Ottawa Freedivers Thaw Out

Three hardy souls headed out to fin-kick-off the freediving season just north of the 49th parallel this wet and foggy morning. The ice has receded to reveal some beautiful (albeit nippy) blue water in our local watering hole, Morrison’s Quarry. Jason Billows and I are initiating our new dive buddy Roberto Cerdna, a champion spearo from Peru, to Canadian diving.

A beautiful training site sheltered from the wind, Morrison’s Quarry is located in the picturesque Gatineau Hills approximately 35 minutes’ drive from our Nation’s Capital, Ottawa. It is privately-owned and has been a favourite hangout for landlubbers and water babies alike.

Several picnic tables are scattered along the shoreline with some covered areas for times of inclement weather. An outdoor chimney is available for use on those brutally cold days of ice diving and the usual amenities are available on the other side of the kiddie park.

For those non-divers relegated to shore duty or baby-tendering, there is always the bungee jump some 200′ above the water or the high speed cable ride that sends its victims screaming from one side of the quarry to the other.

But for those who do dive, there await some fine sights to see underwater as well.

A gradual beach entry and a few gentle fin kicks (a few more if you’re a scubie) places you over the top of a twin-prop ten-seater aircraft in 25′ of water, its nose looming over the edge of a sharp drop to 80′. The plane sits on an underwater road that corkscrews down to the bottom at 132′. Along the drive down, one can also find a yellow submarine and a tugboat in 45′ and a couple of cars beyond 100′. The plane, sub and boat were placed there for the divers, and the cars, well… Let’s just say the parties are pretty good on Saturday nights in the heat of summer.

Our club, the Ottawa Freedivers, with the assistance of Dolphino’s Dive Shop, has installed a couple of extra-thick lines in the quarry so all we need to bring with us is our float, gear and a hardy resolve.

This is our first brave foray outdoors since the glaciers have retreated, so we have exercised caution and brought plenty of wuss water.

For those not familiar with diving in near-freezing conditions, this consists of a large cooler filled with steaming hot water. This is then ceremoniously dragged to the shore where much primitive dancing ensues. The dancing, of course, is an involuntary reaction caused by said water being poured into each other’s suits as a primer before the dive. The process is repeated after the dive as well, in a futile attempt to thwart off hypothermia.

The dives…

We start off with some vigorous facial immersion to induce diving reflex and to numb our senses. A few gentle pull downs to the boat and sub give us a chance to acclimatize, and then we start our dives.

The visibility this time of year is such that the tug and sub are visible from the surface. The plankton is perhaps a bit smarter than we are, choosing to stay dormant for a little while yet. Despite it being overcast and bleak topside, the white limestone reflects light beautifully through the water, giving it a wonderful Caribbean look, but not the feel.

Wanting to satisfy that urge to go deeper, we glide over to our float over one of the cars in 106′ and get into a routine of diver, safety and on-deck.

Diving here is always fun for the ego.

Although our little group is growing every year, freediving is not very well known here, so divers are always a bit surprised to see us down there with them. Our dive site today is crawling with tech-divers… crawling under the weight of all that gear! It is a great site for them as well, giving them deep water for all their training needs. But it always brings a smile to my face (and water in my mask) to see the expression on their mugs when they see us hanging out at 100′. I sometimes wonder if they don’t feel just a little bit silly with all that gear?

One by one we do our breath ups, ventilations, deep breath, pack, roll, fold, lift and sink. Seven strong kicks for me, then downshift for seven more kicks, gentler this time, and then relax and cruise for the free ride to the bottom. I watch the jagged rocks of the wall drop away from me, as the water becomes a more moody dark blue. The water temperature drops from 8’C to 4’C and then thump -my right hand hits the car. A quick look around and I see a group of scuba divers doing their stage drills, bubbles rising like a swarm of bees to the surface. I listen to the noise and then start my ascent with a strong dolphin kick from the bottom. Light starts to flood into the mask and that 4’c change feels great the other way. Breaking the surface, I do my hook breaths and recovery breathing with a watchful buddy in front of me. We give a satisfied nod to each other and we all switch roles.

Back on shore just over an hour and a half later, we use up the rest of the wuss water and prepare ourselves for the drive home with some hot soup and fruit bars. Our favourite French bakery is closed so our routine changes slightly, heading back to my place for large helpings of apple pie and even larger servings of ice cream. We laugh about the morning and set plans for our next trip out. After all, it can only get warmer from now on.