Thursday, March 28, 2013

Diving with whale sharks in the Philippines

To me, one of the greatest reasons for scuba diving is the chance to see animals that inhabit the wet part of the Earth.
About three quarters of the Earth’s surface is water, but only a small percentage of people have the skills, i.e. scuba diving skills, get to spend large amounts of time under the water exploring creatures that live their lives in that environment.

I’ve seen everything from large animals – sharks, turtles, eagle rays, pilot whales, for example, to smaller ones, such as shrimp, sea horses and nudibranches. Every dive is different, and every dive opens a window to seeing something you’ve never seen before.
For me, nothing gets the heart racing like seeing a large pelagic – a shark or a whale, for example, that just happen to be passing through at the same time you are there. That’s why seeing a whale shark up close and personal sits very close to the top of my bucket list.

Whale sharks are so large, quite often more than 40 feet long, that they can look intimidating. But looks can be deceiving. These gentle giants are no more of a threat to humans than a common ant.
Whale sharks are not only the largest fish species on earth, they are also the largest living non-mammalian vertebrate, rivaling many of the largest dinosaurs in weight. The largest ever recorded are more than 21.5 metric tons, or about 47,000 pounds. They are a filter-feeding fish, consuming primary macro-algae, plankton, krill and Christmas Island red crab. They live to be about 70 years old.
Tony Gramer, a regular speaker at the Great Lakes Shipwreck Festival and the Dossin Great Lakes Museum, recently gave a speech on diving in the Philippines. The location was Dumaguete City, near Manila. During that trip he happened to have a chance to dive (actually snorkel) with whale sharks. After I turned green with envy, I caught up with Gramer to have him tell me about that incredible experience. That conversation is in the video above.

Thursday, March 21, 2013

Great Lakes Storm of 1913 destroyed 19 ships, killed 251 sailors

While the wreck of the Edmund Fitzgerald in Lake Superior in 1975 may be the most famous shipwreck on the Great Lakes, the storm that caused it pales in comparison to the granddaddy of weather fury: The Great Lakes Storm of 1913.
This November will mark the 100th anniversary of the most destructive natural disaster ever to hit the lakes, which took place over five days in November 1913. The storm killed 251 sailors, destroyed 19 ships and damaged 19 others plying four of the five Great Lakes. Lake Ontario was the only lake that escaped damage.
Jim and Pat Stayer, owners of Out of the Blue Productions out of Lexington, discussed the topic at the Great Lakes Shipwreck Festival in Ann Arbor.
“The 1913 storm was the biggest ever on the Great Lakes,” Jim Stayer said. “They had storms in 1869, 1905, 1940 (The Armistice Day storm), but nothing was the equal to this storm. Two low-pressure systems met and produced 90 mile per hour winds for more than four hours.”
“If you think about the size of the waves that weekend, you would stand at the bottom of a telephone poll and you would look up, and the waves were 10-feet higher than that,” added Pat Stayer. “That’s why most of the wrecks from the 1913 storm are turtled and upside down (at the bottom of the lake).”
The storm is historically referred to as the “Big Blow,” the “Freshwater Fury,” or the “White Hurricane.”
Described as an extratropical cyclone, it originated as the convergence of two major storm fronts, one heading southeast across Lake Superior, and other heading northeast from Colorado. Although the storm went from Nov. 6-11, a lull in the storm, called a “sucker hole,” prompted ships to begin heading out again. Most of the ship destruction occurred on Nov. 9.
“They did forecast the storm, but weather forecasting had just started out,” Jim said. “And shipmasters were under pressure to make one more last run for the season. There was a little lull as the two pressures were meeting, and they got sucked out into it and that was the worst part of the storm, particularly on Lake Huron.”

Illustration by Robert McGreevy
This painting is based upon an eyewitness account of the Argus falling into a trough between giant waves. The eyewitness, the captain of a nearby ship, said when that happened, the Argus “crumpled like an eggshell.” The Argus sank near the tip of the Thumb in Lake Huron, losing 28 sailors.
Illustration by Robert McGreevy
This painting illustrates the Issac M. Scott cutting through waves during the storm. The Scott was lost near Thunder Bay, killing all 28 aboard.
In addition to the tremendous waves and winds, the ships caught in the storm also accumulated a large amount of ice buildup, 5-6 inches on the rails and the upper structures, which helped speed their demise.
Of the 12 ships that sank during the storm, eight were lost on Lake Huron alone. Those ships included two ships that still have not been found -- the Hydrus, which lost 25 crew, and the James Carruthers, which had 22 victims. Those two ships are presumed to be on the Canadian side of Lake Huron in deeper water, and searching for them would require special permits. The other ships found in Lake Huron include: the Charles S. Price (28 victims), the Regina (20 victims), the Argus (28 victims), and the Wexford (20 victims).
The total financial lost from all the lakes was nearly $5 million, or about $100 million at current value. The lost cargo, totaling about 68 tons, included coal, iron ore and grain.
The Price, Regina and Wexford all sit at recreational dive depth and are popular with scuba divers. The Price, in 64 feet of water and the Regina, in 80 feet of water are upside down, while the Wexford sits upright in 75 feet of water.
Check out the video above for more from Jim and Pat Stayer about the Great Lakes Storm of 1913.

Friday, March 8, 2013

Aircraft vanishes nearly 36 years ago over land, hasn't been seen since

For nearly 36 years, the fate of John and Jean Block has been one of the state’s greatest mysteries.

On July 4, 1977, the couple left Macomb Airport in Macomb County, planning to meet up with one of their sons in northern Michigan to celebrate the holiday together. Their destination was the Lost Creek Sky Ranch Airport in Luzerne, MI.
They never made it. And they haven’t been seen since.

Jean and John Block
They took off in perfect weather conditions at about 11 a.m. and were never seen again. While the fact that the couple simply vanished is mysterious, the fact that the plane, which almost certainly crashed on land in Michigan, has never been found is remarkable.
Ross Richardson, owner of the website, believes the couple’s plane went down in the Huron-Manistee National Forest. While that area of the northern Lower Peninsula is rural and remote, it only seems logical that someone would stumble across a wrecked plane sometime in the ensuing 36 years.

“Yes, either hiker or hunters. It’s probably in the Huron-Manistee National Forest, which is a very remote location. And some of these areas probably haven’t been seen since they were logged 100 years ago,” Richardson said, who spoke on the subject at the 32nd Great Lakes Shipwreck Festival in Ann Arbor on March 2 while discussing the topic “Michigan Mystery Disappearances.”
Block, the longtime fire chief at U.S. Army TACOM, was a resident of East Detroit, now Eastpointe. He had earned his pilot’s license in 1947 after serving in World War II. He didn’t have an extraordinary amount of flight time, maybe 470 hours, (about 200-300 after 1970) but was rated as a stunt pilot and would practice barrel rolls and other stunt maneuvers along with safety procedures.

“That was our entertainment as kids,” said his son, John Jr. “Other kids would go on vacation. We would head out to the airport and go for a ride and have our dad scare the heck out of us.”
John Jr., a retired sheriff’s deputy in Grand Traverse County, said his dad wasn’t instrument rated, so he would use road maps and would follow major highways to get to his destination. And while his fateful flight may have been one of his longest trips, he had been doing more “cross-country” type flights and had flown to Traverse City three or four times.

The flight left at that morning with perfect flying conditions. The Blocks had planned to meet up with their son Mike and his family in Luzerne in the early afternoon. When they didn’t show up, Mike called John Jr. in Traverse City to see if they had gone there instead. When a missing person’s report was filed, search parties began an exhaustive search that wouldn’t bear fruit. An FAA (Federal Aviation Administration) investigation was launched.
The Block's 1969 Cessna 150 (Photos courtesy of John Block Jr.)
John Jr., then 31 and active as a sheriff’s deputy, aided in the search, often getting down on his hands and knees, combing the ground looking for evidence. He and his wife spent the next 10-15 years scouring the suspected crash zone with fliers and posters pleading for any information or eyewitnesses that might help them find the downed plane. They followed tips that ended with dead ends.
They sought the help of psychics, who told them the aircraft went down in a swampy area in the Isabella Indian Reservation in Isabella County near Mount Pleasant. Eventually, all trails ran cold.

Macomb County Probate Court issued death certificates for John and Jean Block in April 1978. The family held a memorial service on July 24, 1978, a little more than a year after they disappeared.
John Jr., now 66, believes one of two things happened that caused his parents to crash their 1969 Cessna 150: First, they ran into bad weather that moved into the northern Lower Peninsula that afternoon and early evening. But the weather would have only been a factor if the couple got lost and their flight time extended by a couple of hours. Second, John Block, 57, had some kind of medical emergency. His mom, Jean, 55, did not like flying and didn’t know how to pilot the plane. He doubts it was a mechanical failure.

“It was a pretty reliable plane, with not many hours on it,” John said. “My dad suffered from diabetes and high-blood pressure. I was really surprised he passed his last couple of annual physicals.”
The flight path, north of West Branch, is indeed some of the most remote, uninhabited and swampy locations in all of the Lower Peninsula. The Mio and Huron Shores districts of the Huron-Manistee are in the area, and, despite the fact that they are public lands, they don’t get an overwhelming amount of foot traffic. And in such a thickly wooded area, the Cessna would have been ripped apart by tree branches and hit the ground in pieces with virtually no hole made in the tree canopy.

Block said there are also “immense” parcels of private land that are full of swampy ground and are uninhabited, except for an occasional cabin or cottage. It’s quite possible the plane was swallowed up in a swamp pit, never to be seen again.
“It’s not somewhere where you would be out two-tracking,” he said.

Today, John Block realizes the odds of finding the missing plane and his parents are long. But he holds out hope someone will come across the plane with white wings and orange tips, and a green and white fuselage with the tail number N50935. He points out that any pieces of aircraft found today would indicate an unidentified aircraft, since crash scenes are completely cleaned of debris after they have been investigated.
“I still hope every day to hear some news,” Block said. “It would be nice to have some closure. Finding my parents is definitely at the top of my bucket list.”

Thursday, March 7, 2013

Diving the Blue Heron Bridge: Not sexy, but plenty to look at

David Heidemann has travelled around the world while putting more than 300 dives into his diving log.
Those Caribbean destinations certainly have their own benefits, but Heidemann is convinced one of the best places to photograph underwater life is a barren, bleak, colorless landscape under the Blue Heron Bridge in West Palm Beach, Florida.
The location includes, free parking and free diving, a since the max depth on the dive is not much more than 20 feet, the dives can last 90 minutes or more.
The diving must be done at high slack tide, so divers must review tide tables and stay clear of areas designated for boat traffic, but the payoff is the chance to see a tremendous amount of marine life. Heidemann believes the abundance of marine life the area is due to the never-ending amount of nutrients that are pushed under the bridge due to the changing tides.
The bridge is located between the mainland of Florida and Singer Island. Free parking is available at Foster Park.
Here is my interview my Heidemann at the 32nd Great Lakes Shipwreck Festival.

Also, here is a pretty detailed web page on found online that can tell you all about diving under the Blue Heron Bridge:click here