Archive for 09/26/2011

Dennis Bock – 

Kurt’s wife, Samantha, stayed up top and leafed through What to Expect When You’re Expecting while the rest of us slipped back in time to Oct. 25, 1898. It was an easy wreck dive — my first, in fact — and not even a dive, technically speaking, but a full-suited snorkelling expedition in the cold waters of Georgian Bay, just off the northern tip of the Bruce Peninsula.

In that one small regard Samantha and I may have had something in common. I wasn’t really sure what to expect either.

On the final leg of my return passage from Manitoulin Island that morning, less than two hours north on the Chi-Cheemaun car ferry and home to the marvellous Red Lodge Resort on Lake Manitou, the outer islands of the peninsula, ringed by shimmering bands of turquoise and lime-green, rose from the surface like some miniature Caribbean archipelago.

The northern extreme of the Niagara Escarpment is home to 34 species of orchids, several types of insect-eating plants and the bonsai-like cedars, some as old as 700 years, that cling defiantly to the peninsula’s north-eastern cliffs.

All this and more makes the area a naturalist’s dream; though on any given day in the high months of summer the naturalists, like those diminutive trees, will find themselves seriously dwarfed by an altogether different breed of enthusiast.

Fathom Five National Marine Park, established in 1987, is Canada’s oldest national marine park and famous among wreck divers from around the world. The park covers an area of roughly 130 square kilometres of surface water and contains 21 shipwrecks, many of which are within easy reach of the weekend snorkeller.

Other dives, as deep as 46 metres, will test the skills of a seasoned pro. Adding to the abundance of wrecks and the exceptionally clear water is the relative scarcity of the zebra mussels that plague the Great Lake system.

Full story…

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Robin McKie – 

On 12 November 1912, a party of British explorers was crossing the Ross Ice Shelf in Antarctica when one of the team, Charles Wright, noticed “a small object projecting above the surface”. He halted and discovered the tip of a tent. “It was a great shock,” he recalled.

With his companions, Wright had been searching for Captain Robert Falcon Scott who, with four colleagues, had set off to reach the South Pole the previous year. The team, from the Scott expedition base camp, knew their comrades were dead: their provisions would have run out long ago. But how and where had Scott perished?

Wright had found the answer. “I tried to signal my party to stop as I considered it would be a sort of sacrilege to make a noise,” he said later. The men began digging and revealed a tent, perfectly pitched, as Scott would have insisted. He was lying at its centre with Lieutenant Henry Bowers and Dr Edward Wilson on either side. His companions appeared at peace but Scott looked agitated, as if he had struggled to the last.

Of his other men, diaries showed that Petty Officer Edgar Evans had suffered concussion after a fall and died a few weeks after the group began trudging back from the pole, while Captain Lawrence Oates had walked out of their tent to his death because he felt that he was holding back his comrades. Those diaries also showed that Scott had been beaten to the Pole by the Norwegian Roald Amundsen.

The cold had turned the skin of Scott, Wilson and Bowers yellow and glassy. “That scene can never leave my memory,” recalled Apsley Cherry-Garrard, another search-party member. “We never moved them. We took the bamboos of the tent away and the tent itself covered them. Over them we built the cairn.” The party’s leader, Edward Atkinson, read the lesson for the burial service from Corinthians.

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Betty Waters – 

Scuba divers splash into the silent underwater world and commence exploring sunken objects in a Caribbean-blue lake at an unlikely site inside this East Texas town’s business district.

Wearing self-contained underwater breathing apparatuses, a mask and air tanks strapped on their backs, they propel themselves through the water by kicking fins on their feet.

Just ahead are a 210-foot long, man-made cave and a surprising array of submerged wrecked vehicles to explore, including two jet airliners, two cabin cruisers, three buses, 16 speed boats, house boats, two sail boats and nine motorcycles.

“With all the stuff down there, it’s kind of like an underwater amusement park for divers,” Staci Murphy, a diver from Canton, said as she and her husband, Steve, prepared for an afternoon of scuba diving.

The cave and sunken objects provide “a great training facility,” fun and recreation for scuba divers to experience in a safe environment, said Calvin Wilcher, developer of Athens Scuba Park.

A 35-foot-deep, eight-acre spring-fed clay pit at the park is a popular dive site and favored destination among East Texas and out-of-state scuba divers.

The lake was formed as the old Harbson-Walker brick factory, one of the area’s first industries. Natural white clay was excavated for use in making refractery bricks for fire places from the late 1800s until the 1960s.

With its white clay bottom, the lake is like a clear bowl of water and affords divers good visibility.

Full story…

Emily Sohn – 

Sometimes, life’s biggest lessons come not when everything goes as planned but when everything goes wrong.

Early Saturday morning, as Discovery News reported last week, undersea explorer Scott Cassell set off as planned from Catalina Island with two goals. One was to set a long-distance SCUBA-diving record by traveling 30 miles underwater without surfacing.

At the same time, he used an acoustic device to attract sharks — hoping to both draw attention to the endangered animals and get a sense of how many of them still live in the area.

The day did not go exactly as planned. After about five hours in the water, Cassell experienced a major problem with his equipment and nearly drowned. To avoid death, he came briefly to the surface before going back under again. Battling hypothermia and extreme dehydration, he finished the journey in about 11 hours.

The other surprise involved the sharks. Despite diving through a notorious great white shark zone, Cassell didn’t see a single shark all day. About 20 years ago, Cassell has reported, he often saw as many as 100 sharks during a dive in the area.

According to a press release put out by Cassell’s team, advancements in fishing technology and a major rise in demand for shark fin soup has led to a nearly 90-percent drop in the shark population over the last two decades. In the Catalina Channel, about 97 percent of blue sharks have been killed over the same period of time. And around the world, people kill three sharks every second.

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Paul H. Williams – 

Port Royal is well known for the earthquake that devastated it in June 1692; as the former haunt of Sir Henry Morgan, the most notorious of pirates who was to become governor; and as once the ‘wickedest city on Earth’. For quite a while now, it has been carrying a reputation for its delectable sea-food and, as such, people flock to its fishing village mainly at night.

Though the rustic community, which sits on the tip of the long Palisadoes spit that frames Kingston Harbour, might not dazzle in the day as it does at night, it has a tremendously rich history. The town is replete with sights which are the oldest in the Western Hemisphere.

It is a museum in itself. There is much to see and talk about with spots such as Fort Rocky, Louis (Lewis) Galdy’s Grave, St Peter’s Church, Giddy House, the Old Naval Hospital Old, the Old Naval Cemetery and Fort Charles.

Fort Charles is the oldest and best preserved of the forts in the area. Originally named Fort Cromwell after Oliver Cromwell, it was renamed in honour of King Charles II. Damaged by the 1692 earthquake, it was reconstructed in 1699 by Colonel Christian Lilly, then chief engineer of Jamaica.

Not far from Fort Charles, tilting at a dizzying angle is Giddy House, which used to be the royal artillery store. Its foundation was rocked by the 1907 earthquake, thus leaving it slanting to one side.

Apart from the man made structures, the biodiversity of Port Royal is just as rich. Recently, when I visited, a flock of gulls stood on parade facing the sun in a sort of silent Sunday-morning salute in an open lot near Fort Charles. In the crystal-clear waters near the Old Naval Hospital, fish of various colours, shades and sizes are in abundance.

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