Starship SN5 and Elegant Flounder

As I sat down to write this post, I pulled up YouTube and was presented with a curious thumbnail of a video titled “Starship SN5 150m Hop.” The video was under a week old and already had nearly 5 million views. It had been posted on the SpaceX YouTube channel. It’s a minute-long video of the Starship SN5—which looks more like a shiny, silver grain silo than a starship to my non-rocket scientist eyes—launch and unhurriedly ascend maybe a few thousand feet, all the while moving to the side in a composed manner, and then slowly descend onto a landing pad 150m away. I might laugh at my Neanderthalian interpretation of this propulsion video when I read this blog post from a starship in twenty years, but hot-damn, in 2020…oohgaabooga. Watch the video for yourself:

In other, entirely unrelated news, Carolyn and I went for a dive at one of our favorite local dive spots, Fort Wetherill in Jamestown, RI, yesterday. The weather was magnificent. The slim, sandy beach was filled with sunbathing and picnicking families in canvas chairs. Skinny teens were jumping off the 60-foot, granite cliffs on the west side of the cove. If those kids could see the leg-shattering rocks that we see under the surface, they might not be so eager to launch themselves over the edge. There were maybe 4 groups of divers out on the water. We’re an easy bunch to spot, because we tow a big red dive flag around with us so boats and other watercraft know to stay clear.

Visibility under the surface is never great at Fort Wetherill. It averages about 5 – 10 ft. Despite the limited visibility, we consistently spot wildlife like fiddler and horseshoe crabs, all manner of fish, small jellyfish, and skates (skates look like stingrays).

It is strongly recommended that you dive with a buddy. If something goes wrong when you’re 30 feet below the surface, like maybe you suddenly don’t have air to breathe, you want a buddy nearby that can quickly help you get sorted with your own equipment or provide their backup regulator. Scuba diving is a cautious endeavor with many redundancies and safety checks built in, because well, it’s dangerous as hell. Humans didn’t exactly come with stock anatomy that allows them to spend 30+ minutes under 20+ feet of water. The equipment that we wear is meant to keep us alive. If that equipment fails, that might be it, you could simply die. Because of the stakes here, scuba equipment, at least the stuff that dive shop professionals will recommend, tends to be of very high quality. It’s not cheap, but it will keep you alive, and it usually doesn’t fail you when you need it.

Enough of me being old grandpappy safety man. I mention all that safety stuff because a big part of diving is keeping track of your dive buddy. If you get separated for more than a few minutes, you need to return to the surface. If you meet each other at the surface, you can both feel a little dumb and go back down; but here’s another scenario: what if your dive buddy lost consciousness and is at the bottom? The air in those tanks doesn’t last forever people. At Fort Wetherill, you have 7 ft of visibility and can’t call out to that person underwater. I’m not trying to scare anyone out of scuba diving, but keeping track of your buddy is super-important.

Check out my non-sexy visibility demonstration video below:

The first portion of this video is a shot of me at maybe 10 – 15 feet of depth. You can tell this because the color of the plants and coral is all visible. The second half of the video is a shot of me at more like 20 – 25 feet of depth. The deeper you go, the more difficult it is to see.

Fort Wetherill is our “home” diving location. This is where I learned to dive, and we come here most frequently. Getting into the water is incredibly easy. You put your gear on in the parking lot, walk down the boat ramp, and boom, you’re swimming under the surface of the ocean. I value the location for many reasons, but I believe one of the most important ones is that our dives challenge us in terms of visibility, keeping track of our buddy, and navigation. We navigate with a compass underwater. There is no GPS available under the surface.

Carolyn and I dream of going on a trip to a tropical place where the water commonly has 100 ft of visibility, or what is called viz. We plan on getting our next diving certification before that happens. This will allow us to go deeper. Our current Open Water Diver Certification through PADI allows us to go to 60 ft of depth. Advanced Open Water Diver Certification would allow us to extend that depth to 100 ft and involves much more advanced navigation skills.

Navigation skills are always useful, but you really need them when you’re in deep water. Depending on the clarity of the water you’re in, sunlight might not be able to penetrate to over 50 ft. Even 50 ft in a place like Wetherill is a dark and eerie experience. Some people go in for that type of thing. I’m more interested in the deeper depths in tropical water scenarios. You can tack on extra gas mixture certifications which allow you to stay underwater for longer, safety diver, and there’s even an underwater photography certification. I think we will pursue our Advanced Open Water Diver Certification sometime during the summer of 2021.

Despite only having a max depth of 60 ft (trust me, 50 – 60 ft feels pretty damn deep), Carolyn and I have been in situations where we’ve had to navigate by our instruments alone. A dive we did last summer in Lake Wazee in Wisconsin comes to mind. This lake has viz averages of 30 – 40 ft and a max depth of 355 ft. I have a clear mental picture of us swimming at about 30 ft, Carolyn 7 ft ahead of me, and being flanked above and below, seemingly endlessly, by the exact same shade of blue. We could have flipped entirely upside-down and the only thing that would have indicated what was up would have been our bubbles making their way to the surface. In this scenario, it is critical that you’re watching your computer for the depth and your compass to make sure you’re swimming in a straight line in the direction you want to go. There’s nothing to orient yourself to. We ended up swimming straight out and doing a 90 degree turn to our left, landing us on some fish cribs chock full of big walleye. Successfully navigating with only our instruments on that particular dive was an extremely satisfying experience.

Many times, the stuff that is the most interesting is within 5 – 10 ft of water. We got a great look at a flounder on our dive yesterday. Usually, we encounter these guys in deeper water, and they dart off before we get a good look. This was the first time I was able to observe just how graceful these creatures are when they swim.

If you’re a fan of Disney movies, you are probably familiar with this Flounder.

Yeah, the Disney version is definitely not a flounder! Flounders lay flat on the bottom like a ray. You can get a closeup view of a real flounder in the wild about halfway through the short video from our dive below.