St. Augustine - June 20, 1998
We set out late (around 7:45 AM) from OC on the Titan America with 8 divers from AWD and Captain Rick behind the wheel. The wreck is sitting in ~250fsw, approximately 55 miles off shore. The long trip out went off without incident, although we were briefly visited by an unidentified whale.
We hooked in around 11:30 AM and got geared up for a single dive. Conditions were excellent, with around 1/2 ft seas and no current to speak of. The surface water had a distinct blue quality and that surface viz appeared to be exceptional.
Moving down the line towards the wreck, it began to seem very dark and I began to wish that I had not left my 50watt cave light at home in favor of a smaller hand light. However, on dropping to the deck at 230fsw and clearing out my somewhat fogged mask (musta been the excitement), I realized that the viz was around 40-50feet. Not as good as the last time we visited, but definetly good enough.
The St Augustine is a very scenic wreck. It is upright and basically in tact, sort of like the Moonstone was (until this season), only around 100 feet longer. We were hooked into a hole in the decking amidships. As I came down the line, the superstructure/mast and a large deck gun were the most immediately visable features.
After a quick look around the area of the hook, I saw that things looked very secure and I headed along the sloping area where the wooden (teak?) decking had caved in to the next level. Lots of good stuff was there for the taking, although some of it (attached portholes, fire extinguishers, etc) would demand more time and effort than I was willing to give on this dive so I left them for next time. Since I had decided beforehand that this would be an easy, mellow dive, I didnt even bother to bring my tools. I was looking for small stuff that could easily be scooped up.
Thinking that I might be able to at least get a relatively close look at the debris field, I dropped over the side, but, it became pretty clear that any close inspection of the bottom would have to wait til next time.
I headed back up along the hull and entered what I assume must have been the salon area. It was at main deck level (around 230fsw) and seemed to encompass the entire area under the superstructure. I could see through to the other side of the hull and both bow and stern entries. I poked around here among the scattered debris looking for something that struck me as a keeper. There were plenty of brass fittings and some porthole pieces, but, in the end, what grabbedmy attention was a serving tray sitting upside down along the bulkhead. I picked it up and rubbed it to see what it was and saw the gleam of silver along the edges. That was good enough for me, so I left the area and headed back toward the hook.
After some struggling, I managed to jam the tray in my mesh bag (which was two sizes too small) and headed back in the general direction of the line. With plenty of time/gas remaining, I poked around a bit more near the breakdown in the deck, but since I had a nice goody, and my right glove had a gaping hole in (which was quickly making my fingers numb), I decided to bail and enjoy the relatively shorter deco.
The hour hang passed slowly, but without any problems, although my eyes did bug a bit when I went to Ted's shallow overboard reg and made the gas switch, only to find the thing was not turned on at the manifold (just out of reach at 20fsw). Nothing like that lung-suction feeling of a reg thats not giving gas to get your attention. Anyway, I stayed on my EAN50 bottle until I could turn the thing on and finished without any problems. It was a long ride home.
It ended up being a fairly short dive, with 15 minutes bottom time and a 75 minute run time (with deep stops included). My bottom gas wasTx-17/50, though I might go for a 16/50 or thereabouts next time to get down towards the bottom for a look. Deco was done on my EAN50 stage with Teds EAN70 available overboard. I used it, but it wasnt in my tables.
Turns out that the platter is silver plated and badly pitted, but its still a nice little piece for the shelf to remind me of a great trip. It's on an endless water soak cycle now, but I may get motivated and take it to someone to see about getting it replated. Havent decided yet.
Anyway, I cant wait to get back to the St. Augustine. Shes a beautiful wreck and will be giving up goodies for a long long time. May even bring the tools next time...............
Larry O'Loane and Pat