Diving the Hyde and Markham June 12, 2011

Tuesday, June 14, 2011 23:47 | Filled in NC diving

Anthony Holding a Furcate Spider Crab

Anthony Holding a Furcate Spider Crab

This has been a busy week of diving for me and it is only half over! My son, Anthony flew into town Saturday night straight from deployment on the USS John C. Stennis (CVN-74) aircraft carrier where he currently works in the Navy. He is the one who got me back into diving and was my dive buddy for a couple years. Of course, the first thing I did was wake him up early the next morning and take him diving. We were on the Aquatic Safaris charter to the Hyde/Markham wrecks which are right next to each other. Both are artificial reef wrecks just several hundred yards apart from each other.  While the Hyde is upright, the Markham is lying on its port side.  Being so close, the animal life is similar, but the wreck profiles are completely different.

 

We first anchored on the Hyde.  This was his first dive of the season, so we took our time to make sure he was comfortable and ready to go back into North Carolina waters.  We entered the water and started heading down the anchor line.  The visibility was nice.  It was at least 40-50 feet.  Anthony signaled to me that he was having problems clearing one of his ears.  We patiently went up and down the line a few times giving him time to equalize the pressure.  Once that was all taken care of, the fun was waiting for us on the wreck.

 

Spotted Pintails eating an Atlantic Sea Nettle

Spotted Pintails eating an Atlantic Sea Nettle

There are still quite a few jellyfish floating around the wreck, but the Spotted Pintail fish seem to be trying to make a meal out of them.  Looking around, there are small balls of these fish and at the center of each ball is an Atlantic Sea Nettle jellyfish.  The fish are darting in and out taking small bites out of the jellyfish while trying not to get stung by the long tentacles. Lying around the deck of the wreck I see a half-eaten jellyfish.

 

Gray Triggerfish

Gray Triggerfish

We swim towards the bow of the wreck and I run into a couple Gray Triggerfish that I saw the last time I was on this wreck.  This time, they allow me to get close enough to get a full shot of them.  Maybe with all the divers coming to this great wreck, they are becoming accustomed to our presence.  I am kind of hoping that when the sharks leave, they find a good place to hide from the divers spearfishing.  It will be nice to keep seeing them around.

 

Sand Tiger Shark Looking for a Dentist

Sand Tiger Shark Looking for a Dentist

We swim over the bow and down the port side of the hull towards stern.  I know that Sand Tiger sharks love to cruise around the wreck along the hull and I am not disappointed this trip.  As we swim along the wreck scanning the water ahead and below us, a large adult female approaches us.  She is slightly higher in the water than us and lazily moving along.  I get my camera ready and take a couple shots as she approaches.  I try to get a bit closer without getting her attention to get a shot of her head.  A scuba diver breathing heavy with the excitement of getting a shot they want and exhaling lots of bubbles is hard to miss, by the way.  This shark must have been in a good mood, though, because she kept cruising along as I got the close-up I have been wanting for quite a while.  This picture made my day.

 

Nurse Shark

Nurse Shark

The Hyde was not finished delivering its treasures though.  At the stern, we drop down to the bottom following another Sand Tiger shark and run into a medium-sized Nurse shark lying in the bottom, resting.  She must have been a little nervous because as I approached her to take a few pictures, she darted off through the sand and out of sight.  I was able to get one or two shots before she ran off without saying goodbye, though.

 

Before I end this dive, I find a juvenile Sand Tiger shark swimming on the deck.  I decide to record a little video of it hoping I can get some good footage.  I reason that the young sharks will not know any better and they won’t try to swim away or avoid me.  I swim over and to the side of the shark, getting closer with each second of filming.  In the end, I get about a minute’s worth of good video following this very accommodating shark.

 

Furcate Spider Crab Hanging Around

Furcate Spider Crab Hanging Around

After a couple hundred yard boat ride and relaxing one hour surface interval, we were ready to drop back into the water.  The Markham was a 340 foot long hopper dredge that was sunk in 1994.  We were anchored midships and I wanted to get to the stern where one of the massive props is exposed.  We go down the anchorline, and Anthony has much less trouble equalizing his ears.  Once the rust was scraped off, he was diving like his old self.  At the bottom of the anchorline, we see a Furcate Spider crab dangling off the wreck, literally.  When I take a close look, I see that his back legs are entangled in some fishing line.  I do my good deed for the day and pull out my knife to free him.  It takes a minute to cut all of the line and undo the knots, but it feels good letting him go.

 

Anthony on the Propeller of the Markham

Anthony on the Propeller of the Markham

We take a right turn and head down to the stern for our meeting with the propeller.  We fight a small current on the way there, but the ship provides a bit of a break making the swim easy.  There, I get a shot of Anthony hanging out on the prop as well as a couple other divers, since everyone seems to be heading to this tourist landmark.  Afterwards, we drop to the sand and head back towards the bow.

 

There is a lot of debris on the sand as the wreck has been slowly breaking apart with each stormy season.  We look around the wreck, slowly moving forward.  The weight of the vessel has caused it to grind into the limestone bed a bit, making for an interesting profile on the bottom.  There are bits of exposed limestone, with small gulleys and grooves carded into the rock.  I believe it would be very easy for an anchor or a diver to squeeze down one of these channels between the limestone and the Markham and find themselves stuck.  I make a mental note not to go down there no matter how interesting a subject I see!

 

Sand Tiger Tooth Waiting for Me to Find It

Sand Tiger Tooth Waiting for Me to Find It

I do spot one nice item at on the sea bed, though.  A glint of white flashes in the sand and as I peer down, I see a clean, fresh Sand Tiger tooth.  Like most sharks, they regularly shed their teeth, replacing them with new ones and it is possible to scour the sand around these wrecks and find their teeth.  I pick up the memento and tuck it away in my wetsuit.  It is a nice reminder of one of the main reasons I love diving these wrecks.  It is also a token representing the shot I have been trying to get of the Sand Tiger shark’s mouth in all its snaggle-toothed glory.

 

-Frank

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