Jun 28

Dive report: the Black Bart wreck in Panama City

Category: scuba

My scubaboard buddy “Trucker Girl” and myself had planned a dive in Panama City. She was there on vacation, myself on business. We busily chattered electronically, getting excited about what a cool 3-tank dive we’d have, but thunderstorms changed our plans. Our carefully assembled dive charter dissolved before our eyes early that Sunday. Still, frantic planning along with some first-class work by Trucker Girl saved the day, and a night dive was shoehorned in at the end of the week. TG is a gem; she found a dive and rounded up equipment for me, all while I was busy working and out of cell phone range. She even returned my equipment the next day – I am truly fortunate to have had such a great dive buddy! I rented my gear from Diver’s Den, which is a great shop and I’ll use them next time I’m in PC.

We ended up with Captain Rod of wreck raiders. The charter was great – Rod was very relaxed, easy to work with, and friendly. The pals he rounded up to fill the boat were great too. Unfortunately, the water was a little rough. Not as bad as some trips I’ve been on, but enough to make some of us a little ill. I was surprised that I managed to make it through without too much trouble – usually I am the canary in the coal mine, but I only felt a little queasy. The trip out was great, I loved the warm air and the exhilirating run out to the wreck. The bart is only 15 minutes away from Panama City Beach, where most dive operations have their boats.

Now a lot of people have waxed poetic about how much life is on this wreck. Many others have complained that this site is over-visited. Both are probably correct, but I experienced nether of these things. When we arrived at 8pm or so, we were the only boat there. Our first dive was at dusk; ambient light was minimal. A thermocline at 38 feet was rather startling; the balmy air and surface temperatures had made me complacent and my 3mm suit was barely sufficient. The main deck of the bart sits at about 80 feet, which was a little deeper than I’d planned to go that day. Worst of all, there wasn’t much life there. A few sluggish fish hovered laconically about the wreck, but not much to write home about. Worried about the unplanned depth (I was using tables that day) and the cold, combined with the low light conditions, I was too preoccupied to fully enjoy myself. I took a few crappy pictures and thought, “well, the second tank will be better.”

Returning to the surface was the best part. Hovering on the line at 20 feet in complete darkness, we basked in the warm water above the thermocline and enjoyed the phosphorescent animals floating in the water column. Agitating the water with our hands or fins, we’d see what looked like grains of glowing sand briefly flare up and then disappear. Hydroids, jellyfish, other invertebrates and lots of eggs encased in strips of clear mucus drifted by. At the outer limit of our flashlights, a good-sized barracuda hovered threateningly, like a shady character in a bad neighborhood. I wanted to take some pictures but was feeling a little seasick; hanging on the line, we felt all the motion of the boat on the surface. The darkness can be disorienting, as with no point of reference, you lose track of up/down/size/place.  Not good for the queasy.  I kept TG and the surface line in view, which helped to calm my uneasy limbic system.  Note to self for the future: plan a night dive with the goal of hanging on a line just to take pictures of the “night life.”

The 55 minute surface interval was a trial because of the swells. Eager to get back in the water, where I knew I’d feel better, I splashed without my weight belt. I didn’t figure this out until I’d struggled down to the wreck, desperately trying to understand why my legs kept floating over my head. Eventually, upside down, floating upwards like a cork and not having much fun, I felt at my waist… and found nothing. Idiot! I called the dive. TG, cold and miserable – although unlike me, properly weighted – eagerly agreed. Up we went. Another couple of minutes on the line, and then the struggle to get on the pitching boat. I was glad it was over, but also glad for the experience. I clearly need more practice, but will use this experience to improve future dives. Do a checklist in your head, or have your buddy check you out! On the crowded and busy dive boat, with everyone struggling to gear up and get out, it’s easy to overlook something like this. Having unfamiliar rental gear also makes this more likely.

No comments

No Comments

Leave a comment