It's black 45 feet below the surface at night. You’re breathing is heavy and faster than normal in the 36 degree water. The cold is numbing your fingers and your face tingles from exposure. Visibility is limited to the orb of light emitted from the wrist mounted unit you brought with you. You feel separated from the rest of humanity, like you were swallowed by the world and taking up residence deep in its belly. You would feel alone if it weren’t for the knowledge that your dive buddy is close behind. All this magnified by the 36 degree water flowing through my wetsuit. The diving is tough in the mid-west winter. It gets dark early. It’s physically and mentally demanding. Focus is imperative in keeping your mind right as you monitor the task loading of night, cold, wet, visibility, depth, buoyancy, air, navigation, and equipment.
Most wouldn’t consider this fun. I admit, some of those dives were downright miserable. They pushed me as a diver and forced me to work on things with a fresh perspective.
On dry land, the winter changes the landscape. The leaves fall, the grass dies, snow covers the ground. Underneath, changes are happening as well. The fish are less active and make themselves scarce. We noticed visibility at depth was much, much better at than it was during the summer. In fact, we saw things on the bottom of Philips Outdoor Center that we had never seen before. Temperature is the same from top to bottom.
Diving wet with temps in the mid to high 30’s increased my air consumption dramatically. On a 20-25 minute dive I’d blow through 2100-2200 psi. Ben and I are usually within 150 psi of each other after a dive. Not so in the cold. The temperature stress had a huge impact.
Now that I’m rockin’ a drysuit, I feel spoiled...and loving every second of it. That first dive snapped my air consumption right back to where it was before. Ben and I ended that dive within 100 psi of each other. My hands weren’t numb and fingers retained their dexterity. No more full body tremors trying to keep me warm. The best part though - it was totally enjoyable.
I enjoyed the challenges of diving a wetsuit in cold water. It taught me to be more mindful of my air and depth gauges. It forced me to better plan my dives and dive time. After several dives, I could estimate quickly how far I could push it and when it was time to get out and get warm. The challenges kept me coming back for more even when the diving got tough.
Since I got my drysuit certification, I haven’t been back in a wetsuit. We will probably be well into summer by the time I get the itch to put it on again. I need to practice the skills and get more comfortable with the drysuit. It was a good first winter as a diver. That warm water will be here before we know it though and I don’t think I can resist getting wet when the water’s nice.