The Hippo


May 31, 2020








A diver jumps into the Atlantic Ocean off the NH coastline. Courtesy photo.

Snorkel instead

You don’t have to go full-on scuba to get an underwater fix. Snorkeling offers a less intimidating, less expensive way to get a glimpse of what’s beneath the surface.
While divers drop from $1,500 to $3,000 on gear, you can go snorkeling for significantly cheaper — even a decent set of snorkeling gear can run as low as $70 to $125. 
Another advantage is temperature. Snorkelers don’t dive deep into water. They swim across the surface, which is the warmest, and that means wetsuits aren’t required. 
On the downside, without a tank of air to get you plunging deep into the water though, sightseeing won’t be nearly as good, and visibility certainly doesn’t compare to Caribbean waters. 
“In New England, the water isn’t as clear,” Leclerc said. “So snorkeling is limited.”
Still, snorkeling is a quick and easy way to get a longer glimpse of what’s going on below the water’s surface, and it’s also a good way to get a feel for breathing underwater and swimming with fins.
Jump in!
Diver’s Den Dive Shop
730 Mammoth Road, Manchester
Aquatic Specialties
704 Milford Road, Merrimack
(603) 889-7655
Aquatic Escape Dive Center
2 Mercury Drive, Londonderry
Discover Diving 
17 Main St., Atkinson 
Atlantic Aquasports
522 Sagamore Road, Rye
North Atlantic Scuba Sales
868 Lafayette Road, Hampton

Swim with the fish
Scuba diving offers a whole new world of exploration


 If you’re thinking about squeezing into a wetsuit, strapping on an air tank and taking your first scuba diving plunge, chances are someone else turned you on to the idea, said Dick Leclerc, co-owner of Diver’s Den in Manchester. Maybe you have a friend or family member who dives, or you traveled someplace tropical and that guy at the hotel couldn’t stop raving about the fish. 

Leclerc’s favorite scuba spots aren’t local. He enjoys tropical locations best, because the colors are just so vibrant. 
“I don’t care if you have 3-D  TV. There’s still nothing better than the color on the fish, and seeing the different animals,” he said.
But that doesn’t mean there aren’t plenty of submerged treasures to experience right here in New Hampshire. For a small state with a tiny coastline, New Hampshire has a significant diving community with a handful of dive shops and a few real gem locations for taking the plunge. 
Take the plunge 
If the prospect of strapping on flippers, an air tank and a host of other doodads before plunging into water and staying there for extended periods of time frightens you, you’re not alone. For some, the fear of shark attacks keeps them on the land. But the No. 1 fear for new divers is claustrophobia. 
“They are thinking that having all the equipment on is claustrophobic. But once we get them into the pool, with water training ... that all goes away,” said Michael Nalen, co-owner of Aquatic Escapes Dive Center in Londonderry.
Lessons at Aquatic Escapes tend to take anywhere from 16 to 32 hours, and you don’t have to be an expert swimmer to take part. Learning starts in the classroom with academic course work from manuals before gearing up and jumping into the pool for about 25 hours of hands-on training; the setup is a lot like a drivers education course. 
At the end of the class, students perform the skills they learn in the pool in a lake or the ocean. 
“It’s … one of the most technical sports we can do, but also one of the easiest,” Nalen said. “It’s actually easier than learning to ski.  … For diving, sometimes it’s just the fear of not being able to breathe underwater. After the second night in the pool everything makes sense.” 
Besides the fun of swimming with the fish, diving has therapeutic qualities. The pressure 50 or 100 feet down can help relieve chronic joint pain better than any other remedy, Leclerc said. 
“If you think about someone who gets hurt athletically, they are put in a whirlpool,” he said. “I know one gentleman who had a working accident. He lost his knee and is on pain medication. Every day he’s in the water literally for an hour or two. He said it’s the only place it just about goes away. In a whirlpool you can’t get the same pressure.”
Places to go, fish to see 
Nalan’s favorite kind of scuba trip is cave diving, but that’s not really available in New Hampshire. The best locations in the state can be found at Lakes Winnipesaukee and Sunapee for freshwater diving and Rye Beach for making a saltwater splash, he said. 
“If you’re a hiker and like to walk through woods to see the birds and animals, it’s the exact same thing. The only difference is you are floating instead of walking,” Nalen said. 
At the lakes divers can go deeper — more than 100 feet below the water’s surface, and the water tends to be warmer than the ocean, which barely reaches 70 degrees in the summer. And while the state’s biggest lakes get the most attention, there are tons of ponds and smaller lakes to explore. 
A favorite of Dave Mornin, a 60-year-old Manchester resident, is Newfound Lake in Grafton County. It’s a great spot if you have a boat or canoe. 
“There is an island there with a cliff.  You can scuba down to the bottom there and find all kinds of things,” he said. “You can play with the fish, and feed them. It’s a lot of fun. You can do the same thing out in the ocean, but there is current and tides and it’s more dangerous.”
When it comes to spotting wildlife, though, the ocean wins out. At Rye Beach, where the shore is shallow and rocky, divers get to glimpse soft corals,  sea horses in muddy areas, about five different crab species, lobsters, scallops, three different types of rays (including the torpedo ray, which is electric),  three types of flounder, bluefish and striped sea bass. 
“And that’s only a few of them,”  Nalen said. “Our common thing we hear is there is there is nothing here to see and you can’t see in water. But that’s because somebody has told them that, not because they experienced it.”
Diving in the New Hampshire  ocean sometimes can be tricky — the coastline is short and there’s a lot of private property. But boat owners like Morin don’t face those obstacles; when he was diving more often, one of his favorite spots was off the Isles of Shoals. 
“You are scuba diving with seals,” he said. “They are very playful. They won’t let you touch them, but they will go around boulders and brush close to you.” 
The season for the hobby is whatever you make it; dry suits mean even winter diving is possible for experienced divers, who cut holes in the Lake Winnipesaukee ice and jump through them. 
Morin has done winter dives in Lake Winnipesaukee around the Lady of the Lake, a 125-foot-long commercial steamship that sank in 1895. It’s one of the earliest and most popular dive sites in New Hampshire and is home to a huge fish population. 
“It’s scary because you are tethered to another scuba diver and you’re signalling to another diver up above, but if you didn’t have that rope it would be easy to get lost and die. … It is scary, but I overcame that,” Morin said. 
As seen in the July 10, 2014 issue of the Hippo.

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