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Photos by Garry Dallas and Jill Heinerth

Photos by Garry Dallas and Jill Heinerth

Photos by Garry Dallas and Jill Heinerth

Photos by Garry Dallas and Jill Heinerth

ISSUE 24 ARCHIVE - NEWFOUNDLAND OR WONDERLAND?

Garry Dallas

We often look forward to going away on diving trips thinking you'll have an amazing time... that is, until you're sitting on seat 22B on your return flight home, realising you've just experienced some of the best and bucket list dives of your career, biting your tongue in an attempt not bore anyone sat next to you!

It's been almost 20 years since I had that euphoric, yet surreal moment of learning to breathe air underwater, albeit in just 1m depth children's pool on the flat roof of my hotel in Cyprus. But in late December 2016, I received a call from Mr Toomer at RAID International saying I need to get my ass to Florida to cross over my Cave teaching qualifications to RAID as they'd just released their new Cave1 and Cave2 programs.

As a co-owner of RAID UK and Malta and Director of Training, it was required that I get this done imminently. Who better to do this with, but the most talented and world renowned Jill Heinerth and Steve Lewis. After over a week of presentations, skills etc, etc, I was shocked, not only did I pass the instructor course, but I was recommended and qualified as a RAID Full Cave Instructor Trainer.

To celebrate, we had a huge BBQ at Amigos Cave diving centre, Florida, who were also celebrating their 10yr anniversary after opening. After we'd all got into the swing of festivities, I was offered a raffle ticket, just one. Never won much my whole life, but this week turned out to be a double whammy...a trip to Newfoundland courtesy of Rick Stanley from Ocean Quest Adventures! Immediately, Jill and I proposed dates to visit Newfoundland around my birthday, so 1st July we set to fly out there. This was the most favourable time to see Humpback Whales and Icebergs, so it was a no brainer. Being honest, I've ever really been too fussed about visiting Canada or America for that matter, but I was soooo wrong!...again!

Before landing in this beautiful, clean country, flying over stunning scenery and mountain ranges, sculptured by ice-ages, the coastlines are just breathtaking, I started to become rather excited!

After spending years looking after people logistically on land and in the water, it was so nice for a change to feel properly looked after by Rick and his team and have three ladies as my buddies, Jill, Pam and Renee. Oh, and the skipper's meals were to die for! Interestingly, he sacked his perfectly good shipmate because he couldn't cook!

Unfortunately, haha, I still had to pack my own kit for the trip, taking into account the water and air temperatures, redundancies etc. I even brought a spare drysuit! Thinking about it, where else would you get a suit to fit me at 6'5" if mine failed? So, I brought my new (prototype) super-lightweight Argonaut 2.0 Flex from Fourth Element as backup to my trusty dry Ultralite Brittanic Otter suit. Regulators for me, have to be Apeks in zero degrees, no free-flows needed! Undersuits were a mixture of Whites Fusion, FE and Otter. An Ammonite torch and Nautilus heated vest, of course, powered by an Ammonite 24aH battery kept me toasty through 100 minute dives, fitted nicely at the base to my Apeks WSX45 Sidemount harness. Aside from the exposure protection, fitness is also a key factor that plays a significant part in diving. You don't need to be a tri-athlete, just "dive fit".

This is more about building up your stamina to cope and be on par with your level of activities, like lifting boxes, hurling your dive bags and cylinders around. Maybe even stresses of kitting up while your boat is moving and the skipper is negotiating the shot line and currents. Cold water diving and unexpected adverse changes in weather conditions or even walking long distances on uneven ground or inclines can take it out of you. Rescue, for those of you who have done this course, know it can also be very physically exerting, so it's good to keep in shape to make your diving easier and more fun! It doesn't take much, gentle exercise, watch what you eat and drink and a little less indulging on the comforting stuff ;-)

Physical stress can have a major impact on a person's mental ability to perform a task and can lead to accidents if inadequately prepared. So be ‘dive fit' and sharp in and out of the water, go dive more often, but above all, never be afraid to call a dive for any reason at any time.

Speaking of fun, the first day of diving was just too easy, slightly cold but we hardly noticed it. Diving off the back of the more than adequate dive boat, slipping down the shot line, I could already see the almighty shipwreck laying in 35m water. The water might have been 2degrees, but the view from -2m took my breath away! There she was, after flying only 5hrs to get here from UK, a WWII wreck the Saganaga, 120m long and standing upright with a main fore gun attached to its broken bow. 1 hour 40 mins passed in no time, but fortunately I have video footage to remember it always.

Day after day, we dived all the other wrecks available to us at a recreational depth. The PLM27, the Rose Castle and the Lord Strathcona. Each having their own character, even though they were similar vessels carrying iron ore from Bell Island mine, Conception Bay, Newfoundland, before being struck by torpedoes by the German U-boat 513. The amount of life on these wrecks is unbelievable, I've never seen cod that huge before and seemingly quite used to divers too. Then again, everything is bigger over this side of the pond!

We found reading glasses, portholes, smoking pipes, bundles of drawing utensils and quills, crockery, machine gun rounds and an intact torpedo and lots more just laying in a few inches of silt. It was so nice to see these artefacts and you can really get a sense of presence in that time capsule.

For those of you that enjoy a bit of overhead environment diving... there's 9 square miles of flooded and mostly unlined, fresh water passage stretching out down to 600m underneath the ocean floor. This is the origin of the iron ore mined at Bell Island from 1895-1966, extracted and shipped across the world, unless they got torpedoed leaving the bay. There's plenty to explore, as Renee and I laid down 200m of line around 17m, with machinery and artefacts from the mine workers, who abruptly had to finish working there, when the owners shut the plant down overnight and turned the pumps off. Logistics of diving the mine here, doesn't get any easier. Carts ferry your equipment down the main shaft, while you stroll along absorbing the sights left behind by the miners. With a bonus water temperature of around 5 degrees and gin clear visibility, it's a real adventure. More about this here.

Some people especially love elephants or hippos or tigers etc., for me it's Humpback Whales. Seeing any whale in fact, would send heart-warming feelings throughout my body like nothing else and still does! Watching these majestic baleen mammals breaching, fluking or mothering their calve whilst swimming with them, is absolutely breath taking. I did once get clipped by a humpback tail fin as she was about to dive for food. She surfaced near our RHIB, not seeing the humpback rearing her tail whilst I was busy videoing, the fin slowly surfaced, breached and clipped me as we drifted alongside her. Actually, it was a beautiful moment and captured on video. They truly are gentle giants. If you adore them as I do, then here they are in abundance in Newfoundland around the same time as the icebergs!

A bucket list dive, but more of a passion, a continuation and educational experience... diving icebergs. A Dutch name (ijsberg) meaning ice mountain. There are barely the words to describe the feelings, sounds and beauty that surround a 20,000year old piece of nature, originating from Greenland and moving across the continents. Only one tenth of iceberg mass appears above water, the hack-sawed shards of weathered ice-blocks above water are a complete contrast to rugged, chiselled fissures and schisms formed by melting ice releasing air bubbles from below, chasing their way to the surface.

The clarity of the ice dictates the age, the older it is, the clearer it is due to the compression over the years, squeezing out the air bubbles through the crystals. Their colossus appearance is placid, seemingly still almost eerie, that is, until a crack of thunder resounds through your chest and a piece breaks off (called calving), the size of a three story house, or unbelievably, the whole iceberg flips, then it's time to leave, 10 minutes ago! As this happens, huge waves, even tsunamis are caused as it calves and the iceberg tries to define its own neutral buoyancy and balance. Watching an iceberg calve or flip over is a very dramatic sight. Seeing the spectacular colours of every shade of blue and green as the iceberg absorbs red light from the spectrum and has its makeover, is simply stunning!

Every year in July, I plan to come back to Newfoundland to bring and guide a group of divers looking for their bucket list dives, if you fancy a bit of this, get in touch with me on Facebook or email through my website.

After mostly teaching throughout the year, I enjoy travelling and the culture of different countries, but mainly to dive...destinations this year like the British Isles for some unexplored wrecks; Being involved with RAID and RESEX in Sicily and Italy should provide some undived historic wrecks; Baltic Sea and centuries old battleships; Iceland to dive the bottom of Strytan, the only diveable geothermal chimney on my new SF2 Sidemount CCR; Mexico, Sardinia and Majorca, home to some of the world's most beautifully decorated caves; Cayman Islands and Bonaire to experience something new and photograph it.

The question I'm asked many times over, which dive would I consider the best dive to date? Would it surprise you, that I could never describe just one? Each dive is defined by their category, deep technical, wrecks, shallow reefs, fish/mammal watching or cave diving, each having its own ‘WOW' factor, so, dozens probably with a story to tell...

Finally, when you do arrive in Newfoundland and asked "Are ye a screecher?" You should reply in the native tongue "Deed I is me old cock and long may your big job draw!".

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