Archive for the ‘Divers’ Category

Divers Ending Season Early

Friday, September 4th, 2009

This year we had to pull the divers out before Labor Day.  With milfoil still growing strong we were loathe to do it, but the money just was not there.

Here are some photos I took last week as they were relocating sheets of bottom barrier.

Oak begins pulling a sheet of bottom barrier

Oak begins pulling a sheet of bottom barrier

Folding bottom barrier sheets

Folding bottom barrier sheets onto the boat

Divers hand a piece of rebar up to Oak on the boat

Divers hand a piece of rebar up to Oak on the boat

AJ and Leon taking gear off

AJ and Leon taking their gear off

Thanks, guys, for another season of dedication and hard work!

Even the divers have to eat lunch

Thursday, July 30th, 2009


Taking a break from suction harvesting, the dive crew enjoys lunch by the lake.

From left to right: A.J., Tony, Leon, Amber, and Toby

Meet the Divers – 2009 Edition

Thursday, June 18th, 2009
The dive team after a good lunch

The dive team after a good lunch

Our final diver arrived on the lake this week, so our team is up to full strength. We started the season  with a smaller crew for logistical reasons . . . and it helped to economize.

img_3831-2Christopher “A.J.” Beard takes over as Crew Chief this year. A.J. is a certified SSI Dive Master, and is bringing a new level of organization and professionalism to the crew.  A.J. is studying to become a helicopter pilot in the off season, and practices martial arts to stay in top form.

img_3836-2Leon Guedel returns as a diver this year. Last year he was our boat person (a job which will receive further explanation). Leon lives on the lake, and likes to commute to work by boat.  He is a a mechanic, and prefers to specialize in Volkswagens. He has found new homes for many unloved beetles.

img_3832-2Toby Bokum-Fauth also has served on the dive team as oue boat person, and this year is working as a diver. Toby is a student at Wooster College in Ohio, where he throws a javelin for the track team and will be a senior next year.  Toby is interested in composting the milfoil we take out of the lake to turn it into fertilizer, and has received a grant to try out his ideas this summer.  I will write more about his efforts as they progress.

img_3889-2Amber Johnston is new to the crew this year.  She will work this summer as our ‘boat person’.  Her job is to support the divers: swapping empty catch bags for full, policing the area surrounding suction harvester operation for stray fragments, and doing all the odd jobs that let them stay in the water.  Amber received a Masters Degree in Transitional Justice from Dartmouth this year, and will be going to Ruanda at the end of the summer to help start a mental health program.

img_4045-2John Officer is also new to the team this year. John comes to the team through Toby, who has been his friend since high school. John also attends Wooster College, where the two share an apartment. John only just started work this week. I will add to this bio as I get to know him.

Please say hello to the divers when you see them on the lake. They will be glad to meet you, and to answer any questions you might have about milfoil or other aspects of the lake.

The planning map

Friday, June 5th, 2009

This is the map of the lake we use to plan our campaign. This picture was taken at the beginning of this year’s season, but it shows the markings left in September of last year.

Plastic covered grid map of Lake Fairlee

Plastic covered grid map of Lake Fairlee

I took an image file of our grid map LINK down to Kinko’s and they printed a black and white version two feet square for me, then laminated the whole thing in plastic. Quite reasonable. And very useful.  We use ‘dry-erase’ markers to write on it. And then try to keep it dry.

Please ignore some of the comments and cartoons drawn on the map along with the serious information. The divers work hard and play hard!

The Divers Return

Wednesday, May 20th, 2009

The divers began work on May 19th this year. Most of their first week was involved with getting equipment in good repair and ready for the season.

Installing the suction harvester on the pontoon boat

Installing the suction harvester on the pontoon boat

This year we have some new faces on the crew.  We have lost Ira, our crew chief for the past few years.  A.J. Beard, pictured on the left above, will be taking over Ira’s duties.  Toby and Leon will be diving this year – each has previously worked on the crew in past years as the boat person.  I will intorduce them to you at greater length in the future.

Milfoil on a Budget

Wednesday, October 29th, 2008

More than 90% of the money we raise goes to salaries and benefits for our divers. The next portion pays for gasoline for the outboards (increased 50% this year) and for compressed air refills for their tanks.  There are scant extra funds for equipment and repairs.

Sometimes this results in wasted time. This photo was taken one afternoon when the 25Hp Mercury that drives the pontoon boat had broken down.  Ira is visible at the far left trying to crank it, while Leon dragged the pontoon boat and a trash rack full of wet milfoil halfway down the lake with the 8Hp skiff.  It took several days to get the Mercury repaired, and the repairs cost more than they might have because of our hurry to get it back in service.  We have no backup.

We rely on the generosity of our members and friends for our boats.  Most have been donated or home-built.  We are fortunate to have a multi-talented dive crew.  They are regularly able to coax the hydraulic pump for the trash rack back into health, to fiberglass patches on the skiffs, or to weld new engine mounts as required.

Our divers provide their own gear, from tanks and regulators to diving suits.  They are unfortunately used to making do with equipment that is barely adequate.  Safety is not being compromised, but comfort and convenience are.  The LFA board has wanted to buy the divers new dry suits for at least two years, but we just don’t have the money — or, rather, we have decided to spend the limited money we have directly on the milfoil problem.

Our greatest need now is for some new outboard motors for next year.  We are hoping to find someone who might donate one in the 20-30hp range.  Two of our three usable motors are two-stroke – the kind where you mix oil with the gasoline.  We want to use only four-stroke motors if possible as they are much more environmentally friendly to the lake.

So thank you for your help so far, and please be on the look out for someone who is about to get rid of a used outboard motor.  But not too used, please.

Dive Program Report — 2008

Saturday, September 20th, 2008

It took the better part of their first week for the divers to remove the boats from winter storage, make necessary repairs, and launched.  During this week they retrieved from Rutland a new (used) boat trailer I found on craigslist and received an additional (donated) skiff.  They also replaced the entire deck of the pontoon boat with new marine-grade plywood and welded additional supports on it and reinforced the new trailer so that it could handle the increased weight of a boat laden with wet milfoil.

By May 20th they began diving.  Until late June they are prohibited by the terms of our permit from using the (more efficient) suction harvester, so they were hand picking.  Because the suction harvester can only be used where the milfoil has achieved 10% saturation, they chose locations to hand pick where the milfoil plants are widely scattered, or mixed with abundant local lake weeds.  In late May they picked along the Quinibeck shore, near Lochearn point, and on the north side of Passumpsic point.  They focused on patches adjacent to owners’ docks.  Then they cleaned up the swim areas at Lochearn, Aloha Hive, and Treasure Island in anticipation of campers’ arrival.

Once the suction harvester could be used, the divers focused on the western shore of the north lobe of the lake, from Treasure Island down to Passumpsic point.  Our strategy is to clean out an entire shore of the lake, and this was a manageable choice.  We feel that it is a more effective use of our resources to concentrate the picking in one area rather than removing the same amount of milfoil from various areas around the lake.

Anticipating an early end of the season due to insufficient funding, the divers turned in the last week of August to moving bottom barriers.  Although it might seem simple, both the taking up and laying down the barrier sheets require skill and patience and are fraught with difficulties.  First two divers lift the lengths of epoxy coated rebar off a strip (6 ft. x 100 ft.) of barrier material and hand them up to the pontoon boat for storage.  Then the end of a strip is hooked on the front of the pontoon boat and the boat gently backs over the strip, peeling if off the bottom and trailing it in the water.   Finally the two divers on the deck of the boat pull the plastic in and fold it accordion style on the deck.  Laying it down is pretty much the reverse.  The sheet is trailed behind the slowly moving boat, and “flown” down to its destination on the bottom by two divers in the water.  Placement is critical: each sheet has to overlap its neighbor by about a foot and a half.  Then each sheet is “burped” – trapped air is squeezed out from under – and pieces of rebar are placed every dozen feet or so along the top.  More than a little wind can slow the process considerably, both lowering visibility beneath the surface and making precise maneuvering of the pontoon boat difficult.  (click on the photo above for more pictures and a better explanation)

In November we are required to file a detailed report of our activities with the state.  At that time I will post specifics of the amounts of milfoil removedand bottom bariers relocated here.

Divers at Lunch

Wednesday, September 10th, 2008

As the days begin to shorten and we begin to sample the chill of fall, the temperature of Lake Fairlee’s water slides from warm to refreshing to brisk.  Soon the water will be downright cold.  Already the divers’ wet suits are barely adequate to their tasks.

Here the divers are huddling in the sun, basking after a cold morning in the water removing bottom barriers.  They take an hour for lunch, just enough time to warm up before they have to go back into the cold dark.

And I liked the picture.

From left to right: A.J., Zach, Ira, Leon, and Ben.

Divers in the Water

Sunday, June 15th, 2008

This is a Diver-Down flag. Scuba divers and snorkelers are required by law to display this flag when they are in the water.

Diving activities are not obvious to a passing boater. All that can be seen on the surface when the divers are working is a faint trail of bubbles. The evidence of their activity might look from a distance like a lone aluminum skiff sitting motionless on the water. If our divers are in the water, the flag shown above will be displayed on a short mast above the boat.

All vessels are prohibited from operating within 200 feet of a displayed ‘divers-down’ flag by Vermont law. All watercraft, including canoes and kayaks are required to obey this rule. Power boaters obviously pose a particular hazard to our divers, and are urged to give them a wide berth.

Unfortunately some boaters are unaware of or ignore this law. Our divers are performing a tiring and sometimes thankless job for us, helping to control an expanding nuisance. Please help them by oe as aware.beying the law yourself and mentioning it to others who might not be as aware.

Deciding Where the Divers Work

Saturday, June 7th, 2008

Frequently we are asked, “When will the divers be working in my area?”

Although this seems to be a simple question, a proper answer requires some understanding of Lake Fairlee’s milfoil problem and some of the constraints under which our program works. First, Lake Fairlee belongs to the State of Vermont, not to the lake residents nor to the towns in which it is situated. What our divers do to combat milfoil is subject to permits issued by the State, as well as being partially funded by a State grant. Therefore Vermont has quite a bit to say about how and where we remove milfoil.

The state pays for almost half of the milfoil program. Another 10% is provided by the three towns, and the rest by contributions from LFA members. Some lakefront property owners are able to be exceedingly generous, while others contribute nothing at all. We do not, however, make decisions about where to pull milfoil based on who gives and who doesn’t.

There is much more milfoil growing in the lake than our divers can remove in a season. They are limited by the length of the season and the amount of money that the foundation can raise. They are not allowed to begin suction harvesting nor deploy bottom barriers before the end of fish spawning season. Before the middle of May or so the milfoil is dormant, and “lying down.” In October the days get shorter and the water gets colder, but by then we have run out of money anyway. In recent years we have raised enough money to keep four divers and a boat person working until about the end of September. We hope to be able to do at least that well this year. These considerations all impact our choices.


We make our decisions where the divers work based on the needs of the lake as a whole. We develop a plan early in the season based on a complete survey of the milfoil in the lake. We decide where suction harvesting and bottom barriers can be used to best effect, and make application to the State for those locations. This early plan frequently has to be changed as the extent of the milfoil evolves. Nonetheless these major decisions significantly affect each day’s choices.

Then each day we decide where to work, based on this ‘master plan’ and on the lake conditions that day. Generally we prefer to focus on one area until it is completely clear of Eurasian milfoil before moving on. Sun and wind can affect visibility under water, and can change from morning to afternoon. Planning deployment of our resources is an important and complicated process.

On the other hand, there are many areas of the lake that want our attention. Deciding between several similar patches can be a toss up. So it is only after weighing all these factors that the varying generosity of our contributors be considered.