12 AugArtificial Reefs - New Jersey, Four of Clubs Tug, McGurr Tugboat, New Jersey, Photography, Underwater Photography / Scuba Diving | 1 Comment
This was another weekend where the inshore weather looked kind of iffy. One of the great things about having your own boat is that you don’t have to go out when the weather is not ideal. My dive buddy’s daughter, Jenni Ward was in from Santa Cruz, California and really wanted to go diving. This would be the only weekend that she could go so we all looked hard at the forecast and decided that Saturday would be the better of the two days.
We nosed out of Manasquan Inlet around 8:30am and found a pretty good north wind blowing. We decided not to go offshore and picked the Axel Carlson Reef for our destination. Jenni wanted some blue mussels and I had a few spots on the reef that I hadn’t been to before. Our first stop was going to be the Manasquan River Tuna and Marlin Club (MRTMC) Memorial Reef. There are two tugboats within 100’ of each other. One is the former Bay King tug which is 100’ long and now known as the MRMTC and the other is the former Megan Sue which is 75’ long and is now called the Four of Clubs Tug. Both tugs were sunk on Sunday, January 9, 2005. They were sponsored by the Manasquan River Marlin & Tuna Club, the 4 of Clubs – DVD Club, Ocean Wreck Divers, and the Ann E. Clark Foundation. They lie on a sandy (silty) bottom about 80’ deep.
Once we turned our bow into the wind to drop the hook, we realized that the seas were pretty bouncy. On days like this, we all get beat up but especially my wife, Veronica, and Beth’s husband, Wes, who stay on the boat while we are diving. Normally, I probably would have bagged the day and went home but we all kept thinking how much Jenni wanted to make the dive so we pressed on. It took a few tries but we were hooked into the Four of Eights tug. Beth, Jenni and I suited up. I splashed first and made my way to the bottom. Beth and Jenni followed.
We were hooked into the stern of the tug and visibility was probably about 15’-20’. This was okay for me to continue my “summer of wide angle photography.” Beth and Jenni were down right after me and we started our tour of the Four of Clubs. I started shooting at the stern and then dropped to the sand to get some photos of the propeller and the rudder.
We all started moving towards the bow on the port side. There was a good growth of blue mussels on the tug and if we couldn’t find a lobster for Jenni, the blue mussels would fill her bug bag. I shot photos of the deck house and the bow of the tug. I noticed that there was a lot of damage to the starboard side of the tug and that there were pieces of it lying in the sand.
I decided to mosey around the bottom and look for lobster. In a few minutes, I found a nice sized one and brought Jenni over for her to give a try at catching it. The attempt didn’t go well because Jenni did not get a good look at the lobster before trying to grab it. I put my hand into the hole to see what I could do but the lobster scooted out and went under the tug. No chance at reaching it now. A few minutes later, Jenni and Beth brought me over to another lobster that was in a pretty tight hole. Beth had tried to grab it but couldn’t get it. I stuck my arm in as far as I could and grabbed the lobster. It was really tricky getting it out but after a few minutes, I succeeded.
Jenni was a happy girl. Tonight’s dinner was going to be at least lobster. We only had one bug bag so Beth and Jenni decided to get mussels on the second dive (if we made one). Beth had said before we went in that if the seas didn’t calm down, we were only doing one dive and we were all okay with that.
We explored more of the Four of Clubs tug, checking out the deckhouse, the pilot house and the tops of both. I was impressed with the number and size of the blackfish (tautog) on the tug. I had actually seen a lot of blackfish on all the artificial reef sites that we had visited this summer. I think that when the summer flounder (fluke) season ends on September 4th, it may be hard to find a spot on the reef. The pilot house on this former canal tugboat worked the same way that the one on the Spartan tug did. It could be raised and lowered so that the tug could get under low bridges. It was sunk in the lowered position.
With our bottom time expended, we headed up the line to the surface. Once aboard, Veronica and Wes told us that the seas seemed to have calmed down and that a second dive was a go. I thought that we might try the Joan LaRie tug that was close by. We steered towards the Joan LaRie but found that our friends, Paul and Ruth Hepler had their dive boat, Venture III on the tug. They told us that reports were that visibility was good and that made me smile. Our next choice was the McGurr tug which was about a mile away. The McGurr tug is an 85’ long tugboat that was built in 1951 in Cohoes, New York and named the Edward Matton. It would later be renamed the Patrick McHugh. Finally, on Tuesday, September 12, 2000, it was sunk on the Axel Carlson Reef. She was sponsored by Ocean Wreck Divers in memory of Charles J. McGurr, Jr. She is a canal tugboat and lies in 80’ of water. My last dive on the McGurr tug was in 2007 and I was curious to see the changes.
We hooked in amid ship and the three of us made our dive. We explored the entire tug moving from the bow to the stern. The McGurr had plenty of blue mussels and Jenni would have a great seafood dinner to celebrate her day of New Jersey diving. Beth and Jenni harvested mussels while I shot photos of the bow, pilot house, deck house and the stern. Like the Four of Clubs tug, the McGurr had lots of blackfish (tautog) and I saw a number of very large, older blackfish.
At one point, I dropped into the large opening left after removing the engines and shot some photos inside the tug. I saw a number of very large blackfish while inside. There were also plenty of the usual resident bergalls (cunners) and black sea bass.
The pilot house had more growth on it than I remembered from my last dive two years ago. There were plenty of blue mussels, frilled anemones and tubularian hydroids. The rails atop the deck house were also covered with blue mussels and tubularian hydroids.
Beth and Jenni left the bag of mussels with a lift bag attached on the anchor line. I am the mussel bringer up person. When our time on the bottom was over, Beth and Jenni headed up the line and I followed with the mussels. Jenni was diving in a wet suit and she was pretty chilled by now. The water temperature on the bottom at both sites was 57°. That is where the bottom temp has been for the last few weeks.
Once we were all happily aboard, we sat on the swim platform, pulling the mussels apart and placing them in bug bags that we would drag behind the boat on our way to the inlet. While the bags are being dragged, the mussels tumble around and get cleaned. We had about a four mile trip to the inlet and they looked pretty good when the bags were hauled back on board. Jenni took her lobster and mussels to her friend Amy’s house and Veronica and I handed off our mussels to our friend, Charlie Raspantini, who turned 69 on Sunday. He loves mussels and was looking forward to sharing them with his family and friends.
Jenni is in for three weeks but we won’t see her until we head up to Rhode Island next week. Wes and Beth and family members have rented a house in Rhode Island and I set up a blue shark dive out of Point Judith. Jenni, her husband Nate, Beth and Wes, Chris Bain and Veronica and I will be aboard. Jenni, Beth, Chris and I will be diving and Nate may either dive or snorkel. Veronica and Wes are going to be observers. I have done this dive twice before. The first time was in eight foot seas with plenty of sharks. The second was in flat seas with only a few sharks. After our dive, Veronica and I are heading to Plymouth, MA for a few days of whale watching and visiting some good friends.
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