The State of Louisiana (NI) and the arguing computer

Sister ship State of Georgia
Dive Site: State of Louisiana, Hunters Rock (NI)

Dive Type: Boat Dive

Dive Attraction: “The State of Louisiana” Shipwreck

Depth: 18m-35m

Experience: Experienced novice

As the years continue to tick by, wife-buddy found herself celebrating yet another birthday, which particular birthday I shall not be revealing for fear of being refused a long hose when I need it the most. To commemorate this mystery day we decided a boat dive was in order on a new dive site.

First I must explain a little history of our local boat diving.

Boat diving in Ireland to date for Kerri and me hasn’t really been a successful venture, in that I have always had good dives, Kerri will have spent the day vomiting over the side. Admittedly this has been localised to rib diving, so we don’t dive from ribs. Usually. A recent visit to the doctor and a prescription for anti sickness medication dedicated to cancer patients, gave wife-buddy a new confidence for falling off a rib.

So with cancer drugs already being administered, we booked a dive with North Irish Diver Ltd charted to dive “The State of Louisiana.”

A quick visit to Irish Wrecks Online gave me the history lesson I needed:

"She was a 3 masted iron vessel built by Windgate on the Clyde in 1872, weighing over 1216 net tons, measured 300 x 35 x 24ft and had 2 decks. On a trip from Glasgow to Larne/New York, she ran aground on Hunters Rock and was badly holed. The buoy marking the rock had been dislodged. On January 13th, 1879, the big steamer cracked into three parts and sank." 

Homework all done, no sign of sickness and only some minor side effect of a numb tongue, (which didn’t reduce Kerri’s ability to talk) we drove the 35 miles to Ballylumford harbour to meet the ship, sorry….. the boat, sorry….. the rib. In super organised wife-buddy fashion, we arrived much too early and had to kill some time wandering around the harbour while I took my usual ‘ability-challenged’ photos.

Wife-buddy at Ballylumford Harbour

After an hour we stared out to sea searching for the dive boat which we presumed would be motoring over the horizon at any moment. Finally the ship arrived, behind me, being towed by a Land Rover; didn’t see that coming.

Rib going backwards
The rib was very deftly reversed into the slipway and professionally lowered into the water. This was an impressive display.

Skipper “Pete” introduced himself to Kerri and me and told us to get changed, get our kit together and carry it all down to the boat. The cylinders were secured in the centre of the rib, under a kitting up bench, and the peripherals were stowed under the seats in very clever hidden compartments.

Pete and random diver Declan
Once aboard the ship we were given a quick informal talk on protocol, where we would be diving, weather conditions and introduced to another “Pete” and a second random diver “Declan.” Nice chaps.

So far the trip was nice and relaxed, although we both had a bit of nerves as we hadn’t dived from a boat of any description in ages.

15-20 mins later the twin engine hard hull rib had us at the dive site. The sea was a little choppy and there was quite a swell brewing. Wife-buddy still hadn’t vomited, although the concentration on her face was a little comical. Kitting up was a challenge and I have to admit I was beginning to feel the effects of the churning waves myself and all potential comedy quickly subsided. Never the less we managed to get our gear on and struggle off the swaying boat with a giant stride from the rear.

I was very glad to be in the water.

The skipper had dumped us right at the shot line which was moored from the wreck 20m below. Nice driving Pete, or is it sailing? I don’t know the exact term for being good at moving a ship around. Either way Pete was doing a good job and I was where I wanted to be.

I have only descended down a shot about a dozen times to date, so it took me a moment to get myself into a decent position in the water for the descent. Buoyancy sorted, right hand on the shot line wife-buddy and I headed down into the greyish blue. The visibility was way better than we had expected, in fact, it was simply amazing at about 15m.

Wife-buddy enjoying the clear water

After only 12m or so we could easily see what appeared to be other divers, yes, I could definitely “see” divers below me, in Northern Ireland! Wow! With our local dive site vis being approx 18 inches, this was fabulous. Moments later we could see the giant compressors of the wreck. Awesome.

Lots of soft corals

We had arrived at the stern section of the wreck and she was very badly broken up over the big rock that she collided with. The boiler and stack were clearly identifiable and we finned about admiring the bits of wreckage. Sea life was quite good, mostly wrasse and the odd giant crab, the edible kind too, but I refrained from taking dinner home with me.

I clocked a maximum depth of 20m which gave us a No Decompression Limit of about 40 mins. As this was a new dive site for us we didn’t stray too far at one time from the shot line. I didn’t really fancy shooting a bag and undertaking a free ascent into the swell above. To keep things simple and safe we simply finned north for 20 kicks, spun around, headed south for 20 kicks back to the shot. The current was picking up so it was getting a bit difficult to gauge distance but the great visibility made navigation reasonably straight forward and we extended our investigations.

Heading back to the shot

The giant boiler was excellent viewing, providing home for vast amounts of soft corals and kelp blowing in the current. The iron girders that spilled around the hold further away were great as well.

With only 4 mins NDL remaining, 90bar and no plans for deco we made our way back to the shot line ascending slightly as we went to start the off gassing. Wife-buddy gave me the home signal and we began are ascent. Again, shot line ascents are not the norm, so I kind of ‘winged’ it a bit, keeping flat(ish) in the water, but maintaining a steady hand on my dump valve along the way.

I did rather well, feeling pretty much in control and amazingly my computer wasn’t screaming at me about my ascent rate. I love my Mares Puck computer, but it does tend to yap at me from time to time. Mostly it goes something like this:

Puck: “You’re ascending to fast you know?”

Me: “No, I’m not.”

Puck:  “Yes you are.”

Me:  “No, I am simply lifting my arm so you can tell me what depth I am at.”

Puck:  “Well, you’re doing it too fast and now you have the bends.”

Me:  “You’re going onto eBay as soon as we get home.”

Puck:  “You’re going to the chamber.”

At 5m we held a safety stop in the ever increasing swell. It wasn’t crazy rough, but enough to make us glad we didn’t have a 20min deco obligation. Clinging onto the very secure shot line helped immensely too. The Puck finally agreed I wasn’t going to die and we surfaced into the swell above.

Skipper Pete was dutifully waiting for us a short distance from the shot line and was waving us over. This was a little optimistic perhaps. However, I had a go. I released the shot and finned like mad towards the ship. Nothing really happened; I just seemed to drift further away from both shot and boat. At this point wife-buddy decided she couldn’t live without me and grabbed for my hand. Kerri now had a shot line in her left, an ‘I Are Diver’ in the right, and a quickly fogging mask.

With wife-buddy effectively blind, and me moments from being whisked into the deep, the skipper motored around the buoy stopping with the ladder just beside us. Nice moves Pete. Kerri handed over her fins and was up the ladder first with a bit of help from the guys above. I threw my legs up, Declan the random diver kindly flipped off my fins, and I hauled myself up the ladder onto the deck of the ship.

A great 47 min dive was had, we were safely aboard and no vomit. This had turned into a good day out. We secured our gear, sat down on the benches and enjoyed the short but rather fast trip back to the harbour.

Once the ship was docked we got our gear back on shore, paid Pete his money and said our goodbyes to him, the other Pete and random diver Declan. We then packed up the jeep and headed home.

Still no vomit.

Lessons learned

  • Be early to the site and have all your kit together. It reduces stress and just makes everything easier. 
  • Get anti sickness pills if you’re prone to illness on ships. See your GP for special ones. 
  • Keep a hand to the shot at all times. 
  • Try and keep flat when descending / ascending to prevent suit squeeze. 
  • Listen to the dive brief. 
  • Pay attention to navigation when diving new sites. 
  • Do your homework on the wreck, makes it more fun to know what you’re looking at. 
  • Computers are argumentative, dive tables instead. 
  • Cancer patients get really good medicine.
Another successful dive!


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Safe diving buddy.