All about Diversnight (and the unifying power of cake)

November is around the corner, and with it one of the regular fixtures on our diving calendar: Diversnight. Diversnight is a community diving event, which aims to get as many divers underwater as possible for a night dive on the first Saturday of November, at a time corresponding to the current year. So last year we dived at 20:17, and this year, we’ll all try to be underwater at 20:18 (8.18 pm). Get it?

Night diving for Diversnight 2017
Night diving for Diversnight 2017

Diversnight is a Norwegian invention that has spread around the world. It’s a great way to meet and mingle with fellow divers. The event is for everybody and the aim is a collective one (which is very Scandinavian, now that I think about it) rather than a quest for individual glory. In the past we’ve been grateful to share the shallows with divers from various local clubs and origins. I’d encourage you to join in if there’s a Diversnight event near you, or start your own one, even if it’s small.

There is some information about the history of this mysterious Nordic scuba event on the Diversnight website, but (as usual) I had a lot more questions, so I contacted the Diversnight team to see if they’d be willing to submit to an interview.

Ludvig and the rest of the team were very kind to answer all of my questions, and the interview follows below. When Ludvig mentioned the Diversnight team’s belief in the unifying power of cake, I felt that we were kindred spirits. Hope to see you at one of the Diversnight events in Cape Town on Saturday 3 November at 20:18!

Traffic on the jetty for Diversnight 2017
Traffic on the jetty for Diversnight 2017

Who is the Diversnight team? Is Tone, who founded Diversnight (according to your website) still involved? Do you all live in the same town, or are you spread far and wide?

The Diversnight Team consists of three people:
Tone Svee Dahl – The founder of Diversnight. Still involved in keeping the rest of us in line with the Diversnight spirit.
Thomas Kalve – Designed and built the new Diversnight website, keeping all the technical doohickeys up and running making sure people can register both sites and numbers.
Ludvig F. Aarstad – Mainly running Diversnight communications on a semi-daily basis. Keeping the Diversnight Facebook page up to date with registrations from the Diversnight website, and generally trying to bring the word out to as many people as possible.

What kind of diving do you all usually do – are you recreational divers, or hardcore ice or cave divers?

The Diversnight Team is all recreational divers, though some of us has been known to dive under the ice on a couple of occasions.

How did you start to spread the word of Diversnight outside Norway?

According to the Diversnight History, Diversnight started off as a regional night dive through the website dykkesiden.com. Norwegian, Swedish, Danish and Finnish divers frequented this site. Most of the foreign users of the site were Swedish, and when they heard about Diversnight they wanted to participate and the Danes were also offered to join. When we saw that this was a great success, we actively contacted various diving websites on the internet.

How do you publicise Diversnight every year? It looks as though the number of divers participating each year changes quite a lot (up and down) – do you know why?

The date and time of Diversnight each year is published at both the diversnight.com website and the Diversnight page on facebook. We have also sent out this info via email to all registered contacts on the website, but we are now mainly focusing on using facebook as the communications channel.

Every year we see some sites dropping off and new ones joining due to various reasons. The weather has a huge impact in some areas, but it also boils down to how good we are in promoting the event.

Still we see that this has now become an important, yearly event for many divers, dive centers and diving clubs.

There was a very big increase in number of divers and number of countries from 2008-2009. Can you remember what caused that jump in numbers?

The reason for the huge jump in numbers from 2008 to 2009 is probably due to the massive use of facebook, and a real effort from all the Diversnight Team, when promoting the event. The Diversnight Team used to be bigger, and we then had more capacity then we have today. More people reach out to more people.

Can you tell me what a typical Diversnight dive is like for you in Norway? I am from Cape Town, so the sun sets at around 7.30pm in November. So it is not yet dark when we get into the water. The air temperature can be 15-20 degrees and the water 14-16 degrees. So it is a little cold, but not terrible. Most people wear wetsuits not drysuits. I imagine it is a bit different in Scandinavia?

In Norway, based on where you are located, the water temperature will range from 6 to 8 degrees. Surface temperature will be about 3 degrees, and it will be dark. Drysuit is a must :).

Speaking for my own club, the actual dive/event takes place like this:
People will gather maybe an hour before the actual dive time to ready their gear and register with the dive leader. We also usually have a treasure hunt during the dive, where sunken tokens can be exchanged for prizes, if found. If many prizes are left, the remaining will be in a raffle amongst all the registered divers.

Cake, coffee, mulled wine (non-alcoholic) etc. is served, and we have bonfires. Also, one year in Estonia they were more than 20 divers, diving between ice flakes. Still they were in the water with huge smiles after a fantastic night dive, even if most of them were using semi-dry suits!

On that subject, why did you choose November (originally December) and not June or July, when it is warmer weather? Or was it just by accident that it ended up being at that time of year?

The reason it was started in December is that the idea of a nationwide night dive was conceived by Tone at a place called Scuba Bar in Oslo, one November night in 2005. It took her/them roughly three weeks to get the concept together, with the idea of showing everyone that diving wasn’t just a summer activity and that even if the temperature shows -10 degrees celsius and it is pitch black it is still fantastic to dive and very social at the same time, being key.

The reason it was moved to November is because almost all of the Nordic dive sites were frozen over in December 2010, and the reason it was moved from being on a Thursday to being on a Saturday is simply by request of the Diversnight community.

Nigella's blondies for Diversnight 2017 - these were good (if I say so myself)
Nigella’s blondies for Diversnight 2017 – these were good (if I say so myself)

Is cake still a big part of Diversnight for you? What kind of cake did you have last year (if any)? We had blondies, which are chocolate brownies but made with white chocolate instead of dark chocolate.

Cake is still an essential part of Diversnight, and the Diversnight Team try to emphasize this as often as we can. On the first cake dive, Tone noticed how incredibly unifying a cake can be, so she kept inviting people to cake dives. The rest of Norway adopted this, and the tradition was born. By these cakes, people got to know one another, new friendships were established, and new buddy teams were formed. Cake proved to have a way more unifying effect than simply eating your food with others.

Again, speaking for my own club, last year we had a carrot cake with cream cheese frosting coloured ocean blue for the occasion and decorated with edible sea creature ornaments.

There is no special Diversnight cake, even though Tone has baked the same cake for years. The recipe was posted, by Tone, on the Diversnight facebook page, and on the diversnight.com website recently.

Is there anything that you want people to know about Diversnight, or any cool story you’d like to share?

Well, the story of Diversnight is cool by itself, and is covered by the article written by Tone herself on the website. We would like everyone to help us spread the word about Diversnight. We want Diversnight to keep living as a worldwide night dive, connecting people from the diving community all over the world through diversnight.com and the Diversnight facebook page.

Diversnight is a great way of showing the world that diving is a sport that can be enjoyed all hours of the day, all days of the week, all year round, even if you live in the cold north somewhere.

Through Diversnight, we all dive together, even if some are in Africa and others in Norway. The idea is to be together, have fun doing what you love, experience something together, and eat cake!

My husband’s children live in Denmark, so each time we visit them we try to explore a little more around Scandinavia. Last year we spent some time in Sweden, and Norway is definitely on the agenda for a future trip. What is the diving like where you are? Does it vary a lot around the coast? Do you dive in lakes too?

We dive in fjords and also out toward the open sea. The Norwegian coastline is very long, and offers a lot of excellent places to dive. To my knowledge, there is not much diving in lakes in Norway.

Getting into the water close to 20:17 for Diversnight 2017åç
Getting into the water close to 20:17 for Diversnight 2017

Many thanks to Ludvig for getting together answers to my many questions! We hope that Diversnight goes from strength to strength.

Bookshelf: Franklin’s Lost Ship

Franklin’s Lost Ship: The Historic Discovery of HMS Erebus – John Geiger and Alanna Mitchell

Franklin's Lost Ship
Franklin’s Lost Ship

Since reading The Man Who Ate His Boots, my obsession with the history of the exploration of the Canadian Arctic has not abated. You can expect to be troubled by many more Arctic book reviews and related material from me.

This book is a well-illustrated account of the discovery of one of Sir John Franklin’s ships, HMS Erebus, in the waters north of Canada. You will (may?) recall that Franklin’s entire expedition – some 130 men and two ships – disappeared while searching for the Northwest Passage, on a journey begun in 1845. Parts of the mystery of their disappearance, and what happened to them, have since been resolved, but until late 2014 ago no sign of either of the two ships had been found.

If you are interested in the story, this relatively short book both recounts what is known of Franklin’s expedition and the subsequent searches for him and his men, as well as detailing the recent discovery of HMS Erebus by a team of Parks Canada archaeologists. There are underwater photographs and side-scan sonar images showing the ship standing upright in about eleven metres of water. It’s an excellent complement to Anthony Brandt’s more detailed history, but can equally well be read on its own, as an account of history spanning 160 years, meeting technology from the present.

Some sections – such as the extensive and laudatory passages devoted to former Canadian prime minister Stephen Harper and his reflections on the discovery – were puzzling to me. I was pleased to see how much credit was given to the indigenous Canadian people and their maps and oral histories for their role in locating the ship. Their accounts of the fate of Franklin’s men, and clues as to the location of his ships, proved crucial in the discovery of HMS Erebus, despite being immediately disregarded by Franklin’s contemporaries.

You can get a copy of the book here (South Africa), otherwise here or here.

Documentary: Ice Patrol

Ice Patrol
Ice Patrol

Ice Patrol is a four part BBC documentary featuring the British naval ice breaking ship HMS Endurance, named for Sir Ernest Shackleton’s polar exploration ship that set sail in 1914. Endurance is much like our SA Agulhas II, except the South African polar research ship is run by the department of fisheries, whereas the British entrust theirs to the navy. The producers of the BBC series Frozen Planet made use of Endurance as a platform for filming in the polar regions – ships with ice breaking capabilities and high tech steering systems are relatively uncommon.

The series starts with Endurance docked in the Falkland Islands, and follows her and her crew through a couple of Antarctic missions during a period of several months in late 2008. They land at South Georgia Island, where Shackleton sought rescue for his crew from Norwegian whalers based there, and visit the old whaling station (as an aside, strangely, we don’t see a single live whale throughout the ship’s time at sea). A group of marines re-enact Shackleton’s trek across the island as a training exercise, which proves to be a tough proposition even with modern camping and climbing equipment, skis, high quality outerwear, and the support of a helicopter for part of the trip. Scientists take sediment cores in order to study climate change, and others conduct an aerial survey of seal populations. We meet a variety of penguins, and members of the crew even pay a visit to a US Antarctic base (Palmer Station) – which has a gift shop!

The final episode is concerned with a catastrophic flood in the engine room that occurred in the Strait of Magellan off Chile (fortunately close enough to help that the civilians on board – the cameramen and producers for the documentary, one assumes – could be airlifted to safety). The ship was nearly lost. The documentary series presents this incident (and other minor whoopsies) in an embarrassingly dramatic light, but it seems that the flooding of Endurance was really that serious. She is going out of service in 2015, the damage she sustained being too costly to repair properly.

After reading Alfred Lansing’s book on Shackleton’s original expedition to the Antarctic, I have been obsessed with the icebound regions of the planet, and this is why we ended up watching Ice Patrol. Perhaps it’s not what everyone would consider gripping television, but we found it very enjoyable. The scenery is beautiful, and the glimpses of shipboard life and navy formality (sitting around on the bridge wearing hats, extreme formality mixed with corporate jargon when addressing one another…) are quite entertaining.

You might be able to get a copy here if you’re in South Africa, otherwise go here.

Article: Wired on brinicles

We first encountered brinicles in the BBC’s Frozen Planet series. They are tubes of ice that grow underneath the Antarctic sea ice, driven by the salinity differential between ice and seawater. Wired.com features a beautiful photo set showing these bizarre, relatively recently discovered ice formations.

Read the full article here.

Article: New York Times on diving under ice in Antarctica

The Scientists at Work blog on the New York Times website featured an article by a scientific diver who ventures under the ice covering Lake Untersee in the Antarctic to collect samples of microbes that live there. Ice diving is uniquely hazardous, but the divers who venture below the ice are privy to a strange, magnificent world of crystal clear water and miraculous light patterns. Paul Nicklen has some underwater photographs taken at the ends of the earth in his book, Polar Obsession.

Included with the article – which gives a good idea of the nitty gritty of what is involved in this kind of expedition – is this otherworldly video that made me very happy:

Read the article here.

Bookshelf: Polar Obsession

Polar Obsession – Paul Nicklen

Polar Obsession
Polar Obsession

Paul Nicklen is a National Geographic contributing photographer who grew up in the far northern reaches of Canada, living in tiny settlements mostly populated by Inuit people. From them he learned how to survive in the bitterly cold environment (summer is less than a month long), and a respect and admiration for the creatures that live in those conditions. His love for the hostile but fragile polar ecosystems led him to document them in order to raise awareness of the threat they face from global warming.

Polar Obsession is an enormous, glossy, coffee table book (too large to read comfortably in bed with one’s husband!) full of beautiful photographs of polar bears, sea birds, seals, whales, wolves, reindeer, penguins, krill, and the polar landscapes.

Nicklen ventures into the freezing (-1.5 degrees celcius) water, and swims under the ice to capture the activity of the creatures who spend time there. Many planktonic creatures – amphipods, copepods and krill – congregate under the ice, and are devoured by whales and various fish such as Arctic cod. His photographs bear out the fact that he has exercised profound patience in order to capture the particular moments and interactions – a lot of his job is waiting for everything to be in the right state: light, weather, and the animal itself.

Nicklen’s stories about how he took some of the photographs are wonderful and often hilarious. This little video describes one of the stories and photo series in the book: an interaction Nicklen had with a female leopard seal.

There are is another video on YouTube about the book here, and you can see some more of Nicklen’s polar photos here and here. For those who are interested in the technicalities of this kind of work, Nicklen lists his camera gear and the supplies he would require for a photographic expedition in the far north or south. He often wears a drysuit even when working on the ice, because he has fallen through the ice more than once, and a drysuit dramatically improves his chances of survival.

This is a magnificent book – one of my friends, who has a special fondness for polar bears, is getting it for Christmas! It made me want to visit South Georgia Island and the Antarctic particularly much.

You can purchase a copy of the book here if you’re in South Africa, and here if you’re not.