It has been a while since I have seen 5:45am on a Saturday, but I started my day fumbling around my flat, trying to find wool socks, wicking base layer, and my dive mask.
I had a pretty good reason to greet the morning with uncharacteristic enthusiasm – I was heading to London School of Diving in Chiswick to see what it is like to dive in nearly freezing water. I am not the first person you would think of when suggesting getting into cold water. I am the biggest wimp when it comes to jumping into lakes or swimming pools that are even slightly cool. I cower in the corner of the shower until it is the perfect temperature. Suffice to say, cold water and I have not always had an amicable relationship.
However, since starting my diving journey in October, I knew I was hooked. Unfortunately, I don’t spend very much of my life living on a boat in Australia or chilling on tropical paradise islands. I live in the Northern Hemisphere, and in order to dive regularly, learning how to dive in cold water seemed like the next logical step. After all, don’t views like this make you yearn to jump into the cold cold water? Before hopping into the 3°C water, we were introduced to the essential bit of kit that allows us to dive and not freeze our buns off – a dry suit.
Unlike the wetsuit that more people are familiar with, a dry suit has a tight seal around your neck and on your wrists to prevent water from getting inside the suit (my suit had flexible latex for the seals). The dry suits also have attached boots, like footie-pajamas for the Michelin man! In addition to the dry suit, we had a pair of thinsulate overalls, under which I wore a pair of tights and a long sleeve base layer.
Protip: make sure you have a tactical wee before wriggling into this suit! Unlike a wet suit, where you can pee without dire consequences, peeing inside your dry suit would be horribly unpleasant.
We also donned thick neoprene hoods, which have the added bonus of creating traction on your lower jaw and squishing your face our in an undeniably attractive fashion. So hawt right now.
The major change when you dive in a dry suit is that you can inflate your suit with air which provides insulation from the surrounding water.
While (ideally) your body from neck down stays dry, your head and hands let you know exactly who cold it is! For our first dive, we did a few skills and got used to managing our buoyancy with the additional element of having air in our suits.
You learn some bizarre idiosyncratic facts about yourself when trying new things. I learned, for example, that my right wrist is much larger than my left wrist. So much so that the seals that fit quite comfortably on my left side left my right hand half numb.
We were only down for about 20 minutes, but that was enough to get my toes to a painfully cold state (mental note: thicker, woolier socks next time! My boots were a bit too snug to accommodate anything more than a thinner pair of merino socks).
Once I thawed my toes and guzzled a coffee, we were ready to go back in. We did the last few skills we needed to complete before touring a sunken bus.
My neck seal had done admirably well in the first dive, however, in the second dive, several generous streams of frigid water slipped down my neck, traveling all the way to my toes whilst searing path of shockingly cold water. This dive site is not exactly scenic and in combination with the cold, I think we were all content to head back after a short dive.
I was really pleased to have completed the course, and all of the LSD staff (particularly my instructor Ed) were fantastic. Far from scaring me off cold water diving, this course whetted my appetite to explore dive sites across the UK that are now accessible to me with the expanded ability to dive even where the water is cold. Basically, this means diving doesn’t have to be an annual hobby when I have a chance to go to somewhere tropical, and that is pretty cool indeed.