Why....go wreck diving?
Cold Feet & Cold Beer By Mike McCullough
It was with a little trepidation that I landed at Puerto Plata Airport in the Dominican Republic. I was about to embark on an adventure that would have a great impact on me.
After stopping at the Oxford University MARE/NCR stand at the London' s Dive Show last year, I had applied to join a survey and excavation campaign of several wrecks off the northern coast of the Dominican Republic. A few months later I was on my way.
My welcoming party at the airport soon made me feel comfortable. Our initial exchange went something like this: "Are you a diver?", "Yep", "Do you drink beer?", "Yep","Our truck's outside". During the journey from the airport to Monte Cristi, headquarters of North Caribbean Research, it transpired that I had not been abducted by alcoholics with a penchant for spiriting away innocent British divers abroad. This was Wanda, wife of NCR's president, Rick Berry, and Cathy the Turtle Lady, who was researching local marine fauna.
Back at headquarters, I was introduced to the rest of the team, a truly international affair with contingents from the USA and UK, as well as local divers. The accommodation consists of several two-berth cabanas close enough to the shore for y ou to hear the waves, very soothing.
When it came, it was not a rude awakening but a polite tap at the door and a whispered reminder that it was five o'clock! An early start is essential in this part of the world as the wind picks up around noon and the choppy water makes things uncomfortable for divers and boat crew alike.
During the trip out to the site, Simon Spooner, NCR's Director of Diving and Student Projects, explained the day's objectives and demonstrated the equipment we would be using. During their stay, visitors have the opportunity to operate tools of the trade such as proton magnetometers, hand held metal detectors and water dredges. The whole experience at NCR is very hands on, which will appeal to both hardened "wreckies" and keen novices.
My first few dives were a very pleasant introduction to diving in the Caribbean. Water temperatures averaging 28 degrees and excellent viz, remind you why we learnt to dive in the first place.
Although it is an over used word these days, the first sight of the wreck of a wooden ship is awesome. NCR have access to numerous wrecks along the coast and the condition of them do vary, but when your eyes first focus on the timbers of a two hundred year old vessel, you hear your self gasp, as I did.
During my visit, I had the opportunity to operate the dredge. This uses water pumped at high pressure from the surface, down to a hose to the nozzle of a huge vacuum cleaned. The vortex effect created then scours the area of sand and shells. Wrestling with this beast is, pardon the pun, a real blast.
Being artificial reefs, these wreck sites have prolific wild life including puffer fish and spotted moray. You might even meet "Harry" the barracuda who occasionally stops by to oversee operations.
Topside, things can be a little quiet as Monte Cristi is some way from the tourist trail. However, NCR's headquarters are only a short distance from the town where, at the Hotel Chic, they serve you some of the Coldest beer on the planet. Just a short walk away is an excellent beach, which is usually deserted.
The friendly team, the diving and the whole ambience combines to make this, a unique experience and one I would heartily recommend to anyone with any sense of adventure.