Chug Hiss Chug Hiss...the little booster that could, bullied a few more oxygen molecules into the already crowded bottle with their little buddies as I finished filling my scrubber and packed the rest of my gear. It was Thursday night and I was getting ready for our “blue water flu call in sick day on Monday emergency dive trip to get our gills wet”

That morning at the office I finished my project of cleaning up the lines of my Hacked Cressi Aero, making every color coded hose exactly the right length and testing after lunch in the pool. After five years of continuous modification, the little bag was ready to settle down for some serous water time in water that you can taste the salt.

Daily checks of the Marine Forecast confirmed that there was a good chance we would have a couple of good dives. This is important because the blow out rate for most folks on our coast is about 50%. My personal blowout rate is about 20. Not bad odds, but I spent a long time developing a feel for when to go and not to go....Ok, I got a system...but I ain’t telling.

The plan was to meet at 6 am at my office, load a van, and make a two hour run for the coast....then head 20 some miles out into the graveyard of the Atlantic to dive on the John Gill and the Hyde...return home to the dock by 2 and be home in Raleigh in time to take the wife out to dinner, assuring that the next trip will not make any waves.

My last weather check was 9 PM on Sunday nite...the marine forecast was for waves two to four feet (from the land....further out there would be more waves)....just kidding, an old mariners joke. We all must have been excited because the group riding with us were there by 6, ten minutes to load and we were off down Route 40 towards Wilmington-Wrightsville Beach going against the hordes of commuters coming into Raleigh to WORK MONDAY.

Except for one other rebreather diver diving OC, I was the only CCR diver going. I’m used to that, and it causes me no problems as I’ve been diving with one of the guys an average of 25 dives a year for 20 years, and he is used to my foolishness. He sticks to pure O2 systems in the shallows.

On the deck of the boat before leaving the dock we moved the second dive to the Markham because sand tiger sharks have started to move in.

The Gill and the Markham are two popular NC coastal wrecks. Mid 70 degree water with 50 + feet of visibility is washing over these wrecks this time of year, and the Sand Tigers have started moving in for the summer shark babyfest. The John D. Gill, locally known as the Gill or WR4, is a casualty of WWII. It was sunk on March 13, 1942 by the German U-Boat U-158. Twenty-three sailors perished when the ship caught fire. It is located 25 miles off the coast sitting at a depth of 95 ft. It is a huge ship at 523ft long making it the largest wreck in divable waters. The Markham is 340 ft long ocean going hopper dredge. It spent most of it's time working in the Great Lakes. It was the Cadillac of hopper dredges back in the 1960's with many new innovations which included bow thrusters and an advanced pumpout system. Now the Markham sits 18 miles off shore in 85 ft of water. It was sunk by the NC Division of Marine Fisheries in 1994. (Ship information ripped from Aquatic Safaris website, our very professional dive charter operator...I could not have said it better)

We headed off into the blue water.

The divemaster looked on nervously at my rebreather, but he kept a stiff upper lip, we had talked and he knew I was bringing a rebreather.....just not something that looked like this. Every time he would make a comment to my buddies (when I was not around), they would laugh and say don’t worry, the rig is only about four years younger than him, we’re used to him now, he’s been diving that rig for at least four years now, you should see some of the other things he builds and dives with, or other semi encouraging remarks. Does Jody here on the right seem like that type of guy.

The Captain and mates watched me out of the corners of their eyes with fatal fascination. What fun. Here you see him checking out my gear....but having no clue what to do to help. He is a nice man...heh heh

I got ready a lot faster than my OC guys...hell I should...this is a simple system and asked if I could drop in the water, promising to hang out on the deco bar. The mate showed his concern by saying, “Don’t go too deep and get convulsed.” He still did not recognize that it was a full CCR. It was too small, too simple. I pre-breathed a couple of minutes and dropped overboard vanishing without a trace of bubbles.

My buddies said the captain looked like he wanted to suck his thumb. After a few boring minutes on the hang bar, I headed down to 20 feet, checked my cells for insensitivity, turned off the O2 bottle and headed down toward the wreck letting the increase in pressure raise the PPO, pausing to add 36% home brew EAN as make up volume and diluent. I left the O2 off until the PPO dropped to 1.3 as a ten foot Sand Tiger slid over me watched what may have been his first bubble free diver.

Other divers started showing up with all their double tank rigs having a ball on what turned out to be a great dive day. The next picture is Rob Bradish...Rob is just starting to test out his home built SCR. Just wasn't ready for 95 feet of water. You can see why he is interested in rebreathers when you see those big double tanks.

As usual the ship was full of fish.

Tons of urchins....

Bryzoians, soft corals, sponges

On the surface interval five spinner dolphins showed up at the stern of the boat.

We jumped in with them. The four adults and one youngster swam around and between us for at least thirty minutes totally unafraid.

A real plus for the dive.

You could see the smiles from land as we climbed aboard the boat. What did you think Polly thought of the dolphins?

Another happy diver was Bob Patrick...

I was even amused....damned right I was.

All in all a good average day of diving the North Carolina Coast, two wrecks, sharks, big stingray, plenty of smaller fish like cudas, spadefish, cobia, amber jack, angle fish, trigger fish, and dolphins.

Here's Marty...this was the first dive for him in salt water. What an introduction. I'll have him moved to the dark side soon.

Sure beat being in the office on Monday. And I got home in time to take my wife to dinner.....assuring no problems for the next trip. Our next planned trip is on the first Monday after the 4th of July. I have a few spots left. We drive down from Raleigh in the morning in one of my vans and share gas costs.

Contact me for the details if you want to join our group for the next dive. The boat is rebreather friendly but does not supply oxygen or sorb. This type of diving is what I call pickup diving. I do not run a commercial operation. I handle no money. I carry no ones gear. I am not playing the role of divemaster. I can help you with O2 fills if you get here on Sunday afternoon.