By C. David Conner
There are few sports that offer the variety of ours — no two dives are ever the same, but some are far more unusual than others. Drift diving falls into this category by allowing divers to exert little effort yet cover a lot of ground. It’s all about letting the current do the work while the diver simply maintains neutral buoyancy and enjoys the ride.
I had the opportunity to participate in a drift dive while visiting what some consider the drift capital of the Caribbean, Tobago. This is not one of your run-of-the-mill Caribbean islands: it’s not an easy (or short) trip from the States, and even though there are plenty of boat drinks to be had, the island really suits people who like to get away from the norm and seek adventure.
Although Speyside in northeast Tobago is one of the island’s most popular diving destinations, this day we went south to the Atlantic side to a dive site known as Flying Reef.
For almost 10 minutes our small wooden boat bounced along the waves. At one point the captain shouted that we had to be on the watch for smugglers coming from the South American mainland and I wasn’t sure whether or not he was making a joke at our expense. Only a dim outline of the sun shown past a solid curtain of gray, but at least the clouds did not promise rain. The boat slowed and came to a halt while the divemaster surveyed the area to give us a few last-minute updates.
Our guide jumped in first. My buddy and I then coordinated our back-roll entries over opposite sides. We gave the okay signal to the captain and descended to 35 feet. I watched as the divemaster used his regulator to inflate a red buoy, which rose upward and broke the surface so the boat could follow our progress.
Although they seem easy, drift dives are really more suited to advanced divers because you must maintain neutral buoyancy, keep constant focus on the surroundings and factor in speed of the current. During this kind of dive the fun isn’t in looking for macro life because the current makes that impossible. You can feel the strength of the current, but do little except watch the sea floor fly along beneath you. With no sun and a stronger than normal current, visibility on our dive was only about 20 feet.
I passed over schools of snapper huddled together among the hard coral outcroppings while softer, fan-like coral swayed as if bending from strong winds. Along a sandy stretch I noticed two holes close together opening and closing with rhythmic pace and the vague pancake outline of a camouflaged stingray. After a few more minutes I noticed a lone French angelfish gliding in and around the rocks. Seeing a variety of species is fun, but on a dive like this, it’s best to sit back watch the changing landscape.