East Coast Dive Tour
1,000 Islands
Kingston & Brockville Ontario, Canada

September 10th through the 12th, 2000

lakem2.jpg (5242 bytes) 1000 Islands
By Tom Healy

What do you get when you add the temperate waters of Dutch Springs, Long Island wreck diving and a dash of Caribbean visibility? 1000 Islands diving.

Tiedemann's Diving Center's own Jim Vafeas set up this East Coast Dive Tour trip to Kingston & Brockville, Ontario Canada. My day (or morning as it was the case) started at AM. Sun. I met Jim  and Janet and we set off on the 7 hour trip to Kingston Ontario. It's not something  that I would recommend anyone else do, but since we both had prior commitments Sat, it worked out well for both.

We Rolled into historic Kingston at around 8:00am. It gave us enough time to sit down a have a decent breakfast, then pick sandwiches and drinks for the boat. The rest of the group, 8 in all, arrived the day before and we met up with them at the Limestone Dive center. From here the boat was only a block away.

The weather could not have been better. It was sunny, 80 degrees and Lake Ontario was flat. After a 40 minute boat  ride we arrived at the first wreck called the George T. Davie. What was great about this wreck is it is considered to be a "virgin" wreck. One that has only recently been marked and numbered. A mooring block and line was placed here only one day earlier. Not much is known about this wreck except that it was an old coal barge carrying 1040 tons of hard coal when it capsized and sank in 95ft of water in April 1945.  Many ships that sank in the Lake were over loaded with the supplies they carried. The greed factor, many times over out weighed safety issues in loading ships. This cost many sailors their lives during this period of time. When you reach the wreck it was interesting to find the life boat complete with oars still hanging there never to be used. It makes you wonder how quick the ship went down with the appearance that the crew never had time to set the lifeboat out.

 

After over an hours surface interval, our next stop took us to the wreck of the Comet. This by far turned out to be my favorite. This 337 ton, 174 ft long, steam driven side paddlewheeler reminds me of the old paddle wheel boats that would ply the Mississippi River years ago. This ships tragic tale ended in May 1861 when she struck the schooner "Exchange." Taking on water badly, the captain decided to make a run for it to shore. With a mile and a half to go the water finally reached and put out the coal fired boilers, sealing the ships fate. It sank and now lies in 85ft of water untouched for over one hundred years.

What is amazing is the view you see when you reach the mooring block at the bottom of the anchor line. You swim over and suddenly these two huge 22ft paddle wheels come into view along with the rest of the ship. Here I am, 80ft of vis, looking at something intact, that sank over 139 years ago. Very cool. Along it's decks you can see old pieces of China and bottles that have been found by other divers and placed there for others to see.

With 2 tanks now empty I was ready for a NAP!  We stopped by the dive center where the guys there would fill our tanks and have them ready for us the next morning. I'm not sure which is worse, being hungry or dead tired, but I was both. We headed over the Alexander Henry where the nap won.

This is an old retired Canadian coast guard ice breaker that kept the shipping lanes open in the St. Lawrence River and the Great Lakes during the winter. It was acquired in 1985 by the Maritime Museum or just $1. Its now docked next to the museum and serves as a bed and breakfast/walk through museum. Kingston is a quaint little town that is nice to walk through. There  is no end to small restaurants and cafe's. Finding a place to eat was very easy.

The Comet
The Comet

Comet Paddle Wheel
Paddle Wheel of Comet

Alexander Henry
Alexander Henry

 

Waking up the next morning was not easy. What a difference a day makes.  A poring rain and driving wind seemed to end any chance we had of going out. You could see the 6 foot waves and white caps spraying over the rock breakers just outside of the port.   I dragged myself to the galley where the ships curator had a nice continental breakfast waiting. He was interesting to talk to as he told us some interesting stories of the area.

By the time we got to dive center the rain had stopped. things still looked miserable. The captain said look will go out and try some sheltered wrecks. And if you don't like it we could always come back in. A few decided to leave. The rest and I figured we will at least take a boat ride and see how it goes. It wasn't bad.  The rain started and was off and on, However the wind created only a  2-3 foot chop which was manageable even for this big chicken. The first wreck was the The Wolfe Islander II. This 164 ft ferry was built in 1946 and supposed to go to China as a gift From the Canadian Gov't. Chinas decision to turn communist, caused the Canadian Gov't to think twice and pull it's gift off the table. The ship was put into ferry service between Wolfe Island and the Canadian mainland serving tourists and residents alike. In 1984 the Maritime Museum acquired the ship with the hopes of creating a floating museum. That changed a year later when the Alexander Henry was acquired. Now I have to get this straight, I think I dove on a ferry and slept on a Coast guard ship. Or was it the other way around?  Anyway the ferry was sunk upright as a dive attraction in 85ft of water. A very cool dive with a lot fish around and easy swim throughs in and around the Captains bridge. This wreck turned out to be many others favorite site.

The second dive of the day brought us to the wreck called the "KPH." This was a small flat barge with not much known history to it. There isn't much known on when and why it sank except that it sits in 65 ft of water. Not a bad day diving after all considering all the squalls that went by in the morning.

After again getting our tanks filed at the center, we headed for some St. Lawrence River diving diving the following day.

 

Wolfe Islander II
Wolfe Islander II

Wolfer Islander II Flute
Flute of Wolfe Islander II

Here the water is a little warmer, mid 60's as opposed to the mid 40's at the bottom Lake Ontario. The river temperature even gets into the mid to upper 70's in August!

Today, the weather was clear but windy, making for choppy waters even in the river.  Luckily, in the river, choppy only translates into slightly over 1 foot swells.

The first wreck of the day was the Keystorm. This steel freighter was carrying 2230 tons of coal when she hit a shoal in heavy fog Oct. 12 1912.  A large gash in her bow put her to the bottom in quick fashion. Her bow sits in about 35 ft of water on the shoal. We swam back down, in and out of the cargo holds to the stern which rests in about 110 ft on the bottom.  I liked this wreck because of it's size (246 long and 46 ft across) and the fact that you can see just about all of it still intact.

The last Wreck of this trip is one called the America. This ship was used in the 1930s to drill the rocky bottom of the St. Lawrence seaway to allow for larger ships to pass. In June of 1932 this barge blew up and sank upside down in the middle of the shipping channel in 75ft of water. It an interesting wreck that allows you to swim underneath it and poke around. Schools of Pearch, Bass and muskies can be seen as this wreck provides nice cover for them. I have to admit it was a little intimidating to hear huge freighters passing overhead towards the lake. You knew they were at least 75 ft away if not further from you, but boy does sound travel under water! One must also watch diving this wreck. Since there can be a good current running, make sure you have at least 1000psi left for the return trip along the mooring line. You will get quite a work out comming back against the current. This turned out to be a great spot to end the trip.

That about covers it. A rather historically, interesting and great type of diving. Six tanks and six good dives over three days. I'll definitely be back again next year!!!

Keystorm
Illustration of Keystorm