CLINTON — When mentioning the word, “shipwreck,” people may think of large cruise ships like the famed Titanic or massive pirate ships that once traveled the high seas long ago.
But 30-year Clinton resident Andy Beach has visited many wrecks in his wet suit, and they were nowhere near the ocean. He said his favorite wreck is the A.E. Vickery, a wooden three-masted schooner built in 1861 that sank on Aug. 17, 1889, when it struck a shoal while entering the American Narrows with 21,000 bushels of corn destined for Ontario. The wreck is located about 115 feet down into the St. Lawrence River near Rock Island.
Beach visits wrecks like the A.E. Vickery with his grown children, who also scuba dive, as well as the diving students who have become his friends.
The owner of Adirondack Diving Adventures, Beach starting diving in 1978 when he was still in high school. He was recertified by Delta Divers in Rome in 2001, became a “dive master” in 2006, and by 2012, was serving as instructor. Passionate and very involved with his hobby, Beach has worked at Revere Copper Products for the last 30 years.
In 2001, while very active with Boy Scout Troop 9 with his eldest son, David, Beach started Boy Scouts of America Crew 9, which allowed scuba diving as one of its activities. The crew was active for many years, Beach said, and during that time, his troops held several fund-raisers, like selling Glow Sticks at Fourth of July fireworks shows in Old Forge.
The Boy Scouts used the money raised to attend BSA Florida Sea Base twice, which is a week-long live-aboard, meaning they lived on a boat for an entire week. They also spent a week in Mexico diving the reefs and cenotes, or underwater sink holes that resulted in the collapse of limestone that exposes groundwater underneath. Over the years, Beach’s co-ed diving troop was made up of 17 youths and eight adults.
Eventually all of the Beaches would become avid divers. David is now a Professional Association of Diving Instructors (PADI) rescue diver, daughter Cassie is an Advanced Open Water Diver, and Johnny is a PADI dive master. The only land dweller is wife Michele, who Beach affectionately refers to as his “bubble watcher.”
“That means she doesn’t enjoy diving itself, but she enjoys participating in our activities and watches us dive,” Beach smiled. “Scuba diving makes a great family activity that creates a lot of adventure all over the world, and even right here in central New York.”
Michele was her husband’s diving assistant back on New Year’s Day, when she helped him prepare for a dive in Alexandria Bay’s icy waters. Beach said he was the only diver who chose to brave the cold and wear a wet suit rather than a dry suit, meaning his body underneath would get wet and be exposed to the frigid temperatures. The diver explained that Michele poured gallons of warm water into his suit before the dive, so that his body could adjust to the elements.
After founding Adirondack Diving Adventures back in 2012, Beach worked closely with Delta Divers in Rome, where classes in learning to dive were held at the Rome Family YMCA. David Hinman, owner of Delta Divers, has retired from the instructing business and for the past six years, ADKdiving has focused on providing individualized service for Beach’s customers.
ADKdivers doesn’t have its own store or set training schedule, and Beach will usually recommend certain shops for students to purchase their needed equipment. Scuba diving can be pricey, so Beach said those who may only dive once or twice a year should rent their tanks and suits.
The part-time diving instructor will usually host classes of no more than 2-4 students at a time so there’s more individualized attention. The PADI certification process is done in three phases. First is an “academic portion” which teaches theory and skills needed to be a safe diver, with most now taught online.
“This allows students to learn at their own rate and on their own schedules,” Beach said.
The next step is to practice in “confined water,” which is conducted in a pool. Beach said he’s taught the second phase of certified training at the Rome YMCA pool and the State School for the Deaf pool in Rome. At the pools, during five training dives, all the necessary skills of diving are demonstrated and practiced, he said.
Then during the third phase of the certification process, more skills are demonstrated and practiced in open water dives, which are usually conducted in Alexandria Bay.
For the written or online part of the certification, “You could get a score of maybe an 80 or 90, and they’ll (PADI) let you on to the next phase, but when it comes to the skills and safety in confined and open water dives, it has to be 100 percent,” Beach said.
Beach and ADKdiving offers the following training:
• Discover Scuba: This is where students can try out diving in a pool. Only basic skills are learned and students experience breathing underwater.
“Breathing is very different” underwater, the instructor said. “You need to breathe a little deeper because there’s dead air space. You’re not breathing slower, but deeper.”
Beach said students must also learn how to control buoyancy, or how to float up toward the surface.
• Open Water Diver: Certifies divers to dive in 60 feet of water.
• Enriched Air: Allows students to dive with oxygen enriched air, which extends bottom time and reduces surface intervals.
• Advanced Open Water: Taught through the introduction of five specialty dives. Once completed, it allows divers to dive to 130 feet.
• Rescue Diver: Teaches many of the extended skills to make diving even safer. Subjects include recognizing stressed divers, accident management, assisting responsive and unresponsive divers in an emergency, etc.
• Refresher: For any diver who isn’t either uncomfortable with their skill set, or hasn’t dived in several years and wants to upgrade their knowledge in equipment and skills.
Beach has dived into the deep ocean blue, as well as freshwater, such as his excursions to Alexandra Bay and even Oneida Lake. Asked what the diving instructor prefers, “Both,” he said matter-of-factly. “In freshwater I get to explore the old wrecks, but it lacks color and the fish aren’t much to look at. The ocean is much more colorful, and I like to see seahorses, and I’ve even seen whale sharks when diving off the coasts of Mexico and Jamaica.”
A sub-hobby of Beach’s diving is geocaching, which he does for a “little added challenge and fun,” he said. Geocaching is an outdoor recreational activity where participants use a Global Positioning System receiver or mobile device, as well as other navigational techniques, to hide and seek containers called “geocaches” or “caches,” at specific locations marked by coordinates all over the world.
The diver has even placed two geocaches of his own under water. The first is at the Underwater Cafe, which he placed back in 2016. The cafe is made up of tables, chairs and even beer bottles divers have found and placed over the years.
“We even took a skeleton and attached it to one of the chairs,” Beach laughed.
Another is a coal car from a train that sank in Blue Mountain Lake.
In 2016, Beach and his wife “Mitch” also hosted a dive for Gary, Justin and Carol VanRiper, authors and illustrators of the popular children’s book series, “The Adirondack Kids.” The next year, the VanRipers released “Spies on Castle Rock and the Secrets of the Secret Code,” featuring photos of some of Beach’s dives with students. Now Justin VanRiper is a certified diver himself.
Beach will have the opportunity to share in his adventures with local residents when he gives his presentation, “Experiencing the Thousand Islands Beneath the Surface,” at 7 p.m. Wednesday, April 29 at Kirkland Town Library, 55 1/2 College St. The diver said his presentation will also be given at several state parks over the summer.
For more information about scuba diving, or diving the Thousand Islands, contact Beach via email at firstname.lastname@example.org, or on Facebook at “Adirondack Diving Adventures.”