Thursday, April 14, 2011

It was winter and the ice divers had just came out of the hole and their line tender was really happy. Happy because the air bubbles trapped under the ice stopped finding their way to the hole where they burst a spray of water onto him - these now have a technical term "ice farts"; it was funny for those of us not splattered in icy water. It was the dead of winter and yet it was time to start thinking about raising the moorings. It seemed early, but not given the huge amount of planning and investment in time and money needed.

Raising the moorings is by far the most important project of the year for POW. The moorings save the wrecks from errant anchors damaging them, save fuel and time and allow safer dives so that we can enjoy the wooden treasures. Until I got involved with POW I never thought about the bouys. They were just there and all I had to do is follow the line to the wreck. Until I had to do a free descent and assent from a live boat I had no idea what a life-line the moorings were. Until I tried to estimate the cost of replacing worn out chain, old line/rope and buoys I had no idea how expensive that simple line was. Until I went to the gas dock with a charter boat I had no idea how much fuel cost.

The relatively simple act of raising a existing mooring involves a series of tasks that many divers seldom perform and in situations normally avoided. To start with the conditions are very cold (the ice diving reminded me of how cold), remember it will be early spring and before the diving season starts. The waves might be high and the decks covered lines, chains, buoys, tools, as well as dive gear. The dive boat finds the wreck by GPS and sonar. The divers have to be ready to dive in on the captain's signal; the divers have to do a free descent, find the wreck and find the end of the mooring line. Then they make sure the mooring line is still attached and not tangled before attaching a lift bag. Sending a lift-bag up is tricky, there needs to be enough air in the bag to lift 100 feet of line and chain to the surface; needless to say the divers need to stay on the bottom and keep free of the lift-bag and the mooring line. If all goes well then the divers can inspect the line as they ascend. If they did not find the mooring line then they have to do a free assent and move on to the next wreck.

Have you ever wondered where the mooring blocks come from? Apparently there are very few boat owners are willing to tie onto a 2 tonne block of concrete held up by a couple of big balloons. The boat could have a problem if the balloons leak or pop while being towed in 200 feet of water and the tow line is only 150 feet long. I’ll have to get details on how this is actually done.

The dive boats and expertise supplied by the charter companies are invaluable. Few boats have the sonar to accurately spot the wrecks and even fewer owners a willing to subject the boats to the wear and tear of chains, mooring balls, tools and dragging line over the gunwales . Without them the work could not be done. Keep in mind that the work start with repairing damaged buoys, fittings and lines in the winter and early spring. This is four months since their last charter and three months before their next charter. It is pretty tough on their cash flow. These dedicated business tend to go out when time and conditions permit. Usually this means during the week days and with very short notice. Multiple frequent trips are easier to set up so there will not be any attempt to set up a “mooring day”.

There are 22 wrecks out there that are moored. That is a lot to maintain. So if anyone happens to be on a wreck and has the skills to safely raise a mooring please mark it with a jug and let POW know. The jug will be replaced with a marking buoy as soon as possible.