Project of the Graf Zeppelin
May 4 - 15, 2009
Most of the team arrived in Gdansk, Poland on Monday May 4, 2009 to find the weather conditions unfavorable for leaving port. The wind was blowing 15 - 20 miles per hour and the sea 2-3 meters / 6 - 9 ft, so we sat in port and enjoyed the fine cities of Sopot, Gdansk and Gdynia, Poland. Despite a previously failed attempt at the dive in November 2008 due to bad weather, spirits were high and enthusiasm for the project was strong.
On Wednesday we had a team meeting and the word was maybe “Thursday evening” we would leave, but again the weather conditions were uncooperative so chances were slim. We continued to explore the cities, going to the various tourist attractions like the old city and the Display of the Transformation of Poland from 1970-1989.
Spirits were starting to dampen, until finally word came down to load the ship Saturday morning for departure that evening; we had to wait for the Hyperbaric Doctor to get back from his trip Stockholm. Enthusiasm for the project was now at an all time high.
Saturday May 9
We met at Lukasz P. ‘s dive center at 10:00 am and had a little meeting, in Polish of course, explaining what each person’s role would be in loading the ship that day. Sebastian, the project lead, divided the group into teams and assigned roles in loading. One team was to load all compressors and filling equipment, the other tanks and stages, and the third the decompression chamber and secure it to the ship. So off we went, loading up the vans and gear and heading for the port.
We arrived to find a 200’/60m+ length ship. WOW. I mean this is a diver’s dream. Huge diving deck, incredible diver deploy and retrieval system. What diving ladder? They simply put us in the water and retrieve us from the water with this cage. We also used it to load and unload the gear from the ship.
We finished loading and preparing the gear by the late afternoon and then got to chill until our departure. In the mean time, we had another general meeting at 8:00pm where Sebastian went over the diving teams and their roles, as well as who would dive and who would support each day of diving. Total number of divers was 12, so they had to be divided into 4 groups of 3: one camera man, one lighting guy and one safety (star). Each team had a Polish team member to ensure that if any communication was needed with the crew they could facilitate. The teams were:
Team 1 Lukasz, Tymek, Andrew
Team 2 Oliver, Clemens, Dima
Team 3 Tomasz, Anders Palm, Anders Nasman
Team 4 Sebastian, Robert, Jan
After that we went over the safety aspects of the week and the diving protocols and so on. Once the meeting was completed we were free to finish stowing any remaining gear for the overnight trip to the wreck. We met the Coast Guard and Customs officers at midnight to ensure our paperwork was in order as we were exiting the European Union (EU.) The wreck lays in International water and so you exit like you are leaving the country and then need to re-enter when you come back. When we wake, we will be sitting at the dive site 40 miles off shore.
Sunday May 10 - Dive Day 1.
I woke around 5 am filled with excitement. Could hardly wait to slide down a cup of coffee, brush my teeth and hit the water. But of course no luck yet, we were still under way and when we arrived they needed to drop the buoys on the site. Did I mention the buoys, take a look at the picture of them on the deck. Now that’s an upline :) Yes the Polish Maritime Office has allowed us to use their ship to dive from, which they use to set channels markers for the shipping lanes. So of course we took advantage of their resources LOL.
Following that the maritime office wanted to run a side scan sonar over the wreck to get some more data and sonar images.
In the mean time, we had a team meeting where Sebastian went over the plan and objectives for each team’s dive followed by a discussion from the Hyperbaric Doctor about what to do in emergencies. The doctor then took us for a tour of the onboard decompression chamber followed by a little taste of the inside of the deco chamber. Four of us at a time crawled into that little space to experience the tightness and go over some of the procedures in the event of a DCS problem.
Finally it was time to go. We were the first to dive. What an honor to be the first sports divers in the world to be on the Graf Zeppelin, and an even bigger honor to be the first team to dive her. Lukasz, Tymek and I have a quick meeting about our duties. Essentially I will lead the team down the upline, ensure the upline is secured to the wreck, place the strobes on the upline, tie the reel to the upline and run line towards the stern, surveying the deeper area/side. We are to place a sort of permanent guideline over the area we have covered. Tymek is to hold the video lights shedding light for Lukasz the video man. Sounds excellent.
We suited up and proceeded to jump in. Everything went really smoothly on the surface deployment from the ship and then we had to scooter 300’/100m to the buoy. It’s time to dive. We descend and I stop at 10m/30’ allowing Lukasz to get the camera ready. He gives the “good to go” sign and I hit the CUDA trigger and down we go. This is probably one of my favorite times in exploration diving: descending into the abyss and waiting for the wreck to appear in the murk. Visibility is about 15’ - 20’ / 5m - 7m, water temperature 2.6c / 35 F with little to no current. Just excellent diving conditions. Finally she appears. A massive, massive wreck. I quickly survey the area for a tie point and then secure the downline to the wreck, attach the exit strobes to the downline, and attach the guideline. Duties are done and we are ready to explore.
Time to hit the trigger. We landed on the rear section of the super structure so we decided to head towards the stern.
One of the more obvious things that strikes me is how the entire flight deck, which is wooden, is in perfect shape.This is really unique to Baltic diving. The cold deep and salinity, or lack thereof, preserve the wood condition. Continuing along the deck, I notice how the flight deck has broken and the large crack makes it seem like a folded card. But the fold is upward not downward. This shape would only be caused by an explosion inside the ship, as the deck is folded up , tent shaped. As we continue along this massive flight deck, Tymek describes it as diving an “air field”. I think that best describes the feeling.
We find one of the massive loading holes and see the aircraft lift. We descend down into this plane loading area, exploring around and reaching a max of 230’/70m. After entering into the flight deck and tying off the line, we find ourselves already out of penetration bottom runtime, 17 min bottom time, and so it is time to turn and return home. Back to deco. We run Ratio deco for 220’/66m and bottom time 20 min, a total run of 90 minutes.
When we surfaced, we signaled the team all OK and we returned to the ship to be loaded. As we were the first team to dive, we would be the first team to try the new lift cage. I am up first. Whooooa.... what a ride back onto the ship. I think the pictures are worth a thousand words.
After the dive we drink hot tea, eat a quick meal, and follow it with a video review session. The room fills with the crew from the boat and the other diver in anticipation of seeing the first ever footage of divers on the wreck.
Monday Dive Day 2.
We have a scheduled dive time of 8:00 am, so we get up around 6 to get ready, have a light breakfast, prepare the equipment and have a team meeting before we hit the water. This time we are going to dive the second decent line which is on the port side of the ship and slightly shallower. Our goal is to drop down the side of the ship, run a line towards the stern, and check out the rooms, gun balconies and the side of the ship below the flight deck. We descended to find a light current pushing us off the wreck, but not to seriously, and that we would be hiding in the ship shadow once we attached the guideline and dropped down the side of the wreck.
I personally really enjoyed this dive as we were able to cruise along exploring each room, one by one. The rooms were connected to one another by doorways which we would slip through. I also noticed these large air conditioning pipes and other remnants of this massive floating city.
I passed through one doorway onto a balcony for a gun. Reviewing the plans later, we believe it to be the place for the anti aircraft guns. Of course no guns were present as the Russians removed them before they used the Graf Zeppelin for target practice. We continued to run line almost to the stern when we hit our turn time and raced back to the upline. Oh the joy of scooter diving.
Our average depth on this dive was 200’/60m with a bottom time of 20 min giving us a nice clean deco. After the dive we grabbed early lunch, some hot tea. and reviewed the video. Simply amazing dive.
For our second dive that day, we decided to explore the super structure located midship, starboard side and at the bottom of the first descent line that we dove the day before. It is located at the back of the super structure. This time we would head in the opposite direction towards the bow and video the entire super structure. We decided to explore the area much slower this time, allowing time for the video and lightning to set up different angles to get the best shots of the super structure. We would take the scooters as they are really valuable to get down the upline quickly and then once the exploration is completed we could jet back to the upline rather than have to swim it. It was time to rock and roll. The support team did an excellent job of getting us in the water and off we went descending the downline. There was no current and visibility was about the same 20’/6m - 30’/9m. We explored around the super structure which was really breathtaking. There were a variety of rooms and entrance ways with few artifacts in each room. We penetrated into one of the rooms taking a look around. I noticed something very different about this Naval Ship than diving the HMS Repulse: the rooms are empty and void of any signs of life or feelings of battle. This ship was never in service and was only used for experiments by the Russians. It has a very different life and feel inside: it’s an empty vessel that was never filled with a soul.
We reached the far end of the super structure and turned, returning to the upline at 20 min bottom time and average depth of 240’/72m. We then started the nearly 75 min of deco ahead of us. Yahoo...... But it was worth it. I was definitely gonna feel this deco temperature-wise, as I sat in the water waiting for my team an extra 20 minutes prior to the dive, as they had camera issues. This meant I was already cold at the start of the deco and that I could look forward to my feet getting numb and losing use of my hands and fingers, as they would be numb. Of course it is always fun to try to talk after deco. Your face, lips and jaw are so numb. I could barely form a full sentence, or say words with the letter P in them. :)
Tuesday Dive Day 3
This was our surface support day. Our wakeup call was 5:00 am to prepare the deck for the other teams. First dive is at 6:00 am and we needed to put the teams in the water and run surface support. No diving for our team unless another team bails or they get done before 5:00 pm. As the day progressed a storm built and the diving operations were ceased by the captain and we were told to breakdown the gear and stow it for the rough and windy night ahead. We stayed out, but if the weather remained bad we would return to the port in the morning.
Wednesday Dive Day 4
We woke up to good weather (great weather in fact) and the seas were perfect for diving. At around 7:00am we are told by the captain that we should prepare for diving that day. But first the maritime office would need to place the down line on the Bow Section. In the meantime, as we were team one, we needed to get our gear together as quickly as possible. As we were assembling our gear, and because I got so cold the last dive, I asked Jan to borrow his passive heating vest, to see if it gave me anymore warmth or protection. It sure did look strange but we would see if it worked.
We had planned to dive the Bow of the wreck. The maritime office had laid a new down line on the bow section, therefore we could descend directly onto the bow without wasting time. Lukasz wanted to film our team descending on to the bow and then we would do some penetration into the bow section. We were not allowed to jump from the ship, so we were “air lifted” down into the water. Such a cool experience. Once we touched the water we could scooter off towards the Bow Section Down line about 300’/90m away. All went really well that morning and the three of us descended around 8:50am. We stopped at 30’/9m to allow Lukasz to square the camera away and then we continued down. This time I stopped at 170’/51m allowing Lukasz to catchup and pass me heading down to the wreck. I could almost see the wreck from my depth without Lukasz’s light but as he descended closer to the wreck his lights illuminated the bow section. Such an incredible sight. Indescribable. He then turned and put the camera on us and we then continued our decent to the wreck.
Once I arrived I would need to tie the line to the wreck. I noticed a perfect spot just a few feet away. So I pulled some line down towards the wreck creating some slack in the downline to tie with. When I tied I gave it one good tug and the tie point broke. So I tried another, this time before tying the line, I just simply tugged on the bar and it broke. So I tried another and it broke. Ok I thought now I have to search for a place to tie that is stronger than those rusted metal bars. I finally find a thick section of the bow catapult.
The aircraft carrier has a catapult on the bow to sling the aircraft down the runway, so the aircraft can gain needed speed quickly for take off. We then explored the catapult on the runway deck and then descended down to the second level and then the third level to begin our penetration into the forward section of this monster. It was as though we were being swallowed by a giant sea monster.
As I cruised down the hallways of the aircraft deck, I couldn’t help but notice the sheer size of this place. At certain times, I could not see the walls, only the rail tracks that they moved the planes on towards the aircraft lifts. I noticed a huge chain below me and realized that on the third level was the anchor chains and the 1940’s style horizontal windless. I descended through the rail-tracks to take a closer look
and decided to grab a hold of the chain to feel it’s enormous size and get Lukasz to take some video so the viewer could understand the sheer enormity of this chain. Each link is bigger than my hands in width and the circumference of the metal is twice that of what I can wrap my hands around. Just massive.
We then continued to explore around the anchor area looking at the massive cleats which they use to tie the ship up.
We exited the side of the wreck and started to explore the forward gun balconies with their distinctive wave shape above the guns. This was unique to the Graf Zeppelin.
Before we know it, it’s time to turn and return to the upline. The average depth for the dive was 220’/66m and 20 min bottom so we have a run of 90 min. This was one of the best dives of the project for sure. As a side note, I wasn’t cold so I guess this extra vest might of worked. Then it was time for hot tea, lunch and refill for the afternoon dives. The wind and weather started to pick up again around one and by 4:00 pm the Captain had called the dive and the project. Weather forecast and swell prediction made it impossible to dive the remainder of the day or the following day. So the captain decided to return to port. This of course was a massive shock and disappointment to the team but it was the captain's decision. As you can well imagine, the sentiment on the trip home was not unhappiness about the project being called early, but thankfulness for the 4 dives we did manage to get.
Looking back on the project I feel very lucky to have taken part of this well organized and efficiently run project. From the very beginning Sebastian P had it very well planned and organized. We all had loading and unloading duties, and each member pulled their weight to make the dives possible. The crew of the ship “Zodiak” was outstanding. They really helped and never complained about the long days of putting people in and pulling people out. The crew members were extremely enthusiastic and supported us by all means possible. In return, every evening we presented video materials from each dive. Janusz and Jacek from Marine Department provided complex sonar shoots of the wreck which were really helpful in getting more familiar with the GZ topography before hitting the water. All the sonar shoots, along with historical photos of Graf Zepelin, filled the walls of the mess giving us time each meal to study and discuss the wreck details and share our dive impressions with other teams. A most special thanks goes to Lukasz and Tymak (my fellow UTD Instructors) who diligently filled all the cylinders for every dive, every day. They sometimes worked until 2:00 am to ensure that gas was blended and ready for diving. Without their hard work and dedication I don’t think we could of done the dives we did, especially not two per day. Another special thanks to Sebastian for securing the permissions to conduct the dive and then coordinating such a well orchestrated project. Hooray Hooray to Seba.
Pages taken from the actual Project Proposal.
The project was conducted by Baltic Wreck Society in cooperation with Gdynia Marine Department and Hiperbaric Medine Institute in Gdynia. Sebastian Popek was the project manager and also came up with the idea of the expedition.
The purpose of the diving expedition to the wreck of “ the only German aircraft carrier “Graf Zeppelin” are as follows:
a. Making detailed photographic documentation of the wreck
b. Making detailed video documentation of the wreck
c. Collecting bottom samples in the neighborhood of the wreck.
d. Checking the wreck for existence of possible dangerous materials.
e. Preparing detailed descriptive documentation of the wreck.
f. Checking if the wreck could possibly be opened for general scuba diving.
Preparation of the expedition.
Maximum safety and minimum risk is the basic assumption for this deep diving expedition. This means that each person diving on the wreck should have the relevant qualifications, be properly prepared and have the experience required for this sort of diving. Since deep diving always involves a risk of decompression sickness, the divers must have ensured access to a decompression chamber with medical support.
All divers will have all necessary technical equipment required to ensure maximum safety during the dives.
Baltic Wrecks Association will provide support in form of two independent compressors for filing diving tanks and sufficient supply of gases for mixing artificial breathing mixtures for deep diving ( helium, oxygen, argon).
To make the best use of the limited time the divers will have on the wreck and carry out safely all the assigned tasks, the whole team must be very well prepared and experienced. Therefore it was assumed that each diver must have:
• Full trimix certificate from a reputable diver certification agency.
• Have the complete diving equipment suitable for conducting safe dives to the depth of 82 meters.
• own a diver propulsion vehicle (DPV) and be experienced in wreck diving using a DPV.
• have a valid diver's insurance,
• Have the appropriate documented experience in wreck diving to the depths of 90 m in Baltic Sea conditions,
• Have current medical confirming physical fitness for this type of diving.
After verification it was decided that the team will consist of 12 divers:
• Sebastian Popek – diver / expedition manager
• Andrew Georgitsis – diver/ video camera
• Tomasz Stachura – diver/photography
• Robert Klein – diver
• Łukasz Piórewicz – diver/video camera
• Marek Podgórczyk – diver / lighting
• Dimitrios Stavrokakis – diver
• Clemens Schützenhofer - diver
• Oliver Ferner-Prantner – diver / video camera
• Anders Palm – diver/ video camera
• Anders Nasman - diver / video camera
• Jan Zilina - diver / video camera
Documenting the wrec
The expedition is scheduled for the for the May 4 - 15, 2009 and will take five diving days.
The first day will be used for setting the uplines and connecting them with guidelines which will facilitate navigation on the wreck for photo/video teams during following dives and increase safety indicating quick route to the uplines.
Four uplines will be tied up to the wreck, in the following locations:
• Superstructure – front
• Superstructure – end
Furthermore on the first day dive teams will leave on the wreck near the uplines additional tanks with bottom and deco gases for emergency use.
All dives will be conducted in three men teams. This will allow creation of efficient task teams focused on performing assigned activities.
Each day 3, three men dives teams will descend to the wreck and perform planned tasks. Sixth team will be providing surface support and will rotate each day with other teams. At all time during diving operations the members of the surface support team will be ready to descent and provide support underwater.
Each diving team will consist of a person performing a specific task (taking pictures, video or collecting samples) and two assisting divers. If possible each team will make two dives during the day, however this will depend mostly on weather and sea conditions and the final decision on the number of dives will be made during the expedition.
The following gas mixes will be used to dive the wreck;
• Trimix 18/45 – dives to the deck and shallower areas of the wreck.
• Trimix 15/55 and 10/70 – dives to the deck in deeper areas of the wreck.
• Oxygen, EAN 50 and EAN 32 as decompression gases.
Use of the above mentioned diving mixtures will ensure maximum safety of all planned dives.
Diving vessel has the size and facilities allowing:
• Safe water entry and exit for the divers using a diver’s lift, diver’s ladder or RIB type boat.
• Stowing equipment sets (including tanks, DPV additional and personal equipment for 12 divers.
• All these requirements are met by diving vessel “Zodiac” which will be used for this expedition. It has appropriately equipped deck, divers lift and RIB type boat for support.
For safety reasons each person participating the project will receive first aid and oxygen provider training. Specialist first aid oxygen provider sets for administering oxygen in case of diving accidents will be present on board at all times. The dive boat crew and the members of the project team will be equipped in telecommunication equipment for contacting hyperbaric facility if needed. Furthermore during the whole expedition the management of the project will stay in contact with the hyperbaric medicine experts from hyperbaric facility in Gdynia.