6 Aug7TILL8, Artificial Reefs - New Jersey, Atlantic Ocean, Axel Carlson Artificial Reef, Bank Sea Bass, Beneath the Garden State: Exploring Aquatic New Jersey, Beth Dalzell, Blue Mussels, Cunner, Eels, Fish, Forbes Sea Star, Forbes Sea Star, Frilled Anemones, Herb Segars, Inon, Inon Z240, Invertebrates, Metridium senile, Nature Photography, Nauticam, New Jersey, northern stony coral, Olympus 12-50mm Lens, Olympus OM D-EM1, People, Photography, Sea Star, Sea Stars, Tautog, Underwater Photography / Scuba Diving, Veronica M, Veronica Segars, Wes Dalzell, Wetsuits | No Comment
Finally, we got in our first ocean dive of the 2017 season. This the latest that we have ever started our dive season. The weather forecast was not the best and as is quite often the case, it was not very accurate. We left the dock around 9:00 am because sometime during the week, the prediction was 3’ waves in a swell with an 8 second interval and then subsiding to two feet which is certainly comfortable. We decided that our first dive of the year should be on the tugboat that is dedicated my wife, Veronica Segars, on the Axel Carlson Reef. On November 10, 2004, a 110’ long tugboat was sunk off Bay Head, New Jersey and was officially renamed as the Veronica M, after my wife, Veronica Segars. She wanted this tug dedicated to her for her 50th birthday. I couldn’t make it happen in time for her birthday but she did get it. It will be our final resting place as we hope to have our ashes placed there. If you want to find out more about her tug, go here.
As we exited Manasquan Inlet, the seas were sloppy and the 3’ waves were there. We reached our destination and dropped in a marker buoy and on the second try, we were grappled into the tugboat. I had heard mixed reports of dive conditions so I didn’t consider using a wide angle lens because the top layer of water has been murky and the bottom visibility varied but the murky layer made it dark on the bottom. We found those conditions pretty accurate. The top twenty to thirty feet of water was a yellowish murky color and the bottom had at least twenty feet of visibility but it was dark. Not dark enough to need a light but it would have been tough to shoot wide angle.
My dive buddy, Beth Dalzell from Brick, NJ and I splashed almost together (I was a little slower getting in) and we headed for the bottom. At around forty-five feet, I could see the top of the pilot house on the tug. That was wonderful. I was wearing my 7TILL8 wetsuit and it did not disappoint me. 7TILL8 wetsuits claims that if you give them twelve measurements, they will produce a custom wetsuit for you. I was skeptical when I first saw their ad but since trying their 6mm wetsuit, I was sold. Since then, I have purchased a 3mm wetsuit from them for warm water diving. I wasn’t the least bit cold in the 62 degree water.
The Veronica M has become everything that an artificial reef should be. It provides substrates for blue mussels, frilled anemones, barnacles, hydroids and algae. These species provide food for other animals such as bergal, black sea bass, blackfish and sea stars.
I started my dive on the tug’s deck and I started looking for subjects that would work with the lens that I had on my camera. I found that there were many blue mussels and also the only hard coral found in New Jersey, northern stony coral.
I then moved down to the sandy bottom and made my way around the tug. Here I found plenty of beautiful frilled anemones. I can’t even begin to count the number of anemones that I have photographed over the years but I still find very pleasing compositions.
I also like the fact that you can find them in different colors.
It wasn’t until I reached the top of the pilot house that I found my best subject for the day. It was an American conger eel. I don’t see them very often because they venture out of their holes at night to feed. I have made a few night dives in New Jersey and I have been startled when a five or six foot long conger eel swims into the beam from my dive light. Based on the size of the conger eel’s head, I estimate that it is five to six feet long.
I made sure that Beth saw the conger eel and she photographed it while I watched. It is very exciting even after all the years that I have been diving off New Jersey to see something that you don’t see often. Beth harvested blue mussels on the first dive and I brought them up the anchor line with me at the end of my dive.
We typically wait an hour-and-a-half between dives. Unfortunately, the wind picked up while we waited and the seas started getting rough. Beth decided not to make the second dive but I had to go in to move the grapple hook so that we could unhook easily from the tug. I entered the water and descended on the anchor line. I saw that the grapple hook would not easily come out so I decided to move it to the railing on the main deck. All we would have to do is ride past the railing and the hook should come out easily.
It was a tough day for my wife, Veronica and Beth’s husband, Wes. Beth and I get a reprieve from the pounding waves when we make our dive. Veronica and Wes don’t. When we have a rough day, they get beat up much more than Beth and I. That is the reason that we try to go out on calm days but today, the weather man really led us astray.
While on the bottom, I took a little time to take a few more photos. I looked for my conger eel and although it was in its hole, it did not come out like the first dive. I took a close up of the northern stony coral so that you could see the beautiful polyps.
I shot a few more anemone photos before I started up the anchor line. By the time that I reached the surface, the wind was howling and I really worked to get back onto the ladder and into the boat. Luckily, the grapple hook came out as easily as I hoped and it wasn’t long before we were on our way back to the inlet.
When we harvest blue mussels, we separate the mussels and place them into two mesh bags. To clean the exterior of the mussels, we drag them behind the boat at slow speed. The mussels tumble in the bag and the exterior growth is removed. These particular mussels were loaded with barnacles and took additional dragging time.
We arrived at our slip safe and sound and the arduous task of unloading our gear and cleaning the boat was more difficult as we were all tuckered out from the churning ocean.
It wasn’t over yet, Beth and Wes had to return dive tanks to the dive shop and come home and wash Beth’s gear. Veronica and I made a stop to deliver mussels to our neighbor before washing out my gear to end our day. We both were exhausted but our first trip of the season is finally over. Stay tuned for more.