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
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.