The White Sea is a continental nation’s dream of the sea
A. B. Tsetlin
The White Sea was the cradle of Soviet diving. Several other seas were accessible to people in the USSR, but neither the Black Sea, with its shashlyks and beaches, nor the Sea of Japan, with its underlying anti-Soviet atmosphere, but the White Sea, steeped in old-time romanticism and progressive scientific curiosity, that saw the birth of the sport in the USSR.
The unusually high density of scientific biological stations on the White Sea’s Kandalaksha Gulf did much to stimulate the development of the most modern methods of studying wildlife, including scuba diving.
Marine biologists needed scientific and educational material, knowledge and observations of the underwater world for their work. Keen academics began diving in the White Sea in the 1960s.
In the 1970s a school of diving actively developed, with a major role being played by young employees of the Department of Invertebrate Zoology at Moscow State University’s Faculty of Biology.
At the end of the 1980s, when Mikhail Safonov and Dmitry Orlov, first as undergraduates, then as postgraduates, went diving in the White Sea, enthusiastically studying marine biology and improving their underwater experience, the most important step was taken: a diving school was set up at the White Sea.
Much of the gear was homemade. The first compensators were converted life jackets from Kharkov, customised buckles were ordered for the weight belts, and the weights themselves, when required, were cast out of lead from old batteries using their own mould. The dive site was reached by rowing boat. Drysuits, motorboats and a banya for the divers were, of course, just a dream then.
The only regular dives were those on summer expeditions to the White Sea, the Far East and Lake Baikal.
Several years passed, and in 1996 the Moscow State University Diving Club was founded. Regular trips to the Red Sea began. But the aspiration to continue diving in the Arctic only grew, and people very much wanted to dive in the White Sea in winter. At last, in 1998, the decision was made to go diving in winter, under the ice, in the Arctic.
The first ice diving trip, by a small group from a Moscow University biological station, took place in March 1998. With no snow-going vehicles, and nothing to go out to the ice in, they loaded their gear on ordinary wooden sledges and dived where they could drag them. They used a piece of tarpaulin to shelter the ice holes from the wind. After diving, they drank tea on upturned sledges. They dried out their gear in a banya, and cooked on a stove in a biological station cabin.
It then became clear that diving programmes in the White Sea would be of considerable interest to amateur divers, and that a decent, well-equipped base was required for modern-day diving: comfortable diving, motorboats in summer and snowmobiles in winter, modern gear, good food, trained instructors and competent staff.
All this could be achieved only with a dive base open all-year round.
In May 1999 the Moscow State University Diving Club bought the Kartesh, a boat, and used it to search for dive sites and for a location for their refuge –the dive centre.
After four years of running expeditions on the Kartesh to various White Sea locations and going ice diving in winter, they came to the conclusion that there was indeed a place that was the most suitable for diving, and the best for recreation: Nilmoguba!
In September 2002, the decision was made to build a dive centre in the village of Nilmoguba, at the mouth of the Nilma, on the sea coast.
At that time just one family lived in the village in winter, and there were no shops or telephones there. Nor was there a road to the proposed site for the centre.
The first loads were carried there by animal transport, using horses. Construction was very energetic: plans were approved, a road set out, foundations built and portable cabins prepared for the winter ice divers.
The winter of 2002/2003 was extremely cold, with the thermometer hovering around -40°C throughout January.
Nevertheless, despite the tight deadline and the harsh winter weather, the dive centre welcomed its first group of ice divers on 1 March 2003.
During the last three days before the opening no one slept, as the final electricity and heating work was carried out and the furniture was assembled.
Initially, 2 cabins, capable of housing 12 people, were built.
By summer 2003, another 2 small cabins had been built, and further construction has been continued. At this point, a team was formed. The new project attracted many leading names:
- Ivan Kronberg, who has been working on the Kartesh for 7 years, and has led the majority of expeditions on the ship, as well as many of the dive centre’s winter programmes, in the last five years
- Vadim Shestachenko, the leader of the Tver Diving Club, who was a great help when the Arctic projects were in their infancy and remains an active participant in the dive centre’s projects
- Natalia Chervyakova, a talented instructor and photographer.
In March 2003, Alexandr Dmitriev became Director of the dive centre. Little by little, the village has developed. Now about 10 families live in it in winter, a local bridge has been repaired, a small shop has opened, and, little by little, mobile coverage has now even reached Nilmoguba.
Diving takes place at the dive centre all year round. There are regular specialised biology programmes for adults and children, and specialised seasonal programmes (e.g. ‘In search of seals’).
Divers from all over the world come to dive to the Arcitc Circle Dive Centre. The dive centre at the shore of the White Sea has become a popular and well-known location within the diving community in Britain, France, the USA, Poland, the Czech Republic and other countries.
Up to 25 divers can now stay and dive at the dive centre. The dive centre has 12 permanent staff, including instructors.
The Arctic Circle Diving Centre has ambitious plans: we are building, and implementing new projects.
We love the White Sea!