Cool or cold? – Winter diving in the Red Sea

The majority of guests at „The Breakers Diving & Surfing Lodge“ are sitting at the outdoor tables for dinner, although it is getting quite chilly in the evenings. We are in Soma Bay for a diving course, in winter. „All right – divers are cool folks“, we conclude and settle down inside where only some older people have already found a seat. But over the next evenings the indoor tables get more popular, even with the cool divers. It also turns out that divers aren’t quite as cool as we had expected. Actually most of them are just normal people, who would have thought that?

putting on diving gear in Soma Bay

For our SSI Open Water Dive course, we are issued long 5.5 mm wetsuits, as well as a host of other items necessary for diving: A buoyancy jacket, fins, a regulator, and lead weights.

After learning some diving theory and how the gear works under water, we get to put that gear together, and then we actually have to don the wetsuits. Not an easy task at all, because they are supposed to be quite tight. When we finally managed, our arms stick out diagonally from the body. We look like old-fashioned cloth puppets or someone straight out of Star Trek. Hiking and climbing generate muscles at the calves and shoulders incompatible with diving suits, we suspect, but an experienced diver assures us:

„Wetsuits are not made for humans – but you will get used to looking like a sausage in public.“

How cool is a wetsuit?

In spite of the wetsuit, which is supposed to keep body warmth, we find the diving more cold than cool. Perhaps a beginner’s course doesn’t leave much room for coolness anyway. On our first dive, Natascha is so concerned about not being able to dive (because of a temporary sharp pain in the ear while descending, and also because of all that unfamiliar water…) that she decides to have a good look at the fish while she’s at it. After all, tis might be the only time underwater for her.

swarm of green fish in winter, Soma Bay

And thus she has a reasonably good time. Isa, by contrast, is breathing hectically in and out, in the all-too conscious effort to keep calm. This results not only in using a lot of oxygen, but also in bouncing up and down. We have just learned that under water your breathing affects your movements. Keeping calm gets easier with every dive – the experienced divers assure us again. But this first dive indeed turns out to be Natascha’s only one as she finds diving far too stressful and too cold to set off the advantages it may have over snorkelling.

winter snorkelling in Soma Bay

Over the next few days, talking to other divers on the base, we learn that continuous diving in winter, or in great depth, makes people feel cold all the time because they don’t really recover between dives. Isa does finish the open water course. In total this requires completing four open water dives – none of them being particularly deep or long. And the nasty wind calms down a bit making the water a bit warmer.

The last two days we go out snorkelling in the lagoon. There are lots of colourful fish, and we enjoy it more than ever because it feels so much more relaxed being close to the surface. And thanks to the wetsuits – we did get sort of used to wearing them – the water is not too cold.

Where we did our winter diving

Our diving instruction was courtesy of the ORCA Dive Club Soma Bay, Egypt. Thanks again to Sarah and Bram! The SSI Open Water Dive Course takes 4 days, including 4 open water dives and theory. More details on the course itself to follow.

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