a peek behind the scenes: Ice dive in Disko Bay
The water temperature according to Jorgan’s wrist computer was .08 Cº, just above freezing, but the warmth of the arctics midnight sun painted the nearby icebergs in hues of light pink and orange backed by a cloud dappled blue. To witness the underwater world of the Arctic Circle was something I’d always dreamed of.
My contact for ice diving in Greenland was a Danish man named Jorgan. After getting his info from a friend in Ilulissat, I punched his number into our new $300 Kroner (60 USD) phone. Jorgan answered in nearly perfect English, accented by the distinct cadence of his Danish roots. His calm exacting directness and positive demeanor soothed my anxiety and replaced it with genuine excitement. Because my travel assignments thus far have taken me to all warm water destinations, I’ve not yet invested in a dry suit. So, the underwater kit I arrived in Greenland with consisted of: my Subal CD5 housing for the Canon 5D Mark II, an 8” dome port, an extension ring to accommodate the zoom 16-35mm F2.8 lens, a couple long strobe arms with floats and some Sea and Sea YS 250 strobes. And of course, a Canon camera and lenses, including the 15mm fish eye. All and all, a very stripped-down version of what I‘m used to traveling with on other undersea photo shoots.
Ten minutes after introducing myself to Jorgan over the phone, we were sharing a cup of black Danish coffee and going through his dive gear in an upstairs room of his house. His gear was immaculately organized. A selection of first and second stages hung on hooks. To the right were shelves stacked with bins containing hoods, gloves, dive lights, extra wrist and neck seals for dry suites, and replacement parts for regulators. Lined up against another wall were several tanks, weight belts, BCD’s and his tech rig, confirming my hunch that he was a tech diver, as well as an avid hunter, pilot, and tower operator at the Ilulissat airport. After slipping on the under layers and pulling my feet into the dry suite boots, I pulled my head through the neck seal and was amazed, against all odds the suite fit perfectly. Diving north of the Arctic Circle was becoming a reality, tomorrow we would dive with icebergs!
Aka, our boat captain, was a younger Inuit man, soft spoken and excited. At first I made the wrong assumption that he lacked experience; but Jorgan reassured me that Aka was one of the few “hard core” hunters who kept their boats in the water through the winter. After motoring out of the marina into Disko Bay, we found our 20 foot skiff dwarfed by icebergs, stacked to the horizon like colossal blue and white boulders in an ethereal salt flat. The weather was a gift from the gods of the Arctic.
Weaving our way slowly and carefully through the maze, we searched out a good iceberg. An iceberg that survives the melting and freezing of multiple seasons in the bay has a more attractive ice quality and is safer to be around. We pushed the bow of the boat onto a low-laying edge and tossed the anchor out onto the iceberg.
The loaner gear was holding up. Only the exposed skin around my regulator felt the full punch of the icy water. We descended to 15 meters and made our way along the southern edge of the iceberg taking in the many gorgeous facets of the vertical ice wall and the ominous 300 meters of blackness falling away to the bottom somewhere bellow us.
Other than a few tiny translucent invertebrates the water appeared to be devoid of life. As cold and inhospitable as it was, I knew life flourished here. Disko Bay was home to narwhales, seals, walrus, shark, halibut, cod. Even polar bears, although rare, have been seen drifting south standing on chunks of ice.
We left the iceberg and moved into open water where we found a drifting mass of conglomerate ice. Random shaped chunks protruded from the luminous ceiling like confused stalactites in a flooded ice cave. It didn’t take long for the cold to soak through the neoprene gloves, taking all feeling from my fingers and leaving them useless to control the small knobs and buttons on my housing. I didn’t let the freezing water bother me, the magic of this unique environment kept my blood moving and my eyes wide. I was realizing a childhood dream that I didn’t want to end.
Under the Arctic Ice!