The dry suit that wasn't

Trip Start Aug 30, 2009
Trip End Dec 25, 2009

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Flag of Iceland  , Borgarfjardarsysla,
Sunday, September 6, 2009

Today was my day to try scuba diving in Iceland. Yesterday was the first time it occurred to me that I would be diving in a lake. This morning my husband and I couldn't decide what order to layer my clothes, swimsuit-scuba skin-long underwear OR swimsuit-long underwear-scuba skin. Finally I just put regular clothes over my swimsuit and carried everything else with me.

My dive master picked me up promptly and then we picked up Amanda and Pete from Alberta, Canada. They had played the smart card by getting dry suit certified before they came. We drove out to Lake Pingvallavatn (pronounced as if the P were a Th). Weather is rather cloudy and gloomy and it sprinkles a bit on us as we go. Dive master Johannes (and I must check the spelling of his name with him) is excited that it might rain while we are in the lake. says it is quite interesting to watch the raindrops fall into the lake while underwater. We stop at a souvenir shop for a toilet break then proceed to the dive spot which is a platform about 100 feet from the parking lot. You walk down the stairs and get into the water. The water is incredibly clear. It looks really easy and the dive will be shallow. All a cinch, yes? absolutely, incredibly NOT.

Back to the van to gear up. Now I find out that I am just going to wear my long underwear over my swimsuit and in theory, I could have even just worn it over my regular underwear as I won't be getting wet. Johannes is also going to provide me with an insulating undergarment that I will put on before the dry suit. He has all the gear I can possibly need. He starts piling up our gear into four piles. Weights, fins, mask, undergarment, BC, (buoyancy compensator), tank, dry suit, hood, and gloves. Each pile of gear is about 2' high. I put on my own long underwear and thick socks and start to work on getting into the rest of the gear.

The undergarment was like a full body leotard but a quilted leotard with very fat batting. I manage to get into this by myself but it was a struggle and a lot of tugging and sucking in the stomach to get it zipped.

Next is the dry suit. It appears to me made out of material similar to a wet suit but there are boots attached and the sleeves have rubber cuffs on the end and the neck is a large rubber turtleneck. This I could not manage on my own. There was much tugging by me while Johannes was also pulling my hand through the cuff. Finally I am in and get my head through the neck and then Johannes zips me into the suit. The zipper runs from the back of the upper arm, across the back and down the other shoulder to the other upper arm. The hood is next and I am zipped into it and finally the gloves which makes sure I can't move or do anything with my hands. I am very constrained and can hardly move! I am the Michelin man. I am able to breathe though so Johannes says it will do well. A lot of tugging and pulling by everyone to get into these suits.

Now that we are all dressed appropriately, we put on our weight belts. Then we put on our tanks and buoyancy compensator and suddenly I am carrying about an extra 60 pounds on my body in various places! Now I really can't move very well. Johannes has to bend over and pick up my fins and mask for me because if I bend too far, I'm going to tip right over onto my head.
We walk the 100' to the diving platform and I am definitely the penguin of the group. I can barely hobble over to the stairs.

Once at the stairs, we have to put on our fins. ALL of us needed Johannes to bend over and tighten our fins. Pete goes down the ladder and gets into the water. Amanda goes down the ladder and gets into the water. Both of them are fine, no worries. I get down the ladder OK without falling in but once down there I have to put on my mask. Fresh water, salt water, cold water - all the same for keeping your mask clear. You spit in it and rub it around and then rinse it. I had no spit at all!

When diving, you have an air hose that attaches to the buoyancy compensator and this helps you keep a neutral balance in the water. In a dry suit, an air hose attaches to a chest piece in your suit and you use that to put air into your suit and help you keep your buoyancy neutral. To lose air from your suit, there is another knob on your left arm. So push your chest button to put air in and push your arm button to let air out. I couldn't find either! I was so constricted in movement that I could not bend my head to find my chest! Nor could I turn my head to find my arm. And the gloves were so thick and fat that had I found either button, I doubt I could have pushed them!

But I wanted to try this and I am still game, sort of. Johannes helps me put some air into my suit and then helps me put on my mask because I can't even manage that with the sausage fingers I have. I get into the lake and DANG it is COLD! It was 4 degrees C or about 39 degrees F. I had been warned that my lips would get a little cold and there might be a tiny bit of seepage but it would all be OK.

I was definitely NOT OK. it was very cold, there was a lot of water seepage, I thought, and I just couldn't catch my breath. I grabbed onto one of the rocks and felt very, very claustrophobic which I have rarely ever felt in my life. We had actually gotten into the water where the North American Plate and the Eurasian Plate are moving apart so we're in a kind of canyon of rocks and it just seemed incredibly narrow to me. We weren't even going to dive more than about 5 -10 meters but it just wasn't happening for me at that point. I was fairly freaked by not being able to move hardly at all, unfamiliar equipment, walls closing in on me, and cold.

Poor Amanda and Pete were waiting patiently for me to descend, Johannes was trying his best to get me comfortable, and I was thinking what the hey am I doing this for? So I told Johannes that I would follow along on the surface for awhile until I got comfortable. So they start swimming under me and I start following on the surface like a parade balloon. There are a couple of places where they must come up close to the surface to get over some rocks. I bob along after them.

The water is very, very clear. I never see a fish although I am told that there are fish in that lake and the gift shop was selling fishing flies. The rocks are all covered with algae or moss or slimy something plus a lot of stuff that looked like green string. So I am enjoying what I am seeing but I am not getting any more comfortable. In fact, it appears that my tank was on crooked because suddenly, without warning, although it happened in slow motion, I rolled over on the right side and was on my back. Like a harpooned whale! Struggled a bit to roll back over onto my stomach so I could swim again. That happened a few more times.

We finally pass through the narrow areas and get into a wider canyon so I think I can descend now. I am now fairly calm and I can do this. Can't find the button on the side of my dry suit to let out air but I poke my arm a few times in the general vicinity. I let all the air out of my B.C. and I'm now bobbing on the surface like a big long cork. Well, heck. I kick down and actually manage to get underwater and join the group. Johannes looks around and sees me and asks if I am OK. At the moment, I'm good but as we go a tiny bit deeper, I am hit with a common diving malady in that my ears would not clear! You must clear your ears as you dive or it is quite painful and you can risk rupture.

I grabbed hold of a rock, not hard to do since they are everywhere, and am working on getting my ears clear when I realize that all the attempted poking at the arm value to lose air from my dry suit has worked and I am slowly sinking. NOW I can't find my chest value to add air. OK, I am NOT having any fun at this point. I'm cold, I'm sinking, I'm unable to maneuver, and my ears hurt. Johannes comes over to me and pokes my chest. What a nice guy. He asks if I'm OK and I signal, NO, going UP! So I surface. He comes up and I tell him I can't equalize and I'll just continue to bob along on the surface after him.

So my big underwater dive in a dry suit in Iceland lasted all of 6 minutes and was 24' deep! BUT wait! the fun is NOT over yet. In all, we've only been in the water for about 15 minutes. We swim further into the lake and make a left turn into what they call the blue lagoon. Now the bottom is rising to meet us and it is sandy looking. Johannes swims to the edge and takes off his fins and gets out. I'm mimicking the harpooned whale again and rolling over, off balance. Johannes, being the good dive master that he is and a gentleman to boot, takes off my fins for me and helps me out of the water.

OH FOR JOY! now we must walk back to the parking lot with our 60 pounds of gear over a rocky, muddy path. I am moving very, very slowly but I am fairly sure I can make it if I don't look to see how far it is (maybe 400 meters total). Amanda is being a dear and calls out to me, "It's muddy up here and slippery". The second those words were out of her mouth, I just fell over sideways and got stuck there. Now I am mimicking an elephant seal, no grace on land at all. I could not get up. It's hard enough with arthritis to get up from the ground but with 60 extra pounds, this was really going to be difficult. Lovely Johannes comes back to help and says, kindly, "Let's take off all the gear" and proceeds to unflip, unbuckle, unharness, and unlatch me from all scuba gear on my back and around my waist. Unluckily for him, I'm still in a position of being like an elephant seal so he has to help haul me to my feet. We leave the gear there and head for the van.

Still takes me a few minutes to get to the van because I am not wearing scuba gear now but I am packing a lot of water with me! I am pretty squishy and squelchy as I walk. When I get to the van, I have Amanda unzip anything that needs unzipping and as I start taking off one piece of equipment after the other, lake water is pouring from every opening. Johannes actually watches me with his mouth hanging open as I am supposed to be dry. He sits me down on the van floor and pulls off my dry suit the final little bit and then upends the boots and we get a steady stream of water pouring out of each foot. I get off my undergarment and he wrings out the arms and adds another stream of water to the mud puddle we have going now. He is just amazed. No wonder I was cold. Good thing I wore my swimsuit because once I get off my soaking long underwear, it is totally wet as if I'd been in a pool.

It is definitely decided. I am NOT a cold water diver. I am a resort and fair and warm weather diver. I still am glad I did it because otherwise I would have never known that I hated it! Must try new things always but this is a "once is enough" activity for me.
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