(DiverWire) Imagine flying though beautiful cerulean waters, watching the coral reef bursting with colors and teaming with a wide variety of marine life as you pass by effortlessly. Imagine no more as this experience is closer than you realize.
One of my favorite places to dive is Cozumel, the island just off Playa del Carmen, Mexico located on the Yucatan Peninsula, and this is what happens every day in the waters below. Besides being the place that I’ve done much of my SCUBA education, Cozumel is one of the few recreational coral reef systems which has currents flowing constantly through, and is one of the most popular places to go to experience this type of diving.
As I’ve mentioned, I have a history diving the many beautiful dive sites located off Cozumel, however I decided to complete the Drift Diving specialty course to better my understanding of this type of diving and to improve my skills to enjoy my experiences even more. I strongly encourage any diver who does not have experience with drift diving to take this specialty course at the beginning of a trip that will include this type of diving. Currents have been known to be unpredictable and being prepared will increase safety and enhance your experience in the amazing sites encountered in different parts of the ocean’s reefs. What are the advantages of learning, why drift diving is different; you might ask if you have never been in this environment. The best way to approach this is to break it down and share what I have learned.
The drift diving experience is simply exhilarating. The first few dives may feel a bit awkward and there is an “out of control” feeling since the water is pushing you along. Relax. Water moves along the contour of the topography and you along with it. However, remember that it is imperative to use the skills learned as an open water diver, and the specialty course will reinforce the ones that are particularly necessary for an enjoyable and safe dive.
Buoyancy is a skill that is probably most important. Controlled descending, dive the planned profile and ascending are crucial as this is done together with your dive buddy/dive group. Currents change at different depths, moving faster towards the surface and slower towards the bottom. Depending on the speed of the current, there is the possibility that a diver could become separated from the rest of the group, if not paying attention. So, the rule of thumb here is to stay with your dive buddy, the dive leader and the planned depth throughout the dive.
Also, very important, as on any dive, is to remain neutral buoyant and be very aware of maximum depth. Many drift dives will occur along a wall at some point, and it is very easy to descend past the maximum depth as there is basically an abyss below. Keep checking where you are frequently. The best position to be in while “touring” is to face the wall. Try to stay close to the wall, as if you move out away from it, the current again could become faster. Also, facing the wall allows for more current to resist against your body surface, which may help slow down for you to enjoy what you are passing by.
Fatigue is a concern, but can be avoided by utilizing the skills you will learn. Slow, deep breaths conserves air, but while drift diving, the fact that you are not exerting yourself and moving with the water will conserve more air for you. However, you will find when swimming does become necessary, go back to beginning skills. As you remember, never fight the current, swimming against a current moving over 1/2 knot is fruitless. Swimming low and across along the bottom. If you’ve become exhausted, end the dive, letting your buddy and dive leader know.
Surface supervision is imperative and the “live” boat will be floating along above the group, following the bubbles. Since, most often these dive sites are popular and there may be several groups diving there, pay attention to your group’s boat. Make sure you take an inflatable buoy or sausage with you for extra safety and always ascend together with your buddy! As you will learn, to get back onto the boat is a bit different as the boat will be positioned so you will be up-current. There will be a line to hold and as with any other dive, wait your turn and the boat captain will brief how the preferred way to re-board will be.
Until you have become accustomed to the current and have buoyancy fine-tuned, I would suggest leaving your camera, along with any other unnecessary gadgets topside. When taking photographs, if you are in a slow moving drift you can stop yourself by getting low and planting a finger or two into a non-living area, like the sand and get close. Please, beware of not damaging any Marine life while taking photographs. But mostly you are just moving by and setting up a shot doesn’t come very often. However, I have taken some beautiful photos, so don’t be discouraged and keep clicking. After all, they are digital.
Because currents can be unpredictable is another excellent idea to take the course to learn about what to do if the unexpected happens. We all know that the ocean holds dangers which awareness is imperative. Creatures, ascending too quickly, viability, are reasons that we all need to stay educated and be prepared for. However the ocean itself holds the more danger as we can never be certain of what will occur. But, I also believe that complacency can be even more dangerous. Be safe, learn drift diving, and you’ll experience one heck of a ride!
Thank you to Ricardo and Karen at www.DiveChoiceMexico.com for the excellent instruction and amazing accommodations. If you are heading to Cozumel, please check them out! They offer the best personal dive service and accommodation packages on the island.
Photos courtesy of Dive Choice Mexico