December 02 2004
Excitement for everybody today
Once again we have split into two teams and dove at different sites today. Jen and Mike will be diving at Hut Point, while Stacy and I with our dive tender George are diving at the outfall. Well, Stacy will be doing all the diving and I will be suited up as a standby diver. The outfall is considered contaminated diving and this will change several of our diving routines. Stacy has 3 main goals for today's dive. We need to recover a time-lapse camera that has been snapping shots every 2 minutes for the last 4 days. The camera is pointed at a series of tubs each containing organically enriched soil (simulated waste). The idea is to see what the critters are willing to do to get to the food. Then she has to clean up the experiment itself. The third and hardest thing is for her to swim 250ft over to a different dive site and recover an experiment that has been there for 2 years. All of this she will do alone, no dive buddy today. Stacy uses my red rubber dry suit as its surface is smooth and easily decontaminated. Rob Robbins will accompany us today as the dive controller. His Piston Bully has two huge air tanks strapped to the roof with hundreds of cubic feet of air in them. With these Stacy will be able to stay in the water for as long as she wants, well, at least she can stay in the water as long as her dive computer will allow. The computer is telling her now that she has 55 minutes at 60 feet. This is not a lot of time for the amount of things planned for this dive. The air tanks are much too large to go with Stacy so she will use a surface supply rig with 250ft. of hose for this dive. The hose is connected to a full face mask that literally zips all the way over her head.
The dive starts normally with a big splash as Stacy slips into the hole. I am the standby diver so I am suited up and ready to get in the water if my help is needed. The idea of diving into contaminated water with a SCUBA regulator and only wet suit gloves does not appeal to me. I feed out hose as Stacy sinks and we can hear her giggle as she gets her ears to clear. Having the ability to talk to the diver is the main reason she is allowed to dive alone. The hose to the surface is not her only air source. On her back she wears the cutest little bailout bottle. It looks like a SCUBA tank for a kindergartener. There is a valve on the mask that she can turn and receive air from this emergency bottle. The other valve on the front will free flow air into her mask through tinny holes in a tube that skirts the top of the face plate. This free flow air will not only keep her face plate from fogging but also supply her with a steady flow of air if the demand regulator were to malfunction. The demand regulator is almost identical to the regulators we use diving with SCUBA. When you inhale it supplies you with air and when you exhale it stops. The mask breathes a little harder (meaning it takes a little more sucking action by the diver to get it to supply air) than SCUBA but you can get used to this pretty quickly. Stacy's first task is to fold the antler looking arms that suspend the underwater flash units over the camera. Then she lifts the 50lb camera (15lb under water) and swims it to a spot directly under the hole. Next she must twist three small screws about 25 times each to disconnect the legs from the camera. To put this into perspective she is wearing the equivalent of space suit gloves. After making sure that the haul line and the power cables are free from tangling with any of the 4 lines going down the hole she gives us the command to haul. We pull up on the line slowly at first then faster as the camera and its spider-like legless tripod ascend from the sea floor. She is now 20 minutes into the dive and doing well. Even though she has unlimited air she still breathes calmly and is jovial. Another advantage to having surface supplied air is that you can work harder. This extra effort keeps you warmer then the slow steady work rate we use with SCUBA.
As we further disassemble the tripod and camera at the surface Stacy is collecting trays from the experiment and other items that are loose around her. She must do all of this with out touching the bottom or even kicking hard. The currents at this site are slight. In the absence of current any disturbance of the silty bottom would occlude her vision and with all the lines in the water this could easily be the begging of bigger problems. 10 more minutes go by and Stacy's remaining time on the bottom is reduced to 25 minutes. Breathing heavier now we get the command "Down on the divers line". She must have started her swim. The face mask and especially the hose makes swimming much harder. The air she breathes is 3 times as thick as the air we breathe at sea level. Just the diaphragm work required to pull this syrupy air into her lungs will wear on her. This effect is much more pronounced at 100 or 103ft where the air is 4 or 5 times denser, but even at 60 feet you notice the thick air when you breathe deeply.
Normally in California Stacy wears 25lbs of weight in her weight belt to compensate
for the air in her dry suit. Down here she ups that to 40lbs due to the extra fluffy
underwear and the displacement of her big warm gloves. The face mask she now
wears has a lot of air space in it and is therefore even more buoyant. A big
weight lifters belt with large hunks of lead bolted to it is necessary to allow
her to sink. This 50lb of weight is concentrated around her waist. To swim she
must rely on forgotten muscles to keep her head up and her body in a streamlined
position. Almost as soon as the swim has started she is huffing and puffing. We
pay out line as she groans and kicks. The microphone in the face mask amplifies
some of the slightest sounds to room filling rumbles. We all stare at each other
and nod our heads. Its obvious she is working much harder now. I untwist
the last of the hose and allow it to go down the hole. 15 minutes of bottom time
is relayed. Stacy is stuffing a bag full of trays, stakes, skirt pieces and
cages. Several minutes later she has filled the bag so full it won't close and
is literally overflowing.
Some of the junk Stacy brought back.
The swim back is simply going to be too much for her remaining 8 minutes of bottom time. She sighs "OK, start pulling me back, please." I haul on the hose and can feel her relax. It's good to know she is not struggling any more. As I pull her back, she slowly surfaces. Her computer should be reading 30 minutes as soon as she gets to 30 feet is my guess and we all relax. 230 feet of hose later Stacy calls for a safety stop. 5 minutes at 20 feet will guarantee that all of the dangerous nitrogen bubbles offgas slowly. I simply put my foot on the hose and hold her at 20 feet. We all notice Stacy make a weird squeak. It's a sound I am not familiar with. I am trying to figure it out when I barely make out "I can't breathe." We think "What did she say?" as we look at each other. Only 4 minutes has gone by and now Stacy says much more audibly "Hey, can you pull me up?" and as I am tugging she says it again, "I can't breathe." The first thing to surface is this bag full of about 20 pounds of stuff. I don't know how she was able to keep it from overflowing even as I pulled her back. After we grab the bag out of the way we grab Stacy by the straps and yank her into the hut. Amazingly she had managed to get one of her fins completely off and the other was nearly off. She needed her fins off so she could climb the ladder out of the hole. When the zipper releases her from the mask she is visibly tired but calm. Not really frightened by the fact that the regulator has frozen nearly shut. She explains that it was extremely hard to breathe and to open the free flow valve she would have had to drop most of the bag. When the regulator gets breathed real hard the preponderance of expanding air can lower the temperature of the seat to the point where it can freeze shut, or as was in this case almost shut. Stacy was tired but happy at getting all the objectives done. A successful and very tiring dive
Stacy slept most of the way home and was a little hungrier then normal at dinner.
When we finaly got to dinner we heard that Hut Point had struck again!
Jen and Mikes dive had necessitated a swim against the strong current to get back to the hole. A good meal had been earned by all.