Swimming in 45 degree water didn’t seem like the best idea, even on the warmest of days in Southeast Alaska. But once our guide JP explained how warm we would be under two layers of Neoprene wetsuit and how amazing the reef was I changed my mind.
When I got my suit on I could barely move. I felt like a stuffed penguin. It was a bit like getting tooth paste back into the tube, but JP said that the tighter the wetsuit the warmer I would be. Once I got the shoes, gloves and hat on I felt like I was dressed to rob a bank.
Jess, the skiff driver, drove us out to a far shore where we could see the sun dancing on the distant snowy peaks of Baranof Island.
“Be prepared for the mammalian response,” said JP.
“What’s that?” we asked.
“It’s a normal response that mammals have to cold water. We sometimes hyperventilate and panic.”
Great! I thought, as I gingerly slid myself into the water. I waited for the “mammalian response” to hit me but nothing happened. Water slowing invaded the wetsuit but it is nothing unpleasant. I put the mask on and stuck my head under water. The only flesh exposed to the cold water was my lips, which immediately turned numb. It’s a little hard to swim when you can barely move your arms and legs, but I propelled myself over to the reef using my flippers, feeling like a very clumsy seal.
Below me were colorful sea anemone, starfish, and loads of tiny crabs clinging to the seaweed–no colorful tropical fish liked I’d seen in Belize, but vibrant colors nonetheless. I stared, mesmerized, at one crab with a huge left pincer. When another snorkeler bumped into me accidentally I jumped practically right out of the water.
Taking a break from the underwater views I looked back at Baranof Island in the distance. The wetsuit makes you buoyant and I felt like I could have floated on my back, like a sea other, for hours without getting cold. Until I started to get cold.
“You can come back to the skiff at any time,” Jess yelled to me. Not a bad idea I thought. Once back on the boat, she had a cup of hot cocoa with and Baileys in my hand before I knew it.