TORONTO – Diving in the icy waters of the Great Lakes might not be appealing to all Canadians, but for some explorers it’s like an underwater wonderland.
Dressed head-to-toe in a wetsuit, flippers and a snorkel Andrew Ryzebol dives into the cold depths of Georgian Bay, braving the winter weather to explore what lies beneath the icy surface.
“We see beautiful ice formations,” Ryzebol, an ice-diving instructor told CTV National News.
Driven purely by curiosity, divers explore ice formations beneath the frozen freshwater Great Lakes. Instead of using an oxygen tank, they train themselves to hold their breath for long periods of time – up to five minutes at times – in the freezing water.
Ryzebol and his wife, Lilly, have been diving beneath the ice since 2016.
The divers walk out onto the frozen surface of the northeastern arm of Lake Huron in Tobermory, Ont., one of the freshwater diving capitals of the world. Using a drill, they cut through more than 2 feet of frozen ice before diving in.
After years of training, their bodies have become accustomed to the frigid water, preventing them from going into shock. They also have the experience needed to dive at depths of 25 feet or more.
Equipped with underwater cameras, the divers’ capture a unique perspective of ice that floats above the lake’s surface. The ice forms on the shorelines, but as winter passes, the ice drifts and builds up to resemble what the underneath of an iceberg might look like.
Despite the cold temperatures, Tobermory offers ideal diving conditions, along with many wooden shipwrecks that are more than 100 – years-old. The wrecks lie 25 feet underwater, but the cold water keeps them well preserved.
“One of our favorite things to do is diving under the ice on shipwrecks,” said Lilly.
The Great Lakes were once sailed by wooden schooners and shipping vessels, although many of them sunk. The Sweepstakes Shipwreck is only one of the few shipwrecks to remain intact and now rests at the bottom of Georgian Bay.
Earlier this month the divers produced videos of underwater games of soccer and hockey, both of which garnered thousands of views on Instagram.