Wednesday, November 30, 2005
I just sit here and read other dive reports on wreckvalley.com and the NJ scubadivers message board. This is driving me nuts.
Tuesday, November 29, 2005
A bunch of brave souls from The Scuba Connection went to Lake Champlain in Vermont for a little cold water diving. Water temps were a steamy 33 degrees, and we were below 14" of solid Vermont ice. Brrrr.......
I even wrote a short article about the experience. Check it out.
Just the thought of scuba diving underneath a sheet of ice gives me the chills. If you ever told me I would make four dives in water with a temperature just above freezing, I would have told you that you were talking to the wrong person. But when Wayne Fisch, one of the owners of The Scuba Connection in Hillsborough NJ asked me if I was interested in an ice dive trip his shop was planning to Vermont, I said yes. His shop planned the trip with the help of Pete Nawrocky, their local Dive-Rite rep and an ice-diving veteran. Pete suggested the trip to Wayne, and it was set up through Victory Sports in Colchester VT, one of Pete’s shops he represents for Dive-rite. Victory Sports would teach the class and issued PADI certification cards for us when we completed the class and required dives. If all went as planned, the dives were scheduled to take place in Lake Champlain’s Mallets Bay, just a short drive from Victory Sports.
Wayne posted the trip by the front counter in his shop. Even with the flyer up front for over a month, in the end only four divers, including Wayne, were able to make the trip. I wondered how many would have signed up if it were a weekend in Bermuda (which would have been a much quicker trip). Wayne was the shop representative for this trip, but this was still his first experience ice diving. Also along for the trip were dive masters Chris Lake, Rick Hanson and Mike Bender. Another dive master was eager to go, but a scheduling conflict prevented this.
Before traveling the 330 miles, we had to make sure we had the proper gear for the conditions. Dry suits are standard for diving in these extreme conditions, we all had them. Three of us had dry gloves as well, but Rick was going to dive with his wet gloves. We also had to make sure our regulator’s had been “environmentally protected” to avoid ice-up and free-flow (a condition Wayne would meet up with on his first dive).
With all the pre-trip planning taken care of, we met at the shop at 9:00 am on Friday for the ride up. Classes began at 6:00 pm at Victory Sports and we didn’t want to miss a thing. Wayne’s truck easily fit the four of us and all our gear, including about 10 tanks. By 9:30 we were on the road with Rick as Wayne’s co-pilot and navigator.
Hours into the trip, we were getting excited about actually ice diving. But while driving in upstate New York, we noticed Lake George was all wet; no ice to be seen. We decided at this point that we were going diving in Vermont, ice or no ice. A few times we saw some frozen spots on Lake George, raising our spirits along with a few yells. The farther north we went, the more ice we saw. We even saw some ice fishing going on, so we knew the ice was thick enough to support a person, but this can be as little as 3 inches. Ice diving requires an ice thickness of at least 6-8 inches of solid ice. With 12” or more, you can drive a truck in the ice. We didn’t care if it was that thick, we just wanted it thick enough for diving.
Driving along Lake George, we didn’t know that we had taken the “scenic” route. We could have saved quite a bit of time if we had known more about the area. No complaints though, it was quite beautiful. Large homes and quaint towns make you realize why people spend their time in the Adirondacks. We eventually crossed the “Bridge to Vermont”, and made our way to Colchester. As we neared the dive shop, we noticed Lake Champlain, all iced over. People ice-skating and fishing shacks were all over the ice, a very good sign.
Arriving at Victory Sports at about 3:30, we had plenty of time to kill. We met Chris Whipple, a staff instructor at the shop, and Pete Nawrocky, the Dive-rite rep. They told us we should take our gear out of the truck and set it up for the dives. Most of us had to do a little reconfiguring of our gear once they inspected it. No octopuses were to be used, so they had to be removed; our redundant air supplies were our backups. I had to take all of my gauges and hoses from my primary and put them on my “pony” regulator, since it was “environmentally protected”. This regulator then became my primary, and my primary became my pony regulator. While we were setting up our gear, the other divers in the class arrived. They were from Marantha Divers in Pennsylvania. We had a total of 9 students in the class, which was going to start soon.
Just before class, we met the Chuck Seleen, a Master Instructor. A Dentist by trade, he was our instructor for the weekend. We all went to the classroom in the rear of the shop for a couple hours of class instruction. Topics covered during the program include: Planning, organization, procedures, techniques, problems and hazards of ice diving, site selection, preparation and hole-cutting procedures, special equipment, safety lines, signals, communications, line tending and line-securing techniques. We also learned about the effects of cold, emergency procedures and safety-diver procedures. Each diver would be tethered with a 100’ polypropylene rope to a “tender” at the surface. After class, our group and Pete Nawrocky headed out for a quick dinner and then to our hotel. We had to be back at the shop at 7:00 am for the first day of diving. We couldn’t wait!!
7:00 a.m. on Saturday we met at the shop. After loading all of our gear and getting a briefing from Chuck Seleen, we suited up at the shop. We drove to Mallets Bay in Lake Champlain, which was just a five-minute drive from the shop. We were able to use a Girl Scout camp for access to the bay and a snowmobile with two sleds to shuttle our gear out to the dive site. Once on the ice, we saw the staff had set up a nice little camp just off Birch Island. A large tent with a propane heater was available for those who needed a break from the cold. We laid out all of our gear on large tarps on the ice. Once all our gear was ready, we went over to watch ‘BC” cut the hole in the ice using an auger and chain saw. After the hole was set up with all the safety lines, the ice chunk was tethered and pushed under the ice sheet so it wouldn’t float away. We would pull the chunk back at the end of the day to “close the pool”. It was a clear and sunny day, with temperatures expected in the low 40’s. We wouldn’t have asked for better conditions.
Wayne and Chris were chosen to be the first team of divers in the water for the day. They were to be called “team 1”. Rick and I were assigned as “team 3”, so we would be the line tenders for Wayne and Chris while "team 2" got ready to dive. Rick tendered the student team while I tendered their instructor, Chris Whipple, who would shadow Wayne and Chris during their dive. The divers sat by the hole and were suited up by another team of divers. Everything from hoses and buckles to masks and fins were put on by these teams, since the divers themselves had limited mobility due to their suits. It was the same when they came out. They had to be pulled out of the hole by a tender and then all the gear was removed. The last thing to be removed was the safety line, which was clipped to a harness or a D-ring on the divers BCD.
One thing we learned is that your tank is not turned on until you are in the water and your regulator is submerged, facing down. If you turn the air on earlier, it can freeze, causing a free flowing regulator, especially if there is any moisture in it from putting it in your mouth too early. Wayne was using a high performance Dacor regulator, which was “tweaked” for peak performance. This caused a short delay in him submerging, since the regulator began free flowing almost as soon as the air was turned on. Luckily, this situation was quickly fixed so Wayne and Chris began their dive. After each submerged, they had to “acclimate” to diving under the ice. They move only a few feet from the hole and get used to being underneath a solid sheet. Once they became “acclimated” they began their dive. Rick and I tendered their lines until they just about reached their 100’ limit. I gave my diver three tugs to tell them him there is no more line. Rick also had to give Wayne and Chris three tugs. Wayne was attached to the tender’s line and also had a 10’ line going to Chris. Whenever he received a tug signal from the tender, he had to send the same signal to Chris. Chris then had to return the signal to Wayne, who could then send the signal to his tender. The tugs were easy enough to remember, 1 for more line, 2 for OK, 3 for slack and 4 for “Trouble…pull us in FAST”. Luckily, we never had to use the four pulls signal.
After about 15-20 minutes, we got the 3 tugs to tell us to take up the slack and the divers were coming back to the hole. Wayne was pulled from the hole by another tender and I asked him about the dive. He yelled out “ice diving rocks”, a feeling I would agree with about 30 minutes later. Chris came out from the water with a huge smile on his face. “Fresh” was his description of the dive. We all knew that was a positive thing.
One more team in and out of the water and it was our time to go. When it was our time, Rick and I were tendered by “team 5” and then got in the hole. I was expecting to feel a little more apprehensive about diving underneath a 9” sheet of solid ice, but that feeling wore off quickly. My regulator worked fine in this water and it was time to dive. I went under first, leaving Rick at the surface. I pushed myself underneath the ice and vented the air from my BCD and dry suit. Our instructor was just below me, giving me the “ok” sign, which I gave back to him. Rick was the more experienced diver between the two of us and he took on the responsibility of working two lines. Rick was tethered directly to the tender on the surface, and to a 10’ line attached to me. I was the “A” diver since I was on the end, with only one line from Rick. I started my “acclimatization” underneath the ice surface and waited for Rick. My hands were surprisingly comfortable in the dry-gloves I was using for the first time. Rick on the other hand, was still diving with his old wetsuit gloves. From below the ice, I watched Rick enter the water and begin his descent. He only spent a few seconds getting acclimated and off we went on our dive.
Visibility was at least 15’ and as much as 20’. I could clearly see Rick at the end of the 10’ line. I have to admit that there wasn’t much to see at the bottom. The silt on the bottom was thick and easily disturbed. We swam towards the island, near the tarps and equipment. The ice was clear enough that I could see people and gear on the surface. I had a better time swimming inverted and backwards just underneath the ice surface while looking up at the ice. Rick and I swam along the ledge just off the island and then into deeper water, reaching a maximum depth of just 30’. There was no need to use our dive lights, since there was enough natural light penetrating the ice and through the hole to keep me in my comfort limits. When the sun was high in the sky, the view of the light coming through the hole made me stop and stare for a while. It was impressive!
With the three tugs on the line, we knew our dive was over. We swam back to the hole and were quickly pulled out by tenders. I agreed with Wayne….”Ice diving rocks”.
This was the first of our three training dives we did on Saturday. All of the divers from The Scuba Connection made the required training dives in one day. Some of the others from the class made two while one student made just one dive. We still had Sunday ahead of us for finishing the training or “fun” diving. When our time came, it was for fun, since the four of us were now PADI certified ice divers.
Sunday was just that…. fun. Wayne and Chris were able to dive together each with their own line and tender. They had a 30-minute limit and took it to the limit. Actually, I think Wayne pushed it to a whopping 31 minutes just to get one over on Chris. Even with this bottom time, they stayed within the “rule of thirds” for their air supply. During their dive, we were on the surface joking about how long they have been down and how many times they reached the 100’ limit on their safety lines. I joked that Wayne probably had a 50’ piece of rope in his drysuit pocket that he used to lengthen their reach. We almost had to drag them out when they reached the 30-minute limit. When they came out, they were all smiles. I on the other hand, had only a 15-minute dive. I had to cut short due to my head freezing. At about 20’ deep and 14 minutes, my head suddenly became unusually cold, unlike the previous dives. Knowing the physiological effects of cold on a diver, I decided to end the dive. I still came out of the hole with a smile on my face.
As Wayne said….”Ice diving rocks”!!!!