Helgoland was an underwater laboratory where saturation divers lived and worked for weeks at a time. Sized only at 14 meters long, 7 meters wide and 7 meters high, you can imagine the living conditions down there. I suspect it was very cold, damp, dark and claustrophobic. The lab operated for a brief period of time in the mid seventies close to Jeffery's Ledge, several miles east of Rockport MA in Stellwagen Bank National Marine Sanctuary. In addition to studying herring, the scientists on board also researched saturation diving techniques. The lab is now retired to Germany (its home country) as a museum piece.
Diving this historical site has been a priority for me even though the lab itself is no longer there. There are old mooring blocks, anchors and several other artifacts left behind from the experiments. This past weekend, a handful of divers finally got to dive the site. Capt. Steve Smith of Cape Ann Divers was able to anchor us somewhere within the site. I say "somewhere" as I'm not yet even remotely familiar with the area. At 115 FSW, there is no time to mess around. On the preliminary checkout dive, current was strong but manageable. Unfortunately, it never tapered off in the deeper water, so we were working fairly hard throughout the dive.concrete mooring stone
As evident in the photo, visibility easily exceeded 40'. I recall seeing the bottom far below me during my descent. The bottom composition is beach-ball sized granite cobble. There was an incredible assortment of badge stars and northern red anemones growing on the rocks. In the very small area that we covered, we were able to find a mooring stone left over from the experiments. However, we burned through our bottom time in minutes and it was time to head back up. Ocean conditions prevented us from making a second dive. This is not the easiest location, but a very intriguing site and I can't wait to return. Next time we will know a little more of what to expect and hopefully we can help document more of the history of the ambitious Helgoland project.
I recently had the pleasure of riding on Easy Diver again, and it was a beautiful day. Easy Diver always chooses spots that are sheltered, shallow, and you guessed it, easy. I really like the occasional stress-free dive because it gives me an opportunity to shed about 40 pounds worth of gear. I can easily get 2 dives out of my tiny 70 cubic ft tank, and as a bonus the Captain lets me use his force fins which are the best fins that were ever created.
On this trip I was relentlessly pursued by this juvenile black sea bass that was madly in love with his reflection in my camera. This was a rare photo opportunity as I'm usually the one chasing fish, not the other way around.
Chester Poling dropcam mostly a success! A few modifications are in order, but we were able to make this video from only 2 dives.
Chuck arrives at the wreck
Today was a Poling run, a first for me this year. Having been there so many times, we tried to find ways to make things a bit more interesting. I really wanted to get some wide, desaturated photos of the wreck. I also wanted to get some video of the inside of the ship. The wide shots were a non-issue. I was able to get some nice, contrasty photos by doing some shooting in shutter priority and jacking up the ISO (no sunshine today). Chuck Marrone was both my partner in crime as well as my unwitting photographic subject. Below are some shots.
Getting footage of the inside of the wreck would prove more difficult. This was only feasible through 2 options: Penetrating the wreck, or sending a camera in without a person. I was not entirely comfortable with extensive exploration inside the wreck for obvious reasons (depth, hazards, low vis, unfamiliarity, large camera arms, etc.) But there are several hatch openings where one can drop in vertically and exit through the same opening with minimal overhead obstacles. This was by far the best option. We planned exactly where we would enter and for how long. I was inside about a minute, just long enough to snag some footage and get out with 12 minutes of time to spare before I needed to ascend. The inside was extremely silty, large flakes of rust sloughed off the walls if they were touched. It is really spooky in there.
On the next dive we decided to send a camera into the midsection of the wreck where the interior catwalk is located. To do this I built a small Gopro rig, the 'dropcam'. It's basically a chariot complete with lights that can be lowered into spaces as small as 6" in diameter. Today was the premiere flight of the dropcam. It worked OK, but I will be making some more modifications to the rig. The footage is mediocre as the gopro sensor really falls apart in low light conditions. I will post some video soon. Lastly, I do NOT endorse penetrating this wreck without proper training/experience, and even at that, it's probably a bad idea given the condition of the wreck.
That's all for today, happy diving. Thanks to Cape Ann Divers for getting us there and back and accommodating such a small group!
Alex Shure: SCUBA enthusiast, fish nerd, camera guy.