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Thread: The Norness

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    RBW Member robinfante is a glorious beacon of light robinfante is a glorious beacon of light robinfante is a glorious beacon of light robinfante is a glorious beacon of light robinfante is a glorious beacon of light robinfante is a glorious beacon of light robinfante is a glorious beacon of light robinfante is a glorious beacon of light robinfante is a glorious beacon of light robinfante is a glorious beacon of light robinfante is a glorious beacon of light robinfante's Avatar
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    The Norness



    The Norness has long had a special place in the heart of wreck divers. Deep and remote, it lies 60 miles southeast of Montauk, in 285' of cold, turbulent water. It was first dived in 1993, and since then has been visited less than a half dozen times. For many on board this trip had been dreamed, planned, blown out and coveted for many years.

    Last year I had the opportunity to dive the Coimbra, the second victim of the u-boat offensive off American shores. Operation Paukenschlag, or Drumbeat, hit the merchant shipping of the United States East Coast and Caribbean with the fury of a hurricane. Within 6 months one hundred vessels had been sunk, all due to a handful of u-boats. The Norness has the distinction of being the first, torpedoed January 14th, 1942, mere weeks after the United States and Germany declared war. Hit by 5 torpedoes, 2 of them duds, the massive 10,000 ton tanker sank slowly enough that nearly all the crew were able to disembark safely into life boats (sadly, two were lost when theirs capsized.) Both the Norness and Coimbra were sunk by the same u-boat, the U-123 under Reihhard Hardegan, within less than a day of each other, and both settled with their bows out of the water for some time. It is a sign of the coldness and brutality of submarine warfare that Hardegan was able to joke in his patrol diary about leaving a trail of signposts to New York.

    Onboard the Independence we were a motley crew of rebreather divers. Captain Jay Tempe, Ted McCoy and I were on Hammermegs, while Captain Dan Bartone, Chuck Wade and Paul Duncombe dove stock Megs. Evan Kovac had his sidemount Prism, which is one sweet piece of kit, while John Bridge was diving a Hammerhead-equipped Mark 15. Our initial departure was delayed by several hours waiting for the weather to subside, but by the time we left at 1 pm it was smooth sailing (for most of us anyways, Paul would I'm sure beg to differ.) Arriving on site, Captain Dan quickly turned the less-than-accurate LORAN numbers into a sharp spike on the depthfinder, with the bottom showing 290 or so, and the top at 210. In no time we had the wreck grappled. The excitement was palpable as Chuck and Ted splashed to go set the hook, while the rest eagerly waited for the signal that we were tied in. In short order a floatie popped up, and John, Paul and I geared up, ran our system checks, and splashed into lovely blue water.

    I was the first in of our trio, by a few minutes, and met up with Chuck and Ted at their 80' stop. They were all smiles and thumbs up, excitedly talking to each other through their DSVs. Its been years since I've thought about the boogie man being at the bottom of anchor line, but as the water got colder and colder, and the late afternoon light filtered out from a wan glow to near blackness, I had a whiff of that old animistic dread. All this evaporated when, around 190', the shape of the wreck started to emerge below me. It was absolutely stunning. In my experience most commercial wrecks start to seriously decompose after 40 years, yet here lay the Norness, down for 65 years and still with her railings up. Listing heavily to her port side, she was draped with fish nets, and was a virtual spiderweb of monofilament. Frilled Anemones and Pink Hearted Hydroids blanketed the wreck. Visibility was a dark 50', which made my strobe a joy to behold even when well beyond that, as I could still discern a faint flash. I've been called Go Deep Rob before, and I guess its true, because I really wanted to drop to the sand 'just because'. Besides, who knows if I would find a monster bug lurking in the deep? Instead, I found better: a porthole, intact, glass still in the swing plate, and lying free in the mud. Listing the way she has, the port side portholes have been rusting out and dropping gently the 10'-15' into the sand. Finding a porthole has been a goal for several years now, but still I kept a lid on my excitement. The reality was that, despite diving 10/50 I was feeling pretty narc'd, and 285' wasn't the place to think about how exactly I wanted to float and boat this thing. Instead I tied it to a jump spool, then swam back, tied it to the anchor line, and continued my dive. I still had about 15 minutes to go before ascending, so I decided to head aft. Almost immediately I was entangled in fishing line, and had to cut myself free (this experience was shared by several of the other divers, who eventually just swam with their knives in their hands.) Most merchant marine vessels had at least some armament, and at the stern I found the gun tub, minus the gun - perhaps on a future dive I'll drop to the sand below and see if I can find it. On my return I briefly entered the superstructure at the stern, then emerged and continued down a passageway. In many ways the Norness resembles the Stolt Dagali, but 22 years older, 150' deeper and in outstanding condition. At 30 minutes I began my ascent, showing roughly 70 minutes of decompression on both computers.

    Back on the surface, we all chatted excitely, while a US Submarine cruised past our port side. Sadly, Paul had shot a porthole, but the current swiftly carried it away. Evan did yeoman duty, jumping in with a line, running to the end of it, then Jay clipped another, then Evan clipped yet another. He eventually got a hand on it, but at that point was several hundred feet from the boat, on a thin line, with a drysuit that was rapidly leaking water. When he realized it wasn't a diver needing rescue he made the safe decision and released it, no piece of brass is worth the risk.

    The waves lapped gently at the hull during the night as we awaited the dawn, and with it the chance for one more dive. Dan and Jay had held off the day before, and were now the first ones to get into the water. Within minutes a cloud of bubbles announced a problem. Murphy's rule seems to have a codicil for divers: when things go bad, lots of things go bad at once. Hit simultaneously with a failed display, an oxygen free-flow into the loop, and a, shall we say, less than ideal PO2, Jay proved the value of training and experience by ably extricating himself from a dangerous situation. I later offered him a workaround from my gear, as did others, but he declined. Here we are on the Norness, the ****ing Norness, and he has the restraint to say No. Not my day to dive. I have so much respect for people like this.

    Gear gremlins were not confined to Jay, however. As I dropped down past 150' I flicked on my light. Nothing. On-off-on-off-light-you-son-of-a-bitch!-on-off. Nothing. Oh well, that's why we have backup, I keep a 10w HID in my pocket for just such a reason. I elected to wait to pull it out on the bottom, since the chances of dropping it were pretty good, and the pocket was a little ungainly to reach under two bailout tanks. In the interim I had talked to the old hands on board, and had a plan for my porthole. After unclipping my spool I continued my descent to the bottom, rolling up line as I dropped. Hit the bottom, stow the spool, pull out the backup light and turn it on. Nothing. So now I'm lying on the bottom at 285', enveloped in near darkness without any lights. It was definitely time to assess the situation. On the plus side, light penetration was better than yesterday afternoon, and I realized I could just make out what I needed to do. Also, between my backlit gauges and LED HUD, all systems were go on the unit. I had practiced and rehearsed in my mind several times what I was going to do, so without much conscious thought I pulled out my bag, clipped it on, secured it with a carabiner, then went for my reel. No reel, it was still soaking in fresh water on the boat. It was my good fortune that John swam by then, and I was able to hit him up for his reel (after scaring the shit out of him - he sure wasn't expecting to find me lying motionless on the bottom with no lights!) My preferred plan was to shoot the porthole up on a reel then tie it off, much easier and safer than swimming it up to the anchor line and sending it up that. After freeing the bag from some more of the pervasive monofilament I sent it skywards, watching with trepidation as the amount of line got smaller and smaller. Finally, just when I thought it would run out, the bag surfaced. It was a close one, after cutting it and tying it off I had perhaps 4 foot of line left on the reel. With one more quick swim around I headed up, to spend an hour worrying that my line had parted, or the bag had dumped, or some other cruel stroke of fate. Current was minimal, so little that when John clipped in a jonny line it just sagged down between him and upline. A school of little fish joined us at our 20' stop, which were diverting to look at (also diverting to think what sort of apex predators might be about looking to eat them.) Sure enough when I surfaced there was a blue shark 50' off the stern, just lazing in the sun, before shooting past Evan on the line like a arrow.

    My fears proved groundless, as my yellow lift bag floated proudly 60' off the Independence, and I enjoyed the beautiful flat seas as I paddled out to retrieve it, then lazed about in the water. Shortly after we fired up the engines to return a pod of dolphins joined us, doing acrobatics through the air a stone's throw from the bow.

    Of the 8 divers on board for this trip, we easily had a cumulative century's worth of diving, and perhaps twenty thousand dives. The thing that struck me was how many people I heard say that this was amongst, if not the, best wreck they had ever dived.

    I am burning to return.

  2. #2
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    Re: The Norness

    Pictures????? Where's the port hole? Sounds like a great trip.

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    RBW Member robinfante is a glorious beacon of light robinfante is a glorious beacon of light robinfante is a glorious beacon of light robinfante is a glorious beacon of light robinfante is a glorious beacon of light robinfante is a glorious beacon of light robinfante is a glorious beacon of light robinfante is a glorious beacon of light robinfante is a glorious beacon of light robinfante is a glorious beacon of light robinfante is a glorious beacon of light robinfante's Avatar
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    Re: The Norness

    ted took some pics, said he'll send them to me when he has downtime this weekend...

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    Re: The Norness

    Very nice, thank you very much for sharing. Maybe some day I'll be worthy to try such dives on my new Meg. Until then, I'll just read on, drool over trip reports such as this one and dive a lot.
    Cheers,
    Tibby

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    Re: The Norness

    Quote Originally Posted by robinfante  View Original Post
    ted took some pics, said he'll send them to me when he has downtime this weekend...
    Good. I thought maybe without Mark, no one took pictures.

    Did you figure out what happened to the lights?

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    Re: The Norness

    Rob: Thanks for the interesting report, and congratulations on the porthole.

    The Norness sounds like a "must dive". Perhaps next year! Peter

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    Re: The Norness

    rob ,glad u enjoyed your trip- i hope to be going with chuck this week!

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    Re: The Norness

    Great write up I rely enjoyed it thanks for taking the time.
    Looking forward to the before and after pics of the porthole :D

    ATB

    Mark Chase

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    Re: The Norness

    Quote Originally Posted by robinfante  View Original Post
    ... he sure wasn't expecting to find me lying motionless on the bottom with no lights!)
    Classic.

    Jammy bastard.

    --dan

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    Re: The Norness

    Thanks for taking the time to write such a detailed report. Sounds like a great trip. Thanks for sharing.

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