“What do you see down there?” Says the passerby as I trudge out of the water, fins in hand, water still pouring off of me and the equipment on my back. “Mud and beer cans” I jokingly reply with a smile.
As much as we locals like to joke about the quality of the water found in our own Lake Murray, it’s one of the few places left where one can look to discover remnants of the past if they’re up to the challenge. Recently, WLTX collaborated with Scuba John’s Dive Shop to put together a segment on things that have already been found in Lake Murray. So now that we’ve seen what’s under there, I’d like to answer another question: What’s it like to dive there?
An experienced diver knows that every dive environment presents its own unique challenges. The ocean has waves and currents. Northern waters such as the Great Lakes are frigid year-round. Overhead environments such as wrecks and caves require careful navigational tactics and gas planning. Lake Murray is no exception.
First, let’s address the car-sized catfish in the room: We don’t affectionately call it “Lake Murky” for nothing. Visibility can range anywhere from zero to 20ft depending on location and luck (we’re not yet sure what causes the variance in visibility at locations such as the Wyse’s Ferry Bridge). This is mainly due to the local soil being rich in clay,
which is the finest of all rock particles. Most of Lake Murray’s bottom is a thick layer of silt and mud. Because of this, good buoyancy control and fin techniques are important. Any contact or fin kick towards the bottom is certain to leave the diver and his buddies in a cascade of silt.
Pretty much all of the other challenges Murray presents (aside from the occasional careless boater and discarded fishing line waiting to tangle itself in your gear) arise from this lack of visibility. At about 30ft you’ll reach the first of what’s called a thermocline. A thermocline is a gradient in which the water temperature immediately drops because of the sun’s rays not being able reach it. This is the point at which ambient light begins to dim as well (in other words, it gets dark). At about 60ft, another thermocline is reached and virtually all ambient light is gone unless the visibility is good.
Lights and backups lights are required to see at this point. Even if it’s 80 degrees Fahrenheit on the surface of the water, temperatures can get down into the low 50’s past these thermoclines. Drysuits are a necessity to
keep the diver warm on long, deep dives. With these challenges come psychological considerations as well. Some find it claustrophobic enough to be breathing underwater, let alone when it’s dark and the visibility is limited. Even with careful technique, sometimes “silt-outs” happen and it’s important that the diver can keep a level head and work their way out of a problem in the face of one.
Now from a training perspective, this can be a good thing. Here at Scuba John’s we take full advantage of the fact that Lake Murray is a challenging place to dive in order to produce divers who are comfortable and competent in
the water. Lake Murray diving may not be for everyone, but for those who will rise to the challenge, it can be a most rewarding experience of diving into history and the unknown.
The Dive Blog
Diving tips, techniques, and disciplines for safe diving.