Ice Bucket Diving
by Garry Dallas
Fourth Element Team Diver and renowned technical diver and technical instructor trainer, “The Wookie” loves imparting his infectious passion for diving while travelling the world, spreading a bit of inspiration.
When you look at an ice cube in a glass of your favourite tipple, you know how old it is and where it came from… a week old and from the fridge freezer, right? Well, the ice in my glass of Screech rum from July 2017 adventure was probably more like 20,000 years old and came all the way from the glaciers of Greenland.
I was on a privileged dive with the lovely Canadian Jill Heinerth, who was documenting the drifting icebergs on their journey past Newfoundland. The team, Rick, Debbie and Johnny of Ocean Quest Adventures also made our lives so much more comfortable in their relentless enthusiasm and knowledge for finding these floating drifters for our expected dives. Jill endorsed me as an honorary team member that year, whilst writing her story for “Arctic on the Edge” – a contingent of the Royal Canadian Geographical Society, which I was very honoured to be part of. I’ve learned the Dutch name (ijsberg) means ice mountain, while the other beautiful but sad consideration, is that having seen, touched and dived this iceberg, even named it, we and indeed no one else would ever see this ancient monumental iceberg ever again.
It’s pretty difficult, even with the wildest of imaginations, to think of a chunk of ice floating in the sea as something worth shouting about from the rooftops. However, when you’re up close and personal with something as huge as a floating cathedral, with essentially an aqueous-blue ice-cold swimming pool inside its grounds, it’s something of a jaw dropping moment. We were fortunate that it was a scorching sunny day, as we moved around the iceberg in our fully kitted and heated boat, we witnessed the most amazing colours in the spectrum of light, fringing around the edges of the older clear and newer opaque ice near the summit.
As you approach even closer, you can feel it morphing, constantly melting ice water emphatically changing the shape of the structure above and below water, you know its alive! Above water there’s only one-tenth of the mass, the nine-tenths below are truly a sight to see. There’s always the probability that the shape, size and displacement of the underwater ice melts too much, that the whole iceberg turns, or even more dramatically “calves” then turns. As with various geomorphic rock, there are weaker fault lines hidden within the strata of the berg, these can shear (calving) and eventually break the ice in two. As a diver, this is one dive to avoid. So, the iceberg structures are carefully analysed beforehand for this weakness and the potential to turn.
Once its deemed safe to dive, we go forth and enjoy. Layering up for this kind of dive is made easy by the Biomapped Fourth Element Argonaut drysuit, with its extreme flexibility, allowing plenty of movement and fit whilst wearing the toasty Arctic and Xerotherm undersuit combination. I always wear the J2 to complement the kit, it really makes the difference.
To some, the ice-cold and variable buoyancy characteristics of fresh and salt water mixing in large encapsulating volumes is unsettling, but the amplified resonating bass sound pounding through one’s chest when they hear a crack underwater whilst directly below the ice, is enough to keep their wits about them. Although you do get used to both feelings, it’s still something you never forget. Throughout the thrill of doing one of my “ice” bucket list dives, I took a few moments to just feel. Feel my very insignificant existence on the planet. As these illuminating moments of light hit us while diving, I noticed millions of tiny bubbles escaping from the ice as it was melting. Carving their way along it to the surface, creating an incredible feature, totally dissimilar to the surface ice. It’s almost incomprehensible that these tiny bubbles about a few millimetres in diameter could have such a dramatic effect on the reformation and restructure of underwater ice. You might be forgiven to think the new shape looks smooth and round, far from it, as you’ll see in the picture.
The shear experience is hugely underrated and yet instantly overwhelming on site, almost enough to miss the tiny sea angels floating harmoniously together around you in the water. While back topside waiting for the skipper to pick us up, you wonder where the time just went, but just enough to capture a selfie to relive the moment.
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Image credits: Garry Dallas