Harsen's Island Part Deux

Dock near where we enter the river. 

This past Sunday found us once again on the banks of the St. Clair River.  This time, it was completely open water (no ice!) and the weather was perfect.  A little windy, but temepratures in the mid to upper 60s felt awesome, especially after the winter we had.  The night before though, a bad storm had passed through the area and wiped out power in several large swaths - the island being one of them. 

We normally meet for breakfast at Sans Souci ("Without Worry," in French), but they were closed due to the power outage.  I am a breakfast eater.  Always have been, always will be.  Breakfast is my thing.  Even on busy work mornings, I get up and make myself eggs and toast.  Weekends usually call for something more elaborate - waffles, pancakes, crepes, cinnamon rolls - sometimes all at once.  Just kidding.  Sorta.  Anywho, point here: I had not eaten breakfast before driving up there because I had planned on eating here.  Aaron has learned over the years that in order for me to be of any use, not to mention pleasant to be around, he needs to feed me and get me some tea, preferably out of this mug.  By the way, hangry is a real thing - science says so.  He's also learned that I'm not much of a morning person, but that's beside the point.  Thankfully for everyone who has to deal with me, the grocery store across the stree was open and they had some day-old donuts.  So, chocolate covered cake donut for breakfast it was.  

Sans Souci Bar and Restaurant.  You can see Canada from their back porch!

Sans Souci Bar and Restaurant.  You can see Canada from their back porch!

After scoping out our normal spot and different one a few blocks down, we got our gear set up, donned our drysuits and got in the river.  But not until we waited for this guy to pass by:

It really is amazing to watch the freighters come through.  There's something about them just gliding through the water that's mesmerizing.  From the surface.  If you're in the water, as we were when two more passed through, it's kind of scary.  They mess with the current making it go faster, turn slack, and then return the other way.  Basically, you need to stay out of the shipping chanel (not that hard) and find something study and, ideally, unmoving, and hold on tight.  Underwater, these things are loud too, making them seem much closer than they actually are.

The water temps this weekend were still on the cold side, about 41 degrees, giver or take a few.  Between the cold water, and having to hang on for two passing freighters, we called it a day after one dive.  I managed to find a few cool bottles that are getting cleaned as we speak, but nothing spectacular.  The day I find a creamer or a cobalt-blue apothecary bottle though, you'll know.  Acutally the whole world may know.

Since lunch at Sans Souci was not part of the equation due to the power issues, we headed out.  There's only one way on and off the island and it's on one of these ferries:

The first couple of times it's a weird sensation to look out the car window and see water.  It's not normal.  But once you get over the fleeting thought that you're car is going to be submerged under the cold river any second, it's actually kind of cool.  You drive on, pay the toll, and drive off on the other side.  Pretty nifty.

Since all the ships entering the upper Great Lakes (Huron, Michigan and Superior) need to pass through this river, the local population harbors an interest in the ships themselves.  The Harsens Island St. Clair Flats Historical Society is hosting a "Get to Know Your Ships" event.  It looks at the history of ships on the lakes and covers information in their annual book.  For more information, see the poster below.

So that wrapped up our weekend.  While getting ready for bed that night I looked at Aaron and told him that I needed another weekend to recover from the weekend we had just had.  Anyone else ever feel the same way?

You've Got to Know When to Hold 'Em........

This past weekend, we were supposed to be diving the river on Saturday and White Star Quarry on Sunday.  Unfortunately, both days ended up being a bust.  Aaron had an emergency at work and in the span of three days managed to put in something close to 48 hours of work.  Needless to say, I am glad that the situation is taken care of and that I am no longer a work-widow (my own adaptation of "deer camp widow," a Yooper euphemism).

Saturday, it was discovered that there was still ice covering a significant portion of the White Star Quarry - too thick to be considered for open water diving, but too thin to be able to ice dive.  Ahh, spring, how I loathe thee sometimes!  We were not about to let a little ice ruin our dive day though!  Off to the river!  It was a beautiful, but windy, morning.  The sun was shining, the birds were chirping and the river was flowing.  Man, was she flowing!  Current was stronger than last weekend.  Aaron had already planned to not dive since he was so tired from work, but I took one look at it and called it before I ever got in.  Another friend of ours, Jill, did the same.  At least I wasn't alone!  Two in our group still choose to dove; both are more-experienced river divers than we are.  

I had this feeling that THAT would be the day I would find an awesome bottle!  I was so bummed sitting on the shore, waiting for our friends.  Although, I did have fun watching Jill's twin daughters play on the small icebergs that had drifted to shore.  The only saving grace that day was that those who chose to dive, didn't find anything remarkable.  It made my decision not to dive slightly more bearable.  Probably not what they wanted to hear!

There's a saying in diving: "Anyone can call a dive at any time for any reason and not feel bad about it."  (calling a dive: choosing either to end a dive once it has begun or not begin a previously planned dive)  We are going into an environment where we aren't meant to be.  I think it shows great maturity in a diver to know when to call a dive because he or she doesn't feel safe, recognizes that the conditions are outside of their training and experience, or realizes that they may not be fully equipped (mentally and physically) for a dive.  However, it is equally important that one's dive buddies also support the diver's decision and not make him/her ashamed for calling a dive.  It is times like this that I have to remind myself that it's more important to live, and dive another day.


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River Diving

Ahhh, the joys of winter diving!  When the ice is too thin (or, in some winters, non-existent), some crazy divers take to the rivers.  River diving allows for a completely different experience, mainly as a result of the current that isn't really present in lakes and quarries.  However, it is a COMPLETELY different beast.  Not only are there currents, which can be strong, there are also underwater hazards not typically found in protected quarries or even in the Great Lakes.  For years, people used the rivers as a dumping ground (out of sight, out of mind?) and as a result, it's not uncommon to find collapsed docks, wads of fishing line, lawn chairs (seriously?!), cinder blocks, re-bar, and even low-head dams.  While to the untrained diver, this is an environment ripe for something to go wrong, with the proper training, equipment and mindset, the rivers can be a fantastic opportunity to dive locally.  And really, who wants to wait for their next tropical vacation to get in some underwater time?

Entrance to one of the dive sites we frequent.  Thank you to Rich Synowiec of Diver's Incorporated for the picture.

Entrance to one of the dive sites we frequent.  Thank you to Rich Synowiec of Diver's Incorporated for the picture.

We often dive either the Detroit River or the St. Clair River, but have dove other rivers as well (Cooper, I'm looking at you).  I have had so many people ask me "Why in the world would you want to dive the Detroit River?!  Aren't you afraid of finding a dead body or something?  What is there to see down there anyway?"  Well, while finding a dead body would be pretty horrifying, it's really quite rare (unless you are a public safety diver and it's your job to find that kind of thing).  What we DO find when diving the rivers though are bottles.  Tons and tons of them.  Everything from beer bottles to apothecary bottles and everything in between. Take exhibit A, a bottle Aaron found a few months back in the St. Clair River.  The bottle has "Dr. D. Jayne's Expectorant" embossed on one side.  While we can't positively identify when the bottle is from, best estimates put it anywhere from 1850 - 1890.  

And THAT, my friends, is why we dive the river!

First River Dives of 2014

I apologize in advance, this post is kind of long and picture-heavy.

This past weekend, we set out for our first river dives of 2014.  We had some friends we met on a dive trip last summer come into town from Wisconsin to take the course from a good friend of ours, Rich Synowiec, and then complete their check out dives.  We were invited along to dive with them on Saturday and Sunday.  

Typical bed of the pickup on a dive day.

Of course, the first step for any day of diving is to load the gear into the truck: two dry suits (White's bag); an argon set up (for me since I get cold easily); dry suit undergarments (Fourth Element bag); two hoods, masks, sets of gloves (wet for Aaron and dry for me) and fins; two sets of regulators (in bag farthest to left); 45 pounds of extra weight; two river tools with two goodie bags; and an extra change of clothes, just in case the dry suit isn't so dry.  We have really gotten this whole thing down to a science and can be loaded up and ready to go in about a half hour.

Pickup bed of some dive friends.

Have we ever mentioned that diving is an equipment-intensive hobby?  No, we haven't?  Well, it is.  The picture to the right is the gear just for one person.  Well, plus some other, non-diving related, stuff

On Saturday, we were diving on Gross Ile, a small island in the Detroit River.  The weather was nice, relatively speaking.  The air temperature was 38F, no wind, and the sun was trying to peak out.  But the river, well, she was raging, quite literally.  That was the fastest current we had ever dove in.  A couple of things were working against us - the location is shallow, the water level is about 3 feet lower than normal, and the shipping channel of the Detroit river (on the other side of a very small, unihabitated island) was frozen over still.  All the water that would usually flow through both the shallow side where we were diving, and the larger and deeper shipping channel, had to go right past our dive site.  Talking about a ripping current.  The water temperature wasn't terrible, 32F, but with all the work we had to do in order not to get swept away by the current, we barely felt it.  Both of us ended up calling the dive about 10 minutes in.  Better to be alive to dive another day.

This is why people dive Poseidon regulators.  The first stage is frozen solidly in ice, and still functioned great!

Sunday took us up to Harsen's Island.  Harsen's is in the middle of the St. Clair river, right where it opens into Lake St. Clair, and you need to take a ferry to get there.  It's actually quite interesting to sit in your car as you are crossing a river.  We met with friends (lots of them, actually - Rich even snagged a quick picture of everyone before everyone got kitted up) for breakfast at a local place before hitting the river.  The weather was much colder on Sunday - 16F and windy, but sunny.  Colder weather (and of course cold water), is a problem for some regulators.  It can cause them to freeze and free flow.  However, some regulators are better than others.  The ones below both continued to function perfectly, despite the fact that they were incased in ice.  Note to self: need to get myself one of these 

Who said Poseidon regulators were rock solid?  No free-flows or failures from the Poseidon's today.

Both Aaron and I got our gear set up, and then donned our undergarments and drysuits, hopped in the water annnd....free flow.  A small one, but still an issue.  Poured in some warm tea (that's all I had on hand) to thaw it, and then try again.  We both were able to get down, but Aaron's started to free flow again, and he couldn't get it thawed  He ended up calling the dive.  I was able to get in a half hour dive before I overworked mine, froze it, and had it free flow on me.  I did learn something interesting this weekend - I can reach my own air to turn it off if need be (don't worry, I was on the surface when I turned it off).  Good to know.  One dive and a frozen reg later, and I called it a day.  Below is a picture of me as I was doffing my gear (dry suit is off, undergarments are still on).  Please excuse the state of my hair.

Unfortunately, since Aaron wasn't able to dive, he wasn't able to find any treasures.  I found a few cool bottles, but I have no idea what kind they are.  They still need to be cleaned and researched, if I get a chance.

Meghan doffing her gear after a great dive of diving