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    Saturday, April 20, 2024

    Diving enthusiasts unite for annual symposium

    There are hundreds of shipwrecks littering the bottom of Long Island Sound, and Pat Casey of Preston has seen his fair share during his decades of scuba diving.

    The wrecks run the gamut from tugboats, schooners and steam ships to submarines, fishing boats and barges. There is even an fairly accessible German U-boat, the U-853, which was sank in the waters off Rhode Island during the Battle of Point Judith in the final days of World War II.

    Casey joined diving enthusiasts on Saturday, about 75 in all, at the University of Connecticut Avery Point campus in Groton for the fifth annual New England Wreck Symposium. The daylong event brought together those who share a love of diving for a series of informational presentations.

    There is a certain thrill in exploring sunken vessels, Casey said, along with viewing the marine life that gathers at those sites.

    “I love being under the water. It’s very peaceful,” Casey said.

    Casey set up a display at Saturday’s event with a variety of items recovered by himself and other divers from shipwrecks in the region. The collection included a 100-year-old engine order telegraph, a spyglass, sexton and inkwell.

    The event was co-sponsored by the The Avery Point Scuba Club and Southeastern Connecticut (SECONN) Skin Divers, a regional scuba dive club. The event also serves as a fundraiser for the two groups.

    “Each year, we bring in a different collection of speakers to present on topics relating to all aspects of local wreck diving,” said SECONN Skin Diver club member Alexandra Frenzel, 24, of Milford.

    The talks ranged from diving first aid and new technology to explorations in diving in Long Island Sound and New England lakes.

    Among speakers on Saturday was Diver of the Year Barry Lipsky of the Long Island Divers Association and Captain Denis Habza, who dives wrecks throughout the region and documents those dives on his Squalus Marine Divers You Tube channel.

    “In the past, we have had talks ranging from discoveries of new local wrecks to marine imaging technologies and dive medicine,” Frenzel said. “We see it as a great opportunity for our club members at Avery Point to gain exposure to the larger diving community and get connected with the older generation that have a wealth of knowledge about our local waters.”

    The only other conferences of this kind are hours away, Frenzel said, so the creation of this event has made it more locally accessible.

    SECONN President Ryan Patrylak, 36, of Brooklyn, a scuba instructor, said group members regularly gather at Dubois Beach in Stonington, one of the few local beaches accessible to divers. Along with the native marine animals, Patrylak said there is also a nearby “bottle dump” where divers might find antique glass.

    His group gathers annually for events that include an Earth Day dive and cleanup in the Connecticut River and another dive off City Pier in New London, part of the International Coastal Cleanup Day. Patrylak said typical finds off City Pier in New London include skateboards, bikes, “a lot of Solo cups,” and in the past have included the recovery of a handgun and a sealed container with someone’s cremated remains. The ashes were returned to the water, he said.

    Frenzel, a technician in the biogeochemistry lab at Avery Point and working toward a master’s degree in oceanology, said diving Long Island Sound can be challenging because of the cooler water and lower visibility.

    “It’s not like the Caribbean with crystal clear waters but if you know what your’re looking for it’s rewarding,” she said. “You definitely have to know how to use a compass, lights and watch the latest weather conditions because it will affect the dive that day.”

    Anyone who wants to get started in scuba diving should visit SECONN or a dive shop for more information. Patrylak said a beginner can expect to pay up to $1,000 to get started and more once someone starts buying equipment.

    g.smith@theday.com

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