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Sverker (Picture:7,8,9,10) Micke (Picture:1,13,14,15,16)
Andreas (Picture:17) Håkan Junkes (Picture:2,4,5)
Alun George (Picture:3,6,11,12)
Title: The ice is nice, come on in!:
Author: Steve Millard
In winter last year I was lucky enough to meet a group
of divers who dive at Dorothea Quarry in North Wales. I
had learnt the basics of Freediving from a course in the
SETT in Gosport and had done an excellent open water course
in the Red sea. With the right kit, the right people and
a bucketful of motivation even winter diving in the UK can
Up until now all of my diving holidays abroad (Free and
SCUBA) have taken me south to places like the Red Sea, Caribbean,
Indian Ocean, Barrier reef but this year things changed.
Alun George extended the kind offer he had received when
diving in Dahab from a group of Swedish divers to visit
them and go ice-diving in their winter months in Sweden
at a place called Örebro. To give you an idea of where
Örebro is in relation to the UK it is slightly further
north than Scapa Flow in the Orkneys you then head east
just past Norway and stop before the Baltic Sea.
Three of us (Alun George, George Stoyle and myself) started
our trip with a 6 hour car journey to Luton airport to catch
our 2 pence return flight with Ryan air. It was an early
morning flight so we decided to get there late evening and
have a few hours sleep in the airport before we checked
in. The floor was surprisingly comfy (quick tip: there are
not many seats at Luton for sleeping). We got over the normal
problems of trying to get a monofin on the plane (my last
trip to Sardinia it got the best seat in the house - in
the cockpit) and after a couple of leisurely hours flying
time we landed at the tiny Vasteras airport.
The first thing I remember about Sweden was getting off
the plane and taking in a nice big breath and filling my
lungs with refreshing cold and crisp, clean air, none of
that normal ‘recycled through traffic’ city
stuff, this smelt like new. The airport was so small that
the queue from our plane meant we had to wait outside and
it was then that I noticed the cold and started to think
ahead a bit wondering what it would be like changing into
our wetsuits outside in this weather …Brrrrr. I zipped
my coat up and walked into the airport. Enough negative
thoughts already, think warm, think warm, it can’t
be that much colder than the UK, surely?!? A short scenic
coach journey past frozen lakes, beautiful snow covered
fields and a bit more sleep saw us in Stockholm by dinnertime.
We got off the coach in beautiful picturesque Stockholm.
The city was made up of old buildings, quaint streets all
founded on an impressive stretch of Waterways. It was a
magnificent archipelago filled with wonderful people and
unpronounceable street names with far too many letters in
them. We were soon lost but our crumpled map, excessive
baggage and confused looks soon got the attention of a random
Swede who realised the fact we didn’t have a clue
where we were and kindly offered his assistance and led
us to our hotel. After reaching our hotel we had a quick
clean up and decided to go for a wander.
Stockholm is not too dissimilar to other cosmopolitan cities,
whilst walking around you got the feeling sometimes you
had been there before but looking in shop windows seeing
the foreign words and listening to the passing conversation
in a language very strange to the ears reminded you where
you were. We did the tourist thing and visited the National
Museum and over to a few of the little islands and to an
old boat yard. Whilst walking we noticed one puzzling thing.
There was dozens of pushbikes, none of which were locked
up, nearly all with punctures and they were just lying around.
Our theory without looking too much further into it was
that the locals must carry around bicycle pumps and just
pick up any bike they choose and then leave it and then
take another one next time. We did not however see any one
pumping up a tyre to ask them so if you visit don’t
just nick a bike just in case we are wrong. After walking
for a few hours just taking in the scenery we had built
up an appetite so we went to the Hard Rock Café (traditional
Swede-ish cuisine). The food was lovely so was the beer
but at a cost over £5 a pint I knew we wouldn’t
be getting a hangover on this trip that was for sure. We
retired for a deserved good night’s sleep.
In the morning we left the hotel a little late really for
our train so it wasn’t so much of a leisurely walk
than a quick march to the station because we suspected that
as we were in foreign lands the train would leave on time
and we were right. A bit more sleep on the train journey
saw us in Örebro (a small town to the West of Stockholm)
where we met Sverker and his freediving pals from Örebro
apnea. I had no idea what our Swedish hosts would be like;
they turned out to be very friendly and hospitable. After
short introductions we set off for our diving destination,
we piled all of our stuff into Sverker’s Volvo and
off we went.
We got to the dive site early Saturday afternoon; as soon
as we got there we walked over to the edge of the Cliffside
and peered cautiously over to see what we had let ourselves
in for. The site was not that dissimilar to our own Dorothea
in North Wales. There were high sided cliffs with trees
standing tall all around and the perfect reflection glistening
back at us made it doubly impressive. It was strange because
it looked like there was no ice but we could see some of
the freedivers in the distance walking over to the platforms.
The rainfall earlier had melted the snow and left a thin
layer of water over the ice so it looked like it was just
a lake, but with people walking on it, it was surreal and
beautiful and made me smile.
By now we were really looking forward to getting in so
we hurriedly changed into our wetsuits and in our excitement
we forgot about the cold. We walked down a slippery icy
slope to a set of old metal ladders attached somehow to
the wall and went down to the ice. The ice was 10cm thick
and was really clear. This apparently made it very strong
and a quick bit of maths (thickness squared multiplied by
five I think) led Sverker to the quote of the day. ‘I
could park my Volvo on that’ he said confidently.
I wasn’t that confident about standing on it never
mind parking a car on it! Now stood on the ice it was great,
you could see the rocks ten metres down disappearing out
of visibility, it was just like being stood on water, very
strange indeed, we stayed there a while just looking under
the ice and taking in our surroundings. We walked / skated
cautiously over the really slippy surface it was great fun,
like being kids again.
We got over to the wooden platform without falling (just)
and as I was stood there wondering how we were going to
actually get under the ice I heard a chainsaw start up nearby.
It was mesmerizing to watch the lads cut the holes, it all
looked a bit haphazard at first but it soon became apparent
the task was running like a well oiled machine. One thing
that never ceases to amaze me in my travels is the expertise
people gain by doing things like this on a regular basis
without even really realising they have become experts.
Firstly an equilateral triangle was carefully cut in the
ice with the 90 degree side pointing back towards the platform.
A small hole was cut in the centre of the triangle to help
pull it out and to be used later to mark the triangle with
a branch or something conspicuous because apparently this
is Swedish law to prevent some poor unsuspecting skier or
similar from falling down the hole and having a cold bath
or worse!. Whilst the hole was being cut someone was always
nearby to help stabilise them with a foot or hold onto their
back. Then appeared a one and a half metre long saw to help
finish sawing the holes. The hole was quickly cut and then
came the tricky bit, pulling the ice out of the hole without
falling in, there was a couple of moments where I wish I
had left my video running.
After ‘supervising’ a couple of the holes being
cut (now I look back I don’t know how they will manage
without us) it was getting a bit chilly so it was time for
ice football and ice throwing competitions. We weren’t
like three 30 year olds we were like three thirteen year
olds but it was great fun and kept us warm. Time to dive
came soon enough and we decided it was time to inspect the
ice from the other side and do a few short dynamics. There
was ropes which cris – crossed over and under between
the five holes which had been cut and there was a lanyard
system in operation which meant you could not get lost,
safety was carefully considered in these conditions.
Being under the ice and looking up was amazing. You could
see the cliff sides and trees and every now and then a friendly
face looked down and gave you a smile or a wave. The bubbles
formed by the turbulence from the chainsaw sat on the underside
of the ice pinned with nowhere to go. When you swam with
your hands on the ice ceiling they seemed to magically follow
your hands just like the clip at the beginning of that film
we all know so well. The images I took from them short underwater
excursions are burnt into my brain to be kept forever.
There was a one way system in place so people did not bang
their heads which meant when you got to the final hole you
had to get back to the beginning. Taking a fin on and off
is a chore so the best thing to do was to pull yourself
along the ropes on your belly and watch the divers pass
under you. ‘Stranded seal’ springs to mind when
I think back to when I accidentally let go of the rope a
couple of times.
Just before the end of the session we were invited over
to their recently designed no-limits sled. It looks an excellent
design and will be a good tool for equalisation practice
in the cold 48 metre deep lake. After our quick sled ride
we headed back to get changed, no tiring surface swims just
a leisurely walk back. We got quickly changed and headed
back to our digs for the night. It was a fire station; we
were like kids again being shown round all of the different
engines rescue boats and even a hovercraft.
I would like to mention now that our Swedish hosts were
excellent, our diving was organised, meals, accommodation
and even evening entertainment in the form of freediving
films and pictures at the fire station big screen. George
just about summed our stay up by saying with a free beer
in his hand and a grin from ear to ear ‘I see no reason
to ever leave’, I thought he was going to emigrate.
Oh yeah, the Swedish hospitality even stretched to a traditional
Swedish sauna, ideal for getting your core temperature back
up. We had close to a 100 degrees celcius temperature change
in the space of a couple of hours. Our hosts gave us top
tips like ‘don’t move around too quickly or
it will burn your skin’ and my favourite tip was ‘drink
from the beer can regular so it doesn’t burn your
lip’. I must have looked well cooked when I came out
because someone reached out to grab me as I exited, I must
have looked like I was going to collapse. What they didn’t
know is that I always look like that after a few beers.
Alun in particular had a couple of ‘which way do I
look moments’ in there but it was a great way to chill
out after diving if you pardon the pun.
A meal, a few videos and some pictures left us ready for
a good night’s kip. I had such a good night’s
sleep that it wasn’t until morning that I found out
the station alarm had gone off. The sirens had sounded,
lights had come on a half dozen officers had left the building
in their engines and I didn’t hear anything. Thank
God no-one was counting on me to put their chip pan out
or flush their cat out of a tree!
Day two was just as fun, the holes were quicker and easier
for us to open. Overnight the perfectly cut triangles had
slightly melted and now had smoothed edges which were all
sloping towards the water below. It meant that it was a
bit harder to get out and very very very easy to get in,
whether you liked it or not sometimes. All my life I have
been drawn to water but this was different, once you were
a half metre away from the hole the hole started to draw
you in and once you started to go it was a slow motion,
rather inevitable head first slide back in. No where to
grab hold of, you can’t stand up, can’t sit
down you can just look at the hole and see where you are
going to end up. Every now and then you saw someone go,
even if you didn’t actually see them you heard a burst
of laughter and just knew as someone else had gone for an
It was a very enjoyable experience but it wouldn’t
be the same without a story of at least one hairy moment,
an ‘I remember when …’ moment. I remember
swimming between a couple of holes and thinking that it
was getting near to the time I would like to come up. I
looked up and saw the triangle shape of the exit so put
my hands up to come up but the exit was blocked!
Actually it wasn’t exactly blocked it just wasn’t
there because the triangle I had seen wasn’t the exit,
it was the lump of ice that had been cut out and placed
on the top and it was masquerading as a lovely inviting
exit. The exit was only half a fin stroke away but for that
split second I was having what I term a ‘sphincter
moment’. Maybe the whole thing lasted about two seconds
but it was a loooong two seconds.
The whole second day was chilled and relaxing, it was like
we had been doing this forever. We did the compulsory silly
photos and videos and when our batteries had expired because
of the cold we started to help put back the ice blocks so
no-one fell in. And then it happened, the inevitable moment,
as I adjusted the blocks I started to slide, nowhere to
go, no reverse and in I went, I did it as elegantly as I
could which ended up head first and feet following but I
popped up with a smile but it wasn’t as big as everyone
elses around the hole.
It was back to the firestation for some expresso coffee,
somewhat of an Orebro apnea tradition. It helps you recover
from the diving coma which I’m sure you have all experienced.
We had our last night watching all of the pictures everyone
had taken over the two days, some were good, some were funny,
some were inspiring and all brought back good memories.
I would like to express our gratitude and thanks to Sverker
and all at http://www.orebroapnea.net/ who we were fortunate
enough to meet for a wonderful time. It was good fun with
good company and great hospitality…… Thank you.