Thursday, June 21, 2012

SCUBA Julie, Part Two

Some of you will remember that I completed part one of my open water SCUBA certification back in February as part of an effort to start checking things off of my bucket list.  After six weeks of lessons , we still needed to actually go driving in something a bit bigger than a high school pool.  We're required to complete these four open water dives before we can get our certification cards.  For that reason alone, I found myself shivering on the shore of Lake George in the rain on the first weekend of July.  At 7am, fifteen of us were milling around trying to remember how to set up our gear, find a safe dry spot to stash some sweats, and dreading the initial shock of getting into the water.

Hearthstone Campground, Lake George
I had forgotten my weight belt.  I remembered every one of my lead weights but forgot the thick strip of nylon that allowed me to sink below surface and had to ask my instructor for a spare. At that point, I was really wondering if the whole SCUBA certification was worth it.  A couple hours later we took advantage of a break and the rain to suit up and start our first dive.  SCUBA gear is deceptively heavy. The weightlessness of neutral buoyancy is awesome but hauling everything necessary to maintain neutral buoyancy in the water column and live to tell the tell takes work.  After the waddle to the shoreline and balancing act to secure mask and fins, I was anxious to get on with the dive and feel less like an overweight penguin.  What I wasn’t ready for was the chill of 55°F water.  Instant chill.

Prepping for a dive
I was pleased that all of my required skills came back to me fairly quickly.  Every movement would let new cold water flow into my wetsuit so I didn’t want to move anymore than I had too.  There were a few interesting things about our two dives that day.  We saw the body of an airplane with the wings removed which had been sunk specifically for the divers.  There were a handful of fish and the thrill of staying underwater.  By the end of the second dive I was so chilled that I was mistaking fish eggs on water weeds for ice crystal coatings.

One of the hardest things about that day was waiting the necessary amount of time before I could take a hot shower.  Exposing yourself to hot water too quickly after diving can cause the residual nitrogen in your blood to be released too quickly causing the bends.  We were told that we could take “warm” showers but I didn’t trust myself to have that kind of control when I was that cold.  I bided my time by eating piping hot soup and watch shows about tropical coral reefs for several hours. Finally I was able to drain the hot water tank and raise my core temperature back to normal.

 Sunday morning came far too early and dreary.  As I made my way north to Lake George, my ears blocked due to some minute change in altitude.  When I arrived at our dive site they were still blocked.  Not good.  Until my ears cleared I couldn’t dive for fear of rupturing my eardrum or worse.  There were five other students who were nursing discomfort from the previous day too.  Three other students plus me were out of the water for at least the third dive,  I settled in to watch at least the first dive from land and quickly became bored.  There was a family of ducks that could keep my attention for a few minutes at a time.  Most of my time was spent watching everyone else’s bubbles raise to the surface.  Have I ever mentioned that patience isn’t my strong suite? I immediately went to work at getting my ear cleared.   

Navigating back to shore
 By the time my group came out of their open water dive three, I was pushing to try getting in the water and completing the course that day.  The top layer of water was slightly warmer thanks to the lack of rain that day.  My dive three was a quicker one to get me caught up with the rest of the group.  This time I wasn’t immediately frozen and found that I had an easier time controlling my buoyancy, making the dives much more enjoyable.  The fourth and final dive was trouble from the get-go.  As soon as we descended enough silt had been kicked up that it was impossible to see two inches in front of your face.  I couldn’t see my dive buddy and only saw the instructor when he suddenly appeared directly in front of my mask to test my mask removal skills.  I was so happy to move away from the cloud and then we started going deeper.  Deeper water always means colder temperatures.  It was interesting gliding along the bottom of a lake but the cold was getting to me.  At one point I realized that I was pulling my upper lip up to try to protect it from the cold and causing my mask to leak.  Not fun.  However, the knowledge that we were on our last dive made the frigid cold slightly more bearable. When we finally surfaced I was so relieved.  I had finished my PADI open water certification! Yes, stubbornness and impatience when it came to watch everyone else finish played a large role in it, but it was done!  I was also never so happy to be wearing sweatpants in June.

Certified Open Water Diver - only partially frozen
I think I’ll focus on warm water diving next.

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