My First Dive In the Antarctic: Nicholas Tells His Tale

Partly equipped by Tribord (flippers, mask, snorkel and technical boat clothing), Nicolas experienced something truly unforgettable: diving in the Antarctic.

Nicolas poses for the camera on the ice field, wrapped up nice and warm, out of the wind, in his Tribord CR900 jacket.

Nicolas, 39, is a professional deep-sea diver. After studying Archaeology, he trained to be a deep-sea diver as well as obtaining a University qualification in Biology and Underwater Ecology. He is now a nature guide for a cruise company specialising in trips to the Antarctic.

When he’s asked why he chose this very different location he says it allows him to “discover places where nature and nature alone rules the roost”.

Driven by a passion for underwater photography, what counts the most for him is the “chemistry created by these elements enabling him to experience sensations, feelings, emotions of all types…”

“I have to get my experience and passion for the Antarctic across to the people on the cruise to help them learn to understand, respect and preserve the White Continent.”

The expedition:

“Our boat is in the harbour looking onto the town of Ushuaia, bathing in the glorious austral sunshine, where the Beagle Canal and Mount Olivia intersect. This is where the passengers board the discovery ship in the land of fire before sailing towards the South Atlantic and then the Antarctic Peninsula. .

My first dive in the Antarctic: Nicolas tells his tale

After sailing the 65 kilometres of the Staten Island shoreline, we wave farewell to the world we know and finally set off on our adventure in the South Atlantic and the Antarctic.

My first dive in the Antarctic: Nicolas tells his tale

Land expeditions: discovering the local fauna:

Nicolas and his “group of Polar and animal life enthusiasts” set off for ten days punctuated by different land stages in the Antarctic, taking in a wide range of local fauna: killer whales in South Georgia, Gentoo penguins, elephant seals intrigued by the Tribord watertight containers, black-browed albatrosses, fur seals, blue-eyed cormorants, leopard seals, Cordoba swans, Commerson’s Dolphins…

Day by day and as each type of fauna is seen, the passengers, expertly led by the expedition crew, learn everything they need to know about the wide variety of species they see and their particular features.

Lectures are given every day on different themes (geology, ornithology, marine mammals, marine biology, botany,…) directly related to the stops made and the species and landscapes encountered.

My first dive in the Antarctic: Nicolas tells his tale

A baby sea elephant rather curious about the Tribord watertight containers.

My first dive in the Antarctic: Nicolas tells his tale

My first dive in the Antarctic: Nicolas tells his tale

Ready for diving!

The killer whales we see here have a prominent melon and a small white mark around the eyes. These features are unique to the species in the Antarctic- we’ve just discovered a new geographical species!

My first dive in the Antarctic: Nicolas tells his tale

The much-awaited diving!

“He has also savoured the amazing experience of encountering the Polar ocean, a precious moment in a diver’s life and quite simply a major highlight in a man’s life.”

THURSDAY 8 DECEMBER 2011: DRAKE PASSAGE

My first dive in the Antarctic: Nicolas tells his tale

Nicolas, ready to get into the water with his Tribord FLP 900 fins

Diving involves the Expedition Manager, the nature expert, a safety inflatable boat with two sailors on board and yours truly. Other important factors the captain must take into account include the weather conditions and the currents in the bay and above all a spur of ice that regularly spits out icebergs sometimes the size of a lorry that clutter up the sheltered bay.

I’ve been looking forward to this moment for so long, ever since I took up diving in fact!
I start to put on my diving gear with my trembling hands. I try my best to stay focused and not forget anything, handle everything as well as possible, check every last detail, once, twice and then a third time…I’m hot now, I’m sweating in my semi-dry but I’m not the least bit afraid of the  -1°C degree temperature of the sea.

I set off towards the part of the ship housing the inflatable boat with my diving equipment on my back, my Tribord flippers under my arm and my camera case in my hand.

I’m ready! My wetsuit hood is on with the mask and snorkel placed on my head. We speed off in the inflatable dodging the icebergs towards the carefully chosen and much-coveted spot.

Once we reach the right place, I get ready to leave the inflatable without saying a word to the others, only listening to my body and waiting for the much-anticipated biting cold of the icy water on my bare lips tightened in anticipation around my regulator.
I let my body slide into the water- there’s no going back now. Here we go-I’m there now…

There’s no sudden reaction but a sort of instinctive reflex in other words putting my head under the water to see what was going on… I can’t remember what I saw or felt at that exact moment…Then almost automatically I checked my breathing equipment one last time. And then it was the turn of my camera case to be inspected: everything ok, no leaks.

My first dive in the Antarctic: Nicolas tells his tale

I’m still not cold. Niko, the expedition leader, is already raring to go- it’s not the first time he’s dived in the Antarctic. He gives me the signal and we empty our BCDs. I go for it. The water is dark and then a blur. But everything’s fine.

My first dive in the Antarctic: Nicolas tells his tale

We reach the seabed and my computer reads -10 metres.
The seabed is covered with fairly large pebbles and big rocks covered with red seaweed. I think “oh, that’s what the seabed is like here” and then my brain gets back into gear, realising I need to take my photos quickly, find interesting things, animals…

But there’s not very much of interest! All there is to take photos of is the seaweed on the rocks and the dullish limpets running above them.

Then a thought goes through my mind – look for Niko. It’s rather cloudy down here and I haven’t seen him in the water. I look around me carefully, trying to pick him out and then I see a string of bubbles. I swim towards him. He shows me something on the seabed: a scarlet starfish that I hurry to capture on film..

My first dive in the Antarctic: Nicolas tells his tale

The weird sensation of being under an iceberg…

My first dive in the Antarctic: Nicolas tells his tale
Niko makes a sign to me telling me to look up and I understand straight away: it’s suddenly become very dark- I’m under a Leviathan of the ice age, the offspring of a Father Glacier a massive iceberg in all its splendour; a gigantic pure white slab with a whole range of shades of blue: ultramarine, cyan, electric blue…It’s just as I thought it would be.
We move a few metres closer to it – I’m a little apprehensive, wary. I wait looking on in awe as Niko touches it first. I take a photo of it and then it’s my turn to touch it almost like an obligation, a sort of initiation rites.

All of a sudden something suddenly disturbs this solemn moment- while I was taking a picture of Niko I collided with the iceberg and bumped my head. Difficult to explain the shock it gave me…

My first dive in the Antarctic: Nicolas tells his tale

I keep on shooting with different settings but I’m getting pretty cold now. Enemy number one rears its ugly head and my spine feels like one long icicle. But it’s my fingers that hurt the most. But I’m greedy and I want more and more even though I’m not getting great shots and even if I don’t come across any penguins or seals: the guiding spirits of this amazing location. I force myself to put my head in the water.

I can’t feel the cold – at least I don’t think I can! My fingers can though: I just can’t manage to empty my BCD any more even though I’m pressing on the inflator. It’s ballooned up that much I can’t control it: it keeps me at the surface without me even needing to move my feet! I’m like a prisoner caught between these two worlds and left in limbo.

My first dive in the Antarctic: Nicolas tells his tale

An idea goes through my frozen mind- taking photos half in the air and half in the water: that would be brilliant with the icebergs all around.
I shoot and shoot again, I also take shots of Niko and the crew on the inflatable who are watching me. And then, by instinct, I look at my computer indicating 46 minutes’ diving time: not bad for the first try at semi-dry diving in a  -1°C degree sea… But my fingers are urging me to call it a day. It hurts… Niko knows too and I give him the ok sign to put an end to my first day’s diving in the Antarctic. He gets into the inflatable first- I don’t really want to follow him and take one last photo of the iceberg which I touch for the last time as if I’m saying farewell to a dear friend.

My first dive in the Antarctic: Nicolas tells his tale

Then the reality of time for us mere mortals reminds me that the boat is waiting for us to head for a new part of this extraordinary Antarctic continent just waiting to be discovered.
Not a word is uttered in the inflatable boat just a handshake with Niko and a smile to say thank you for this timeless adventure that will remain indelibly engraved in my memory.
The inflatable speeds off. I’m cold and my hands are hurting me like hell but I’m tremendously happy.

Roll on the next diving experience in the Antarctic…An amazing series of coincidences goes through my mind: it was St. Nicolas’ Day, there were two of us called Nicolas in a place in the Antarctic that bears the name of Neko Harbor (Niko in English), well weird…”

Have any cool diving stories to share? #DecathlonSG

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