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New Year's Eve Dive at Dutch Springs Inspires new Tradition

Text and Photos by Michael Rothschild
Originally published in North American Dive News, March, 2013

Traditions are important. They are glue that holds together our families, our communities and our country. And sometimes, they are a lot of fun.

For the past few years, I have taken advantage of the little three hour window of diving that the good folks at Dutch Springs give to us as a New Year's present. On New Year's Eve day, the quarry (sorry, Aquapark) is open from 11 to 2 for a single dive to end the year in style. I have always had a terrific time - I almost didn't go this year since it fell on a Monday, but a combination of cancelled cases and an unexpected hospital clinic holiday freed up the day. You don't have to ask me twice!

Joining me on this little adventure were Sea Gypsies membership chair Suzanne Ito, and fellow Gypsies Gil Elliot and Pete Bucknell. Pete was anxious to try out his massive new Equinox housing for his professional video camera, and I was looking forward to baptizing my stylish new Santi E. Motion drysuit in the cool clear waters of Pennsylvania's finest inland sea. The day was perfect - crisp and clear, with a bright winter sky and a light snow cover to make the topside pictures that much better. We parked on the peninsula near our usual spot by the ramp, and geared up.

Yes, I know the jokes about diving on New Year's Eve. Non-divers think that we are insane, and warm water divers just don't understand why we would do this when there are daily flights to Bonaire. But I will tell you this: it was a spectacular dive in beautiful conditions. Definitely not the usual silt storm that comes from having 300 open water students in the quarry on a Saturday in August. We only saw one other diver the whole day (although there were probably 50 of us in the water).

Hats off to brave Gil for diving wet, I'm not that bold. I prefered to do this dive in comfort, and like most activities, if you dress for the weather, you can be comfortable pretty much anywhere. The Santi suit and my two layers of underwear - a Whites jumpsuit over Fourth Element Xerotherm - kept me warm and dry. As a bonus, I finally got a set of dry gloves to work! After many disappointing attempts with my old suit, the new Si Tech Antares system actually functioned as advertised.

Thanks are due to Wayne and Jason at The Scuba Connection for setting me up in style - they did a perfect measuring job, and it fits like a glove. Well, it fits like a drysuit, the gloves fit like gloves. I like the suit so much that I sometimes wear it to work (it keeps the snot off of my sweater).

In case you are considering doing this dive next year, I will answer the first question that most people ask. The bottom temperature was around 45 degrees. As opposed to 52 degrees in July. Now you may think that seven degrees makes the difference between a popular dive spot and an arctic wasteland, but I sure don't. If Dutch was open all winter, I would be happy to dive any nice weekend. To prove my sanity, I WILL tell you that I don't feel the same way about the Polar Bear club dip at Coney Island that I did last year with Sea Gypsies recording secretary, Meredith Massey. Now THAT'S messed up! A dry suit beats a bathing suit any day for 45 degree water.

We did the usual loop (Silver Comet, wooden wreck, Cessna, Schoolbus and North Wall). I stopped to look for crayfish by the Cessna to feed the lone largemouth bass, waiting hopefully for a handout, but I guess mudbugs are out of season in December. 70 minutes into the dive, Peter and I reached our exit point on the peninsula. There I found a school of beautiful palomino trout, shimmering in the bright sunlight splashing over the shallow slope just below the dock. I was shooting video with my Canon 7D and dual Sola 1200 lights, using my fisheye lens and a green water Magic filter. I waved to Peter as he walked out on the dock, and turned back to this spectacular underwater scene to squeeze a few more underwater minutes out of 2012.

Two minutes later, Peter was at my side giving the "vigorous thumbs up" sign - was there an emergency? We were in a few feet of water! What could have gone wrong with him standing on the planks above me?

Surfacing, I realized that we must have been messing around with gear before the dive for longer than I had remembered. A friendly employee of the Aquapark - who was probably looking forward to his own New Year's eve party - had apparently told Peter to "get your &*$%ing buddy out of the water!!!" It was ten minutes to two, and I realized that that if I wasn't out of the gate by 2 PM I would have to winter in Dutch Springs, surviving on trout, bass, and leftover Mountain Dew from Mats' secret stash by the pump house until opening day in April.

We threw everything in the hatchback of my trusty, soggy Prius and I drove out of the gate wearing my drysuit. Made it just in time, and they even stayed open a bit longer to let me get my season pass for next year! We then topped the day off with a delicious lunch at Perkins, featuring warm comfort foods like chicken noodle soup, chicken pot pie and grilled cheese sandwiches. And of course, their famous pie and coffee. And we made it back with plenty of time to put away gear before the New Year's Eve festivities that night.

Yes, it was a bit chilly topside, but we were dressed for it. And seriously, if we had posted photos of us posing outside at Killington with our skis, would you call us crazy? Hey, at least we were able to go underwater and warm up...

Happy New Year!

Mike Rothschild