Divers on the gulf coast seem to be conditioned for summer time diving. Warm salt water, it seems, is the only way to go. Cooler water and air temperatures send dive gear to the back of the garage in favor of other diversions like football, hunting, and the obligatory raking leaves. The problem is sometimes the dive equipment never makes it back out with the return of warm weather and, when it does, it takes awhile to brush the dust of the diving skills you honed the season before.
Just because the gulf is colder doesn’t mean you have to forget about diving. And it doesn’t mean your only diving alternatives are expensive Caribbean trips or boring swimming pools. There are quite a few dive destinations on the gulf coast that are less dependent on weather and tides.
The other thing to keep in mind, is how spoiled we are on the gulf coast. Realize on the west coast, California divers brave 55F water, in the middle of summer! That is about our coldest water temperature during an especially cold winter.
The crystal clear waters of the freshwater springs provide excellent diving. The constant 68F water means that the water is warmer than the air, most of the winter. The springs are home to many critters including bass, crappie, bream, eels, turtles and crayfish. Also, your dives don’t have to be scheduled around tides and currents. The conditions are usually the same. If you have the appropriate certifications you can gain access to the cavern and cave systems. Bring cheese and hot dogs to offer the fish and you can have a great time and get some cool photos.
Keep in mind, the springs are no secret and divers from all over the southeast find their way here. Things can get a little crowded on weekends so it pays to get there early or stay late to get the best visibility. The continuous outflow of clear, fresh water keeps the springs clean and clear. Weekday dives provide the greatest possibility of encountering gin clear water and unlimited visibility.
Make sure you dress appropriately for your dives. The water is a constant 68 degrees. In the summer it can feel a little cool. In the winter it can feel downright warm. You will see some divers in dry suits but for most, a good fitting 5mm wetsuit and hood is enough. I’ve even seen divers making repeated dives in nothing more than a diveskin.
For a list and directions to all the local dive sites and freshwater springs, call Gulf Coast Divers at (251) 342-2970. Don’t let your dive skills get rusty this winter. Sheephead season is right around the corner and it will be spring before you know it.