St. Cloud man has made 1,400+ scuba dives

One day in the spring as Bill Lacroix of St. Cloud waited for the rest of his students to file in during his technical drafting class at St. Cloud State University, he visited with an early-arriving student about the nice weather. “The student said ‘It’s almost time for diving.’ I asked, ‘Platform or springboard, or what kind of diving?’ He said scuba (self-contained underwater breathing apparatus).’”

Bill Lacroix of St. Croix, 79, got the idea to try scuba diving from one of his students at State Cloud State University. Since then, he taken his scuba gear all over the world. Above, Lacroix is ready to enter the Caribbean while taking a dive near Cozumel. Contributed photo

Bill had no idea the major impact that conversation would have on his life.

Bill asked for more information from the student, who said if Bill was interested, he could take an introduction to scuba course on campus. “I was raised on Lake Pokegama, and did a lot of snorkeling, but I’d never scuba dived.”

That was 29 years ago. Since then the 79-year-old has made more than 1,400 dives in Minnesota lakes, quarries and mine pits, and all over the world, like the Mediterranean to Palau (at the junction of the Pacific Ocean and the Philippine Sea) but mostly throughout the Caribbean.

Learning to Dive

Scuba diving is much more than adjusting the air tanks on your back, inserting the mouthpiece to breathe air, and jumping into the water. “After that class I thought it all sounded interesting, so I became a certified Open Water Diver, and am now a Dive Master. The next level of certification is that of an Instructor.”

Moving up that proficiency ladder requires textbook and performance tests before being certified at any level, Bill said, working through PADI (Professional Association of Dive Instructors), an international organization that provides certification for many different kinds of diving. Other agencies also do the same thing.

Some learning experiences include, for a rescue diver, being aware of and recognizing a panicked diver, or one about to become panicked, and how to deal with that. “Also how to navigate under water, clues to where the current is, and then where the shore is likely to be, as well as a medical component. The PADI philosophy is pretty much designed to cause one to be more aware of and appreciative of the environment in which you’re diving.”

Where To Go

As he got involved with the Minnesota School of Diving in Brainerd, and their extensive schedule of local summer dives, “Scuba enhanced my belief that you should dive all year, rather than wait around to go to the Caribbean in the winter, and I’ve had that interest ever since.”

One of Bill’s favorite diving places is in Minnesota’s Cuyuna Range mine pits near Crosby and Ironton. “They were abandoned before they were flooded, so there’s not a wealth of equipment down there, like on a shipwreck, but you will get to see Minnesota fish, northerns, walleye, bass, perch, crabs, clams. But at about 30 feet deep you lose much of the natural light and, therefore, less vegetation and fewer fish. Below that there is the beauty of the rock walls. They can be absolutely beautiful, outcroppings of quartz for example. I wish I would have taken more geology classes.”

Bill Lacroix gets a wave from a passing sea turtle during a dive near Cozumel. Contributed photo

Bill’s first salt water dive was in Grand Cayman. “What I remember most is the incredible visibility. At the time there was a huge green moray eel swimming around, something you don’t see very often. It was kind of unnerving at the same time it was kind of refreshing.”

“My favorite diving place is wherever I’m diving. That’s really true. Diving does that to me and to a lot of people. Let’s go no matter where I’m at. Thinking convenience and liking salt water, nothing beats Cozumel, and it’s a direct flight from Minnesota. There’s magnificent drift diving, and a pretty good value for the dollar.”

Otherwise, he enjoys the mine pits and the Great Lakes. “I’ve dived each of them for shipwrecks, and each of them has its own unique quality and variety.”

His 1,400 dives are split pretty much in half between fresh and salt water. “I don’t prefer one over the other, except that visibility in salt water is greater than in fresh water, and is typically warmer. Of course fish life and vegetation life are radically different, but both are interesting.”

Though Bill has never suffered from the bends, he’s been along when others have. “That can happen when you bounce dive, deep and shallow and deep and shallow. That can mean hours in a decompression chamber.”

That’s caused by the compression of bubbles of nitrogen in the blood on the way down, which expand on the way up, when they can be trapped and do damage to a person’s tissues unless safety stops are made on the way up.

How Deep?

Recreational diving for those with a PADI Advanced Open Water Certification is limited to 130 feet, Bill said, which requires safety stops on the way up depending on your depth and time spent down there. “You should never go any deeper than is wise, and it’s not wise unless there’s something neat to see, like a ship of some historical significance.”

Like the Aikoku Maru, a ship destroyed by an American dive bomber in Truk lagoon, an island 700 miles south of Guam. The ship’s magazine exploded and blew one end off, but the rest of the ship is pretty much intact. “So that was one time I went deeper, to 185, for five or six minutes, with a friend and a local guide. That was one of my more interesting dives,“ he said.

He said when a person is diving they have to recognize that they are at the mercy of the elements, and be careful. “I never dive alone.”

Bill Lacroix relaxes with a few family members on a boat near Cozumel.
Contributed photo

He said he’s surprised how many people say they would feel claustrophobic scuba diving. “When I’m diving, I’m in the midst of all that beauty, and in total freedom, isolation, escape from the regular world.”

He said his age, hand surgery, and a vascular issue not only make it more difficult to get geared up for scuba, but limit his diving, making him cranky until he can dive again.

But that’s not the end of Bill’s diving career. He will still go to Brainerd once or twice a week for their Fun Dives and the fellowship of fellow divers.

Learning

Bill has logged every dive, and averages an underwater stay of 52 minutes and 53 seconds per dive. “How long you stay varies from a few minutes to 1 ½ hours if it’s shallow and you are a good consumer of air and not working too hard. The deeper you are, the colder the water, and the harder you work–the more air you use.”

He said you’re never too old to learn to dive. “I started when I was 50, and it changed my life dramatically, and I’m sure it added years to my life. I’m glad to have dived for so long as I have.”

Bill said one of the most surprising things for him in diving is how beautiful the underwater world is.

“I consider myself a visitor in another animal’s world, and try to act like a good visitor. I have dived where there are sharks and if they would ever decide to cause me grief, they are in control and it’s their place. I would never try to aggravate or antagonize a shark or any other sea life or try to feed a shark or play with a dolphin. I’m in their world, and their world isn’t a zoo or aquarium. The underwater world is magnificent and beautiful and different. It’s a great place to relax and to see nature at its best.”