Diving in freezing cold waters of the Puget Sound in winter
Diving in freezing cold waters of the Puget Sound in winter
Welcome fellow divers, and travelers to another one of my Navy EOD stories.
This story is not one that I would personally call traumatic, but the lymbic system does not understand logic.
It only reacts to it’s environment, and the environment in this story was harsh.
Prior to writing this article, I struggled with constantly being assaulted by the cold. I found myself avoiding the cold as much as I possibly could. This avoidance only weakened my tolerance to the cold.
After writing this article, and remembering the misery. I am finding it much easier to deal with the cold, and I even enjoy it, a little.
Avoiding the things that make us uncomfortable weaken the mind, body, and the soul.
Facing those experiences, and understanding what is going on, makes us stronger.
Fond diving memories
I have many fond memories of diving throughout my military career.
I have logged many awesome dives in many different countries.
My deepest dive was to 175 ft in the Arabian Gulf conducting mine countermeasure exercises and my logged bottom time is racked up into the days.
I have experienced many different types of diving conditions.
Today, I am going to tell you about the coldest diving experience I have had the opportunity to experience so grab a blanket if the cold triggers you because this one chilled me to the bone.
As I type this, my fingers are still freezing cold, and I can’t help but think that it is from this day.
Crescent Harbor in the Puget sound
Winter 2009 Oak Harbor, WA
Tides in Crescent Harbor
Crescent Harbor experiences dramatic tide changes. These tides can fluctuate up to 12 to 15 feet per tidal change.
The tides combined with a silt cause the bottom of the Harbor to be 5 ft to who knows how deep of straight muck.
Anything laying on the bottom is guaranteed to be swallowed up and hidden in a very short amount of time.
This knowledge is of particular importance when it comes to searching for something in this area.
Diving operations - Final evaluation
My Explosive Ordnance Disposal team was being certified for our Mine Countermeasures deployment, and we were at the final stage in our certification to become an operational team.
Minesweepers have given us possible underwater mines in the area.
It was our job to locate marks and determine if any are explosive hazards.
Area: Crescent Harbor Puget Sound
Tide: 9:12 PM -1.0 feet LT 4:37 AM 11.7 feet HT
Water temp: 36 deg
Air temp: 36 deg
Wind speed: Gusty
Max depth: 60ft
Bottom type: Silt / Mud
Nearest recompression chamber: Keyport, Wa
Diving apparatus: MK16 MOD1 rebreather
MK16 Rebreather - AKA the widow maker
Pre and post diving rigs
MK16 rebreathers require an incredible amount of manpower and time just to be able to dive them.
Due to their complexity, and use of electronics in an underwater environment, great care must be taken before and after diving to ensure these rigs do not malfunction.
This makes any dive operation much longer than a normal SCUBA dive.
A poor choice for diving gear
Looking back, it was pretty clear that no one on our team had any experience diving in such harsh conditions.
Not a single one of us opted for our dry suits for our first day of diving.
Instead we all went with our standard 8/7 semi dry wetsuits thinking that would be enough.
* Spoiler alert* It wasn’t.
Standby diver in a boat full of water
As the less experienced divers cycled through searching of the marks, The MK5 Zodiac I was in slowly started taking on water.
I had two choices, sit on the the hull of the boat in the freezing wind, or sit in the bottom of the boat out of the wind, but in the water.
I opted to sit in the bottom of the boat in the water to get out of the wind, and get some water into my semi dry to create a layer of warm water in my suit.
This was great for my core, but my hands and feet were not happy about it.
My first dive
One by one the divers surfaced unable to find the marks.
Needless to say after sitting wet and cold for hours, I wasn’t exactly thrilled to be getting in the water.
We had a sneaking suspicion that the marks had been given had not been verified prior to this dive.
Entering the frigid waters of Crescent Harbor.
As I entered the water to conduct the dive I got to feel what everyone else had been experiencing.
On entering the water, it took my breath away. After a little while the shock subsided and my body started to warm the layer of water inside my semi dry and I was able to half way function.
When you work underwater with various lines attached to you it is very important to think out your steps ahead of time and conduct your movements methodically.
When you put a mask on your IQ drops by 50 points just because you are wearing a mask.
The freezing cold water drops your IQ another 20.
Having hands that don’t work because they are so cold you might as well not have fingers because you can no longer feel them, let alone use them makes for an overall feeling of a bumbling idiot underwater.
Manually driving the MK16 and controlling buoyancy could only be done with my knuckles. This meant kicking up a whole lot of silt which made searching even worse.
At about the 30 minute mark I felt if I stayed down any longer I would be putting myself in danger of hypothermia so I surfaced and reported that I didn’t find anything either.
By the time diving operations were completed, it was already dark and we still had to conduct post dives on our rigs so we could continue searching for our marks.
Diving operations day 2
On day 2 we all warmed up to the idea of switching over to dry suits.
These suits kept us much warmer in the water and kept the wind from cutting through us topside.
With the dry suit I was able to double my bottom time to 60 minutes which was still pushing it pushing my capabilities to withstand cold water and still did nothing to help my fingers.
They had not verified the marks.
I can't remember how many days it took for the training team to finally admit that they had not verified the marks.
No, I’m not fucking salty about that at all…..
Eventually, the training team finally went out and took the time to search and find the marks.
Only then were we able to actually find the and complete the entire MCM evolution, and become certified to deploy.
Looking back on this dive experience.
Ever since that week in a half long operation. My hands and feet have not been the same.
I did not get frostbite or anything like that but even now as we speak my feet are extremely cold in my hands are feeling slightly sluggish and it's not even that cold in here.
The icing on the cake here is that shortly after our final evaluation our team was switched from a mine countermeasures team to a Troy det which means instead of diving from mines, we would be disarming IEDs in Iraq.
Fortunately for me I was pulled from the team to become lead a new new carrier-based Detachment being formed so I was able to avoid another Iraq deployment.
Embracing the suck
Some of the best moments from this memory were the little things such as
Team members sharing hot drinks from their thermoses, and using the left overs to add to the inside of our semi dry suits on that first day.
Team members and trainers packed in the 9M rhib like sardines all bitching and cracking jokes about the misery of the entire evolution.
Seeing snow falling as the divers were underwater.
Finally receiving good marks, and being able to continue with the operation.
And of course, getting through the whole operation and passing our certification.