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  • Erik Howes

Extreme Underwater Gardening

The past 2 summers I have worked as a commercial SCUBA diver. It's been the most interesting, stressful, memorable and financially profitable job I have ever owned. It funded a cross country trip, paid for most of my camera gear, ski kit and the last van I built out. But I'm not talking about clear blue-water diving- swimming around in thin wetsuits and googling at all the pretty colorful fish, either. Think heavy astronaut suits with full face masks, then jumping into "I don't want to swim in that" type of New Hampshire waters - and I was harvesting invasive aquatic plants. Basically, I was an extreme underwater gardener.




But more so than making money - this job gave me discipline and taught me lessons that I will carry on through life.

Every day I would get loaded up with a weighted chest harness, strap on a claustrophobic full-face mask and get tethered to an umbilical cord of hoses and tubes. Not only did I have to manage all the gear and hoses- to avoid them wrapping around my feet and each other - I had to avoid it all getting tangled in giant groves of exotic looking, spiraled and thick stocked, scary-looking, silt coated, fish inhabited, algae growing plants. The job was incredibly stressful. Spending hours at a time, face down, digging in the silt to harvest plants and not being able to see further than my elbows.



Taking a quick lunch break to get in a pumpy fin-hook boulder problem somewhere on Lake Winnipesaukee


One day I got stuck, face down. Tall; mucky; strands of plants wrapped around my feet and fins. The suction hose I was trailing behind me (A powerful 5" flexible corrugated tube) to extract plant material to the surface, got twisted around my arm like a boa constrictor. I lost control of my buoyancy and as I sank, my helmet hit a rock and the seal started leaking water. Whenever I took a breath in, the regulator would 'gurgle' and 'pop' a blast of water in my face trying to keep up with airflow. The communication line to my crew wasn't working that day and here I am, alone, 20+ feet underwater, upside down, stuck, with a leaking mask, and I was starting to freak out.



A casual and relaxing day of harvesting in clear open waters. Roots of invasive plants are carefully extracted from the soil and delivered to the crew on the topside through the thick black hose via a powerful water pump. The plants then get bagged and sent off to become compost or researched for environmental studies.


But I remembered what I was told- "breath, figure it out, and fix it." So that's what I did. I started with my mask- straightening it on my head and tightening the straps- stopping the leak. Next, I worked the hose, freeing it from my arms, and then my fins that were wrapped up in plants. It took a while, but I stayed calm... Relatively.


Sometimes this is exactly what it feels like working and living inside a van. It's a small area with A LOT going on. Things can get disorganized and you need to keep calm and get it all back together.



What is pictured here can happen in a matter of minutes. It's stressful- Where do I put this? Is this clean? Why is that leaking?

But when times like this happen -

I just think to myself-

"breath, figure it out, and fix it."


-Stay Wild-

-Erik (smellybagofdirt)-

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