A Scuba Diver’s Guide To Overcoming Seasickness

A Scuba Diver’s Guide To Overcoming Seasickness

Being seasick has got to be one of the most miserable, unpleasant feelings imaginable; and unfortunately, it’s a condition that most divers will experience at least once. For some, seasickness is such a regular occurrence that it seriously impacts upon their enjoyment of diving- after all, there’s nothing like acute nausea to ruin a day out on the ocean. Of course, those that suffer from seasickness could confine themselves to diving from shore; but the fact remains that many of the world’s best dive sites are only accessible by boat. This article aims to help divers overcome their seasickness, so that they can get the very most out of their time on (and under) the water.

The Seasickness Theory

The first step to triumphing over seasickness is understanding what causes it. Seasickness is essentially the same as any other type of motion sickness- which is why those that are prone to the condition are also likely to experience its symptoms when flying or driving. The root of the problem is that when we are on a boat, the objects around us (e.g. the deck, the steering console, the dive cylinders, our buddies) seem static, but in reality, the entire vessel is moving with the ocean swells. This results in our brain receiving conflicting signals- from our eyes, that see the unmoving objects in our immediate vicinity and tell the brain that we are on solid ground; and from our ears, whose equilibrium sensors signal that in fact the opposite is true. The confusion that results from these mixed messages is what triggers the nausea that makes seasickness so unpleasant.

Remedying The Symptoms

For most people, the instinctive reaction to a sickness of any kind is medication, and certainly there are several pharmaceutical solutions available for seasickness sufferers. From over-the-counter tablets like Stugeron, to prescription transdermal patches like scopolamine, there are plenty of options when it comes to seasickness drugs. However, divers must be very careful when taking medication, as many of these drugs involve serious side effects including impaired judgement and drowsiness. Clearly, divers need to be in complete control of their faculties underwater, so that they can respond quickly and effectively in the event of an emergency. There are some drugs that do not have these negative side effects- however, divers should always seek the advice of a medical professional before taking seasickness medication. If you do choose to take pills to counteract nausea, make sure to take them before leaving shore- most drugs need time to enter the bloodstream if they are to work effectively. There are also some alternative, non-chemical seasickness remedies, including bracelets that stimulate acupuncture points on the wrist to prevent symptoms from occurring.

Seasickness symptoms can be reduced or exacerbated depending on what you put into your body both before and during your dive trip. Obviously, drinking alcohol before diving is not a good idea- firstly, because the nausea associated with being hungover can easily translate into seasickness; and secondly, because alcohol causes dehydration which in turn increases susceptibility to the same condition. Staying hydrated in general is an important part of preventing seasickness, and divers should make sure to drink plenty of water for the duration of their time at sea. Your pre-dive meal also has an impact on your resilience to becoming seasick. While it’s a good idea to eat something an hour or two before boarding the dive boat in order to maintain energy levels whilst underwater, those that are prone to nausea should steer well clear of greasy, spicy and acidic foods, and favour plain carbohydrates instead. According to anecdotal evidence, there are also some foods that can help even after nausea sets in. These include saltine crackers, and anything derived from ginger, both of which appear to help settle the stomach. As for liquids, Coke is meant to help seasickness sufferers, as it contains the same phosphoric acid and sugars that are found in Emetrol, an over-the-counter anti-nausea medicine.

Equally as important as your diet is where you place yourself on the dive boat. Whether you’re picking a berth on a liveaboard, or simply a place to stow your kit for a few hours, try to choose a location in the centre of the boat. Here, the pitching and rolling motion that triggers those confused signals that cause seasickness is less pronounced than at the bow of the boat; and, you will be removed from the stench of the engines at the stern. Because odour (whether its that of diesel, cigarette smoke or another person’s vomit) can exacerbate feelings of seasickness, those that are already affected should seek fresh air out on deck. An added bonus of being topside is that you are able to focus on the horizon- in doing so, the messages from your eyes and ears will become less disjointed, as the horizon provides a reference to land, rather than to the deceptively static objects on the boat. If you are already feeling sick, it’s a good idea therefore to keep watching the horizon, rather than attempting to perform tasks that require focusing on closer objects- like reading, or making alterations to dive gear.

As A Last Resort…

Unfortunately, seasickness is not a particularly reliable beast and on some days you may feel nauseous despite all of your best attempts at self-help. In this situation, sometimes the only cure is actually to be sick- although you will want to make sure you throw up over the leeward side of the boat so that your vomit doesn’t make an unwelcome reappearance. Don’t be shy- any diver worth their salt will have seen it all before (most probably from a personal perspective). For many divers, seasickness disappears as soon as they enter the water and escape the confusing motion of the surface swells. However, if you find that you need to be sick underwater, make sure to keep your regulator in your mouth. It may seem unsavoury, but your regulator is designed for that precise eventuality. Your natural reaction after throwing up is to inhale deeply- if your regulator is not in place, you will find yourself breathing in seawater instead of compressed air. If you succumb to seasickness either on the surface or underwater, remember to rehydrate with water or electrolyte drinks that can replace lost body sugars.

Because overcoming seasickness is not an exact science, it’s important to know what to do if the condition does get the best of you. However, if you follow the steps listed in this article, you will find your susceptibility greatly reduced- and your enjoyment of the underwater world given new life as a result.

Article by Jessica Vyvyan-Robinson

jonnierowe

Lake Meads B-29

The “Super Fortress” was a World War II B-29 bomber made popular for its ability to carry nuclear bombs onboard and is credited with dropping the same weapons on the Japanese cities of Nagasaki and Hiroshima. These advanced aviation feats came at a steep price, with the research and development budget of the B-29 costing 1.5 times that of the Manhattan Project. At the time of their production in the 1940s, each plane cost more than half a million dollars to build.

After the conclusion of World War II, the remaining B-29s were given new life through reassignment. Such reassignment fell to a B-29, known simply by its serial number, 45-21847. Assigned to the Upper Atmosphere Research Project #288 at the formerly named Muroc Army Airfield (currently, known as Edwards Airforce Base), this B-29 assisted with developing a solar-guided intercontinental ballistic missile guidance system, aptly named “Sun Tracker”. The B-29 spent its second career making high altitude flights coupled with low passes that hugged the surface of Lake Mead. Unfortunately, the last pass this plane made, on 21 July 1948, had it impacting the water at 383 kilometers/hour. Thankfully, the five crew members on board were able to safely escape without major injuries; however, the B-29 rapidly sunk to the bottom of the lake, coming to rest under 73 meters of cold, freshwater.

It was not until 2001 that the B-29 was located by Gregg Mikosalek of In Depth International, Inc., a search and recovery company specializing in sidescan sonar and the supplying of technical divers. Through the use of sidescan sonar, In Depth International was able to locate the wreckage and deploy technical divers to verify the plane’s identity. The information on the plane’s discovery was released to the public a year later, in August of 2002; however, the plane came under the control of the National Park Service based on its location on federal land and was quickly made inaccessible to the general public.

During the summer of 2003, the National Park Service Submerged Resources Center (SRC) performed repetitive dives at the site in order to produce detailed mappings of the wreck. The depth of the wreck and the necessary staged decompression(s) meant the SRC divers were only able to spend two hours in the water; their total bottom time could not exceed half an hour. It was decided the historical value of the B-29 was too great to allow non-government entities access and it would be several years before any civilians returned to the site.

When access was made available to the general public, in July of 2007, it was very restricted. The National Park Service provided only two dive operations with six-month trial permits allowing them to perform a limited number of dives on the B-29. After the permits expired, the National Park Service suspended all diving on the B-29, indefinitely.

By late 2014, rumors began circulating in the dive community that the National Park Service would once again allow divers on the B-29. Suspicions were confirmed in December of 2014 when the National Park Service began accepting applications from dive operations interested in conducting guiding tours on the B-29. For those who are awarded these select ‘commercial use authorizations’ (CUAs), they will be allowed to guide up to 100 divers per every 12-month period on tours of the plane. The CUAs will only be good for two years, meaning the near future ability to dive the B-29 will be highly limited.

In their effort to preserve the wreckage, the National Park Service had previously installed a permanent anchor at the site, allowing dive boats in the area to safely moor without having to drop their own anchors and thus risk striking the plane. As an added precaution, upon descending the anchor line, divers have to swim a short distance before reaching the plane. The swim provides the diver with the opportunity to fine-tune their buoyancy and ensure their gauges are secured against their bodies. To maintain its integrity and prevent further damage, the B-29 is a “hands off” wreck.

Thanks to a devastating drought that has been robbing the western United States of its water for several years, many lakes have dropped to historically low levels. Lake Mead was no exception and, by 2008, had dropped over 30 meters. The B-29, which had been resting well outside the depths of recreational diving limits since its premature decommissioning, was almost within reach at 42.5 meters. While this site currently requires technical diver certification and related apparatus to access it, it is conceivable in the near future that recreational divers will be able to dive the wreck should the drought continue.

by Christina Albright-Mundy

Image credit http://www.dudziak.com/picture.php/lake_mead9015

Athens Scuba Park

Located 97 kilometers southeast of Dallas lies Athens, Texas and one of the first SCUBA diver amusement parks, aptly named ‘Athens SCUBA Park’. This seven-acre spring fed lake is the remnants of a white clay quarry once mined for the purposes of brick manufacturing. After lying abandoned for over twenty years, Calvin Wilcher purchased the lake and the fifty acre plot surrounding it. A lifelong diver, Wilcher knew the first time he laid eyes upon this relatively unknown lake that he firstly needed to dive it; and second, he needed to let other divers dive it as well.

After investing years into improving the grounds, Wilcher was able to open his doors to the public in 1989. More than a lake, Athens SCUBA Park hosts a full service dive shop, offers training courses, provides air fills and supplies rental equipment. Opened Wednesday through Friday, 10am until 5pm, and 9am-5pm on the weekends, divers are allowed unlimited access to the lake for $20 a day. For the adventurous and outdoorsy community, camping and RV hook-ups are available.

When lakes are talked about in the dive community, there is typically not a lot of excitement to be had. Lakes are most useful for practicing skills and logging bottom time. Absent is the flora and fauna of the oceans and, instead, we mostly find the occasional fish, maybe a crawfish and outcroppings of boulders. Athens SCUBA Park is even more devoid than that.

The lining of the lake is composed of heavy, white clay. Clay is alkaline, registering high on the pH scale. The impact of the clay’s pH affects the water column and prevents life, whether it be algae or fish, from surviving in it. Couple the lack of plant growth with water that has been filtered through clay and you have a pristine, yet empty, lake. What’s a man to do with this type of environment? Well, fill it with toys, obviously!

Athens SCUBA Park hosts a backyard full of purposely dispatched wrecks. Holding over thirty wrecks (and growing), the lists of attractions include:

  • Hawker 600 jet
  • Sailboats
  • Lockheed C-140 Jetstar
  • Triple deck barge
  • Volkswagen van
  • Grand piano
  • Jet Ski
  • Buses
  • Motorcycles
  • Grain Silo
  • Golf Cart
  • Hot Tubs

The maximum depth of the lake is 10 meters; however, years of drought have lowered this level. The shop’s website boosts average visibility of 10 meters, with upwards of 21 meters. As with any other lake, heavy rains reduce the visibility, as do student divers. The silty, clay bottom is easily disturbed, so good buoyancy skills are imperative to maintaining visibility. Due to the overall shallowness of the lake, water temperatures vary greatly throughout the year. In the hot Texas summer, water temperatures easily reach 30 degrees Celsius, while the equally cold winters can drop the temperature to a mere 10 degrees.

Admittedly, Texas is not on the bucket list of most divers; however, the promise of a unique experience at Athens SCUBA Park is enough that, should a diver find themselves traveling through the lower half of the United States, it warrants a visit.

http://www.athensscubapark.com/

by Christina Albright-Mundy

 

The Socorro Islands

manta ray costa rica

The Socorro Islands

The four volcanic islands of the Revillagigedo Archipelago (San Benedicto Island, Socorro Island, Roca Partida and Clarion) are located 350 kilometers southwest of Mexico’s Baja Peninsula and are commonly referred to as ‘Socorro Island’. Designated a Marine Reserve in 1994, these waters boast a who’s who of popular pelagic organisms and is in rank with such destinations as Costa Rica’s Cocos Island and the Galapagos.

The waters of Socorro range between 21 and 28 degrees Celsius (70-82 degrees Fahrenheit). Due to the lower water temperatures, corals do not readily grow here. The topography is volcanic in nature, with steep walls, large boulders and active lava tubes. Sparse hard corals and barnacles grow in this region.

The draw to Socorro is the large number of sharks and rays that congregate in these waters. Shark species include hammerheads, Galapagos, silkies, silvertips, oceanic whitetips, tiger and whale. Hammerhead sharks are viewable during the entire diving season (November-June); however, they are most prolific between the months of April and June. Everyone’s favorite, the whale shark, is more elusive; only making an appearance two months out of the year, in June and again in November.  As consolation for such a short whale shark season, oceanic whitetips, mobula rays and Giant pacific manta rays are present in large numbers throughout the entire season.

Not to be outdone by their cartilaginous ocean-mates, marine mammals are also commonly encountered. Dolphins are present year-round; however, they are more common between the months of January and March. Whales return to the area in December, remaining for several months often with young calves in tow. Some years as many as 1200 humpback whales migrate through the area, guaranteeing an amazing topside show.

By boat, it takes 22-24 hours to travel to the islands. Because of the long commute, the only way to visit Socorro is via a liveaboard. Due to rough water conditions during the summer and early fall, diving is only allowed between November and June. The MV Nautilus Explorer operates regular excursions to the islands during this time, offering an all-inclusive dive package for around $3,000 a week. Included in the price are tanks, weights and bilingual Divemasters. Rental gear is available for the week beginning at $215 and mainland transfers, nitrox and alcohol are extra. Once a year, in November, the MV Nautilus Explorer offers a two week travel package which includes one week in Socorro and one week in Isla Guadalupe where divers are able to get up close and personal with great white sharks from within the safety of a shark cage. The price for this trip runs around $5,000.

by Christina Albright-Mundy

Avalon, Catalina

marine life in honduras

Avalon, Santa Catalina Island

Having cut my diving teeth in Monterey Bay, I am embarrassed to admit that I had never made the extended trek to Santa Catalina Island before last weekend. Looking to expand my diving repertoire, I made the seven hour drive from Sacramento to Long Beach, where I boarded the Catalina Express for a one-hour ferry ride to the island simply known as ‘Catalina’ by the locals.

While there are many means of accessing Catalina, the most popular method is the ferry service operated by Catalina Express. With ports in Dana Point, Long Beach and San Pedro, there are many conveniently scheduled transfers between the mainland and the island. The cost for this service is $74.50 for a round-trip adult ticket and long-term parking is available for either $12 a day (San Pedro, Dana Point) or $15 a day (Long Beach).

When transferring from the mainland, passengers have two options for their final destination: Avalon or Two Harbors. As Avalon is the most popular city on Catalina and where my shore diving would be based from, I chose this city as my final port.

Arriving after the sun had set, I discovered an appealing lack of vehicles. The main mode of transportation in Avalon is walking, followed closely by golf carts. Retrieving my luggage from the ferry, I made the short 15-minute walk to my hotel, Hotel Atwater. The hotel was large and the staff friendly; however, I was dismayed to find the establishment lacked an elevator. “It’s not heavy, it’s my dive gear” only pacified me until the first landing.

Having only one day to spend on the island, I wasted no time in embarking on a walkabout. The town is quite quaint and caters to the walking community as the majority of the main street is closed to motorized vehicles. Less than a kilometer walk from the hotel was the famous Catalina Casino and also the backdrop to the following morning’s dive.

Finding myself without a dive buddy for this trip, I sought the guidance of SCUBA Luv’s staff. Located around the corner from my hotel at 126 Catalina Avenue, SCUBA Luv offers daily guided tours between 8am and 4pm for $75 a dive, including weights and a tank. Opting for the 8am dive, I met my tour guide, Divemaster Chris, early the next morning at the shop where we loaded our gear into a golf cart for the five minute drive to Catalina Casino.

Having visited Catalina Casino the night before, I expected the morning to be a continuance of the night before, calm and quiet; I was wrong.   The dive park, which is located behind the casino, was bustling with activity as divers readied their tanks and shimmied into their wetsuits. The activity had the appearance of the Breakwater at Monterey; however, it was condensed into a significantly smaller space.

Like Monterey, Catalina is cold water diving, with temperatures in the winter hovering between 12 and 16.5 degrees Celsius. During the summer months, the temperature does experience a significant increase, climbing to between 20 and 24 degrees. On this mid-January day, the water temperature was 16 degrees, warranting every bit of my 7mm wetsuit, hood and gloves. Not surprisingly, dry suits were a common sight in the parking lot.

After donning our gear, we made our way to the water’s edge. In a dive friendly gesture, a staircase had been permanently installed allowing for easy access from the parking lot to the water. Unfortunately, a winter storm having recently moved through the area had ripped the last few feet of railing away, leaving a weighted diver to maneuver the remaining three steps without assistance. Being as these steps remain submerged the majority of the time, they are coated in a thin layer of algae, making for a potentially slippery entrance. Having been forewarned by Chris of the stair situation, I was prepared when making my entrance. BC inflated, regulator in my mouth, I used the last bit of remaining railing to balance myself while I strapped on my fins. Once my fins were in place, I carefully walked down two steps before crouching low and gliding on my stomach over the water, much like a sea lion playing in the surf.

After a short surface swim, we descended into the shallow waters. Large rocks lay on the sloping floor, providing habitat for nudibranchs, abalone and small crustaceans. Sargassum weed, an invasive species in this region, sprouted from most available substrate, edging out much needed real estate for kelp holdfasts. It was apparent the sargassum was winning the turf war as their long, golden brown tendrils dominated the water column for several feet, grabbing at our fins. The experience with the sargassum was not all unpleasant, as I did find enjoyment in parting the seaweed to look for marine life below, feeling omnipotent as I peeked on the local lifeforms.

Fish were abundant in these clear waters, with the most striking being the California Orange Garibaldi, California’s State Marine Fish. These large, orange fish are capable of reaching lengths of 14 inches and are very curious of divers, often coming within inches of their faces. While common along the coast of Southern California, it is only in the Channel Islands that these fish frequent very shallow water.

Included in my experience was also a diving cormorant in search of a meal. I had been observing a large pod of small fish when sudden they began to dart about erratically. Within seconds of the abrupt dispersion, a cormorant passed quickly in front of my face. Luckily for the fish, the avian diver was unsuccessful in his mission, although he did create quite a disruption in his wake.

The maximum depth on our dive was 21 meters and the total bottom time was 40 minutes. Visibility throughout the dive exceeded thirty feet and there was no significant current in the area. As we moved to five meters to begin our safety stop, a slight surge could be detected, which sometimes warranted a well-placed glove on a rock to steady oneself.

Once our tanks dropped below 700 psi/50 bar, Chris and I made our way to the staircase. Exiting was more difficult than the entrance, requiring the use of one hand for stability on the bottom step and the other to remove my fins. The surge in the shallow water was moderately strong and made the exiting experience all the more interesting.

I am told the best diving in Catalina is found on a dive boat and luckily there are many operations on the island that offer such excursions, including SCUBA Luv. After the experience I had over the last weekend, I look forward to returning to the island to explore more of its beautiful water from the comforts of a dive boat.

by Christina Albright-Mundy