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.
The ocean is freaking huge. Even in well known areas (like around Cape Ann), there's no way it's been comprehensively explored underwater. Thus, Mark Potter of Mass Diving and Cape Ann Divers organized an exploratory trip. The idea was to see something new, potentially that nobody has ever seen before. Even if it's just a hunk of rock with predictable stuff growing on it, the thought that we were the first to see something, SCUBA geeks live for this.
We stayed a bit east of halfway rock and the only real objective was to look for steep drop-offs, or underwater cliffs/hills. Diving these areas offers some excitement and a variety of wildlife and bottom topography. The first site we visited (Landy's Ledge?) was a large slab of granite that started around 60FSW and tumbled down to about 100'. I hung by the anchor line as I was by myself. I was also shooting macro so I wanted to be where the light was, and it doesn't really matter where you are when you're shooting critters that are less than an inch. I spent a good amount of time flirting with a sculpin that was playing coy. Eventually I earned its trust. Lobster, anemones and other invertebrates covered the granite, also thousands of cunner were schooling in the surge. This was a nice dive.
After our surface interval and PB&Js, Captain took us to site near Newcomb Ledge. Calm, no current, relatively shallow, easy, nice. There was a small wall here loaded with bizarre spider crabs that were covered with the same sponges and tunicates that the wall was covered with. I was hanging on the wall by myself thinking that it had been a while since I saw the anchor line. Suddenly, out of my periphery, I see Robert Landy come out of the darkness, I can't say I was relieved... Then Millhouser, nope, he was lost too. Then I was thrilled to see Elyssa and Caslyn. After nonchalantly swimming back and forth with those two, we all glanced at each other and shrugged. Yup, lost. It wasn't a ghastly swim back to the boat, probably Millhouser's fault anyway. Below are some of the camo-crabs and other goodies I shot. See if you can spot the crabs.
Alex Shure: SCUBA enthusiast, fish nerd, camera guy.