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.

Undersea Divers

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.

DOG Rally

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!