Aquanauts enjoy diving all year

HOUGHTON — Whether on land or in the water, athleticism can take all different shapes and sizes. Michigan Tech Aquanauts Scuba Club vice president and chemical engineering senior Isabel Wentworth helps manage the local scrub club that practices dives in the Student Development Complex’s (SDC) dive tank in preparation for summer and fall dives around the area.

“I’ve been involved in more of the running of the club, so that’s been interesting,” said Wentworth. “I’ve had to deal with getting dive time at the SDC, that’s (one of) my main jobs. I get emails from community members asking us to go do things and I also deal with, on occasion, an unhappy club member.

“Typically, we have weekly dives at the dive tank in the SDC. We don’t right now because it’s closed (for winter). We have a couple planned group dives.”

“It’s really fun,” she said. “I’ve never gone diving anywhere but up here, so I have no idea what it’s like diving (elsewhere). The first dive I ever did was at Presque Isle and that was my certification dive. That was a little challenging because there were 2-to-4-foot waves.”

“When you’re driving and being pushed all over the place, it’s a little difficult,” said Wentworth. “As long as you’re a fairly strong swimmer (who’s) comfortable (and can) hold your own in the water if you need to, you’d be able to do this.”

Classroom hours and a written test are required when obtaining certification to dive in freshwater. Thinking back to her own certification dives, Wentworth reflected on Presque Isle along with the leadership skills she’s taken away from managing the Aquanauts for the last two years.

“There’s a certification class that you have to take,” she said. “We (the club) used to run it, but now it’s run through the SDC. There will be one this coming fall. We do it through PADI and our instructor, Scott, comes over from Marquette teaches us. Then we go do our certification dives somewhere around Marquette, which is fun.

“During the class you have the written test and then (we) have certain tasks that we have to perform in the pool before (we) can go out in Lake Superior and try to do it.”

“My big takeaway has been learning how to deal with lots of different types of people,” said Wentworth. “This is my second year in the club, so I’m pretty new to it.”

Diving locations closer to home include Fortune Pond, near Crystal Falls, near Eagle Harbor, and Copper Harbor.

“(We do) not (dive just) anywhere,” Wentworth said. “We wouldn’t go on the Portage. We’ve done it, but it’s less fun. We wouldn’t recommend it. We’ll go anywhere we can where the water is fairly clear and there’s some neat things to see.

“We fill tanks for the Isle Royale National Park Service and we’re going to be (collaborating) with Eagle Harbor they need us to fix a buoy that’s in water. That will be happening this Summer. We also help out with the polar bear plunge. We have two divers there.”

Treasurer for the Aquanauts and senior mechanical engineering student Jake Luikart has been involved in the club since he started at Michigan Tech in 2015. For hime, it has turned into a weekly grind.

“I did, but it was limited,” he said about whether he jumped into the Aquanauts early in his time at MTU. “It kind went from something that I did on vacation one time into something that (I do often). Maybe it’s not going out and diving in the Keweenaw, but at least (I’m) getting stuff on and diving in the pool once a week.”

The club is most active in the Summer and Fall months with freshwater dives in Lake Superior water when it is most clear during the late Summer. The club is also open to community members. A year membership for non students is $95 and includes unlimited usage of all the gear needed.

“Right now, we have about 30 paying members and we’ve got about another 10 people who show up to meetings every once and awhile,” said Luikart. “In the Winter semester, we have less folks because it’s kind of hard to dive when everything is all iced up.”

“We’re open to community members,” Luikart said. “Anybody who wants to come and dive with us is more than welcomed to. Anybody in the area who likes to scuba dive in the area, or if they’re looking for gear to use, we have gear rentals for everybody. We have all the gear needed to get in the water including compressors and wetsuits.

“Summer and Fall are the big months. In the Spring, there’s a lot of folks who don’t like to dive as much just because the water’s so cold. The nice thing is when you get into late Summer and early Fall, the water is crystal clear. When you’re out in Lake Superior, you can see 30 or 40 feet in all directions, which is really good for freshwater diving.”

“It’s more (about) technical skills than it is (about) physical ability,” he said. “You have to learn how to use the equipment. There’s math involved. There’s a whole bunch of other (factors). As far as athleticism goes. I would say that you have to be a strong swimmer.”

“There have been a couple of dives that I’ve done with the club where it’s pretty close to a mile swim in each direction and you’re not touching land for a good solid two hours, if not more. You have to be pretty capable in your ability to swim.”

From smaller dives for members who are building up the fundamentals of driving to the importance of breathe control and air conservation, Luikart stresses the adaptability of their club.

“A lot of us have been swimming for a long time,” he said. “Personally, I’ve been swimming since I was two years old, but one of the big things with us is that we try to make things accessible to our members too. If you’re not comfortable, we do (smaller) dives. The other thing that’s important to is breath control. You don’t want to work too hard because if you (do that), you’ll use air faster and (we) want to use air as slowly as possible to stay down longer.”

Luikart, a native of Florida, needed to adapt to colder water temperatures when learning to dive at Michigan Tech. Adapting to cold temperatures requires a strong wetsuit and applying grease around your face to keep cold water from touching your skin.

“I learned how to dive in cold water,” said Luikart. “It’s a whole different animal then diving in Florida. Depending on where you’re going, and what you’re doing, there are some times where you’ll go out in a dry suit and you’ve got grease on your face to keep the water from touching your face and freezing you too bad. When you’re jumping in the water and it’s just a couple degrees above freezing, you’ve got to think about that. I didn’t really think about that before I started diving up here.”

The Aquanauts meet room 238 at the SDC at 9 p.m. on Thursdays every week that Michigan Tech is in session.