Thursday, August 19, 2010

Habitat Day 1 & 2

We finally made it! We were officially saturated as of this morning, and are now full fledged aquanauts. Took a little while to get in yesterday, as the ARB crew were prepping the Habitat, so we hung out on the Research Diver and breathed in as much surface air as we could. Finally got the go-ahead at 12pm, and splashed in. This was my very 1st time inside the Habitat, so it was pretty cool stuff. Otter gave us the grand tour, ate our first packs of freeze-dried Mountain House gourmet entrees (I had the Chicken Polynesian), and set off for our first 5 hour dive to the Deep S4 site. With much efficiency (haha), we hammered in 80 bases, and cable tied on most of the cages, taking care to stay above 95ft. Came back with the fading twilight (no shiny vampires anywhere) to a hot shower and more MH goodness. If you're watching on the creepy mainlock cam, you'll think we are a bunch of pigs. We're always eating.

Not much nightlife here, though the 'live TV' was pretty interesting. The giant groupers came by and were hunting right outside the viewport. Beds are surprisingly comfy with nice warm blankets. Passed out around 10.30pm.

To squeeze the most out of our workday, we need to start diving at 7am. Tried out the MH scrambled eggs and a cup of Tazo mint tea. Did a short gazebo run before we started our dive, the fish were frisky and expectant, but no errant bites. Would be best to be quick and go.

Finished up at the S4 site, then headed over to the ridge at 45ft. Steve thinks the French angels followed us down from the gazebo, probably not fed enough and expecting more...More hammering of bases ensue. Saw a couple of eagle rays and a turtle deep. And lots of cold water upwelling that plunged the temperatures by 10 deg F each time. Brrrrr....

Lunch was MH spaghetti with meat sauce, but now I feel like a gazebo run...Just that the ARB and Freedom Star crew are outside working and it's not too convenient to pop out to the gazebo now. Damn. Gotta time this better.

Almost done with the damn bases, which is good news for my abused fingers, and will be cable tying the next couple of dives. Over and out.

Sunday, August 15, 2010

Habitat training- weekend

160 Vexar cages later....

Far from a relaxing pre-mission weekend. We had to cut and build 160 1x1x1ft cages out of 3 rolls of Vexar. Now with hotspots on hands and sore fingers. Not as bad as Steve though. He cut from 11am to 6pm, and might have strained a tendon in his hand. Also had to cut an additional 80 bases, and make 4 2x2x2ft cages. That's probably enough Vexar for the year. Tomorrow, we stage them all at the 2 sites we'll run the growth experiment, and drop other stuff off at the Habitat. On the plus side, there is (part of) a delicious chocolate cake in the fridge, and Chris made a delicious and authentic Italian dinner for us all.

Friday, August 13, 2010

Habitat training- Day 4/5

Dives: 90ft 47min, 51ft 55min

We're done with training, and on our way to moving from Candidate status to fully fledged Aquanauts (only when we step through the wetporch and start the mission). The last two days have actually been relatively light, compared to the beginning of the week. Yesterday we were briefed on the living and working space within the Habitat, and did an orientation swim to our work sites. Only one mask off exercise while sharing air with our buddies, and not too long! Probably less than 10min.

Today the ARB crew carried out an emergency evacuation drill from the Habitat. We sat in the gazebo breathing 'oxygen' while the Habitat was on 'fire', and were all safely escorted to the surface and put on more 'oxygen'.

Up next- more mundane stuff. We have 160 Vexar cages to make, laptops to prep, clothing and gear to pack. One more drill on Tuesday, and in we go!

Wednesday, August 11, 2010

Habitat training- Day 3

Dive: 42ft 65min

I've always considered myself a pretty calm diver. The one time I got entangled in rope underwater I managed to take off my BC, keep the regulator in my mouth, untangle myself and get on with diving. Which is why it was a strange feeling to find myself fighting the impulse to flail in the water all bug-eyed and bolt to the surface today. What happened? Let me explain.

Part of saturation diving means we don't ever touch the surface as long as we are saturated. In fact, the shallowest we could go is 40ft. Which means, no matter what happens, or how uncomfortable we feel- lost buddy, overenthusiastic BC inflator, headache, mask kicked off by buddy, etc, we DO NOT surface to reorient and regroup before going down. A new concept.

Today we find ourselves facing the one of the worst case scenarios that could happen underwater- my buddy and I have somehow lost both our masks, and also deviated from the excursion line and are lost on the reef. Argh. Instead of surfacing at a safe rate and bitching about our misfortune on the boat, we had to find the line and return to our safe haven- the Aquarius Habitat. I can truthfully say that I was pretty sad to hand over my mask to our trainer when he indicated that we should start our exercise.

Now, I hate the thought of opening my eyes underwater. Probably one of the reasons my Eskimo roll on the kayak sucks. I can count on one hand the number of times I've opened my eyes underwater in my life. There was definitely some internal pep talk before this exercise. This time wasn't just some mask clearance exercise that was over in 10s. As I hovered at 40ft, reel in hand, getting ready to start my search pattern, the sea a stinging blur of whites and blues, the pressure on my face and eyeballs, and the constant threat of seawater pushing up my nose, I was fighting the immense urge bug out completely and thrash around like a fool for my mask.

Relax. Breathe. Just through your mouth, not your nose. Keep breathing. You can do this. Most of all, I don't ever want to repeat this exercise again. First round, and we came up squat. I was asked to extend my reel-line and try again. Fingers fumbling to loosen the bolt for the reel, eyes stinging like mad from the seawater. Bubbles from the regulator stinging even worse. Finning, finning, then in the distance, I thought I saw a bright pink object floating off the reef. Pink of a rather unnatural shade. Should check it out. As I approached, a most blessed line shimmered and took shape, and I grasped it firmly in triumph. Was almost literally crying when the trainer handed us back our masks. That's seawater on your eyeballs for you.

Other tasks: shut-down drills with masks off and eyes closed, buddy breathing, sharing air, deploying safety sausage, and an orientation swim to our work site.

Tuesday, August 10, 2010

Habitat training- Day 2

Dive: 40ft, 56min

Was a humbling day today. The combination of 5-7ft seas, diesel fumes from the boat engine, surge underwater and the mild claustrophobia I get from strapping into the doubles rig caused me to hurl violently underwater just as our instructor signalled for me to begin the 'I'm out of air, time to buddy breathe drill'. Which is probably a good thing for my buddy! I figured better to let it out than try to keep it in and hurl through Steve's regulator. To avoid me choking on my own sick, we cut short the dive and ascended, where I promptly threw up some more, and laid down in the boat with my eyes closed until we got back. Not too fond of the feeling of uselessness but didn't want to hurl over anyone or their gear...

Oh, and today we did line drills. How to use the reel without tangling and lost buddy procedures. Lots to catch up on, 2 dives tomorrow! And back on the Gatorade/strawberry diet. Booo.

Monday, August 09, 2010

Habitat training- Day 1

We rolled in last night not sure what to expect, but humming with expectant energy. Briefing this morning, and then plunged headlong into aquanaut training. So this is what it feels like to be an awkward gangly student again. We got acquainted with our gear- 100's Al doubles, 50lb lift wings, and a steel backplate with Halcyon webbing, hip pouches that wrap around our upper thighs, 2 regulators. Definitely felt very strapped in during the fitting!

The swim test made me realise that I really need my regular swim sessions again. Heard that UNCW is building a new rec center with a pool, and hoping for better hours there. The swim was fine, the treading water was passable, the holding breath and swimming the length of the pool made me want to pass out.

Steeled myself to open my eyes underwater (hate doing that) after looking at the training schedule and seeing all the mask off drills we are doing, i.e. every day every dive. It wasn't too bad today, didn't sting as much as I thought. None of that strapping on gear, walking to the dive deck and jumping off. The crew helped carry our rig to the deck while we sat down and strapped on, then a very unglamourous roll into the water headfirst. Man, the rig was heavy! Had to paddle to stay afloat, and couldn't breathe on the surface without my reg. Just basic drills today- mask off, reg off, buddy breathing. We did barrel rolls, and it was interesting rolling with that much air in the BC. Felt like someone was sitting on my back the whole time, and I never carried so much air underwater before, kinda clunky, and didn't feel as effortless as usual, but certainly hope it would get better with more quality time with my rig!