Tanker “Chem Norma” Aground on Lock 23

Quite the start to the 2018 dive season!

Larry and I were awakened in the wee hours of a recent clear night by the sound of a long, loud foghorn, followed by the frantic grinding of an engine in reverse. We looked out into the night but could see nothing amiss.

In the morning the cause was clear when we walked over to the public dock. The Chem Norma was sitting there at a slight list. We believed that it had run into the berm of the southern wall of Lock 23 which sits about 13-15 feet below the surface. You can see the yellow buoy beyond the rear of the ship, designating the eastern end of the lock below.

Chem-Norma-Aground-May-29
view from the public boat dock

We learned that the double-hulled tanker (all tankers travelling the St. Lawrence Seaway are double-hulled for safety) had lost its steering and drove into the channel wall, but that it had suffered no damage.  Efforts would soon be underway to set it free.

This proved tough. Over 4 days, up to three tugboats worked to pull the ship off without success. Ultimately shifting the cargo to one side and getting the International Joint Commission – St. Lawrence River Board to temporarily raise the river by a foot (by reducing flow through the downriver dam) freed the boat.

Chem-Norma-and-Tugs-web
overhead view using our drone

Yesterday a few of our senior divers drifted through the area on the southern side of the southern lock wall. Although there was no obvious wall or berm “wound”, there was gravel and larger rocks strewn everywhere, old lock bollards were surrounded by rocky debris, and the divers found what was probably one of the ship’s sacrificial anodes (hahaha, as if I know anything about sacrificial anodes… but my divers had heard of them and a quick Google search taught me a lot!).

Chem Norma Anode
anode

Here’s what they found. If you come across it, kindly leave it there!

We’ll be out again soon to evaluate this area further.

In the meantime,  now that all the sludge and mess from the working tugboats has cleared, river conditions are pretty typical for this time of year – moderate current, 10-foot visibility, 13C/57F water temp.

 

 

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Dive Conditions Update

Along with anyone living in southern Ontario and Quebec this spring, we’ve been watching carefully the weather reports and specifically rainfall statistics… and we’ve been driving up and down the shorelines to inspect areas we know. There has been flooding and damage to many, many riverside properties.

Lake Ontario levels remain higher than at any time in the last century and the International Lake Ontario-St. Lawrence River Board is carefully releasing the extra volume at as safe a rate as possible – to reduce water levels along affected shorelines while still protecting Montreal from flooding.  They expect it to take several weeks. We’ve learned a lot about the strain this has put on international shipping: freighters have difficulty maneuvering upstream against the dramatically increased current and are in constant contact with authorities regarding conditions.

Morrisburg itself is protected from extreme water level changes by the dams 12 km upstream at Iroquois and 40 km downstream at Cornwall.  Therefore the water level at the Lock 23 site is virtually unaffected. It’s the current that has dramatically changed dive conditions, and ongoing rainy days are causing an accumulation of additional sediment.

Current Conditions:

  • FAST CURRENT on the approach drift in the canal. Normally it takes about 15-17 minutes to drift from the entry point to the lock gates. Yesterday it was fairly normal in the centre but much, much swifter at the edges – it took a mere 7 minutes on the inside drift to the Hydroelectric Plant sluice gates.
  • EXTREME CURRENT at the gates. Normally divers can stop at the gates and check on buddies, etc., before going up and over whatever wall they’ve arrived at. At present it is extremely difficult to do so – divers are easily swept up and over the gates by the current.
  • MODERATE CURRENT on the exit swim. Normally there is no current at the end of the locks and on the way out – divers set their compasses to NNE to consistently exit at the beach. We are currently swimming at a NW (and occasionally almost W) setting to reach our planned exit point.
  • EXTREME BACK-EDDIES and whirlpools in the locks themselves. It is difficult even on the river bottom to move against them – feeling suddenly like you’re battling that current upriver. It settles as you move downstream but it can be very fatiguing.
  • SILT HILLS where you don’t expect them… like on the wrong sides of gates! Likely this is due to back-eddies.
  • POOR VISIBILITY. Sediment and stirred up waters has reduced visibility on occasion to 5-8 feet.

On the bright side… it’s early in the season and there are ALMOST NO WEEDS!!

All of this provides a new environment for divers – it can be a tremendous amount of fun if (1) you are experienced with currents, (2) you are comfortable working with the currents and eddies, letting them on occasion carry you over and beyond a difficult spot, (3) you know the landmarks and layout of this dive site and can proceed from where the current has set you down, and (4) you have excellent air management even with increased physical demands.

At this time, therefore, it should be considered an appropriate dive site for experienced, advanced divers only who have excellent air management, good lights, a compass and a surface marker buoy for use on the exit swim (DON’T try using it in the locks!).

Good diving to you!

Feel free to email me if you have any questions!

Sydney

sydneyschnurr@gmail.com