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Brooklyn Diving - You'll Nevah Fuggetaboutit! - Click here for a PDF of the article below.

AQUAWOMAN 25th Anniversary
You've Swum A Long Way, Baby

By Janice Raber

Female divers of all sorts – mothers, daughters, singles, wives and grandmothers – will descend on New York’s Long Island this month to participate in the 25th Annual Aquawoman Dive.

Many women, especially those from distant states, see each other only on the first weekend in August. Their occupations are as varied as their personalities, yet they all are sisters in the spirit of adventure, united by the unexplainable bond of scuba diving. They have cumulative dive experiences from all over the world. New faces are welcomed among the familiar ones, but then no diver is ever a stranger anywhere in the world.

It all started in the summer of 1981, when northeast wreck diving was perceived as a macho, he-man sport and there were fewer women divers. Captain Steve Bielenda of the research vessel and dive boat, Wahoo, challenged Edith Hoffman, then the president of the Long Island Divers Association, to find enough capable women divers to fill a charter to the USS San Diego, a popular but difficult shipwreck to dive, at 110 feet of cold, dark Atlantic water. Without batting an eye Edith replied, “if they’re out there, I’m going to find them!” And find them she did, and soon signed up 23 women eager and determined to ensure that dive charter boats offered exciting opportunities to women as well as men.

The first Aquawoman Dive, so named by diving veteran Karen Gurian, was seen as a platform for newcomers to expand their diving horizons with guidance of more experienced woman while exploring the remains of the World War I armored cruiser that sank 12 miles south of Long Island in 1918. As the ladies shared a surface interval above wreck, notable participants like author Hilary Viders and photo journalist Cathy Cush ran a forum on writing and dive training. Hilary has since become a widely published diving writer and a founder and charter member of the Women Diver’s Hall of Fame.

Looking back, Hilary says, “My buddies had always been strong, experienced males. Before I met the Aquawoman participants I was concerned as to whether all of these women were qualified to dive the USS San Diego. I was delightfully surprised to see that they were excellent divers and extremely safety minded, not to mention friendly and fun loving. I felt an immediate camaraderie and it changed my opinion about female wreck divers.”

Originally sponsored by the American Sport Diver’s Association and the Long Island Divers Association, the event is now continued by LIDA. Besides the Wahoo, other charter boats have hosted the event, including the Jeanne II, Eagle’s Nest, Adventuress, Seahawk, and Lockness. And the women have explored a broad spectrum of local wrecks, including the Coney Island, R.C. Mohawk, Eureka and the Stolt Dagali.

One change over the years is that dive gear has become more female friendly as manufacturers acknowledged women’s increased participation in the industry and designed ergonomic products for them. And the idea of women doing serious wreck diving is no longer unusual.

But even by 1995, more women were regulars on dive boats, with some even becoming crew members, following in the fin strokes of Janet Bieser, who has served as a captain on the Wahoo since 1982. Janet is an accomplished diver, having dived the Andrea Doria, and has since been inducted into the Women Divers Hall of Fame. She said she’s seen a marked increase in capable women hoisting their gear across the decks.

Some feel that the idea of an all-female Aquawoman Dive is reverse discrimination and is making a statement that is no longer necessary. However, the event is not so much a statement now as a “happening.”

Joanie Hassler, who dives regularly in New York-New Jersey waters still has her t-shirt from the first 1981 trip. She says, “I have been going to the Aquawoman Dive over the years and each time it’s more fun than the last. I always look forward to the next get-together so I can meet other women who dive in the area and I am so glad that LIDA continues to coordinate the day. I always tell other ladies I meet that I dive, and can only hope to inspire them to come on the next dive trip.”

The inspiration to get women out on the dive boats is still needed. “I am a 40-year-old, single mother of two boys and a school social worker,” says Andrea Nydegger. “I have been diving for 17 year in the northeast and most of the time there are not many women on the dive boats. Many times the women I do meet are diving with their male partners, so the Aquawoman dive affords us an opportunity to really dive with other women.”

Kerry Aalbue, an emergency medical technician and certified diver, found both her gear and skills had become rusty in 2004, but she wanted to come on the Aquawoman Dive. LIDA executive vice president and diving instructor Randi Eisen helped her get ready in time for the big day. Kerry now is an Aquawoman regular.

Ronnie Gilligan is also a Women Diver’s Hall of Fame member and the heroine in Kevin McMurray’s book “Dark Descent.” Now in her 60s and a retired college professor, she has returned to diving after a 20-year hiatus. She wanted to begin diving in this area and wanted to meet other women divers so she joined the Aquawoman team in 2005. “The best part,” she said, “was getting back to diving, doing what I wanted to do for a long time, dive Long Island wrecks, meeting ‘the gang’ and enjoying the total day with great company.”

The Aquawoman crew must be prepared for lots of ribbing when the ladies let their hair down. One year a crewman had his legs shaved and his toenails painted. His half-hearted protests went unheeded as he wallowed shamelessly in all the feminine attention. In fact there is much competition to crew on an Aquawoman Dive boat. A big bonus is that there is never a shortage of food that would please the most discerning gourmet.

The ladies have persisted through foul weather, mal de mer, unexpected cancellations, and once or twice even acquiesced to filling out the roster with men. Hilary observed that, “Today the diving industry welcomes women as much as they do men because so many women who take up diving have successful careers, are financially independent, and are the decision makers about where their family spends vacation. Women have also made tremendous inroads in the field of diving both recreationally and professionally because of female role models and organizations like the Women Divers Hall of Fame and Aquawoman that publicize the accomplishments of exceptional women divers.”

The 25th Anniversary dive will get under way at 5:30 a.m. on Aug. 5, when Captain Bill Reddan and his Jeanne II crew meet them at the curb of Pier 5 in Sheepshead Bay to help unload gear from their cars. While the ladies find parking, snacks and coffee, their gear will be transported on board, awaiting their individual set up. The 47-foot boat has a spacious cabin with heat and air conditioning, a convenient galley and an awning shading the rear deck. The roomy upper deck and bow section are ideal places to work on a tan.

Depending on weather, the intended shipwreck is the stern of the Norwegian tanker, Stolt Dagali, which is ideal for divers of diverse expertise. It comes within 65 feet of the surface, with the maximum depth at 130 feet. The 140-foot of stern section sank in 1964 after being sheared off by the Israeli luxury liner, S.S. Shalom. The Shalom returned safely to port and the bow section of the Stolt was rebuilt as a freighter that returned to service in the Great Lakes.

The Stolt has something for everyone. Visibility is usually spectacular, revealing a variety of northeast aquatic life, and a wall of colorful anemones that rivals any Caribbean reef. Corridors offer intrigue for those with experience and training to penetrate the wreck. Angled sections provide artistic photo backdrops. Simplicity in navigation makes it a comfortable dive. Just follow the wreckage upward and you will find the anchor line at the apex.

This year’s dive was fully booked almost as soon as it was publicized and founder Edith Hoffman will be aboard. There is plenty of room at the dockside for landlubbers at the welcome back party that begins at about 4 p.m. Join us for heroes, salads, snacks, beer and soft drinks. Party tickets cost $10. Reservations are encouraged for the party as well as for participation in the 26th Aquawoman dive in 2008.

Get Information On-Line
Directions to Pier 5 and the Jeanne II:
Aquawoman Dive Web Site:
Long Island Divers Association:
Local Dive Boat Charter Boats:
Women Diver’s Hall of Fame:

JaniceRaber is an officer of Long Island Divers Association and a member of the Womens Scuba Diving Hall of Fame as well as several local clubs. She is the former editor of Northeast Dive Journal and can be contacted at

Wrecking Around
June 2008
(Click image below to see full sized image)


May  2003

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A "Cousteau"Dives in New York Water
By Janice Raber

Go see the video of this adventure

Janice Raber, is joined on one of her dives by Fabian Cousteau, granson of the famous underwater explorer and pioneer, Jacques-Yves Cousteau. They spend a chilly day Diving on a shipwreck in 130 feet of water from the Sheepshead Bay dive boat Jeanne II.

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By Janice Raber

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By Janice Raber & Les Glick

Pier 5 at Sheepshead Bay is bustling at 6:30 a.m. as you load your gear on the gurney by the dock and look for a place to park. Fishing boats are loading up, their mates calling to you, urging you to join them. "Guaranteed you'll catch fish! Come with us!" But, you're headed for the Jeanne II to see the fish eyeball to eyeball. You're going diving!

Smiling faces greet you as you board the 47' Crew Boat. Fresh coffee awaits the early birds and the mate directs you where to stow your weight belt. You secure your tanks in the slots along the gunwale, stow your gearbag underneath the bench and start checking out the boat. Slots are set up to hold single tanks, so doubles must be secured on the deck with bungy cords. As you go down stairs to the cabin to get your coffee from the full galley on the port side, you notice the microwave, which is available for your use, along with a refrigerator and sink. In case you forgot to pack a lunch, hot dogs, soda, coffee, cups of soup, and beer (after the last dive only) can be purchased. The heated cabin is very welcome on a chilly morning.

Jeanne II holds up to twenty-four divers and when everyone for today's trip is on board, Captain Bill summons all for his briefing. Short, to the point with no words minced, you are informed of the procedures on this boat. Safety equipment is reviewed, the crew of three to five mates is introduced, entry and exit procedures are explained; knowing what is expected of you and what you can expect from the crew puts everyone at ease. The head is inside across from the galley and the shower is outside with plenty of water available from the eighty-gallon tank. Enough oxygen is on board for nine hours and some members of the crew are doctors. Questions are answered and we get underway.

Now you can relax, trade stories with the other divers, exchange tips, compare gear or just return to the cabin for a nap as Captain Bill cruises to the dive site at about 16 knots. Inside the air-conditioned/heated cabin are four tables with ample room to sit. On a hot, sunny day you can take advantage of the upper deck, enjoy the fresh air, work on your tan, or watch for whales.

Today's site could be the Mystery Wreck (a wooden dry dock at 90' good for lobstering and not littered with fishing line) with a stop at the Black Warrior (a paddle steamer at 35') for our second dive. The Warrior has recently given up some good artifacts, i.e., jugs, silverware, pottery, portholes and as recently as 1993, her anchor was recovered. Captain Bill generally takes you to two different sites and you can check his schedule for special lobster wrecks if that is your bag. Spear guns are not allowed, only hand spears.

Just another Great Day on the Jeanne II

The mate tells us we will be at the site in fifteen minutes . . .time to suit up. Excitedly, everyone completes their final checks. Divers with doubles are encouraged to get in the water first. We arrive at the site, tie in, the hook is set, granny line in, chase line out, and the ladder is lowered. "Pool's open!" declares Captain Bill and the next sound you hear is the splash of the first buddy team hitting the water.

If you have time to talk with Captain Bill, you will be fascinated with his range of experience and mesmerized with his colorful stories. He grew up on the water, literally in the water. Working on fishing boats for pocket money, he learned his navigational skills on the job, driving the boats. A champion free diver in his youth, in 1964 he represented New York State in the National Spearfishing Competition. Bill once free dove on the Iberia (55'). If you think that's a real feat, think again! When Captain Bill was stationed at New London Naval Base, he used to free dive 118' to the bottom of the escape chamber. He taught Naval Aviation Water Survival Techniques while in the Marines and was a diving training officer with the New York City Police Department. Bill currently does commercial diving through his company, Professional Diving Services, Inc. Bill is especially proud of dry-docking a total of 103 ships, 86 of them belonging to the US Navy. When a ship comes into dry dock, Bill is in the water, down by the keel. As the water is pumped out, he makes sure the ship's keel sits properly on the blocks. In 1973, he achieved PADI Master Instructor and still actively teaches at the Shorefront Y in Brighton Beach. His latest project will be teaching scuba to faculty and students in a Marine Science Class at a New York City High School in Fort Hamilton. This project includes using the Jeanne II for science projects.

Listening, you wonder what words of wisdom he can pass on. Captain Bill says, "The biggest thing is to build your self-confidence. Take it slow, sit back, observe, take your time and don't try to prove anything. A good diver doesn't take chances, keeps a straight head and doesn't panic. A fantastic diver has leadership, takes control." To potential commercial divers he recommends, "Go to school, learn your trade, be aggressive, but know your limitations. Diving is a vehicle . . . what you do when you get there is what you get paid for."

Bill's personal favorite wreck? "All of them," he says with a twinkle in his eye. Maybe it's the one where he found the 1793 penny or maybe, the one where he bagged a twenty-one-pound lobster. "They change all the time. New artifacts come up all the time. We're always finding old bottles. I have so many bottles I need someone to catalog them for me." Bill says, "I like wrecks in the 60' range. Most of the wrecks we do are less than 100' deep." Some popular sites he frequents are the Lizzy, Iberia, Pipe Barge, Fran S., Valerie. Algol, Liberty, Pinta, Martin's Misery and the new Mystery Wreck. However, book the Jeanne II with a group and he'll take you where you want to go. "You'll have a full day of diving and I'll have you back on shore by 2:30, in time to get home, wash your gear and go out for dinner."

The 1995 season on the Jeanne II should be especially exciting. Captain Bill has a list of eight hundred Loran C numbers of wrecks, and at least fourteen new spots he plans to explore and add to his itinerary. Imagine a new unexplored wreck . . . a diver's dream.

Don't be surprised as you cruise back to the harbor if the Jeanne II comes to a sudden halt. Look over the side and catch the action while Captain Bill tries to hook dinner from a passing school of fish. You may recall you heard him tell you in his briefing, his fishing pole is always ready.


From the east on the Belt Parkway in NY, take exit 9, (Knapp St.), go left toward water on Emmons Ave. From the west on the Belt Parkway, take exit 8 (Coney Island Ave), bear right toward water on Emmons Ave.

The Jeanne II is located on Pier 5 in Sheepshead Bay, NY. To obtain her 1995 open boat schedule you can write to:

Captain Reddan

3662 Shore Parkway, Brooklyn, NY 11235-2220 or call 718-332-9574.

Ask about special charters or fish & lobster dives. Jeanne II is a member of the Eastern Dive Boat Association.

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By Barb Lander

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Jan. 14, 2001
The NY Daily News
Show Time section: Home Sweet Home

Get away from it all with out leaving the city.
Page 15 SCUBA-do

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August 1999



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New York Now

Sunday, August 15, 1999

Master of the Deep

For lessons on going below, scuba guru Bill Reddan is right on top


Bill Reddan began his diving career at age 5. "When I was akid, growing up in Sheepshead Bay," he recalls, "people used to toss coins off the end of the dock. And we'd pick up extra money by diving in after them."

Going to the murky bottom and bringing back his lunch money is a vocation that Reddan would continue, in one form or another, for the next 50 years first in the Marines, where he taught naval aviators how to survive in the water after a plane crash, then as an athlete, representing New York State in national spearfishing competitions.

This entailed swimming out a half mile or so off Montauk, to a point where the water was 50 feet deep, diving to the bottom on a single breath no air tanks then sitting there and waiting for striped bass to happen by.
"You've got to let them come to you," says Reddan, who once speared a 65-pounder in this way. "Striped bass are very curious fish. If you sit still long enough, they'll swim right up to you."

Later, Reddan became a police officer, in which capacity he plumbed the depths of New York's waterways for 19 years. (For five of those, he was the NYPD Scuba Unit's lead diver.) Now he is the proprietor of Professional Diving Services, which has brought him full circle, back to Pier 5 in Sheepshead Bay. It is his unique breadth of experience that makes Reddan the best person we found to give scuba lessons.

"The secret to diving is swimming," Reddan says. "When everything turns to s--- down there, you've got to be able to fall back on something. And if you can't swim, you've got nothing to fall back on."

This may sound like an obvious statement, but it's a basic truth that seems to elude many diving schools. "A lot of these places cater to people who are never going to do much diving," Reddan explains. "People who want to get certified and maybe dive a few times in their whole lives. So some schools are not too strict about swimming skills."

Reddan, on the other hand, is a hawk on swimming skills. "If someone wants to work and get into shape, I'll help them," says the former Coney Island and Jones Beach lifeguard. "But some people think that as long as they're willing to write a check, I've got no business telling them they need to get up to speed on the basics." Reddan's answer to these customers? "I tell them that handball and volleyball and knitting are all very enjoyable hobbies," he says with his best smart-aleck, ex-cop grin, "but that they won't be diving with me."

If Reddan sounds like a bit of a grump when it comes to standards, he comes by his curmudgeonliness honestly. He's been certified as a diving instructor for more than 30 years, and as a master instructor (the highest grade of certification, meaning he gets to teach other teachers) since 1974.

"My instructor's registration number is 644," he says with the quiet pride of an elder statesman. "The numbers they're giving out now are in the high five digits. Reddan also has an anachronistic skepticism about newfangled techniques. "The diving associations allow students to do a lot more home study and computer-based instruction now," says Reddan, who believes there is no substitute for time in the water. "I don't."

Instead, Reddan puts every student into the pool from the first session and keeps them there through the end of the course. His basic program, the successful completion of which earns you an Open Water Certification, costs $330 (that includes the use of tanks and regulators). It entails seven nights of pool and classroom work, plus three ocean dives.

This regimen exceeds all of the minimum requirements set forth by the various professional diving associations and is almost unique among New York-area diving schools in its rigors. And even those 10 sessions don't necessarily mean that Reddan is through with you.

"I won't let a person leave my class unless I feel they can make it in the ocean," says Reddan, in dramatic contrast to the schools that pretty much push you out the door once you're qualified on paper. "If there's a student I have doubts about, I'll make him stay and take the whole course over again on the arm [that's "free" to those of you not schooled in Brooklyn dialect] before I'll give him a certification."

But don't be fooled into thinking that Reddan is exclusively a grim taskmaster. While he's harassing you into shape ("You've gotta have a sixth sense when you're underwater," he lectures, "because your other senses are almost cut off. Police divers pick that up with years of experience, but I try to give my students some of that in training"), Reddan lightens the mood by telling "war stories" from the police scuba unit. Like the time he was slinking along the floor of the East River in zero visibility, looking for a gun that had been used in a murder. "Suddenly, I'm tangled up in I don't know what. Spools and spools of sharp plastic wrapped all around me, on my mask, on the air hose. It took almost an hour to cut myself out of it," he says.

The culprit? It turned out to be thousands of feet of porn film that someone had dumped into the river.

Once you've completed the course and have Reddan's blessing to begin diving, he leaves you with these words: "I don't ever want to get a phone call that somebody I taught has been lost," the ex-Marine says, in a tone of voice that inspires the feeling that ticking off Bill Reddan might actually be worse for you than dying. "And in the time I've been skippering dive boats, that's since 1970, I've never gotten a call like that. Let's keep it that way." So far, no one has presumed to disobey.

Bill Reddan, Professional Diving Services;
3662 Shore Parkway (Pier Five, Sheepshead Bay),
Brooklyn, NY 11235;

(718) 332-9574.

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December 1999

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December 1999

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Part 2

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April 2000

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