Scalli Intern Blog: intern-blog
Welcome to Moorehead City
The drive down to North Carolina in Lee Livingston’s suburban was mostly uneventful. We arrived in Moorehead city around noon, one day after we departed Connecticut. We hung out at the Olympus dive shop for several hours getting our c-cards checked out and everyone payed up for the upcoming week in diving. We also had several hours to kill before we could check into the Buccaneer Inn. In the meantime, we visited a doctor who had a look at my ear, and told me I had caught a spectacular case of swimmer’s ear. It was incredibly painful, but I survived until the following day to go diving. On Monday we woke up at 6, were on the road by 6:30 and were pulling out of the dock by 7 am sharp. The seas were calm while the Midnight Express motored out to the first dive sight. The trip took about two hours. We arrived at our destination a little before nine and the crew set the anchor while Bobby the captain gave us a dive briefing. I listened attentively. The conditions sounded fantastic to me. Visibility was between 60 and 80 feet (this prompted a slightly disappointed “Oh” from the passengers) with no current on the surface or on the bottom. Bobby gave us a quick history of the dive site. It was a coast guard cutter sunk as part of an artificial reef program two years ago. The ship was sunk about 200 yards from another wreck the Aeolus, allowing fish and sharks to commute between the two wrecks, creating a more extensive habitat. I began donning my rig with my dive buddy Betsy. It was liberating to only where a 3ml wetsuit after last weeks drysuit. I needed little in the way of weight and the only extra gear I had to wear was a pony bottle, for the depth. While we were suiting up, it was warm out, but not too warm too make you sweat. Jumping into the water was fantastic. It was just cool enough to be refreshing after wearing a wetsuit out of the water for half an hour. Slipping under the surface the water was a beautiful blue color and I could actually see all the other divers nearly 100 feet beneath us. Betsy and I began our descent onto the wreck. It was remarkable to see the ship, still looking new and workable even though it had been underwater for two years. The aquatic life was abundant, though not in comparison to the wrecks we saw later in the week. The most interesting part of the dive was exploring the ship, still so intact that some of the gauges were still in the control room. However since the wrecks off the coast in North Carolina are unprotected, the gauges certainly won’t be there for long. Huge bits of the ships were removed for divers to enter the inside of the wreck. It is possible to swim through most of the ship down the hallways since nothing has caved in yet. I did not attempt this, since I was contented with what I could see from the outside of the ship. Air goes fast at 100 feet, where the wreck was at, so after 15 minutes at the bottom (breathing nitrox) Betsy and I headed for the surface. The ascent takes forever from that depth and we did a nice long safety stop at fifteen feet, so the dive is close to forty minutes long by the time you get back to the boat. Since the dives are so deep, a long surface interval is required too. I spent this time doing cannon balls off the bow of the boat with Betsy and her sister Katy. After a while, just about everyone joined in the fun and we had diving and cannonball contests. After a while it was time to eat so we did one last jump and hunkered down to our bagged lunches. Soon enough we were gearing up again. We hopped into the water and descended again. The second dive was just as enjoyable as the first with warm water and great visibility, though it was a little shorter, just to be on the safe side. About half of the passengers on the boat slept on the way back. When the boat made it back to the dock, we unloaded our tanks to get them filled then headed back to the hotel.
The Joys of a Working Camera
The third and fourth days of my Optiquatics trip went by quickly, though I only did three dives over the two days since I had come down with a stomach bug. I did one dive on the last day since I had to fly out the following morning. This dive was probably my favorite out of all the dives. We dove on a rock formation with a giant underwater arch. There was a huge variety of marine life there, more than any of the other dives we had done all week. And best of all my camera worked for almost the entire dive. Up till this final dive I had managed a meager fifteen pictures. I took more than forty on this dive alone. I shot everything, the seaweed, the sponges, the ugly little fish, the fickle garibaldis. I even managed to get a picture of a nudibranchs that wasn’t a Spanish Shawl. This was especially tricky because I caught sight of the nudibranchs under the arch where the lighting was dismally dark. I several pictures of the critter, but only one is recognizable. The dive was a blast. I was delighted the entire time. Even better was looking at the pictures when I got back topside. I was giddy. A lot of the pictures came out well. They were miles from the quality and artistry of everyone else on the boat, but a few were reasonably well exposed and decently framed. I did not manage to capture the brilliant colors that I know most of the critters possessed. This final dive did instill in me a burning desire to own my own underwater camera. On the last day the crew motored the boat back to Ventura harbor where everyone said goodbye. Mostly everyone needed to fly home, so the majority of us made our way to the Ventura Harbor Hilton where I enjoyed a nice long shower and stationary bed before flying home the next morning. Overall, diving in the Channel Islands was probably the most exciting, colorful, and challenging diving that I have done to date. And taking pictures with a working camera was probably the most fun I have ever had underwater it was fantastic. I am really inspired to go get my own camera now. I just wish they were a little cheaper:)
A Harem of Octopi
On the second dive of my second day on the Peace, I saw a fish the size of a sedan. It was a black sea bass. It was huge. I encountered the bass hanging out under some kelp at a depth of about forty feet. He was wary of my dive buddy Steve and I, so we couldn’t get a great look at him. The visibility was maybe thirty feet, so the giant fish sort of loomed in the distance, a giant dark being. Other than the black sea bass, who we followed for some ways, there was not much to see at the Italian Gardens dive site. It is mostly a gravel bottom with some sheepshead crabs, an anemone here and there and huge ropes of kelp reaching up towards the surface. In some places the kelp strands are ten feet apart, in other places the giant sea weed is only inches apart. After about thirty minutes, we started our ascent and finally climbed back on the boat. As usual, there were copious amounts of food awaiting all the divers at the termination of the dive. Lunch was delicious as usual. Afterwards, all the passengers relaxed momentarily. Actually, I relaxed, everyone else on the boat began to fiddle compulsively with their cameras. The crew of the boat pulled up anchor and we motored back out to ship rock island. Soon enough we were gearing up again. At this point I could don my drysuit in less than five minutes, which I considered a huge accomplishment. I hopped into the water after my dive buddy Andy. I was deemed worthy to carry the camera again by Joe, though this time another passenger had lent me a retractable lanyard thing, so I had no risk of losing it. Andy and I made our descent and set off to look for critters. Of course there’s not too far to go since the marine life is so abundant. In a minute or so Andy was off photographing kelp while I searched in the many rock crevices for some interesting critters. It wasn’t long before I found about ten spiny lobsters hanging out upside down in a small rocky overhang. They swayed back and forth and stared at me from under the rock with their eyestalks. I grabbed my camera, pumped at an opportunity to take a picture of something exciting and recognizable. I bent the strobe arm and pointed it towards the inside of the small cage. I pushed the camera as far in front of me as the nervous lobsters would allow. The strobe was on and lit. The camera was on and ready. I framed up my shot and pressed the shutter button….nothing. I tried again. I pressed the buttons Joe had instructed me to press. I tried again. Nothing. Aggravated, I retrieved Andy and showed him my lobsters, then my camera. He grabbed it and fiddled, but to no avail. The camera was sadly busted. I retracted the camera, made sure it was secured to my bc, and went off with Andy in search of more wild life, after he was done photographing my gaggle of lobsters. A few Spanish shawls later I was looking for some more big stuff in the rocks. Andy got excited and pointed. I followed his finger to a small octopus, picking his way across a rock face. Andy chased the octopus into another crevice where it stopped and stared sullenly at his pursuer. I looked around while Andy snapped shot after shot of what was still visible of the octo. Funny, the rocks all around looked awfully strange. This was because we had swum into a harem of octopus. They’re were seven or eight of them, camouflaged brilliantly, stuck to rocks in the wide open. I poked Andy and pointed to all the octopi. He looked shocked. He hit his head in the traditional “duh” gesture and began to shoot. I took out my camera hopefully and attempted another shot. Nothing. Oh well, I enjoyed watching the funny creatures nonetheless. The cephalopods took Andy’s attention rather well for a while, then got sick of the flashes and flounced into tiny crevices. Andy gave me a high five and we made our way back to the boat. On the boat, we told everyone else about the octopus harem. No one actually believed us until the pictures were downloaded because octopus are usually such solitary creatures. No one had ever heard of a behavior like that before. I had my camera checked out topside, everything was in order, there was no explanation for why it had not worked. Not long after we got out of the water, we were in the process of getting back in the water. After suiting up, Andy and I hopped in the water for our final dive of the day. The dive was uneventful for the most part, aside from my camera malfunctioning again. It took three pictures then dies. A red light started flashing, the battery was dead. During the dive we saw a sea lion shoot by and a diving cormorant. It was cool to see the bird underwater, it looked seriously out of place. After that, we saw mostly run of the mill critters. The Spanish shawls were still ubiquitous, as were the garibaldi. Luckily these animals never get old, so I had a perfectly happy dive. After some time had passed Andy and I found ourselves in a shallow spot, were the surge got really intense. It was strange since we had been in the same spot during the last dive and there was no surge. The surge was so strong we were quickly disoriented. Despite the copious photographic opportunities, we turned back, and got deeper to avoid the surge. We looked around for the anchor line back to the boat but couldn’t find it. Since we were both getting low on air, we started our descent up a single strand of kelp. We attempted to do a safety stop, but found it impossible when the kelp bent flat with the rising current. We surfaced, not to far from the boat, maybe 100 feet off the bow and 25 feet to the left of the boat. We swam for the boat at a somewhat leisurely pace. This turned out to be a mistake. The water was sucking us at a rapid rate towards the craggy rock sticking out of the water. The rock was behind the stern of the boat, but it was so hard to make it the 25 feet over to the boat. I caught the knot at the end of the current line thrown off the stern. I was so tired from swimming I just hung there for a moment. But the current was still pulling so hard even this cost a lot of energy. I started pulling myself along the line towards the boat, Andy behind me. The line was slippery, it was hard to get a good grip with my gloves on. Eventually I couldn’t pull myself anymore, the current was too strong. Andy was no longer behind me on the line. I learned later that he had dropped his camera. I noticed other divers popping up all over the place. No one could make it to the current line, and the current was starting to take the other divers around the rock. Steve got in the zodiac and went after the divers who were floating away. Another crewman started hauling me in on the stern line. As it turned out, I had had one of the more pleasant trips back to the boat. Several other divers were towed in behind the zodiac, a few made it most of the way up the anchor line before losing it, but they caught the current line. Andy popped up several minutes later, camera in hand, 70 pounds of air left on his back. He made it back to the boat unscathed. A few people went on a night dive that evening, but I was sound asleep by 10 o’clock, it had been a heck of a day.
Saga of the Kelp
I was awoken on day two of my Optiquatics adventure by the sound of the engines turning off. Fighting the desire to roll over and return to sleep, I made my way above decks. It was bright, sunny and beautiful again just like yesterday. The boat was anchored about fifty feet away from the San Catalina Island today. I listened to the captain, Dave give the dive conditions over the loudspeaker while I sat down to some watermelon and pineapple freshly sliced by Trish. We were at a dive site called “Italian Gardens.” Dave explained that the dive site was pretty much barren except for the frequent presence of black sea bass the size of sedans. He told us they hung out at around forty feet, not often above that. I was excited to see such huge fish, especially after my experience with the white sea bass a few days earlier. Before getting ready to jump in the water Joe pulled me aside and gave me my camera and few quick instructions on how to use it. It was rather impressive looking (though nothing compared to my fellow passengers cameras). The camera was in a small Light and Motion housing with one strobe. I was to touch three buttons, and three buttons only; the on button, zoom in and zoom out. Psyched for my first underwater photography experience I got ready quickly with my buddy Steve. Before long I was striding off the port side of the boat and reaching back up for my camera which they were lowering down after me. I put the wrist strap of the camera over my glove then swam to the bow of the boat with Steve. We started our descent down the anchor line, and reaching the bottom, set out to find some big fish. I will state first that we were completely unsuccessful at finding the big bass. We found lots of gravel, lots of kelp, and several sheepshead crabs. I took pictures of the crabs with abandon, sadly my camera only shot a picture about every four times I tried to take one. The dive continued with Steve and I searching in vain for the large bass and in the meantime taking pictures of quasi exciting subjects for some time. . Annoyingly, my mask was askew and kept filling with water no mater how much I tried to fix it. Steve and I had turned around and begun our trek back to the anchor line when I noticed that I only had 850 lbs of air. We were still some distance from the line, though gradually starting our ascent, so I decided that I should tell Steve we needed to be going up soon. At this time we were at about twenty feet. Sadly, I was still working on my buoyancy in my drysuit, which becomes particularly bad in shallow water. I could feel the air in it expanding, and myself floating further away from the slope that we were swimming along. In a slightly flustered state I attempted to bleed the excess air from my drysuit to no avail. I tried to swim towards Steve again, he was getting further away. I felt something strange at my feet, they seemed awfully buoyant and they weren’t propelling me anywhere. I twisted around, and my mask chose this time to fill with water. I caught a glimpse of several giant strands of kelp holding me by the fin straps be fore I went blind. I cleared my mask. It was definitely the kelp. I tried to break it, the other divers on the boat said it only worked if you did not pull lengthwise, but snapped it. I tried. I failed. My mask filled. I got panicked as I thought about my air supply. I started breathing heavily, very heavily, and pulling in vain at the kelp. Eventually I abandoned this and clawed at my bc looking for the inflator house. I couldn’t find it. I kept trying to calm myself and think but it wasn’t working. Eventually I found the inflator to my drysuit and pressed, hoping it wouldn’t use to much air. I went up slowly, kicking at the kelp. Now I was suspended just below the water. I’m not sure how I made it to the surface, but I did. I dropped my reg from my mouth panting and splashed at the water with my right hand in an attempt to inspire a rescue. A horrible thought hit me just then….where was the camera? Moments later it didn’t matter, I was surrounded by people; Steve the crewman in the Zodiac and at least one other diver. They dropped my weights, stripped my gear and tossed it in the boat. Moments later I was in the Zodiac too, being motored back to the Peace. At the boat, I was settled onto a bench while they hurtled questions at me, trying to figure out if I was actually hurt. I was not. On the other hand my brain was functioning only at the most basic level. I could only think about breathing, eventually this effect wore off. Then I wondered where the camera was. At that moment a diver was climbing onto the boat handing up two cameras! My camera had been saved, though my weights had not. But I was still alive, I had some pineapple and started suiting up again.
Optiquatics Day 1: Ship Rock
On July 15th I boarded the Peace dive boat at 9 o’clock p.m. ready for my Optiquatics adventure. Optiquatics is a underwater photography training operation and DUI affiliate run by Joe Wysoki. This means, they let you dive with borrowed cameras and drysuits to your hearts content. Bunks were assigned to all the divers, and we began the process of transferring all of our gear onto the boat. As soon as my gear was on the boat I got to work assembling my tank and BC on the bench to the stern of the boat. I was told it is important to stake out ones spot on a live-aboard the night before. When I was done assembling my gear I looked around and was shocked to find the rest of the divers where still busy hauling giant Pelican cases onto the boat. Once they began to open the cases I understood why it was taking them so long. Every other diver on the boat was an accomplished underwater photographer who carried with him or her scads of camera equipment. The boat was soon over run by strange looking bits of metal and plastic that when assembled (an hour later) bore a only a very vague resemblance to a common camera. Before the other divers on the boat had even finished assembling their camera equipment I had passed out in my bunk. However, my sleep was not to last. The boat revved up its engines and departed for Catalina Island right at midnight, abruptly waking me. Apparently the waters in the Pacific were not calm that night. I was airborne several times during the night but managed to drift back to sleep. At seven o’clock the next morning the boats engines turned off. This was the sign that we had reached the dive site. I stumbled out of my bunk and made my way up to the deck to see not Catalina Island but a large rock protruding from the water, covered in cormorants, sea lions and pelicans, and white from the guano. Despite its appearance from above water, Ship Rock Island was a magnificent dive sight, as I found out less than an hour later. I went in with Andy and Steve, both experienced underwater photographers, though none of us carried cameras on this first dive. Joe had suggested that we use the dive as an orientation dive, just to get used to the area. I used my new light to turn all the sea life from brown and green to brilliant shades of red and purple. It was so colorful down there! There were garibaldi every where, they’re the California state fish, and a very fickle one at that. They will swim away in frightened fashion if you show any interest in them, but as soon as you are otherwise occupied they will swim directly in front of your mask, or camera as the case was the next day. On my first dive I saw sheepshead, Spanish shawl nudibranchs, an octopus, sea cucumbers, urchins, anemones and tons and tons of kelp. The kelp was beautiful and soothing, swaying only slightly in the current. After forty five minutes or so of the multi-level dive, we returned to the surface and enjoyed the Peaces magnificent platform, which requires you to only flop onto it while the crew removes your fins and sends you up the ladder. This was perhaps the best and easiest time I have ever had exiting the water on a dive boat. The rest of the day continued in a beautiful mixture of eating and diving. Every time I got out of the water there was new food prepared compliments of Trish the chef. Not only was the supply of food continuous, it was good. On the first day I completed four dives, the first three at Ship rock and the last closer to shore, in an area with much more kelp, some eels, and lots of bottles. Most of the dives where between 40 and 60 feet. Though the other divers brought their cameras along after the first dive, I used the entirety of the first day to familiarize myself with the diving conditions. That night, nearly everyone on the boat went on an expedition to Avalon, a city on Catalina Island. I elected to stay behind being that it was 9 o’clock on a Sunday night and I didn’t think much could be open. I was pleased to find out that the real show that night was just off the sides of the boat. Perhaps 30 minutes after the boat had moored I was enjoying watching the large silvery fish chilling next to the boat. A moment later, the fish I was watching erupted out of the water, and took flight, very literally. It was a flying fish, in fact, the boat was surrounded by them. For some reason at this time they all deemed it necessary to fly around, every which way. I soon discovered the reason for their activity. A sleek dark form could be seen arcing in and out of the water after the fish. It was a juvenile sea lion, taking hunting lessons from his mother. The sea lions corralled the fish towards the boat, scared them into the air and awaited the sickening crack of the fish flying into the boat, indicating the presence of a tasty and unconscious meal. The sea lions did this for hours until it seemed like there could not possibly be any fish left. The baby sea lion had some difficulty swallowing his fish and would toss them around, trying to grab a mouthful. On fish flew onto the swim platform before drifting a foot off and promptly being eaten. Eventually it was time for bed, though from the cabin the cracks of the fish flying into the boat could still be heard.
Sea World and Scripps
On the 14th, I got up bright and early and drove myself to Sea World to meet with Kevin Lewis, the dive safety officer there. He is in charge of all the divers at Sea World. He showed me the exhibits that the divers are responsible for cleaning which include all of the Shamu pools, the dolphin pools, and all the animal care pools. For most of the exhibits, the animals are moved into another pool while the divers are in cleaning. This includes Shamu and most of the dolphins. They don’t move the commersons dolphins or some of the gentler bottlenose dolphins. Divers at Sea World start their day at 5 in the morning and are usually done cleaning by the time the park opens at 9. Obviously they cannot clean all the pools in the park in four ours so they clean the pools on a rotating basis, fighting an unending battle with algae and other accumulated crud. After my behind the scenes tour with Kevin I wandered around the park for a little while. I went to see the Wild Arctic exhibit to view the polar bears and belugas. I also got a glimpse of the magellanic penguin feeding. Then it was time to leave since my visitors pass was only good until 11. At this point I had nothing to do until my 3 o’clock appointment at Scripps, so I went over to La Jolla to enjoy the beach for a little while. Sadly this was easier said than done. It took me ages to find a parking spot, there are simply a lot more people that want to be in La Jolla than can fit. Eventually I parked and got myself lunch and hung out on the beach until shortly before 3. Then I headed to the nearby Scripps Institute of Oceanography. I found the office of Kevin Hardy, who I was supposed to be meeting, but he wasn’t there. I waited for a little while before calling his number, then Faith when he didn’t answer. To make a long story short Kevin could not be located, but by 4, Faith had found another person for me to hang out with, Peter Brueggeman, the Library Director. Peter gave me a tour of the library, showing me the extensive collection of books on fish and sharks and other marine life. He took me into the archive section and handed me a five hundred year old book about fish. It was written entirely in Latin and had pictures of all the fish described. Some were recognizable, like the thresher shark. Others were fanciful looking sea creatures. It was fascinating and very, very old. I couldn’t believe I didn’t have to wear gloves touching it. Next, Peter showed me their archive of Skin Diver magazines. He handed me the premier issue which was filled with picture of spear fisherman holding up large an impressive fish, rays, and sharks. All expertly speared. There were also ads for some seriously old wetsuits and other equipment. At this point Kevin met us in the archives, Faith had finally been able to get a hold of him. He apologized for being late and then began drooling over the issue of Skin Diver I was holding. Then we departed for the Scripps aquarium, where Kevin was kind enough to buy me a Scripps shirt and give me a real quick tour of the aquarium, since they were closing. After visiting the aquarium we made our way back to the campus and Kevin gave me a tour. It was really interesting. I have heard of Scripps a lot in my marine science classes, but it’s no where near as glamorous as you would think. Some of the building are filled with what at first seems to be a bunch of dusty junk, but turns out to be really expensive equipment either waiting to be used or still being built. Kevin showed me his office where he creates different mechanisms to help other scientists with their work. He tried to explain some of them to me, but it went pretty far over my head. From what I understood, he designed something that will go to the bottom of the ocean, take sediment cores and pop up again in a minute. He used a lot of pressure tested equipment like the glass balls from Benthos. It was cool to see their products in use. Kevin also gave me a tour of the pier. Salt water is piped in from the end of the pier and flows through a trough towards the campus. Usually the trough is covered, but Kevin opened up a panel of it to show me, and inside there was an entire ecosystem, probably permanently blinded by our intrusion. There were several crabs and anemones, sort of like a tide pool community. At the end of the pier, there are tons of research boats and a winch for raising and lowering them into the water as well as several small buildings from which research is conducted. On our way back, we noticed that you can see all sorts of rays in the water from the pier. When we got back we headed over to TGIF, the weekly party thrown for the grad student and faculty were everyone gets together and talks about their research. I was fascinated by how passionate everyone is about their work. They seem to love it so much. Everyone present seems to have a tremendous respect for the different faculty members and their work (probably because most of them are legends in their fields). At the party I learned a lot about the current whale acoustics research going on at Scripps. It seems like something groundbreaking is always going on there. After a few hours at the party it was time to drive back home.
SD Ocean’s Foundation
The following day it was off to the San Diego Ocean’s Foundation to help out Noelle and her two interns. In the morning we drove all over San Diego picking up items for the garage sale. The garage sale is an annual fundraiser that the Ocean’s Foundation holds to raise money for their various programs. The Ocean’s Foundation is involved in many different activities, all in the hopes of preserving and enhancing the health of the oceans. The foundation is involved in the education of young people about the ocean, as well as conservation and pollution prevention, habitat enhancement, and research. As part of these programs, the Foundation was responsible for the sinking of the Canadian warship HMCS Yukon as an artificial reef off the coast of San Diego. Many divers are now able to visit the site and enjoy the new reef. After we finished picking up the various items for the garage sale, it was time to pay a visit to the white sea bass. The Oceans Foundation has started a white sea bass restocking program. They own four sea pens in Mission Bay and San Diego Bay where they raise sea bass from a length of three inches to a length of twelve inches. At this time the sea bass are released into the bays. Upwards of four thousand fish are released into the bay every four months. We were paying a visit to the Mission Bay pens, which are currently housing several thousand 14 inch long fish. Unfortunately the fish are experiencing some health problems, so they cannot be released into the wild until their health issues are sorted out. When we got to the pen, we fished out the ill fish so they wouldn’t infect the other fish and took a few healthy fish out so that “scrapes” could be performed on them. Doing scrapes is a way for the people at the fish hatchery to keep track of the health of the fish. After this, we fed the fish. They were very, very hungry that day and ate several buckets worth of dry pellet food. Many sea lions were aware of the presence of the fish and circled the pens hopefully while we were there. After we were done feeding the sea bass we left for the Ocean’s Foundation’s office were we unloaded all of the garage sale items. At this point I returned to the DUI factory to work on some log entries before the night’s dive. At about five o’clock I left for La Jolla shores with Susan Long to do my first dive in the Pacific Ocean. The traffic is crazy at La Jolla and there is no where to park, eventually we found somewhere to put Susan’s car and met up with two of her friends from her dive club. We all geared up and lumbered over to the beach. After wading into the water it was time to swim, and swim we did, for what seemed like days. We were making our way out to some sort of trench, which we eventually reached (I’m not sure how they knew we were on top of it). We descended onto the trench which started at about forty feet and dropped off for what seemed like forever. Going through the thermocline was like walking into a freezer, but after the initial shock I warmed right up. We made our way along the trench using our lights to look in the tiny cracks and crevices which were abundant with life. I was shocked with just how much was down there. There were sea hares and octopi and all sorts of strange fish. Nothing looked anything like east coast marine life. It was exciting to see so many things that were so different. Towards the end of the dive we disturbed an angel shark, but I only saw the end of it as it fled and thought it was some type of ray. We swam underwater most of the way back to the beach. The trip was a lot shorter going with the waves. When we made it back to shore we broke down our gear, loaded it up and headed back home.
College of Oceaneering and Girl Scouts
The College of Oceaneering is a commercial diving training facility which certifies its students in commercial diving. Commercial diving is fundamentally different from recreational SCUBA (and technical SCUBA for that matter) in many ways. The most glaring difference is the absence of a SCUBA system. Commercial divers get their are from the surface, though they do carry a back up tank and regulator in case of emergencies. Also commercial divers always decompress in a hyperbaric chamber, weather they have the bends or not. The college of Oceaneering trains their students in one of three specialties, under water welding, inspection, or hyperbaric medicine. I was able to sit in on an inspection class, where the students were using ultrasound to detect flaws in metal. I also sat in on an EMT training class. After a few hours at the College of Oceaneering, Faith picked me up and we headed back to DUI to veg for a few minutes before my next adventure. An hour after returning Noelle from the San Diego Oceans Foundation picked me up (she had been stuck in traffic) to head to Lake Poway. We had several Pacific tide pool inhabitants riding in the back seat of the foundations huge and very old van (with no air conditioning). Our goal was to make an educational presentation to about 100 girl scouts at the camp at Lake Poway. We were not going to be the ones making the presentation, that would be Sara, a SeaCamp instructor. SeaCamp works in conjunction with the Oceans Foundation to help out with education kids about the oceans. We arrived at the camp and set our cooler of cold water invertebrates down near a gaggle of excited girlscouts. About fifteen minutes later Sara began her presentation. It was fantastic. After five minutes every girl scout was hooked. Everytime Sara asked for a volunteer all the hands shot into the air. After someone was picked there was a chorus of dissapointed “Oh”s. The presentation was on Pacific tidepools. I found myself enthralled even though I already knew most of the information she was giving out. At the end of the presentation, Sara showed the girls some sea urchins and sea stars. She even got one girl to lick the keyhole limpet (I’m not sure why). After 45 minutes it was time for the girls to do their flag ceremony ( a nightly ceremony during sunset). Unfortunately it was delayed somewhat by the presence of a baby western diamondback making a beeline for a set of sleeping bags. After much screaming and confusion, someone hearded the snake towards a tree where it curled up between two roots, looking postitively terrified. Five minutes later a park ranger arrived with a gatorade cooler and evacuated the snake to a less populated part of the park. The snake was an exciting end to a full day. i returned to Faith’s house, gobbled up some leftovers, called my parents and passed out just past 10 o’clock.
The DUI Factory
I arrived in San Diego, late as usual (I have good luck with planes) and Joe Wysocki picked me up. We made the drive over to Faith’s house which is about half an hour from the airport. Once at Faith’s we ate dinner and hung out with her other guests who included Susan, the president of DUI, two guys named Dave, and her husband Jeff. Dinner was great. Afterwards, we watched footage from Faith and Jeff’s trip to the Galapagos aboard the Agressor. It looked truly fantastic. The marine life was many, varied and not shy at all. At this point it was past nine o’clock (past midnight in my time zone) and time to retire. I awoke at 7 the next morning to get over to DUI for a factory tour. The factory was amazing, not at all what I pictured. The suit patterns are now cut by a huge impressive machine, but everything else is made by hand. All the stitching and sealing and assembly and testing of the suit is done by hand. I was surprised by how happy and friendly everyone at the factory is. Faith showed me where all the fabric suits are made and assembled, and in a different building where the crushed neoprene suits are made. Interestingly, the crushed neoprene suits are all assembled while still full sized neoprene, then they are placed in “The Crusher.” The crusher is a pair of submarine torpedoe tubes which compress the neoprene with water. As they increase the pressure in the tube all the bubbles in the neoprene are removed. The material emerges looking and feeling completely different. I also got to see hot water suits, used by commercial divers. The suits have their own internal plumbing and are connected to a warm water source at the surface. From their, the warm water is spread throughout the body, keeping the diver warm in frigid conditions. After my tour of the factory I was handed off to Bob who is in charge of the factory’s engineering, and spends much of his time inventing new processees to improve quality or efficiency. He talked to me about some of the problems facing DUI, primarily that most other drysuits are made entirely or partially over seas. Chinese factories are clean and have a lot of room, they are incredible efficient and technologically advanced and they’re labor costs much, much less. For this reason DUI must be innovative to stay ahead of the competition. Bob showed me the new sealant that he is experimenting with. The factory would like to reduce Volatile Carbon Emission (from their current glue) and increase efficiency with something that dries faster. The glue they use now takes thirty minutes to dry and requires three coats to properly seal. This mean a suit will take up table space for an hour and a half, but is only being worked on for about five minutes of this time. Next Bob showed me his Aerogel. A new kind of insulation made of glass nanoparticles. It must be expertly sealed because it is not healthy to breathe in and it is also rigid. On the other hand it is perhaps a fifth of the size of “thinsulate” the current insulation, and at least twice as warm. After meeting with Bob, I went to help Dave who was working on inventory in the Demo Days truck. The truck travels across the country, full of drysuits and other gear for people to try out at the Dog Rally and Demo Days. I helped out by relabeling and reattaching the weight pockets on the DUI Weight and Trims and Weight 2s. After about an hour of that it was time to eat lunch with Faith and Susan. Susan, the president and CEO is largely in charge of marketing for the company. She also spoke to me about staying ahead of the overseas competition. The DUI demos are a huge marketing tool. Since a drysuit is such a huge purchase, just seeing an add for it in a SCUBA magazine probably won’t compell someone to buy it. The demos give potential customers an opportunity to fall in love with the drysuit, making them more likely to buy one. After discussing marketing strategy with Susan it was time to head over to the College of Oceaneering.
Return to Rock
On Monday, a small portion of the team returned to Rock Springs. The trip was purely for survey work, so only Renee, Andy, George, Kris and I came. Kris and I were there to provide support for the divers. This pretty much means helping to hall any of the three steel tanks that each diver uses. The divers entered the cave at Rock with enough air to last about three weeks. During their time underwater, Kris and I perused the snack bar and read. I finished Shadow Divers a few days after starting it, the book was great, but it left me lacking in reading material for my flight the next day. One hour passed, then two. The spring started to get nasty and silty. Next we heard bubbles, and the three divers emerged triumphant. They had finally made it though a restriction that had been taunting them since they started sampling at Rock. Due to the incredible flow, they were only able to lay another thirty feet of line past the restriction, but they did find a side passage before the restriction with an unusual flow pattern. Though they were not able to investigate it during this dive, they vowed to return and explore it. Once the divers were out of the water we all helped pack up and departed for steak n’ shake. I got a side by side Vanilla and bannana milkshake with hot fudge on top. This is perhaps not relevant to the web log, but it was so good, I feel the need to recommend it to anyone reading this. After lunch at steak n’ shake we headed back to Renee’s house to begin packing. Andy would be flying back to England the next day, and George was driving to Arkansas. I myself was bound for San Diego. The next day I said good by to everyone and Amy’s mom, Linda drove me to the airport for my trip to San Diego.
DeLeon springs is about an hours drive from Renee’s house so we had to wake up bright and early to arrive their on time. Even so, Renee, Andy, George and I were the last to arrive. The gate attendant did not seem too keen on letting anyone from the project into the springs, however, after some coaxing we were admitted. Several of the other Cambrian interns weren’t able to make it, so I ran two test today. Rima, Kris and Jeff were also testing the water samples. According to the Divers, DeLeon is a miserable cave, and they only dive it for the pancakes afterwards. At the park where the springs are located there is a restaurant called the Old Spanish Sugar Mill, which always has a long wait and provides spectacular pancakes. So while we tested the water samples we longed after the pancakes. The sampling actually went fairly quickly, we were done by noon, but did not have reservations until one. So everyone sat around, stomachs growling, until our name was called. Long story short, they have the best pancakes ever! They provide you with the batter and toppings and you make the pancakes (all you can eat) yourself. Everyone departed DeLeon springs full of delicious pancakes and very satisfied at completing the mission.
Otters and Rock Springs
Friday found the team sampling at Rock Springs, another beautiful and spectacularly buggy public swimming hole. Today, there were to be seven divers going in the cave in addition to Tom and I, who would be shooting video outside the cave. At Rock, the flow is tremendous even outside of the cave wear swimmers jump fearlessly into the rock riddled spring. The divers slid themselves in a little more carefully. All the entrances to the water are tremendously slipperly, so extra care had to be taken with entry. The divers goal was to collect samples at four stations in the cave and at the caves mouth. They were also hoping to collect some interesting critters and bacteria. The cave divers entered the cave in two teams, spaced twenty minutes apart. Tom, a videographer, and I entered the water with his camera and tried to shoot some decent footage of the divers entering the cave. This was tricky, since they kicked up so much silt while entering. Shortly after all the divers entered the cave Tom and I gave up on videotaping. The flow was too strong and their were so many swimmers, including one man in black slacks and a button down white shirt swimming underwater quite happily. Tom called him the underwater waiter. Tom and I slipped and slid our way out of the water to wait for Bob to re-emerge after his dive. Once Bob finished his dive, we came to the concensus that we would snorkel down the creek that is fed by the spring and try to shoot more video. Shortly afterwards Tom decided the conditions (lots and lots of tubers and poor vis) were not optimal for underwater footage. Tom, Bob and I, as well as Sandy and Mike, two of the cave divers, began our trip down the creek. We weren’t in the water more than forty-five second before Tom leapt from the water, in some apparent pain yelling “I can’t do it!” He scrambled up some steps as Bob muttered “camera,” and sure enough, Tom returned moments later, video camera in hand, and ready to roll. We embarked again, enjoying the now crystal clear water and the assortment of fish living along the sand and in the grass at the bottom of the creek. The current was so bad we had to stop frequently to regroup. During one of the stops I spotted a strange splash in the distance and pointed it out to Tom, who was still expertly weilding the video camera. He promised to investigate but once we embarked again he was swept past the spot. I managed to stop their under the guise of waiting for Mike who, despite the current, still managed to float at a snails pace. I was not standing there for twenty second before an otter popped up, three feet in front of my mask. I screamed. The otter departed. It was spotted further upstream several minutes later. Unfortunatly, Tom had missed it, and was thoroughly dissapointed. we continued down stream, sighting nothing as exciting as the otter, but we did see some turtles and several enjoyable fish. Eventually the creek opens up into a large swimming hole. Here Tom let me play around with his camera. I had a blast stalking and chasing fish looking for a good shot. After a little while with the camera it was time to return to the rest of the team, who, at this point were done with the sampling and busy packing up. Once everything was all packed, we left to prepare for the long day at DeLeon.
Thursday’s location was Wekiwa Springs, where our mission was two-fold. The first goal of our mission was to collect and analyze water samples from five different stations in the cave at Wekiwa as well as samples from the mouth of the cave. Our second goal was to collect bacterial mats from several pre-existing biomass sample sub sites at three stations in the cave. This was done so that Rima could return to the lab and analyze the bacteria as well as estimate a growth rate based on previous bacterial collection at the same sub sites. To do this, the dive team planned two dives to collect the necessary samples. They also added some new biomass sample sites at each of the three stations, including two new sub-sites at all three stations and one repair at station three. At Wekiwa I was analyzing samples with the surface team. I did the Nitrate test, which takes forever since each sample has to be shaken for three minutes then incubated for ten. The nitrates dropped the further into the cave the samples were taken. The water analyses performed were the same as yesterday’s, and yielded consistent results. That is, there was no sulfur or iron, and the nitrate, ammonia nd alkalinity where the same as other trips to Wekiwa. The water analysis process is moving faster now that the team has some experience with all of the different tests. The sampling also moved much faster because Ricky was at the mouth of the cave bringing samples up to us as the dive team filled them. At Sanlando, all the samples were brought up at once so it took much longer. After all the samples were taken the dive team surfaced and debriefed for their second dive while we finished with the samples. Once we were done with the samples, we were free to gorge ourselves on the food Rima brought and swat flies at our leisure. Eventually the dive team returned from their second dive with fresh bacterial mats which Rima seized for testing. Then all the gear was broken down and packed up and we were on our way home.
I departed on July 5th for my five day internship with the Cambrian Foundation. When I arrived at the Orlando airport, Ricky drove me over to Renee Power’s house, where I would be staying for the next few days. That night, a portion on the team arrived for a project briefing. Basically, Renee and Rima went over what we would be doing for the next five days. The goal of the mission was to collect water samples from different stations in four different caves. In addition to this, some bacterial and critter samples would be taken. To do this cave divers would enter the cave each day to collect the samples. After they returned the samples, the surface support team would run water quality tests on the samples. Our first spring, Sanlando Spring, was located in a private gated community. Today, I would perform my checkout dive with Bob Giguere. Before this, however, I listened to the walk through that the cave divers do before they go into any cave. During their walk-through, they rehearse how each sample will be taken and put in the correct bag, so that the surface support would be able to tell which station each sample came from. After the walkthrough, I geared up in the searing Florida sun and hopped in the water to wait for all the cave divers to don their pounds and pounds of specialized gear. Bob and I watched as the cave divers splashed and entered the cave. After all three cave divers (Renee, Andy and George) had dissapeared, Bob and I began swimming around the spring in search of wildlife. It wasn’t hard to find. Swarming around the cave entrance is a school of Plecothymus. The Plecos are a tropical invasive species that resulted from the dumping of large “algae eaters” from home fish tanks into springs. Though the Plecos are certainly not native, they do not appear to be harming the ecosystem and are fun to watch. They make frequent trips to the surface of the water to gulp air for an unknown reason. Bob and I also spotted a turtle and tons of tiny tropical fish like guppies, living in the shallows. Several egrets and other birds where aware of their presence too and fished consistently while we were there. I also spotted what looked like a sampling bag that the divers took with them in the middle of the spring. We later found out that a diver had dropped the bag and the current carried it out. At the end of our dive I exited the water broke down my gear and went to the surface team, headed up by Rima, to see if they needed any help. I was put to work shaking water samples with little packets of cadmium in them for the nitrate test. Soon enough all the water samples had been tested and it was time to pack up an go home. At Renees house after the sampling we went over the plan for the next day at Wekiwa Springs. Somewhat of a logistical nightmare, Wekiwa has five testing stations as opposed to Sanlando’s three. The divers and Rima planned out the activities for Wekiwa and went on their way, everyone needing their rest after such a long day.
Aquarium Days 4 & 5
On Friday, I started the day helping Jaime with food prep again. This time I got to prepare food for the sharks and needlefish and Puffy and Fugu as well as several others. One of responsibilities was “squid tentacles” where one pulls off a frozen squids head, rips out the beak, then cuts off the tentacles for the smaller fish of the GOT. Once all the food was prepared we started the surface feeds again. I got to feed Puffy and Fugu again. They are my favorite fish in the GOT because they are quite possibly the cutest fish ever to live. They have giant eyes and big lips and they swim up to the platform and stare at you when they are hungry. They also suck the squid out of your hands like a vacuum. The morning went as my other mornings at the GOT had gone, alternately scrubbing and feeding. When you are feeding Myrtle or the other fish amny visitors ask all sorts of questions, from “How come the sharks don’t eat those guys?” to “Does that turtle ever bite you?” It’s fun to interact with the public since they are so curious about all the critters in the tank. After lunch, I geared up for the 1:15 dive again, making the plunge into a wonderland of fish. This time the angels were intensely curious about me and bit my hair frequently. I attracted several gray angels and a queen angel, but they all turned their backs on me once I started scrubbing in ernest, since it mucks up the water so much. Again, the 50 minutes underwater went by quickly until it was time to get out. Then I had to haul tail to rip off my wetsuit, head down to penguins, pull on another wetsuit and then participate in the 2:30 feed. To my surprise, I found out I would actually be feeding the rockhoppers. This was lots of fun, watching all of the birds jockeying for position. They ate a ton on Friday, each penguin had at least 8 fish, and Eudyptes, the chubby guy that sits on top of the rock ate 15. Some of the penguins are slightly blind and go for your fingers instead of the fish, which tended to be a little painful. After the feed, we scrubbed algae and doodlebuged for the rest of the afternoon. After getting out of the water, there were just a few buckets to wash before heading home. On my last day, I started out the morning with Penguins, helping with the African feed and scrubbing out the penguin caves where several pairs were nesting. Then we doodlebuged and algae scrubbed again for a while before coming in for lunch. After lunch I again geared up, this time for my last dive in the Great Ocean tank. It was fun as usual, with the sharks swimming closer than they had before (slightly unnerving) and several run ins with the highly territorial chromis. I scrubbed algae like a pro until again it was time to get out. I helped out with the scrubbing and the 2:30 feed before going down to Penguins to meet with Paul. As a treat on my last day I got to see the chicks. There was one full sized rockhopper chick, still covered in downy fur and looking extremely adorable. There was also one tiny African that had just hatched and was still nestled firmly under his mother and next to his sibling still in it’s egg. There was another African chick in the process of hatching, it had been hard at work breaking out of it’s shell for more than a day, but still had a ways to go. Seeing the chicks was a really neat way to end my experience at the aquarium. I left happy and with some new knowledge of what it’s like to work in animal husbandry.
Aquarium Days 2 & 3
For my second day at the aquarium, I was sent up to Divers to help Jaime and Amy with food prep. It consisted of pulling out and preparing many, many pounds of fish, squid, krill, plankton, and shrimp for the various animals in the GOT. I was shocked by how picky some of the fish must be since I had to de-beak and remove the pens from every squid, de-tail the srimp, and pop the swim bladders of the smelt. Many pounds of fish are also chopped up to scatter in the lower parts of the GOT. The reason the food is prepared in so many varieties is so that the maximum number of fish can get a healthy meal at each feeding, since they all eat food of different sizes. After the morning food prep I got to feed Myrtle at the 10:30 feeding. She has an extremely healthy apettite. At this particular feeding she ate a head of lettuce and about a pound of fish gel and fish and squid. After the 10:30 feeding we returned to the food room and did dishes for a considerable amount of time, then returned to the platform to do another feed at 11:30. I fed Myrtle again, she consumed another two heads of lettuce. At each feed, divers enter the water and target feed certain groups of fish, like the sharks, or angels or rays. After that feeding it was lunch time. After lunch it was back to scrubbing dishes and feeding Myrtle or the puffer fish, Puffy and Fugu, or the needlefish or lookdowns. In fact, the whole day vanished quickly with all the scrubbing and feeding. Soon enough, it was time to go home and get ready for the next day, when I would be diving. On Thursday I arrived at the aquarium and spent the morning with the penguin people. I assisted with the recording on the feed, and then busted out the Virkon and started scrubbing again. My mom came to see me at the aquarium and was really excited to watch the penguins come up and nip me while I scrubbed. The penguins are a bit of a riot, they express their curiosity by biting you, wherever you are most accesible. This is why it’s a good idea to wear a wetsuit. After scrubbing for an extended period of time, the lunch hour had arrived, and I went out to eat with my mom. Upon returning, I started to gear up for the 1:15 dive with Mike the volunteer and Jaime, and intern from UNC-Chapel Hill. Before I knew it we were standing on the platform, in front of tons of people pulling out all the algae scrubbing brushes needed for the dive. The 1:15 dive is always a maintenance dive, so mostly algae is scrubbed off the windows and reef. After stepping into the water I was again transported to the carribean reef, only this time, my job was to clean it, so I got strait to scrubbing a spot on the reef. Many angel fish came to investigate my movements as well as a Kemps Ridley sea turtle who landed on my head. A few of the other turtle came to investigate by bumping into me. The sharks were a bit of a shock each time they swam by, teeth bared. Before I knew it the dive was over and it was time to ascend. After hauling myself ungracefully up the ladder, it was back to scrubbing out buckets in the food room. I passed the rest of the day at divers feeding Myrtle and helping with the never ending cleaning. However Mike is a fiend at cleaning and everything in the food room was sparkling by 4:30, which meant we got to leave early!
Aquarium Day 1
I arrived at the New England Aquarium at 8 o’clock on Tuesday the 27th, ready for my week to start. I met up with Paul and he gave me a brief tour of the Giant Ocean Tank (from the outside) and brought me up to the Dive office to meet with John who would be doing my orientation dive at 2:30 in the afternoon. John pretty much told me not to worry about it and that I would do great, which was good, because I was a little nervous. Next we headed down to the penguin office were I pulled, squeezed and shoved myself into a wetsuit that was just a little bit to small and hopped into the penguin exhibit. The exhibit is huge and houses four species of penguins, the rockhoppers, Africans and little blues. For the first part of the morning I recorded the rockhopper feed, which meant that I wrote down which penguin had eaten how many fish. All the penguin staff interns and volunteers can readily tell the penguins apart based on their identification arm bands. After this we commenced the scrubbing which lasted from about 9:30 to 11:00. First each rock island must be completely rinsed then scrubbed with the veterinary disinfecan Virkon. It’s an excellent cleaner to use in the exhibit since it does not harm the penguins and dissolves completely in water. While we scrub the islands, the penguins all get in the water for their morning swim, however some get lazy and prefer to hop back on to the island from which they must be removed. This can generally done with a hose. After scrubbing the islands is done the algae scrubbing starts, though it seems somewhat futile. it is a very large exhibit and their is a lot of algae, so it’s an unending battle. At about 11:00 everyone gets out of the penguin exhibit, dries off and gets back in their aquarium uniform for lunch. I travelled with the penguin posse to Al’s for the most intense sub ordering experience of my life. You have to scream your order at one of about twenty people working behind the counter while being jostled from either side by other customers. However, it was well worth it, the sub was fantastic, and about 16″ long. After lunch Paul brought me up to the volunteer office for my orientation. I was given a shirt and they made up an ID for me, they’re not entirely waterproof unfortunately. After my orientation I headed up to the Dive room on the fourth floor to begin gearing up for the dive. This went rather quickly and before I knew it, I was out on the platform in front of a TON of people. The dives are always tied in to an educational program, so an education staff member stands behind and talks about you as you prepare to enter the water. This alone wat slightly nerve racking as giant green sea turtles and sand tiger sharks swim below you. But I made the jump none the less and entered a whole new world. I’ve never been on a dive in tropical waters before, so it was unbelievable to see all the fish. While underwater, John gave me the tour of the tank, showing me all the sensors, filters, cages and effluents. I got to touch the nurse shark and scratch Myrtle”s (the green sea turtle’s) shell. We also looked at the spotted moray and discovered a few of the Chromis when they started biting our hands because we were invading their nests. I still have the welts three days later. At the end of the dive I hauled myself out of the water, quickly got changed and went back out to the platform to help Ryan, the volunteer, with the 3:30 surface feed. Feeding the puffers is my favorite because they are so cute and shy and huge and they kind of suck the squid and fish out of your fingers like a vacuum. We also toss some krill in for the lookdown school and some cappelin for the needlefish. After the feed I helped clean up, which takes forever stored my gear in the locker room and took off around 5:15.
Fairhaven Days 2 & 3
On Wednesday we departed at about 8 o’clock for the National Archives Northeast Reagion, which is located in Waltham. This is about an hour’s drive from Farihaven, so on the ride over, Eric described our objective. The plan was to search for evidence supporting the tentative naming of an unidentified shipwreck. The steam lighter that Eric had found previously is believed to be the New York Railroad No. 14. The ships have matching lengths and other measurements but after the ship was sold in 1962, there is no record of where it went or how it ended up sunk in Boston Harbor. Therefore we searched the Army Corps of Engineers records of wrecks and obstructions to find any mention of the ship. These records deal with shipwrecks that are obstructions to navigation and their removal. Sadly, after many hours of searching we found nothing about the little lighter we were looking for. On the other hand, we did turn up some interesting information on the Chester Poling and a wreck called the Snetind which Eric had discovered some years prior. After lunch at Bertucci’s we swung by the Quest to fix a broken shower valve. This was much more trouble than initially assumed because the valve which needed replacement could not be found at any local boating stores. Finally we found one at a Home Depot and Eric was able to fix the shower. Since this took the majority of the afternoon we headed home and again rested up for the full day to come. The next day we awoke to meet with some of Quest Marine Service’s client. We drove out to Cape Cod for an appointment with Bill who works at Benthos. Benthos makes a variety of underwater products ranging from sonar systems to ROVs to glass balls. The sonar is a unique trail behind system that can scan the bottom topography making it possible to map and survey underwater areas. In the products testing stages, the Quest used it to take a survey of the Cape Cod chanel. Benthos is also the company that manufactured the ROV “Little Geek” seen in the movie Abyss (they still have it). The glass balls are one of their most popular items, often used to house sensitive scientific equipment at great depth. Eric and I recieved a full tour of Benthos’ facilities, which are sizable and impressive. They have tons of engineers, people assembling products, large pools for testing their products and tiny pools capable of testing the equipment at great pressures. After the tour, we headed back to the Quest to get it fueled up for the weekend dive trip. The highlight of this trip was probably the swarms of ctenphores lighting up in the harbor water. After this, we grabbed lunch and headed to Providence to Visit another company that Quest does testing for, Farsounder. Farsounder is still a youthful company, hatched from a URI undergrad with an idea to create forward looking sonar for whale avoidance. After many years of science and engineering far over my head, the prototype was created and Farsounder with it to market and sell the product. We met with Cheryl the CEO who gave us a history of the company and gave us a description of the product. Then we were introduced to the engineers behind the product who talked with us for a while about the myriad applications of their sonar and then gave us a demo of it. The sonar is now marketed more as an aid to navigation capable of showing what is in the water in front of the boat, and any obstruction’s exact distance and depth. The demo was pretty cool because the image updates everysecond or so and can provide several different views and angles of the water in front of the boat. At the conclusion of our meeting I said good by to Eric and Cheryl and took off for home to get ready for the dive trip planned for the weekend. Unfortunately we were blown out again, so I had a few days to prepare for my trip to Boston and working at the aquarium.
Fairhaven Day 1
This past week, from Tuesday to Thursday I went up to Fairhaven, Massachusetts to visit Eric Takakjian and his wife Lori. I arrived around 10 o’clock on Tuesday and Eric gave me the grand tour of his house, which is chock full of artifacts recovered from shipwrecks. Eric does all the restoration himself, which takes a remarkable abount of time, but everything turns out looking spectacular. After the tour, we got to work filling tanks with trimix, and interesting process that I’ve never seen before. Eric also showed me the decompression software on his computer and how it works. After this, we took off to drop some tanks off for fills, then we headed over to the New Bedford Whaling Museum. The museum houses a huge blue whale skeleton, as well as full humpback and sperm whale skeletons. The museum details the culture of whaling in New England. It has many spectacular displays of scrimshaw and model ships as well as some temporary art exhibits. The bow of a whaling has been imitated for people to walk over and view. After our visit to the whaling museum, we headed back to Fairhaven and stopped by the Quest, Eric and Lori’s boat. Eric explained to me about what his company, Quest Marine Sevices, does. They do a lot of testing scientific marine equipment for companies still in the process of developing and perfecting prototypes. After looking through some pictures of the dive expeditions that have also been done off the boat, we headed back to the house to have dinner and get some rest for the next day.
After several weekends of miserable weather and cancelled plans, the conditions were finally good enough to go diving (sort of). It was still a little rainy and choppy, but there was less wind predicted than usuall. So I headed up to Dave and Heather’s house in Beverly Mass. on Friday so that we could get up bright and early the following morning. Around 6 we made the short commute over to were they keep the Gauntlet docked in Salem. Heather went over the boat, opening things up and checking the oil in the engine. Next we brought all of their gear down into the boat and by 7 o’clock it was time to start loading all of the guest’s gear onto the boat. Since the target wreck for the morning was 190 feet deep everyone was diving steel doubles sith all sorts of stage bottles, which all had to be secured with bungee ropes so as not to move around and break things during the ride out to the wreck. Before the dive a mooring had to be prepared for the wreck since it did not already have one. I helped out with this by coiling a ton of rope into a bucket, which is actually not nearly as easy as it sounds, but I managed. One end of the rope had a bunch of milk cartons and such attached to it. The other end had some weight attached. After the hour long ride to the dive site the mooring was thrown in on top of the wreck and Dave and another diver went down to secure it to the wreck. After they returned, the divers began entering the water, which was sometimes quite a trick since the water was a little choppy. Everyone managed to get in and down though, and there was nothing to do but wait in the cabin with the heater until they started to emerge again. Then all the divers had to be helped to remove all their gear. This is tricky on a rocking boat with huge tanks strapped to your backs, I came to learn. Once all the divers were safely disassembled the journey back began as all napped or swapped diving stories. Back at the dock the unloading process began, just to reload again for the afternoon dive on the Chester Poling. I was to be diving this wreck so I hauled all my gear down the ramp to the boat. On this dive only myself, and three other people taking classes were on the boat with Dave and Heather as opposed to the morning’s ten person load. The ride out to the Poling was much shorter than the mornings commute, so once the wreck was spotted (this was easy since another boat was already there) we started suiting up. I can now don my drysuit in record time (like half an hour), but still lagged behind my budies who pulled on their wetsuits like jack rabbits. Eventually though, I was all geared up and ready to enter the water with Dave and my two other budies. After lumbering over to the platform and plunging into the water I swam over to the tag line. The current was moving extremely fast, so holding on was a bit difficult. We then had to haul ourselves over to the line down to the wreck. This was still a bit frightening since the boat was smacking the water in an intimidating fashion. However at a depth of about five feet the current vanished and it was smooth sailing. The water was murky and dark, but visibility wasn’t too bad, especially with a light. The wreck somewere around 75 feet of water and is a magnificent artificial reef, covered in wildlife. The wreck itself is spectacular too, and seems huge underwater. Once back on the boat, I made the hideous mistake of not asking for help with my zipper and learned a valuable lesson ; zippers and zip seals do not, in fact, get along. With a puncture wound in my wrist seal and no backup, a second dive was out for me. So instead I helped the other divers get back in the water and then at the end of their second dive, helped them unsuit and secure their tanks. At this point it was close to 5 o’clock and time to head home, tired and contented. At the dock I moved all my gear back into my car, said good-bye to Dave and Heather and began the long drive home.
Drysuit Checkout Dives!
Well the plan for this weekend was to head up to Dave and Heather Caldwell’s in Massachusetts for a weekend of crewing and boat diving in my brand new drysuit. But because plans don’t always work out and New England weather has been less than desirable lately (the NOAA forecast said something about 5-8 foot seas), I did my drysuit dives in a slightly more sheltered location, at the new Brownstone Park. The park was, until recently, a town owned quarry, but thanks to the Hayes brothers it is now a large dive park, and they have plans to expand. Luckily for me the park is in Portland, Connecticut, which is about 15 minutes from my house, so I got some extra sleep on Sunday. Dave and his friend Scott drove down to meet me there and we quickly got underway. First I signed a pair of waivers and then Dave began explaining some drysuit safety maneuvers to me. After that, it was time to get into the drysuit. Although I had done it three times before it’s still a bit of a challenge. But eventually I squeezed and shimmied my way into the suit, donned the rest of my equipment, and headed for the water. Then it was time for the dives. First we made our way to a sunken platform at about 20 feet. There, I completed some drysuit skills, like unhooking and reattaching the inflator hose (I had some problems getting it back on), and becoming inverted, then working my way back to the correct horizontal position. After doing this we took off for the far wall of the quarry. It was quite a swim, but the topography was interesting and I got to work on my buoyancy (because it seriously needed work). We surfaced at the wall and made the slow swim back. Then we sat our surface interval. My parents came to check out the park and brought us some coffee. After about an hour, it was back in the water for our second dive. This time Scott had borrowed Ed’s scooter and did circles around Dave and me as we made our way to another spot on the far wall. This area was far more interesting as it appeared to have been a dumping ground for the past hundred years. In this area we found a huge car perched precariously on the edge of a cliff, a really old truck, a stop sign, a safe, and several other things. Most of the junk was at about 20-30 feet, and there were plenty of rusty metal pipes sticking up higher than that. While exploring the varied junk, Scott buzzed around on his scooter and when we surfaced, he gave us a ride back to the entry point, which was awesome. Then we sat and socialized for a while and packed up our gear. One person came out of the water with a rifle that he had found. Some kids started jumping from a cliff on the opposite side of the quarry. I can now say with confidence that I will never jump into a quarry knowing what’s sticking up just below the surface. Eventually it was time to say goodbye and head home, tired and happy. Now I just have to pray for good weather next weekend.
This past week, from Wednesday the 24th to Saturday the 27th I was working up in Beverly, Massachusets at Undersea Divers, a dive shop owned by Bob Boyle. Upon arrival I was treated to a tour of the shop from Heather, an Undersea employee. I got to see its office and back area which is home to the compressor, layaways and extra merchandise, as well as a ton of tanks which have been filled or inspected. After the tour it was right to work, putting together a new shipment of steel tanks. To do this the valves must be put together and then screwed onto the tank with silicon grease, a big wrench and a mallet. Next, Heather showed me how to do air fills on the newly assembled tanks. At first it seemed like a tricky process, but after a few fills I got the hang of it. On Thursday I ate lunch with Bob and Andy Martinez, a leading New England underwater photographer. He was kind enough to give me a copy of his book Marine Life of the North Atlantic and treat us to some delicious Thai food. Over the next few days I spent most of my time filling tanks for the various brave divers about to immerse themselves in the 46 degree water. I also did some work taking inventory and improving the gear bag display. During the week the shop was pretty quiet, but as soon as Saturday hit, the place was roaring with a continuos stream of visitors. In fact, I filled as many tanks on Saturday as I had done for the rest of the week combined. Overall, it was a fun week and I got a good understanding of how much work running a dive shop involves.
This Sunday, I met Lee Livingston bright and early (5 am) at the Guilford commuter lot for what would be an exciting day. Our destination was Dutch Springs Pennsylvania, playing host for the weekend to the DUI DOG Rally and Demo Days. We arrived just before 8 am and I quickly realized that Dutch Springs was a popular place. There were tons of people there, even before the gates opened, ready for a day of diving. At 8, Lee and I made our way down to the water. I was surprised to see that Dutch Springs was an enormous filled in quarry. We found the DUI tents where everyone was gearing up for the day ahead. We found Faith who had fitted me back at the clinic and I had an opportunity to thank her for doing such a great job. I had received the brand new suit about a week prior and it fit great. Without further ado, Lee and I grabbed our gear and began suiting up for my first drysuit dive! Though getting geared up was a challenge, underwater the suit was a dream. For the dive (since I was a bit nervous) we went down to the platform at 25 feet did some skills and came back up. 10 minutes into the dive I was shocked with the revelation that, except for my head and hands, I was perfectly dry, and perfectly warm too, despite the 57 degree temperature. The second dive went much the way the first did, except this time Lee had borrowed a camera from the Sea Life demo and snapped a few shots underwater. After the dives we packed up our gear and then got a chance to enjoy the barbeque DUI offered and watch a bit of the excitement. All sorts of people were taking advantage of the opportunity to try out the DUI suits. I had the opportunity to meet some awesome people, snap a few photos and then head home.
Sea Rovers 52nd Clinic
This past month, on the weekend of March 3-6, I had the pleasure of experiencing the Boston Sea Rovers 52nd annual clinic as the 2006 Frank Scalli intern. It was an experience like no other and has had my head spinning for some time now. The weekend began on Friday March 3rd, bright and early as all things SCUBA must, with COMS (Career Opportunities in Marine Science). The program is aimed at high school students interested in the marine sciences and features presentations from esteemed members of the fields of conservation and marine science. This year, many people presented including Alexandra and Philippe Cousteau, Amy Gionotti from the Cambrian Foundation and George Buckley. Several high school students shared their experiences from diving in Bonaire and the past two Scalli interns, Kate Douglas and Ricky Simon gave presentations on the events of their summers. After COMS, I was able to grab lunch and a decent nap before preparing for the evening’s pre-clinic cocktail reception to be held at the Gambel mansion. The night sent my head spinning as Pat Morton introduced me to some of the most illustrious names in diving. I had the pleasure of meeting Stan Waterman, Wes Skiles, Steve Drogin, Ethan Gordon, as well as many other members of the Boston Sea Rovers and their associates. It was an amazing experience to be able to talk to so many people who work in the most fascinating fields and have had huge impacts on the diving world. The next morning the clinic began and I was able to see three really interesting seminars, then grab lunch with my parents and go see three more seminars. The seminars covered a wide variety of topics, from underwater photography to extreme wreck diving to submersible technology. At 5:00 when the seminars ended it was time to get ready for the Saturday night dinner which is held for the film festival speakers. Dinner was amazing! I found myself seated between Michelle Hall and Philippe Cousteau at a table with Wes Skiles, Howard Hall, Stan Waterman as well as the Mortons and Kate Douglas. It was truly intimidating company and I was so nervous, but everyone was extremely nice. The food was great, the conversation even better, and before I knew it was time to head down the street to the film festival. The film festival seems to be the climax of the clinic, where some of the best divers in the world present their work in front of hundreds of eager SCUBA divers. The films are always spectacular and the commentary on them is often as interesting or more so. Half way through the program I was announced as the 2006 Frank Scalli Summer Intern and went up on stage to shake Patrick Scalli’s hand. It was a great moment and I was so proud that I am being given the opportunity to represent the Sea Rovers and what they stand for. By Sunday I was able to relax and enjoy a few more seminars as well as lunch with Dave and Pat Morton to talk about plans for the summer. I also found out that I will be receiving a DUI drysuit to use this summer! That’s totally awesome because diving up north with a wetsuit is coooold. I had my fitting on Sunday with Faith Ortins. After that, there was nothing left to do but bid everyone a fond farewell and begin the drive back to Connecticut to enjoy the rest of my spring break before returning to South Carolina. It was such an amazing weekend and I cannot wait until the summer starts!