Friday, April 15, 2011

Cold-water or warm-water diver? Let's tackle the question

Warm water or cold water diving. A question as old as time itself.
No, not really, but it is a topic that divers have debated back to the days of the AquaLung.
The debate normally begins centered around the toughness or how hardy one diver is compared to another. Cold water tough guys or gals talk about diving in water with near freezing temperatures while either ice diving or jumping in sometime after the spring thaw, while warm water divers simply shiver at the thought.
I suppose if someone put a speargun to my head, I would say I am a warm water diver. Typically I am in some tropical paradise, on vacation wearing a minimal amount of clothes with a cold drink in my hand when I am topside. When it comes to diving, the water is warm, visibility is outstanding and I see wildlife that I would only otherwise see in aquariums at home. I am warm and comfortable, wearing only a thin wetsuit and a minimum of weights. The biggest concern is how to avoid getting too sunburned.
On the other hand, cold water diving requires a thick wetsuit or a drysuit, lots of weights and limited visibility. There are no reefs, and quite often the only wildlife you see are invasive species. Even those who love cold water diving have to admit that, in terms of comfort, his or her choice comes in a distance second to a dip in the Caribbean.
Ah, but cold water diving, especially in the Great Lakes, has a great equalizer – the shipwreck.
Those who live in the Great Lakes basin have something the rest of the world can’t touch. The Great Lakes combined have more shipwrecks than any ocean in the world. There are more than 4,200 identified shipwrecks in the Great Lakes, and the true number is probably more than 5,000.
Each wreck is unique onto itself, a living history museum, with its own story to tell. To me, that is the great lure of cold water diving.
I’ve dove and touched wooden wrecks that sailed our waters prior to the Civil War. Some wrecks remain nearly intact, while others are scattered along the lake bottom. And most stay preserved for extremely long lengths of time because they sit in cold, fresh water. The same cannot be said for wrecks the lie in warm water locations with the corrosive properties of saltwater.
To me, there is always an eerie sense of mystery that comes with diving a wreck. I imagine how it got there, the sheer terror that must have overcome those onboard before the ship went down. Did they die? Were they saved? What was the story? There is also a feeling of being a member of an exclusive club. There are only a small percentage of people who will ever see this wreck – all that remains of dreams that were lost, hopes that were dashed, lives lost or businesses ruined.
That is the unique history that lies all around us who live in and around the state of Michigan. It is something that much of the dive world will never experience. And that is what keeps me coming back to the thick wetsuit and the heavy weights.
And the cold.

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