Thursday, July 23, 2009 – “Smudge” Fjord
Shannon and I slept in, thinking we’d catch the second or third zodiak tour, but we just missed the tour and there wasn’t time for another before the 10:30 dive briefing. Plus Enrique was serving a full breakfast so we opted for warm food rather than wet, rainy close-ups of waterfalls.
“I miss our humpbacks.” said Shannon, looking out our porthole at the calm, quiet, whale-free fjord.
I’m sure there’s another name for this fjord though I never heard what it was. The crew calls it “smudge fjord” because of the jellyfish (more on that in a bit). And though the fjord had no whales, we did have comedy like this — Tim found some mascara somewhere on the ship and decided to put it to use:
Tim giving Dan a makeover under Stephan’s supervision
His lashes are so long for a guy. That should be illegal.
Dive #1 – Jelly Fjord (aka “Smudges”, aka Dave’s “Now There’s Something You Don’t See Everyday”) (Memorable Moment #4)
Moon jellies in Alaska congregate in large, dense groups of hundreds of thousands – starting within a few feet of the surface and traveling down as deep as ninety feet. You can see them from the boat in long streaks of yellow water. Captain Mike says they have no idea why they do this, or what dictates the different depths they gather at, but regardless they provide a spectacular dive opportunity through mass amounts of sting-free jellies. Mike briefed us that it’s rather disconcerting to find yourself in a thick cloud of jellyfish but that it’s “something you’ll dream about forever”. We weren’t sure if that was “dream” or “have nightmares”, so prior to the dive Dave, Anat and I agreed that we’d stay to the edge of the cloud and each of us would venture into the thickness – one at a time – so we could keep an eye on each other and our comfort levels.
Or not. As soon as we were in the water and past the rather confusing “haloclime” of freshwater blurrieness and into the salt water, we found ourselves in the midst of the cloud. It was amazing. Everywhere we were turned were thick groups of white jellyfish, much like floating sand dollars. They brushed like feathers against what little skin I’d exposed, floating peacefully and calmly through the water.
Shannon’s pic of me
Pic by Shannon
Dave and the skiff
Dave, disappearing into the jellies
Dave, Anat and I dropped below the first cloud to about 45 feet where we found the water below us filled with a floor of jellies. We sank onto it – and I right through – until I reached 55 feet and looked up at a flat ceiling above which Dave and Anat gestured to each other.
Ceiling of Jellies
Mystery diver behind jellies
Really, truly incredible and slightly surreal. I never would have guessed I’d find myself in an ocean full of jellyfish. I could go on and on, but the pictures do better justice:
By far one of the most memorable dives I’ve ever done. To be completely enveloped in soft, floaty jellyfish – everywhere I could see. I surfaced from the water with wide eyes and a huge smile.
Tim looked down from the skiff, “What did you think, Heidi?”
And I said, “Amazing. Absolutely, incredibly amazing.”
So amazing, in fact, that I had a delayed reaction to the mild stinging around my lips. Though moon jellies don’t sting their predators definitely do. And in all the thrill of diving through the jellies I completely forgot to look for the long, stinging tentacles of the “fried-egg jellyfish”. Go back to that video and look closely around minute 00:16. See those tentacles? Yep, those are fried-end-jellyfish tentacles – which often extend as long as 30 feet – I swam right through a few of them. But a little vinegar made it all better, and aside from a little residual swelling and tingling I imagine it’s like I just got a free dose of collagen.
Instead of diving the second dive, Peter and Dave opted for a kayak trip with Shannon. We finally got her into a dry suit.
Shannon, all dry-suited up
Kayakers in the fjord
Dive #2 – Smudges again.
I went back for more. It was smaller group this time since a number of people – including my buddies Dave and Anat – decided one jelly dive was enough. Not me, though. I couldn’t wait to get back in the water with them. This time the jelly cloud was significantly more concentrated, beginning around 8 feet and continuing down to 60. I ran into a few divers here and there – including Captain Mike and his rebreather kit – but for the most part I had a quiet, peaceful solo dive, and I used the time to play with my underwater camera settings on the lovely jellies. (And to avoid any long, evil tentacles.)
Here’s a video of me ascending through a jellyfish ceiling:
Prior to today I wore my neoprene gloves on the dives, but for the first dive I swapped over to Eric’s dry suit gloves. They flooded within ten seconds of jumping into the water, and luckily I hadn’t removed my wrist seals so the suit was still perfectly dry and I could quickly switch back to the neoprene gloves. For the second dive I installed them correctly – and it was so lovely to be warmer and to end a dive not frozen.
It was still wet and rainy. Still foggy. Still gray. I’m not complaining – how can one complain with multiple jellydives to remember? Rather I’m explaining the similarities in the scenery pictures.
To give us something different to do Mike arranged some land-tours: one of a “secret waterfall” and another of an ice cave. Though we’re not technically allowed to go ashore in these parts of Alaska, because the waterline is lower than normal we can walk though the areas below the waterline. Thus, our access to the waterfall.
Captain Mike, boating us to the waterfall
Anat and the waterfall
And afterward, we zipped across the water to another landing where an avalanche had obviously occurred at some point during the last year – the trees were still bent and torn up and the snow had left a slanted cascade of snow over a waterfall outlet. Thus, the snow cave.
Snow cave walls
Shannon in the snow cave
I decided to run over the top of the snow cave to get a closer look at the waterfall that formed some of the big holes in the cave.
That’s me, the little blue spec on the bottom
Pic by Shannon
The fjord, with the zodiak a little black spec coming out of it
The only way down from the snow cave hill was on my bum; so I sat and slid. Shannon was very sad she didn’t see that to get a picture of it — you’ll just have to take me at my word. My trousers were soaked.
We had a beautiful sunset late after dinner – around 10:30 or 11:00. Shannon and I ran up to the top deck to take as many photos as we could while the sun made beautiful pictures across the clouds. Our timed photos came out a bit blurry, though, because of the vibration of the boat.
Blurry, but we’re still cute.