One of the first steps in preparing for an underwater expedition next summer in the Arctic is getting acquainted with a type of exposure suit that will keep me warm and dry in one of the most extreme places on the planet. Having only been scuba diving in warm, tropical destinations I’ve only ever needed a wetsuit. So I wasn’t sure what to expect when it comes to drysuits. But I do know that if I want to dive in the Arctic, getting drysuit certified is obligatory.
Arriving in Malta for Easter weekend, I made my way over to the dive shop, Divewise, in St. Julian’s Bay. I spent some time diving with them back in September and felt confident that I’d be in the best hands on the island. Viv and Jacques (the dog) are quite welcoming and quickly get things sorted for the course. I’m given a new Otter dry suit to try on and while getting my head through the latex seal was much more difficult than I anticipated, I like the look and feel of the red and black suit. I slightly feel like an astronaut; especially after I learn that the zipper on the suit traces its roots back to the space program’s need for a water/airtight seal. I’ve certainly never seen a similar zipper anywhere before.
As I took my first steps into the chilly 16C Mediterranean Sea, I quickly realized the importance of the undergarments I had on below the shell of my dry suit. Ultimately these undergarments are where the warmth comes from as the shell itself simply keeps the water out. Adding air to the suit will also provide necessary insulation between your body and the cold water.
Walking farther out my legs experienced their first suit squeeze which would only be released once I descended and made my way into a horizontal position. But getting myself into a horizontal position was dreadful as it meant my face needed to be in the water. To be honest, I couldn’t help but think to myself what the hell am I doing as I sunk below the surface. It was damn cold! What’s worse was that I was trying to asses just how much more uncomfortable 0C would feel in the Arctic. I was covered from head to toe (albeit a few exposed areas on my cheeks and forehead) and I was shocked at how cold it felt.
Some time passed and the water temperature finally faded to the back of my mind as I performed the required skill sets of the course in some incredible visibility. Along the way I met an adorable little octopus who was quite perturbed by our presence and even though he squirted ink at me several times I still enjoyed running into him. Unfortunately, my GoPro was back at the dive shop so I’ll have to remember him the old-fashioned way.
Having completed the certification with only some very minor hiccups I still think I have a long way to go before the Arctic trip. Next up on the list is getting a minimum of twenty dives in water temperatures below 10C and getting fitted for my own aquanaut suit!! Stay tuned!