On the morning of March 18th, many of the Oceanwide passengers went ashore to explorer Devil Island and mingle with the penguins and seals. The divers had our first opportunity to enter into the icy waters of Antarctica, complete our checkout or test dive, and do some underwater exploration. Scuba diving in Antarctica is extreme diving. Water temps are at or below 32 degrees, surface winds that can reach deadly dangerous speeds of over 100 mph, and visibility can be very poor. Overall, though, except for the high winds and super cold water, I’ve experienced many dangerous and extreme conditions conducting underwater research locally in the Salish Sea.
I truly love cold-water, but being physically and mentally ready is imperative. Being ill-prepared can put your life, the lives of your fellow divers, and lives of the crew at risk. Unfortunately, some divers were emphatically ill-equipped for the extreme conditions, and at the worst possible time. Swiftly extreme high winds and hazardous conditions ensued. Quoting directly from the ships log entry; ‘Minutes after the wind gusts suddenly increased, reaching 40 to 50 knots.’ The next day it was revealed the sustained winds were actually closer to 79 knots, for as long as 90 minutes. The high winds were pushing on the Hondius forcing it to drag its anchor across the sea floor. The captain could not allow anyone to approach or board the ship for well over two hours.
Once back aboard the four zodiacs, soaking wet in our drysuits, freezing from both the icy waters and subzero temperatures caused by the extreme winds, the zodiac drivers were forced to hunker down in the rough seas. The drivers attempted to shield us from the winds behind a few small icebergs but with little success. During this entire event no information was provided by the ships staff or crew. This was the only time Oceanwide Expeditions seriously dropped the proverbial ball.
The next morning, I had a chance to attempt my second underwater exploration. Blown Bluff is an impressive island. The variety of wildlife underwater is minimal compared to what I am used to in the Pacific Northwest. But I enjoyed the 30+ minute experience if for only having the opportunity of diving in Antarctica. After my dive, I went ashore to spend more than 90 minutes with extremely adorable and cute Brush-tail Penguins, and a lots of seals.
There are very strict guidelines when onshore with any wildlife, especially penguins. They always have the ‘right-of-way’. Penguin highways, as they are called, are clear paths for them to travel. When blocked we can stress them. We are invading their space. These animals must feed and rest up for the fast-approaching winter. A bunch of humans snapping phots causes undo stress. Also, of huge concern is the potential introduction of bird flu to Antarctica. This could devastate the penguin populations, some which are already in peril. All passengers must have their gear, clothes, dry-bags, boots, tripods, and anything else brought on shore checked and cleaned from contaminates. The transmission of bird influenza or bacteria is a very serious concern. Also, any seeds that might germinate and introduce a foreign species of grass, plant or tree is strictly forbidden. Below is a video short from my very first successful dive in Antarctica. Although I did see much, it was amazing just being in the extreme conditions.
Very first dive in Antarctica • Brown Bluff
Air temperature: -1°C • Water temperature: +4°C
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