Monday, 22 August 2016

Aquatarium Otter check out their dive tank!

 Brockville's Brand New Riverside Attraction for Divers and Shipwreck Fans!

It only makes sense that Dave Sheridan, diver, underwater sculptor and educational Programmer at Brockville’s Aquatarium, would use the word anchor when talking about the new riverside shipwreck museum and aquarium called the Aquatarium.

“ This is the city’s anchor attraction – not just for divers but for all tourists who have an interest in history, aquatic life and, of course, shipwrecks” said Dave Sheridan. “The new Aquatarium has the look and feel of the Thousand Island.   Anyone who has taken a island tour will have seen the historic Bolt Castle  - the Castle’s boat house is the  architectural inspiration for what we have here.”
Dave Sheridan by Otter Tank  - Weir
The $25-million, 27,000+ sq. ft attraction is a learning and discovery centre located on the waterfront in the heart of Brockville.  There are fresh water fish filled aquariums, underwater shipwreck exhibitions interactive adventures and experiences that are meant to give visitors an appreciation of the unique history, culture and ecosystems of the 1,000 Islands region.

There is a lot to see inside the new waterfront attraction, of note for divers  are:

·      A “fish’s eye view” into the sunken Keystorm pilothouse. The Keystorm was a 258-foot cargo steamer built in Britain in 1909. She stands submerged in the St. Lawrence and is a popular diving destination. The Keystorm pilothouse has been carefully reconstructed inside the aquarium experience
Life sized replica of the Ontario - Weir
·      There is a new working dive tank and inside are the replica remains of the St. Lawrence River shipwreck the Sir Robert Peel, a Canadian steamboat that was seized and burned by real-life pirate Bill Johnston. Visitors get into the exhibition through a gaping hole in the bow of the Sir Robert Peel and explore the bowels of the pirated ship. Inside trained divers interact with guests from the depths of the wreck tank.

·      This dive tank is fully equipped for dive certifications and other training, making it one of the most state-of-the-art dive attractions in the 1000 Islands. Dive classes are scheduled to start later this year.

Addresses of companies and attractions mentioned in the Brockville stories.

The Aquatarium is open 7 days a week 10 a.m. to 5 p.m
6 Broad St.,
Brockville, Ontario K6V 4T7
Telephone: 613-342-6789 or Toll-free: 1-888-241-523

ABUCS / Dive Brockville Adventure Center
2 Water St. E. Brockville, ON K6V 1A1
phone: 613-345-2800

Dive Tech Training Centre
1624 Hwy 2 East,
Mallorytown, Ontario
K0E 1R0 Phone: (613) 923-1992

SOS 1,000 Islands Chapter – Brockville, ON

Friday, 19 August 2016

Brockville Diving Sidebars

All about the Diving in and around Brockville, Ontario.
Sidebars written for Huffington Post Blog
August 2016. By Stephen Weir

Popular Shore Dives in and around Brockville, Ontario

Shore divers head to the Rothesay
Rothesay – Wooden Sidewheel Passenger Steamer. Sank in 1889. 300 ft from shore. Augusta Township(west of Brockville) has built change rooms and a park off Highway 2 for divers.

The Wee Hawk - work barge sunk in the 50s.  70 ft long, 20 ft down. Near the town of Cardinal west of Brockville on Highway 2. Wreck accessed from shore at the unused Galop Lock two.  Nearby is the Conestoga Wreck and both can be dove on a single tank of air.

Conestoga Wreck. 252 ‘ long steamer. Upright, parts of the ship are out of water. She is 10’ feet from shore.  Maximum depth 28.  She was built in 1878, sank in 1922.
ABUC's EMILY C Dive Boat - photo Helen Cooper
Brockville area shipwrecks – boat dives

Sir Robert Peel. Sidewheel steamer. Depth 135ft. Sunk 1838. Near 1000 Island Bridge

The Robert Gaskin
Built: 1863
Sunk: September 18th. 1889
Depth: 65' - 70'

The Muscallonge
Built: April 23, 1896
Sunk: August 15, 1936
Depth: 100'
Henry C. Daryaw 
Built: 1919
Sunk: November 21 1941
Depth: 90 feet

The Lillie Parsons
Built: 1868
Sunk: August 5th. 1877
Depth: 70' - 80' 

Built: 1908
Sunk: October 121912
Depth: 20' TO 110'

Sunk: July 29 1932
Depth: 70 feet
She is upside down at 70'

J.B. King
Sunk: June 26, 1930
Depth: to 155 feet
Ability: Technical
The "King" was a 140 Ft. wooden drill barge

Built: 1890's
Sunk: April 27, 1897
Depth: 92'

Roy A. Jodrey
Sunk: November 1974
Depth:  140 - 250 ft
Freighter wreck for experienced tech divers. In American waters – dive boats from Cdn side visit the wreck – passports needed.

Photography in the River

Roy Letts is a  57-year old Brockville underwater photographer. He has been diving for 25 years and taking pictures for the past decade in Brockville’s waters.
“I moved to Brockville Ontario because of the diving in the area,” Mr Letts told Diver Magazine. “ The city has so much to give with the St Lawrence River flowing right by us. We have 4 wrecks within a few minutes run by boat. There are dives for everyone from novice to tech, numerous shore and drift dives in the area.”
Mr Letts likes the fact that there is no thermal clime, when diving inBrockville and most years the water temps hits 73 in the summer. “What more can you ask for?”

Roy Letts best Brockville photo tips

·     Early summer or late fall is prime time for underwater photography – “this is when we have the best visibility to take pictures. There is less plankton in the water.”
·     Avoid attempting photographs “after a rain fall because the viz drops right off because of the run off from shore into the river.”
·     when shooting  river wrecks with strobe lights, proper angle is important  because of the particulates on the “dusty” decks can light up “like a snow storm”
·     “if you want good pictures stay away from large group charter boats, or busy wreck sites -- they just silt right out”

A view from stern of moored  ABUC's dive boat - Helen Cooper photograph

Big Boats Make For Noisy Underwater Photo Shoots

·     Brockville diving means being underwater adjacent to the Main Shipping Lane of the St Lawrence River.  Above water they tower over your dive boat.  Underwater you can hear and FEEL the power of the ship’s screw.
·     “Older freighters are awesome to hear,” said Mr. Letts. “ under water they are very loud and at times you can feel the vibrations of the cylinders firing.”
·     “I was diving the America, (it is the shipping channel). I was taking photos and the viz was really good that day, I heard the freighter coming and when she passed overhead the viz under the wreck went to almost zero, i just folded the camera system up and ended the dive.”

·     “ I have had a few freighters actually past directly over me and could see the silhouette of their hulls above me. Cool experience but you definitely don't want to pop up in front of one!

Getting Fresh Water - DIVING in Brockville

1,000 Island City Gets Number One Rating For Its River Diving

By Stephen Weir (August Diver Magazine)

First it was an American on-line dive magazine, then it was a chain of Canadian newspapers and now, Germany’s largest circulation magazine Der Spiegel is the city of Brockville, Ontario to discover why this is one of the world’s best freshwater diving destinations.  The St Lawrence River community has shipwrecks, shore diving, good visibility in warm water, a growing underwater sculpture park and just recently opened state-of-the art Aquatrarium  (both an aquarium and shipwreck attraction).
Diver Magazine layout - photo by Roy Letts
‘It’s not common knowledge, but Canada offers some of the best diving in the world, in some of the most untouched marine environments. So, what are the best dive sites in Canada? “ asks Scuba Diver Life, a California online dive magazine.

“Brockville! Just across the St. Lawrence River from New York State, along a stretch of the river between Rockport and Brockville, there are more than a dozen wrecks to explore,” reads Scuba Diver Life. “As for that chill, the St. Lawrence River water warms up (in the summer and fall months).”

Diver Magazine layout photos by Letts/Weir
Helen Cooper has been operating ABUCS SCUBA and the Dive Brockville Adventure Centre for over 22 years.  Although there is friendly competition amongst the city’s dive boats (in 2007 there were 22 dive charter operators in the Brockville area) Helen Cooper has the largest and longest running operation in the Thousand Island Region. She has four government approved dive charters boats, a fully approved fill station, mixed gases and Brockville’s only full service dive shop.

“The warm waters of the Upper St Lawrence River has always been a draw - averaging 72-75 degrees Fahrenheit in the summer months with no thermoclines and 40' - 50' visibility,” said Ms. Cooper in explaining why Brockville is getting international notice these days. “ it really is the Canadian Caribbean here!”

“In addition to the balmy, clear waters, the world class shipwrecks are a big drawing card - wooden schooners from the 1800 still pretty much in tact, last much longer in fresh water that is cold most of the year,” she continued. “ We have exciting drift dives where you can find torpedo bottles and clay pipes on the river floor, in addition to seeing the many different fish. The recently developed Sculpture Park gives divers something new to explore right from shore!”

The Sculpture Park is directly off-shore of Brockville’s downtown riverside Canteen Park and a block from Ms. Cooper’s shop.  There are currently 15 statues placed on the riverbed in two rings – one inside of the other. There are standing figures, benches and sturgeon placed at the cardinal points of the radius.

The sculptures have been cast in concrete and sunk on the bottom by members of the Save Ontario Shipwrecks society and civic minded volunteers.  The statues themselves have been made for the most part by art classes from Thousand Islands Secondary School and Brockville Collegiate Institute, working from molds created by artist /retired art teacher /diver Dave Sheridan and SOS member Tom Hatch.

The Sculpture Garden is a work in progress. In June a team of volunteer put ten life sized works onto the bottom.  There are now 25 pieces in the Garden and more such sinkings are in the works.
David Sheridan - Weir
“We are building a memorial underwater at Centeen Park,” said artist David Sheridan. “There is a grand plan to  all of this—It is more than just a dive attraction. It is meant to honour the scuba divers who have died in the St Lawrence over the years.  Because the park is relatively shallow (30 to 60 ft) and just a quick swim from shore, a lot of new Ontario, Quebec and New York State divers are making their first open water dives right here.  It is accessible and it is also a reminder for all divers to play it safe, no one is immune to the dangers of the river.”  

The dive community, working with the city, is charging shore divers $10 for an underwater seasonal pass.  The money is being used by the city and the SOS to maintain the park and to pay for the commission of more sculptures.
“There are great plans for the Park,” continued Mr. Shearton. “The SOS wants to build a better entry for divers into the water at the Centeen Park. There will, we hope a buoy set up for dive boats to bring in disabled divers. Exciting new, this year there will be an underwater camera set-up that will live stream back to our new Aquatrium (the just opened  nearby aquarium and shipwreck museum)”
Wreck of the Conestoga - weir

In addition to the Garden, there are many of  North America’s most visited freshwater shore dive sites in the Brockville region.  These sites are shallow shipwrecks within snorkelling distance of the shore.  Each weekend hundreds of divers drive along the river hugging Highway 2, stopping at parks near the more popular wreck sites, where people can dive in safe, close-to-shore sites, for free!

Novices and photographers  like the shore dives but “Brockville attracts tech divers as well,” said ABUS owner Cooper. “There are more challenging wrecks like the Jodery which lies at 240' and the JB King at 140'. These are popular dives because the shipwrecks are pretty well intact.  There is an opportunity for penetration into the shipwrecks too.”

Novice. Photographers. Tech Divers. Free Divers. Everyone is coming to Brockville, and in big numbers. Tourist officials say that divers are coming from Quebec, Ottawa, Toronto, and from all over the USA - New York, New Jersey, Pennsylvania, Ohio and even California! And the numbers are growing.