The normally confusing network of one-way streets downtown had been closed haphazardly. A throng of people who woke up early to run a marathon replaced the normal light weekend traffic, which made it hard to get to the marina on time.
“What a silly thing to do, running a Marathon” I thought to myself as I pulled into the marina. Strapping a couple hundred pounds of equipment to my back in order to explore what was – statistically speaking – most likely to be a tree is a much better use of my time and money.
I drove around the small marina and observed the early morning activity. 7:30 is an early morning for me, but not for rowers. In fact, after I stepped out of my car and into the cool summer air, it became quickly apparent that they were on their way in after their workout. Their morning was over. Turns out Saturday morning is the time to find dedicated (and possibly slightly crazy) people out and about, hard at work at their favorite activities – be it rowing, running, or diving. Sensible folks, like boaters and sun worshippers were largely nowhere to be seen.
Unfortunately my dive team’s cheerful faces were notably absent. I walked down to the other side of the marina and was met only by another large group of tall, athletic rowers polka-dotted by the occasional slight coxswain.
Maybe I was in the wrong place?
I opened up my email on my phone and read a message from Koos for the second time:
“Perfect” I thought. I’m good on that front.
The email continued:
“Right by Kenmore Air.”
And finally: “In Kenmore.”
I was at the north end of Lake Union, feet planted firmly in Seattle. Divers take note: there are two Northlake Marinas, both are next to a Kenmore Air terminal. I tapped out a short text to Koos, who, after declining my slightly over-dramatic text to “Go on… without me…” offered to pick me up at Magnuson. So it was my lucky day. Thankful, I raced over, geared up, and boarded Koos’ unusually well-equipped little vessel.
The Magnuson boat launch was deserted this time of the morning, which made for quick loading.
With Koos’ sure hand at the helm, the little boat skimmed out to the dive site. It was sunny and getting warmer, a real jewel of a Seattle day. A quick glance at the laptop in the cockpit indicated Koos had marked two targets of interest, not just the one I expected. Koos explained that he was hoping to side-scan a new object he had recently identified – this particular part of the lake was “noisy” and had quite a bit of slope, which made identifying targets difficult.
After the first pass, the target was identified as roughly ovoid and about 30 feet long, 10 feet high, and 10 feet wide. A small consumer-grade side-scan sonar allows us the ability to get a somewhat distorted image from the bottom of the lake. From what we could tell, this target was roughly the shape of a boat and the mood on the bridge was hopeful.
Koos swung the boat around for a second pass. Neither Alex, Adrian, nor I was able to discern details from the second grainy side-scan image, but Koos was happy to show us up.
“I see a long, skinny, object here. It looks like a fallen mast!” Koos said, optimistically gesturing at the small yellow object presented on the boat’s computer screen.
“Or it could be a tree.” Alex responded, slightly cynically, as Adrian stifled a laugh. Although I was slightly more inclined to believe Alex’s interpretation, I also don’t want to extinguish Koos’ sense of boy-like excitement about the whole process.
“Let’s dive this one!” Koos said. “It’s bigger than the other target, and if it’s nothing, we’ll just come right up and do the other one.”
Not being the kind of people to turn down a dive, both Alex and I quickly agreed. Alex took station at the back of the boat with the shot-line and buoy, while Koos and Adrian manned the helm and the GPS respectively. I took the rocking-chair position and snapped a couple pictures while relaxing on top of a set of doubles. Koos’ boat is well equipped, but with three technical divers on board, deck space was at a little bit of a premium.
Koos positioned us over the target, and Alex dropped the shot line. A quick pass with the side-scan indicated we had a straight line to the target, it was time to gear up. With doubles on, Alex and I rolled into the water. Koos strapped his rebreather on and followed shortly afterwards. We swam to the buoy, performed a surface check and decided we were all systems go. So off we went.
A 170 foot descent takes a minute or two. It’s just busy enough to keep you from thinking too much, but not quite busy enough to stop you from thinking at all. What could the target be? A burned out ferry from before the 520 bridge was installed, sunk for the insurance? 1970’s-era sailboat? Maybe even a piece of construction equipment that fell overboard and was never recovered? My mind raced with possibilities.
The visibility in the lake is not the best for touring a wreck, but one thing that it excels at is the dramatic reveal. At about 160 feet, out of the nuclear-green haze, something began to come into focus. It was big and much darker than is usual for the bottom of Lake Washington. I needed to descend another five feet before I could tell what it was.
Our morning’s most exciting target?
It was a rock.
A very large rock.
Almost simultaneously, I heard a helium-enhanced voice from either side. Sounding more than just a little like Donald Duck, Alex and Koos both shouted: “It’s an effing rock!” The thumbs came out and the dive was over. After a brief bail-out deco, we’re back on the surface, where Adrian was patiently waiting for us with the boat. We climb aboard, stay in our gear, and head out to the next site.
Strike one unknown target.
Our next destination was much smaller, but we made a pass and quickly dropped the buoy again. Another round of back rolls into the water and second set of pre-dive checks and we were off. This time, I was not quite as optimistic, maybe because Koos seemed less excited about this target.
We hit the bottom and we might as well have been on the moon – the only feature was the crater made by the lead weight at the bottom of our shot line. The familiar grey silt surface of the lake stretched out as far as the eye can see, which admittedly, isn’t far in the lake. So we began our search.
Five minutes passed, and we had seen nothing.
Ten minutes went by, then fifteen. It was starting to remind me of my search for the Koos’ boat early this morning, except there aren’t even any rowers here, just silt and divers.
Once our dive time hit twenty-five minutes and we called it, defeated. Although the target was probably just a tree, this means we would have to dive this site again. Such is exploration diving in the lake. Deco passed uneventfully and we clambered back onto the boat.
So we have two more dives under our belts: a sixteen minute dive to successfully locate a target, and a seventy minute dive where we found nothing but silt. Obviously, this will bring great honor to our families, and glory to our names.
It was just another good day on the lake.