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  • Go With the Flow-Become a Drift Snorkeler
    BY JOEL SIMON
    Faster than a speeding Mullet, more powerful than a Bream locomotive, able to sweep large coral heads without a sound-Look, up at the surface. It's a sea bird. It's a Flying Fish. No! It's a drift snorkeler! For those of us raised on the myth of Superman, nothing was more appealing than the ability to extend your arms forward, muster your determination and launch yourself on an airborne mission for truth, justice and the American way.

    As a pre-schooler, I had a "Superman" dream of flight and tried it in the sandbox the following morning. Metaphorically, I am still wiping sand from my teeth. However, the dream approached reality when, as an eight year old, I put on a mask, extended my arms and glided down a serene crystal clear stretch of the Tuolumne River near Yosemite. As the gentle current flowed, so did I-"soaring" over water-worn shallow rocks, dark sunken logs and deeper gorges where shimmering light danced on alert little trout. Ecstatic (and freezing), this was my first solo flight.

    All that's needed for successful drift snorkeling is a current and a spirit of conscientious abandon. By this I mean that the more comfortable you are in the water, the freer you are to relish the ride. When you enter a current, you are submitting yourself to the dynamic forces of the water. Don't fight it. Just go with the flow and enjoy. Currents can be swift or leisurely; either way is exhilarating. Drift snorkeling also implies that where you start is not where you are going to end up! Anticipating your point of exit is essential. In some instances this means simply that a tender or other small boat can follow along. When you're ready to get out, let the boat operator know and get picked up. At other times, it means scouting ahead, so you know beforehand where there's an appropriate cut in the reef or a calm exit spot on the riverbank.

    On my most recent drift snorkel, we did just that. My snorkel buddy, Frances Roberts, and myself had spent a glorious morning swimming with the Manatees near Crystal River, Florida. (We'll discuss snorkeling with Manatees in detail in an upcoming issue.) That afternoon she suggested we go for a drift snorkel in the cool, clear Rainbow River, just a short drive away. We took two cars, leaving one in the parking lot of the Rainbow River State Park and then driving about another two miles to the headwaters of the river.

    The stream originates in a calm scenic pool, roughly the size of a football field. After we entered the water from a convenient wooden ladder, Frances gestured for me to follow her and together we entered the current, beginning our journey downriver. The flow was gentle, the pace relaxed. In the shallows, we sped up. In the deeper pools, we slowed down. I could easily swim over to the bank, stopping to gaze into the submerged foliage, staring eye to eye with Perch, Pickerel and camouflaged turtles. At one point I looked up to see the quickly paddling feet and underside of a duck! Entranced by the effortless motion-echoed by the undulating grasses on the bottom and the casual glide of Gars and other fish-I was swept away as I had been in my childhood dream-drifting, flying, at one with the current. Eventually, we reached our car nearly a mile downstream. Elated (and freezing), I emerged and smiled, recalling memories of the Tuolumne.

    For me, drift snorkeling is still the closest mortal activity this side of Superman's Metropolis. If you've ever dreamed of flying and want to live those dreams, extend your arms and become a drift snorkeler!