Archive for September 2011
Most people who spend large amounts of time in the water have certain comfort levels. I have always been proud to be one of those people who have a very high level of comfort in the ocean. I can count only a handful of times where I was uncomfortable in the water. This past week I added one more count.
Most of the diving I have done in California has been exactly what I could ever expect; dark, cold and visibility being maybe 10 to 15 feet. I have always heard the stories of diving Monterey or Point Lobos in Carmel where conditions are pristine. No waves, no current, and 100 foot visibility of the most gorgeous kelp forests you could imagine. Let’s just say that my first dive ever on the Monterey side of the bay was as different as it could be from the romantic stories you here of playful otters in tall kelp structures with large rock fish and deep corals. As of this past week, I was able to add the term “turd diving” to my ocean vocabulary.
My friend Henry was kind enough to take me in the past week and take me diving in Santa Cruz and Monterey. Our diving in Santa Cruz was similar to other dives I had had there. The vis was ok and the most entertaining part was being harassed by sea lions. We practiced some coring similar to what we will be doing in Antarctica. Overall the dive was good.
The next day it was up before the sun and over to Point Lobos on the far side of Carmel just past Monterey. We met up with an old friend of Henry’s who had a boat and was willing to take us out. His name was Phil and he is a very experienced commercial diver and dive boat captain in Monterey. The conditions this day were not very good. Waves were crashing into the bay, which I’m told doesn’t happen often, and the entire bay looked like a chocolate milk shake with greenish foam on top. Not very appetizing. We decided to head to the other side of the bay in hopes of finding deep water that would be clearer. Our first dive was at the pinnacles in about 100ft of water. We got suited up and jumped in. First thing that I saw in my anticipated beautiful Monterey dive was baby shit brown. And guess what our entire dive looked like…baby shit brown.
We all met up at the bow of the boat and followed the anchor line to the bottom. By 50 ft, it was getting dark. By 60 ft, I could barely make out the other two divers. By 90 ft, it was pitch black. Fortunately Phil never dives without his LED light attached to him. We made it to the bottom at our max of 104ft and were still being tossed by the waves from above. I was the last in the line and scrambling to stay where I could see the light. It kept moving farther away and I would do everything to stay close to it. As I was trying to stay close, I was being tossed around in a washing machine. Forward, grab some kelp to hold on, sideways, bang into a rock, backwards, kelp is ripped from hand, forward to the left, bang another rock. Trying to swim a strait path was imposable. It was here that I lost my comfort. For what felt like a half an hour, I scrambled trying to grab on to anything to stay put while still trying to stay where I could see the light. I felt at one point that I was in a dream, weightless, trying to chase something that if I lost it something bad was going to happen.
Suddenly I remembered that I was at 100ft and I needed to control my breathing to make sure I had enough. I was then able to clear my head and concentrate. After, what seemed like a much longer time, we started our assent. We had to decompress (breath off the nitrogen that builds in your system under water) at specific depths. First 50, hold, then 40, hold, 30, hold, 20, hold and surface. We got back to the boat and both Phil and Henry only had complements to say. I was surprised. I thought I had done horribly. The worst ever, but they were both impressed and that really helped me become more confident in my dry suit and diving. To have complements from two people who have been diving since the Stone Age really made me feel more prepared for my trip.
Our next dive, I was more confident and felt more prepared for what was to come. Henry had unfortunately broken a seal in his dry suit and couldn’t make the second dive, so Phil and I went. It was a shallower dive at 84 ft. We were going to run some drills with the dry suit. Again with the one dive light, we descended. As we reached the bottom, we realized that the visibility was, if possible, worse. The visibility had dropped from 1-2 ft to about 4 inches. I was crouched on the bottom with my hands and knees touching, but I couldn’t see them. Phil had all but disappeared accept where the light barely outlined his mask not more than 6 inches from my face. We started our drills and I could hear him laughing through his reg and how horrible our conditions were, yet we were still out there doing what needed to be done. We surfaced and started laughing at our horrible condition and how we couldn’t imagine that they would be worse from the first dive.
The day was a success for diving, as in we still went. Although we felt like a frog in a blender of baby poop, we finished the day with a good laugh. And I will still look forward to the day that I can dive in California and have 100ft visibility. I have no doubt that that day will be incredible.
When I tell most people of how I was invited to join Dr. Bowser research group in Antarctica, it comes across as a simple process where you simply get a letter or permission of some sort that allows you to hop on a plane or boat and got to Antarctica, like a visa. Well I have to admit that I originally had a similar take on the whole thing. But let me tell you, the process was way more complicated than applying for a visa to visit another country.
Six weeks ago I left for California to attend a friends wedding and to visit a Doctor/Dentist to have them check me over and make sure that I was all good to deploy to the ice. After visiting my doctor and my dentist, and then reporting back to Dr. Bowser I found out it wasn’t that simple.
Not only does Raytheon (the company sponsoring the trip) require a full physical, but they also require you to have an EKG, full blood screening, complete medical history, dental x-rays, and tetnus, flu, and whooping cough (ouch). Lets just say that I was a little surprised to find this out. So I did it all, the blood, EKG, and exams, everything they required, and flew back home to Oahu to spend a few weeks moving, relaxing, and spending time with the boyfriend before I skipped town for three months. All was going well until I got the email back from Raytheon.
I was helping a friend deliver a boat to Maui for a charter when I found 0ut how much more needed to be done. By this time, I was three weeks past the deadline for everything being turned in. Raytheon requires that everything be turned in 6 weeks prior to departure. Here I was on this gorgeous boat moored off of Lahaina, four weeks before deployment, when I got the email that I had to have labs repeated and every tooth that had a cavity needed to be filled and there was a chance that I wasn’t going to Antarctica.
I broke down. After all I had done and everything I had worked for, it was all about to disappear. poof. gone.
Well I did what anyone would do, I called my mom. She came in and saved the day. Got me to a lab that night for the blood work and told me that she was buying me a ticket for California for the next day. So one week after I returned to Oahu, and two weeks early than I had planned, I flew back to California. My dentist, bless him, came in on a Sunday night and did my fillings for me, my labs came back normal, and poof, as quickly as I had almost lost my chance to go to Antarctica, I was back on the books to go!
So now, thanks to the many people who helped me get my exams, tests, fillings (which I have no desire to do again), and everything else done, I leave for Antarctica on September 29, 2011!
My relationship started with the ocean long before I was technically in the picture. My parents, being the adventurous people they are, were living on a boat with my older brother, cruising the Hawaiian Islands when I came into the picture. Not many people can say they were conceived on a boat anchored off the west side of Maui. By the time I was 5 months old, I was a frequenter of the water in my little blow up swimming pool on the beach in Maui. By the time I was three I had graduated from the blow up pool, I was just starting to snorkel with my dad. He would take me out on my boogie board and pull me everywhere and I would hold on tight and put my mask in the water and was quickly drawn into the amazing world of colorful tropical fish and huge turtles.
My parents exposed me to many types of oceans. Growing up mostly in northern California, my family commonly dove for abalone. My parents would watch the tides and when there were the lowest tides of the season, we would go to Fort Brag and collect our limit of abs each day. The water was freezing and dark, nothing like the waters I was used to in Hawaii.
Not only did my family dive, but were obsessed with water sports. During the early spring and summer, we would load up the roof racks with windsurfing equipment and head down to Sherman Island on the delta flats near San Francisco. As the summer progressed, we followed the winds where they were best, all the way back to Maui. As I grew older and kitesurfing began to take hold, I converted to a kiter, which, four years later, still takes me back to Kanaha, Maui each summer for the best winds in the world.
I grew up in the ocean in several forms. It has played a huge part in my life and as much as I have become a part of it, it has become a part of me. It is a well-respected friend that I visit often. And even on a bad day, I can always go for a swim and feel cleansed of all my troubles.
But this isn’t the story of how I love the ocean, it’s about the journey that I am about to embark on to the frozen land at the bottom of the world. Antarctica. During my expedition to Antarctica, under the supervision of Dr. Sam Bowser, our team will be melting holes in the ice and diving to the sea floor to collect sedimentary core samples. Dr. Bowser will then analyze the samples, looking most specifically for foraminiferans, small plankton.
I got this job by chance and skill. They don’t just let anyone dive in Antarctica. As my parents were both SCUBA divers, so became me and my brother. I had my first SCUBA dive in molokini crater at the age of 11. Over the years I worked my way through the various levels of SCUBA. By the time I was 18, I was a full Dive Master. I then attended the University of Hawaii at Hilo and quickly got started in their diving program. I became an AAUS recognized scientific diver. Getting this certification took lots of hard work and study. It also allowed me to put my foot in the door in the professional diving world.
However my journey to Antarctica started a bit before I started college. This story wouldn’t be complete without naming a very important player, her name is Kida. When I first met Kida, she was a 6 week old ball of fur running across the road in the middle of a snow storm up in Truckee, California. By fate, and with the help of a very ill responsible roommate, Kida became a part of my family. However I was ready to embark on my journey through college and felt that taking an Alaskan malamute to Hawaii was a cruel joke. And then fate acted again when it brought Henry Kaiser to me in Weimar, looking for an Alaskan malamute to adopt. Henry told me of his journey to Antarctica and showed me picture of the diving he had done and I was blown away. I had no clue that anyone had ever even considered diving in water that cold.
Over my years at school, Henry came out to visit me in Hawaii. We did several dives together and after a few years, as I was getting into more scientific diving, Henry proposed that I may start working toward things that would help me get on one of the Antarctic teams. There were several qualifications that were necessary that I didn’t have, most important being drysuit diving. Even if I met all the qualifications, I wasn’t guaranteed to get the position. But after lots of hard work and emails with both Henry and Sam, I was accepted as a team diver.
Now here I am, preparing for the most epic journey of my young life. I don’t know what I will encounter or know what troubles may come, but I am prepared for anything (except the cold). I look forward to the trip and will be detailing my entire experience so my grandma will know that I am alive and well, and not frozen under thirty feet of ice.