28 April, 2004 Rothera
By Dan Smale
My 22nd birthday proved somewhat different to those that have passed before. I guess it was just coincidence but it did turn out to be a day of epic proportions. As a marine biologist and part of a very active marine team, Scuba diving in the icy Antarctic waters has grown to be part of a normal day. However, there is one dive site around Rothera that is frequently discussed but seldom visited; a vertical face said to be teeming with life known as ‘Shack’s Crack’. It just so happened that the day I would visit the site for the first time would be my birthday.
Shack’s Crack is a few nautical miles to the west of Rothera and calm, inviting seas are a must if the boat journey along the ice cliffs and through the patches of brash ice is to prove successful. The 19th brought with it brilliant sunshine, a mirror-like sea and only a few patches of brash ice; perfect weather for diving! The plan was to carry out two dives at the site, so all four members of the marine team would get to dive there and so enough dive time could be given to conduct a photographic survey of the marine life. With a loaded dive boat and smiling faces we arrived at the site in good time. The boat journey in itself is an experience we now take for granted, but motoring between dazzling bergs alongside towering ice cliffs on a glorious bay is unbeatable. Andy Miller and myself were the first buddy pair to drop into the water and instantly a group of juvenile Crabeater seals swam over to check us out.
The dive lived up to all expectations, and we thoroughly enjoyed the dazzling array of colourful marine life and the spectacular drop-off into deeper and darker waters. The diversity of species thriving on the sheltered cliff face is extraordinary and some of the sponges, anemones, fan worms and sea squirts reach a formidable size. We surfaced after 25 minutes, climbed into the dive boat and began to head home.
We soon found ourselves amongst a pod of about 6 Minke whales, a few of which seemed extremely curious and surfaced just metres from the boat before swimming directly under us. The whales cruised with us for some time and it was a truly breath-taking encounter with nature.
The second dive in the afternoon provoked just as much as excitement and by dinnertime our chef, Cyril, had a very enthused but rather hungry dive team to contend with! As always the master chef excelled and he later revealed a delicious cake in celebration of the day- nice one!
The evening’s festivities began with endless accounts of the fantastic dive, although the conversation dropped a level or two following the production of some celebration cocktails courtesy of Adam and Graeme! The day was rounded of with the some acoustic guitar numbers and a few interesting vocal performances. A perfect end to a perfect birthday.