Sunday, March 22, 2009

Diving the Gunilda, Sept 2008

The majestic Gunilda moments before being pulled off McGarvey's Shoal
By: Harry Dunbar

When I descended the line after splashing over the side of Greg Such's boat in Rossport Ontario, on the northern section of Lake superior ... I knew I had taken a step into a dimension of diving I had never explored before. Here was everything promised me by the Advanced Trimix training. All the technical dive courses, the screw-ups, the late nights in Brockville trying to cram information before Tlyer Bradford showed up with those damn TDI exams ... had all paid off.

So 2 years later (Sept. 2008), here I was ... on the descent line, over the wreck of the Gunilda, slipping into a dark unknown. I had previously only heard about the Gunilda from a few others .... and then the video Tyler had shown me back in the advanced Nitrox and Deco learning days. The video (which was filmed by Tyler), was the most exciting diving adventure I had ever seen. I had become obsessed with diving the Gunilda from that day on.

So here I was ... I could feel the cold envelope of darkness while descending to a depth I had been only a few times before.

2 minutes .... was I there yet? How deep was I? I looked at my gauge and realized it didn't matter .... why bother, I'm not stopping until I hit the deck of the Gunilda. 3 minutes .... 4 minutes .... finally! I could see the flashing of 3 other stobes at the end of the line set there by Tyler, Doug and Jim who were minutes ahead of me. They were somewhere up toward the bow.

Visit Tyler's website for more Gunilda photos:

Photo courtesy of Tyler Bradford (Advanced Diving Expeditions)
I had made it down the line to the stern of the Gunilda in under 5 minutes. I'll try to shave 30 seconds off my next time, especially considering I planned a 17 minute bottom time ... and 5 minutes had already gone by. Tyler and Jim are diving CCR's (Inspirations). I'm diving steel double 130's with a 15/55 mix, 100% O2, 50% O2, travel mix with 25/35, five Apeks regs, computer, and .... well you get the picture. With Open circuit I don't have the luxury of changing my dive plan on the fly like the CCR guys. I need to stick to the plan. These depths have no forgiveness for stupidity or error.

I fastened my strobe to the line and adjusted my buoyancy and wondered ... "Which way do I go?" Wait ... didn't I have a plan? What the hell was my plan?

Checked my gauges ... bottom time 6 minutes, lots of gas and 240 feet deep.
There was no current. My light opened a path along the port rail from the stern toward the bow, (maybe 12 feet) and then I remembered .... I had planned to go along the port side of the Gunilda to the front of the flying bridge where I figured my turning point would be (first third of my dive) and then return over the flying-bridge along the deck of the stern back to my safe haven ... the line.
Checked my gauges again. Everything is fine .... I started to relax and focus on the dive.

I proceeded along the port rail, forward towards the front of the flying bridge. As I passed by the windows along the side I glanced in to try and see but only caught glimpses. Next dive ... this one was to visit the flying bridge. I came up to the bottom of the ladder located at the front of the flying bridge of the Gunilda and then slowly ascending up over to the top ... adjusting my buoyancy as I rose.

My God it was dark down here. My Green Force light was a nice piece of equipment to have on this dive .... I was glad it spent the previous night on the charger.

Visit Tyler's website for more Gunilda photos:

Photo courtesy of Tyler Bradford (Advanced Diving Expeditions)
As I propelled myself effortlessly above the flying bridge I saw the wheel, the compass, the telegraph .... everything intact and had this boat been on the surface, I probably could have sailed her away. This vessel was in pristine condition. Well ... that is, pristine other than some of the superficial damage caused by the morons who tried to grapple on to her a few decades ago hoping to raise her.

Members of the Cousteau Great Lakes Expedition had described the Gunilda as the most well preserved wreck they had ever seen. Back in the 80's not even Cousteau's team were able to dive this amazing wreck ..... only since the birth of technical diving have these depths been made possible. Cousteau's team used a remote operated video camera for their expedition.

A quick glance at my gauges as I slid over the back of the flying bridge and down over the aft of the wreck toward the stern. Wow, so much to see! I'll definately need another dive just for this section of the shipwreck. I looked over to where I thought my strobe was tied and nothing. Just a few more kicks ... and I could see it.
The flashing beacon of a strobe light is always a welcoming sight.

As I slowly made my way over the stern section of the Gunilda to the ascent line, I shone my light onto the silty deck. I saw the weight belt left behind by a previous diver who had made a mistake which had cost him his life. The weight belt ... left untouched, was a grim reminder of what can happen on ANY dive.

I looked at my gauges again checking my time and gas. I still had 4 minutes before ascending into my decompression. One last time I shown my light over the deck of the Gunilda, and as objects appeared I realized I had missed much of what there was to see. I had been in such awe, I hadn't closely examined much throughout the entire dive.
At least I now had enough familiarity with this awesome wreck and the dive that got me here, to allow me more relaxed and productive dives over the next 4 days.

Before reaching to untie my strobe, I slipped down over the stern a few feet to see one more thing. There it was in big gold letters. The gold stern letters, "Gunilda". I rose back up, grabbed the line, untied my strobe and clipped it to my D ring.
I very slowly ascended the line, continuing my run time through my decompression stops while thinking of everything I had seen. Thinking of everything I hadn't.
I'll be on the surface in another 55 minutes.

Hot soup would be nice right now.....

Visit Tyler's website for Gunilda photos: