My First River Dive

St. Joseph River - Grant Street Bridge - Niles, MI

St. Joseph River - Grant Street Bridge - Niles, MI

After a couple of trips scouting out the location dive day came. The current from the surface looked pretty swift. Jim and I had decided that if Don M. didn’t go with us we would find another location to dive. All our diving to this point had been lake and quarry diving so we wanted to have an experienced river diver with us. As we were loading up the truck Don called and the river dive was on.
I updated my preparation from our last cold water dive. I had gone to two water jugs instead of the water bottles. In the orange jug was warm tap water and the red jug was hot water about 190 degrees. I put both jugs in a rolling cooler for easier handling. Everything else was like last dive. I had long johns I was going to wear under my 7mm wet suit. My hood and gloves were both 3mm

Orange jug for warm water and red jug is hot water

Orange jug for warm water and red jug is hot water

Niles was a short 20 minute drive for us. We parked in a parking lot on the east side of the river next to the Grant Street Bridge. This is on the opposite side of the river as the hospital. The only down side to this staging area is the walk down to the water.
We setup our gear and brought it down to our entry spot just upstream from the bridge. The gear was just a bit out of sight from our staging area. We didn’t feel any better about that as one of the local observers asked if that gear was expensive. There was a lot of foot traffic along the river and we got many of the normal dive questions from “what are you looking for” to “are you searching for a body?”

Staging gear on the river bank

Staging gear on the river bank

After two trips down to the water it was time to don the wet suits. There was a slight breeze and it was a little overcast with an air temperature of 50 degrees. I was thankful that the wet suits were dry. I am not a fan of getting into a damp cold wetsuit. We primed out wetsuit with warm water. I filled my boots and gloves with 2/3 hot and 1/3 warm water while I started to put on my wetsuit. I frequently primed the wetsuit with warm water as I put it on. I finished it off by having Jim pour water down my sleeves. Mmmm toasty!
The riverbank was a steep incline of at least 45 degrees. There was just enough room for the three of us to gear up. Don pointed out that he had learned to tuck his regulator is his BC pockets after a particularly nasty incident of red ants invading his mouth piece. This seems like a very prudent practice as I am blowing dirt and grass clipping off my reg. Don has an over the head BC donning technique I need to learn. I nearly fell into the water as I balanced on the incline and swung my BC behind my back.

Jim is pouring warm water down my wetsuit sleeve

Jim is pouring warm water down my wetsuit sleeve

I was rewarded for my priming efforts when I didn’t get the cold water leaking in my wetsuit like the week before. The current was pretty swift at this location and you had to brace against it. Jim and Don both had dive flags they were carrying. I was budding up with Jim. We started in a shallow and quick moving current about 5 feet deep. The visibility was a good 4-5 feet. I had a little trouble dumping air from my BC. For me it is hard to get air out in shallow water, but with a little effort I was able to stream line into the current.
At first it is a little disconcerting with all the water flowing over you. There is a definite force that the river is exerting on you. After getting my bearings under water I decided to do a little navigating. There was a lot of large rocks and concrete slabs. Moving along the bottom of the river was a little like climbing down a mounting. You have to find your next handhold before you release your existing one. Some of the smaller boulders were not heavy enough and they would start to slide down the river with me riding on them. Moving onto a larger rock seemed to take care of it. It is surprising how large of a rock it took to be a good anchor. A piece 3’ wide by 2’ high and 8” deep was about as small as I could go in this current. Don and Jim were moving their rocks with them while they explored. I was enjoying the underwater mountain climber routine. The water was really moving as you got closer to the first pier of the bridge. Water depth was about 19 feet. As we started to pass under the bridge there was a surprising amount of aquatic life we could see. Various species of fish and a very surprised crawfish about 4 inches in length. He couldn’t find wait to escape us and find new protect cover. There was a lot of rubble under the Grant Street Bridge. Lots of stone, bricks and broken concrete with rebar. This bridge was originally built in 1901 and had its share of remodels. We found broken and discarded scaffolding pieces. As we exited the other side of the bridge we moved into more trash. There were several very large and heavy mufflers. We also saw ends of empty wire spools along with unspiraled coils of wire.

Don's river spike - I need one of these!

Don's river spike - I need one of these!

I found that a sideways movement was the best way to go down the river. I could see far enough ahead that I could avoid any river hazards and I could also keep an eye on my buddy. If the current started to get too strong I learned I could tuck along the bottom where the current was slower. Also the current was slower along the bank here. As we mucked for things in the bottom it cleared up pretty quickly. A nice bonus with river diving is any silt you stir up gets carried downstream. We had a following of fish that were also taking advantage of this. You can tell when you got the slower moving parts of the river bed as there was a slime coating that would build up making it hard to see what was natural and what was manmade.
30 minutes into the dive I was still comfortable, but was aware that I was in a quick flowing current of 47 degree water. I was really getting into this river diving stuff. I was able to read the changes of the current. I could move upstream and downstream as I needed. This is more diving that I love. I was having a blast sorting through the treasures spread along the riverbed. Anything of interest went into the bag. I like to pick up trash on every dive to leave the underwater world in better condition than I found it, but there is a point where I realize that I can’t clean up everything. How many years had this river been a dumping ground? We found a steal ring about 3 feet in diameter. I thought it could have been an old rim from a wooden wagon wheel. Nearby I find a round flat disc with rings. I had a rock in my hand and I tapped on it. The clunk wasn’t metallic as I was expecting so I lift the disc off the bottom. It is a stone wear plate. Of course too big to fit into my bag so I had to bring it to the shore.
I like the dive flags that Jim and Don have. It made it real easy to regroup when we got separated. There is a risk of getting tangled up with each other but it is simple enough to fix. Jim did have one trouble in the current that Don had to brace for as Jim flew at him. Vis was enough where Don could prepare for the collision. Everyone was OK and the dive continued.

River treasures

River treasures

About an hour into the dive we called it. We each had over 1000lbs of air, but we were starting to feel the cold. There is no sense fighting through being cold. It made diving miserable and you need to have some extra left over in case things don’t go as planned. You don’t want to discover that your hands are so numb that you can’t pull yourself out of the water.

Up the hill

Up the hill

The shock of gravity was much worse that the cool breeze. I hauled all my gear up in one trip. I wasn’t going to trek up and down the hill any more than I had to. Jim and Don quickly changed into warm clothes. I opted into taking care of my gear before getting out of my wetsuit. I was feeling warm after the hike up the hill and took advantage of that to get everything organized. As I finally pealed myself out of my wetsuit the air bit at my skin. The euphoria of a great river dive was more than enough for me to suffer through changing in the cold to do this again. I am hooked on river diving!

http://www.spike.com/video/drift-scuba-dive-in/2845965 – Vis and conditions were very similar to this video. In spots our current was stonger than what they had shown in this video. They did a good job with a flip camera.

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One Response

  1. Social comments and analytics for this post…

    This post was mentioned on Twitter by darrinjillson: Experiences from my first river scuba dive http://bit.ly/7VDQOc

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