Sunday was reserved for an early morning trip to what Mike – the head diving instructor – calls ‘Moose Mountain’. The dive site is an out-of use quarry north of Capreol filled with clear, blue, tropical-esque water and little ledges that you can drop down and explore. Today we were descending to 96 feet, among other things. “Just so I could get used to it”, Mike said. What did that mean? But he’s the kind of guy that doesn’t give you a lot of time to over-think it. As everyone is suiting up, he hands me an underwater slate with a column of numbers – “How’s your math?”. He times me as I add the numbers together – 40 seconds. Then under the surface we go.
Diving at deeper depths is different for a number of reasons. At 96 feet, the water around you and in your wet suit is cold. About 42 degrees Fahrenheit, or 5.6 degrees Celsius. I repeat – it is cold. The pressure of the water on your body at greater depths compresses your wet suit and your air supply, so cold water is rushing in and it feels like I’m gasping for air. For once, my arms are tucked tight in to my body, not floating out beside me – “like a starfish”. Despite having air in my buoyancy control device (BCD), I still feel like there is a danger of sinking, dropping too far. So much for the graceful diver, calmly gliding through the water. Even the color is starting to change; blues start to fade away while my yellow fins and snorkel begin to look pink more than anything. Most of all, it’s dark. I feel myself start to breathe faster, gasping at my air supply. I see what Mike meant about “getting used to it”.
At just the right time, my guide turns back up the ledge we had come down and we slowly ascend to the relative warmth of 60 feet. I had never imagined I would call 60 feet warm, but after my first time at almost 100 feet it felt like bathwater. Later on I learned that the temperature at 96 feet was comparable to diving under the ice in the winter – without the ability to ascend to warmer water at shallower depths. Intense.
The math exercise is repeated and I am grateful for it. For whatever reason, I couldn’t slow my breathing and calm down after coming up from the deep, and I feel myself really starting to freak out a bit. At first I was having a tough time even holding on to the pencil, but as I started to add my brain was forced to focus and I was able to relax. Slower this time – 45 seconds. This touch of anxiety at 60 feet really put into perspective how important it is to remain calm and not panic under the water. You can’t just quickly rise to the surface if you are panicking, or out of air, or whatever the scenario may be. Too quick of an ascent can do internal damage due to nitrogen build up and expansion in the blood, and so must be controlled.
We rejoined the rest of the group and headed for the beach where we had entered the quarry. We start to speak again in English – not the combination of recognized and made up hand-signals that divers use to communicate with each other when under. Numbers are exchanged; depths, temperatures, times and remaining air supply. While no one is in a hurry to return to that depth anytime soon, you can feel the excitement from the divers about the accomplishment. As for me – I am thrilled. I am one step closer to diving in the ocean again!