Newfoundland: WWII Wrecks, Icebergs and Sea Caves!

Yesterday was my last day in Newfoundland and it certainty was eventful! I practiced my peak performance buoyancy with Johnny Olivero in the Ocean Quest pool as part of my Advanced Certification! We were preparing to complete one of my deep dives on the Bell Island wrecks! Four ships sank off Bell Island in 1942, all casualties of a German U-Boat attack. The Saganaga, Lord Strathcona, Rose Castle and PLM 27 were British ore carriers in Newfoundland to obtain the iron ore mined from the Bell Island mines to help support the British demand for ore during the war. All were sank in the Bay and are relatively close to each other. The Saganaga is the shallowest with the deck at 70 feet. I joined Johnny, Rebecca and the team from the Netherlands on the Mermaid with Bill O’Flaherty and skipper Nick Dawe. We did a giant stride into the water off the back of the boat and began our descent down the line. This was the deepest dive I had ever been on and it was my first true wreck dive, so it was a thrilling experience! Once on the deck you could see the anchor, which catapulted out of the water and landed midship during the attack. We continued along the wreck to the gun, which has a ghostly appearance since it still sits perched on the bow. Diving thirds, we turned around at 2000 PSI and saw the mangled wreck covered in metridium anemones and urchins. There was also a large lumpsucker near on of the ladders. While on our safety stop, I spotted a large lions mane jellyfish pulsating through the water. They are common in these waters and can reach a monstrous size by the end of the summer. After surfacing we went back to boat, exhilarated and high fiving each other after such an incredible dive!

We made a second dive around the Isle to approximately 35 feet where there is a crevice in the rock that you can swim through, which is full of marine life. Colonies of mussels covered the crevice and sea stars the size of dinner plates were happily feeding here. The dive was in a triangle shape and we made a right turn around the cliff and saw an abandoned lobster pot as well as an old coralline algae encrusted anchor. I also saw a massive, ugly Sculpin perched on a rocky ledge that camouflaged so well all the other divers missed it!

The day continued with excitement as I met Sandy Walsh and Matt Billard at the dock for a sea cave and iceberg snorkel tour! We headed out in the Zodiac to the Isle where the cave by the clapper is calm enough to snorkel. We leaped into the icy water and saw the deep crevice below us. The rock was encrusted with pink coralline algae and inside the cave sponges supplanted the algae where there was no light. The rock in the area was mostly slate and Matt had me climb up onto the “clapper” of the Isle to see the layering of the rock. There are numerous fossil finds in the area thanks to the well-preserved and ancient rocks. After swimming through the caves we came back to the Zodiac and went around the Isle to Iceberg Alley! Here there were small bergs floating on the surface and we were able to jump in the water with them. Despite the numbing cold, I couldn’t resist climbing atop the iceberg like a seal! While snorkeling around the berg you could hear and see the millions of air bubbles rising up from the ice. As the ice melts, air pockets that are thousands of years old are released and there is a distinctive snap, crackle, pop sound in the water. Matt brought back a small chunk of ice and so I leaped in the water to push from below and they brought it on board. They add the pure glacial water to drinks in Newfoundland! We continued around the Isle and entered another cave, except this one you could swim through and then reappear on the other side. At one point we climbed out of the water since the tide was low to continue through but we then met Matt at the Zodiac on the other side. On our way back though the glass calm bay, I began to reflect on my experiences thus far. The past ten days in Newfoundland have undoubtedly been some of the most memorable, rich and transformative of my life. I am so grateful to warm and humble people of Newfoundland for instantly making me feel welcomed. On the last day, they brought me to St. John’s where I was “screeched in” as an honorary Newfoundlander! I cannot thank the wonderful people at Ocean Quest and the Stanley’s enough for their hospitality and willingness to show me everything Newfoundland has to offer. I hope to return again in the future!

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