Diving in extreme cold, Ojamo mine
'Sure, why not?' was my quick reply when invited to go on a diving expedition to Finland. Sounds good, just go to Finland and dive, simple.
Even though the trip was just after mid-summer, diving in Finland still means that the water temperature is around 5 degrees; the only difference that summer makes is that the first 10m of water may warm up to a balmy 15 or 20 degrees as opposed to being covered in a layer of ice and snow in the winter.
Up until that point in my life I had been a dedicated warm water, wet suit diver, with almost all of my dives conducted in water around 27 degrees. I had never used a dry suit and was unaware of the physical and psychological effects of diving in water so cold that, after a few minutes of pain, your lips go completely numb (on a side note, exchanging regulators when you can't feel your lips is quite an interesting experience).
So, after forking out the necessary dollars for suitable equipment to handle the cold (dry suit, several layers of under suits, dry gloves, under gloves, 10mm hood, cold rated regulators etc) I though I was ready to dive in Finland....
....right up until the point when I was gearing up for our first day diving at Ojamo mine and put on my dry gloves for the first time...
And no longer could I do even the simplest task, like strapping my computer to my arm, without a) spending a lot of time fumbling around looking like an idiot or b) assistance from some very patient dive buddies. Initially it was very frustrating, to say the least, to go from a capable and independent tech diver to being heavily dependant on others.
But as I watched the native cold divers (Finns for the most part, who learned to dive in these conditions) around me gearing up with absolute minimal assistance I realised two things; that it is in fact possible to function as a diver while wearing dry gloves, and that my level of respect for the dive skills of these guys had just sky-rocketed (and I'll add that I already had much respect for them, many of whom are cave instructors, but they were raised to demi-dive-god status).
We spent three days diving at Ojamo, which is an incredible place to see, but for me I spent the time learning to dive dry. It was a very humbling experience and I learned a lot from it, both in a diving and personal sense. It's easy to think that you are a good diver when you stay within your comfort zone but real learning only occurs when you push the limits of that zone ans Ojamo certainly pushed mine, and I'm glad it did.
It wasn't until the last day there that I felt comfortable and capable enough with the dry suit and gloves that I could really enjoy the spectacular scenery underwater. It was also my first time diving in a mine and it was pretty awesome. Ojamo has many small and winding tunnels that are interspersed with vast chambers so big you can't see the other side despite the fantastic visibility.
I definitely plan to visit here again, after some more dry suit practice, so I can further explore this awesome dive site.