The C.H.U.M Club AKA City of Houston Underwater Mariners (chumclub.org) does a yearly challenge called the Dive A Month (DAM) and the rules are pretty simple: Basically a member of the club needs to complete 1 dive per month for an entire year. Unfortunately for 2014 we only started our diving season in June because of some other commitments. However for 2015 both Tina and I are determined to complete the DAM challenge. Since we were diving wet, we had been hoping for warm weather on the day of the dive but we wouldn’t be so lucky. I found myself looking at weather.com a week or so before New Years and the forecast wasn’t looking good. With predictions of a high of 39 degrees and drizzling rain and neither of us having received our dry suits in the mail yet; we were forced to dive wet. Tina has a Henderson 7mm and I have a neosport 5mm wetsuit. Both of us had gloves but no hood. We had Henderson semi-dry 8mm suits at one point but I had such trouble getting in and out of it that we sold them both on ebay for a song. Needless-to-say, with the water temps likely to be in the low 50s we were not excited about gearing up in the rain then jumping in a lake with 50ish degree water. But on the bright side, if we complete one dive per month for 2015 we get a cool DAM chummer patch.
So we met a few brave CHUM Club Members at lake 288 in south Houston, for the “5th Annual New Years Day Dive” . Fortunately we had the big cabana shelter and the owner of the lake let us borrow his portable propane heater (a big thank you for that). Tina and I were the second two at the lake followed shortly by another couple. The six of us waited around for about an hour for the rest of the crew to show up. Since we were a little early and not entirely motivated to do the dive in the first place we just chatted about diving stuff and procrastinated getting ready. There was a stray dog there that we keeping us entertained as well.
Finally it was time to gear up. We had the foresight to put our bc’s together in the garage at home so that we would not have to mess with regs, tanks and cam band buckles with cold fingers. This turned out to be a really good idea. Tina and I donned our wetsuits and used borrowed hoods from another couple. Most people were diving dry so we discussed our dive plan not really knowing how cold the water was going to feel. We were likely to be diving in the coldest water we had ever been in and my main concern was safety of course. Tina was already cold and shaking before we even hit the water.
We trotted down to the shore to get into the water with the rest of the group. I was afraid to jump in honestly. As we waded into the water we could feel the icy cold coming into our wetsuits. I inflated my BC and just leaned back into the water. The water filled my wet suit and it took my breath away. I looked at my wrist gauge and the water temp was 57 and it was cold. Fortunately I drank plenty of water before getting ready, so I promptly primed my wetsuit with some warm bodily fluids. When you are in a survival situation, anything helps.
After some quick picture taking, Tina and I did a vigorous swim out to one of the platforms marked by 4 floating blue barrels. Our dive plan was to try to dive for at least 10 minutes and we wanted to stay near a the platform and just kick around. It certainly wasn’t a glamorous dive plan but it fulfilled the requirements for a DAM dive and we felt fairly confident that we would be safe should either of us start showing signs of hypothermia.
We descended to the platform and got in our side-by-side position and began frog kicking laps around the platform in the frigid water. I looked at my bottom timer and the minutes were slowly ticking by. Ten minutes was going to be a challenge for both of us. Tina and I signaled “OK” circles with our lights every few minutes and I was keeping a close watch on her with the cold. She normally tends to be much colder then me, and I figured that if I was getting cold; she must be freezing. Occasionally I could see her hands shaking but she was still giving me the “OK” so we continued the dive.
Finally the bottom time hit ten minutes and we started our ascent. Once at the surface we both looked at each other with smiles on our faces. There was a satisfaction in doing the dive and it really wasn’t as bad as I thought it would be. We quickly got back to shore and removed our gear to get into dry warm clothes. Most importantly we had lots of fun and it’s always great hanging out with like minded diving folks. DAM 1 of 12 complete.