Dive back into time next month at the Museum of New Jersey Maritime History in Beach Haven.On Friday, Sept. 12, at 7 p.m., veteran deep-sea divers Chuck Zimmaro and Tom Roach return to the museum, located at the corner of Dock Road and West Avenue, with their presentation on "Early East Coast Wreck Diving."which has an emphasis on diving off New Jersey's shore.
"They're old-time divers." Said museum curator Deborah Whitcraft of Zimmaro and Roach, who used to dive out of Beach Haven and Barnegat Inlet 20 years ago."That's what we call them.They're among the rare breed that, even at this stage of their lives, still dives, and they share their experiences…And they are just so knowledgeable."
Zimmaro, of Harleysville, PA and Roach, of Philadelphia, began diving in the 1960s – Zimmaro in 1966 and Roach in 1969 – for, as Zimmaro explained, "the thrill of discovery." and the challenge of exploration into the deep unknown.
Their presentation will focus, in part, on the individuals who formed the Eastern Divers Association, of which Roach is president.At its height, in the 1970's, the EDA had about 100 members, which included members from Virginia to Connecticut.
As Roach calculated, 4 percent of the EDA members died during their dives.The sport, though, is much safer today that it was a couple of decades earlier.Now divers receive more formal training, boats are built specifically for diving, and advancements in equipment led to fewer equipment failures.
Wreck diving, though, still carries with it an aura of risk and mystery.The sport, as well, touches profoundly on history.When a ship goes down, it becomes a time capsule, noted Zimmaro.Elsewhere, time moves forward, on that ship, time stands still, preserved.
New Jersey specifically, Whitcraft noted, is a favorite spot for divers because "there are more shipwrecks per square mile than any other state in the country."
And, she added, "New Jersey wreck-diving is certainly among the most challenging of its kind because of the cold, rough water and decreased visibility.
Whitcraft, who had a diving business years ago, remarked that the sport has unfortunately faded significantly from this area: in fact, there are no longer any dive shops on Long BeachIsland."There's no shortage of wrecks, just a shortage of diving businesses." She pointed out.
"Over 7000 known shipwrecks sit off the coast of New Jersey." remarked Zimmaro."some dating as far back as the Revolutionary War, and some as current as last year."And as Whitcraft noted, this number represents just the documented shipwrecks.
"We have a rich collection of disasters" off the JerseyShore, she pointed out, and the area residents now have the chance to explore these wrecks.– minus the danger and diving suits – through Zimmaro and Roach's presentation, which includes a verbal introduction followed by a PowerPoint program, set to music, along with some private collection photos.
Zimmaro and Roach will also take questions from the audience as well as show diving equipment from 30 and 40 years ago.
"There is no better venue to present this show than the Museum of New Jersey Maritime History in Beach Haven." said Zimmaro."You are literally surrounded by the history that we describe in our presentation.At the museum, not only will you 'see' maritime history up on the screen, you can 'feel' it, 'touch' it, 'smell' it and practically taste it, too."
Reservations are required to attend the limited-seating event, and while there is no admission fee, contributions are greatly appreciated.The museum will be open all day up until the presentation, Whitcraft noted, and light refreshments will be provided during the event.
For more information or to reserve a spot, call the museum at 492-0202.
ASBURY PARK PRESS
Wreck sports extraordinaires: Divers describe thrills, dangers of undersea trips
By JESSICA INFANTE • Staff Writer • December 15, 2007
None of them could deter the members of the Eastern Divers Association from descending below the ocean's surface to investigate the murky unknown.
EDA members Tom Roach and Chuck Zimmaro described the world of East Coast wreck diving in the 1960s and '70s during a presentation Nov. 30 at the Museum of New Jersey Maritime History in Beach Haven. It marked the first public presentation held at the museum, which opened in July, said Deborah C. Whitecraft, owner and former mayor.
"Diving itself is the only sport I know that allows its participants to go back in time," Zimmaro said. "Divers are time travelers. When a ship goes down, time stops for that ship."
EDA divers explored shipwrecks off the coast of New Jersey and the Eastern seaboard, including the Andrea Doria, the Stolt Dagali, the Ayuruoca, the Resor, the Goulandris and Texas Tower 4. Members were the first to clear the nets off the Stolt Dagali, a Norwegian tanker, and were the first to identify the Goulandris, a Greek shipping vessel, Zimmaro said.
"In many cases it was an EDA diver who got to the wreck first," Zimmaro said.
The diving world owes much to the EDA for its discoveries, but EDA owes much to Roach, its president, for his dedication to the group, Zimmaro said. Under Roach's leadership, EDA members went from taking 215 dives in 1971 to 1,201 in 1976. The group, whose heyday occurred from 1965 to 1979, counted among its divers many members of the military, a funeral director, a Mensa member, and a undercover narcotic cop, among others Zimmaro said.
"It was a veritable cornucopia of individuals," he said.
Zimmaro credited Roach with forming important relationships with local boat captains who took divers out on charters. The boats included the White Star I, II and III out of Barnegat Light, the Captain Clover out of Beach Haven and the R.V. Atlantic Twin out of Point Pleasant, which was the commercial boat EDA used to dive the Andrea Doria wreck, Zimmaro said. The divers and boat captains shared a symbiotic relationship, because the divers could tell the captains what kind of fish inhabited the wrecks and gave them business during the slow winter months, Zimmaro said. EDA members dove all year, no matter the air or water temperature.
"A dive boat captain never questioned the ability of a diver if they were a member of EDA," Zimmaro said.
The equipment EDA members used was a far cry from the high-tech dive gear of today. Wetsuits were made of rigid black material that often tore and needed to be repaired with rubber cement; their fins were rigid, as were their masks and snorkels. Tanks contained 72 cubic feet of air, a paltry amount compared to what divers use today, Zimmaro said. Equipment was not dependable, and failure was frequent.
"Hopefully you wore a waterproof watch, your Seaview gauge, and you knew the Lord's Prayer," he said.
Roach, who said his favorite wreck to dive is the Ayuruoca, which lies 35 miles off the Barnegat Inlet, has dove several wrecks of submarines including German U-boats, some of which contained the remains of their occupants. While divers are now prohibited from taking artifacts from sunken warships, they were not during EDA's time.
"I'd tell them, "Take anything you want, but don't touch no bones,' " Roach said of U-boat dives with EDA crews.
There were many moments when Roach was frightened, he said. And for good reason: 4 percent of EDA divers perished during their dives, Zimmaro said.
"Anybody that says they weren't scared is lying," Roach said. "Not all the time, but we pushed the envelope."
Divers once got by on rubber suits, gauges and prayer
By DONNA WEAVER Staff Writer, 609-978-2015 (Published: December 1, 2007)
BEACH HAVEN - A crowd of divers and curious spectators packed the Museum of New Jersey Maritime History for a presentation Friday night about early East Coast wreck diving.
Tom Roach and Chuck Zimmaro, who dove with the Eastern Divers Association, or EDA, of which Roach was president, offered a history of the organization - an organization with the motto: "If you can anchor it we can dive it."
"In the 1970s there was a cigarette ad that said, 'You've come a long way baby.' Well, so has diving come a long way," Zimmaro said.
It had meager beginnings, especially when it came to equipment.
Diving suits were made of rigid black rubber that was constantly breaking and was repaired with rubber cement.
"There were no flexible color snorkels; the only color to choose from was black. We had two hose regulators that had brass parts, and plastic parts were not available till the mid 1970s," said Zimmaro.
The silicone equipment divers use today was not available until the 1980s, according to Zimmaro.
"There was also no such thing as an integrated weight system; you used a seaview gauge and wore a waterproof watch, and of course you knew the Lord's Prayer," Zimmaro said.
On a table behind Zimmaro and Roach were artifacts and equipment from EDA's diving days.
An 80-pound telegraph from the Resor wreck of 1942 was one of the artifacts brought up by Roach on a dive in the 1970s, he said.
"I found the telegraph and I was holding and fell on the ground between my feet and through the catwalk. I was on my third dive of the day and had to get up so I went below, found it, put it face down and covered it until I could come back," Roach said.
Roach is lending the telegraph for display at the museum, he said.
The EDA was founded in 1965 and existed until 1979 - from 15 years after the Korean War and through the Vietnam War, Zimmaro said. In 1971 the group had 215 dives under its belt and by 1976, 1,200 dives under Roach's presidency. Nearly 4 percent of the EDA divers died during their dives, Zimmaro said.
"At that time it would be the same as if you all were diving with vets from the first Gulf War and guys that just came back from Iraq last month," Zimmaro said.
The organization was made up of members who were Army paratroopers, chief executive officers, Navy corpsman, an Air Force tail gunner, a fire department captain, two civilian pilots, a funeral director, an underwater narcotics officer from Newark, a dentist, two teachers and two lawyers.
Diving members of the EDA were also responsible for clearing the wreck of the Norwegian tanker Stolt Dagali in 1964, just three weeks after the vessel went down off the coast of Point Pleasant.
The divers cleared the wreck of nets to avoid dangerous conditions and found there were drawers with documents inside, a crewman's record player and telephone, a tube of Norwegian toothpaste and a 20-pound lobster living in the wreck.
"Divers are authentic time travelers; when a ship goes down, time stops for that ship," Zimmaro said.