Some where near the middle of our fair state, just north of Asheboro, is an old rock quarry converted to a scuba diving resort called Blue Stone. On a cloudy Saturday in late July, 2005, the Wilkes County 2004 Hurricane Dive team trekked there. This is the crew whose first open water training dive, to get our scuba licenses, was planned for Key Largo, FL, in August, 2004. That trip was postponed four times (count ‘em – 4) by serial hurricanes.
Paul Anderson was our tour guide, having been to Blue Stone several times. Also along were Dave Smith, Stan and Iris Carmen and Bob Laney. Rance Moore had a conflict.
Blue Stone’s pro shop provides any needed rental equipment, including air tanks. The WC 2004 HDT members had our own equipment except for the tanks, and a few needed weights. We checked in, signed all our rights away and paid the small fee.
We encountered what the owner optimistically called “clear water” conditions, but it looked pretty murky to me. The quarry water was full of some kind of beige algae and visibility was unobstructed for only about 5 feet, with a dim view of maybe 15 feet. The visibility in the Caribbean, where we had all dived many times after obtaining our licenses (this was my 15th and 16th dives) is about 10 times better than this, so we were all put off a little.
The water was quite warm, about 82 degrees for the first 20 feet from the surface. Below that there was a distinct thermocline where the temperature dropped precipitously. I was never able to get a cold temperature reading on my computer since I did not stay down long enough for it to register. For the first time in my life I could see the thermocline – if you get within a few feet of it and look down, the water seems to shimmer, like a heat wave on a summer time paved road.
The fish were there, but limited to a handful of bluegills, smallmouth bass and large carp. The wildlife here cannot hold a candle to the Caribbean. Maybe in retribution - because I was thinking such negative thoughts - a bluegill nipped my arm. Another one swam straight at me and bumped his snout onto my face mask.
In another first for me, I got to play Ranger Bob under water. I make it a habit to assist other hikers, campers, canoers, bikers and skiers on the mountains, slopes and trails, but as a relatively new diver myself, this was a different experience. Iris had trouble with her new buoyancy compensator inflator valve, which was stuck closed. She wisely caught the problem on the dock before she jumped in the water. She had the shop fix it. Then, back at the quarry, she had trouble with her tank strap stretching, which happens when nylon gets wet. Since the gear was all new to her, the fact that the air hose to her mouth was tight and pulling her head back seemed an annoyance, but she was not aware that her tank had fallen off her vest. It was about to pull her head back further, like a cowboy yanking the reins on a bronco. I communicated the problem to her and her dive buddy / husband Stan by signaling “thumbs up,” meaning “go to the surface.” They mistakenly thought that I was terminating my own dive and waved “good-bye!” I had to grab each one by the vest and turn them towards each other [I apologize for thumping each of you on the head…] so that Stan could see the loose tank. Then they successfully ascended and exited to the shore to fix the problem.
Paul and I stayed later and rented a second tank. This time we explored an entire half of the quarry. We cruised around the south border from the dock where we dove in, to the far opposite side, for my longest dive to date. Paul investigated every nook and cranny, taking movie pictures. I tagged along, alternatively in front and behind. By the time we returned to the dock we had logged 1 hour and 10 minutes under water. My estimate is that, counting all the ins and outs of the side coves, we had covered a half mile. For people used to hiking on land, a half mile in an hour and 10 minutes may not sound like much time or distance. But for a beginning diver, it is a marathon. By comparison, many of our Caribbean dives were 40 minutes and a couple hundred yards.
One reason that we could stretch so much time from our dive was that we stayed shallow, averaging 15 – 20 feet. The deeper you dive then the greater the pressure, and the denser is the air exiting from the tank, thus the faster your body uses up the air. By staying shallow our air lasted a lot longer. As we were returning the last few hundred yards I was quite tired and my hips and ankles were getting sore.
I even had my first underwater cramp, which thankfully I was able to stretch out of my thigh and remove. I found that it helped to rest my legs while continuing to move forward by keeping my knees locked straight and just frog kicking with my ankles.
A good time was had by all. Despite the un-exciting conditions, the quarry is a good place to test new gear and practice dive skills.