First safari started on 14 May.
Diving safari season started early this year. We are constantly promoting our safari programme Following the Ice. Many people, of course, are not really enthusiastic about chasing the ice after the winter, that’s why these safaris used to start in the end of May, as a rule. This is too late. Especially if we take into account global warming. This time we started on May, 14. It turned out to be a bit late, but eventually we found some ice. Well, let’s begin from the beginning.
A group from Germany headed by Olaf Triftel booked this safari two years in advance. They arrived to Russia to spend a couple of days in Moscow and a day in Irkutsk. We should say, that this trip was meant to be a country-studying one, as after their safari they headed to Novosibirsk via TransSiberian railway. To put it in a nutshell, the trip was a great adventure. The core component of the programme, was, of course, a visit to lake Baikal and diving in it during the safari. From Listvyanka we started north, making on the way one introduction dive in the dive site of Ushkanka (Bolshiye Koty diving area). The following day we were diving in East Olkhon, made a hiking tour there and on the third day we were already in the area of the Ushkan Islands. Lake Baikal nerpa (fresh water endemic seal) sealery was covered in ice, so our following the ice adventure culminated there. Much to our regret, we did not encounter any nerpas, but the ice was there and diving was perfect too. After the Ushkan Islands we headed further north, as according to a space photo, which had been made 3 days before, there was some floating ice in the area of Chevirkuyskiy Bay. We indeed saw it there. Our German friends engaged into ice diving enthusiastically. That was a fun experience, as we did not use any ropes - the ice chunks could be easily crashed into long thin “needles” (needle-shaped fragments). All in all, the summer was almost there, and one could feel it even in the northern part of the Baikal! After ice diving we enjoyed a banya (Russian sauna) aboard the ship, jumped into the cold waters of the lake after a hot steam room and after that we drank beer by the fire.
Getting back took 4 more days, on the way we dived East Olkhon, Bolshiye Koty, and Circum Baikal Railway dive sites. All the divers used Nitrox and some used stages with EAN50. Having made 19 dives and sailed about 500 miles within one week, the German divers left for Novosibirsk full of impressions and promising to get back to the Baikal in winter for a Jeep Ice Diving Safari.
After the programme Following the Ice we went on a scheduled Around Lake Baikal Trip! 13 days aboard a ship, 1,500 km long the Baikal shoreline. It’s a challenge to be faced by a few. A safari longer 7-10 days is generally a rare case in the world diving practice, and taking into account hat it is a cold water diving, our offer is unique. There certainly are cruises of the Arctic and the Antarctic, that are 20-25 days long. How many dives do you make within such tours? You’ll be lucky to make 10. During our Around Lake Baikal Trip we offer minimum 3 dives a day. For those willing we are happy to arrange night dives almost every day. In this combination - “a long trip - a new place every day - always different dive sites - a lot of diving - a rich shore hiking programme” - our safari is unique.
What was new this time? Surely, despite the fact that we go on this safari annually (sometimes several times within one season) the route is a bit different every time - new dive sites. A good thing about the Baikal is that it is impossible to visit and dive every nook and cranny of it. A good thing about us is that we try to discover new places. For ourselves and for our friends. This is just interesting. Otherwise our job will turn into a routine. Following one and the same route and diving the same dive sites can get boring.
So, we were surprised/astonished/inspired by the following: diving in Cape Khoboy proved to be an adventure yet again. The place is truly magic. Black-and-white worms, sitting in the sand as if warm water eels, a giant worm (we measured it - 10-12 cm long!) eating up a live Gammarus (amphipod crustacean), a lot of leeches sitting on the amphipods (we saw them in many places, but their colonies were not as numerous). A new dive site in the area of Cape Sviatoy Nos (Holly Nose), upper part of it. Big red amphipods (much bigger than those in yellow, liked by everybody), having been named “timid” by us for their quite shy behaviour and constant attempts at pretending to be dead. A lot of nerpas in the sealery on Krougliy Island. There were about 14 animals in the main protected area of the island and hundreds of them just round the corner. Looks like the smart nerpas are tired of being constantly watched by the Big Brother (the main sealery in equipped with video cameras for online observation by Lake Baikal scientists). In the area of Brown Bears Shore we found and explored to the depth of 40 metres an absolutely new fantastic dive site, which got the name of Labyrinth. A canyon of three intermingled with each other grooves, a bowl-shaped crater, granite walls, a large grotto, ideally shaped groove, ribbed walls, cornices covered in sponges - too many peculiarities to be described all at once. In September we are planning to continue the exploration and making the site map. In Ayaya Bay we ran across bear footprints right on the shore. Gamekeepers told us that they had been watching a mother bear and her cub walking along the shore every morning.
What else was during the safari? It is of importance, that each of us discovers his own lake Baikal. Even those who do not dive are busy doing other things. A group of our non-diver guests from Moscow and Vladimir enjoyed our shore hiking programme - fishing in the area of Brown Bears Shore, trekking to the Frolikha, a tour of Olkhon Island and the first acquaintance with Lake Baikal - an introduction dive. Andrey from Saint Petersburg, interested in the “charged” places, found many magic places and signs in the Baikal area. Divers from Europe (Austria, Germany, Switzerland) dived a lot and admired local underwater beauty. They noted, that, there surely are clean and deep lakes in Europe, but the combination “clean water - depth - variety of landscapes and flora/fauna” make Lake Baikal a number one. Irkutsk citizen Tatiana Geryatovich started a serious course - Advanced Trimix. Lake Baikal was her course location choice. She wants to dive deep in Lake Baikal, so there is no reason for opting for the course in the warm waters of the Red Sea. Within the course framework we made the first Trimix dive to 65 metres and spent several hours in the shallow waters. A photographer Olga Kamenskaya, as usual, took photos of the underwater beauty and, as usual, came up with amazingly beautiful pictures of the usual at first sight walls, sponges, bull-heads, amphipods.
There is always a place to discovery during our safaris. Join! This year there are still some places available for our Poliarnoye (Polar) safari in December and Around Lake Baikal Trip and some other programmes. You are welcome to book our tours for the season of 2017!
Our safari boat Myth went on its first trip just on June 16, i.e. a month later than our safari boat Valeriya. The reason for this is the boat renovation. A new generator - now on Myth it is 18 kW powerful, a new built-in compressor in the engine room - its capacity is 200L of compressed to 220 bar air a minute, a new saloon to comfortably sit 10 persons for a friendly talk or a meal.
We enjoyed all the renovations during our one-week-long safari with a team of divers from Yaroslavl and a BaikalTec technical diver Yevgeniy Masternak. We were lucky to have great visibility all week long. When it turned out that the visibility was poor during our dive in Kirkerey (Circum Baikal railway), we immediately left this diving area. Bolshiye Koty, Khomuty, Krasniy Yar - the visibility was great and the best sites rolled out in front of us in their best condition, some sites allowed us to notice some things we had not noticed before. We made 16 dives, enjoyed sitting by the fire, treated ourselves to a mobile and a shore banya (Russian sauna), went on hiking tours. All in all, it was a great time and the Baikal welcomed us in the water and on the shore.
At the end of our news block photos Olga Kamensky safari "Baikal Around the World".
Gennady Misan set a personal record having reached the depth of 160 metres (his previous record depth was 155 metres). Tatiana Oparina also beat her previous record of 156 metres, which was, moreover, Lake Baikal record deep dive and, possibly, world record of diving deep in very cold water. Thus, her new dive to 170 metres, which Tatiana made, is a new Lake Baikal record and, possibly, a new world record of diving deep in very cold water.
Apart from the private safaris on "Myth" there surely were safaris for big groups of divers. We welcomed divers from Russia, Poland and China. For the first time in our career we hosted a Chinese group on a diving safari and it was new experience for us, which will hopefully have its continuation, because the Chinese divers liked lake Baikal diving safari. The Poles are traditional guests at our lake Baikal safaris, as they come in different groups almost every year.
On June 21-25, 2017 Listvyanka settlement (Irkutsk region, Lake Baikal) hosted Open Championship of Underwater Photography Lake Baikal Cup. Suchlike competitions were last held in the Baikal in 1980th (1985, 1987 and 1989), so the event served as a sort of revival of a forgotten tradition.