Few things are much more shocking to the body than plunging into the frigid water. Our sophisticated human-machine knows instantly that it’s not where it’s supposed to be and reacts accordingly. Automatically, arteries tights, blood presses and heart rate increases and lungs gasp for air. In as little as five minutes, hyperventilation can occur, while extremities, including arms and legs, begin to lose feeling and the ability to move. As hypothermia sets in, the tongue swells and thoughts become cloudy as the body begins to lose its battle to focus blood flow to vital organs. A loss of consciousness follows, and it’s not hard to imagine how the story ends
So why do divers risk this slow and potential deadly torture? Because cold water breeds a wild variety of amazing marine life, along with some of the most unique underwater environment on the planet. From the beautiful pastel anemones, hooded nudibranchs and giant Pacific octopuses of British Columbia to the towering kelp forests and playful pinnipeds of California, the otherworldly tectonic crack of Iceland, the dreamy leafy sea dragons of South Australia and the menacing leopard seals and comical penguins of Antarctica, bucket-list adventures abound in water that flirts with freezing. Add to the plus column natural preservation of aging shipwrecks at such destinations as the United Kingdom’s Scapa Flow, northern Europe’s Baltic Sea, Canada’s Nova Scotia coast and America’s Great Lakes, and you have ample reason to brave these icy waters
Thankfully, technology and training have advanced throughout the evolution of diving to make submersion in hostile environments possible — and even safe. Durable drysuits made from tough materials, silicone sealing systems that really keep the water out, advanced life-support systems designed to resist freezing and heated undergarments that can keep body- core temperatures at near summertime levels can make cold-water diving seem like a dip in the Caribbean. (Almost.) No divers know this better than the hardy souls who thrive in the Great Lakes, where water temps average in the 50s. Dough Bell of Scuba North in Traverse City, Michigan, has been exploring the shipwrecks of Lake Superior and its deep blue sisters since 1979.
“I’ve been able to dive some of the most prominent shipwrecks around the globe,” says Bell, including Andrea Doria, USS Monitor and SS President Coolidge, along with the World War II wrecks of Bikini Atoll, Chuuk Lagoon, and Scapa Flow. “But I’m always drawn back to the Great Lakes. They have everything from schooners dating to the 1700s to modern-day freighters. And new discoveries