Diving For Science – An Autumn of AESD Research Diver School

November 17, 2012 · Posted in Adventure!, Diving, Life, Work · Comment 

This year I finally landed in to the field I’ve been interested in since I was four or five – marine biology. As things like this tend to happen to me, this started from a random conversation and an impulsive decision, but turned out to be the most rewarding thing I’ve done in my adult life.

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Utö / Park Victory – Wrecks, Fortifications and Toads

August 24, 2009 · Posted in Diving, Geocaching, Urban Exploration · 2 Comments 

Last weekend I and a number of people from our diving club went for a two day trip to Utö to check out the Park Victory shipwreck. Utö is the southernmost inhabited island in Finland, it has some military presence and a population of 50 or so. The island has been inhabited from the 16th century and in addition to a lighthouse, a radar station and a military watchtower there are some old fortifications in the southern tip of the place.

(The Full Flickr Photoset)


The main event of the trip was to go diving on Park Victory, a massive steam ship that sank in 1947. It’s the largest wreck in the Finnish national waters and a popular, although challenging dive location weatherwise. Additional challenge is provided by the fact that the ship is in military waters, so you need a permission for every person who dives there.

The history of the Park Victory’s sinking is quite a melancholy one. On the Christmas Eve of 1947 the 9000 ton ship was approaching Finland in a severe snowstorm. The ship’s crew had skipped the Christmas party, because the captain Zepp had arranged a money collection amongst the crew, and the money was to be used to buy socks filled with candy for twenty Finnish children (this was after the war and times were very lean). The children and their parents were expected to board the ship when it docked and join the crew for a Christmas dinner.

The winds were high, so the ship docked to wait for the weather to calm down. The anchors didn’t hold, and quarter to one in the night the ship drifted to underwater rocks. The crew managed to free it using the ship’s engines, but it drifted back on the rocks at 2:15 and got caught on the midship. The structure didn’t hold, so the ship broke in half and sank in twenty minutes. The rescue ships got on location in the morning, when out of the 48 crew members 10 had died.

For more information in Finnish, check out Hylyt.net.


As it happened, on Saturday the wind was too high to even think of diving. The waves were over two meters high and the wind was calming down, but not fast enough. I hadn’t been feeling that well during the morning and the day, so I went to sleep off the achy feelings. After we met at the boat in the late afternoon to decide that an evening dive was out of the question too, I went to explore the island.

All in all Utö is ridiculously idyllic. There are small red and white houses, boathouses all along the waterline, an old lighthouse and so on. In addition to that you have a couple of military structures, which break up the idyll a bit.


I had a fun afternoon jumping from boulder to boulder and photographing stuff. Of course my camera battery started running out right when I found the abandoned fortifications on the southern end of the island, and I didn’t have my flashlight with me. After a dinner and a sauna I simply had to go back properly equipped.

Yes. A stormy dark night on an island with an history of shipwrecks and drowned people, me alone exploring abandoned fortifications with the sea pounding the rocky shore nearby. No, I have never seen a horror movie, why?



On the next morning we got up before six and by the time the sun was rising, we were already on top of Park Victory wreck. The waves were still quite high and the only sensible way to get to the buyoy and the rope leading down to the wreck was to pull ourselves there with an another rope – swimming was too difficult. I almost fucked up and forgot to set my dive computer for nitrox (again). Luckily I caught the error when me and my two dive buddies were only five meters deep, so I could come back up to fix the situation. Unfortunately trying to set the computer with the waves rolling over me and my brain still foggy from too little sleep was too difficult, so I had to drag myself to the stern of the ship and back again, before diving down. How’s that for a morning exercise.


We did three dives around the wreck that day and it was worth every dime. The visibility was 10-15 meters, which was excellent because the sheer size of the ship is one of the attractions of the place. Lying on the sea floor, looking up at the bow of the ship you could only imagine the racket it made when it slid down the rock wall. You can still see the gouges it made.



All in all, an excellent weekend. There was good food, sea air, sauna, geocaching, light urban exploration and obviously diving. Right now that makes up at least 3/4 of my favourite activities in one weekend, so not bad at all!


(The Full Flickr Photoset)


Wreck Diving in Åland

July 21, 2009 · Posted in Diving · 7 Comments 

In the end of the July Susi, Jukka, I and two other divers from Finland went to Åland for a four day wreck diving trip. This coincided with an American car show, which Gunnar – who had been our guide in our Red Sea trip earlier this year – was attending.

Our dive center was Dive Åland, and although the first communications with the staff over the phone and email left a bit unclear vibe, after the four days I can heartily recommend it for everybody. The center is a ten minutes drive from the ferry terminal and it combines a dive shop and a small hostel. In practice there’s a big room with several bunk beds, a smaller private room, a sauna and a fully equipped kitchen. The pier where the boat left for the closer dives was right next to it. Extremely handy and comfortable. Additionally the staff were nice and helpful guys and the briefings & the logistics were top notch.

(See the full Flickr photoset)


In any case, we had four days of wrecks. Baltic sea is a good wreck diving location, because the low salinity of the water keeps the metal parts from corroding so fast, and the wooden parts can survive for centuries. All in all we visited five wrecks:

  • Plus is a large 70m long sail ship built in 1885. It sank during a stormy December night a stone’s throw from the shore. The sailors who happened to swim in the right direction survived, the others drowned.
  • Caskelot is a sailing boat that sank on 1970. You can find the nylon sails next to it and read the mileage and other information on the instruments.
  • Nederland is a Dutch river barge that sank with a full cargo of street bricks in 1917.
  • M/S Gävle is a Swedish marine research vessel that sank on 1975. It’s heavily listed, but in a very good condition. A lot of the rigging is still intact, which made this a very interesting diving experience. The visibility was ridiculously good, something like 15 meters, so navigating through the ropes and cables wasn’t that hard. There was an equipment locker someone had recently broken into, in spite of the key still being in a “break the glass in case of emeregency” box next to it. There was a lone gas mask hanging out the door.
  • S/S Belliver was the true money shot of the trip. It’s a large steam ship, which was accidentally found by the same crew that found the Soviet submarine S-2. Since the wreck was found only in last winter, it’s still relatively unmolested by stupid fucks who steal stuff from wrecks. On the deck you could find the compass, the ship’s bell, a course corrector, some plates and of course the ornate captain’s toilet. If you went outside the wreck, you could peek in from the holes in the aft and see the bunk beds of the crew. S/S Belliver is about 300 meters away from the Soviet submarine S-2, which we didn’t get to visit, because of something about it being a wartime grave and containing live ammo. Pffsh.




Here’s somebody’s video from the wreck:

And this is someone else in Plus, with tech diving gear and a professional level video equipment.

Sail ship Plus from Slawek Packo on Vimeo.

Learning to Dive

There aren’t that many photos from under the sea. I seemed to have lost my underwater camera fu, so most of the photos came out pretty crappy. On the other hand the plateau effect of diving I’ve been struggling with this spring let go and I suddenly found out I had far better buoyancy control than earlier, plus I spontaneuosly learned how to do a helicopter turn. I guess I need a bit more XP to learn how to back up.

That doesn’t mean there weren’t mistakes, the most irritating being almost locking up my dive computer. The mysterious zoology of diving: an angry Gekko can mess up 48 hours of diving, so one should treat their Gekko right. I had set up the computer on 32% nitrox mix on the previous night, but this time there happened to be a long enough a pause in between the dives for it to reset itself for air. This meant that when I was in the ass end of S/S Belliver, furthest away from the buoy line and right at the bottom of the sea, I noticed the Gekko giving me six minutes to get back up. We started heading back for the buoy line, I got some extra deco minutes from the computer but a slow ascent kept the computer happy.


The other mistake was missing a MOD warning for the gas I was using, but since I had set the alarm on 1.4, it wasn’t that bad – I got maybe down to 1.5 and so I was still meters away from actual danger. For those whom which the previous was complete Hebrew: with enriched air you can go only so deep, depending on the percentage of oxygen in the air mix, because oxygen turns poisonous in certain dephs. MOD is the maximum depth for a given gas mix and the 1.4, 1.5 and 1.6 are partial pressures of oxygen. The higher it goes, the more certain you are to get oxygen toxicity and to start convulsing. 1.6 is considered the maximum safe limit, but those that play safe (like me) use 1.4.

In any case, the trip was really great, even with all the sunburns from falling asleep on the boat in direct sunshine, and the back muscles that are screaming bloody murder after lifting the tanks and kits for four days straight. If you are interested in wreck diving,  Åland is well worth a visit.


(See the full Flickr photoset)