Sunday, June 3, 2018

Tears

"She usually cried at least once a day, not because she was sad but because the world was so beautiful and life was so short." - sign in a coffee shop

I am sitting on the couch, dressed in sweatpants and an old shirt. Sun streams into the living room from windows on three sides, and the storm door creaks open in the wind. To my right, a pile of clean laundry waits to be folded. At my feet is a plastic tarp strewn with dive gear, spread out and waiting to dry. Carl and I joke that our decorating style should be named "We lead full lives," and the mess in the living room today supports that theme. We had an incredible dive today, and I am as happy as I've ever been.

We left the house a few minutes before 5 am and headed up to Beverly, a small town on the North Shore. After loading our gear onto a 30' boat, we steamed out to a mooring about a half mile off the Massachusetts coast. We had reached the wreck of the Chester Poling.

The Poling was my first New England shipwreck, and the dive did not disappoint. I wore my drysuit, with dry gloves, and had two SCUBA tanks on my back. I needed all the protective garments I had brought with me to withstand the cold (the water was about 43 F) and both tanks to give me sufficient gas for a long, deep dive. We descended down the mooring line, a thick white rope, and arrived at the wreck, resting silently in 90' (27 m) of water. The visibility was surprisingly good, and the current was calm, so we could make our way around the sunken ship with ease.

The first thing I noticed were the hydroids. Thick clumps of what looked like rosebuds were abundant on the wreck. I recognized them instantly - Ectopleura crocea, the same species I had gotten on my fouling panels at the WHOI pier early last summer. As we swam around, I noticed other species inhabiting the metallic surface. Yellow, red, orange, and purple encrusting species, which I can only assume were sponges, bryozoans, or ascidians. Large plumose anemones dotted the wreck in some spots. There was one encrusting species that caught my eye, an amorphous white mat. I suspect it may be Didemnum albidum, a colonial sea squirt native to New England, and its presence is important to note because I may need to collect it for my project later this summer.

We swam around the side of the wreck and eventually made it to the mid-section of the ship. The Poling broke in half as it sank, so one end is left gaping, with ragged edges and dangling metal bars. I let gas out of my buoyancy compensator so I could sink and get a better look inside. The ship looked mangled, menacing - and yet, there was a dense colony of anemones just inside the hull. Resilient life in the midst of destruction.

If I had known how much I would come to enjoy SCUBA diving, I really would have started years ago. I suppose I should have guessed how much I would become obsessed with visiting the seafloor in person, just given how I reacted to my first Alvin dive. This practice, this sport, this hobby - whatever it is, diving is an adventure every time. It transports me to alien worlds, which are truly best experienced in person. There is no substitute for feeling dwarfed beside a large wreck, peering in the empty port holes in the hull, floating over stairs long rendered useless, getting as close as possible to the animals that inhabit it. May each of you use your precious time to explore the beauty of the world. For me, there is no more captivating place than the bottom of the ocean.

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