One of the problems with signing up with a scheduled charter is that you are limited to where you are diving. One way to solve this is to charter your own boat and fill it with good friends and skilled divers, which is just what I did on Sunday, July 29th. I chartered the Outlaw Dive Boat out of Balmar, NJ, which is a six-pack boat. I wish it could have taken a few more divers, since unfortunately, I left out a few divers that should have come along. In the end, the boat was filled by me, Scott Previte, Rob Infante, Stephan Francke, Craig Billings, and Yasuko (aka Fiasco). Our goal was to dive relatively shallow, somewhere in the 75'-90' range, and look for lobsters and other tasty creatures of the deep. Ideally, it would be a three-tank day, but that was up in the air.
I checked the weather report regularly, and was not optimistic that the trip would go out. They were calling for scattered thunderstorms and showers Saturday and Sunday, but the seas were only forecast for 3'-4', which are quite acceptable. The night before the dive, I was so sure that the dive would be called that I kept my cell phone on my nightstand. Except for a few hours of scattered sleep, I was up most of the night. Up and out by 5:00 am for the hour drive to Belmar, with the required stop at Quickcheck for breakfast and lunch, I should arrive at the boat no later than 6:00. Enroute, I was met with heavy clouds, lightning in the distance, and as I approached the shore area, fog so thick it could only be described as pea soup. Scott called to say that he was in the middle of an electrical storm, and at this point I thought it was only a matter of time before we ended up heading to Dutch. As Interstate 195 changed to Rt. 138, there was a break in the fog, and low and behold what did I see above? Blue sky...outstanding!
I arrived at the Belmar Boat Basin to find a packed house. All the party and charter fishing boats were loading up, as well as the dive boats. Across from the Outlaw, the Stingray was loading divers for their "Princess Dive" for a ladies only day under the sea. All six divers arrived and we loaded up and headed out to find flat seas. The 3'-5' seas were still 3-5, but they were inches, not feet. The fog was moderate while heading out, but there was no breeze and no current. The ocean was as flat as I've ever seen....aka....Lake Atlantic. Keeping with our goal, we decided to dive on the Sea Girt wreck, not to be confused with the Sea Girt tug. This was a schooner barge believed to be sunk around 1900, and is about eight miles off the coast. It takes its name only because it is eight miles off the town of Sea Girt. The loss of this barge was never recorded, and it is unlikely its true name will ever be known.
The wreck consists of two parallel wooden walls 3'-4' tall, and the ship's keel in the center. There is a large amount of machinery and other items from the barge, including a winch, big anchor, and a massive chain pile rising at least 10 feet off the sand. The wreck itself is really big, estimated to be about 250 feet long. There is a very good write-up and pictures on the NJScuba.net website at http:/njscuba.net/sites/site_sea_girt_wreck.html.
Descending along the anchor line, there was no current, and the viz above the thermocline was a good forty feet. Hitting the 50' mark, the temp took a nose dive along with the viz, which was now between 10' and 15'. Scott and I hit one of the low walls, which contained compartments each about a foot wide. I was amazed to see that just about each compartment held at least one crab, some two, and occasionally, three. Every few compartments contained what we came for...lobsters. The only problem was that these compartments narrowed quickly and went far beyond the reach of any of our arms. Using my pole spear proved fruitless. There were skates all around in the sand, and a large number of black sea bass among the wreckage, and I was able to nail one mature fish before we turned around. I went to the chain pile, which was massive. So big that I thought it was a part of the wreckage, not a chain. I missed the large anchor said to be nearby. This chain pile was a magnet for black sea bass. I found another mature one with a spear hole already in its side, and decided to make the same choice the previous underwater hunter made, which is "nice fish, I want you". I nailed this one and bagged him, putting him in with the other one I got before, along with a lobster that Scott picked up on the low wall. After 40 minutes, it was time to ascend. I ended with a 46 minute run time, a bottom temp. of 54 degrees, and viz. of 10'-15'.
The surface interval was something to remember. We were visited by dolphin...lots and lots of them. They were all around us while waiting to pull the anchor, and they swam with us for a majority of the trip to our second dive site, which was to be a natural rock formation about two miles to our east. This was Fiasco's first time seeing dolphin in NJ, and she saw more on this one day than I've seen in all my years of diving here.The second dive was on a natural rock formation, which was hopefully loaded with lobster. Scott and I descended to find this place reminiscent of Cape Ann, Massachusetts. Loaded with life, colorful, and true to Capt. Nash's word, filled with lobsters. There were almost no large fish to shoot, with the exception of two large fluke that I didn't take, and again, skates all over the place. Scott grabbed one legal sized bug which I bagged up, but we weren't able to grab more even though we could see them. To be quite honest, we both readily admit that we suck at catching lobsters. After 35 minutes it was time to go up. I ended up with a 40 minute run time, a bottom temp. of 56 degrees, and a viz. of no more than 10'. On the hang, we were met by Craig and Fiasco, who showed us the three bugs that she caught. She ended up with a bruise on her hand from one of them clamping down on her, but she won and should have a nice dinner as a reward. On the surface, the dolphin continued giving us a show. While waiting for the diver to release the hook, Rob floated out about 200' on a ball and line while using snorkeling gear in order to get close to them, and was able to hear them "talk" to each other. Rob ended his dive with three nice sized lobsters as well. Again, NJScuba.net has a nice write-up and photos at http://njscuba.net/sites/site_rocks.html
As the second dive was ending, the weather was deteriorating fast. The storm clouds could be seen to our west, thunder and lightning were approaching, and then the rain started. The ride back in was a wet and windy one, but I didn't care...I was asleep.
Here are links from mine, Fiasco's, and Stephan's pics on Wreckvalley>>>