Winter diving in water temperatures well below 8 degrees is a struggle. The cold seems to steal your breath hold, thick suits and extra weight make you feel ungainly in the water, and fingers and toes turn white. This winter, Matt and I tried suiting up at home, diving to the dive site in our gear, and driving home to take our gear off in a warm shower; but we still only managed three dives at most before shivering. I tried doubling up on wetsuit tops, giving up my monofin so I could wear thicker socks, drinking steaming hot water for an hour before entering the ocean, but as soon as I hit the freezing water, the heat drained from my core immediately. I gave up in November and concentrated on figuring out how I could get my ocean fix until the sun came out again in the Spring.
So, with Tyler and Pete’s encouragement I began swimming instead. At the surface I could wear a 3mm suit, 5mm gloves and booties and go for an hour before my hands and feet started to feel numb. With the incredible visibility that winter brings I was able to swim along the wall at Whytecliff or in Deep Cove and see animals 10 – 15 meters away. I’ve so fallen in love with it that even as the water warmed up, I kept swimming. The only drawback is that I’ve spent a lot of time swimming alone. Anyone that knows me knows that my second most favourite passion after freediving is talking. When I see a cool nudibranch or some sort of jelly I’ve never seen before, I want to tell someone. So, I’ve been thirsting for a new training partner.
Enter, or should I say, re-enter, my old scuba buddy Braden. A couple of weeks ago she first joined me for a swim at Whytecliff. A little seal followed us the whole hour we were in the water, popping up every now and then to stare at us and then turn around and ignore us when we started talking to it. The day was overcast with blue sky peeking through grey, roiling clouds. It was windy and the water was rocking and rolling. When we left the protection of the bay for the swim back and encountered the current and the rough, open water the three of us - Braden, myself and the seal - stopped swimming and let the wild, untamed ocean throw us around a little while we enjoyed the ride.
Later, Braden convinced me that the water had warmed up sufficiently to start diving again. So, we brought out the line, set it at 20m and I prepared myself for some nasty contractions. I had not held my breath since November and imagined the holds would be ugly. But that first hang was not bad at all. The water had indeed warmed to 10 degrees in the last few weeks and I managed a 1:45 hold. When I returned to the surface I did not feel any residual effects on my chest from the pressure. Braden and I decided we’ll meet at least twice a week. Once to play in the 0 – 20m zone to stretch our chests and get comfortable for the upcoming freediving season, and once to swim and just enjoy the water, the sky, the day.
Today is a ‘swim day’ and the sun is trying hard to shine through the clouds. I am sitting at my computer, eating oatmeal and wondering what gifts the ocean will surprise us with today.