Last weekend was my first trip to the Poling in 2014. Originally I had hoped to create some compositions from a series of photos taken along the deck. In water, I ultimately ditched those plans because of some logistical issues. First being that there were 13 divers in the water and visibility was not great. Also, I was working much harder than I like to underwater, possibly due to the amount of donuts I ate earlier in the week. I made the decision to hang by the stern (stern of the stern) and work on some natural light photos.
I was very pleased to recreate Dave Stillman's iconic stern photo, almost 20 years later (shown above). Surface interval be damned, Chuck and I jumped in for a second dive before the rest of the gang arrived. I had a a few minutes to set up this shot. With some Lightroom magic I was able to buy myself a bit more visibility than there was in real life. I've been trying to get this shot for a while now.
No matter how many times I see the poling, I can always seem to entertain myself. And for the photo buffs... black and white is almost essential to capture the depth and contrast of the wrecks in New England. These were shot with a 15mm prime lens, f2.8, 1/100, ISO 4000ish. As always, a million thanks to the Cape Ann Divers crew, I could not get these shots without their help!
Just minutes after arriving at the dock, I remember commenting about how clear the harbor water was to Robert Landy. Just minutes after that, my dry-bag fell in the harbor all on it's own. A brave young lady, Angie, grabbed it from the harbor before I lost everything. It wasn't long until I realized that my gopro and lights were resting comfortably somewhere below the dock... I reluctantly put on my saturated undergarments and donned my drysuit, I was going in. I instantly regretted my choice not to wear gloves as I started to brush the crabs off my sunken items. With the help of the fine crew on the Cape Ann boat, I was in and out of the water in the matter of a moment or 2. And yes, I swallowed my pride as Dave Shumway was hosing me down after the ordeal. In any case, I've yet to grow any spare parts from the filthy harbor water, but there's still time for that.
Later, on the dive to the Poling I decided to treat myself and not bring in my big camera rig. It was the first time in 4 years I haven't brought 15 pounds of camera with me. Conditions were fine and it was so relaxing to not be wielding a big camera. I still had the gopro as I poked in and out of the wreck looking for treasure.
Next was Pickett's Ledge, a submerged pinnacle with lots of nice grooves, overhangs, and trenches. Visibility was lousy on the bottom, but decent near 30' I hung out near the anchor shooting anemones.
Perhaps the best part of the day (other than getting hosed off) was the sky. There was an amazing and dynamic display of light and color from the cloud coverage. You could tell the seasons are changing. Enjoy.
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.
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.