Three Dives to Try Before Hanging Up Your Fins
Feb 26, 2018 08:00AM
The ultimate shark encounter on the bucket list of most serious divers is with the shark shown here-the great white.
Gallery: Black Water, Cold Water, Sharky Water: March-April 2018 [5 Images] Click any image to expand.
Blackwater DivingBlackwater diving is essentially an extreme night dive done in deep water far from shore. The objective is to observe and/or photograph tiny, nearly transparent juvenile and larval-stage marine life that floats in the current, as well as alien-looking creatures that rise from the deep to feed and breed.
It’s also one of the most unusual dives you’ll ever do. While blackwater dives have been popular for years in places such as Hawaii, Palau and Scotland, in the last few years the craze has taken hold in Florida, most notably around West Palm Beach.
The dive boat leaves the dock at sunset and travels 2 to 3 miles offshore, to water as deep as 500 or 600 feet. As darkness settles in, the crew launches a large buoy with a weighted downline, both covered with bright lights. Divers then circle the buoy using powerful lights to search for minute life forms.
Unlike blackwater dives done elsewhere, Florida divers are not tethered to the boat. Thus it is important to keep a close eye on the lighted buoy so as not to drift too far away from the boat or drop too deep. During a typical dive, which can last from 45 to 90 minutes, the boat, buoy and divers all drift with the Gulf Stream and often travel several miles without any sensation of movement.
This isn’t a dive for beginners because it takes place in absolute darkness, in water without a bottom for reference. But, for the veteran diver, there’s something intoxicating about being in a place where there is an entire universe of alien-looking creatures just below you. The sky—or rather the sea—is the limit for what you might see.
Cold Water DivingYears ago, my dive buddy, Pam, and I became a little tired of seeing the same underwater sights on warm water dives, so we decided to try something different. We purchased dry suits, which are designed to prevent any water from getting inside, and took a course on how to use them. Then we headed to the cold waters of the Pacific Northwest in search of the large, exotic creatures we had read about. It didn’t take long before we were hooked.
For the next 10 years, we dove in the waters of British Columbia, Canada, where the water can be as cold as 40 degrees Fahrenheit. Constant upwelling of water in that part of the world brings nutrients close to the surface. That creates an explosion of life covering almost every square inch of the sea floor. All this life also tints the water a greenish hue, which is why the area is often referred to as the “Emerald Sea.”
There are many excellent places around the world to dive in cold water, but one of our favorites is God’s Pocket. It’s the perfect name for the family-run dive resort tucked away on 500-acre Hurst Island, north of Port Hardy, located on the northern tip of Vancouver Island, Canada. The location provides easy access to such world-famous dive sites as Browning Wall, Nakwakto Rapids, and Hunt Rock.
In such a magical area, it’s not unusual to be greeted on a dive by a friendly wolf eel with a Muppet-like face, watch a giant Pacific octopus hunt for food among the rocks, spy huge and colorful nudibranchs or be buzzed by curious sea lions.
And as the boat returns to the resort each day, eagles soar overhead and orcas and humpback whales blow in the distance. In the evenings, guests gather around a community table for great food and an opportunity to share unforgettable experiences.
If large, profuse wildlife is what you crave and you don’t mind the chill, (dry) suit up and head for cold water.
Sharky Water DivingInvariably, the first question a diver is asked is, “Have you ever seen a shark? The answer is, typically, “Yes”—because swimming with sharks is one of the ultimate thrills of the sport. A dive boat is probably the only place in the world where someone shouts “Shark!” and everyone jumps into the water.
Because there are more than 450 species of sharks in the world today, encountering one on a dive isn’t unusual. But serious divers have a fascination with seeing, and possibly diving with, the largest and most fearsome members of the species, including tiger sharks, hammerheads, bull sharks and oceanic whitetips. And, without a doubt, the ultimate shark encounter on the bucket list of most serious divers is with the great white shark.
Reaching lengths of up to 21 feet and weighing as much as 2,400 pounds, great white sharks prefer cooler water and live and hunt on the coast of every continent in the world, except Antarctica. While a fearsome predator, they are considered vulnerable for extinction. Their numbers are dropping and it is estimated that populations in the North Atlantic alone have declined by about 80 percent in the last 30 years.
It is obviously not advisable to be in open water with these huge predators, so a few dive operators have developed an innovative way to get close to the animals by attaching cages to their boats. This allows divers to view the great white sharks while being protected by strong bars. It is sort of a zoo in reverse, in which the animals are in the wild and the people are in cages.
Great white sharks tend to congregate in specific places around the world, such as South Africa, Australia, and closer to home, around Guadalupe Island. The island is located about 150 miles off the west coast of Mexico’s Baja California Peninsula.
However, getting to Guadalupe Island is no easy task. The boat leaves Ensenada, Mexico, and travels for about 20 hours through rough water. Upon reaching the island, crew members lower the steel cages into the water. While different boats have various configurations, a typical setup has two cages, one on each side of the boat, which can be submerged to 30 feet, and two more cages attached to the back of the boat, suspended just below the surface.
Divers take turns in the cages, breathing off hookahs, or surface-supplied air lines. Every diver is allowed three dives a day in the submersible cages, each lasting about 45 minutes. The cages on the back of the boat operate on a first-come, first-served basis and provide an opportunity to view the giant animals lured to the surface with large chunks of fish.
Being within arm’s length of a great white shark—although of course all arms, legs and cameras are required to be kept safely within the cage—is overwhelming. Despite their incredible size, they memorably seem to materialize out of nowhere. Look away once and when you turn back, there’s an 18-foot shark swimming right next to you.
RequirementsBlackwater Diving: Excellent diving and buoyancy skills, and experience and comfort with night diving. Taking photos of nearly transparent critters that are about the size of a pencil eraser requires a high-end camera with strobe lights, and experience with macro photography.
Cold Water Diving: Training and proficiency with a dry suit, ability to do safety stops in open water and familiarity with diving in occasional heavy currents.
Sharky Diving: A heavy wet suit or dry suit is necessary because the water is cold and movement is restricted during long periods standing and being buffeted within the cages. If you get seasick, take appropriate measures. The greatest single requirement, however, is the willingness to share the water with one of the earth’s greatest predators.
Who to Contact
Cold Water Divinggodspocket.com
Story and photos by Glenn V. Ostle, a longtime contributor to TOTI publications. See more of his photography at featherandfins.smugmug.com or contact him at firstname.lastname@example.org.