Bob, fully suited up and getting ready to make his third ice dive of the year.
There are several requirements that one must satisfy in order to dive in Antarctica. First you must be competent in dry suit diving. A dry suit is a one piece full body suit that has latex seals around your wrists and neck to keep water from entering your suit. Under the dry suit there are several layers of fleece and pile clothing that you must wear for insulation. Divers in Antarctica also wear dry gloves with liners to keep their hands from going numb, and let's not forget about the three hoods we wear to keep our heads nice and warm. Dry suits are great for diving in Antarctica as they can help to keep you warm and prevent the 28 degree F water from turning you into a popsicle. While we are on the topic of dry suit diving, the Antarctic diving program also requires that a diver make at least 15 dry suit dives and must have 10 dry suit dives within the last year. Along with the dry suit dives an Antarctic diver must have at least 50 open water dives.
Next comes the research diving certification. I received my AAUS research diving in the summer of 2007 through Moss Landing Marine Laboratories. Aside from obtaining your AAUS research diving certification, this class also focused on a higher level of diving physics, physiology, troubleshooting, navigation, dive planning and emergency and rescue skills. A third goal of this course was to become familiar with various fish, algae and invertebrate species so that the class would be able to conduct a Reef Check survey in the Big Sur area. This class was fun and knowledgeable and most of our open water diving was done in Big Sur where the visibility was amazing and the wildlife just as spectacular.
Once I cleared all of these requirements, and passed my diving physical, I was cleared to dive in Antarctica. On with the ice diving!
After a little trouble starting our Piston Bully, we were on the road and headed to a dive location known as Little Razor Back.
The dive site Little Razor Back is named after the rock formation in the background. Part of the dive hut is seen on the right side of the picture.
The dive team consisted of Stacy Kim, Bob Zook, Marcus Kolb, Rob Robbins (the dive safety officer in Antarctica) and myself. Not only was this going to be my first Antarctica dive but Marcus Kolb was about to take his first Antarctic plunge with me. Marcus and I were to be dive buddies for the two scheduled dives so that we could look out for each other while under the ice. To keep us divers out of the windy conditions we do most of our diving out of a dive hut. This hut usually has a heater blasting and a hole cut out of the floor and the ice so that the divers can access the water.
Here is picture of the dive hole that is cut into dive hut and sea ice. Marcus makes his debut into the blue waters of Antarctica.
Once we get into the hut everyone starts to get into their dive gear. This process can take several minutes because of all the equipment that we must put on. This can prove to be a difficult process at times because of the bulky dry suit and having a dive tender to assist you with gearing up is a blessing. (Thank you to all past and future dive tenders, you truly make the diving process that much easier.) Only four divers, Rob, Bob, Marcus and myself are scheduled to go in on this first dive. After gearing up I am sitting on the edge of the dive hole with many thoughts racing through my mind. I had been preparing my body and mind for this moment all year long and it was now in front of me. I was overwhelmed with the thought of diving below the sea ice and in all honesty a bit anxious. I didn’t know what to expect once I jumped in, would it be cold, would I be scared of not having an open water environment overhead, what if my regulator falls out of my mouth? While all of this is going through my head Rob jumps in and then I hear the call from Stacy, “Okay, who’s next?” Immediately I snapped out of my thoughts, focus in on my next moves and tell her “I’m going in next.” I lift myself off of the edge and jump into the dive hole.
This is me preparing for my first jump into Antarctic waters. The full face mask helps to keep my cheeks and lips from freezing and it also make me look like I have fatty lips!
At once I am eye to eye with five feet of sea ice and the next thing I know I am under the ice. This visibility under the ice sheet is like nothing I have ever experienced, it seems to go on for miles when in reality it extends for several hundred feet. Looking below me I can see a vast benthic ecosystem that is thriving in the 28 degree F water. When I turn around I notice that Marcus and Bob have both made the plunge and are now swimming around. All four of us make our way down to about 80 feet where we look around at all of the little critters on the ground. Nudibranchs, sea stars, anemones and many other critters were all there, doing the critter thing. I got so focused in on looking at the life on the sea floor I almost forgot I was diving in Antarctica! I found myself to be very comfortable in the frigid waters of Antarctica and all of the thoughts and anxiousness I had on the surface were now gone.
Say hello to your family and friends Marcus. Marcus poses well in 28 degree F water.
Swimming along we made our way up the slope of Little Razor Back into about 12 feet of water. We were very close to the bottom of the sea ice and the ice looked like a gallery of underwater chandeliers. With the touch of my hand part of the ice chandeliers broke into several pieces and fell to the sea floor like snow flakes falling from the sky. As we made our way back to the dive whole we were joined by some underwater guest. A couple of Weddell seals had noticed us and decided to come and check us out. Marcus and I were hypnotized by these massive looking seals and seeing them is something we have been looking forward to. The seals looked much fatter than the ones I am used to seeing in the Monterey Bay as the Weddell seals require a thicker layer of blubber to keep them insulated in the freezing water. These fatty seals were so graceful in their element as they rolled around to show us their undersides.
After several minutes of seal gazing it was time to head back to the dive hole and perform the one skill Rob has each Antarctic diver complete. Rob points to Marcus and I and motions for us to take our regulators out of our mouth and switch to our backup regulators. Now this skill sounds easy enough but let me tell you, it is hard to find your mouth when your face is freezing cold! In order to find my mouth I bit down on my tongue, then I grabbed my secondary regulator and shoved it into my mouth. Marcus and I were able to get the regulator, and a bit of freezing saltwater, into our mouths without any problems. Next Rob gives us a wave goodbye and heads up the hole to the surface. I come up next and I am followed by Marcus and then Bob.
As the dive tenders helped pull some of my gear off I replayed the dive through my head. It was great to see and feel my year long training coming to me as I was underwater. Antarctic diving was everything I expected it to be and more. Later in the day we made a second dive at Cape Evans Wall but I'll leave that dive for Marcus' update.
There is a beautiful world underwater and I recommend that you experience it for yourself.
Here I am my first dive under the ice, what a feeling.
Aaaaahhh!!! I can't believe it. Monterey will be like the tropics when you come home. Miss you, cheers to your crazy adventures!
Hey Stacy and Bob,
It's great to read about your adventures. Being under 5 feet of ice makes me feel claustrophobic, and I'm sitting quite comfortably at a computer. It does sound beautiful and seems a magical other-world. Thanks for sharing your fun times!
nick! ure doing it! man, this is awesome. i kinda shed a tear, punk hehe, im so effin proud of u!
You forget all about the ice when you are under it, well, not forget, but it becomes just a beautiful part of your background, like the sky...
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