Baikal diving at the end of the pandemic year 2020, New Coronavirus Time
It is difficult to plan in the coronavirus time, as everything is moving with the flow. “Live here and now!” is the main slogan of our time, at least for us. We do not plan anything; the plans just come down the road. So, unexpectedly, we have had three safaris “Golden Autumn”. The first two were connected with photography. The diving safari “Golden Autumn” was originally designed as a photo safari rather than a diving one. The reason is that the end of September and October is an amazing time. It is a time of bright contrasts and colors, which is interesting for photographers and contemplators. This underlying concept was brightly manifested in the program. We had two programs (one week each), and the teams actively hiked and photographed. It was a very intense recreation program, with almost no free time. In the breaks between hiking and taking pictures, there was delicious food arranged on a comfortable heated boat and perfect conditions for a rest, which is certainly an important success factor of this kind of safaris.
Many people in the “pandemic age” are probably tired of the restriction insanity and prevention bacchanalia. They want impressions. Perhaps this is why we have big diving groups of beginners. The local participants learn Open Water diving and some of them take instructor’s courses. Those who come from other regions improve their technical and recreational diving qualification. As they say, “Intro To Tech and Dry Suit courses forever” :-).
An unusual (even for us) beginners’ OWD event took place at the “Zapovednoye Podlemorje” base. We gave an intensive course for a group of nature reserve ecologists including the director of the base. The theoretical online part began beforehand, and during the three days of practice, every participant had five dives. As a result, the «Zapovednoye Podlemorje” base got four dry-suit divers and an equipment maintenance specialist. Besides, the participants got skilled in off-board diving as we could access open water only with the nature reserve boat. Why was this course unusual? Because a relatively big group of participants acquired many special diving skills in a short time. We hope that the course can become the start of a varied, long, and interesting way for the beginner’s diving group.
July, August, and September. In the previous years, this season was a time of various diving safaris that were long-before planned and booked. The Covid time has changed the situation: everything was unexpected, and it was mostly expressed in the form of technical safaris. We should of course mention Tatiana Gerjyatovich and Alexei Gerjyatovich who were not wasting time during the lockdown and were actively improving their technical skills (though Tatiana is already a highly qualified diver). Tatiana Gerjyatovich had passed a TEK100 master-class of Baikal School of technical diving. Last year, it was a TEK120 master-class. Both master-classes were given by Tatiana Oparina, so BaikalTek has got superdeep female divers. In summer 2020, Alexei Gerjyatovich started making active steps in and into technical diving и passed Advanced Nitrox, Intro To Tech, and Decompression Procedures courses. Besides, Alexei passed a DPV Diver course, and Tatianа passed the “Cavern” and “Intro to Cave” courses. The plans of both include “Full Cave” in Ordninskaya Cave.
During one of the technical safaris, at a dive spot in the Circum-Baikal railroad dive area, we found a strange object looking like a huge wooden starling-house fixed on a vertical wall with metal ropes and anchors. The question of the fixing needs a separate investigation. Did it happen by chance or was it done on purpose? What is this structure? A big starling-house? A shed? A kennel the size of a minibus? We will certainly try to get the answers. We won’t rest until we solve all the mysteries in the underwater thin layer of Baikal that is accessible to the divers and under the care of BaikalTek. Because everything in this specific territory is our responsibility.
Now it is the end of January, and it is high time to take stock of the BaikalTek past diving year, especially because we have not published any updates on our website since October 2020, keeping our friends and partners uninformed.
Our last newsletter finished with announcing the start of the “November Fairytale” diving safari. It is has been long ago and some details are forgotten. But the main impression is that it was a UNIQUE safari! Now, point by point.
First, the duration was 9 days. Some would say, “So what? You have even two-week circum-Baikal programs”. But you should not forget that this is a Siberian November, and it is already relatively cold. When we were in the north of the lake, the “November Fairytale” turned into the “Arctic Safari” with the air temperature far below zero. So, a nine-day safari in the cold is unique.
Second, the route was Listvyanka – Khomuty – Birkhin - Eastern Olkhon – Ushkany - Brown Bear Coast –Eastern Olkhon – Listvyanka. You may ask, “And what is special about it? BaikalTek has routes with a bigger number of points and a larger coverage of the Baikal water area”. This is true, but these are summer programs, and they are less than 9 days long. It is also very important that we realized the plan despite the severe storms and cold. The program was fully performed: diving many times a day, hiking, etc. This was possible thanks to the good boat and well-coordinated work of the team and instructors of BaikalTek. Besides, the diving on the route was remarkable as we chose the best dive spots.
Third, the diving conditions. We like November safaris because of the relatively warm water and good visibility. This time, the water visibility was not just good, it was great! We could enjoy the grand underwater landscapes in all their beauty. You might say, “And what is surprising here? The water visibility is always good there; this is why Lake Baikal is famous”. Yes, Baikal is renowned for this, but it is not always that the visibility is as good as it was this time. It was even better than we expected.
Fourth, the safari team. We always have good teams because as we know, good people are attracted by good things. This is why one could say there was nothing special about the team, it was very good and that was it. However, this is not true. The uniqueness of the “November Fairytale” safari was also revealed in the team. How many people would go for a night dive in the chill wind and then would be happy about the great dive and great photos? And how often can you meet a team who very thoroughly and long beforehand prepare the dive by working out the dive plans with the help of different gadgets?
The Irkutsk, Krasnoyarsk, Kazan, and Moscow participants made a great diving team. The technical divers showed a high technical level, and the underwater photographers made real masterpieces. There were many excellent pictures taken, and you can see them in our Facebook group and the FB accounts of the underwater photographers of Andrei Sidorov and Dmitry Kokh. The recreational divers enjoyed long and beautiful dives. Some team members had taken part in the safaris before. Of special notice is Andrei Sidorov who has participated in six Baikal programs.
These are the four points that characterize the uniqueness of the Baikal Diving Safari “November Fairytale 2020”.
At the end of November and in December, the “Shelonnik” time began. “Shelonnik” is the name of the wind at Lake Baikal. In Listvyanka, you cannot feel it as wind because it normally blows on the eastern coast and in the central part of the lake. You can only feel the waves. They hit the embankment wall in Listvyanka and furiously roll onto the beach, washing off the pebbles. The waves prevent the divers from entering the water and the technical divers, from going out (because of the many stages, difficult twinset, and undesirability of physical exercises after the long decompression). This is why a few times we had to cancel diving or deep diving when we were on the spot. Nevertheless, the OWD program was competed. The trimix divers made their 100 m dives with a long bottom time, five gases, and, correspondingly, five ascent stages. Some dives took place in Listvyanka, and for some, we had to use our safari boat, as we could not dive from the shore.
And now, more details about the November-December diving that took place despite Shelonnik. Let us start with the beginners' course “Open Water Diver”. It is nice that the people from Irkutsk do not sit at home. They travel in their cars, go hiking, and climb the mountains, even in the wintertime. And of course, they learn diving. Seven open water divers is an excellent result! Fortunately, the pools are open and of course, we are lucky to have the wonderful Lake Baikal. The courses were successfully completed despite the Shelonnik winds and cold water. Two divers still have to complete the program and they are going to do it in the summer. The others can already dive now, and they do realize this possibility and even take part in the “Polar Safari”. Let us leave this for later. First, about other participants of the BaikalTek diving activities.
BaikalTek has started the instructors’ SDI seminar. This time, it is going to finish in February. The Intro To Tech course is in progress. And the BaikalTek instructors have time to do their favorite thing, deep diving.
Here is what Tatiana writes about it on Facebook.
One can quickly lose the skills. The habit to dive from a boat makes you relax. During the last three years, we haven’t had any deep trimix in Listvyanka. Time to catch up! (Gennadi’s comment: “That’s true. All the deep dives in the last three years were made from the safari boats”). And now, it is December again, the freest time to dive “for yourself”. Be it Covid or not, there is a lot of work in summer, as usual. So, the intensive preparation has begun! (Gennadi’s comment: “The idea is to dive VERY deep!”)
And here is a short description of a 100 m dive in Listvyanka with a 15 min bottom time.
The temperature is getting lower and we are going deeper. We are saving ourselves from Covid by breathing in helium. They say it helps.
100 meters, Listvyanka, +4 C, visibility 30-35 meters (it’s been a long time since we had such visibility). It is very light far below the surface, you don’t need a torch. The spirogyra has been temporarily washed off, the layer is only up to 9 meters (and it was up to 25). The Planaria (big ones) are crawling, the bullheads are asleep, the Gammarus is being fussy. Everything is in its place. Everything is in order.
A huge net at the depth of 45 to 30 meters. It’s been there for a long time, all overgrown with seaweed and full of dead fish and crustaceans. We plan to remove it until the end of the year.
You certainly remember that in December, we usually have the famous “Polar Safari” program. The first “Polar Safari” of 2020 started at night. There were times when we would start with -30 C, but this time, it was only -18 C. The safari lasted four days.
Let us remind you of some aspects of the “Polar Safari” at Baikal. Or, why our safaris are called “Polar”?
- the air temperature is from -18 C to -12 C (this year)
- the water temperature is from +5 C ( Dec 3) to +3 C (Dec 6)
- the lake is freezing in front of you (you can see ice films floating on the surface at night)
- a very strong wind (up to 25 m/s) with an air temperature of -16 C
- ice-covered tanks and ladder (we had to pour boiling water on it to climb onboard)
Where else and who else goes diving in such conditions EVERY YEAR???!!! And this is not an expedition, this a Dive Safari at Lake Baikal with the dive center BaikalTek!
By the way, the first “Polar Safari” in 2020 has the following results: two 135 m dives, one 70 m dive, one 65 m dive, and many 18-45 m dives.
The participants were from Irkutsk. Some of them were OWD and they had their concluding course dives during this safari.
The next “Polar Safari” started with the slogan “The temperature is getting lower, and we are going deeper”.
It is good to have a big heated safari boat where you can gather in the mess room.
The dive site Baranchiki. It has been a long time since we went deep diving here. The first dives in the safari are made by Gennadi (150 m) and Tatiana (145 m). The visibility is great: from the depth of 70 m, you can see the boat, the torch is not needed up to 120 m. The temperature of the water is from +4 C to +2 C (in layers). The thermal gradients create beautiful “haloclines”.
The trimix dive season of 2020 finished at the end of December with a day-trip on our safari boat. As part of the preparation for a 170 m dive, a "100 m/20 bottom minutes" dive was made. Unfortunately, we have to leave it for the next year – as usual, there was a lot to do and we ran out of time.
Tatiana writes on her FB.
I already had a 170 m dive three years ago, also in December. At that time, some problems were revealed that prevent us not only from moving further but also from having relax-dives to the depth of 120+ m. Yes, it is possible to relax at a depth of 150 meters and even deeper.
The problems that are not yet solved:
1. Overweight in the beginning and underweight in the end. The ideal balance is not found.
2. Five stages mean a lot of equipment. A lot. You have to carry it all on yourself, and you have to control it all. The four under-suit clothes reduce mobility.
3. A lot of helium. With such a long bottom time, too much. Cold.
The problems that have been solved:
1. The decompression model that was modified again is working, which is the most important thing. The organism successfully endures a long bottom time with a big amount of helium.
2. The 100m/20 min dive is within 2 hours. Great!
3. One can dive in a solo mode. You don’t need ropes and supports. With sufficient experience, it is not difficult.
All in all, it was an excellent dive. We arrived in Listvyanka at 10 a.m., went on board, reached a beautiful dive spot, made a dive, and at 3 p.m., we were already back to Irkutsk.
Baikal is an ideal place for deep dives. And we are a perfect team organizing and facilitating superdeep and long dives.
With this, we finish our story about the BaikalTek diving at the end of 2020. As for the New Year holiday break in 2021, we spent it traveling by car on the road that is an automobile twin of the famous Baikal-Amur Railroad. This a separate story, and though it has nothing to do with diving, it was amazingly interesting and complicated. Wait for the report on the LiveJournal of Tatiana Oparina and see the photo documentation on her FB.