Posted by . on October 28, 2003 at 18:25:22:
Scuba diver passionate about life under sea
By TIMOTHY INKLEBARGER
For Annette Smith, scuba diving isn't just a hobby or a simple distraction from a busy workweek.
It's an obsession, said Smith, who recently made her 842nd dive in just six years.
"This is my beer," she said, while gearing up in her dry suit, snorkel and 40-pound oxygen tank at Sunshine Cove recently. "I'd be frightened of my bar tab if I didn't dive."
Smith, 50, a data processing manager for the state's Permanent Fund Dividend Division, began her love affair with scuba diving in 1997 and now averages about 150 to 200 dives a year. She's explored the waters off the Bahamas, Costa Rica and the Virgin Islands, but she says Alaska is her favorite place to dive.
"Annette dives with whoever will dive with her," said Alice Edwards, 37, a diving buddy.
Smith said Sunshine Cove is one of her favorite places to dive because of the oversize, bright orange tochuina, or sea slugs, that inhabit the area.
"The largest ones ever recorded are in Sunshine Cove," Smith said, noting that while the slugs typically grow about 12 inches long, 20-inch tochuina have been found at Sunshine Cove.
"They eat sea pens (octocorals that resemble feather quill pens) that are poisonous. They take the poison and use it for their natural defense."
In the last six years, she's explored diving sites and sunken ships throughout Southeast. She's taken hundreds of underwater photos and collected numerous pieces of pottery and collectibles thrown overboard from passing ships.
After a 20-minute routine of strapping on about 100 pounds of scuba gear at the Sunshine Cove trailhead, Smith and Edwards headed down to the beach for a quick morning dive.
"This is my favorite lounge chair," Smith said with delight, as she and Edwards ventured into the water and submerged into a landscape of scallop and mussel beds.
Smith said the water was about 47 degrees. In the dead of winter, the temperatures drop as low as 36 degrees.
"In the winter, you come out of the water and your hair is frozen," she said.
During her expeditions under the sea, Smith said she's heard the lilting songs of humpback whales, encountered basketball-size squid egg sacks and been swimming with 1,200-pound sea lions.
"The sea lions are really neat to dive with," she said. "They'll spin around you and mouth your head."
While on a dive at Sunshine Cove in February, Smith and Edwards encountered their first squid egg sack.
With her underwater camera, Smith took a snapshot of the translucent floating mass. She asked around and discovered that the hundreds of tiny balls inside were squid eggs.
"It was the strangest thing I have ever seen," Edwards said.
In March, Smith found another egg sack but realized what she had discovered.
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