• Bella Zandoná

How it Feels to Be a Cold Water Mermaid

Updated: Jul 21


My alarm rings at 4 A.M on Sunday mornings. I wake up, the world is quiet, asleep, peaceful. The mornings are cold here in the Pacific Northwest, but I must get out of my comfortable warm bed soon, the ocean is waiting for me.


I eat my breakfast, still feeling sleepy, then I put on the many layers of clothes that will keep me warm under the emerald green waters of Seattle. I put my first pair of skin-tight leggings on, and then my second pair. Afterwards, I put on two long sleeve shirts and two socks. This is what I will wear under my drysuit undergarments. I enter the car, it smells like neoprene, it’s such a distinctive smell. The Mukilteo T-dock is the decided site for this weekend, it’s an hour away. I sit patiently in the car, fighting myself to stay awake, as my dad - who's also my dive buddy, drives us to the water.



We finally arrived at the dive site, feeling a little more awake than when we left home. It is time to start gearing up. I put on my third pair of socks and slip into my thick undergarment. The water is always cold, no matter how many layers I wear. My dad hands me my bright pink DUI drysuit. My suit is custom made, it hugs my body perfectly. I love my suit but putting it on is my least favourite part of getting ready. Thankfully it is a cold morning so I will not be overheating while getting dressed.


My hair always gets suck in the latex drysuit neck seal. It tugs on my short ponytail, pulling a few hairs out. We get the rest of our gear on. Air tanks open, BCD’s on, camera gear ready and we perform our buddy-check. I carry 24 pounds of extra weight in my BCD weight pockets. It weighs me down above the water, but it keeps me neutrally buoyant below the surface. My back is hurting already, I can feel my shoulders getting tired. It’s a quick walk to the water today, we got a great parking spot!



This dive site can be current sensitive, I’m not a fan of the fast-changing currents here in Seattle, but we make it work. We always check the tide charts when planning out our dives, making sure to be in the water when the current is as minimal as possible.


We step into the water, I instantly feel the icy water cool my body down. We put our fins and masks on while discussing the dive plan one last time. We swim out a little bit further to an old wood pole, it’s all that remains of an old dock. We both signal that we are good to go, and we proceed to empty the air in our BCD’s.


This is when I feel the adrenaline rush!


The cold water stings my face, it makes my head feel cold even with my thick hood on. I’m not even 10 feet underwater and I already feel the pressure in my ears and my drysuit getting tighter around my body. I gently equalized the pressure from my ears and added air to my drysuit. I will continuously be doing that for the whole dive. I feel my body rise when I add air to my suit. Being perfectly neutral in the water is an amazing feeling - all the pressure is lifted off of your body from the heavy gear. I am light, once again.


I turn my camera on and double-check that it’s still in the proper settings. I also turn on two 4200 lumen lights, it brightens the ocean floor instantly. The water was extra murky, I guess the barnacles are not doing their jobs very well! Murky water is the norm here. We consider it a miracle to have 30-50 ft of visibility. But during the spring season, you’re lucky if you get 5-10 ft of visibility. The water is filled with this season's algae bloom. I could only see 10 feet in front of myself, so dad and I stayed very close to each other.


It is eerie not knowing what is exactly behind, in front, or next to you. Nonetheless, we swim forward, following a distinctive rock path that will lead us to the highlight of this dive site - The Geodome.



The Geodome is a huge structure made up of PVC pipes, it is anchored to the seafloor at about 80 feet (depending on the tide). It serves as an artificial reef, hosting a variety of fish, wolf eels, anemones, nudibranchs and octopuses. It is perfect for exploring, you never know what you will find! A few feet from the dome is a pile of PVC pipes. These pipes have created a home for a juvenile wolf eel. We swim over to say hello, he is a local, and we enjoy him a lot. I snapped some photos of him, he loves to pose.



After saying goodbye to our eel friend, we swam down to 90 ft in search of the toilet. Yes, someone really did put a toilet in the dive site. Lots of animals enjoy the safety of the toilet, but today it was empty.


Spring season also means nudibranch season. I look down right in front of me and I can easily count 10 nudibranchs. I tried to count how many I saw on this dive, I lost track, but there are thousands.



We do our lap around The Geodome and explore a little bit more before following the rock paths back to where we entered the water. My face is so cold and so are my hands. I try to focus on taking photos, but I can't stop thinking about how my body is starting to shiver. We do our safety stop observing a few nudibranchs, they keep us company. Once finished with our safety stop, we continue our swim. At around 10 ft we decided to surface.


I always have a moment of reflection when I’m surfacing. I think about how the dive went and all the beautiful creatures I had the pleasure of meeting.


Now I’m on the surface, BCD full, right next to my dad. He comes out of the water already smiling. We head to shore. Once I reach a place I can stand, I take my fins off. We come out of the water. The weight of the gear once again starts to weigh me down. We get to the car, removing our gear as we discuss how the dive went.


Ready for the next one?” my dad asks.


Once again we get ready but with our second set of tanks this time.


Here we go again, back into a world that isn’t ours, where we are the aliens.






Written by Bella Zandoná



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