On 15th February a group of divers set of for a holiday of a lifetime a week’s diving at the Arctic Circle Dive Centre of the edge of the White Sea in Russia. After the arriving at the dive centre and a good night’s sleep divers spent the first two days gaining the PADI Ice Diving Speciality Course; this involved a theory session and 3 dives. Followed by two days guided diving, with two dives each day. Everyone set off to the ice camp each morning by snowmobile it took around about 20mins to get to the main ice camp and then around 10-20mins to get to the various different dive sites. On arrival at the ice camp the first task was to make the ice hole (or Maina is it is called in Russia), this was done by using an ice screw to make the three corners of the triangle and then a chain saw to cut through the ice – although on some days an ice saw was used as it was too cold for the chain saw to work (-38°C on a couple of days!!). Once the ice had been cut the blocks were then pulled out of the ice and placed around the edges to let other people know there was an ice hole there. Ropes (lifelines) were secured on the surface and ready to be tied to the diver. Divers would then put the their kit together in the warming huts (3-4 divers per hut) and the warming hut was then towed by snowmobile to the relevant ice hole, this meant there was hardly any walking in dive kit and helped reduce the likelihood that regulators would free and free-flow! All diving was completed in buddy teams with diver number 1s lifeline going to the surface and then a line going from diver number 1 to diver number 2. There was then a tender on the surface who held the lifeline and was able to communicate to the diver under the ice using a series of pulls on the line.
There is nothing that quite prepares you for that first dive under the ice, as you descend through the ice hole and look up to a green glow as the light penetrates through around the ice hole. The first three dives were completed on a shallow reef plateau (Big Cross Island) at around 10m with plenty of marine life; Sunstars, Scorpion Fish, Brittle Stars and Nudibranchs to name a few. The third day was spent diving Anemone Rock and Small Cross Island; both dive sites offer an array on marine life especially on Anemone Rock with Plumose Anemones and Wolf Fish. Probably the most spectacular dive under the ice was at Biofilter Bay, again there was lots of marine life including Sea Angels and Comb Jellies in the first few metres in varying sizes from the size of your thumb to the size of your hand. However the ice formations were incredible even more spectacular than the other sites. As the tide came in during the course of the dive the whole ice sheet moved up the cliff face by around 1-2m, this has resulted in ice boulders breaking through the surface creating a mountains scenery above water and an undulating scenery under the ice with cracks and gullies going up to the surface with more light coming through in certain areas. The final days diving gave diver the opportunity to dive with White Whales, often referred to as Beluga Whales, the chance to dive with these magnificent mammals was a once in a lifetime experience. They were ever so gentle and playful and there were plenty of opportunities take photos.
Apart from the ice diving divers also got the chance to go X-country skiing, ice fishing and husky sledging. Although only about 10 fish were caught between 15 people there was still plenty to make fish soup and of course no fish soup is complete without Vodka! The husky sledging also gave everyone a chance to be the driver and the passenger, only a few people fell off and had to run to catch up with the huskies!!! If all this wasn’t enough on two occasions everyone got to experience the Aurora Borealis, often known as the Northern Lights which was a great light show of greens and yellows, it was particularly special as seeing the Northern Lights isn’t a guarantee so to see them on two occasions was excellent.
For photos of the trip check out the photo gallery, click here