From Vancouver Island I travelled by bus over the US boarder and down to Seattle for my flight to California. Arriving in Los Angeles, I was greeted by one of the original scholarship founders, Dr Glen Egstrom. Glen kindly offered to pick me up and after a visit to his and Donna’s (wife) house and a nice tour of the LA coastline I was soon on a ferry that would take me to beautiful Catalina Island.
Catalina Island is a large rocky island situated 35 km off the coast of LA, the island is primarily a reserve with two townships. Two Harbours is the smaller of the two towns and located nearby is the USC (University of Southern California) Wrigley Institute of Marine Sciences. This is where Jamie finished his degree and also volunteered at the Catalina Island Hyperbaric Chamber, the chamber has been run by a key figure in diving medicine for the past 16 years and a strong supporter of the scholarship, Karl Huggins. We all had met Karl in New York and was great to meet up with him once again.
Jamie and Eline arrived a couple days earlier but I arrived just in time for the Chamber wash down party. This annual event is when they give the chamber a good clean, but we were the lucky ones that had to clean the inside of the chamber at 6 atmospheres pressure. At 165ft (50m) you really get to feel the effects of nitrogen narcoses, you voice behaves like you have been breathing helium and everything seems much funnier! At this pressure they turn the fire sprinklers on, and we picked up the fire hoses and saturated each other in a fit of laugher!
I spent a total of 10 days on the island, we scuba and freedived most days in the beautiful kelp forests that surround the island. The marine life is great here with the kelp forests providing a 3D environment, with large areas around the research station set aside as marine protected areas, the fish life is great and there are plenty of lobsters in the cracks and crevices. Being on the opposite side of the pacific and a similar latitude on the other side of the equator, the ecology of marine life is somewhat similar to home but with completely different species.
During our time here we also learnt how to run the hyperbaric chamber. We had several simulated runs, some with people inside, and we were responsible for controlling the ‘dive’, calculating times and opening and closing the vents. Other days we did the drive to the main town on the island, Avalon, and checked out the ‘dive park’, visited the Catalina Island conservancy and played mini golf with Karl. Back at Two Harbours, we spent an afternoon with ‘Baywatch’ – they are the lifeguards and fire department for the island. They took us out on their boat and we learnt all about their full on job keeping people safe along the coastline. We also spent a day at the annual underwater cleanup and collected a bunch of junk around the harbour, which was great fun in the clean water and won some prizes for our efforts – go team Rolex!