British diving. For nutters, sociopaths, masochists or the terminally deranged. Why would anyone go into 15 degree water dressed in an inflated rubber suit just to see 1m in front of their face?
Not only is the diving cold and dark, but with BSAC one has to put on one’s own fins, carry one’s own tank, drive one’s own boat and make sure you have your own pack of chocolate hobnobs sitting out of harm’s way for when you get back on board.
Shunned by landladies, vilified by yachties and constantly smelling of stale neoprene, the British diver at home is a sad, sorry and very unsexy example of an extreme sportsman. Until one goes overseas.
Suddenly, you are transformed into a highly trained, hugely brave, rugged and, possibly still slightly deranged, hero of the diving community. Someone prepared to leap into strong currents, do battle with your kit, withstand sub-zero temperatures, and be able to dive blind. Foreigners may not understand why, but the respect/disbelief is strong.
More seriously, however, diving in the challenging waters of the British Isles makes many other places in the world seem like a breeze. Diving into the Red Sea where you can see 20m around you and there are no currents feels like taking a bath. Shimmying around the pinnacles in the Great Barrier Reef is like water off a diver’s back.
More important than this, however, is the even more amazing places to go to where warm water divers can never venture. Just in the last few months, Holbornites have been to several astonishing places where drysuits are a must and wetsuit-types will flounder/perish.
The Silfra Fissure – is an extraordinary place, where the Eurasian and North American plates are gradually, millimetre by millimetre, pulling away from each other. A fissure running along the line of the North Atlantic ridge is the result. This is then filled by glacial meltwater.
Now, normally, meltwater can be murky, but Silfra’s water is filtered through about 50km of lava – one of the best filtering systems in the world. As a result, visibility can reach 100m – probably the only time you have a chance to see the earth’s curvature underwater.
This means you have a volcanic, and constantly evolving landscape, with crystal clear vision and over 130km of fissure, including tunnels and caves to swim through. All quite stunning.
The only problem – it is 3 degrees.
This involves a drysuit, full face mask and very good undersuits. For BSAC divers, and our intrepid club members Mark, Zoe and Doug, they can glide effortlessly in and gaze in awe at the sunlit caverns (until the suit leaks…). Wetsuit divers would last 2 minutes.
GrunerSee – this is another place with crystal clear waters owing to glacial melt. For most of the year, the Gruner See is a very small, 3-metre deep body of water, surrounded by trees, benches, and paths as well as beautiful forests.
Every spring, however, the glacial melt floods the valley and makes the See deep and wide enough to dive. This creates the surreal experience of donning fins and drysuit to swim along hiking trails and seeing trees just coming into leaf submerged under water. Quite a fabulous experience.
But again – the water is about 3 degrees. Wetsuit divers look on and weep…
California – on a slightly different tack, is associated with hot summers, tanned bods and surfboards. But there is a reason why both Hugh Bradner (inventor of neoprene) and Jack O’Neill (inventor of the wetsuit) are both Californian – the water is freezing.
As well as the generally cooler waters of the Pacific Ocean, the California coast experiences Arctic upwellings, which bring deep, cold water to the surface. These waters are absolutely stuffed with nutrients, however, which leads to large populations of fish (including pelagics and giant sea bass) as well as quite incredibly large sea urchins, anemones and other forms of life.
As well as the fish life, there are also constantly shifting and bickering crowds of seals, sea lions and elephant seals basking at various places along the coast. They have huge rolls of blubber, which is necessary.
Wetsuit types may be able to hang out on the surf for a while (which, ok, I admit, is pretty good…), but cannot descend to greet the garibaldi, seals and giant kelp forests that await the drysuited diver.
And finally, Tasmania – a long way from anywhere – has some of the best protected and most prolific temperate marine areas in the world. It also has huge numbers of wrecks and visibility of 15-40m.
Possibly even better than these, however, is the leafy seadragon – an almost mythical creature that looks like a cross between a bit of seaweed and a flying dragon. Surely everyone should see at least one of these before they die, but they only exist in the waters off south and west Australia – again, wetsuit divers can merely stand on the shore, beating their fists…
All worth remembering when standing in the rain looking out at a Force 6 in Portland and just asking the simple question: Why?