Trip Report TRIP REPORT- ORISKANY/NIUHI/PENSACOLA/ORANGE BEACH September 2021

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Jayfarmlaw

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OK, Get comfortable...if you have read my reports, you know they are long. Diving and food are at the end.

In 2019, I and several friends took a guys trip to Michigan for a few days of diving. It was lots of fun so we decided to do it every year. Covid stole the 2020 trip, but for 2021, we decided the Oriskany would be the target. We are all are very experienced divers with thousands of dives between us. Were all 50+, round, but mostly healthy. This had been on my bucket list for several years so I was excited.

Long Drive- VRBO included a room mate

We drove a crew cab pickup from the Oklahoma City Area to Pensacola/Orange Beach and it rained on us for three states, lots of construction and stop lights when we turned South of I-20. We left at around 9 am and arrived just before midnight. Our check in was anytime after midnight so we hit the Wafflehouse for a late dinner. We stayed at Bella Luna condos and when we walked in, I noticed a backpack, sunglasses, and other personal property on the couch. I told my friend that I think someone is here as the bedroom door opened to a man in underwear saying Hello….. Turns out he was the owner and there was a misunderstanding on his part about midnight or noon. Very nice first floor condo, but Sleeps 6 included bunk beds with a maximum weight of 160 pounds and a couch. We were on the first floor and could load the truck directly off the patio which was nice.

Dead Guy included-

Wednesday morning we woke to the sounds of sirens and three police cars were in the parking lot for several hours, then the coroners van pulled up. Apparently, a snowbird won’t be making the return trip. Don’t know any details and didn’t ask. We had a day to relax so we drove to the dive shop, made sure our tanks and weights would be available, and headed to lunch. Boring day, but fun. Picture five 12 year-olds let loose on the world with dads wallet and the keys to a truck. That’s how these trips go.

The Wind Curse Strikes Again-

Our 2019 Michigan trip had a day canceled due to wind despite being beautiful weather on the southern end of the lake. We got a call that a cold front was blowing in and Thursday’s Dives would be canceled, but we could do 3 dives on the Oriskany on Friday if we wanted. We had another day of doing nothing in particular, watching Sopranos reruns, and driving around the Orange Beach/Pensacola Area. We picked up our 15 tanks, tested the nitrox blends, and got ready for a bucket list dive.

DIVE DAY!!!!!

Niuhi Dive Charters has a catamaran style hull and two Suzuki 300 hp motors. With 6 divers, a DM, and the Captain it’s a little crowded, but not too bad. No head on the boat and the ladder is a fins off style between the motors. With 6 divers on the boat the tank racks are full so giant stride over the ladder is the entry option. Captain Andy said 2-3 foot seas but I’m pretty sure we hit some waves that were about the size of the ones at the ending of Point Break or The Perfect Storm...maybe not….but I’m pretty sure. It was pretty rough and is a 2 hour trip out to the O. I can only imagine what a small mono hull would have been like. We were first on the site. You set your tank up while on land so the only thing to do is wait for the DM to tie us on to the wreck, get the site briefing, and splash. They have a tag line and line from the back of the boat to the anchor so all you do is hit that line, dump your air, and go. I was worried about currents so I was about 4 pounds heavier than I needed to be and sunk like an anchor. We were all heavy so no problems getting down.

More in part 2-
 
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Jayfarmlaw

Jayfarmlaw

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Part 2-

The first sight of the O is overwhelming. Vis was maybe 60- 80 feet so there is no way to see it all. I had a hp120 with 28% and had expected to do some light deco but did not know Niuhi has a no deco policy on rec dives and are limited to 130 feet. If you go into deco, you don’t dive your next dive…. although no one ever checked our computers so it was more a suggestion than a rule that day.

First dive was 128 feet for 35 minutes total dive time, 86 degrees down to 80 degree water temp, ending with 1876 psi in the tank. I got to within 2 minutes of deco and began working my way up. The tower of the ship is stunning. The American Flag and POW MIA flags standing in the current are worth the dive alone. There were HUGE barracuda…at least 15 feet long with teeth at least a foot long everywhere, someone said maybe 5-6 feet long. Either way, they were some of the largest barracuda I have seen. Cool….barracuda (guitar starts here). DM did not do a guided dive but hung on the line as a safety diver watching from above. You’re off the leash and free to roam. There are multiple openings on the ship to swim through and the current was more noticeable on the Flag side. Current was never an issue to the dive. Make sure you note which line is your boat on the wreck. The catamaran hull let me know real quick I was on the wrong line once I looked up from about 50 feet.

An hour surface interval on the boat, Captain and DM change out tanks. If your diving multiple mixes, make sure to watch what tank they grab and check your pressures. We had an extra diver on the boat to make 6 and she was sick. The waves were big enough that you needed to grab something if you stood up if you didn’t have “sealegs.” The boat has water, Gatorade, and snacks.

Second Dive was to 112 feet for 45 minutes run time coming up with 1500 psi. I probably went to a minute or so from deco and began working my way up letting my deco timer set my depths. I did a deep stop at 50 and hung out on the line below everyone else while they did their safety stops, did a 5 minute stop making sure everyone else got on board, and surfaced. The ladder could really use a couple of extra rungs for old, fat guys, but no one had any problems. There are hand rails to get you off the swim platform and back in the boat which is nice. The second dive is much better because you know what to expect. I spent more time swimming in and out of the tower, got pics of the flag, and enjoyed watching my friends dive from around 60 feet on the rope. Again, I spent lots of time on the rope and enjoyed some bubble therapy.

Captain Andy brought some great sub sandwiches, we had brought snacks as well, and we did another hour on the boat. After lunch we decided to go to the dive site they call “New Bridge Rubble” closer in. Rubble is not the right word. Huge sections of bridge roadway spanning further than the visibility would let you see, along with hollow bridge support columns, cross girders, and everything else associated with a large bay bridge dumped into 80 feet of water is there. They lay on the bottom however they came off the barge and there are hundreds of holes to explore. I saw a few more barracuda and the other group did see a shark. Our new dive friend from Texas described it as apocalyptic and that is pretty accurate. It was a fun dive to 92 feet for 48 minutes on 32% finishing with 1700 psi.

Overall- The Orsikany is big, deep, and overwhelming. The deeper you go, the more there is to see. Big tanks and no deco limits were something of a waste. Vis and sea conditions were less than optimal, but that’s no one’s fault. I’d like to do it again, but somewhere between rec and tec with a minimal deco obligation would have been perfect. My Deep 6 3mil, a skin, and Henderson thin Gloves were perfect temp wise.
 
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Jayfarmlaw

Jayfarmlaw

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The trip home was faster, just over 13 hours, but we realized that 5 older guys looked and sound like a group of zombies with Tourette’s Syndrome when we stop after a few hours in the truck. Stiff legs, wrecked knees, aching backs, and the groans trying to work the kinks out literally looked like the old guy zombie apocalypse had arrived.

FOOD- Anyone who had read any of my trip reports knows I’m fat for a reason. Gulf shrimp are one of my favorite things so I was set to be a fat happy man.

The Oar House- YES YES YES (That scene from when Harry Met Sally) Wow, this place was great. We had lunch there on Wednesday, no wait to get in, great service, on the water, and Yuengling on tap. ORDER THE SHRIMP AND GRITS, everything else everyone had was excellent as well…..but shut up and order the shrimp and grits. One of the top 10 meals I’ve ever had. The steamed shrimp were excellent as well, served warm, peeled and deveined, and perfectly seasoned. If your within 60 miles….its worth the drive. We tried to get in Friday night and it was a 2 hour wait….damn.

Shrimp Basket- There are several of these around Pensacola and Orange Beach. I had a shrimp Poboy and boiled shrimp. The boiled shrimp are served chilled and peel your own, not deveined, and were hard to peel. The other guys had the fried seafood platters and were good, just not exceptional. The keylime pie was very good.

FloriBama- This is a bar and a restaurant across the parking lot from each other. It’s a locally famous venue and has live music on the weekends. A friend loves bushwacker drinks and theirs are supposed to be great. I guess I don’t like bushwackers. We shared a seafood platter and it was good, the fried oysters were very good, but there are better ways to serve fresh seafood than dredged in flour and fried. The bar did not have boiled shrimp. I didn’t understand that since the gulf is literally across the street. This place was very close to our condo so it was convenient.

Nicks Boathouse- Hard pass. Seriously hard pass. Nice location but pricey mediocre food and poor service. This place must exist because the wait at the other places is too long. The huge cock roach in the middle of the floor that staff walked by no less than 20 times should have been a clue. I get that its Florida and Palmetto bugs are everywhere, but a huge dead roach in the middle of the dining area should have been picked up by the first staff member that saw it. The shrimp and grits were bland and they did peel the shrimp but did not devein them. For $24, I expected more. We should have waited the 2 hours for the Oar House. Seriously….hard pass.

Safe Travels-

Jay
 
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Jayfarmlaw

Jayfarmlaw

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Best pic of me ever!
 

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Jayfarmlaw

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No end of the deck in sight.
 

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Jayfarmlaw

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19 foot Barracuda....
 

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Jayfarmlaw

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Press here.......
 

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drrich2

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Thanks for the detailed report. I'm told I was born on a Navy base in Pensacola, so I feel a little connection to the area and hope to dive the Oriskany someday. Definite bucket list trip. And I'm only recreationally trained, no tech./deco./dive professional training, so non-deco. diving like you did is what I'd be out to do...with steel 120-cf tanks. It would be a big trip just to do that, though, and from what I understand getting 'blown out' is pretty common on Oriskany trips. So I have a couple of questions.

1.) Any idea what the best time of year is to plan an Oriskany trip, so as to have the best chance of getting to do the dive?

2.) Do people often book a couple of days, in case one gets blown out?

P.S.: Love it that you've got that big barracuda in the photo of you with the flag. That just rocks.
 
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Jayfarmlaw

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I asked what the best months were and was told September or October. I didn’t set the trip up but you could do multiple dives multiple days and not even come close to seeing enough. The deck is at 146 and that was my original plan.

The new bridge rubble dive was probably one of the most unique dives I’ve ever done. If the vis would have been better I’d call it a top 10 dive.

I’m sure we will do this trip again, maybe just charter a private boat and do our own thing….if that’s even possible.

Safe travels,
Jay
 
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