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Dry Suits and Diving Antarctica

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Deeper Blue Hypoxyphiliac
Oct 24, 2002
Howdy all,

Looks like I might be able to get a free trip down to Antarctica next year, and I really want to go freediving if I go down there. Are there any complications with diving in a dry suit? I know in terms of scuba, they have problems where if you roll the wrong way, you can go flying up to the surface and risk getting DCS, but I would've though the air pockets trapped in there would be a bigger issue for freediving. Wonder what kind of heart rates you'd be able to get in one degree water... :D

Long Topic

First of all, tell how how the h*** did you get a free trip to Antarctica? Those trips cost like $6000 !!

Freediving in a drysuit is virtually impossible. The only way I could imagine it working is by using a thick neoprene drysuit and filling the inside of the suit with an incompressible, insulating fluid (?vaseline?), probably causing so much damage to the suit it would be a one-dive only suit.

In Vancouver, using 5mm picasso pants, 3mm top + 5mm top, and two sodium acetate heat packs, we were able to stay in water which was 3C on the surface and 2C on the bottom, for 1.5 hrs. But, I don't know about -1.8C...

Either way, tell us how it goes, because some of my friends and I are interested in going to Antartica for some freediving.

Eric Fattah
BC, Canada

turtle.... t-t-t-t-t-turtle....

Apnea king Fattah there is right - drysuit out of the question. Picasso has a 9mm Semidry suit - might look into that. weighting would be a #$%$(...

Free Trip

Ahhh, the joys of the Defence Force :D... doing some research and design into a probe that melts through ice and detects life below the surface, for places like Mars, Europa and Lake Vostok. I said to my boss that I reckon it'd help if I went down there and saw firsthand what it was like and now he's trying to scam me a ride down with the Kiwi's... friendly bunch of people they are :)
So generally consensus is a no on the dry suit, but take a big semi-dry? Eric, do you reckon there'd be any worries of staying down too long and heart rates dropping too low?

Danger of -1.8C

I have read extensively on the dangers of diving in water in the 0C to -1.8C range. The bottom line is that if your suit leaks in more than a trickle of water, that same part of your body will automatically go into uncontrollable convulsions (seriously). You're dead at that point. This is why most divers use a lifeline connected to the surface. Typically, the seals in a drysuit will solidify, crack, and leak, the icewater rushes in, the diver goes into convulsions, but manages to pull the emergency line to signal to the surface to drag his unconscious form to the surface for resuscitation. For this reason, it may be prudent to coat your entire body in oil, vaseline or some other insulator, to minimize the inevitable convulsions in the case of a bad suit fit. Further, every conceivable piece of plastic should be replaced with carbon fiber, since the carbon fiber does not tend to solidify and crack like plastic & fiberglass.

Needless to say, you should practice in 2-3C water extensively with the same suit configuration. Even in the best case, your hands and feet will cause the greatest problems.

This is really no vacation you're looking at--it will take lots of research and practice to pull it off safely.

Eric Fattah
BC, Canada
Eric, do you reckon there'd be any worries of staying down too long and heart rates dropping too low?

Well, I'm no Eric/Expert (same thing, no?:)), but my guess is that you'll get such a hard vasoconstriction that it will take you forever to find your ba**s afterwards.

Anyway, Forget about drysuits, wheights and other trivials, start looking for a good underwater freeze resisting camera!
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Eric:- You make a good point - are any of those references on diving cold water on the net? I'm not a big fan of convulsions, and from what you say, I think it might be better that I have a fair bit of experience before I try something like that. From what a few of the Kiwi guys have said, scuba diving down there is *realtively* safe, because you can use a drysuit, however you can't really stay in the water that long.

Michael:- Haha yeah i reckon there'd be some major shrinkypoos :D And yeah, if I get a chance to scuba, I'll definitely take a camera and post some pics up :)

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Sources of Information

Most of what I've learned about cold water diving is from web searches on 'north pole scuba diving'; you can read of the many attempts (& deaths) to dive the pole.

Eric Fattah
BC, Canada
I started freediving in a crushed-neo drysuit 3 years ago, in 7C water. I had a 30lb belt on, big scuba fins, and a scuba mask. It was very comfortable for a while, except that below a neutral depth, I plumetted FAST to a certain death....if I hadn't made sure there was a bottom at 15 metres. The swims up were scary and dangerous, and at the time I had no idea what the hell I was capable of! Many other Northern divers have similar stories about their intro to freediving...ask Eric or Brett L their stories.
After a half hour of diving, the suit was pretty much depleted of air due to the odd neck seal or wrist leak, and it was time to get out. Whenever I took the suit off, I would be covered in squeeze-bruises from the compression of the drysuit at depth....it always looked as if I stepped out of an S and M parlour.....being the "M"
I have also freedived in a 5mm suit under the ice in freshwater mountain lakes in Canada....wear 7mm gloves, an extra hood, maybe a hooded vest over your main freediving suit. It's do-able, but you need a lot of support and equipment to do it safely and properly. Plus, in my experience, you don't want to remove your johns in front of anyone after those temps!
Good luck, and if you have this opportunity, don't waste it!
Erik Y.
Thanks Erik, I really want to make the most of it, that's why I thought I'd ask you guys first... :)

OK, other Eric, sorry to bother again, but in your research have you noticed any difference between Antarctic and Arctic dives? I read about the Russian who died trying the north pole, and the first sucessful attempt in 2000, where they basically dove until failure and then got pulled up, but in Antarctica it seems to be different - slightly warmer water maybe? I've read a lot of success stories from down there, and about a lot of dive operators. Check out http://scilib.ucsd.edu/sio/nsf/index.html and you can see a pile of photo's from a bunch of guys that did 3 trips down to McMurdo station - that's my most likely destination, if the trip gets the OK. Is there a huge difference in these two bodies of water?

Thanks again for your help, much appreciated,

I'm with both Erik/s's Loop. But...

Having done some serious cold water work myself, for $'s, I'd be just as concerned with getting a no bullshit support team together as well as the necessary gear to go freediving there. Now why you want to freedive there is your thing :duh , but something goes wrong with that insanely dramatic cold entering your suit, you're screwed before you know it- if you're lucky, and that's when the clowns at the surface drag your dead, blue ass back to the heaters and syringes with adreniline and epinephrine.

You can hopefully get my opinion of the whole thing.

Yeah, cheers - it won't be til the end of next year anyways, so there's a bit of planning to be done if I want to make it happen... I can see where you're all going with it though. Congrats on 1000 posts by the way sven :)

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I have never been able to freedive deeper than 30' in my drysuit due to suit squeeze.
I did notice that it was easier to freedive in a DUI TlS-350 with thinsulate underwear compared to freediving in a Viking with their foam underwear.
I have freedove under the ice in a 5.5mm freediving wetsuit, but I had warm showers waiting for me when I got out. I didn't get cold or turn blue, but I did have a back-up, the hot shower, in case something went wrong. I also had a safety diver on scuba in the hole with me the whole time- just like we have for all of our scuba ice dives.

I can imagine you underwater, looking like an oversized penguin....

Just look out for the leopard seals!

They bite (but they don't move very fast on land).

(I'm referring to the Blue Planet film series, you've all got to see it--it's in most video stores--if only for the scene with the leopard seal trying to have a penguin lunch)

Vancouver, BC
(I'm referring to the Blue Planet film series, you've all got to see it--it's in most video stores--if only for the scene with the leopard seal trying to have a penguin lunch)
It's an amazing series, I only saw the 'open water' episode, Amazing Tuna/Merlin/Sailfish/Sradines/Other filming. posted something about it somewhere here.
It's from the BBC, if that info helps anyone to get it.
I think I found the dry suit you were looking for. :)


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