Diving Antarctica 2019: Lessons Learned

Compared to the Bonne Terre blog, this one will be much shorter but very important. Training for cold water diving is not just about doing the dives as I have mentioned before, it’s about learning my equipment. It is weird to say, but I am thankful for the issues I had at Bonne Terre. The last thing I want is to have these issues to happen in Antarctica. Or in Iceland as that is my next big test.
After arriving home I anxiously head to the dive shop. It is time to learn why my dry suit was leaking so bad. I explain the flooding and the duct tape solution to a few of the employees at the Lynnhaven Dive Shop in Virginia Beach, VA. Together we pressure tested the suit. This means we plug the wrist and head holes and inflate the suit with air as fat as it will go.
The dry suit was inflated until it looked like an extra large person. We listened at the seams for any air. Nothing was obvious of course. Next we took a bottle of soapy water and sprayed all the seams. This helps as we look for any air bubbles in case there is an air leak that can not be seen by the naked eye. No leaks. At this point I start to believe it was my error for the water at my feet.
We discussed everything I experienced and did while on the trip trying to play detective for the elusive answer.
There is a valve on the left arm of the dry suit. This valve is a turn dial that releases air from the suit. You want to release air from the suit underwater if you become positively buoyant. During my training in Minnesota I was told I can leave this valve open to make it easier to dump air at will. So that is what I did in Bonne Terre. I bet you can tell where this is going.
It was suggested that I turned the valve to the closed position or slightly open position and when I am ready to dump air to open it all the way. Well I figured it can not hurt to try this out. Unfortunately I can not test this theory in the pool as my issue occurred under pressure, deep in the water. I had no issues at the surface or in the pool when I tested out my dry suit. This means I must go diving again. Darn.
Three days later I meet one of the dive instructors at Lake Phoenix.  Lake Phoenix is about a 2 hour drive from Virginia Beach.  This quarry was formerly known as Lake Rawlings.  He is aware of my situation and was gracious in letting me join his dives for the day as he was working to get a couple of students open water certified.
Phil and I met before the students arrived to dive in the quarry. This was a random Tuesday afternoon and I can tell you we had the entire quarry all to ourselves. It was quite peaceful and very unusual.
My dry suit is not the only thing I am testing out. Recently, I was participated in an Instagram contest with @scubadivingmag for a chance to win a Sea Dragon 2100 Dual Beam underwater light that is compatible with my Sealife Micro HD Camera. Never in a million years I thought I would win an Instagram contest with thousands of other people hoping to win as well, in fact I really did not think anyone won those types of contests. I was wrong, and I was selected!!! I could not believe it!!!
In the past few weeks, I was researching an underwater camera light and dragged my feet in actually pulling the trigger to purchase one. To my surprise, I won an underwater camera light valued at $500 which was way more than I would have spent if I purchased one. I was beyond excited and can not wait to use it! Below is the underwater camera light I won. I received it in the mail just in time for this quick trip to Lake Phoenix. The perfect opportunity to test it out. Check out my new camera setup!
Truth time. I did everything the same as I did in Bonne Terre with one exception: I turned the valved on my left arm completely closed. I wore grey clothes underneath my dry suit undergarment to be able to visually see if any water leaked and possibly where it was coming from.
Armed with my new camera light and hopefully the answer I need, Phil and I walked into the water. We decided to start at the plane which sits around 55 feet deep. I wanted to start off with a deep dive to ensure I could determine the issue with my dry suit. To conserve air, we did a surface swim out to the plane that sits east/southeast of the dock. Our deepest depth was at 55 feet at 55 degrees. The perfect environment to put this suit to the test. The dive lasted for 33 minutes. Just like Bonne Terre I dove with 14 pounds thinking the water would be about the same. I found out later that was not enough weight for Lake Phoenix.
During the dive I could not feel any water sloshing at my feet and my feet were not numb from the cold water. A positive sign that made me very happy. I was comfortable for this dive which was great because this water was colder than Bonne Terre.
Phil and I walked out of the water and back to our pavilion. I anxiously take off my dry suit and slip my feet out from the boots and thrilled to find that I was COMPLETELY dry!!!!!! I clapped with excitement, eeeek!!! This was huge! It felt so good to have the answers. I only wish I thought about the valve in Bonne Terre but it never occurred to me then. But it made for a good learning lesson for me. Something I will never forget. The hardest lessons are those learned best.
Phil’s students arrived and I was able to complete two more dives with the same pair of thermal socks for the entire day!
As far as my weight, I added six pounds to achieve good buoyancy in Lake Phoenix. Another lesson learned is that every body of water is different and I am not just talking about fresh water versus saltwater as you will need different weight for those bodies of water, but in this case it was fresh water versus fresh water.  I can use the weight used in previous dives as a starting point but not as an absolute. Use the beginning of your dive in any body of water to do a quick weight check. It takes two seconds to make sure you have enough weight and well worth it to avoid problems during the dive.

 

As you can see here, my Sea Dragon underwater light is BRIGHT!! This picture is as-is, no filter. This may not have been the best time to test it out as the conditions did not really warrant the need for a light but I could not resist an opportunity to test out new equipment. Adding the light to my camera changes the profile of it by making it larger to handle. Any equipment in your hands while diving underwater takes your attention away from your diving, your breathing changes and your buoyancy changes. You can easily find yourself ascending or descending too fast if you are not paying attention, both are equally dangerous. I did not have any issues with the new light except that it was bright.  It will be a bit of a learning curve for me to know when to use the light for pictures and video. In addition I found myself pointing the light just off to my side so I would not be blinded for my selfie photos and videos.

 After today’s three dives I am officially up to 13 dry suit dives, almost halfway to my goal. I am achieving my dives at a much faster rate than I anticipated. Nothing wrong with that!!
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