Student Dives 2015

Diving a Titan Missile Silo

Titan Missile Silo Diver1955: The US government decides to build 18 missile silo bases for the newly developed Titan 1 missile. With a 6,000 mile range and capable of delivering a 3.75 megaton nuclear warhead, this was a powerful weapon. By design it was stored empty and so required 15 minutes to launch after fueling but nonetheless, over 50 of these missiles were built and stationed in sites all over the unites states.

One such site happened to be located in Royal City, Washington.

And so I found myself rumbling down a dirt road, through an abandoned scrapyard one Saturday morning, dive gear clanking in the backseat, and mentally preparing myself to descend into the only one of those eighteen missile silos to have become completely submerged since their decommission in 1963.

Scuba diving is an inherently risky activity. Humans were not designed to live underwater, and our dependence on tanks, regulators and exposure protection highlights our incompatibility with the unforgiving underwater world. Typically recreational scuba divers are limited to diving within a 130ft depth range and in environments with free and unimpeded access to the surface. This reduces the risk slightly, as divers can immediately ascend to the surface upon an out-of-air emergency. Diving in a missile silo does not necessarily afford this luxury at all times, and though generally quite safe, there were occasions where direct access to the surface was simply not possible. Coupled with the mountain-spring-fed water temperatures as low as 38F (3C), the complete lack of natural light and depths in excess of 90ft, this was a dive that warranted some serious preparation.

  1. Take a Nitrox course
  2. Log at least 6 nitrox dives
  3. Take a Dry Suit specialty course
  4. Log at least 10 dives in a dry suit
  5. Take a Deep Diver specialty course
  6. Log at least 10 dives greater than 100ft
  7. Take a self-reliant diver course
  8. Log at least 6 dives with a pony bottle/redundant air system
  9. Make sure you have a strong primary dive light, a trust-worthy backup dive light, and a beacon to attach to your tank.
  10. Review the dive plan, mentally prepare yourself for the dive, and have a blast!

So I found myself lowering my 32% EANx tanks down an emergency escape hatch into the subterranean passages of the missile silo. Only one piece of land wasn’t submerged, and after climbing down the escape hatch ladder, this was where we got setup in our dive gear, strapping tanks to our sides, lights to your hands and heads, and the sound of humans breathing through life support systems echoing through the dark passages of this subterranean military base.

Titan Missile Silo Schematic

The missile silos were all designed in the same layout, three silos which housed the actual titan missile, spread out in a radial pattern, each with a supporting equipment room and a separate propellant room. In total there were 9 missile-related chambers, a control center, and barracks. The first dive would be in Silo 3, followed by equipment room 3, and finally Silo 2.

Silo 3 had a long walk through half-flooded passages, but was otherwise uneventful. Stepping into the actual silo was incredibly ethereal, as you enter a cavernous room with 100ft of air above you culminating in huge concrete blast doors, and 100ft of silo below you flooded with groundwater. This would be what we would dive. As we descended below the surface of the water, everything became quiet and still, the water was clear and dark, and the only light penetration came from the our hand-held beams of light, illuminating the silo superstructure. In the interest of time and gas management we dropped straight down to the bottom of the silo, max depth 110ft, and began to work or way upwards. The blast deflector was at the bottom of the silo, and would redirect the rocket exhaust flames. Swimming through that was an incredible experience, and then spiraling up the silo, examining the light fixtures, missile attachment points, high voltage electrical stations and gantries made for an otherworldly dive experience.


Dive 2 was arguably the more challenging of all three as it involved overhead environments. After swimming through a completely flooded tunnel, we emerged into a small pocket of air that would serve as the descent point into the flooded room. Descending here was strange, this was not an open tube but a flooded room with banks of electrical equipment, sub-rooms and debris left everywhere.

We arrived at the silo at 10:00am and left at 3:00pm. 5 hours of diving in underwater passages and flooded missile silos, two dives greater than 100ft and three drysuit and nitrox dives. Not a bad way to spend a Sunday. I will definitely be back.

 

Rainy Weekend Diving

weather.pngApparently the rainy season has arrived in the Pacific Northwest. This past weekend was forecast to be wet, windy, and cold, and boy did the weather deliver. Several inches of rain, downed power-lines, accidents on the roads, and power outages galore signified the start of the oft-lamented northwest winter. 

A wet, windy Western Washington weekend

Thankfully, I had decided to do what any sane diver would, and spend the majority of the weekend outdoors, diving. Makes sense, either way you're going to be wet, might as well make the most of it! It so happens that the weekend dives had several objectives which made them somewhat more interesting as well.

Search, Recovery and Nitrox

Earlier in the week a diver had posted in the local dive club forum about a very expensive camera he lost at a dive site nearby. Apparently he had been in the process of an emergency ascent with another diver, and the camera fell to the bottom just as he reached the surface. Low on air, and out of time, he couldn't go back to look for it, so marked the spot he thought the camera might have landed and left. He offered a tody finders free for a recovery of the camera, and so Casey and I decided to go out and give it a shot. We were looking for something different to do this past weekend, and not only was this a deeper dive requiring Nitrox, it was also a dive on Bainbridge Island, where neither of us had been before. Win win win. 

photoNorrander reef is on the east side of Bainbride island north of Blakely harbor and is a great site for marine life. Multiple octopi, good visibility, and several pseudo reef formations that attract plentiful fish life make it a fun and interesting dive site. The site entry is easy as well, and a boy scout recently built a set of stairs to the beach. What service! To get to Bainbridge island we woke up nice and early and took the 7:55am ferry from Seattle. the trip is only 35 minutes long, so not much more than a bus ride, though we had to arrive at the ferry terminal a good 30 minutes early to get a spot on the boat. By this point the weather was starting to pick up, and it was lovely and cold and rainy as we set off to the island. When we arrived we drove to the dive site, parked the car and did a quick reconnaissance of the entry and site conditions. Some swell and surge, but nothing too bad, and besides the wind and rain it seemed pretty straight forward. 

photo 5We got set up in our gear and set off into the water. We had decided to use Enriched Air Nitrox (EAN) 30% for the two dives we had planned, as this would allow our dive time to be limited by air consumption rather than decompression limits when diving at the 80ft depths that the camera was theorized to lie in. This would allow us a maximum of 36 minutes at 80ft, but since we were using our dive computers and would spend some time at shallower depths, our final dive time became about 45 minutes per dive when all was said and done. Unfortunately we were not able to find the camera despite scouring the site for any sign of a large non-natural item. We suspect that the current pushed the camera outside our expected search radius and therefore beyond our search area. Here's hoping it is recovered by another intrepid dive team. The day was capped off by a visit to the amazing Madison Diner on Bainbridge island. I was amazed to hear that it was shipped there in pieces from New Jersey!

Sunday Self-Reliance

A couple weeks ago I decided to take the PADI self-reliant course. It's a course marketed to teaching staff who are generally surrounded by inexperienced divers and need to rely on themselves for safety, photographers whose buddies might swim off as they're taking a photo leaving them alone, and future tec divers as it gives a good grounding in some of the basics. As I'm pretty much all of these demographics, I thought the course would be useful for me. Sunday was the checkout dive day for two of the three required open water dives. Casey joined us because he clearly hadn't had enough diving this weekend, and we went up to Edmonds Underwater Park for our two dives. 

 The self-reliant courses goes over the essential principles of self-reliant diving, how to perform self-rescue, and the equipment needed to be self-reliant. Basically if you own the right gear and you are a Rescue Diver already you're essentially a self-reliant diver. In my case the key learning I wasn't yet familiar with is the concept of the Surface Air Consumption (SAC) rate, which is a measure of the amount of air a diver breathes at rest at the surface. Thus, the Sunday dives were an opportunity for me to measure this. I would maintain a constant depth (10m/33ft) and measure my air usage in PSI over three five minute periods. It is then possible to calculate the amount of air in cubic feet that I would breathe at the surface. This allows me to simply multiply this by the atmospheric pressure at depth and I can determine my air consumption at that depth, and therefore deduce the amount of time I have at depth before I run out of air. Interesting stuff. The day was long, but interesting, and we were able to log a 66 minute and a 60 minute dive. Yay for breaking the hour mark!

Summary

  • Two dives on EANx30
  • Two dives greater than 80ft
  • Two dives greater than 60 minutes
  • 2/3 dives required for Self-Reliant diver cert. 

All up, a pretty productive weekend! Even if it was a bit wet. 

Seattle Dawn Diving

There isn't much better than waking up a little early on a Wednesday morning and getting into the water by 6:30am for a dawn dive before work. Entering when it's still dark and doing a night dive at depth to emerge from the water as the sun is just rising over the city is a pretty spectacular experience, and I'm glad I'm able to make it a weekly routine!

seattle sunset

 I've been in Seattle for just over a month now and already began to make the diving connections that lubricate all fun diving experiences. Though a work colleague of mine who helps out part time at a local dive shop (5th Dimension Scuba) I've begun to "meet people, have fun, and do things" as the PADI course curriculum recommends. Haha. The dive shop needed an instructor to run a weekly fun dive and it sounded like a great opportunity for me to both dive more, and help out, so I now run weekly Wednesday morning dawn dives at Alki Cove 2. 

Great deal for all involved!

cove2

This particular week was the first one I've run, and only a friend of mine showed up in the end (I guess it was a little early for everyone else). It was still an amazing dive though, as you can see from the video posted here. There's something special about night diving conditions, the animals come out, there's an eerie alien feel to the underwater landscape, and if diving is an exercise in sensory deprivation and isolation, night diving conditions take that to a whole new level. I certainly love the feeling of gliding over a dark underwater landscape, alone in my thoughts...it's very peaceful. 

Casey (my friend who came) and I got in the water by 6:30 am, swam out to the furthest buoy at Cove 2 and dropped straight down to a depth of around 70ft. From there we swam along the line down to about 110ft, turned around and swam back, taking longer on the way back to enjoy the surroundings and continuing past the buoy line to check out a series of awesome wooden pilings covered with anemones. Very cool. 

photo 1

The dive was great, dry suit held up well, and it was my first time using a new dive light which is as bright as the sun as it turns out, so required some tricky video editing to negate some of the washing out that occurs with such a bright light. 

Dive safe!

Michael