This year I started the dive season a little early with dives the first weekend of April. Here in the Midwest of the U.S., that means cold water (39 – 43 F or 4 – 6 C). Now I am not a particular fan of the cold or winter. I am perfectly happy to be dripping sweat on a hot day, but I am a bit of a wimp about cold.
Last weekend, I had to teach a technical class, and we were diving in Lake Michigan. It was right about 40 F/4 C. Unfortunately, I had forgotten the liners for my dry gloves so my fingers got pretty cold on that dive. Back on the boat, people were shocked that I could do the dive, this surprised me since some of them were diving with wet gloves, which couldn’t have been much warmer. I would have like to have played it off as no big deal, and pretend like I hardly noticed except I was shivering visibly.
My hands warmed up and I borrowed some liners for the second dive. My fingers were toasty warm. Unfortunately, something was leaking and my torso was getting wet and cold. Never-the-less it was manageable; uncomfortable, but manageable.
Back on deck, I was shivering again, but I didn’t feel too bad. This got me to thinking about Wim Hof and thermal tolerance.
I am sure most of you have heard about Wim and his cold water exploits. These aren’t just stunts however, part of his presentation requires an acceptance of the cold and an adaptation to handling it. I then started to think about some of the early dive explorers. They didn’t have dry suits with heated vests, but they were still exploring some of the coldest waters on the planet. How did they do it? Were they reckless to do so? Was it acceptable only because they didn’t have the thermal protection we have?
Or are we becoming so thermally intolerant that we can’t handle any deviations in temperature? Have you noticed people complaining at the office when the temperature hits 72 F(22 C) or 68 F(20). It’s too hot! It’s too cold! Have we become so accustomed to being comfortable thermally, that we have lost the ability to handle anything outside that tiny window of temperature? How did humans survive ice ages? Clearly, we are capable of handling some temperature variations.
Now this was no hypoxic trimix dive with three hours of deco. The whole dive was less than 30 minutes, so I think the risk of hypothermia is minimal. We did just the two dives, and I made sure to warm up between dives.
I must also say that I have enjoyed all those cold dives this spring, even if I didn’t enjoy the cold. I may not doing any swims in winter in just a bathing suit, but I think I better appreciate that exposing myself to cold water temperatures, is good, maybe even necessary for my health, as long as I keep the duration limited.
Besides, I had some great dives! I am keeping the dry suit though.