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Antarctic Diving 15 - Keeping Warm

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All the diving at Signy base at the time I was there was done using unlined close-fitting wetsuits, long john and then a top with integral hood, boots were similar and hands were enclosed in mittens. With your mask tucked into the top part of your hood, the only exposed flesh was cheeks and lips - and I recall seeing some very blue lips while underwater on dives!

There was a collection of wetsuits on base, most of which had been made to fit the professional divers and then left behind to be used by others when their tour was done. These guys in the picture are both professional divers and they have the luxury of 10mm wetsuits that were made to fit them. I amongst others was a marine biologist, but not a professionally trained diver (I had never dived before I went to Antarctica) and so had to make do with a 6.5mm wetsuit and 4mm vest underneath it. getting in and out of these wetsuits was a 2-man job, but the close fit meant that there was minimal flushing of water and maximum insulation value.

The problem with such thick wetsuits though was that they were very buoyant requiring extra weights to stay down and more attention to buoyancy if your dive-profile varied up and down much during the dive.

On the other hand, the cold water was it's own safety device in that you couldn't really stay down for much beyond 30 mins at depths below 10m as you got cold. The neoprene compressed of course the deeper you went and so you got colder quicker! It was the cold that usually brought you back out of the water. The most I remember was a fishing dive using small hand nets at around 3-7m, when I stayed down for about 50mins and felt like a block of ice when I came out!

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