On the weekend of April 29 – May 1, 2022 ten BAREG divers descended on the Gulf Coast town of Pensacola, Florida for the group’s annual dive on USS Oriskany, an Essex class carrier with a long and proud service record. In a very welcome development, two of our Canadian members were on this year’s trip, appropriately reflecting the Allied contribution during the Battle of the Atlantic.

We once again chartered with H20 Below, who have provided the group with great service on previous trips. As it happened, Captain Doug decided that conditions on Saturday were not favourable for dive operations, so we redeployed on a tour of the National Naval Aviation Museum, located on the grounds of Naval Air Station Pensacola. Fred and Jay escorted the group onto the station, and we spent a fascinating day amongst the many legendary aircraft flown by the US Navy. We were able to walk amongst, and get a close look at authentic Navy aircraft that flew in WWI and WWII, Korean and Vietnam wars, as well as more recent conflicts. Being divers, we spent some time examining the museum’s scale aircraft carrier model, in particular that of USS Essex  as it allowed us to visualize and discuss a number of dive plans for Oriskany. This was especially helpful for those of us who had not dived her before. 

Sunday saw better conditions on the Gulf, and after sorting paperwork at the dock we embarked on the one-hour boat ride to The Mighty O. Upon arrival at the site we were happy to see ours was the only boat mooring over the wreck site. H20 Below is a very professional operation, and only after the DM had set the rigging and deco lines, and checked conditions underwater were teams cleared to jump in.
Visibility was good, around 80’, and on our blue water descent we noticed two resident reef sharks calmly cruising past the island at about 100’. A very stiff current met us at the top of the island, and although this made for a somewhat less relaxed dive than hoped for, it was nothing that strong finning (or a scooter!) could not deal with and all teams stayed together and in close contact throughout their dives.

Some of the teams with experience of the Oriskany went deep, with some penetration, and one team scootered to the bow, approximately 400 ft from the base of the island. Some of us new to Oriskany dove the island, from 150 ft at the flight deck to about 80 ft at the top of the stack. The huge island offers much to see, and the admiral’s, navigation, and flight controller’s bridges provide some good see-throughs. An impressive view of the flight deck is had from the aft flight controller’s bridge, as this position necessitated a clear and comprehensive view of the deck during flight operations.
Ascending to the line, we noticed a huge school of rather large blue-gray fish hovering in the current at about 70 ft, quite reminiscent of a tropical reef! We were then joined on our 20 ft deco stop by a good number of curious, but very chill barracuda.  
After run times of 90 – 115 minutes, all teams were back on the boat for the ride back to the dock. 

Sunday night a few of us convened for dinner at the Water Pig BBQ restaurant on Pensacola Beach. Great BBQ with good company on the beach was a fantastic end to a great day of diving. Three divers returned to the Oriskany Monday, and from all reports enjoyed stellar dive conditions again, with less current than on Sunday’s dive. Having now done my (long-awaited) inaugural dive on Oriskany, I am very eager to return to dive her again in 2023!  

Greg Hannigan, BAREG Member

WBA

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