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 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:)
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.