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Seneca News

samantha hood
(Photo: Samantha Hood)


“It’s so freeing, it’s a whole different world down there. There’s not much to see but it’s blue — a deep, dark blue.”

June 20, 2019

 

The barge is marked “Seneca Diver II” and anchored in Georgian Bay, a twenty-minute boat ride from Colpoy’s Bay Dock north of Wiarton in South Bruce Peninsula. Each year from May to June, a team of Seneca students and faculty from the Underwater Skills program travels here for their end-of-year deep dive operation — 165 feet below the surface of Lake Huron to be exact. Water temperature: four degrees Celsius.

“It’s so freeing, it’s a whole different world down there,” said Dustin Nguyen-Black, a student in the program. “There’s not much to see but it’s blue — a deep, dark blue.”

This is the final exam to become a commercial diver, a profession that involves inshore and offshore construction, salvaging, inspection or offshore oil and gas around the world. To graduate, students need to complete a minimum 50 hours of diving at various depths and one hour at 165 feet.

To put that into perspective, the “hole” in the training pool facility at King Campus is 40 feet. The pool and Lake Seneca are where students have spent the last nine months training in preparation for this final dive before they leave Seneca.

The operation for the class of 2019 wraps up this week.

Before the dive

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Jacob Betts and Ella McAllister get ready for their dive with the help of Dustin Nguyen-Black (left) and Chris Panetta. Divers are paired up for this operation. For every hour they dive, students spend eight hours on deck, supporting the other divers, including dressing and undressing them.
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Each diver is supplied with life support such as air, communications, hot water, camera feed and lights via the umbilical line. In case the air hose or air supply fails, the diver carries a scuba tank on their back known as a "bail out bottle," which can be activated by turning the helmet valve.
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Ella McAllister gets into one of the hot water suits for her dive. The suit features inside tubes connected to a hose in the umbilical line, so hot water can be distributed to keep the diver warm.
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Greg Legere (left) and Samantha Hood help Jack Nieson suit up with a 27-pound helmet.

During the dive

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Jacob Betts and Ella McAllister settle into the "diving bell" to descend underwater. It takes about three minutes to reach 165 feet, travelling one foot per second.
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Samantha Hood is lowered inside the "diving bell" to the bottom of Georgian Bay. (Photo: Samantha Hood)
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Once divers reach 165 feet, they stay down there for 30 minutes to build a pipe square.
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Aaron Griffin, Program Co-ordinator and Seneca Underwater Skills grad, monitors the divers' progress on the control panel. He can communicate with the divers via radio and vice-versa.

After the dive

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Nick Buckley gets help from Keelan Tisseur (left) and Chris Panetta to undress after coming up from his dive. To avoid decompression illness, divers have three to four minutes to get into the decompression chamber immediately after they surface. Seven minutes is the max, but the sooner, the better.
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Dustin Nguyen-Black operates the decompression chamber on the barge. It takes students 70 hours to learn how to operate the chamber independently.
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Marek Mika (left), diving supervisor and graduate of the program, watches as divers come out of the decompression chamber after about an hour.

Until next year

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Seneca's 55-by-36-foot deep diving barge has been on Georgian Bay since 1983. This year, it received much-needed upgrades including two new 20-by-eight-foot containers, new electronics and a new dive control panel.