A Year in the Making

A blog by Justin Smith.

Getting things done in Antarctica isn’t easy.  Even the most basic tasks require a bit of planning and preparation.  Nothing is exempt.  Life just isn’t simple or easy here at the bottom of the earth.  SCUBA diving is no exception.  The process of an actual dive down here is a story in itself.  In an attempt to stay focused, I’m going to dive (ha!) into what it took for our team of four divers to get ready for this incredible adventure and those that helped us along the way.  

5 Months before any of us would set foot on the ice a partial assembly of our team did what would be our first official training dive.  The roaring winter seas on the southern coast of Oregon can sometimes be remarkably forgiving.  This time around proved to be a confusing contrast of beautiful skies and unfortunate wind direction, making for a very brief splash in the water.  Though it didn’t prove to be an opportunity to work out any processes underwater, it did kick off the beginning of a wonderful team bonding experience.  Getting to know the team, what they’re most excited about, most concerned about, all helped us start to connect as people and build the trust that is so essential to the challenging trip we had on the horizon.    

With a few fragmented trips in between, the whole team came together again for a weekend of diving, testing camera equipment and continuing to bond.  We planned to bring an ambitious array of camera gear down to the ice.  This ranged from GoPros, fixed lens compact cameras, a large full frame Canon and various lights and strobes.  There’s no way to make yourself feel like an amateur again than by jumping into the water with a camera system you’ve never used before.  Despite all the challenges, we did end up with a handful of acceptable shots throughout the trip.  Beyond camera gear, we started to troubleshoot the actual dive equipment (actually quite important!) required for under ice diving.  This involved tracking down leaks, replacing seals and zippers, fitting dry gloves and in lots of cases just ordering new gear.  The challenge arose when we faced the reality that the dive industry was in no way exempt from the global supply chain issues everyone faced this past year.  

In comes Eugene Skin Divers Supply.  This place is somewhere in between a hardware and toy story with everything you could dream of to assemble a kit worthy of diving under the ice at the bottom of the planet.  And if they didn’t have it on the shelf, they figured out how to get it as fast as possible.  The owners Mike and Diana (along with their entire team) became critical to our success and embraced our trip with a commitment as if it was their own.  Out of stock parts were miraculously found, zippers replaced, holes sealed.  It’s safe to say there’s a 0% chance we’d have shown up on the ice prepared and on time if it wasn’t for the shop going above and beyond.

A long list of requirements had to be met before we could even get on a plane.  The equipment was one hurdle but all aspects of our certifications and recertifications fell into the lap of our steadfast Dive Safety Officer at OSU, Kevin Buch.  Over the last year Kevin tirelessly helped us work through the dive proficiency requirements necessary to be a USAP (United States Antarctic Program) diver.  Ultimately Kevin wanted us to head town to the ice feeling confident and qualified and to have a safe and successful trip.  Over the last year Kevin held CPR, O2, and First Aid classes for us, arranged practice dives and was in constant contact with us to make sure we were on track.  

The list extends on and on to those who helped us each personally as we prepared for this adventure.  We’re all incredibly grateful for our family and friends that patiently waited as we were occupied diving many weekends, pushing off social obligations to complete paperwork, and were maybe otherwise not always entirely present as our minds drifted often towards the adventure to the ice that awaited us.

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