Black Sea – Seahorses & Thermoclines

The Black Sea is not an immediate choice for sea diving, but having just spent 7 days on a family holiday in Sozopol (Bulgaria) I decided to give it a try. One of the first things I discovered was that the sea temperature in July is comparable with the Red Sea at 25c! One unusual factor, partly due to the geological history of the Black Sea, is that it has very low salinity – so my 6kg Red Sea weighting became 4kg. Warm water and less weights. Perfect!

I managed to locate a local dive centre in Duni Beach (Sozopol) and presented my qualification record and log books to the SSI-affiliated instructors (Ivan and Dimi). After the usual looks of admiration at log entries describing “dry suit” and “8c”, Dimi got me kitted up and ready for a warm-up shore dive to check skills and equipment. I should mention at this stage that the only equipment I brought with me from Barnsley was my dive computer and 5mm semi-dry that I last used in Egypt! The buddy check left a little to be desired, but I was satisfied with my equipment and air supply.

Now, I’m not sure about other divers, but I have a mental list of marine animals that I’d like to see on future dives. This includes things like wolf-fish, cuttlefish, basking sharks, dolphins etc. I also had seahorses on that list – until Sozopol! This place is seahorse central – Dimi pointed two out in the first 5 minutes of the dive. I lost count after that. The dive was good at around a gradual depth of 12m, warm with fair visibility (about 5m) across a rocky bottom festooned with mussels. I repeated this pleasant little dive a couple of times. Easily within the ability of a BSAC Ocean Diver.

Next up was the more challenging boat dive onto the SS Rodina wreck at an average depth of 33m.  Now, first up, boat safety in Bulgaria leaves a lot to be desired (see photo). That said, the two SSI instructors who acted as my guide (Miko and Gabby) were fine. Once we located the marker buoy for the wreck we kitted up and discussed the dive plan (lots of hand waving due to the language barrier). This time, my kit included a 5mm hood and gloves. Simeon (the chain smoking boat captain) kept gesticulating with his arms and saying ‘thermoclines, yes?”. Whatever.

Apparently, thermoclines are a characteristic of the Black Sea. Now I know what thermoclines are – I read about them once in my BSAC sports diver pack (I think). Well let me describe a thermocline – imagine that you’re sunbathing and someone comes along and throws a bucket of cold water on you! Dropping down the shotline to the wreck, my dive computer profile shows a drop from 30c to 4c in less than 3 minutes! I was literally breathless from the sudden gush of cold water at 15-20m – I’ve never experienced anything like it. As a consequence my air consumption went through the roof.

Despite the discomfort, the dive was OK – very dark (vis at 4-5m) with some weak currents flowing across the wreck – definitely one for more advanced divers.  However, air consumption and temperature was a concern throughout – 4c really is dry-suit territory. That said, I got a decent 15min fin along from the captains deck to the bow of the ship – all clearly discernable as the wreck was very much intact, and, enormous.

At 100 bar of air remaining, I communicated my air supply to Miko in the expectation that we would head back to the shot line – but no, he wanted to show me the propellers at the other end of the ship! I re-signalled “80bar” and “Ascend”. I didn’t have a signal for “…and I mean NOW!”, but I intend to devise one for future dives. Joking aside, assertiveness is a requirement for diving. Miko was clearly comfortable with the situation, but I wasn’t. My concern was dropping into deco and having to carry out a mandatory stop whilst low on air with no secondary supply. I came out on 40 bar. Miko, who was consistently 2-3m below me, came out on 10bar.

All in all, the Black Sea gets my recommendation, but please be wary of differing safety standards and make sure you dive within your own personal comfort zone!!

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