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November 16th, 2013 - McMurdo Station, Antarctica

Diving Day!!

by Terry Palmer


 I had been preparing for this Antarctic trip for a long time but the day that I had been thinking about the most was today, my first Antarctic scuba dive for the season.  It is difficult to prepare for a dive that occurs in 29 deg F (-1.5 deg C) water under a ceiling of ice in Texas, so I will admit I was a little nervous. The first dive of the season is always a checkout dive, where one of the station divers makes sure I can handle the conditions and the equipment that I am using.

Prior to the dive, I went over our dive plan and tried on the garments that I am borrowing. We dive using a dry suit and dry gloves with a big thick one-piece undergarment.  I also used a neoprene hood, a rubber hood and face mask (AKA the nacho, named after the luchador mask as in the movie Nacho Libre), fluffy inner gloves, polypropylene top and bottoms, polypropylene gloves and thick woollen socks. Above the water, wearing this amount of clothing is sweltering, even in Antarctica. In the water, this is nice, at least for a 30-45 minutes. 

Rob and I getting ready


Andrew and Steve helping me with my gloves








The view from the top.  The yellow cylinder is an emergency air. Flags are on the downline so it is easy to locate the hole. You can see my silver air cylinder at the bottom of the picture.

We dove adjacent to the water intake jetty,  where it is relatively shallow right under the ice hole (roughly 60 ft or 20 m).  There is a lot of life here and it is a nice place to dive.  I dove with the legendary Rob Robbins who is in his 35th consecutive season in Antarctica and while here has logged over 1000 dives. Prior to this dive, I has completed 17 dives in the Antarctic and I can't help but feel a little inept in comparison.

Jumping into the water and dropping through the 6 ft (2 m) of ice was a little unnerving, but after that, it was all fun.  Rob checked my buoyancy control and then we just swam around looking at life on the rocky and gravelly bottom.  We saw all sorts of sponges, soft corals, sea anemones, urchins, and a few fish sitting or cruising around.  It is really a lush garden of life down there. This is in stark contrast with the environment above the water, which is pretty much just white, brown/grey and blue; with very few animals and no real plants.  A large Weddell seal was swimming around and singing.  The sounds that these animals make are truly amazing (hear a youtube clip).  The seal stuck its face within a couple of inches of Rob's, which was really impressive. We also saw a big jellyfish with long tentacles swimming around.

The dive lasted close to 30 minutes and by that time I was starting to get cold hands a little.  I was happy to see the rest of that the team had dropped the ladder down the hole to make it easier to climb out and I was also grateful for their help donning and doffing my gear.  They also took some cool photos from the topside that I have included in this blog. 


Out of the water and happy