Tina and I are just back from 5 days diving out of Hatteras NC. We'd signed on to a private charter to do 3 days of "light" technical diving, our first opportunity to conduct dives deeper than 130 feet since obtaining our CCR Normoxic Trimix certifications in December. We tacked on two days of shallower diving beforehand to give us an opportunity to work out any bugs.

The plan was to drive to Hatteras, a 10 hour drive from our home in New Jersey. We'd driven to Florida in December for the trimix class, and my poor VW Passat was completely stuffed inside and out with dive gear and travel necessities, including a huge roof rack. The car's normally better than 30MPG dropped to about 22MPG due to the weight of all the gear and the wind resistance of the stuff on top. That trip convinced us both that we needed to get a vehicle that would be better suited to that kind of road trip. So in April I bought a used Kia minivan, and during the week before this trip I'd been busy building a rack to hold our KISS CCRs and four AL40 bailout bottles in the back. We took out the second row seats and piled our gear bins, drysuits, dry bags, two jugs of sofnolime, toolbox and suitcases on and in front of the rear seats. And even with a set of double 95's filled with 18/45 diluent sitting upright on the floor and strapped to the rear seat, there was space left over inside!

We arrived in Hatteras late afternoon Tuesday 6/15. We checked in at the motel (Breakwater Inn, clean, comfortable, but -not- upscale) and stopped by Outer Banks Diving to fill out the paperwork for our first two days of diving.

Day 1: Two dives on the Hesperides off Flying Fish (Capt. Johnny Pieno). First dive max depth 44 feet, run time 60 minutes. A slight current top to bottom, but once down easy to shelter from it in the wreck. We had around 70ft visibility and bottom temp 71F. Loads of Sand Tigers (one diver counted 30). I was able to get very close, and even thought about cutting leader off a hook embedded in a pectoral fin one one 8-foot female. But I saw a large male nearby (first time I've ever seen males in NC), and Tina was freaking the whole time, so I backed off. Lots of Sheepshead, Atlantic Spadefish and there were Oyster Toadfish barking everywhere. Second dive max depth 45 feet run time 73 minutes. The current had changed direction, the visibility dropped to less than 30 feet, and the bottom temperature dropped to 68F. We found a comfy spot looking forward into the very scenic bow and sat there watching the marine life doing its thing, just like sitting in front of a huge aquarium. We soon realized that the fish had turned the tables on us and were watching us!

Day 2: Two dives on the Dixie Arrow off Flying Fish. First dive max depth 93 feet, run time 39 minutes. Second dive max depth 92 feet, run time 43 minutes. Visibility was less than 20 feet, so both dives we ran a line. Bottom temperature around 68F, and the thermocline was right around 60 feet. Saw a few Sand Tigers sitting on the bottom off the port bow, and had a few very close shark fly-bys. Its definitely harder to look for marine life and wreck features while concentrating on the guideline - and its not something I'd really expected to have to do in North Carolina this time of the year!

Day 3: Manuela and Proteus off Under Pressure (Capt. JT Barker). Here, we got the s**t kicked out of us. At the Manuela, a pretty stiff current, maybe over 1kt. Tina was not able to pull herself along the Carolina line against the current, so we aborted. The current seemed a bit less on the Proteus, and we made it all the way to the anchor line when one of the large shackles that connects the Carolina line to the anchor line whacked the second stage regulator off of Tina's BOV, so that dive ended right there. Fortunately there was no real damage done and it was easy to repair. The divers that did make it to the wrecks reported blue water down to the thermocline and green water and poor visibility (around 15-20 feet) on both wrecks.

Day 4: Tamaulipas (a.k.a. Far East Tanker) off Under Pressure. Max depth 152 feet, run time 51 minutes. No current! Easy descent. The thermocline was at around 120, the bottom temperature 73F, visibility was as good as 30 feet in spots. We saw a couple of Lionfish, a few Sand Tiger sharks, lots of other tropicals. The ascent was uneventful, except that the water was so warm (83F) that I felt a little uncomfortable during deco. How -do- you dress for a long dive where the bottom is so much colder than the deco? Only one dive here due to the very long ride to the wreck (over 3 hours).

Day 5: Dixie Arrow off Under Pressure. Max depth 90 feet, run time 45 minutes. The plan was to go to the Empire Gem, but fishing boats arriving there ahead of us reported a very strong current there (reports varied from 2 to over 4 kt). So Captain JT turned to try to get to the Tarpon instead. As we motored south, the seas built and the sky started to threaten. There was a pretty good wind out of the southwest. As we approached the wreck, we encountered 5+ foot waves, some with whitecaps. One came over the bow and smacked into the wheelhouse windows pretty hard. None of the divers aboard, Tina and myself included, were enthusiastic about trying to get back on the boat under those conditions, so JT took us in to the Dixie Arrow where he expected somewhat smoother conditions being closer to shore. Seas there were much more accommodating at about 3-4 feet. Having already been to the wreck earlier in the week, we waited for mate Tom to return from setting the hook to see what conditions he found before deciding to dive. When he said he found 30+ feet visibility, we decided to jump in. Again no current, and an easy, very enjoyable dive to end the trip. Lots of Oyster Toadfish, and a few tropicals including a juvenile Spotted Drum. We found the viz to be in the 20-30 foot range.

This was a great trip. It gave us a few opportunites to plan and conduct dives with small amounts of deco. As time goes on we will slowly increase run times as we gain experience with this type of diving. Bailout volume will probably always be a limiting factor, though, as I don't think Tina will ever want to carry AL80s for bailout. Diving in warm water is always nice, of course. We plan to return to Hatteras for another week in August.

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Art