Diving the Rum Runner

We cast off at 7:30 a.m. with a promising NOAA marine forecast. Two foot seas and less than ten knots of wind – pretty much ideal conditions to hit a wreck further out.

I decided to shoot for the Lizzie D, a prohibition rum runner that sank in 1922 laden with crates of illegal whisky. Sitting upright in the sand at about 80 feet, she’d make a good first Northeast wreck dive for Joe’s student Alison.

The twenty-two nautical mile boat ride from Manhattan took just over an hour and a set of good numbers put us directly on top of the wreck. The sonar signature confirmed the location and we dropped a mushroom anchor with 100 feet of line and a buoy to mark the position.

Dive-master Joel splashed and descended the anchor line. He gave three good tugs to signal a successful tie-in and we moored the boat to the buoy and activated the drift alarm on the chart plotter.

The visibility looked promising and after a dive-site briefing Joe, Alison and Gary geared up and back-rolled over the gunnel. They planned to do an orientation dive on the wreck and go through some deep water drills.

I kept anchor watch, traced bubbles, and spotted a shark cruising by on the surface. After forty minutes Joel came up the  line with an almost intact rum bottle in hand. Fifteen minutes later the rest of the crew surfaced – all stoked by visibility and condition of the wreck.

During their ninety minute surface interval I jumped in and cleaned the bottom of the boat. The weather seemed to be holding out nicely so the divers swapped tanks and Gary studied the 2012 fishing guidelines aka ‘dinner menu’ while prepping his spear gun.

This time Joe, Alison and Gary descended first while Joel and I went over the un-tie procedure. He then splashed twenty minutes into their dive.

Alison surfaced with two half bottles – not bad for her first time diving this wreck, Gary with two fish, and Joe happy to have certified two more students in specialty courses.

Once they were aboard I started the engine and we cast off the mooring line to give it slack. Joel untied from the wreck and sent the anchor to the surface with a lift-bag, starting a floating decompression under his surface marker.

By now the wind had picked up, the seas were building and white caps started showing. A sign to get underway and head back to port.  As we got within cell phone range I checked the radar and saw some rain over New York Harbor. Only green colors – no yellow or red. That changed by the time we were off the Staten Island coast. Rain set in and soon turned into hail dropping visibility to a mere twenty feet. Running around the weather system wasn’t an option, as we were bound by the Brooklyn shore to our east and New Jersey to the west. The sky looked threatening and though we were only five minutes away from safe harbor I did not want to run the boat through this storm cell so I turned about and headed back towards the Verrazano Bridge – to not be the tallest object on the water.

The next fifteen minutes were truly spectacular! A lightning show better than the Macy’s fireworks. Fog horns from freighters sounded through the punishing rain and our gear got a thorough fresh water wash-down.

As quickly as the sky turned dark, it became light again and we crossed New York Harbor making it back to the dock within fifteen minutes.

It was a great day of diving and a reminder of how fast these thunderstorms can pop up. I’m looking forward to going back out to dive the U.S.S. Turner later this month, as well as to investigate some new sonar targets.