Jan

25

New divers are surprised to learn that diving along the gulf coast takes place year round, not just during the heat of the summer. Believe it or not, the beaches don’t close in the winter, the Gulf of Mexico still has water in it when all the leaves have fallen from the trees and there are a lot of dedicated divers getting wet all winter.

If you want to keep diving in the winter months, but are not one of the fortunate few who can slip off to some warm and exotic location while the rest of us sit around watching our breath freeze in the air, read on and learn the basics of winter diving on the gulf coast.

So just what are the alternatives for winter diving and what can you expect for conditions? Obviously colder temperatures, both in the water and out, but not so cold that you can’t go diving. That doesn’t mean you have to gear up for an arctic expedition. Back in December we published a blog article about the importance of staying warm which provided many suggestions for dealing with winter temperatures.

Water temperatures in the gulf are a little cooler than what you are used to in the summer months. You can expect water in the low-mid 60’s at times.  Also, most of the high tides during winter months, fall at night. This is great news for the spearos that target flounder.

These tidal differences are not as much  a consideration offshore but they will affect beach dives like Perdido Pass, Fort Pickens, Destin Jetties and St. Andrews Park.  We have some of the lowest tides of the year during winter months and the strong north winds can make for especially low tides.

The local springs are virtually unaffected by winter temperatures. In other words springs water temperatures stay the same year round. The same 68 degrees that seemed cold and maybe a little forbidding in the summer is now warm and toasty.

One big consideration, just as important as staying warm during the dive, is keeping warm before the dive and getting warm between dives.  Bundle up and stay warm before you get in the water and certainly bundle up between dives. Bring a thermos of hot tea or coffee to warm you from the inside and stay out of the wind.  A misconception with inexperienced winter divers, is they will stay warm if they keep their wetsuit on between dives.  You will only make this mistake once!  The water evaporating off the suit is taking heat with it, chilling you very fast.  You will stay much warmer by getting out of your suit and dressing in warm clothes.  The more common method is to peel your wetsuit top off, dry off, and put on a jacket. Many divers exit the water, quickly peel their wetsuit off and climb back in their vehicle for a toasty, warm surface interval.

Recently my phoned chimed, announcing a text message from a dive buddy headed to the Pass for a night dive. Sorry I couldn’t make it Joe, too many work and family commitments, but it reminded me, many people are getting wet this winter and you should too.  Call Gulf Coast Divers at (251) 342-2970 to learn more about winter diving.

Oct

26

What is a Local Explorer?  Well, we are the lucky ones who don’t need to wait for our next vacation to blow bubbles. We don’t worry about packing our gear into the smallest bag possible.  And even then, checking and organizing to stay under the constantly changing and progressively more restrictive baggage weight limits. The bed of our truck has become our gear bag.

Those divers who are lucky enough to have boats (or diving friends with boats) have an advantage to be able to access hundreds of neat, interesting sites to explore.  There are dozens of dive charter boats on the gulf coast and many shore access sites.  The shore sites are the most economical dive sites to explore.  Some have small park entrance fees but most in our area are FREE.

Conditions vary with weather and tides so local knowledge and an orientation are advised.  The Gulf Coast Diving Society is a great source for this knowledge and a fun way to meet new dive buddies that are familiar with close, accessible sites.  The fresh water springs are a great destination for almost any day.  Because you don’t have to dive during a short tidal window, springs are popular places to meet for all day events.

So what if you’ve walked in off the same beach three weekends in a row; You are still diving and there are thousands of divers that would change places in a second.  Last month I meet a couple in the shop from Indiana that were in town to hop on the cruise ship bound for Cozumel. The ship would be in port only long enough for them to do 2 dives.  They were thrilled, because at home they drove 6 hours every other weekend to dive in a 25′ deep, mud bottom lake where visibility averaged 2 feet.  They mostly looked at rocks, and a fish sighting was an event to talk about.  Oh yea, they also regularly stayed overnight in a motel to do it again the next day!

So appreciate having such close proximity and easy access to a variety of local dive sites. We are in it for the adventure and we know something great is just around the corner.  See y’all next weekend. For information on local sites and condition reports call Gulf Coast Divers (251) 342-2970.

Feb

7

Lawren and I decided to make a mid-week dive at Morrrison Springs  last thursday. While the weather wasn’t exactly inviting, with rain and temps in the 40’s, we stuck to the plan and arrived at Morrison’s around midday.  We commenced to setting up our camera rigs and dry suits.  After getting all kitted up we started our dive, upon entering we found that the conditions were a bit green in the spring pool, but once we descended into the cavern things cleared up and visibility was great.  Lawren and I took turns snapping pics and posing for each other and generally had a good dive,  logging a max depth of 90 ft. and a dive time of 54 min.  This was my first dive at Morrison’s and I was suprised to see the depth of 90 ft.  After a few more photo ops we came out of the cavern and did our safety stop on “the log”.  The entire safety stop I was mentally preparing for a quick and chilly break down of dive and photo gear.  All in all it was a great day of diving and a suprisingly fun way to get in the water during a dreary and cold winter day.  In the past I’ve always turned down invitations to join others at the numerous springs on the gulf coast, always opting for a trip on my boat to shoot fish.  But, I’ll admit for this salty spearo, I enjoyed the spring diving experience alot.  So next time the seas keep us in the slip…I’ll load up and venture to the local springs for some freshwater fun.

 

Jan

26

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 temperatures and the prevailing winter weather patterns that make the Gulf of Mexico a less than friendly place for diving means dive gear get pushed to the back of the closet in favor of other diversions like football, hunting, and the holiday season. The problem with that is sometimes the dive gear never makes it back out of the closet at the return of warm weather and, if it does, it takes awhile to brush the dust of the diving skills you honed the season before.

Just because the gulf is unavailable doesn’t mean you have to forget about diving and, in this part of the country, it doesn’t mean your only diving alternatives are expensive international trips or swimming pools. There are quite a few dive destinations on the gulf coast that are open year round and not subject to weather that makes the gulf a no go.

Vortex Springs in Ponce De Leon, Florida is the perfect winter dive destination and is one of my favorites.

Vortex Springs between dives

Vortex Springs

Vortex Springs is open for diving 364 days a year and is only about 2 hours and 15 minutes from the front door of Gulf Coast Divers shop. You can make a day trip, stay in a local motel or stay right at Vortex Springs. Vortex offers several large lodges, cabins, cottages and a campground if you want to stay on site.

The entry fee is $19.00 for each diver and $10.00 for non divers. You can also rent canoes or kayaks and there is even a motocross and ATV track, $20.00 per day, when you are ready for a break from diving.

Crystal clear waters of the springs provide excellent diving.  If you have the appropriate certifications you can gain access to the cave system at Vortex Springs. Without the proper cave diving certification you are limited to the artificial caves and other things in the spring as well as Blue Creek which leads out of the spring. The spring is also full of a variety of fresh water marine life. Carp, crappie, bass, eels, turtles and crawfish call the spring home and are quite used to divers. Bring a little offering for the fish and you can have a great time and get some great photos.

Keep in mind the springs are no secret. It seems divers from all over the country find their way there. Things can get a little crowded on some days. It pays to get there early or you can stay late to get the best visibility. Bad buoyancy control can cloud the water quickly but, since there is a constant outflow of clear fresh water from the spring, the visibility improves quickly when divers exercise good buoyancy control. Weekday dives provide the greatest possibility of encountering crystal clear water and unlimited visibility for all of your dives.

Make sure you dress appropriately for your dives. The water at Vortex Springs 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 guys in dry suits but for most, a good fitting full wetsuit (3 or 5 mil as you desire) and hood is enough. I’ve even seen divers making repeated dives in nothing more than a bathing suit. To each his own I guess.

If you get the chance visit Vortex Springs for an excellent day of diving.

Contact Info:

Vortex Springs
1517 Vortex Spring Ln.
Ponce De Leon,
Florida 32455

Phone: (800) 342 – 0640
Phone: (850) 836 – 4979

Gulf Coast Divers: (251) 342-2970