Submerged beneath the surface, scuba diving allows adventurers to enter a whole new world—or return to an old one.
The mooring line was my only reference as I descended into icy blue water. I passed pulsing Lion’s mane jellyfish and glittering ctenophores, suspended in the cool water around me. Eventually, the ship appeared—a dark shadowy mass at first, but then slowly materializing into a discernable man-made vessel. The metal structure was choked in marine life.
After countless dives all over the East Coast this past summer, my husband Joey and I made our way north to the rugged island of Newfoundland. Blessed with picturesque vistas and unique marine migrations, here the ocean provides not just stunning landscapes but also some of the best wreck diving in the Atlantic. The S.S. PLM-27, S.S. Lord Strathcona, S.S. Saganaga and S.S. Rose Castle are four iron-ore carriers, resting just off the coast of Bell Island. Situated less than 5.5 square kilometres apart, these shipwrecks are not just the region’s signature dive sites, but a testament to what was once the most prolific iron-ore mines in North America.
Our first, second and third dives were on the PLM-27, Saganaga and Lord Strathcona, respectively. As we descended in our many layers of scuba gear, I could see that the visibility around these sunken time capsules was stupendous. Despite damages one would imagine coming from a vessel sunk during World War II, thanks to the icy-cold Atlantic water, the degree of preservation was remarkable. Aside from the gaping torpedo holes that sunk the ships, much of the equipment and crew’s personal items still sat undisturbed.
Even more impressive was the Rose Castle, the largest and deepest of the four shipwrecks. Heading down, Joey and I passed two thermoclines, dropping the temperature near the point of freezing. Touching down at a whopping 32 meters deep, the water pressure squeezed my body and the cold percolated into the deepest parts of my brain.
Kicking away from the anchor line, this antique ship’s blue world possessed a multi-layered deck, plenty of swim-throughs and knick-knacks scattered everywhere. It afforded us a very three-dimensional experience—even without entering the overhead compartments of the vessel. Unfortunately, after less than five minutes in this alluring environment, my dive was turned upside down when Joey raced up to me, his regulator spewing out air and tank losing pressure... fast.
Although diving regulators are designed to offer reliability, no piece of equipment is without flaws. As seasoned divers, this incident was a sobering reality check that sometimes things go wrong. Cold water conditions are one of the leading causes of regulator free-flows at depth, and we were just another casualty. Thankfully both Joey and I had extra bail out bottles. Ending the dive immediately, we scampered up the mooring line to our shallower safety stop, where we would need to wait for three minutes for offgassing. Ascending to the warmer surface water stopped the bubbling free-flow and we were able to safely complete the dive.
“Nerve-wracking” and “adrenaline-pumping” are a few choice words that I’d use to describe our underwater experiences in Newfoundland. Following an incident like that, some might shy away from diving for a long time. Others, my mom included, might think Joey and I are lunatics for hopping back in the water the following day.
These dives will forever be etched in my memories, making me a better, safer and more experienced diver for it.
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