Dive Report: Fossil diving inthe Cooper River

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Posted by Wayne on November 25, 2003 at 08:03:27:

It all started out with such high hopes and expectations. I was to be in the Charlotte office for two weeks and therefore, away from home for the weekend. Not a good thing, since I was away from the family, but while I was away, I thought I would get some diving in. After all, how often does a Los Angeleno get to dive wrecks in the Gulf Stream? The more I thought about the dives, the less I dreaded the long trip.

After arriving in Charlotte, I made all my arrangements for the weekend. Friday afternoon my hopes were dashed when I got a call from the dive shop telling me that there were 9 foot seas predicted and that they were canceling the charter. I was crushed and had nothing to do but work very late to drown my sorrows. Saturday morning came and I slowly packed and moved out of my hotel (I had given up my room since I was supposed to move to the coast).

While Driving to the new hotel, I decided to stop by the local dive shop and cry on a sympathetic shoulder. I pulled up in front of Born Diving (Davidson, NC) and the nice lady there answered my questions about local diving (it sounded pretty bad) and she mentioned the Cooper River near Charleston. Her description of a black water dive with raging currents sounded horrible and I had to explain that I was not desperate for my PPN2 fix. Then I asked why anyone would ever consider playing in such a place and she explained the fossils that were found there.

At this point I realized that this was an unusual dive that would clearly be different from my normal diving! She showed me the web page (www.cooperriverdiving.com) of a guide there and called to get me booked. He was full up for the weekend, but promised to see who had room. I was told to drive the 4 - 5 hours and get a hotel and wait by my cell phone. I had nothing to lose, so I left. Finally at 7:00 PM I got a call from Captain Phil Myers (scubadaddee88@hotmail.com) who told me he had an open spot for Sunday morning. We talked about gear needs and he loaned me the tanks, weights, and even a light! I got directions and was able to get a good night's sleep.

Everyone was right. It is DARK in that water. I weighted heavy and swam down. I had no ambient light after 10 FFW. My borrowed light only penetrated about 2 feet, Once I hit the bottom, I oriented my self to the current and compass and started to move to the gravel area. I found various fossil rib bones, broken china, fossil turtle shell, and megaladon teeth. I bumped into a couple of the other divers, too. After a touch more than an hour of this fun I headed for the surface with a very heavy bag of rock!

We compared our booty on the boat. I think I did the worst of the group. There was a 5-1/2 long shark tooth, big pieces of ancient Indian pottery, Inner ear bones from whales, and all kinds of stuff better than I saw. Off we went for the second dive site.

Dive two started like Dive one. But I ended up and a sand flat with nothing to look at and almost nothing to pick up. I took out the compass and figured out which way I wanted to go and set off crawling/dragging myself along the bottom with an ice ax like device Captain Phil loaned me. I Picked up a small tooth or two and then saw a trench that had been cut by the morning tidal flow around a sand island in the middle of the river. I figured it would be an interesting place to look, so I went in. I immediately saw something sticking up through the sand that looked like a tree root. I tapped it with my ice ax and it was rock. I started to dig the sand from it so I could get a better look.

I dug and dug and dug some more. It was totally by Braille since I could not dig, feel where to dig, point the light, and see through the black water now filled with sediment I was throwing out. Every now and then I would stop and allow the water to clear and see what I had. At first I thought I had a Mastodon leg bone. It was big and round and darn straight. After I had about three feet excavated, I knew that This was no leg bone. I kept digging.

The hardest thing was keeping myself focussed. I needed to dig carefully, yet quickly. I needed to keep my exertion level low to keep my air consumption low. I needed to keep my breathing appropriate for the work load and not over breathe from excitement. I had to limit my shouting "WHOO HOO" into my regulator to a minimum.

All the time I was trying to think of some way to mark the location since it was becoming clear that I would not uncover this artifact enough to recover it. For example, I was wishing I had a reel. I would have ran my safety sausage up on it so I could come back and finish the job. But this was a dive where the least amount of equipment was best because everything got dragged along the gravel bottom and any extra stuff would be scrapped off. I was also wishing I had taken my camera. The low vis caused me to leave it in the car. But If I could have photographed the tusk, I would have been so much happier.

In the end I started my ascent at 64 minutes. I used my compass to swim into the current in hopes that I could come up directly above the site and then locate landmarks to identify the spot. But the current was faster than my swimming and when I broke surface a minute or so later, there were no distinguishing landmarks to be able to use for later triangulation.

I suspect that the next tidal change covered up my tusk and who knows when it will be seen again. It was several feet below the nominal river bottom. I laughed to myself that I should have defaced it by chipping my name and date into it. Wayne AD2003. Then, in another thousand or so years, it would have been a wonderful mystery for someone. Who was this Wayne, and how had he been next to this fossil tusk with the lack of technology of the 21st century...

So I came back with 15 pounds of rocks. Petrified bones teeth and shell, actually. I had never suspected how much fun I would have diving in black water in the Cooper River. As it is, I am really looking forward to another time to get on Captain Phil's boat and crawl along the bottom of the Cooper River. I recommend this dive and I highly recommend Phil Myers.

Wayne Tuttle

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