11th International Submarine Races: Pre-game Check-outs

6/26 & 6/27

Me and Kim Malkoski outside the building!

I’m spending this week in Maryland at the 11th International (human-powered) Submarine Races (ISR). The races are held on the Caderock Naval Base in the David Taylor Model Basin, which is basically a pool, half a mile long, 50 feet wide, and 20 feet deep. It’s incredible! It’s so long, they had to calculate everything to the curvature of the earth to keep the dimensions consistent! The event is held every two years, and teams from all over the world come to compete. There were teams from Mexico, Bath, France, and several different states! Each team, we had 24 in attendance this year (which is a LOT!), brought at least one submarine (some brought two, making for 28 subs). The submarines are all man-powered, normally via some type of pedal system. These are “wet” submarines, which means that..well..they are wet inside, i.e. full of water. So, the driver is on scuba when they perform the race.

The Lift/ Dive station. The "pool" goes on forever...go towards the light! 😛

The subs race separately from eachother  and compete for the fastest times. But, the races aren’t just about who has the fastest time, or the best sub, they are about getting there; Forming the team, building the sub, and then actually bringing it all to the races. These teams are made up of mostly college and highschool students, all of which were just psyched to have come far enough to qualify for the races. It was an electric atmosphere.

My role during the past few days, and for the rest of the week, consists of..well…a lot of everything! I am on the Dive Staff and help anywhere I’m needed. These first two days I spent a lot of time helping with paperwork to check all of the divers and people in, and with tank inspections.  We had to inspect every single tank, including dive tanks, submarine tanks, and pony bottles to make sure they were up to date on everything.

Me in my DUI drysuit, all geared-up to help-out with the check-out dives!

If they weren’t the Navy wouldn’t fill them. But, most tanks passed, and then we put the almighty sticker on them, and the team was good to go! Well, almost. Most of the divers at this event only got certified a few weeks ago, and just for this event. So, we had to do a lot of quick check-out dives. Roberta Flanders and Kim Malkoski (Scall Intern ’08) were in charge of this, but I would go down with them to help supervise everything, and be the buddy to the odd man out. In total, we had to check-out over 130 divers. It was crazy, and we were in the water (which was in the 60’s) for periods of a couple hours at a time. I was happy and warm though, because I dove in my DUI drysuit everytime. Took a bit longer to get into, but it was totally worth it on the long dives! 🙂

So, once everyone’s tanks were inspected, and all the divers had been checked –out, and the judges had completed the dry-inspection of the team’s submarine, that meant it was time to get wet! In order to get the subs into the water, there is a lift at the dive station. The team rolls their cart and submarine onto the lift, and then we (dive staff) do a preliminary check on every diver and the submarine before we lower them down.  We check every diver to make sure that their air is on (you would not BELIEVE how many forget to turn on their air!), that both their regulators work, they have enough air, they have their weights, and that they did their tank straps right.

This is the Mako Sub, from Michigan, getting off the lift.

Then we checked the air tank in the submarine to make sure it was filled, on, and that the regulator worked. Once we did all that we had everyone put their fins on, then we lowered the lift, they floated their tank out into the basin, and they were off! It sounds like a lot to do for every diver, but we were an awesome team, and we could launch a sub, completely checked-out, about every 6 minutes. The only thing that slowed us down was the speed of the lift! The teams were great, and always had someone waiting to take their cart off the lift when it came back up, so we could get the next team on the lift in no time at all. We would start launching subs at 8:30, and by 10 o’clock, there would be something akin to 160 divers in the water, and umpteenth subs. And THEN, dive staff, but mainly the dive supervisor, Vin Malkoski, was in charge of all the subs and divers that weren’t racing! It was crazy! …and it’s only been two days! This is shaping up to be one heck of an interesting week! I can’t wait for tomorrow!

Quick Note- ISR 2011


Hi everyone! I’m back from Maryland where I just attended the 11th human-powered International Submarine Races and the David Taylor Model Basin on the Caderock Naval Base. We had something akin to 24 differnt teams, and 28 submarines from all corners of the globe. I worked as dive staff with Vin Malkoski, Roberta Flanders, Neil Churchill, and Kim Malkoski (Scalli Intern ’08). I also got to go into the water with filmer and Sea Rover, Nick Caloyianis. I had a fantastic week, met some extremely awesome people, and had a ton of amazing experiences. I’m currently bouncing off to Harvard’s Natural Museum of History in the morning, so I will be posting more detailed blogs about this in the next day or so. In the meantime, HAPPY FOURTH OF JULY! 😀

Working at a Dive Shop!

6/22 -6/24

Me with Bobby Boyle and his daughter Whitney at Undersea Divers.

I spent the last three days working at Bobby Boyle’s dive shop, Undersea Divers, in Beverly, MA. Bobby is the person that donated all of my Aqualung gear, so I was really happy that I would be able to help-out at the shop. I did a bunch of different jobs, including inventory, folding t-shirts, washing rental gear..getting wet, and having a lot of fun. I also got to watch and learn how to overhaul a regulator from Shawn, the master diver at the shop, and Whitney, Bobby’s daughter, showed me how to fill tanks. While I was there we actually had one of the tanks blow its safety valve. I think everyone jumped about five feet when it happened. It was LOUD.

Some of the gear for the boy scouts.

The biggest thing I helped with was organizing rental gear for a troop of boy scouts that Shawn was taking out. I made sure that we had all the proper sizes in BCs and wetsuits, and I set-up their weight belts. I’ve decided that setting up weight belts is not the funnest job in the world. Other than that I got to meet more divers as they came in for whatever they needed, and I got to hear a lot of stories. It was a lot of fun, and I’m sure I will be going back in the future!

The Ghost Gear Project


Sandwich Marina, it was a GORGEOUS morning!

“Ghost Gear Project,” what does that make you think of? It made me think of people buying gear to make themselves look like ghosts….riiiiight..cause THAT happens in the middle of June. (I obviously had the WRONG idea). Today I met Vin Malkoski, along with Derrick, Steve, and Mike, at the Sandwich Marina in the Cape Cod Bay area to help-out with the Massachusetts’ Department of Marine Fisheries’ (DMF) “Ghost Gear Project.” After they got the boat in the water and our gear was loaded, we headed out into the bay. Turns out that the Ghost Gear Project has to do with diving…and lobsters. Basically the DMF wants to know what happens to lobster traps that get lost and just sit at the bottom of the ocean with no one to tend to them, like ghosts.

Launching the boat!

So, they lowered a bunch of lobster traps along several different lines at a few different sites, and left them there. Just like that. This way it simulates what would happen if a trap got lost in a storm or something. Then they go back every two weeks to record what’s going on inside the traps; are the traps still catching lobsters? How many? Are they alive? Dead? How big are they? What gender? What else is in the trap? They do all of this in order to answer the questions like “How do “ghost traps” affect marine wildlife, and for how long do they have this affect?” “Do these traps really self-degrade like they are supposed to?” It’s an extremely interesting experiment, and I got to help with it!

Steve and Derrick measuring a lobster from one of the traps.

Once we arrived at one of the sites, everyone (except Mike….cause someone’s gotta stay with the boat) all suited up in our gear.I was the only person wearing a drysuit, and let me just say, I was SOOO happy I had it after diving in Florida! My DUI pajamas and suit were my new best friends! After that, the four of us rolled-off the boat, and the fun began! We would go down the anchor line and then find the lines tied near it. Then we would follow the lines till we hit a lobster trap, and Derrick and Steve would open it and record data on their wet-note sheets. Vin had a big video camera, so he got lots of footage. I had my little Olympus camera, and was experimenting with taking photos (I also took a bunch of landscape ones before we got in the water). Towards the end of the dives I started to get the hang of it, but I’m no pro yet. After they finished recording their data, we would continue down the line till we found the next trap, and the next, and the next. It was really neat because some traps were newer than others, and you could see how much they degraded over time.

There was a BLUE lobster in one of the cages!

We did two of these dives, and it was a really cool to actually go down and see underwater research being done. When we had to swim along the lines looking for the next trap we got the chance to look around and enjoy all of the other critters down there. There were a TON of starfish! We also saw sea ravens and a few skates. I had a mini moment of glory when I discovered a random pair of calipers among some seaweed during one of these in-between trips. Turns out they lost them a few weeks back! When everything was said and done, we headed back to shore. I gotta say, these guys have got some pretty cool jobs..literally..like..I STILL got cold, even with my drysuit!! (I think Florida spoiled me! :P) But seriously, it was a bucket of fun, and a great learning experience. I hope I get more opportunities to help-out in the future!

Lights! CAMERAS!… Housings?!


Me with Fred Dion at Backscatter East 🙂

Well, today I actually headed north instead of south! My destination? New Hampshire and Backscatter East, where I was meeting with Fred Dion to pick-up the cameras and their underwater housings that have been donated to the internship! I was pretty excited to “meet” the video camera that John Ellerbrock and Gates donated. All of the past interns have used it, and I can’t wait to try it out! I also received a still camera, with all the underwater fixings, newly donated to the internship this year by Andrew Bausk and Olympus.  To complete the “set,” Fred Dion and Underwater Photo-Tech donated an underwater video light. I was extremely eager to use everything…there was just one problem; I had no idea HOW it all worked!! But, that’s where Fred came to my rescue. He walked me through the basics on how to use everything, and now I think  I’m ready to do some experimenting of my own! After grabbing a quick bite to eat, we parted ways, and I headed back home. Tomorrow I’m going diving, and I’m bringing my camera with me! 😀

Getting Cavern Certified! :D


Another bright and early day, but that was fine with me! Today I got to do all of my cavern dives! Steve, our instructor, and I met at Blue Spring (my favorite spring that we worked at with the Cambrian Foundation). Once we got there we walked around and did a site check, then we practiced more dive reel skills, made our dive plan, set-up our gear, and went down to the water. We had to walk up the spring in the water for a bit to get to the mouth, but we didn’t mind because it was so pretty! (And we were SO hot that the water felt amazing). Once we got there it was drill time! Our cavern instructor swam down and set-up a circuit with his dive reel around the mouth of the spring. Then Steve and I each had to go down individually and swim around the circuit blind, only using our hand and the line to guide us. As we did this the “cave monster” (i.e. our instructor), was swimming around us, and would randomly try to bat the line out of our hands, and tangle pieces of our equipment so that we had to deal with trying to fix it all. Let’s just say that freeing yourself when your tank is tangled up behind your head is nigh-on impossible alone. That’s why we have buddies! 🙂

There were a few other divers around, but they weren’t cavern or cave certified, so they ended up just watching everything that Steve and I did. It was kind of funny, except for the part when they knocked the line circuit free while Steve and I were swimming together, blind,  around it. That was not cool. Loose line is almost as bad as tangled line! It gets everywhere, and can quickly turn into a real problem if you get caught in it. (…thank you cave monster for demonstrating this). But, we made it! After that it was time for Steve and I to buddy breath blind around the circuit. It was so strange! I had an extra-long, 7ft hose for my regulator that Steve was breathing off of. He swam in front of me, and I could hear every time he breathed. It was pretty creepy… We both agreed that we never wanted to have to use that particular skill. But, once we finished, it was time to actually go down into the cavern!

For our first cavern dive our instructor guided us down to 60ft. It was SO COOL! Everything was really clear, and the walls of the cave were all different shades of white and gray. Once we got down to 60ft, we practiced all of our different kicks for cavern diving. There were these ledges that jutted out, and when we swam above them it was pretty easy to do each kick. However, when we swam over the open spaces that led further down into the cavern it was harder because of all the water flowing out of the spring. It was such a neat, and humbling experience! After we finished that dive we went back up to the surface, did our safety stop, and then drifted back down the river portion of the spring. It was pretty relaxing to just let the current take us, we hardly had to do anything but steer. The water was wicked clear and there were big gar all over the place. Once we made it back to the staircase, we got out and took a lunch break were we planned our next two dives.

After lunch we geared back up and headed out for another round! This time Steve and I lead the two dives. I lead the first dive, and we went down to 100ft!! I started the dive off by making my primary tie-off with my reel, then my secondary, and then we literally got to “free fall” straight down into the cavern.  It was crazy looking back up! You could see the light from the sun, and then the walls of the cavern just went up forever! They were so pretty! We used our dive lights to explore around a bit, but after about 10minutes it was time to head back up.  We did our deco stop in this little alcove conveniently located at about 15 feet. It was really neat because we got to look around, and down into some of the other caves and tunnels connected to it. Once we finished this dive, we surfaced, talked about how it went, then prepared for Steve’s dive. We went to 60ft for his dive, and then explored back into the large cavern where we practiced our kicks. It was really neat, and slightly spooky. Our instructor stirred up a bunch of silt at one point to show us what it was like to lose visibility down there. It was pretty scary. We simply turned around and followed our line back out and up where it was clear, but I couldn’t help thinking how much harder that would be if you “silted-out” back in a cave with no sunlight.

We continued up to our “deco-cave,” and once we finished we discovered that we had more than enough air left to explore around up in the shallower cavern. This part of our dives was really fun. We went into little caverns, and then swam up through cracks into the caverns above. (I can totally see why side-mount is the preferred method in cave diving! It would be SO much easier to squeeze through everything!)  In one of the little caverns we saw tiny catfish, about 8inches long hiding back in the crevices. I was surprised to see them because the water coming out of the spring is so anoxic. I’m curious to know how they are adapted to it.  After we finished exploring, it was time for our lazy drift back down to the entrance. All in all taking this cavern course was officially one of the coolest experiences of my LIFE! I can’t wait to go again in the future!

Day One of Cavern and Nitrox!


This is the cover of my Cavern Diving Manual. The picture shows the places a cavern diver is allowed to be when they dive.

I’m still in Florida, and today was the first day of my cavern course! Steve Dunn, one of the Cambrian Foundation Interns was also taking the class, making a grand total of two students. It was actually really nice to just have two people in the class, it made it feel more like a friendly discussion the whole time. Steve is much more advanced in his diving career. He is already a PADI Open Water Instructor. But, I held my own, and we had a lot of fun. We started the day off by going over lecture material on both cavern and nitrox diving material (I am getting dual certifications). We took notes, worked problems, and did other class-roomy type tasks. At one point we moved outside because it was so nice, and there was a random chocolate chip cookie break, that everyone felt was much deserved…it’s the little things in life. 🙂

After we finished the lecture portion of the class we learned how to set-up all of our gear so that it was SUPER streamlined.  I think I will actually keep my gear this way, regardless of where I go diving, because it is just so much nicer to have NOTHING dangling and in your way. Once we finished that portion, we went out to a few trees with a reel and practiced our tie-offs, line placements, and most importantly, our communication skills. The communication skills that we learned are used in both cavern and cave diving, and consist of touch signals, hand signals, and light signals. Once you practice them a few times, they are pretty easy to understand. This part of our class got cut short due to a large thunderstorm, so we ended up retreating back inside. Then we did a quick review of the day, watched a few videos so we could actually see some of the kick techniques, set-up our time and place for the morning, and called it a day. I’m psyched for tomorrow when we get to actually use our skills and go cavern diving! 😀

Grab-Sample Day


Steve handing me a bacteria sample at NOVA Spring.
Steve handing me a bacteria sample at NOVA Spring.

Today we had a minimal team consisting of Rima, Amber, and Aaron from Virginia Commonwealth University, Steve Dunn, one of the Cambrian Foundation Interns, Renee Power, one of the divers, and myself. Our goal for the day was to travel to three non-divable springs in Central Florida and take some grab-samples of bacteria and water. First we went to NOVA spring. NOVA has that lovely rotten egg smell to it due to the sulfur in the water. Once we got there Rima and Aaron got all of the sampling and sonde equipment squared away, and Steve volunteered to dive down to the mouth of the spring (15-20ft) to collect water and bacteria samples. Amber collected samples up in the shallower areas, and I used the instrument called a sonde to collect data on the pH, dissolved oxygen content, temperature, and depth of the water. Before helping-out with the Cambrian Foundation’s Florida Springs Biodiversity Project, I had never heard of, let alone used a sonde. Surprisingly, taking the data is fairly simple. All I had to do was dip it into the water and hold it there for a while. After Steve finished collecting all of the water and bacteria samples, he dove down one last time, with the sonde, to collect the final data for the site. Once everything was packed back up, everyone jumped back into their cars, and we rolled-out to site number two.

GingerAle Spring. See how the water is still? That's bad because it means the spring is being blocked and not flowing right.

Next on our list was GingerAle spring. This particular spring has been incased by a circular cement wall about six feet in diameter and four feet in hight. Apparently, in the old days, people would use the sulfurous water when they bottled gingerale. The site is also surrounded by ginger plants, reaffirming the tale. Unfortunately the cement bowl has trapped a lot of debris over time, and as a result, the spring has been clogged-up and forced to find other routes to the surface. We didn’t have time today, but hopefully in the near future the Cambrian Foundation will be able to get a few people with rakes out there to clean it out. While we were at GingerAle Spring, we also walked a bit further back into to the woods till we hit Little Wekiva River, and took a bacteria sample and sonde reading. Some of the bacteria that we found at this location was purple!

The purple bacteria from GingerAle Spring

Normally the bacteria we see is white and stringy, grey, or a brown color. So, seeing purple bacteria was really exciting.  Once all the samples were collected, it was time to head-off to the last site of the day.

Site number three was Miami Spring, which is misleadingly located in central Florida, closer to Orlando…yeah, not sure who named that one, maybe they were lost? This spring was by far the prettiest that we had seen today, set back in a neighborhood, and surrounded by trees, with pretty garden bridges crossing over it.

Amber passing me the sonde at Miami Spring.

Everything was teaming with life. We saw more hawks than we could count, soft-shelled turtles, fish, and everything in and around the spring was green. The water itself was clear and blue. After walking all the way to the boil of the spring, we quickly labeled our sampling tubes, and then Steve once again got into the water to collect everything. The boil for this spring was really shallow, and he simply had to lay on his stomach and go down maybe three feet to get the samples. I say simple, but this was actually pretty difficult because the flow was very strong, so he sometimes had trouble getting down. But, all in all, everything ran smoothly, and we left with all that we came to get.

My Iron CheMet Kit in use!

Now that all the samples had been collected from each site, it was time to run all of the water quality tests. We used our CheMets, which are these little kits that have all the supplies to test for the presence of alkalinity, ammonia, sulfur, and iron in the water. They are also very easy to use in the field. Everybody was assigned to a kit or other analysis job, and we were able to collect all of our data in no time at all. Once everyone was finished, it was time to say goodbye. I was sad to see them go, but I’m really excited for what they will find during their research!

Me and Amber!

As a whole, all of the time that I have spent working on the Florida Springs project over the past few days with the Cambrian Foundation has given rise to one of the most unique, enjoyable experiences of my life. I’ve learned more about caves, cave divers, bacteria, science, and the positive impact that one organization can make than I ever thought I would. The people and atmosphere around everything has been extremely fun and welcoming, and everyone is really good about mixing fun, work, and education together. I really hope I have the opportunity to come back again in the future! 🙂

Working with the Cambrian Foundation

June 10-13, 2011

Looking upriver at Blue Spring.

WOW. I’ve spent the past few days in central Florida working with the Cambrian Foundation, which is a not for profit organization full of really diverse, and fun individuals. They’ve got their hands into everything from deep sea and cave microbe research, to giving educational presentations at schools, and exploring and mapping cave systems all over the world. I was specifically helping with the Florida Springs Biodiversity Project, which is focused on studying bacteria in extreme environments (i.e. the dark, oxygen lacking depths of caves). Our group went to three different springs, Blue, Wekiva, and DeLeon, where our divers went into the cave systems and collected bacteria. All of the springs were beautiful, but Blue Spring was by far my favorite. We got there VERY early in the morning, and there was life everywhere! We saw hawks, an otter, a ton of gar (a big fish), and the water was just so…BLUE! I was so jealous that the divers got to go down into the cave!

All of the dive gear set-out and ready to be hauled to the water!
Me with the sample bags at Wekiwa Spring

At every site, the divers (Renee Power, Karl Shreeves, and Jef Frank) would go down into the cave that the spring came out of and collect five or six station’s worth of bacteria and water samples. Once the water samples were up, myself and three other volunteers used CheMet kits to run water quality tests. There were four different kits, and each tested for a different property; ammonia, alkalinity, sulfur, and iron. We all used our respective reaction agents to turn the water different colors to see if, and how concentrated each trait was. Well…we attempted to turn the water colors.

These are some of our CheMet Kits! Mine is the one on the left, I tested for Iron.
This is what I looked at to determine the amount of Iron in the water. The tube in the middle is the sample...I got zeros most times, which is good!

It didn’t always work, but that simply meant that there was no iron, or whatever other trait, in that water sample (And sometimes, no data, is good data!). It was really cool, and whenever someone’s water actually changed color we all got really excited. Rima Franklin and Aaron Mills, the leading biologists on this project, take all of the bacteria and water quality data back to Virginia Commonwealth University. Two of Rima’s students, Shawn Hill and Amber Taylor were also helping-out.

Sampling the water from Blue Spring
All of the interns at Wekiwa! (Steve, Andrew, Shawn, Me, Amber)

They study the genetics of the bacteria, and are trying to identify how it survives in the ecosystem that it lives in. It was really exciting to listen to them talk about their different projects, and realize that, in some small way, I was helping them conduct pioneer research!

I had a fantastic time. Everyone was always so happy, and there was tons of laughing and joking around..oh..and working..we got heaps of work done too! It was so nice to meet everyone, and I was really happy to see Amy Giannotti again. My hosts were also extremely welcoming, and I had a blast living with them. This entire experience has been really fun and inspiring, and I learned a lot from everyone. One of my favorite questions to ask everybody that I meet during this internship is “How did you get into diving?” or “How did you get to where you are today?” It’s incredible listening to all of the different responses, and I can’t wait till someone is asking me those questions.  I got to hear some pretty amazing stories, and I hope I can help-out again in the future. In the meantime, thank you so much, and may the force be with you all! 🙂

Rhode Island!


The little bay we dived in at Fort Wetherill State Park. SO pretty!

Today we changed it up! I met Ricky and Anthony at Fort Wetherill State Park in Jamestown, RHODE ISLAND! I had a LOT of firsts today. It was my first time in Rhode Island, my first ocean dive of the internship, and my first dive in New England!  The park and ocean were beautiful, and it just made me all the more excited to dive in it! Ricky had me plan and lead both of the dives we did today, which I was internally stressing over because of all the “firsts” of the day. But, for having less than 20 dives under my belt, I did pretty good! I learned to make sure I was swimming slow enough for the whole group to stay together, and I learned that it is REALLY hard to keep your buoyancy in shallow water. Thankfully, the current wasn’t too horribly strong, and we saw a ton of critters. There were anemones everywhere, fish, including a few flounders, horseshoe crabs, and normal crabs. The other places that we dived where pretty, but it was SO nice to actually be able to see marine life again! Once we were done diving for the day, we chatted for a bit about my diving, Ricky gave me some pointers, and then he and Anthony wished me luck with my next adventures of the summer.

Me and Rick Simon (2005 Scalli Intern) after a day of diving in RI.

I just want to take a second here to say thank you SO much to Rick and Anthony for working with me these past few days. I’ve learned more than I can think about in one sitting, and I feel a lot more prepared for the summer. THANK YOU!