JUNEAU, Alaska (AP) - Giant Pacific octopi hide beneath rocks, reaching out tentacles to explore a diver. Schools of spawning salmon swim upstream. Prowfish surround the wreck of the Princess Sophia.
Recreational scuba diving in Southeast Alaska requires a little more work and offers different challenges than warm-water diving, but those who do it say it provides sights unlike those anywhere else in the world.
THE ALLURE OF THE DEEP
When Annette G. E. Smith was a child, she was in a canoeing accident so traumatic, panic would set in anytime she got water up her nose.
It wasn’t until age 45 that an instructor in Fiji told her she should learn scuba diving. She laughed at him.
“He said ‘I’ll teach you.’ And I was a challenge,” she said. “Once I got over that fear it was like ‘This is it’ for me. It’s an amazing world down there . What’s even more amazing is how incredible it is under the water here. People don’t think of there being much in cold water, but we have some amazing corals and sponges.”
Now, when she dives, she’s relaxed to the point she can’t even think about her “land life.”
“Any stress or troubles that I have in my land life are instantly gone,” she said. “It’s the most amazing thing.”
Local photographer Art Sutch is a certified dive master and dives regularly, selling photos and calendars from his underwater experiences at his downtown shop.
“You’re dealing with a lot of adverse conditions up here,” Sutch said. “Deep, cold water, zero visibility, current, sea lions coming up chattering their teeth at you . the biggest prerequisite is to get trained well, and get experience with experienced people before you go do a lot of crazy things on your own.”
Divers here used to wear wetsuits. It’s something Sutch said “just about killed me.”
Most divers now use drysuits, which require additional certification; divers have to counteract the lift of the air the suit traps with weights of between 30 and 40 pounds, said Phil Sellick, owner of the Scuba Tank.
Southeast Alaska divers also face seasonal challenges. Winter, in which the ambient water temperature can hover around 37 degrees, provides for better visibility. Summer has more glacial runoff. It also has more plankton bloom.
Winter, of course, also has shorter days and less light.