Last Saturday Susi and I went for the first diving trip after far too long a pause. The last time I was underwater was the Park Victory trip a month ago, but for Susi the pause was a little big longer. We’ve closing on to our trip to Narvik to check out some WWII hardware, including at least one Junkers airplane. Diving fever has been high for us and we’ll need to regain our sea… fins, so off we went to check out the well known locations around the Helsinki area. Turns out, we got a pretty interesting diving trip.
I checked out the weather forecast in the previous night, which promised a 8 m/s wind in the Helsinki area. I was half expecting for the boat trip to be cancelled, although I hadn’t any idea what kind of waves there would be in the sea. No such call came, so in the morning we dragged ourselves to the pier where the dive boat usually leaves.
The ordinary skipper of the boat was in some kind of a training, so we got an another guy at the helm. We were also in for a pleasant surprise – there were only four divers this time instead of the ten or so we usually have, us two and another couple. This promised some luxury, since there would be no need to try and handle the gear with someone’s elbow in your mouth – the whole dive deck would be ours. The reason for this was that a private group had cancelled their Park Victory trip, so the boat was basically idle for the day – no sense in not taking it out to the sea if someone was willing to go.
Wind and Waves
When we got out to the sea proper, the wind and the waves picked up. I think the waves were peaking at about two meters, which doesn’t sound like that much, but we started really feeling it. When we hit a big wave head on, it splashed right over the cabin and down to the dive deck. All of us were inside the cabin, hanging on to the handles on the ceiling. Our equipment was of course out in the open diving deck. We had to stop the boat for a moment and move them closer to the shelter provided by the cabin, since our diving boxes were starting to gather some water and we’d kinda want to use our dry suits dry.
The first location we reached was Coolaroo wreck. The boat kept swaying hard enough that walking without holding on to something felt a bit risky. 1,5-2 meter waves don’t sound that much, and you can handle them on board pretty well. Now then, imagine that you are lying on the floor with a 40kg backpack, and that you’ll have to climb on to a table. Then imagine the table, the floor and everything going up and down 1,5-2 meters and you can maybe see the problem.
There was a silent moment after the skipper asked if we’ll like to go to the water. Considering the pause in diving I said that I don’t feel absolutely comfortable hopping in there, but I’ll do it if everybody else is going. I guess that was a signal for everybody else to agree that let’s go to an another location, which would be a biosite next to a rocky skerry.
On our way there we passed another wreck and decided to stop there the check if the weather would be better. Surprisingly enough the waves actually were a bit softer in there. The waves were still high, but not scarily so. It took some time to maneuver the boat so that I could snatch the buoy from the waves and we could get the boat moored and start getting out our equipment.
…and just when we had done it, the skipper realized that the waves were still strong enough that the boat had ripped the buoy loose.
Mooring Trouble and Underwater Currents
Finally we got to the skerry we were aiming at and on its lee side the wind and waves were considerably more subdued than on the open sea. Nevertheless it took a lot of trouble to get the boat positioned correctly. It had to be moored on the shore, which required someone to hop off from the boat and fasten a rope on a ring attached to the rocks, and we also needed to set down the anchor, so the boat would be moored on boths sides and wouldn’t keep hitting against the rocks. The guy why jumped ashore slipped on the slimy rocks, but managed to only skin a knee. The worse thing was that he’d forgotten his undersuit, so the clothes he was wearing were supposed to keep him warm while diving – and they got somewhat wet.
Finally, after a lot of maneuvering, we got the boat settled down and finally managed to hit the water. The location is a place where we’ve gone diving a few times, a nice place for beginners and ok for those who want to go a bit deeper too. There’s also a lot of weird stuff to find, like shotgun shells and even intact cartridges, clay targets, boat batteries and so forth. Also, solefish, mudcrawlers and other random biostuff.
After we’d been diving for a moment, I realised that I was really feeling the waves rock us in a depth of 11 meters. Moreover, the rocking wasn’t steady. We’d go some distance in one direction and then just nudge a little bit back. I tried to keep tabs on where we were, right up to the point when we hit an area which makes the compass go a bit wonky. But well, it’s a familiar site, so we’d be able to go straight back to the boat, wouldn’t we?
Munitions and Ear Trouble
We were closing on to 45 minutes, which was our agreed on limit, when I spotted something curious on the sea floor. It looked like a half a meter long thermos bottle, mostly covered with small barnacles, but some detail was visible. Like the grooving on the top end and a certain cartridge like shape on the bottom. Now, I haven’t been hanging around heavy artillery, so I don’t really know how the artillery rounds look like, but I’d imagine it can’t be far from that. Also I remember someone else saying that they’d found something “a bit heftier than shotgun shells” around there, and there is a navy firing zone in the same map page…
We didn’t have a buoy with us and we were running out of gas, so it didn’t leave us any time to pinpoint the round’s location or mark it in any way – it was the time to head back. This is when Susi signalled that her ear was fucked up. I took to trying to navigate back to the boat, so I checked a direction and headed that way, although I had a distinct vibe that something is now wrong. The route I chose would have taken us deeper, but Susi’s ear trouble prevented that, and we didn’t want to swim in the mid water with no visibility to the sea bottom. We decided to surface – which, as it’ll turn out in a moment – was a good decision to make.
When we were doing our three minute safety stop in the depth of five meters, I got nauseous. The waves kept jostling us to-and-fro, we couldn’t see the sea bottom and obviously everything around us kept moving to the pace of the waves, so the only thing in me aware that we were moving was my inner ear. Luckily, before it got unbearable, we surfaced.
…200 meters away from the shore.
The Swim Back & Diving in Circles
So, it turned out the waves had created a current which had pushed us about 200 meters away from the skerry and on to the open sea. Because we were far further away from the shore than I had thought, the direction I had chosen underwater would have missed the skerry and lead us to the shores of Latvia.
Moreover, while we had been under, the waves and the wind had picked up. It took us a moment to see where the skerry and the ship was, and… weird, why is the boat sideways to us?
We didn’t think of the ship that much, but concentrated on swimming to the shore through the waves. It was hard going and the shore didn’t seem to get any closer, although for some reason the ship was. Susi suggested that we should swim underwater in about three meters, where the waves wouldn’d fuck with us that much. We went under, Susi fixed up a compass direction… and started swimming in a circle with a diameter of 6-7 meters or so. This made me a tad bit worried. Susi is kind of good with underwater navigation, and I kind of suck in it, and even I wouldn’t do that kind of a mistake. After a couple of loops we decided to resurface. Turned out her ear trouble threw her sense of direction and balance completely off and all the jostling in three meters didn’t really help it.
We continued swimming, vaguely aware of a smaller boat zapping around us somewhere. We had to stop quite often to regain our bearings, since the visibility amongst the waves was poor and they kept tossing us off the course. When we got within a shouting distance of the dive boat, the skipper shouted that the anchor got loose and he had to detach the ship from the shore. The ship was adrift, because you really couldn’t use the engine that much with divers in the water. Dicing your customers with a propeller is frowned upon in the diving circles. There was a rope in the water we could have used if we had missed the boat, but luckily we were able to intercept it with very little trouble.
When we had clambered on board and got our breath back, we realised that the skerry didn’t really seem to be that much closer than when we started swimming towards it.
The other couple got on board soon after us, having gotten caught in the same current as us. On our way back the waves shook loose one of the bottles, but luckily we managed to catch it and to stop the boat before it took an unannounced solo dive.
It turned out that the guy with the zodiac boat was a tech diver, who had been checking out some dive sites, but because of the weather he hadn’t gone under. He had arrived to meet with our skipper just as the anchor had slipped, which was a stroke of luck. I can only imagine how the skipper would have felt being on a boat that’s hammering itself against the shore, with four divers in the water and no help.
That said, althgouh the trip was a bit interesting in the Chinese sense of the word, it was fun and rewarding. There is a definite joy for me in getting to use my skills and managing to do well even in challenging circumstances. The situation was risky, but everybody acted sensibly and carefully and at least we had a refresher in the lesson of respecting the nature. Oh, a quick disclaimer, just to make sure: I’m in no way criticising the skipper or the dive center here, I don’t see any reason to do that. Quite the contrary, a difficult situation was handled as well as one could have in the circumstances.
So, this diving trip was a nice way to end a one month plus hiatus. It was rewarding once again to see that even though the situation can go a bit antsy, neither of us seem to be prone to panicing. Of course the situation here wasn’t that dangerous, but it felt good flirting with danger a bit.
Also, as I said, it’s good to get a small reminder now and then from the nature concerning who’s the boss in the end.