Last weekend I had the opportunity to dive what I believe is the world's largest artificial reef. The USS Oriskany was sunk off the coast of Pensacola, FL back in 2006 & the local dive shop we use has made annual trips there. This year was the first year in which the trip fit into my schedule.
I'm not a huge fan of wreck diving & in the past have not had enjoyable experiences diving off the Florida panhandle. However, this trip provided me with the opportunity to dive w/some new people & of course, another opportunity to dive while things aren't too hectic back home.
On our first dive day in Pensacola, we dove a tugboat (the Pete Tide) wreck & a Russian freighter. The visibility was horrible, but still it was nice to get accustomed to the dive operation we were using, as well as diving in less than perfect conditions. Plus, there were toadfish galore on one of the dives.
On the second day, we dove the Oriskany. From the dive briefing, when the aircraft carrier was initially sunk, the flight deck had settled in around 135 feet of water, which would've made it right around the outside of recreational diving limits. Due to hurricane activity last year, the flight deck is now settled in at around 145-150 feet, which, sadly, took the option of reaching it out of the dive plan. Should add that for the first tank we dove Nitrox (25%), which limited our max depth.
The thing I remember most from that first dive was how amazingly huge the Oriskany was. And intact. While there is a great deal of growth over the 3 years since she was sunk, it's still easy to make out the same tower you can find in photographs taken before she was sunk. I've dove a couple of WW II wrecks that would be dwarfed in comparison to this. My buddy & I dove down to 115-120 feet to try to preserve some bottom time. The viz was great, so we could see the flight deck, but what amazed me was the size of the tower. The top was in around 80 feet of water & descended down to the flight deck. There was a pretty decent current taking you away from the ascent line, which made the dive even more of a challenge.
We made it a point of staying a little more shallow on our second tank, diving primarily around the tower. I think we probably explored around 10% of the tower, if that much, because there was so much to see. Personally, I was fascinated with the blennies making their homes in empty barnacles .
(I should take this opportunity to point out that the two comments I usually receive when diving w/anyone other than my wife are, "dude, are those bubbles?" and "enough with the fucking blennies!" I love looking for little shit. Anyone can find something big. I find it difficult to get bored when you spend the dive looking in little crevices for macro life.)
The current was considerably milder which gave us a lot more time & freedom to explore. Any pictures I post of the wreck itself wouldn't do it justice. It was huge and at 80+ feet, it's tough to get enough light with one strobe & a wide angle lens.
That night, with all of our diving done, people seemed a lot more relaxed. At dinner, after most of us had a few post-dive adult beverages, one woman in our group taught the table how to make penis shapes out of our napkins. At one point, we had the entire dining room, including the owner/manager of the restaurant, in stitches. Needless to say, the evening has been preserved with photography, as any of you who follow my updates on twitter are probably aware.
The day we departed, we went to the Naval Aviation Museum. There are tons of pics on my facebook & twitpic pages. It was fascinating, humbling & it would be difficult to see it all in just a few hours, which is all we had. The Vietnam exhibit was very moving & reminded me how much our servicemen have sacrificed for our freedom & how much I detest our current America-hating President (hey, I had to get a jab in at that incompetent, arrogant POS).
Overall, the trip was great. Everyone at the Scuba Shack http://www.scubashackpensacola.com provided excellent safety & service, clear dive briefings & lots of great food during the boat rides and surface intervals. I would definitely dive with them again. & now that I've gotten my bearings around the Oriskany, I would definitely like to dive her again, as well.
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