Fun on the Nauset Barge and Monomoy.

The following is an account of some excitement that the crew of the Baccala had on one of our annual week long dive trips to Cape Cod.  The account describes an interesting end to a dive we made on the 703, a barge three miles off Nauset Beach, and the subsequent rounding of Monomoy Island on our way to Stage Harbor for a nights stay safely on a mooring.

We had just had two days of fantastic diving/boating weather, unfortunately for those two days we’d been “stuck” in Situate Harbor trying to replace a hydraulic pump that had quit on us.  Just as we got the boat repaired and finally headed out for some diving the weather turned and we started to get some heavy wind. Undaunted we motored across Cape Cod Bay headed for the wreck of the Paul Palmer on Stellwagan Bank.  When we arrived on site the wind was driving hard out of the west and we decided that the weather had deteriorated to the point were diving the Paul Palmer wouldn’t be such a great idea . After beating our way off Stellwagan Bank and running into the lee on the east side of The Cape we headed south to dive the wreck of the 703.  At the time, as one of the few rebreather divers on the Baccala, I was usually the first to jump in and the last to leave the wreck. Of course as the first one in this means I get to spend the beginning of my dive tying the grapnel hook into the wreck making sure it wont break out while we’re diving.  Also, since I’m typically the last one leaving the wreck, I usually take some time preparing the ground tackle for when I leave the wreck. This preparation usually amounts to tying a manila breakaway between the anchor chain & the wreck.  It’s also a good idea to make sure the hook will come out easy when my decompression meter is quickly adding minutes to the time it will take for me to safely leave the water.  This was no different than any other day, other than the fact that it was blowing 20-25 knots, so I jumped in first and head down the line.  When I got down I saw the hook was situated in a short eight foot beam that had a net wrapped around it.  One end of the beam was connected to the wreck but the other end, where the grapnel was hooked in, was moving up and down a bit with the motion of the boat/wind on the surface.  I realized that it was going to be a real bitch to get the hook out, but with the surface conditions as they were I decided to worry about it at the end of the dive. The grapnel hook was safe where it was and there was no chance that it’d break out of the wreck and send the boat drifting off.  I attached the breakaway line and started my dive……  Here’s a little more detail on our anchoring procedure.  The first “team” down will first secure the grapnel hook into the wreck so there’s less of a chance the hook will pop out of the wreck and let the boat drift away.  The second thing the first “team” does is tie a in a breakaway.  The breakaway is an eight foot long piece of 3/8” manila line that is tied into the wreck and then tied into the anchor chain about half way up .  When the last team leaves the wreck they pull the hook out of the wreck, “flip” the hook, and secure it as far up the anchor chain as they can.  This leaves the boat connected to the wreck via this sacrificial biodegradable line and when everyone’s finished their deco and the boat/gear is ready to roll, we back down on the anchor, break the manila line, haul the gear up, and head off into the wild blue.

Anyway, I headed off and did my dive, all the bubble blowers came down and left, and I returned to the anchor line to see that Pat (another breather guy) and I were the only one’s still down.  I knew it was going to be real tough to get the hook out and not something one guy could do so I waited for Pat to come by the hook. While I waited for Pat I spent some time cutting the hook free from the net as best I could.  He was swimming by and I got his attention to let him know he could stay down but I wanted to help him get the hook out before I left.  Of course after a nice peaceful dive at 100’ I forgot the wind was cranking up on the surface and Jack’s boat was putting quite a load on the anchor rode.  Well, Pat and I couldn’t budge the hook in the least bit.  We of course don’t like to get the hook out of the wreck AFTER the fact when everyone’s on the surface so Pat and I set to remedying the problem.  I tried to use the breakaway line to pull tension on the anchor line and loosen up the hook from the wreck, but the pull of the boat in the wind was just too much.  Plus remember one end of the beam was loose so any relieved tension on the anchor line just let the beam drop down a bit and it was useless trying to get the  hook out.  I set to using a spare line I carry to tie up the loose end of the beam as Pat setup a second line between the wreck and the anchor line to relieve as much tension on the hook as possible.  When we were all set Pat was standing on and pulling the line he setup while I got at a forty-five degree angle under the beam with my feet on it and pulled on the hook, it came out with no problem, nice!!

So here we are pleasantly sitting on the wreck picking up all our scattered gear and collecting ourselves before we head up.  I untied my line from around the beam, Pat got his tool bag, and I was headed up the anchor chain to get his wreck reel which he’d left clipped into it.  Just as I was doing this Pat loosened up the nylon line he’d been using to take the tension off the hook, this put the whole load from the boat on the breakaway.  All of a sudden the breakaway went SNAP!  This is a “funny” thing to witness because right after that happens the anchor rode goes limp for just a second and the hook just sits there.  It’s just enough time for you to look at each other and go “F*&k!”.  I held onto the anchor chain and Pat held onto the bitter end of the line he had clipped into the anchor chain, and as he most aptly put it, “we took off like Mary Poppins”.  Now this, as you know, isn’t really something you want to do.  Not only are we ascending vertically at a rapid rate we’re also screaming through the water horizontally. I just held on for dear life and hoped we wouldn’t be dragged all the way to the surface, I did have a deco to complete after all. We could have let go and done a free ascent but due to the weather it was better to stay with the boat if we could. During the rapid ascent we were dealing with making sure the air was getting out of our dry suits and rebreathers plus making sure our PO2 didn’t go to low.  We finally settled in around 45’.

Pat was on the VERY end of his line and I just hoped he could hold on and get his butt to the anchor rode.  He settled in and worked his way up onto the chain while I wrapped my leg around the rode, held on for a bit, and then worked myself up to my first deco stop.  A lot of “OK” signals were going back and forth at this time.  I finished up my deco, mostly, but was concerned that we wouldn’t be seen on the line and the guys on the boat might start bringing in the anchor to go back and look for us.  I blew off two minutes of deco and worked my way up the line like I was climbing rope, I don’t know how fast we were moving through the water at this point but it was pretty fast.  I made it back on the boat and as I climbed the ladder I was surprised to see that no one knew that anything was happening. They thought the tide was changing and the boat was beam too because of that.  Anyway, we made it aboard unscathed and ready for the next phase of the trip …….

We stay in Stage Harbor when we’re “in town” and we had to get there from Nauset so the usual route is down Pollock Rip Channel and around the end of Monomoy.  I left my drysuit on in anticipation of the weather and Pat did the same.  Pat and I took our station on the fly bridge with me at the helm and Jack was down below at the radar.  Now this is the Cape after all so you have to throw in some fog with the high winds.  The east end of Pollock Rip Channel was a bit of a challenge with us headed into at least a  25 knot wind  and water coming across the bow in torrents.  The water was so bad that Pat finally went down and got our masks.  This helped a great deal because when the water would come over us we’d be blind for fifteen seconds or so as the water drained from our eyes, it was a mess.

We finally got into the lee of Monomoy on the west end of the channel and things looked much better …… for a bit.  It was a nice reprieve from what we’d been going through, but we had no idea what was coming.  As we got out to the end of Monomy between R8 and R10 the tide was ripping and with the wind it setup some standing waves that were …… I don’t know, ten feet and tightly spaced.  As we peaked over one all I could do was drop the throttle to zero and hold on as we crashed through the following one and buried the bow.  I’d never seen the Baccala submerge like that and I hope never to see it again.  Jack and Larry  thought at one point that the windows might be in danger of blowing out and just as we hit the first set of waves Jack  looked back at Scott, who was sleeping on the couch, and saw the look on his face as he found himself in mid air a few feet above the couch.  We managed to make it around the point and slide into Stage Harbor on a following sea none the worse for the wear.

The Thursday from hell, a fine conclusion to two days in Scituate waiting/working on a hydraulic pump while the Bay was flat calm.

“ The Dreaded Connecticut Crew”