My wife (Laurie) and I are taking our NAUI Advanced Scuba Diver class with Clay from Eight Diving and did our first four of six dives this weekend.
Saturday were were at Sunnyside Beach in Steilacoom for navigation and search and recovery dives. We met Clay in the parking lot at 9am and it was already starting to get crowded. There was a large open water class from one of the Underwater Sports locations that was setting up along the pipeline, so we move a little bit north where we could have a nice open space to do our navigation practice and search and recovery without too much muck stirred up from the other divers. We started practicing pace counting and compass navigation in squares with a towel on our head on dry land (which reminded me a lot of my instrument training for flying.) After that it was time to dive. The navigation dive went pretty well. We hadn't dove with Clay since Laurie was finishing up her open water and drysuit training with him in February, so we were excited to show him how much our skills had improved with practice. Visibility was decent (15-20 feet or so) and the navigation drills underwater went smoothly. Clay was really happy with our buoyancy, trim and comfort level in the water.
After swapping tanks and having a snack, we started practicing search patterns on the shore. We walked around in circles holding a line and practiced expanding square search patterns amongst the sunbathers and picnickers that had arrived to enjoy the nice weather. We went back in the water and Clay placed a weight on the bottom at an unknown location for each of us to find. It was our first time using a spool underwater, but we both avoided getting tangled up in it. After we each found the item on a search pattern, we started to recovery part of the dive, using a lift bag to lift a milk crate with stuff in it off the bottom. We took turns managing the lift bag after Clay demonstrated the techniques and each successfully raised the crate without becoming human lift bags. We finished the dive and got packed up. We didn't get a chance to explore the pipeline that Sunnyside Beach is known for, so we'll have to make a trip back there at some point in the future to dive for fun.
Sunday we made the long trek from Seattle to Sund Rock to do our deep dive and a peak-performance buoyancy dive. We met Clay at Hood Sport n' Dive where we had to stop to get our tanks filled. We followed Clay up to the turnoff for Sund Rock Preserve and paid our $15/diver entry fee to the guy in the camper. Our plan was to do a deep dive first, following the slope down from the cove to 100 feet or so and to do some basic skills to see the effects of narcosis on our minds. We were then going to head back up the slope to the base of the south wall and then back to the entry point. The visibility report was for it to be pretty murky from 10 feet down to some yet unknown depth. We briefed the dive, got geared up and were into the water around 12:30pm. As we started descending down the slope through the murkiness, visibility was probably about 5 feet -- just enough to keep contact with each other and follow the contour of the bottom. At about 60-70 feet or so, the visibility opened up to maybe 10-15 feet, but with the thick layer of algae bloom above us, it was super dark. We kept descending until came across a large anchor in the bottom with Clay periodically checking on and having us respond to signals and air checks. By that point, Laurie was getting a bit apprehensive due to the darkness, lack of visibility and the depth, so we turned around and headed back up the slope. We had gone through our air a little faster than expected, so we only had a short time to explore the south wall before heading back to our entry point for our safety stop.
After fist bumps all around for not instantly dying when we went deeper than 60 feet, we swapped tanks and got ready for our second dive. Clay had continued to be really happy with our buoyancy, trim and frog kicking, so he wanted to give us a primer on reverse kicks and helicopter turns so that we could start practicing those skills after the class. We descended at the blue buoy marking the north wall and spent a few minutes watching Clay back up and spin in place before trying ourselves. I found that my "reverse" kick still made me go forward, but I could start to spin in place without moving forward too much. After the skills, we headed to towards the wall and wreck with the plan to come back along the top of the wall in the "fish bowl". We descended looking for the bottom of the wall, but the visibility got worse as we moved northeast and descended. We finally reach about 75' and realized we had missed the wall, so we turned northwest and start coming back up the slope and finally found the base of the wall. Visibility was only 5-10 feet the whole time. We worked our way north along the wall and then across the open ground following about a 55' depth contour until we (almost literally) ran into the wreck. We briefly explored the wreck and saw a couple of large ling cod before heading up into the shallower water visibility was a bit better. We swam back towards the beach in the shallow water to complete our safety stop. After our three minutes, we surfaced about half way between the buoy that marks the wreck and the entry point. We did a quick in-the-water debrief and then descended back to about 10 feet depth where I could practice switching to my pony bottle and Laurie could practice breathing off of Clay's long hose regulator and swimming with him. We enjoyed looking at the small critters in the clear water at 10 feet as we swam underwater back to the entry point.
It was a great learning experience to dive in the low visibility at Sund Rock. We have been spoiled with great visibility over the winter since we started diving and our only night/low vis dives previously were the super clear waters and moonlit night for the Manta Dive in Hawaii, and a couple of dives at Redondo where there was a thin layer of soup with good visibility and light underneath. If all goes as planned, this Friday we'll be back at Redondo for our last two dives of the NAUI advanced course, and more practice in the dark.