|Thanks for your inquiry as to the Empress. Our operation is not typical of the dive shops you are familiar with, we operate worldwide, it happens that our offices are here in Quebec, at least for now, but we will go where the need is. You must understand that our clients vary a great deal in their needs and resources, we do not try and get clients to fit into our schedule but we design programs to fit with the client. Hence, we do not have course or trip schedules as per say, each client has his or her own program, true we may combine people in a particular situation as it is often advantageous for all but each person retains their own program.
Both July and August are very good times to go to the Empress, June is a terrible time to try and go, Id go as far as saying it is a waste of time. The visibility will be very poor, as low as one foot and the tide charts indicate that it would probably be a horror show at that time. You should keep in mind that the very end of September and October can be very ruff. . This due to both the tails of southern hurricanes and the effects of the North Atlantic Flow. Some years it is O.K. but others you can get blown out for a week at a time in this period. In my opinion, for what it is worth, July to mid September are best bets, plus at least the onshore temperature is decent. As it stands now I will be keeping a crew in the Empress area all summer long, so you should pick your dates and there is a good chance we can accommodate your group on their first or second choice of dates. Confirmed bookings are coming in earlier than ever, there is space now but in the next few weeks things will fill up so it is time to reserve now to get what you want. There could be a shortage of boats, crews and hotels this year, as it appears that the sinking of a warship in the area will attract a lot of preliminary actions. Most good people on site will have commitments to this project, another reason to book as soon as possible. We are using a number of vessels with varying numbers of divers from 4 to 8 depending on their gear configuration. We can use two or three boats if it is a larger group to cover us. We will make arrangements for your group based on need and desire.
Basically we do two dives a day; the daily schedule is dependent on nature, that is the tide and the wind. This is not a pond but very much the ocean and a tricky patch of water as the Capt. of the Empress found out. Our goal is to give you the best dive conditions and that is only achieved by respecting the sea. More than once I had my guests up at 4:00 and at the site before first light, sure it was calm as glass but I heard a lot of grumbling as to our early departure time. The dive went great and we were back at the hotel by 8:00 and by that time the waves were 5 on the Empress. They stayed that way till 14:00 when we went back out in the waves but on the site by 15:00 it was glass again for about an hour, a great dive and then homeward bound in the waves. A schedule like this can go on for a week then the dives can go at 10:00 and 13:00 for a bit. What Im saying is I cant guarantee great dives but I will do all I can to try and not fight Neptune.
The water is at or just above freezing, long gone are the days I will use a wet suit, sure there are strokes that still dive in wets but not with me nor with my team (we like to see Argon as well). You hit the wreck around 90 and most of the dive is in the 120 range, you can get 150 with a shovel. We like to consider 15 as doable and pleasant vis for especially first timers. The current can be 0 with good timing and luck or it can rip but this is more a surface function, the wreck is usually not as bad but you can do the flag at deco.
You probably have the right stuff. If not we will show you and guide you. My staff are all IT or CD both Rec. and Tech. and I am Workshop Director both Rec. and Tech. My most Jr. guy has been an Instructor worldwide for 10 years and has about 50 dives on the Empress; the rest of the crew is even more weathered. We always have at least one safety diver in the water and a 95% ready rescue diver with the right gear on the boat. Shes not that deep but laying on her side, heavily rusted, caved in and all the rest she can cause a mess of hurt. My goal is that there are never any empty chairs at dinner only smiling faces.
The sport of diving is constantly evolving and changing. Just over a decade ago the wisdom of the day said; back floatation B.C.s would drown you, twin cylinders would bend you, monsters below 130 feet would eat you and any gas except air was a Voodoo Gas from Satan. Still there were those who did not buy the wisdom they questioned, experimented, explored and pushed the envelope. Today there is virtually no area of sport diving that has not had a positive and ongoing effect from technical diving. We work very closely with NAUI Tech Ops. All our materials and programs are the product of a think tank collective of the best minds in technical diving science. We are in constant contact with the cutting edge of diving be it scientific, commercial or military. Our courses are always evolving to reflect the latest in developments as they become available or declassified, from the latest in decompression theory and modeling (R.G.B.M.) to the best tested equipment configurations (W.K.P.P.). We embrace the doing it right philosophy. Our courses will train you in real life scenarios, in which we will coach you to think rather try and memorize some hypothetical situation. Our goal is not to train divers to be certified but to be fully qualified to actually make the types of dives they want to.
For your expedition we can give you Nitrox, Heliotrox, air if you insist, 02 for deco, we will cut personalized computer deco programs and much more, if you like we can include a tech course or two for your personal/professional development. All our pricing is 100% all-inclusive, (meals, lodging, boats, gas, guides, and land tours) that means that once you book youll only have your car gas to pay. Like they say the best surprise is no surprise. There are only three important things to an Empress trip for a group like yours; preparation, preparation and preparation, you cant leave anything to the last minute and you need back-up plans. Given enough time it is all doable and doable right. I have a few comments I have found help answer a lot of questions for guests:
-intrigue of diving an intact liner in Canadian waters- yes she is a liner, approaching 600, and liners are not cargoes or war ships, they are very complicated and confusing.
-intact, if you mean in one piece, yes. If you mean when she went down, 87 years ago, yes. Other than that she is far from intact. Several decks have collapsed, the poor quality steel is ravaged, all carbon based material (hence color differences) is gone, she lies on her side so orientation is bizarre.
-argon really can make a difference, especially on multi-day, two dives per day trips. The difference may be small on one or two days but over time the difference is noticeable. I just dont see the honor in pain.
-surface supplied deco gas is not a good risk, lots of good people have tried it, it can work but it is a better bet to carry it. With the changing tide rarely is the boat on a perpendicular line. Plus if you cant get back to your boat line there are two other mooring lines you could use but milk and cookies are not served so you best have your own.
-ah, up to date deck plans- as to up to date, well see in the summer what the winter has done to her. There is one living creature, Ernest, that does have the up to date info. This sea otter type of animal sort of lives on her but Ive never been able to convince him to do a drawing, still he gets in and out pretty good so I guess hes got the plans down. To the best of my knowledge there exist no real plans for the inside at this time. We have hand drawn notes made on the original deck plans that are pretty good. It would not do you any good to look at these on your own, youd not understand much, but we can brief you once there and youll get a picture.
-penetration, there are several very good penetrations that will turn your crank. It is tricky due to decay and orientation. For example; I have seen divers 50/75 back in the area of the 2nd class kitchen, there is a BIG hole directly above a BIG stove and they never saw it and had to back out the way they went in. There is an easier way and a harder way to do things and I prefer the easier. Once there if you listen carefully you should be fine. Remember that you can do 50 good dives on the outside and still not see all the gnarly stuff.
-As a comment, a lot of people have seen the show on the Empress on Discovery Channel and come away with very different opinions. Real good divers see these strokes and think that if jerks like this can dive her, anyone can. Less experienced divers listen to the exaggerated hype and believe that this is a death trap. The reality is neither but at the same time is both. The people who shot this show had almost as much gear and support as Ballard had on the Titanic and still most of the footage was bought from Terry German. It is true that people dive the Empress with the absolute minimum of gear, experience and planning and live. It is also true the best in the world can have a very, very bad day here. Keep in mind that if your people have seen this show they could have some faulty notions. Two of my associates have several hundred dives each on the Empress and neither of them takes anything for granted or assume they have all the answers. As to the price, we best wait till you have dates and numbers, that way there is no confusion. As I said I organize 100% all inclusive 1st class expeditions and there are 1001 variables to consider that will impact on the success and most of these you will want to control as you know your group. I may know the target but to make this a mutual success we need to get as close to your dreams as we can. I do not want to sound like Im pushing you but the sooner you commit the better. Every year we have people that are disappointed cause there is no space left once they decide. There is only one operator on the Empress so your options are with Jean Pierre and me. As I said we do custom trips, it is your adventure not mine, so I need to talk with you and find out your wish list and Ill try and make it happen. The best thing is to give me a call, 24/7 (we never sleep in the dive business), and in short order we can get you a first class program.
Looking forward to being at your service.
Capt. Gary Kulisek and the Crew