Tuesday, April 14, 2015

HMCS Annapolis First Dive 12/04/2015

Our first dive on the HMCS Annapolis!

We didn't think we'd be diving it so soon. I had been sure that there would be too much competition for spots in the first few weeks. Fortunately, Liz Tribe secured the Topline for Sunday, and Heather and I lucked in to two spots.

It was a very full boat, with 18 divers. The Topline sure could pack them on! Captain Chris and Rachel were our excellent crew. Rachel snapped this group picture of us at the end of the day. We had divers from the Island, scooters, doubles, singles, rebreathers, you name it!

Weather was amazing that day too. I had thought it was going to be cold and rainy, but it turned out to be sunny and relatively warm. We also had on board a diver (Dave Tomblin) who had served on the Annapolis, and they were so kind as to upload this old picture of the Annapolis from its sailing days.

There was a second boat trip out that afternoon, so we were under a clock. Fortunately, we had a great group and everything went smoothly. On arriving in Halkett Bay, we tied up on the stern line, and were soon diving.

I was very impressed by the stern descent line. A large square aluminium frame had been installed at 6 meters (20 feet) allowing divers a safe platform to do their safety stops or deco. Very nice! The stern line was the deepest of the three lines at about 80 feet. The line itself was quite loose, so it was a challenge to follow it. It also went at quite a shallow angle, meaning that it was not directly over the ship itself. One dive team decided to drop straight down, and ended up missing the wreck. So if you were descending on the stern, just keep following the line, it was your best bet to get there eventually! The stern deck came out of the darkness, and we got our first look at the new wreck. It was very impressive. Visibility was not bad, maybe 20 feet. Even though the sun was out, the surface layer made this pretty much a night dive. Still, it was great. We moved towards amidships, and found several displays of stainless steel rockfish had been installed. We noticed one of the other dive teams had written their names in the silt that had already started to coat the wreck. There was no life yet, but that would come. We were surprised to find a seagull carcass, as well as a mesh bag containing a brand new ball cap and hockey jersey. 

On the second dive, we tied up on the amidships line. Nick unfortunately lost a fin off the boat, and tried to recover it on the second dive, but had no luck (If you find an XXL Jetfin, let me or Nick  Bowman know). Our second dive was a lot of fun too. We spent time looking in the windows of the bridge, checking out a few swim throughs, and just having a good dive.

It was a challenge to get good video with the dark conditions, but Heather got some good bits. Here are the highlights. Enjoy!

Update: Sea Dragon Charters put together a very good compilation video of pre-and-post sinking.

Sunday, April 5, 2015

HMCS Annapolis Sinking 04/04/2015

It finally happened. The HMCS Annapolis sank almost perfectly on Saturday, and Heather and I were there to see it. The running joke was that we wanted to see it actually sink with our own eyes. There had been so many delays, so many promises and so many years, it was amazing to see it actually happening. I had been glad to volunteer some time to help in the long preparation process.

If you'd like to skip to some of the good stuff right away there were two good online sources of coverage of the event.

CTV News report of the sinking.

CTV News aerial view of the entire sinking.

ARSBC Streamed video of the event.

You could actually see the Annapolis from the Sea to Sky highway when it had been towed to its soon-to-be permanent home on Tuesday. Heather and I had driven up to Squamish on Friday and we noticed it. I'm sure that many other people had too! Heather took a picture, but it was a bit far away, and we decided not to traipse through someone's back yard to get a better look. It sure did look big. The photo didn't do it justice.

Sea Dragon Charters coordinated several boats to go out and view the sinking on Saturday. There were t-shirts, snacks, and a post-sinking barbecue. With the long weekend we went up a bit earlier to find parking. The weather was not bad; overcast and a bit rainy. We really didn't care so long as it would allow the sinking. We were in the boat Kinbasket Queen.

 Helping coordinate was Liz Tribe from the Island. She handed out t-shirts and made sure everyone was present. Thanks Liz! A photo of her in action courtesy of Vlad.

Our boat held over a dozen people, and this was a photo of the folks that I knew best. From left to right, Lindsay (Dennis got cut out of the picture), Josh, Dirk, Evan, Vlad and John.

Then Doug and me. Heather was taking the photo.

Once on board and sorted out, we were underway. It was a bit of a dismal ride out, and we hoped that it wouldn't be like this the whole day. Here was one of our first looks at the Annapolis. You could see some raindrops in the photo. Fortunately the weather almost completely cleared up for the sinking itself.

We got out to Halkett Bay around 930, and then heard that the sinking was probably around 1245. It was hurry up and wait time. A chain of logs had been set up across Halkett Bay to separate the on-lookers from the ship. It was a pretty good idea. Our boat tied up to the log boom, and so did the Topline. Both boats were secured together, which was very important because the Topline had the only working bathroom. It was also good that we arrived early, because soon it was a parking lot of on-lookers. When we got there though, it was pretty empty.

The Police, the Coast Guard, Search and Rescue and the Canadian Navy were all out to make sure things proceeded well.

We spent the next several hours much like this photo, talking, waiting and looking at the Annapolis.

Jessica from the Vancouver Aquarium was out, making sure with sonar that the herring that were spawning were not going to be underneath the sinking. We met her on the dock in the morning.

It was also great to see Kal from Porpoise Bay Charters make it to see the sinking as well. With the HMCS Chaudiere up his way, it was good that he could make it to see the sinking of this latest ARSBC wreck. I had not seen Dave Williams yet, and he turned up on the same boat that Kal was on. Glad you made it Dave!

Throughout the morning, more and more boats arrived. There were helicopters, the Coast Guard hovercraft, people in kayaks, you name it. It was turning into quite the spectacle!

There was even a crowd gathering on the shores of Gambier Island. Don't ask me how they got over there, since there was no road! Still, it was a great place to view the sinking.

As the hours passed, the star of the show remained the HMCS Annapolis. I can't imagine just how many photos were taken of her. A news crew was out doing interviews, and the ARSBC was streaming video of the event live. Everywhere you looked people were talking and the excitement continued to build.

As we got closer to the appointed time, flags in the upper windows went let us know how close we were. First red, then yellow, then finally the green flag went up. It would be only minutes now!

We watched as the remaining crew walked the ship and turned on some 20+ GoPro cameras that were attached to the ship and would film the sinking. Many of us commented that we'd really not want to be the last aboard a ship ready to go down at the push of a button! During the final moments, the barge tethered to the Annapolis was removed, the last of the crew was picked up, and the tug boat that served as the demolition platform payed out the detonation wire. You could see the wire if you looked closely at this picture.

We heard the blast on the horn, and everyone got ready. Funny enough, many of us were waiting for twelve horn blasts before the detonation. We got two only, then the incredible boom from the charges going off. It was hard to describe just how loud the detonations were. You could feel them in your body. Dennis Diamond got a very good video sequence of the power of the blasts, shaking the window he was filming through. The shock wave also reached you before the sound did.

The detonations were over very quickly, and not much seemed to have happened apart from the smoke. Then you could see the Annapolis start to sink. It didn't take long, and it sure was a sight to see. It sank near perfectly. The stern went down a bit quicker, but the bow soon followed. It was finally done! Here are two pictures courtesy of Vlad.

An here was a short video sequence I took from the Kinbasket.

And here was an extended sequence of the whole thing that Heather took from the bow of the Topline.

Soon, there was nothing to see but a bit of smoke and water.

Once the ship had sunk, the mass exodus of boats started. It reminded me a bit of what happened after the Symphony of Lights fireworks. There would still be a lot of work to do before the wreck was deemed safe. Clearance divers would have to go down the next day and verify all the charges had detonated properly. Other divers would have to remove the stabilizing lines, retrieve the GoPro cameras, and rig up the mooring buoys. However, the first dive was scheduled for Monday, and the newest artificial reef in BC would soon be open!

We motored back to Horseshoe Bay, and the Sea Dragon and Ocean Quest treated us to a barbecue and a very welcome reward, coolers full of beer and champagne!

All in all, it was one fantastic day. I could not wait to get out and dive the HMCS Annapolis!