The 2001 “Vineyard Trip”

Five guys, eight days, ten wrecks, fourteen dives.



     After a summer of diving there’s usually at least one adventure that sticks out prominently in our minds. For me the most enjoyable dive trip in 2001 was the week of July 15th through the 22nd.  That’s the week John Banks, Jack Fiora, John Jascot, Larry Lawrence, and myself spent eight beautiful days diving wrecks from Mystic to Nauset Cape Cod Massachusetts aboard the Baccala on the Vineyard trip. 


     Day one began at eight in the morning loading all the provisions we’d need to see us through the week.  30 dive tanks, five sets of dive gear, everyone’s personal items, a full load of fresh water, 10 or so bags of groceries, and an endless list of items that kept us busy for a good part of the morning.  The swim platform started out the day a number of inches above the water but as we’re set to leave the dock all the extra weight has it almost touching the surface.  After a brief stop at Haring’s, for 300 gallons of diesel fuel, we set our sights some fifty miles away to the first wreck of the week, The Vineyard Lightship.


     The Lightship lies on a mud/sand bottom in 75 feet of water South West of Cutty Hunk Island at the end of the Elizabeth Islands.  The bow and stern are the most intact part of the vessel with the bow being the most picturesque.  When your sitting on the bottom out in front of the bow looking at the huge hawser pipe, it’s hard to imagine the tumultuous seas that brought the Lightship to this quiet spot.  Even though the visibility is not usually all that good, there are few if any remaining artifacts, and lobsters are not that abundant; it’s still a nice dive due to its history, the shallow depth and the fact that it still resembles a ship.  Our dive on the Lightship is an excellent start to a great week.


     After lunch we head for Devils Bridge off of Gay Head on Martha’s Vineyard to look for the City of Columbus.   Larry and I jump in to follow the edge of the reef where we’ve determined she may rest and see if we can find any signs of the wreck.  The City of Columbus ran aground on Devils Bridge in January 1884 with a large loss of life.  The wreck is being dove by others and although we continue to look for her we have yet to find her, luck will not be with us again on today’s attempt.  After this dive we put a few more miles under the boat and head for Vineyard Haven.  Once we arrive in the harbor and set the hook some of use take a dip while others settle in with a good book or a few good stories.  Later, while Jascot prepares a meal fit for kings, we perform some boat maintenance and then enjoy a few beers on the aft deck.  After dinner and as nightfalls we have some coffee and dessert under the stars with a few exaggerated stories.  It’s a fine ending to a beautiful day as we sleepily head one by one to our bunks.


      At some point during the week if the weather offshore was cooperative we were hoping to make a run for Nantucket Shoals.  Unfortunately right now the weather forecast looks bleak.  During our evening in Vineyard Haven we make the decision to head for Monomoy Island on the elbow of the Cape and spend the majority of the week diving the wrecks around there.  If the weather breaks then we will be in easy striking distance of the shoals. The wrecks around Monomoy average about 50 fsw and provide long dive times with plenty to see and find.  Also, slightly north is a favorite destination of mine and we always have something new to look for in this area.


     Day two dawns just as bright and calm as the previous day and we get an early start on our 32 mile journey up Chatham road for the first wreck of the day.  Halfway through our trip and after rounding RN”14” heading NNE for the end of Monomoy Island I spied a rather large sailing ship taking the same course but far ahead.  It wasn’t until we reached Monomy and turned east through Pollock Rip Channel that we over took her and were able to fully enjoy the sight of this three masted schooner under full sail with bones in her teeth.  She was by far the prettiest vessel I saw all week.


     Our first wreck of the day is the Alva, built for William Vanderbilt in 1886 at a cost of a half million dollars and sunk on July 1892 by the H.F. Dimock while the Alva lay at anchor waiting out a thick fog.  The Alva is usually a very enjoyable and productive wreck but this year the sand has covered most of her and the prospect of treasure is quite bleak.  But the tide is good and we all have an enjoyable dive.


  The second dive of the day is the wreck of the Horatio Hall, which is literally a stones throw from the Alva.  In a twist of fate seventeen years after the Dimock sank the Alva, the Dimock would also sink the Hall in just about the same spot.  Although the Hall can be an excellent dive, and treasures along with big bugs can be found here, for some reason she is a wreck that does not hold much allure for me.  However, on today’s dive I’m fortunate to find my second brass lamp base from an explosion proof light and have an enjoyable dive. 


     After a nights stay in Stage harbor we headed for my favorite wreck in this area the 703.  For me today would turn out to be the most interesting day of the trip.  The day started out calm and sunny but as we headed North around Monomoy and passed our first whales of the trip the skies grew darker and darker as we neared the wreck.  As Larry and I stood on the bow of the boat perched to throw the hook a lighting storm, which was earlier on shore, started to move our way.  Also at this time we noticed a large group of Humpback whales about a mile to our east breeching.  The lighting came closer and Larry and I became more apprehensive until there was a flash about a mile away.  That was it, on the wreck or not we throw the hook and headed inside.  Shortly after we ducked inside the rain came and the lighting danced around us but never came closer then about a mile away.  It was interesting but disconcerting to see lighting hit the water and watch the ensuing burst of steam from where it struck.   As if the storm wasn’t enough for us to take in, the whales to the east were in a long steady procession South and we watched as one after the other breeched again and again.  An hour later the storm had passed, we caught or first and only Cod of the week, we were ready to make our dive, and the whales were still breeching.

     After a long cold dive on the 703 we headed south past our cetacean friends to the Perkiomen.  On this dive Jascot and Larry were fortunate to find and bag a lobster that weighed in at 15 pounds.  Since it was so early in the week and there was some concern as to whether or not the lobster would live long enough to make it back to the dock in Mystic, Larry decided it would be best to let him go.  So as the sun set over Monomoy Island and the cameras clicked away Larry released the lucky crustacean back to his home in the sea.  As we headed back to Stage harbor for a well-deserved dinner and a good nights rest we all felt the privilege of having again enjoyed the wonders of nature and another fine day at sea.


     After having spent three days on the water and traveled some 200 miles it was time to get food, fuel, water, and air.  After sleeping in a bit we made a run to the Aransis for the late tide and then headed for Saquatucket and our needed provisions.  This harbor is very convenient for provisioning with a nice grocery store across the street from the marina, it’s very close to Stage Harbor where we usually grab a mooring for the night when we’re in the area, and we can bribe the owner of the fuel dock with a few five pound bugs to let us stay a while at the dock and hire his son to schlep the tanks to the closest dive shop for fills.  There was a dive shop within walking distance but they’ve unfortunately closed shop and it’s now a 20-minute truck drive to get tanks filled for those bubble blowers on board.  This is also a good time to hose down the boat, run the vacuum, make those calls home, and fill the coolers with ice.  After everyone is accounted for we head back to Stage Harbor in the dark for a late but excellent dinner prepared again by the king of the galley John Jascot.


     Although I didn’t know it when I woke Thursday morning, this was to be my lucky day.  Since the first tide of the morning was at 8:30 and we had gone to bed so late the night before, we decided to get a late start to the day.  The first dive of the day would be a drift dive in search of the Dixie Sword.  I don’t know what possessed me to agree to do this dive with Larry, but when it was done I was glad it was over.  Doing a drift dive here when the tide is running is equivalent to diving the Race at peak flow. I strapped on an 80 and went with only the essentials.  When the boat was positioned in the exact spot Larry wanted we rolled off the back of the boat and immediately headed for the bottom, and that’s when my trouble started.  As I frantically kicked to follow Larry to the bottom I could feel that my fin strap had let go.  As we drifted on the bottom I gave Larry my fin to help me put it back on.  He was trying to help me put it on and also look for any indication of the wreck, since it should be right about where we were.  Of course at this point before he gets my fin on Larry spots the spar sticking out of the sand about 30 feet away, hands me my fin, makes a mad swim to the spar, takes a wrap around it with the buoy line, and then swims the reel back to me while I’m try to hold place grasping at the sand with one hand, holding a fin with the other, and over breathing my regulator. After he heads back to the spar I inch my way up stream kicking with one fin, pulling myself up the 1/8” reel line, and cussing between deep rapid breaths.  Did I mention that the tide was running so fast that it was also trying to rip my mask off, which was now half full of water?  After I made it to the spar and regained composer I was able to enjoy the sight of Larry trying to climb the spar which stuck out of the sand about 20 feet.  He was hugging the spar and inching his way up with his back to the current and the buoy line in one hand.  His objective was to tie the line off at the top of the spar but the current was so strong it kept trying to twist him around the spar and rip him off.  He never made it but half way up.  Having had enough we headed for the surface knowing we had at least seen a piece of the Dixie Sword and survived.  To top it off, upon arriving home at the end of the week we read a story about a charter boat that lost it’s catch to a Great White that was cruising the Rip, makes you think.


     The second dive was much more pleasant and was on one of our more productive lobster wrecks, the wreck of the ;-) The wreck is in about fifty feet of water and although there isn’t much left it has degraded into a perfect lobster hotel.  Two years prior I pulled a twelve pounder out of her and this year I topped that by eight pounds.  Half way into my dive I was following John Jascot around the wreck letting him get his share lobsters since I had already done my share of removing lobsters from their accommodations.  Well, to my right side I spotted a behemoth sitting on a mound of sand like he was the king of the wreck, which he was.  He was just to good to pass up and since my bug bag was full John was gracious enough to let me borrow his bag so I could get him to the surface.  Tony, what we call all the big lobsters, was on display at the Mystic Aquarium until this past January when he unfortunately passed away.  He was a really cool animal that a lot of people got to enjoy very close up and I’m going to miss watch him roam around the tank.


     After another nights stay in Stage harbor we set out for another full day of diving.  Today we would dive the Pendleton, 703, and what we named Albatross rock.  On the way around Monomoy Island and out to the Pendleton we were able to get a close up look at the large number of seals we had been seeing hauled out on the beach. Its no wonder the Great White(s) were cruising this area, I remind myself to avoid surface swims if at all possible.  We caught the morning tide on the Pendleton and had a nice dive although visibility was not at it’s best.  I was lucky enough to find another big bug, 11 pounds, which I bestowed upon Larry in reparation for releasing his15 pounder earlier in the week.


     After the Pendleton we headed north past the 703 to a set of numbers that was supposed to be a large fishing vessel.  We’d investigated these numbers a few years back but came up empty handed as we usually do.  Since we were ensured that the numbers we had were good we thought we’d give it a second try.  This year would be a dream.  When we were right on the numbers the first time a huge spike came up on the recorder and the excitement plus frustration began.  Since we were marking fish we thought we should fish it first so we dropped a buoy and made a number of drifts over the “wreck”.  After several attempts it was obvious that our skills were lacking or the fish just weren’t biting, there are reasons for us calling Jack “Captain No Fish”, so we now turned our attention to diving.  We went through our normal procedure, drive in circles for awhile, throw the hook, make sure it’s set, get the sideline in, and then just as we’re ready to hit the water we’d notice we were drifting.  Pull up all the gear, set the hook again, get ready to hit the water, check our position on the buoy, yup we’re drifting, time for plan two.  Now we head upstream of the target, throw the hook, and John Banks and I hit the water with Jack to follow.   Both John and I make a scramble to get to the bottom as quick as we can and when we get there there’s nothing within our 50 foot viz.  John thinks we missed it so he clips off his reel and heads off to one side and up stream while I stay behind to drift with the hook and pick up the many Sea Scallops that are all around.  Jack descends and drops to the bottom down stream of the hook about 40 feet away.  He points down stream and then to John followed by the “what the hell is he doing” signal.  I get Johns attention and we head towards Jack with the hook.  What comes into vision is not a large fishing vessel but a rock as big as a house.  All around is sand and this huge rock, it’s quite a sight.  After we set the hook to hold the boat Jack and John head to the left while I head to the right to check out a school of Cod.  There had to be about thirty Cod schooling together from the bottom to halfway up the rocks side.  With the rebreather I was able to get within ten feet before they got spooked and dispersed, I headed back around to Jack and John.  When I got to Jack he was kneeling in front of an overhang that was four feet off the bottom and sloped in about fifteen feet.  He looked at me, gave me the “really big” sign, and pointed his light under the overhang. At first I wasn’t all that impressed but as all the Cod under this overhang moved around I saw tucked in the back the king of all Cod.  This guy was HUGE and dwarfed all the other Cod.  With a big smile we called it a dive and headed up the side of the boulder to the anchor line.  This may not have been a virgin wreck but we all agreed it was certainly worth another visit sometime in the future.


The summer season of 2002 has stopped me from writing more J

Mark Munro 5/2002