August 20, 2017

Wreck Diving on South Carolina's Coast (RNR San Jose Week -7)

Monday is a rest day on my current "training" plan.  Which was good, because E and I had a long day of flying from Montreal to LaGuardia, a layover, then a flight to Charleston, and finally a 2 hour drive to North Myrtle Beach before an early bed time.

North Myrtle Beach Coast
The plan for this week was to pray for good weather and hopefully get in some wreck diving off the coast in the mornings, followed by work in the afternoons.  Then, Saturday, we would drive to North Georgia where we'd been enlisted to volunteer at the Rabun County, Georgia total eclipse event.

Our weather/sea prayers were answered and we did 3 consecutive days of wonderful wreck diving.  The only downside was that we had to get up very early to be on the boat by 6:30 AM each day.  By the time we returned from our dives, we were completely physically exhausted, but we were able to fit in some work before early bedtimes each day.

The 78F Atlantic coastal water feels quite warm, but even with a wetsuit, you expend a ton of energy keeping your body at 98.6F while under the water.  It's actually quite bizarre -- if you are having a good dive and relaxed with good buoyancy, your breathing is very slow and you don't feel like you are doing anything remotely physically demanding.  And yet, by the time we were back on land each day, after pre-departure gear prep, 2.5+ hours of boat time (including heavy gear management), and 1 hour+ underwater over 2 dives, we were completely shot.  The boat time contributes to exhaustion because your brain actually has to work fairly hard to keep you from getting sea sick when out at sea.  Also, it was insanely hot and humid most days, with a heat index around 100F, which also contributed to the tiredness.

This was my first time scuba diving without a dive guide and I was fairly apprehensive.  It was going to be just me and E as buddies, and we hadn't been at any of these sites before -- I asked him to manage the dive computer and act as the lead diver as I knew he was much more comfortable than I was with scuba. 

Fried Vegetable Plate -- back in the South!
My first dive was actually pretty terrible.  About 1 minute before my roll-off, someone on the crew noted that my BCD had an integrated weight system, and they just ripped off my weight belt, removed the weights and threw them in to the integrated weight system.  I'd never used one of those before and I was trying to process how it all worked while they shuffled me to the side of the boat and had me roll in backwards over the side.  Once in the water, it became clear that my regulator made a scary groaning noise with each exhale, and it felt difficult to exhale through it while above water. 

Finally, I calmed down enough to try to descend only to realize that I was too underweighted to descend properly and had to ask the boat crew to swim more weight out to me.  Then, after E and I successfully descended down the down line to the anchor line, my mask didn't fit properly.  I tried to clear it several times as we followed the anchor line to the wreck, but it wasn't working.  Eventually, once we were at the wreck, I freaked out a bit, ripped off my mask completely, repositioned it and tried to clear it completely, but only got it halfway clear.  E was a saint, and motioned a slow calm easy clear of his mask with proper hand placement and I mimicked him to finally get it clear.  I spent the rest of the dive breathing hard from stress and clearing my mask constantly, *but* we stayed together, executed the dive according to plan, saw lots of cool fish and enjoyed the historical wreck of the Sherman

Myrtle Beach Strand

We ascended together, did a surreal safety stop surrounded by huge curious barracudas just hanging out and watching us from about 3 feet away.  We reboarded the boat, did our surface interval, I swapped out my mask for a different one that worked, and returned to the water for a much more relaxed second dive on the same site (my air consumption is still *super* variable -- when stressed out like on the first dive, I probably consume at 1.5X E's rate, but on the second dive, I ascended with 20% more air left in my tank than E). 

The remaining 4 dives of the trip were easy and fun (2 at Barracuda Alley and 2 at the Charleston Tug).  On the last dive, E and I penetrated the wreck and swam around various compartments several times -- if you had told me that by the end of our South Carolina diving I'd be comfortable enough on unguided dives to do wreck penetration, I would have laughed.  And yet, here I am.  It's a huge increase in my diving confidence to have 6 unguided ocean dives in my dive log.

Unfortunately, running didn't happen on any of the dive days.  Between the physical exhaustion and the afternoon heat, it didn't seem like a good idea.  Even without any running, we were having trouble staying awake past 9:30 PM.

Mornings were clear for diving, but afternoons were often thunderstorms.

On Friday, our fist non-diving day, I headed out with a goal of doing 6 easy miles.  Nope.  At 8 AM it was 86F and 95% humidity and after 2 slow miles (AVG 12:12/mile), I had to stop to walk to avoid overheating.  I turned around and did 30s hard (AVG 9:00ish/mile), 90s walk intervals back for a total of 4 miles, followed by a lovely ocean wading cooldown.

Saturday, I woke at 6:20 to head out earlier with the goal of 3 easy miles in the South Carolina heat and humdity.  Success.  Even if slow (AVG 12:26/mile).

Sunday AM, I woke in the mountains of North Georgia to glorious cool temperatures in the 70s and very low humidity.  I enjoyed a solid 3.14 mile loop (AVG 14:22/mile) through the steep mountain hills (elevation gain: 467ft) with S, chatting away, happy to run in such lovely conditions with a friend.

Weekly mileage: 10.14 running.  Another 5ish walking.  Very much a down week, but based on historical efforts on the mountain loop vs today, it feels like my fitness is heading in the right direction, nonetheless.

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