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October 2018    Download the Entire Issue (PDF) Vol. 33, No. 10   RSS Feed for Undercurrent Issues
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Part I: The Ups and Downs of Ocean Currents

strategies for surviving them

from the October, 2018 issue of Undercurrent   Subscribe Now

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One can dive his entire life and never find much in the way of currents. But every so often, a combo of tides, wind and other factors can create currents that can throw you a surprise.

For example, Nick Macelletti (Sarasota, FL) was calmly finning along at Delila Reef in Cozumel when an unexpected current sent him unwillingly to the surface. Reunited with his group on board, he learned they all had been separated like pins hit by a bowling ball, although no one else was brought to the surface as he was.

The more you dive in sites affected by big ocean tides, the more chances you'll have of experiencing a topsy-turvy dive, as our readers attest to below. Sometimes, it's only a mild shake-up that adds a little zing to a mild Caribbean dive, as Macelletti had. But sometimes, you'll have to keep your cool and remember what's needed to get out of an upor down-flowing current safely.

Thrown into the Washing Machine

When an ocean current meets an immovable object such as an island or a submerged reef wall, it has to divert around it, and, rather like air passing over the wing of an airplane, it has to speed up to do so. The problem for divers is that the current can go left or right, sometimes over the top of the obstruction, or sometimes downward to form an eddy at depth. It's these upward and downward currents that cause a problem for divers, especially if you encounter one near the end of a dive. Nobody can swim against a current that flows at more than one knot for more than a short time, and some of these currents are faster.

One initial sign of a downcurrent is when you put up a surface marker buoy that ascends in a satisfying manner, only to find it changing direction and coming back downward still fully inflated. At that time, you'll find yourself enveloped by your own exhaled bubbles, and you might even find yourself hurtling along helter-skelter and rotating uncomfortably out of control. These dive sites are often called 'washing machines.'...


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