Pete Nawrocky

Pete Nawrocky


Diving the Great Lakes Highway

Carrying 20,000 tons of Iron Ore pellets on November 21, 1974 the Roy A. Jodrey was on the way to Detroit. The trip was never completed as she struck Pullman shoal at 3 AM. The "Jodrey" sank very close to the US Coast Guard station and fortunately there was no loss of life but the wreck was deemed unsalvageable. by Pete Nawrocky

Gingerly working our way closer to shore, Helen Cooper maneuvered the Emily C. as close to shore as possible. Working against the current and watching for large rocks for and aft required a team effort. Lines were secured to trees on shore and a third line to an underwater mooring. This almost made the Emily C. an extension of the Island. A short time later the reason for all this work in securing the boat was tested as a 600-foot long ship passed within 200 yards of the anchorage. Displaced water tugged at the tiny boat, trying to draw it and its occupants into the main river channel. The behemoth passed by and the Emily C. cozied up to her moorings.

Image of St Lawrence Helen Cooper Boat

Why this location? In order to dive the Roy A. Jodrey it is necessary to swim just outside the main channel to the wreck site. The Wreck is located on the south side of Wellesley Island. Landing directly on the island is not necessary and it is easier to work from the boat. It wasn't until Rudi Asseer began his pre-dive briefing that we realized that the "Jodrey" was an immense wreck site. The ship that previously passed is actually "smaller"!

Carrying 20,000 tons of Iron Ore pellets on November 21, 1974 the Roy A. Jodrey was on the way to Detroit. The trip was never completed as she struck Pullman shoal at 3 AM the captain attempted to beach the boat on Wellesley Island. The "Jodrey" sank very close to the US Coast Guard station, fortunately there was no loss of life but the wreck was deemed unsalvageable.

Tom Huff, Robert Ainsworth, Rudi Asseer, Russ Hrabchack and I met to dive the bow section. The very top of the wheel house starts at 140 feet and descends to 240 feet. The stern section is located in the channel at 24 at 240 feet and is a considerable distance from the bow. Sitting at a slight list the Bow leans against the wall of the Island. The base of the wheel house meets the deck at approx. 190 feet. The dive plan was not to descend deeper than 180 feet. Although we would all be diving at the same time, it was decided that for ease of communication we would divide into two separate teams. One team made up of Rudi and me, the second of Tom, Bob and Russ. Rudi and Russ have both dove the wreck before and knew what to expect. This enabled each team to have a 'guide' of sorts. The second reason enabled one member of a team to call the dive without requiring everyone to surface at the same time. The Emily C. was anchored so the stern faced "dress-up bay", a shallow spot that enabled divers to stand in 5 feet of water and "kit up" with deco bottles and perform "S" drills easily.

Image of St Lawrence Outside Keystorm Windlass

Most team members using open circuit selected a bottom mix of 20 /30. Deco gas selection was 50/50 and pure O2. Voyager deco profiles were selected with 25-minute bottom times with a total run time of 60 minutes. I programmed my NiTek 3 for the dive and used a NiTek C in Gauge Mode for use with my tables. My helium percentage was low enough so I was able to work the NiTek 3 as a backup to my tables. We had all decided before to dive tables. My NiTek 3 would enable me to get out of the water sooner if absolutely necessary. The NiTek 3 was able to calculate a multilevel profile and our tables assumed a Square profile requiring longer deco times. Since I still had a normoxic mix and the nitrogen level exceeded my helium level in the mix the NiTek 3 would accurately calculate my deco times. My ascent rate would be 10 feet per minute.

Image of St Lawrence Zebra Mussels

After firing up HID lights the descent started. Although we were diving in mid-afternoon on a bright sunny day, we needed the lights. The St. Lawrence River has been infested with Zebra mussels. Water clarity has increased tremendously because of the filter feeding technique of the mussels. Light reflectivity off of objects is reduced because of the dark coloration of the Zebra mussel. Every available surface is covered and the surrounding water is clear but dark. We reached the edge of the island drop-off at approx. 70 feet and then drifted in a very strong current to begin the dive. So strong as a matter of fact that swimming directly into the current is all but impossible! Trimming off at 120 feet we drifted along for approx. 3 minutes in a single file. Rudi led and Tom took up the rear. Drifting along the wall I noticed few hand holds and looking down there was nothing to see since it was almost another 110 feet to the bottom. During the briefing Rudi let us know that if separated swim to the wall and begin deco. Shallower areas had shelves in which to duck out of the current and not to shoot a bag unless we were directly on the wall. Shooting a bag in the channel will cause its closure and the diver WILL get a rather nasty fine and a very long visit with the proper authorities.

Image of St Lawrence Keystorm Wreck

Turning around to get a light signal OK from other team members I noticed a piece of line extending from the wall as we drifted deeper. Turning with the direction of drift I literally slammed into the wreck at 150 feet. Everybody else did the same and hung on for a moment. Tom stated after the dive" It looked like four bugs hitting a windshield". We swam around the wheel house and descended deeper passing under the crane boom and looking into inviting areas. The encroaching Zebra mussels covered almost everything! Clean areas were encountered where divers touched the wreck or the current was simply to strong for them to attach. The white paint on the wheel house could occasionally be seen. The windows have been removed in most places but we still found one intact (for now, anyway). Bottom time passed by swiftly, Photos were shot and mental reminders of coming back soon were etched in everyone's mind. All five divers were able to stick together to such a point everyone ended the dive at the same time and all met at the wall to begin our ascent and deco. The Roy A. Jodrey is a great dive for those with the training and experience. There are other teams actually exploring the stern section of the wreck. However there is more than enough of the bow section to peak anyone's interest. It is not necessary to dive deep in order to enjoy the St. Lawrence!

Artifacts find inside a St. Lawrence wreck (Pete Nawrocky)Image of Artifacts find inside a St. Lawrence wreck (Pete Nawrocky)

For hundreds of years this waterway has been the main "highway" of commerce. Starting at Lake Ontario this waterway eventually becomes the St. Lawrence Seaway as one nears the Atlantic Ocean. Towns such as Clayton and Alexandria Bay NY have been vacation destinations for over one hundred years. The Canadian side has much to offer and it is a ½ hour trip from the US into Canada. Dive Operators are available on both sides of the river. Abucs Scuba of Brockville is currently running two charter boats with a third planned for this year. Divers of any level can find a site to match their abilities. The Keystorm wreck is one great example. Starting at a depth of approx. 25 feet the wreck lies on its side and across the flow of the river. The wreck descends to a depth of 110 feet. Because the keel points into the flow divers only encounter current going to and from the wreck. Unless the diver leaves the wreck site or swims to the opposite side most of the dive is effortless. The Keystorm sank on October 26, 1912 and is 250 feet long more than enough room for everyone on a charter. It is possible to penetrate the wreck but is recommended only for divers trained in Overhead environments.

Image of St Lawrence Ships Wheel

The Wolfe Islander II is the first wreck sunk in Lake Ontario to become a scuba divers site. Sitting upright at Approx. 90 feet many of the compartments are easily navigated and very photogenic. The top of the wreck starts at 40 feet and is enjoyed by most experience levels. The engine room is very large and the after quarters are fun to explore.