Zack Loivton remembers his first time diving in Alaskan waters. He swung his legs onto the platform on the back of the dive boat and stood up, took a deep breath, put his regulator into his mouth, pressed his had to his mask and dropped into Prince William Sound.
“That was 14 years ago and I can still feel my heart thumping in my chest. I was a pretty accomplished diver but I had never ever done anything like it,” Loivton, a Vietnam war veteran, said with a smile.
Loivton, who recently celebrated his 81st birthday, is no longer able to dive due to medical problems but said, “Once a diver, always a diver.”
“There ain’t a thing that replaces the feeling of a new dive. It is a feeling like no other,” he said.
Loivton recalls clearly the marine life he saw in the Alaskan waters that day, from small schools of fish to Humpback whales and stellar sea otters.
“My buddy scared me, he grabbed me quickly by the shoulder, almost giving me a damn hard attack, then I turned and almost dropped my regulator out of my mouth,” Loivton said.
Just about eight feet away was a whale swimming by after a school of fish, according to Loivton.
“It was graceful for its size and strangely beautiful.”
This was the first of Loivtons “Alaska dive series,” and the last state his fins would touch water in before suffering from a heart attack in late 2005.
“Yea, the doctor told me I couldn’t dive anymore. He’s probably right it wasn’t safe, but the only thing more painful was the day Tarrah (Loivton’s wife) passed.” Loivton said with a hand over his heart.
Loivton dove three times at Prince William Sound and twice at Smitty’s Cove out of Whittier.
The cove is a popular dive spot for experienced divers as well as new divers looking to get their open water citification.
The entrance for Smitty’s cove is a boat ramp located on the far side of the small Alaskan town. To enter divers brace one another backwards as they walk carefully down the cement ramp.
In the summer the water is murky while the plankton is in bloom making the average length of visibility five to ten feet on average.
During the winter months the crystal clear water is a sight that Loivtons describes as “incredible” being the home to thousands of fish, whales, octopus and jellyfish.
“Before I dove in Alaska, I dove in Hawaii. We saw two octopuses while I was there. They were small I’d sat about 10 pounds each,” Loivton said. “When I dove in the cove (Smitty’s Cove) I saw one octopus, bright orange that had to be over a hundred pounds. It just sort of hovered in front of me then swam away.”
Loivton has dove in Italy, Mexico, Maine, Florida, California, and Hawaii and completed over 500 dives in his lifetime.
“Out of all my wreck dives, night dives and cave dives, Alaska has been has been some of the roughest and toughest waters I have been in. If you can dive Alaska you can dive anywhere.”