Diving the USS Strength- September 2012
It had been several weeks since I had been on a boat, mostly due to the weather, and constant tropical storms. The storms we have had this summer have made scuba diving difficult and when conditions did improve, the visibility was very low. Not that I think my underwater photography is that good but better visibility would have been a big help.
This particular weekend a group from Atlanta which was led by Matt Booth, was here in Panama City Beach to help SUDS. The weekend proceeds from local dive shops who are participating, as well as various other activities will donate their proceeds to this highly worthwhile organization.
The Atlanta Aquanauts, an Atlanta based group of scuba divers, headed by Matt Booth organize an event in PCB each year in September. This year they planned three fantastic days of diving, good times and prize giveaways as they celebrated their 5 year anniversary with SUDS. To date, they have raised more than $30,000 for this fantastic organization. In the past there have always been diving, delicious food, legendary parties, and tons of great prizes. this event draws divers from all over the southeast.
My dive buddy and I could not attend all the events this year due to scheduling problems and other obligations.
Earlier that week, while attending Panama City Dive Charter’s monthly fish fry and get together, we were able to sign up for a boat dive for that Saturday. Our two spots were the last available. This even is big so activities book very quick. The monthly fish fry is also beginning to grow as well.
We boarded the Steel Slinger, a 36′ Newton which is capable of holding 14 divers. We had 14 divers today; some of the names of other divers were Rory, Michael, Tony, Patti, Jeff, Kim, Jack, Scott, Parker, Drew, and Dave and I. I apologize for not getting everyone’s name (I’m missing two names). The Steel Slinger is docked at Bay Point Mariana in PCB, FL. We arrived about 12:50 (supposed to be there at 12:30) and luckily we were not the last ones. I hate being the ones that are late, I always feel I’m holding the boat up. While we waited on the four late divers we all set up our gear.
Our first dive today was the USS Strength. The history of the USS Strength is that after it was decommissioned in 1967, it was assigned to the Navy’s Salvage Diver School who sank it and re-floated it several times for training.
In 1987 the Strength was sunk for its last time in an explosive test which was conducted by the Navy Diving and Salvage Training Center at PCB. The USS Strength is a 184 foot long ship with a 33 foot beam. After sinking her she came to rest on her side in about 76 feet of water. In 1995 hurricane Opal pushed her upright and her profile now rises to within 45 feet of the surface. Today the water temp was at its coldest 79 degrees, visibility was only about 15 – 20 feet. I concentrated on Macro photography. I’m cold natured so I wore my 3 mil with a core warmer and was very comfortable. I even wore my smaller, travel fins and dive socks today. we were the last back on the boat so we were the last to make the second dive.
Or second dive was on the Red Sea Tug. The Red Sea Tug was a 120′ freighter intentionally sunk during the Summer of 2009. She has several decks and numerous swim-thru that are both fun and safe to explore. She is upright in 75′ of water, to the sand but just 40′ below the surface. Many reef fish have already taken up residence. This wreck is another mile or so past the USS Strength and often part of the same dive trip.
The first time I dove this wreck, it was almost three years ago. It had only been down about three months at that time and looked very much different. I will look later for some older pictures to compare, but today I really didn’t take many pictures of the structure itself. I remember the first time seeing the wreck, it was intact and seemed to be lots of gauges and such to check out. Today I didn’t see all that stuff, but then viz not so good inside the wreck (14 divers tend to make things a bit murky). We did notice some of the structure that appeared to be damaged and changed though. I can’t help but to wonder if the tropical storms and hurricane we had this year damaged it. The roof to the wheel house was on the deck today. There was railing that looked to be unstable and we tended to stay away from it. There were loads of fish such as amber Jack, Red Snapper and Grouper. None of which would have been “legal” for anyone fishing due to size. Also, I did not notice a lot of Blenny’s today. There were many Toad fish and soap fish.
It was a great day filled with wonderful people, and a dive for a great cause! Thanks Captain Pat and dive master Kyle.