An introduction to the “Vineyard Trip” 

     As a past member of the SECONN dive club it’s always been a pleasure to dive and talk with Pat Casey at club meetings, winter pool sessions, and on the Wreck Hunter.  This summer after a dry spell of not being on the same boat with Pat we did a weekend dive trip together to the Oregon on the Baccala.  Over the years Pat has asked me to write an article on the yearly “Vineyard Trip” we do on the Baccala but I’ve never seemed to find the time or inclination to do so.  While on the Oregon trip Pat loaned me his copy of “The Last Dive: a Father and Son’s Fatal Descent into the Ocean’s Depths” by Bernie Chowdhury.  For some reason reading this book inspired me to start writing that article Pat requested about the “Vineyard Trip" so long ago.   

     As a newly certified diver I slowly progressed from diving the shores of Connecticut and Rhode Island to wreck and drift diving with Frank Civitello aboard “The Lemon”, now “The Wreck Hunter”.  It’s hard to believe that it was more then ten years ago that I was sitting at a SECONN meeting when Frank announced that they were looking for people to go on the Vineyard trip aboard the Baccala.  When I told Frank I was interested in going I had no idea what I was getting myself into.  Now after ten trips, many dives, friendships, wrecks, and discoveries later I’m amazed at what’s transpired over the years.  What follows is a brief history of the evolution of this trip which started back in the sixties.  Enjoy.

      The Vineyard trip started back in 1967 as a SECONN trip where two boatloads of guys would head out for the area around Buzzards Bay Tower looking for wrecks and diving as much as possible.  Gordon Turrisi with his boat Halcyon, Jack Fiora with his 23’ Formula “Baccala”, Herb Garhart, Doug Carrigan, Tom Morton, George Eves, and others would spend three or four days trying to find and dive wrecks they had heard about.  Sometimes they would find new wrecks but more often then not, they would come up empty handed.  These were the days before LORAN so all the wrecks were found by land ranges, persistence, and dumb luck. Which isn’t all that different from today’s method, depending who’s boat your on.  Wrecks they did find were: the Gunship (Eagle boat), YDS, Jerry and Jimmy, Yankee, Hilda Garston, and the Car Ferry.  After a day of diving the two boats would head to Cutty Hunk, Tarpaulin Cove, or Menemsha for the night.  In these early days of the Vineyard trip the cycle would begin again the following day until either the beer or ammunition was gone and then they’d head for home.

      In the early seventies the guys caught a break when they met Brad Luther on Cutty Hunk Island.  Brad was running a ferry the “Alert” from New Bedford to Cutty Hunk and was also researching and diving local wrecks.  After a number of conversations with Brad they apparently won him over with their youthful enthusiasm, determination and a few pints.   It wasn’t long before he was sending them out with just enough information to be able to find some wrecks.  Brad really liked to talk about the wrecks he knew of but since he had put so much time into researching the location of these wreck he didn’t just hand feed the guys the exact locations.  The information they received was vague enough to get them in the area of the wreck but they’d have to put their time in to find them.  So they rose to the challenge, paid their dues and their persistence paid off. A few of the hard won and sought after wrecks Brad was instrumental in helping the guys find were the John Dwight, Vineyard Lightship, Seaconnet, and the Trojan. 

      In the late seventies the Vineyard trip moved from the area around Buzzards Bay Tower into the Vineyard Sound and Buzzards Bay; and in 1973 Jack moved up to a bigger more comfortable boat, a Newman 36.  One of the more popular wrecks of this time was the Port Hunter, which in 1918 was enroute from Boston to New York intending to meet up with a convoy to deliver war supplies to France. Un/fortunately the 320-foot British freighter, after being struck on the port side by the tug Covington, sank in 25 to 75 feet of water on the South end of Hedge Fence Shoal.    As usual the locals pilfered a great deal of the goods and illegally sold them in local stores thirty years before the SECONN crew made it there to begin procuring their own brass commodities.  The Port Hunter was the site of many a SECONN suicide missions to recover portholes, bottles, and other treasures.  Diving double Navy nineties with J valves they would stay on the bottom until they literally ran out of air and then scramble to get back to the boat.  I can say from experience that the current on this wreck can be treacherous and I’m sure blinders imposed by the prospect of brass and a stiff current made for some exciting times.

      The late seventies turned out to be a dark time for the club.  On the Vineyard trip the guys started spending nights ashore carrying on in the local bars at Falmouth and Oak Bluffs.  As can be expected late nights and heavy drinking mixed with diving, attitudes, and firearms made for a poor combination.  Not only were the trips getting undisciplined but things started to go awry at club meetings as well. There were some internal problems with club members, wives, and other club members; this resulted in a few pop shots being taken at each other in the parking lot after a few to many at the bar.  To top things off they were beginning to show more stag films then dive films at meetings.  Potential members would show up for their first club meeting, see what was going on, and then run for the hills never to be seen again.

     Fortunately the eighties saw the old regime fade away and an influx of new divers take over the club.  This flood of new divers helped fill the void left when the old participants of the Vineyard trip started dropping out.  By now the trip had extended into a full week of diving and moved farther East out into Pollock Rip Channel. During this time the Pendleton was still sticking out of the water and was quite easy to find without using land ranges.  A lot of big bugs were being pulled off this wreck but the search for new and better wrecks continued.  Brad Luther had also expanded his research into this area of the Cape and continued to supply the guys with information they used to find some nice wrecks.  One of these nice wrecks was the Dixie Sword, a 324-foot freighter built in 1919 that sank in Pollock Rip Channel on February 17, 1942.  She was 160 mile off Chatham carrying a load of copper when she was hit on the bow by a German torpedo.  The crew of seven managed to limp the ship towards the beach eventually coming to rest on Bearse Shoal.  All seven men were rescued but the ship was a total loss.  Today there is little to be found of her; the current in this area moves so much sand that the shoal has swallowed her up.  A dive this summer to see if she would show any of herself revealed only a spar sticking twenty feet out of the sand in fifty feet of water.

      In 1983 Jack took delivery of a new Wilber 38, unfortunately this purchase was prompted by the burning of the Newman 36 the previous year while in winter storage.  The larger boat did make the trips a bit more comfortable for the longer runs they were now taking.  A few years earlier the area covered by the trip expanded again and began to include Nantucket and Cape Cod Bay.  Although the exploration of Nantucket’s wrecks and the surrounding island was exciting, most of the wrecks were small fishing boats and the Bay provided much larger and more productive wrecks.  Also at this time Arnie Carr and Tim Coleman were looking for wrecks around Cape Cod and seeking the assistance of Brad Luther.  To this day wreck information passes slowly and hesitantly between Arnie, Tim, and Jack.

      Today the Vineyard trip usually takes place during the third week of July and we make the eight-day trip on the new Wilbur 42 delivered in the summer of ’98.  Although we still dive some of the same wrecks that were visited long ago, we continue to look for new places to dive and travel just a bit farther.  When lady luck smiles on us and we’ve paid our dues, she lets us dive a virgin wreck or at least one that is new to us.  Even numbers that turn out to be big rocks (some as big as houses) provide exciting views of marine life and make for interesting dives.  During its thirty-four year history the Vineyard trip has seen many participants, four boats, and quite a few wrecks but it’s managed to continue without a missed year.  I for one hope it continues for a very long time to come.

Mark Munro 1/1/2002