Saturday, December 23, 2017

Anti-hibernation

"Humans were never meant to hibernate"
- message on a T-shirt

I waddled across the snow-covered dock, laden with gear. I was wearing my dry suit and had a SCUBA tank on my back. A regulator and two waterproof lights dangled over my shoulders. On my hips, I carried an extra 10 lb of lead, plus 2 lb on each ankle. I already had my mask and gloves on, but I was carrying my fins. Slowly, I shuffled my feet through the snow, keeping my balance on the wintery pier. The cold air felt good in my lungs. 

Carl had told me to get in the water as quickly as possible so my regulator didn't freeze up again - we had climbed out to fix it once already. As I approached the edge of the instrument well, I lifted one leg over the wooden barrier, then the other. I leaned on a storage bin to slide on my fins. I shuffled to the edge, put the regulator in my mouth, and...

SPLASH! The 41° F water surrounded me. I could feel the cold, salty sting on my neck and my lips, the only parts of my skin that were exposed. I bobbed to the surface, looked up, and waited for Carl to make his entry. Another splash later, we were headed down the descent line. I held onto the white rope as the water around me grew darker. I checked my dive computer on my left arm. 15 feet, then 30, then 50. The lights dangling off of my shoulder clip illuminated the seafloor. I could see rocks and a folding chair on the seafloor. We swam east first, then west. It's dark under the WHOI pier, so we made sure to follow the guide lines strung between the pilings. It's the only way to keep your orientation. Carl was in front of me, but he turned around every few minutes to make sure I was ok. He signaled by making a big "O" with his dive light, then waited until I did the same. The whole time, I kept playing with my dry suit, filling it at pressure to stay comfortable, warm, and neutrally buoyant. I made sure to keep my feet below me so they didn't fill with air. Dry suit diving is a skill, and I still need more practice. Eventually, I started to get chilly, and my air tank was at half its starting pressure, so I signaled to Carl that I wanted to turn around. Nodding, he turned himself underwater and headed back to the piling with the descent line. We found the folding chair on the seafloor and signaled to each other to go up. Raising my left arm, I dumped air out of my suit so I didn't overinflate as the pressure lessened. 

I absolutely love coming up the piling at the end of a dive because I get to see all the animals living on it. On the way down, I'm usually concentrating on other things, checking my computer, clearing my ears. But on the way up, I'm already relaxed; my dive reflex is working and my breathing is slow. I slowly let air out of my suit and watch the animals through my bubbles. There's not a lot of biodiversity on the pier in the winter, but I remember seeing Didemnum vexillum, an invasive tunicate that forms squishy pink mats. There were also a few colonies of Astrangia poculata, a coldwater coral native to New England. 

As we reached the surface, I remember feeling the salty waves splashing my mouth where my regulator had been. I tugged off my fins and climbed the ladder, then shuffled back to the dive locker. Carl settled into one of the giant wooden chairs in the corner, but I was too adrenaline-filled to sit. I met his eyes and nodded. It was an awesome dive. 

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