July 29 SS Tahoe Dive

Saturday 29 July, 2017, New Millennium Dive Expeditions (NMDE) executed the 11th safe and successful dive upon the Steamer Tahoe (SS Tahoe); the last visit to Her was in September of 2010.

Supporting the dive was NMDE founding member and Boat Operations Supervisor, Marc Briseno and Ben Brodie (New Zealand) as NMDE’s guest Divemaster.  A huge thanks has to go out to these two on the surface as they manage hundreds of pounds of gear in getting the divers “kitted-up”,  keeping the dangerous weekend boaters, prevalent upon Tahoe’s waters this time of year, away from the divers below (it is amazing how much ignorance there is to a dive flag, even by “Professional” boat operators),  gathering the surfaced gear when no longer needed below as sent upward utilizing a lift-bag (one of several the divers carry throughout the dive) , keeping vigilance on the underwater team should any surface support be needed and finally, getting the divers and the hundreds of pounds of equipment out of the water.

The dive team visiting the wreck was comprised of Kevin Dow (a member of the Bay Area Underwater Explorers and a GUE JJ CCR certified Tech 2 diver) and Martin McClellan of NMDE (resume); this was Martin’s 11th dive since 2002.  Kevin is now the 5th diver to visit the SS Tahoe (there are possibly other divers that may have dove the SS Tahoe but nothing has been reported as documenting their efforts).

Kevin Dow (L) and Martin McClellan – First met on the Nekton/Project Baseline mission in Bermuda 2016.
This 11th SS Tahoe dive was their first dive as a team in Tahoe. (Photo: Ben Brodie)

NMDE is preparing for a rather grand SS Tahoe Photogrammetry expedition project (X-Ray Online Magazine: Pushing the Altitude – The Quest to Document the SS Tahoe) and as such, Saturday’s mission was to 1) introduce Kevin to High Altitude Technical Diving, the SS Tahoe and the “Safe Operating Procedures” as developed by NMDE over the past 17 years of diving the site, 2) to examine the site infrastructure, 3) test some video camera mounts and racks for the forthcoming project now slated for 2018 and 4) gather an image of the Forecastle opening for Project Baseline Lake Tahoe (see comparison images below).

The day began at Cave Rock around 7am and divers submerged about 8:30am.   The profile was for about a 26 to 28-minute bottom time with approximately 200-minutes of decompression.  The maximum depth would be 400’/122m with an average maximum depth of about 300’/90m.  The divers surfaced at about 12:30pm with an actual runtime of 228 minutes.  Diving in Lake Tahoe at elevation of 6229’/1899m, with a planned max average depth of 300’/90m typically requires at least 8 minutes of decompression for every ONE (1) minute at the max average depth; this has been determined by experience not science.  Please do not consider this a guideline for your dive team; it is not.

A beautiful day at Lake Tahoe.  Great location for divers to gear up and prepare for a dive of this complexity and challenge. (Photo: Ben Brodie)

As Martin reports, “the algae bloom is in full swing and is thicker that I have ever experienced.  It begins at about 150 – 190’/45m-57m and it is hard to tell at what depth it stops because it was simply incredibly dark, darker than I have ever seen!”

At depth, the water was fairly clear but the ambient light…like walking through a forest at night without a flashlight; none to speak of.  The water temperature was about 41f/5c, “that woke you up”, Martin exclaimed.

The ship is still in remarkable condition as noted and commented upon several times by Kevin.  It is hard to understand the scope of this wreck as it sits on such a steep slope (32-34 degree slope) and is 170’/51m in length with the bow sitting in 360’/110m and the stern resting in 470’/143m.  However, Kevin’s enthusiastic comment was, “she has an incredibly sleek profile and long.  I had no idea as descending along the ship to 400’/120m using the ship as a reference to the mid-ship section below the smoke stack was an optical illusion!  When we turned to head back to the bow we were basically looking straight up at the bow.  That was incredible!”

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Forecastle opening about 370’/113m in 2002
Note the “freshwater rusticles” along the upper edge of the image.
Image taken from a video clip of dive #3 in 2002 (Sony TRV900 with 18w HID Sartek lights)

 Forecastle opening about 370’/113m
Note the GROWTH in the “freshwater rusticles” along the upper edge of the image- 15years.
Image taken from a video clip of dive #11 in 2017 (GoPro5 with Big Blue 15000 lumen lights)


The Port side wall of the Smoking Room (Bow Superstructure) below the Bridge.
This is the only wall that remains standing in this area. 


Port side Bollards.
This is the rope that the Quitcha Kidn used to tow the SS Tahoe to her grave – 30 August 1940


Commemorative plaque placed by NMDE during dive # 4 in 2002
Note Kevin Dow photobombing this image