Underwater Wakulla- July 13, 2017

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Rip Tide.  By Gregg Stanton

June is a great time for basic SCUBA training as the daylight is longer, the water is warmer and tides less ferocious. For a long week, eight trusting souls poured over books, read on-line chapters, listened to lectures on the environment, marine life, physics and diving physiology, planned hypothetical dives and took exams. The pool exercises were equally exciting, managing cylinders, regulators, buoyancy compensators, gas sharing, rescue, Nitrox, and skin diving skills. The goal was to go diving in both fresh and salt water by week's end.

But the weather did not cooperate! For a group this size, I needed help and got from FAMU's Coach Jorge Olaves. As the University's Aquatics Director, he teaches swimming all they way up to pool management classes. He is currently training to become a NAUI diving instructor. I am so glad I asked for his help. NAUI has standards for student to Instructor ratios of no more than 8 to 1 in the open water. I have always followed a more conservative 4 to 1, and securing more help is always a good idea.

Our favorite Spring dive site at Morrison was overwhelmed by the river backing up and flooding the park. Zero visibility on a dive is never much fun. We were pleased to find Vortex close by, a much improved alternative near Ponce de Leon. Cold water and frequent rain showers made for a long but successful day. Sunday was planned to be the culminating Ocean dives at the Panama City Jetties.

Everyone arrived ahead of the supply truck that carried Nitrox cylinders, regulators, buoyancy compensators, dive flags and all manner of needed stuff. Diving the Jetties is a scheduling challenge, where the clearest water is found on the high tide. But even then, stormy weather gave us 5 to 10 feet visibility that morning. Everyone made the best of it and applied what they learned effectively. By the afternoon's dive however, everyone was dragging a bit. We hiked up over the dunes to the open Gulf and made a beach entry into a 1-2 foot surf!

Before entry, students noted a break in the surf, evidence of a longshore current (called by some an undertow) feeding a rip current headed seaward. It was safely back aways from the Jetties, serving a nice entry portal through the surf to a 5 foot depth on the backside of the waves. Students then plotted a compass run to the Jetties. Everyone then turned southward and swam seaward along the Jetties to the point at about 45 foot depth, looking for treasure! With dive flags and staff at both ends of the group, and parents in the middle, we began our return to shore.

Black clouds had developed however, while we were down, as a squall to our west came in to shore. Winds grew and shifted direction, waves got bigger, and conditions changed suddenly. When wind drives waves into the Jetties corner on the beach, water builds up and must escape seaward somewhere. It chose to move the existing rip tide over to the Jetties, and intensify. The intensity dug a trench along the Jetty. And we swam right into it in our effort to return to the beach. Every diver knows you can't swim against a rip current. Pelting heavy rain did not help. One by one however, each buddy team figured out what was happening and turned 90 degrees to swim or walk out of the rip current and safely back to shore. What an adventure! What an awesome group of newly certified divers.