, its amazing. Displayed on shelf after shelf are different kinds of shells that he has acuired. Being particularly fascinated by cowries, a large portion of the lower level is dedicated to drawers full of these shells (and pictures he has taken of the live animal). He has collected them from all over the world and is particularly fascinated by the rare ones, of which he has collected many. He has been working for the past seven years on a beautiful new book, Australia’s Spectacular Cowries, which was just published this year. I was floored when he gave me a copy! Not only by that, he gave me a four other shell and wild life identification books, and even a beautifully shined up cowry!! I was completely taken aback and can’t wait to dive into them. We spent the next few hours with John Jackson eating at a fun restaurant that overlooks a pond, then headed home to catch up on some rest. We got back to the house and Steve showed me a new pair of Scubapro split fins that Sergio had left for me…oh my god! Wow. What a day.

Sea World and an Awesome Evening with Marty Snyderman

Today Hiro, Pat, and I spent the day at Sea World. It was neat, we saw the Shamu show, the seal show, and the dolphin show, along with various other exhibits. The shark exhibit was cool because we were moved through a tunnel under the shark exhibit on a people-mover and felt like we were underwater and surrounded by them. I also really liked the manatee rescue exhibit-I had NO idea how big they are! After Sea World we visited the Scripps Aquarium, which had beautiful exhibits of local and foreign waters. We ended the day with shopping for a while in La Jolla, visiting Wyland’s studio gallery, and then seeing dozens of seals resting on the beach downtown. The seals were sunning themselves in an area they call the “war zone” because it has been debated whether or not the city should let the seals stay in the area.

The best part of today, by far, was eating dinner with Marty Snyderman. If you have seen underwater photographs before, there is a good chance you have seen one of Marty’s! Marty Snyderman is a renowned underwater photographer, cinematographer, writer, and producer with his works published by National Geographic, Skin Diver, Time, Newsweek, and the New England Aquarium :-) . Hiro taught Pat and I how to make spring rolls for dinner. We used rice paper, bean noodles, basil, mint, lettuce, cucumbers and parsley. Each one was rolled up with either shrimp or chicken in the center, and then cut in half. Hiro put out two dunking sauces, her recipe was delicious.

Dinner with Marty was awesome. I was sitting between Steve and Marty and just listening to boatloads of advice for college, for majoring in science, for scuba diving, and jobs from two of the greatest men in the business. It was great. Marty asked me a lot of questions about my interests, besides scuba diving and marine science and that made a strong impression on me, and said a lot about his character. After each question he would give his point of view on how to approach, say, pursuing marine biology in college. He told a great story of how he was mentored by Stan Waterman and was goggling when at dinner with him. He said he probably wouldn’t have gotten his name right if he had been asked—boy do I know what that feels like!!

He also told us about some of his adventures in his career. Marty was the first man to dive with a great white shark without a cage. When asked if he would do it again he said, “I’d be right behind you!” He teaches an online photography course, and offered to let me take his classes!! I was trying to keep my eyes in my head I was so excited, and then just after that he offered to give his two latest books Marine Life of the Caribbean, and California Marine Life to me. I couldn’t stop saying thank you but honestly I was so dumbstruck and speechless that I couldn’t think of any other words. I had a blast tonight, I couldn’t have asked for a more informational and laughter-filled night. Marty is a very cool guy and totally down to earth; he’s wicked funny and definitely not afraid to crack a joke!

A Day of Touring

Schmulich and I at the breakfast table with National Geographic.

Today Steve gave us very a great tour of the San Diego area, including a nice park area that overlooked yesterday’s Point Loma dive site. Basically, I would never study if I went to school here-there are way too many beautiful places to visit (above and below the water)!

Today’s breakfast conversation was phenomenal. If anything, I’ve learned the most stories or little useful tidbits of information here from just sitting around the table at mealtime. Some of today’s topics were the popular new book Shadow Divers, wreck diving and finding the remains of human bones inside a sneaker, and dolphin-free tuna catching utilizing the cinching method that Steve is involved in. Steve said that there is a possibility that we might be able to dive the Yukon during our stay, a 366 foot destroyer in about a hundred feet of water that was sunk purposely for diver penetration in 2000. Even if we don’t make it to the Yukon, I am looking forward to going to Sea World tomorrow!

Dave left for Hawaii today, but Pat and I get to stay until Thursday. Near the end of the day, Hiro went to a Thai cooking class, and Steve, Sergio, Pat, and I toured around the “City District” of San Diego. Most of the buildings were quite modern as they had been built within the last 35 years. Not only was the architecture really neat, but the city’s streets were so clean and un-crowded compared to Boston! Ironically, we ended up eating in a Thai restaurant and went back to the house to hear about Hiro’s Thai cooking class!

Diving in the Kelp Beds and Dinner with Howard and Michele Hall

Diving in the kelp bed. Photo courtesy of Mark Conlin Photography Dinner with Howard and Michele Hall!!!

We just got back from eating dinner with Howard and Michele Hall!!!! They are incredibly knowledgeable people and so nice to talk to. I was so shy in front of them at first it was embarrassing. It is pretty funny when they start talking about the importance of interpersonal communication to you, when you are at a total loss of words in front of them. We heard all sorts of crazy stories from their filming excursions throughout the world; the night was full of laughter and great advice. It was interesting to find out that all the work they do, according to Howard, is done scuba diving with the cameras, not in submersibles. They use regular, high-definition, IMAX, and IMAX 3-D cameras. IMAX cameras are huge and can weigh up to 500 lbs while 3-D cameras are 1500 lbs and need two men to operate them!

We were invited to watch a few movie clips at their house that they put together using high-def and G4 cameras with an interchangeable faceplate. Versatility, they said, is key. Many people today are using this cheaper, but most compatible technology. It is easy to invest $70,000 in a system that can become obsolete in a year, so it is crucial to make sure your equipment is versatile. They also had stacks and stacks of hard drives for storage of their media; we saw two beautiful clips of their film. Before this exciting night, however, we actually spent the day diving off of Steve’s beautiful new dive yacht Destiny.

Today’s dives were really cool, we went diving in the Pacific kelp beds. We went to Point Loma with Hiro, Sergio (president of UWATEC), Mark Conlin, Dave and Pat, and Captains Julie and Doug. The visibility is about the same as it is on the East coast, except the wildlife is a lot bigger and the water is a little bit warmer in Southern California. Our first dive was to about 80-90 feet on Nitrox. It was my first nitrox dive ever so I was checking my computer every two seconds! I kept showing my computer to Mark because it was telling me I had low airtime minutes left but according to him it was conservative and he told me not to worry, they were laughing at me when we got to the surface.

The kelp environment was darker than I had expected because the kelp blocked most of the light from the surface. We saw dark spiny urchins, many schools of fish in the shallows, and little coral and anemone carpets. I held a large, strong white crab, and we saw lots of my favorite type of gastropod–nudibranchs!! They were big yellowish white critters with yellow dots and were about two and a half inches long. I even spotted my own nudibranch hidden in the coral; it was reddish with a frilly back, just like in the pictures! The dive was good but being my first time in kelp beds, on nitrox and having been at 90 feet I was not as relaxed as I could have been and got tired at the end of the dive and couldn’t wait to jump onto the boat. Before getting out, Mark took a few pictures for internship publicity.

The second dive was a photo shoot with Mark. The last dive I felt over weighted so we dropped seven pounds off of the weight belt. I swam around about 15 feet below the surface in the kelp beds for some artistic shots. There was an immense amount of life in this zone. I saw many top-feeding surface fish, a few tiny bright orange ones, and then a couple of schools of a variety of bait fish, including smelt. About four or five pictures in, my weight belt dropped. Mark was very instructional on the surface, while all I could think about was how lucky I was that I was not 80 feet down when it dropped…that would not have ended so well. I was also lucky that Dave dove down to search for the weights and came up with them. The photo shoot ended about a roll later when the current started to pick up, and once we were all on the boat we watched a few seals dart under the hull.

On our way back we passed Naval docks and had a nice view of a Navy aircraft carrier and a submarine that were hidden behind floating pontoons, from the top deck of Steve’s boat.