Beth and I took up diving three years ago and four years ago, respectively. We both love the sport, and have been growing steadily more confident, and skilled as divers. When Beth reacted well to a bad situation (her inflator hose came loose from her buoyancy compensator), I knew she was a diver. Since then, we have been racking up a number of dives in our log books, and gaining experience. We have both taken several courses through Diver’s World in Erie, PA, and have several certifications from NAUI. Beth and I are both Master Divers, having earned that designation this past year.
Our diving has taken us to a number of wonderful spots, and we have seen more amazing things than one can imagine. But our training and much of our diving has been in the Erie, PA area. And I tell many of the students that go through the Scuba Diver course at Diver’s World that we are privileged to learn to dive in Erie. I then ask, “And do you know why? Because the diving in Erie sucks.” And I am quite serious that we are indeed fortunate to learn to dive in Erie, and for the reason that I have given.
Last year Beth and I dived two wrecks; the Indiana and the Dean Richmond. The air temp was toasty, but the water temps were frigid. Beth and I both wore seven millimeter wetsuits, with a seven millimeter core warmer (basically an extra a wetsuit) over our torso and head. We each had maybe twenty to thirty pounds of weight, plus the scuba tank and a thirty cubic foot pony bottle of air for safety and redundancy. The wrecks were both around one hundred feet, give or take fifteen feet. In comparison, in the Caribbean, I usually wear just a swim suit and six pounds of weight. Beth, by the end of the week, will be wearing a three mil wetsuit and a few more pounds than I.
At the wreck(s), we suited up. As I have said before, I hate the heat. So, here I am, suited up in about fourteen millimeters of wetsuit, thirty-ish pounds of weight, and sitting there waiting for Beth. I am sweating like a fiend, and getting a bit, uh, put out. Beth is having some minor difficulties, and is working with the boat captain to get ready. Finally, I tell her I will see her in the water; I have to get in, get wet, and cool down. It is all I can think of. So, over the stern I go. Oops! No reg in my mouth, wetsuit unzipped, no fins. Fortunately I had my BC inflated, or it would have been a very bad moment. ‘Course, my life insurance is always paid up, so Beth would have been ok, but…And that is probably the stupidest thing I have done in my diving career, and I am committed to that being the stupidest thing I ever will do.
When Beth came off the boat, we collected ourselves, got to the anchor line, and dropped down. Visibility was very poor for the first sixty feet down the anchor line, maybe a total of three feet of visibility. We could see each other, and that’s about it. But when we dropped through the thermocline (and into the really cold water), the viz opened up to sixty feet or better. And the wrecks were spectacular! What great dives those were, and I will describe them in detail another time.
Another poor visibility dive we did last year was at Kinzua reservoir, as part of our Master Diver project. When Kinzua dam was constructed and the reservoir filled in the ’60’s, three towns were flooded. The town of Kinzua in PA, Onoville in New York, and Corydon, in PA. Our fellow Master Diver student, Terry Skarzenski, suggested we research Corydon and dive on it to see what we could find. Beth and I loved the idea. We did the research, and planned our dive for a beautiful, sunny and clear day in late summer.
Our families arrived at Willow Bay, and surveyed the area. Based on old photos, we compared the topography, and agreed on where we believed the town had likely been located. We did a surface swim out and caught our breaths before dropping down. We knew the conditions were going to be less than perfect, so we had an eight foot buddy line. I was on the left, Terry on the right, Beth in the middle. When we were ready, we popped our regulators in our mouths, and started our descent. And we dropped into the nastiest mud pit I have ever been in. As we were descending I watched upward, and as we hit the ten or fifteen foot mark, the sun disappeared, as if someone had flipped a switch. No exaggeration. I turned on my dive light (all while hanging on to the buddy line, trying to read my gauges, clearing my sinuses, and letting a bit of air into my BC to stay close to neutrally buoyant). I could see absolutely nothing. The only way I knew we had hit the bottom at about thirty-eight feet was because we stopped descending. I could only read my gauges intermittently. I could not see Beth (just four feet away). And I could see absolutely nothing in any direction. We just sat there for five minutes trying to figure out what to do, and then kind of mutually huddled up. We discovered that we could only see each other from about six inches away. Seriously. And that was not real clear. Beth signalled that she would take the lead and follow her compass, and we would keep pace on the buddy line. Every now and then we could feel something on the bottom, maybe a tree stump, or a rock or something. We had thought we might find paved streets, maybe a sidewalk or house foundation, but not a chance. Have you ever been a fog so thick that you literally could not see your hand in front of your face? Or been driving in a snowstorm with absolutely nothing outside your windshield except snow? Now imagine that same visibility while wearing a set of goggles, and a clothes pin on your nose, breathing through your mouth only, wearing spandex that is two sizes too small, with about three atmospheres of pressure surrounding you, all at the same time. That’s kind of what it would feel like, and it is not the most pleasant moment I have experienced.
Beth, however, did a great job. Remember, she has claustrophobia, vision issues (although we got her a mask with prescription lenses), and nearly drowned when she was young. And here she was, taking the lead in the nastiest diving conditions we had seen yet. Unbelievable. And me? Well, let’s just say I’m glad I was in a wetsuit, because I was peeing my pants for about twenty minutes. That was the freakiest, nerviest, nastiest, scariest dive I have ever done. But we got ‘er done. We did about a fifteen minute swim around, and never once saw a single thing. After fifteen minutes, we headed for the surface, slowly, and did our safety stop for three minutes. Beth and I came to the surface together, with no Terry. We looked around, and that was the worst moment I can remember. His wife, Sue, and their kids were on shore waiting for us, and no Terry. I started going though my mind what to do for a lost diver, hoping that he would show up soon. He finally came up a couple of minutes later, and explained that he needed a longer safety stop, so he let go of the buddy line and did his extra time alone. Hey Terry, if you’re reading this, you owe me a new wetsuit. The “water” I produced from the scary dive belongs to me, but the, uh, stains in the back are from you scaring the caca out of me, and they didn’t come out of the neoprene. Don’t ever do that to me again! Collecting ourselves on the surface, we all agreed that none of us had any desire to go back under on the way back to shore, and so did a surface swim back to the beach.
…final episode next time. Maybe…