Home at last, oddly reflective, and thankful…

I arrived home early on Tuesday morning, after a month on the road. Bags filled with memories of a wonderful expedition that had its challenges, but which has already produced some positive results.

Last dive of the mine quest  expedition
Steve and Cas conducted the final cleanup dive on the last day of work in the Bell Island Mine.

On Wednesday, a friend/colleague sent an email congratulating the #Minequest team on the “successful conclusion” of our project. I thanked her for the thought but pointed out that the project is far from concluded… in reality, it has just started. What we wrapped up last week was simply one small aspect of a rather large master plan… getting a circuit marked surveys and ready for visiting divers to follow.

What begins for the team now, having finished our underwater work (for the time-being), is to spread the word about the #bellislandmine and the historical significance or it and the four WWII wrecks sitting on the floor of the Tickle just a few kilometers from the mine entrance.

TED ED jill Heinerth
Jill Heinerth spearheading TED ED outreach

Another aspect is the ongoing educational commitments made on behalf of the project. Several members of the team toured local schools with a “show ‘n’ tell” immediately following the wrap in the mine. The reception from kids was “awesome” literally

Jill Heinerth also spearheaded a TED ED outreach bringing kids from around the globe into direct contact with explorers.

Stay tuned for more on this score as the year rolls on.

One other ongoing aspect is the impact made on divers participating in decompression research conducted during the project #drnealpollock #DAN #diveresearch. Several of the team, all experienced technical divers, and many teaching advanced decompression techniques, left Bell Island with a slightly altered, perhaps more circumspect view of #divesafety and the vagaries of decompression stress thanks to Dr. Neal Pollock and his research associate, Stefanie Martina from Divers Alert Network.

It’s a wrap!

The Bell Island Project, #minequest, or at least the 2016 diving phase of it, has essentially wrapped with most of our expectations met. We set an ambitious list of goals and a couple of boxes remain un-ticked thanks to logistical, equipment, weather issues, but also simply being a victim of a short working schedule.

Overall, the outcome is truly positive. #OceanQuestAdventures #divebellisland and #bellislandmine have world-class potential if the mine is added the the #bellislandwrecks as an adventure dive destination.

I am looking forward to the time… In the near future… When I can bring students and other divers here for a really remarkable historic and cultural experience.

The educational outreach aspect of the project is now underway.

Royal Canadian Geographical Society Bell Island Mine Expedition
A proud Royal Canadian Geographical Society Expedition of the Year with fellows Rick Stanley, Jill Heinerth and Steve Lewis in the front row.

No room at the inn… We took it all

We last stragglers packed up our gear, finished our post-dive battery of testing for DAN, and headed to the ferry… But the ferry wasn’t going anywhere tonight and eight of us (Rick, Sabine, Jill, Cas, Mark, Neal, Stefanie, and me), were on the other side of the Tickle from our street clothes, food, and beds.

Here’s a tip, pick the company you travel with carefully. Certainty in mind, only go on a dive expedition with folks who can see the funny side of being stranded on an island without any prospect of being fed, washed, and tucked into a warm bed for the night.

But as bleak as things seemed, the community on Bell Island, and in particular the owners of Grand Wabana Inn, came through once more… Opening their doors to us, and feeding us breakfast for supper.

Cas and Rick even managed to find toothpaste and brushes for us all… I’m getting mine framed as a reminder of a fun experience, if we ever make it back.

Weather playing havoc with team travel

The eastern-most portion of North America is not blessed with the mildest, most timid winter weather… Fact is, it’s cold, snowy, windy, and inhospitable for months… Short hours of daylight too. Not great for air travel, and true to type, two of our team (Gemma Smith and Phil Short), spent an unscheduled layover in Halifax on their journey in.

So why organize an expedition in winter?

Simply a case of access. The Bell Island Mine museum is closed to visitors which gives us full range of the facility… DAN researchers Neal Pollock, and Stefanie Martina running ultrasound scans on the museum floor, and taking blood draws in the theatre, rebreathers and drysuits drying on racks, other dive gear in semi-organized piles, tea, coffee and food catered in the snack bar, and the film crew spreading equipment in the spaces in-between.

Certainly not much difference between temps in the mine… Chilly and super humid in the approach to the water, six-degrees below the surface.

Getting the lid to close

I have been on the road teaching in North Florida for about three weeks and now have to take a serious look at a rental SUV filled to the roof with dive paraphernalia, clothes, and coolers to sort out what must ship to Newfoundland, what it would be nice but inessential, and things like shorts and short-sleeve shirts that can be left behind. It’s a daunting process, and is giving me night sweats. To make things more exciting, I change days and airlines in Toronto… God knows how I hate traveling with checked baggage, but my guess is 90 kilos of gear just won’t fit in the overhead or beneath the seat in front of me… Even in business class.

Project of the year…

Royal Canadian Geographical SocietyWe have just heard from The Royal Canadian Geographical Society to learn that The Bell Island Expedition has been honored as their Expedition of the Year.

Of course, the entire team is extremely proud to have our project picked for this accolade, and for the opportunities it opens up to work with the RCGS to promote Canadian exploration, and education.

The Royal Canadian Geographical Society is dedicated to promoting and enhancing public awareness for Canadian geography, and to strengthening the bond between Canadians and their diverse and vast geographical heritage.

As one of Canada’s oldest and largest educational, non-profit organizations, the RCGS, and its iconic publication, Canadian Geographic, has been Canada’s most recognized voice for connecting Canadians with the land, culture and environment in which they live.

Now things are starting to get exciting

As the days tick down, preparations for Mine Quest are truly picking up speed. The process is somewhat mitigated because at least Newfoundland is not so remote that forgetting to pack some little but essential piece of hardware would probably not be a total disaster… not quite the same pressures as an expedition to jungle or the arctic; but pressure nevertheless.

The Explorers Club

Several great developments during the past few days. And one of the sweetest is that we got word that our team will be carrying an Explorers’ Club Flag.

These have been and continue to be part of the history of exploration. Explorers Club flags have been carried on hundreds of expeditions in the past 100 years, and represent one of the key principles of the Club’s mission: To engage in scientific exploration and share the results.

Explorers Club flags have been to both poles, to the highest peaks of the greatest mountain ranges, to the depths of the ocean, and to outer space. Now we get to take one for a trip to Bell Island, Newfoundland.

Also, the list of sponsors is growing… Our friends at Shearwater and Sub-Gravity are now supporting team members with products we know, trust, and are happy to depend on in the toughest conditions.Sub-Gravity expedition grade gear

Shearwater Computer Products

And I would like to thank…

volunteers prepare surface staging area in Bell Island MineIn case you ever have to juggle “leadership”aspects of an underwater enterprise with many moving parts, and a whole bunch of so-called key personnel, each accomplished in their field. Here’s a secret tip to getting it off to a good start.

First and foremost, hope for quality support from the folks who really matter… the ones who do all the prep work for nothing more than the camaraderie, and a sandwich.

With that in place, the rest is a breeze.

As Jill Heinerth and I sit in the warm, coffee in hand, drawing up the framework of Mine Quest’s SOPs, a team of Golf cart for carrying supplies to water's edgefolks are working in the cool and damp putting the finishing touches to surface infrastructure in the mine. And from the pictures we seen, they have far exceeded expectations. I cannot imagine a better way to start a project, than to have these folks getting things ready for us.

Of course, it’s not all about Mine Quest. One of the project goals is to finally open Bell Island Mine as an adventure dive tourism destination, to complement and enhance the attraction of the four historic WWII shipwrecks resting a few hundred metres away on the bottom of Conception Bay South.

To be successful on that score, several pieces have to fit perfectly in place when we “go live” on February 15. However, thanks to the work of our support team, Bell Island Mine is starting to look like a really top-knotch dive destination!

Many thanks to all… but special gratitude to the folks wielding pickaxes, shovels, hammers and saws :

Ros Hurley, Jack Wood, Marcia and Mark McGowan, John Olivero, Nick Dawe, Kyle Morgan, Teresita and Des McCarthy, Ron Reid, and Bonnie and Tom Spracklin, Cecil Johnson, Holly Green, Debbie and Jillian Stanley, and others.