Eastport, Maine A refreshing spring dive.
Circumstances of life whittled the original group of eight down to five. Still, this was a nice size group to truck to the northeastern most point of the United States for some early spring diving. When planning a trip like this, you set a mild goal that all can achieve and then everything seems to fall together. Our goal, to safely dive the clear, cold waters of eastern Maine. Fun and escapade seem to parallel with this type of outing.
I have dived the surrounding waters of this little town a number of times. When passing through on the way to Canada, our group would stop here to make a beach dive as a break in our venture north. The waters are predominately clear, the marine life is unusual and the rubble laden bottom is diverse. Eastport has a unique history. Once the sardine capital of the world, a deep water port where ships in storms could seek refuge and the survivor of three fires which leveled the town.
The brick and rock strewn bottom reveal the tales of past destructions from the fires. In the past we have been greeted by humongous lobsters prowling their domain. The multitudes of other diverse aquatic life include the daunting wolfish, schools of hake and pollock, cloaked sculpins and a proliferation of colorful anemones. On these dives we were welcomed by a profusion of snails and hermit crabs crawling over the rocks. For Jason King, this memorable cornucopia lingered in his mind.
After a remarkable ride through the interior mountains and valleys of Maine, Joanie, Jason and I arrived Saturday morning refreshed and ready. There we found John Copeland and Guy Harrington on the beach preparing for their first plunges. Low tide meant a long walk down the kelp laden beach. Lugging 120’s down the 10 foot drop, donning them on the rocks and then hiking down the this craggy and dicey shore is no easy task. Once you reach the water you kneel in the icy water, don your fins and then slide beneath the surface.
On the first dive my loose fitting summer hood was minimal insulation for this stony water. On a dive in Nova Scotia last summer, I experienced comparable distress when my threadbare hood split as I entered the 36 degree water. Unaware of the true reason for my intense agony, I still completed my objective tying in the anchor. Only when my hood floated off my head, did I suddenly grasped why everyone was snickering as I entered the water. Such are the quandaries of cold water diving. When you are caught off guard sometimes you just have to man up. On the remaining dives I made sure I wore a heavier hood and was comfortably protected.
For a few yards you shuffle along the shallow waters until you can fully kick your way off into the deep. After a score of kicks you reach a dramatic drop off where you can make headway into the current. Pieces of timber, concrete, large rocks and building rubble litter the bottom. Here the crevices harbor numerous cold water critters and evidence of centuries of shipping and human habitation. Without any effort, one can find numerous modern beverage bottles here. Recycling takes on a new meaning under the water. Hundreds of familiar brown and green beer bottles verify that this happy tourist village has a fishing problem.
If you tune your mind, you can focus on more vintage bottle shapes and less accustomed colors camouflaged in the debris. More concentrated efforts allow one to selectively center on even more distinctive remnants of Victorian or even Colonial eras. Crocks, clay pipes, dishes and antique bottles are readily discovered if you search the right places and dig below the modern refuse. There is no limit to what one may discover routing up and scouring the bottom. Centuries of shipping and town litter of all kinds have been discarded over the side and off the wharfs.
Regrouping back on the rocks, we sorted through the discoveries. Some vintage and some not so vintage distinctive green Heineken bottles were collected. Bottle hunting is developmental. At first one collects everything for the fear of leaving something valuable. Only after numerous bottle outings does one become more selective. It is best that a novice bag what you find and then discard the unworthy after being evaluated by an experienced collector. It is also important to note that care is essential when it comes to old bottles. I once dived a bay in New Jersey with a good friend on his first bottle dive. He recovered the nicest bottle but piled a number of worthless beer bottles on the exceptional bottle and crushed it.
A nick or a crack in a rare bottle can reduce the value markedly. It is unusual that a cracked bottle has any value. The only value may be sentimental not monetary. I carry two bags and a small padded pouch for more subtle finds. It is always amazing to me that so many delicate discoveries survive being tossed to the bottom. The most notable is the fine china and stemware that is often recovered intact. I too have found many delicate items that are in such mint condition, it is as if they were placed in storage beneath the sand.
One amazing example of this is another commonly trafficked port we have explored. At a well-known shipping dock, we recovered a number of intact and pristine pieces of ships china. During our surface interval, we discussed the likelihoods or reasons why so much china would be trashed overboard. Throughout our dives several large passenger liners docked behind our boat as we dived the plentiful waters. While standing on the deck and reflecting the circumstances of the bounty we recovered, a steward onboard the one of the ships collected an array assorted dishes and cups from the outside deck and heaved them overboard. Perhaps this is one on the many reasons so much china is found near docks and anchorages. It is easier for the sea to wash china than an indolent man.
There were many layers of china beneath the sand at this dock. Once while we were diving there another ship dropped anchor nearby waiting for a place at the pier. When the ship finally maneuvered into the pier, we dived in the trench the anchor had plowed and found hundreds of plates mixed in the walls of the excavated trench. Since 9-11 access to the once popular pier has been denied. There beneath the sands under passing ships lie an abundance of bottles and china which awaits some future divers. Times have changed and the opportunity to explore such areas may never be accessible again.
After two days of diving and exploration, the group sifted through their discoveries, packed and made ready for the venture back home. After a seaside breakfast, John and Guy left early, while Jason, Joanie and I did some sightseeing and made one more dive. We finished off the night with a delectable dinner and good conversation. It was a fun trip. Some good laughs and exciting dives were had during the weekend. As mentioned previously, Jason was astounded by the invasion of hermit crabs covering the bottom. It must have weighed heavily on his mind during the dives. On our last swim to a new ledge, he inhaled a small bit of ice. He was by my side and then suddenly in a cloud of silt he was nowhere to be found. When we got back to shore Jason expressed his short-lived trepidation. He explained that when he swallowed the tidbit of ice, he imagined he had swallowed a hermit crab. His brief anxiety melted with the heat of his embarrassment instantaneously. Jason is a respectably sized individual and it is comical to think that such a tiny creature could topple him. Now, I know his kryptonite.
A good time was had by the few of us that journeyed north. This is definitely a special trip and certainly worthy of the grand trek. A great warm up dive for the spring and nice way to share the weekend with friends. I look forward to more Northern Adventures with more of you in the future. Keep checking our schedule for more of these types of excursions…
Good Wreck Diving!