Nov 30

Dry Suit Diving from Admiralty Beach

Category: animals,scuba,Travel

Because I get to Whidbey Island on a regular basis, I’ve been diving there. The primary salient fact about the water there is that it’s ball-shrinking cold! I dove there in the summer once, and the water temperature was 48 F. I dove it in a wet suit, and have been dumb enough to do it several times over the years. My latest trip was In November, and it pushed me over the edge – really, is diving in the Puget Sound in November in a wet suit reasonable? I think not. Plus, this was on the heels of a trip to Cozumel, where the water temperature at 90 feet was 86 F. I just couldn’t bear it again, I thought I might crack like an untempered piece of glass. So, it was dry suit time.

But first, what did I see down there? Here are a few images.

This is a sunflower star (Pycnopodia helianthoides) showing how these animals can have various colors, the complex texture of their bodies, and the remarkable tube feet. Each tube foot has a little suction cup. unlike many sea stars, this variety lives fast enough for you to see it move. The tube feet slowly quest about as the animal “walks” over the sea floor. If you pick up one of these guys, they can stick to you pretty well! Their top sides are a complex world of structures ( pedicellariae and papulae) which act like velcro, so if you touch that side, you will also stick somewhat. I wouldn’t touch one bare-handed. One thing I can guarantee to you, is that if you dive anywhere in the pacific northwest, you will see one of these things. They are as common as rocks, and thus often overlooked, but they are amazing. The typical specimen shown in the center below looks like the coals of a dying fire.

You will also find plenty of crabs in the area, but some of them are well camouflaged, like this one, which I almost missed. It was wedged into place and making a living by picking plankton out of the water with tiny little limbs in between its eyes. It was fascinating to watch it stabbing out with those miniature pincers, grabbing the almost invisible specks floating by. It was very busy and never ceased.

For images taken at Keystone Ferry jetty, look here.

Of course, there are interesting animals on the surface. I didn’t have my “good” camera, so I couldn’t get a good image of these two young bald eagles. For more pictures of northwest animals, see here, here and here.

OK, back to the story.

I called up Pat at the Whidbey Island Dive Center and got myself into a dry suit class with diver extraordinaire Pete Pehl. Pete is a retired U.S. Navy diver who started out wearing one of these. Now he’s a bit more modern, and he “learned me good.” The final part of my dry suit training (which only took two days) was an open-water dive from the beach at Admiralty bay. This is an area near the Keystone ferry site, but a little further south.

If you have dived at keystone ferry – one of the better sites on Whidbey Island – you’ll probably have noticed the cobbly bottom stretching away to the south, and probably not spent much time exploring it because the Keystone Jetty is so much more interesting. This reasoning is sound. If you dive the almost featureless cobble bottom off of admiralty beach, you won’t be overwhelmed with the scenery. It is good to do it just to know what’s going on under the water, and you may find something that I didn’t. And of course, maybe November isn’t the best time. But the water was clear, the current slack, and the weather fair. It doesn’t get much better than these conditions in November. Air temperature in the mid fifties and a water surface temperature of 48 F.

After water entry, you’ll find that the bottom follows a steep grade over a couple of dozen yards until it bottoms out at about 60 feet (at slack high tide). The grade is so regular it appears to be man made, although I don’t think that this is the case. The bottom composition is exactly the same as the beach – 3-inch or smaller diameter stones, accompanied by the occasional log, small tire reef, discarded toilet, the standard assortment of garbage, and of course (since it’s the pacific northwest) seaweed detritus (although no seaweed forest). All of it is covered with fine silt that can screw up local visibility if stirred up by bottom-crawling divers.

We saw the usual assortment of sculpin, cod, crabs and a small octopus inside the toilet, although there wasn’t that much life. I was too cold to enjoy it. The bottom temperature was 46 F. Despite the dry suit underwear and three pairs of socks, it was fuh fuh fuh freezin’. After 15 minutes I couldn’t feel my toes at all. At 25 minutes I was flexing my fingers constantly to maintain some feeling. When we surfaced at 35 minutes, I had a hard time walking on the slippery cobble surface because I might as well have been a double amputee wearing wooden legs; I had no sensation even though I was mostly dry.

So you might get the impression that I didn’t like it. This is far from true! It was a hardship though. I would like to use better equipment next time, and perhaps choose a dive site that’s a little more worth the trouble. Better equipment would have made me more comfortable. But this dive was my dry suit cert dive, so it’s all good. It was an easy dive, surfacing is simple because you simply follow the slope back up to the top. I was even able to get a few images, and spent some time in the good company of Mr. Pehl. So I can’t complain!

1 comment

1 Comment so far

  1. Michael Berman November 30th, 2008 11:50 PM

    Lest we forget, the proper term is “testicular whiplash”!

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