Lake Lanier, Georgia
Dry Suit Experience
May 3, 1997
Dive - Site..................Depth - Time
Living in Atlanta I am most used to warm water diving but I recently had the chance to try out a Dry Suit, normally used for diving in cold water. The Lanier Dive Center had gotten in several Dry Suits on loan from a manufacturer and were running several sessions to let divers try them out. I got the opportunity to try one on a May afternoon.
We initially gathered at the dive shop where Mike, our instructor, gave us a lesson in Dry Suit use. We also watched a video and examined the suits themselves. Then, we went through the suits and found the one that best fit us. The one I wound up with was a bit large for me but I decided to give it a try anyway.
We then headed out to West Bank at Lake Lanier. West Bank is a Corps of Engineers operated recreation facility on the lake normally used for picnics, fishing and swimming. It is a popular spot for people diving in the lake as it is near the dam and depths of over 100 feet can be reached fairly close to shore. The lake can also be quite cold, even in summer. While the May temperatures in Atlanta were quite comfortable the lake was still cold; it was 45 degrees below the first thermocline at about 20 feet.
We had the swimming area to ourselves as we suited up and entered the water. It was a strange experience for me; entering the water and staying dry. We gathered as a group and swam out from shore.
Lake Lanier usually has very poor visibility (normally around 5 feet) so I was surprised to see that it was quite clear this time of year. One advantage to cold water I suppose. Of course, there wasn't that much to see either; just tangles of fallen trees and scattered beer cans. I did find a couple of golf balls lying on the bottom; someone had been practicing their drives.
Lake Lanier is an artificial lake. When the lake was created the Army Corps of Engineers did not clear all of the trees from what would be the lake bottom, they did so only down to around what would be the 40 foot depth mark. Most of the trees are still standing below the lake. The trees have lost all of their leaves but swimming through them gives the impression of swimming through a forest.
We swam down to the tree line at about 40 feet and turned around. So far I had not had any problems but on the way back I came across a fishing line in my path. I nudged it out of the way to pass but the person fishing apparently saw the movement as a fish strike and started rapidly reeling in the line. I kicked upward a few feet to avoid the hook as it went whizzing past. This turned out to be a mistake.
The few feet I gained was enough to cause the air in my Dry Suit to expand enough to cause me to start floating upward. We had covered this possibility in the class session and I had been told in such a case to simply kick downward again until the suit had recompressed a bit and then vent some air. No problem.
Unfortunately, my suit was a bit too big for me (remember?). When I kicked, one of my feet came out of the boot of the suit. One fin was now flopping uselessly at the end of the leg. I tried kicking harder as my buddy tried to get to me. We almost made contact before my other boot popped off. Unable to make any more progress, I floated to the surface. My buddy and the dive master surfaced to assist me but I was unable to get my feet back into the boots while floating and had to be pulled to shore.
Despite the problem I had it was an interesting experience. I was much more comfortable than I would have been otherwise (though I was still a bit cold) and I can see that a (properly fitted!) Dry Suit would be worthwhile for someone who did a large amount of cold water diving. Since most of my diving is in the Gulf or the Caribbean it is probably not an investment I would make but I was glad to have had the chance to try one.
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