The Beth Dee Bob
July 14, 2001
The Beth Dee Bob is a scallop/clamming boat that sunk about 12 miles off the NJ shore in 1999.The 4 member crew all died and only three of the bodies were recovered. In something like a 4 week period, 4 fishing boats were lost at sea - a reminder of how dangerous the ocean can be and how risky commercial fishing is.
I went out on the Diversion II on a beautiful Saturday morning - the kind that spoils you for the more normal days. There was a bit of a NW wind blowing in the morning and the seas were running about 3-4 feet, but the sun was out and all was right with the world.
I hooked up with a buddy for the day named Jamey. We seemed to have similar diving credentials and expectations in a diving buddy. There's a kind of mating ritual that I go through when diving for the first time with somebody. Kind a polite probing about diving experience and attitudes. Normally, my new buddy will do likewise. After my adventures on the Algol two weeks earlier, I was adamant about diving carefully and conservatively. I was relieved that Jamey felt likewise.
The wreck sits in 114 ft of water, and since Jamey was diving air and single 80 cu. ft. tank we decided not to go all the way to the sand and instead to hang around the deck and superstructure to maximize our bottom time. I had a 112 cu. ft. tank and was diving Nitrox, so it appeared likely that Jamey would run out of air or time before me. We went over a dive plan and hand signals, and then chatted about diving in general.
The boat was pretty crowded, so we waited until everyone else was in the water before we went in. We had the same crappy surface vis that seems to be a constant this summer and the first 70 ft or was like diving in thin pea soup. The first sign of the wreck was an outrigger rising to about 80 ft. (The boat resembles the Andrea Gale a bit if you've seen "The Perfect Storm".) The Diversion's anchor line crossed over several of the thick cables that were used to control the outrigger and we followed it down to the deck at 105 ft. I was thrilled to see that the vis was about 40 ft, although it was dark from the surface layer of crud. With tmy HID light, everything looked crystal clear and the wreck was covered everywhere I looked with small mussels hanging in clusters like grapes in a vineyard. In another year or two, there'll be some fine eating off of this spot.
This time, I was determined to keep a visual image in my
mind of where the anchor line
Everything was covered by small mussels and sea anemones. I saw a good sized ling pulling itself along by its "legs" in one of the holds. From the stern we headed back to the anchor and headed towards the wheel house which sits near the bow of the wreck. I shined my light in through one of the windows and illuminated the large padded captain's chair. It was bright blue and partly covered with mussels. Beyond the chair were a couple of computer monitors looking like they were in very good shape.
It was very spooky and reminded me of the scene in the original (and best) "Alien" movie, when the crew comes across the alien eggs and the body of the large space alien space traveller with the exploded chest sitting in his command chair. Jamey and I spent a few of our all too few remaining minutes looking inside the wheel house before he gave me the thumbs-up sign and we skedaddled back to the anchor line and ascended.
I thought it was a great wreck. I've been on other sunken fishing boats and intact wrecks and often found them a little boring when compared to the more busted up wrecks. There's something about twisted piles of steel or wood with critters lurking in holes and cavities that's more interesting than a wreck that looks like it was transported from the boatyard and planted on the bottom. I suspect it was the tragic story of the Beth Dee Bob that made it interesting and I was sorry when the Diversion II pulled anchor and headed in shore for our second dive. (I think the captain had an afternoon charter and wanted to spend the surface interval heading back.).
Our second dive was the "120 Wreck" , which I hadn't dove before, so I didn't mind leaving the BDB so much. This wreck is what I've come to think of as your common NJ rubble heap, only there isn't too much rubble left. It's the remains of an old wooden barge sunk who knows when. Wooden wrecks don't last too long in the saltwater off the NJ shore. Our tie-in was into the massive anchor chain on what was once the bow of the wreck. The seas were yanking the Diversions II's anchor line several feet off the bottom, which made me a little concerned that the tie-in would still be there for our ascent.
Because this was broken up wreck, navigation is more problematic. The safest technique is to use a line tied in near the anchor point and most NJ divers carry a "wreck" reel for this purpose. The leader ties in and leads off, letting out the line as he swims from the tie-in point with the buddy following close behind. It's a good idea to occaisonally wrap the line around convenient pieces of the wreck in case the line breaks or becomes untied. When it's time to head back, the buddy goes first and the leader follows reeling in the line and trying not to tangle it (which is really, really easy to do).
When we hit the bottom at 82 ft, Jamey tied off his reel near the chain pile and we set off along the remains of the keel. One of the guys on the boat described this as following a "picket fence" in the sand. We cruised along, seeing lots of small blackfish and couple of crabs, but none of the large lobsters supposedly hiding out on this wreck. The vis was pretty good here, maybe around 20 ft. or more, until we came across other divers churning up the sand in search of the illusive green bugs.
When we reached the end of the keel, we turned around and headed back to the chain pile and spent some time exploring there. I still had plenty of gas and time left when Jamey gave me the thumbs up and we headed for the surface. On top, he said he got "bored". But for me, even on a wreck like this, I could spend an hour poking around.
Topside, we got to watch a large school of small bluefish (we used to call them snappers) churning up the surface as they terrorized a some bait fish. You could hear them "snapping" as they broke the surface with the occasional flash of blue-silver as one made a jump into the air. For the first time in years, I wished I had a fishing rod. As a kid, I had loads of fun fishing for snappers. There were vast schools of them off the bays and shores of Long Island, NY and they put up a terrific fight on light tackle.
All in all it was another tough day of NJ wreck diving. :-)
When I got home, I discovered that somehow I managed to tear the neck seal on my pretty new drysuit. Bummer, but I'm glad it was after the second dive.
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Copyright 2002 Carl Muhlhausen