First Dive Under Ice

Saturday I went down to the local Scuba Shop to buy some of the 1lb weights they had a pile of. I’m pretty darned happy about these weights – they do not flare out during monofin acceleration like my two pound weights and they have about half the profile.
I got into a conversation with Jack – the former owner of the shop, who still works there. He invited me to join a bunch of scubies for an ice dive on a wreck called the Keuka – which is up in Lake Charlevoix – about 50 miles north of where I live. I’ve never done a serious through-the-hole ice dive before.

While we were talking – he told me the story of the Keuka – which is a wooden freighter from the late 1800s and is about 180 feet long.

Here’s my transliteration:

Back during prohibition the only place you could drink was out on the
navigable waterways of Lake Michigan – which included Lake Charlevoix.

What with it being navigable and all.

So, some rich people bought this barge – which was actually more of an
old, late 1800s style freighter – and turned it into a party boat. With
lights, music, a still and maple decking for dancin’ up a storm on.

Now the thing with these old wooden boats is they are designed to be water
tight when the wood is wet and swells up. The problem with this party
barge application is that it floated pretty high in the water most of the
time – so the wood was pretty dry – and when you piled a bunch of drunken
revelers on there it would sink down some and, because the boards were
dry, it would start leakin’ like crazy.

Naturally they hired a guy to pump out the bilge. The barge, being
a sort of a boat, had a captain and he hired the guy and paid him
with whiskey.

Well the local ‘angry-womens-what-hates-fun-and- drinking
association’ was none-to-happy about all this revelry and debauchment
going on just off shore of their virginal attitudes – so they ragged on
the local constabulary until he agreed to bust the perpetually-drunk
bilgemeister when he staggered ashore after a vigorous night of whisky and
bilge pumping.

With the bilger in the brig it fell to the captain – who refused.

So, by and by, it sunk.

We walked about 800 meters out on the ice – it was a beautiful day. Air was about -5C, slight wind, bright sun. I never even got close to getting cold. (water was 1.2c – according to my TOTALLY AWESOME LIQUIVISION XEN)

The scubies each have a tender – who manages their teather on the surface – and they stay down about 20 minutes. So they applied the same protocol to me – which gave me about 4 dives. (Normally this time of year I’d do about 30 and be in for 90-120 minutes.)

I was pretty sure I’d be comfortable under the ice, but you never know – so my first dive was straight down and up. Next one I wandered around a little and on the third I swam quite a ways out under the ice. I’ve wondered about the peculiar comfort I feel holding my breath under water. It seems to increase with depth and the ice above me had the same effect. I kept the dives short, but I did swim out to the end of my teather – about 100 feet from the hole. It was awesome under there and the Keuka is a very interesting wreck – lots of hatches to swim through and a mostly solid deck which is about 20 or so feet up off the 45 foot bottom depth.

With so few dives I only got two decent pictures – and none of the wreck.

All too brief though it was, I was grateful for the opportunity and my thanks to Jack and the other divers and to Scuba North – which hosted the dive.