Open Water Scuba Diving

Today, I completed my Open Water Scuba Diving Certification!

This was something I had been meaning to cross off my todo list for a few years. I first got the idea during our honeymoon in Tanzania. Zanzibar (an island off the eastern coast of Tanzania, in the Indian Ocean) is reputed to be an awesome dive spot, and the hotel where we were staying (Matemwe Beach Village) had an on-sight dive center. But, despite watching lots of introductory sessions from our lounge chairs at the pool, we were too lazy to bother studying and training when we were firmly in a “chill by the pool” mode.

Since then, we have taken a few spring break trips to Hawaii, and each time, especially during our last venture to the Big Island, I wished I had my certification. After having an awesome time doing a night snorkel there with Manta Rays, I made a note to take a class when I returned to Seattle.

The last few weeks, Shannon at Silent World Diving Systems in Bellevue has been our underwater sherpa. We’ve spent a few classroom sessions learning about underwater air pressure, dive tables, and emergency procedures, and a few sessions in the pool to practice a whole slew of important things (mask clearing, regulator clearing, sharing air with a buddy, emergency ascents, etc). I also had a session to practice diving with a drysuit, which was logically strongly recommended by everyone I talked to due to the Puget Sound being in the 40′s F this time of year!

Our class was a little drawn out due to schedules and the holidays, but this weekend we finally hit the open water to put the knowledge and training to the test. Yesterday, we met up by Alki bright and early, but due to strong winds we relocated to Seacrest Cove, a popular dive spot near Salty’s in West Seattle with a fantastic morning sunrise view of the city.

We did one open water snorkel followed by two dives. The first dive was relatively contained to get us used to being in a non-pool setting, diving with a buddy, sharing air – basically most of the exercises we had practiced in the pool. The second dive was a little bit more of a tour around the area. Aside from some jellyfish and some smaller fish, I didn’t really see a ton, but partly that was because I was still focused on managing my buoyancy control and getting used to the marine surroundings.

Today was the money day though, with our third and fourth open water dives on a charter boat out of Tacoma. I hit the road around 7am, lugged my gear (tanks and weights are heavy!) to the boat, and we were off by around 8:30am. We were done with our practice exercises so our dives today were largely exploration and practicing navigation with a buddy.

I was paired with Michael, and we had a blast. The first dive was at the Barges off Maury Island. On this one, I was still fiddling a lot with the BC, but mostly it was fun to be 60 feet beneath the surface in freezing cold water and have a blast chasing fish. I wish I knew the names of species. Lots of starfish on the bottom. A few times it was a little overwhelming feeling the cold pressure on your face, getting tugged by a minor current swell, or looking up and not being able to recognize the surface, but for the most part, I was enjoying myself.


View Tacoma Dives in a larger map

We decompressed for a little over an hour while we navigated to the next site, Z’s Reef, which is near Fox Island. It was cool sailing under the Tacoma Narrows Bridge on the way! The second dive was awesome. We maxed at around 60 feet. There were lots of fish tucked along the reef, but the highlight was getting buzzed a few times by a sea lion. Apparently you can dive many years in that area without seeing one, so we were lucky to experience it so early. Also, it was the first time I felt relatively relaxed in the water and was able to just float for extended periods of time without exerting as much effort. Several saw some octopus tucked into the coves, but Michael and I didn’t catch any. Next time!

Being newbie heavy breathers, we ran low on air well before our decompression limits came into play, so we made our way to the top, did our safety stop at fifteen feet, and then surfaced, smiles all around. It’s pretty surreal to be in freezing cold water, be totally dry, with the views of the Cascades and Olympics surrounding you.

We finished the boat trip with some champagne to toast our certifications (kudos to Shannon for thinking of that!) and completed our dive logs, but mostly we were entertained by the endless and hilarious banter between Michael and Shannon. (“I’m going to Facebook the shit out of that!”). After getting to shore, we unloaded the gear, and then headed to The Office Bar and Grill in Tacoma for some more post-dive fun. We continued the banter, noshed on some happy hour apps and beers, and watched the Seahawks actually win a game.

Finally, though, we called it a day, parted ways, and headed home. I have two more dives planned to get my drysuit specialty certification, which I’ll definitely plan to do on a boat trip, scheduled around ski conditions. (My biggest fear was that our Scuba days would be on epic powder days! Fortunately Shannon is a powder junkie too.)

Thanks to my dive mates, Michael and Shayna for being awesome dive buddies, Rick and Jackie from Bandito Charters, the crew at Silent World, and especially Shannon for being an awesome instructor and cruise director. What a great day.

View the rest of the pictures on Smugmug.

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