Sunrise across Jarfjord

AFTER A VISIT TO A HOT DESTINATION, if given a free choice I would always head somewhere cold.
I enjoy a tropical coral reef as much as any diver, but coldwater travel gives me more of a challenge, more of a buzz. It may be organised as a travel package, but I feel more like a real explorer, and less like an underwater tourist.
Unfortunately the nasty editor wont let me do as much coldwater travel as I want. So imagine my surprise when he phones to ask if I would like to go on a trip with XO Holidays, the Norwegian diving specialist.
Not just anywhere in Norway, but a frozen fjord right on the Russian border. And there are wrecks under the ice. Real wrecks from World War Two.
When I ask.
Next week, he replies.
I mention that I think I can fit it in. I dont tell him it will mean coming dangerously close to the deadline on another article I am supposed to be working on. He need never know if I take it along and finish it between dives.
Norway is a big place. Oslo to Kirkenes (pronounced Shirk-en-ess) is actually a greater distance than London to Oslo.
But once here, as with any ice diving, the first task is to cut a hole. With an ice drill and saw, it doesnt take long to make a 2.5m triangle through ice 20-30cm thick.
The hardest part is pulling out nearly half a ton of cut ice. The trick is to cut it into small enough blocks.
What then takes the best part of half a day is scraping away the icy packed snow to mark 15m and 30m rings around the hole, a target for any divers who may come loose from their line.
Some of the divers are doing a PADI Ice Diving course, and things like this have to be done to a set standard.
I suppose half a day is not too bad. Lars Petter and Anton, who operate the Arctic Adventure dive centre, have dived the North Pole, and it took them an entire day to cut a similar-sized hole through a couple of metres of ice - and that was without target rings!
The first couple of dives through our hole are for the training course and to get ourselves sorted out.
I have done a fair bit of ice-diving, but in frozen lakes, the objective being to play on the underside of the ice, not to explore whatever lies below.
Diving under ice in open water is a new experience.
Here we have the silty bank of a fjord, about 15m deep directly beneath our hole, and ranging from 8 to 20m at the extent of a 30m safety rope, increasing by a few metres with the tide.
Tide under ice is again new to me.
Its main effect is to create a maze of dangerously loose and wobbly blocks where the ice sheet meets the shore.
Marine life is what might be expected this far into a fjord, with occasional anemones of various shapes and sizes, sea-pens, flatties and scorpionfish.
And I had been warned to expect the big Pacific king crabs, a sort of chunky spider-crab introduced as a seafood stock by the Soviets some 40 years ago.
There are now estimated to be millions of them supporting a major seafood industry for both Russia and Norway. But scuttling round the Norwegian coastline to the Atlantic, these crabs are becoming a bit of a problem for the marine environment.

BREAKFAST AT THE DIVE CENTRE is a stunning time of day. The entire front wall of the lounge and dining area is made of glass, treble-glazed as the overnight temperature is consistently
-30°C, and the size of an IMAX screen. But the sunrise across the fjord and the ice
we watch is the real thing.
Its time to take our ice-diving to the next level. Across the frozen fjord, the plan is to cut a new hole above the wreck of a Curtis P40 Warhawk, a US-made aircraft that was in Russian service when the pilot was forced to ditch in June 1943.
Lars Petter and Anton locate the wreck using transits, then Anton makes a quick dive through a small hole to locate the wreck buoy and confirm that were in the right place.
The rest of us split into two teams of four, a hole team to help cut and prepare the hole, then support the divers, and a dive team.
As the hole is being cut, the dive team kit up in the dive centre, ready to be whisked across the ice on sleds towed by Skidoos. The practical side is that divers are outside for under an hour: 20-25 minutes diving, a similar time standing by for the other half of the dive team,
the rest getting to and from the hole.
Then the teams swap over, the previous hole team kitting up in the dive centre while the previous dive team help mind the hole. Lars Petter, Anton and Asgeir stay with whichever team is minding the hole, making sure everything runs smoothly and safely.
The P40 turns out to be the perfect wreck for the depth and time, shallow enough at 20m that decompression is never an issue, and small enough to see in one dive, without running
out of rope or getting cold.
As aircraft wrecks go, it is remarkably intact. From propeller to tail and wingtip to wingtip, little is missing except the propeller, which someone salvaged years ago before donating it to the dive centre.
The machine guns are visible in the starboard wing, inspection panels removed to expose them, ammunition feeds still in place. Inboard of these, the undercarriage is in the up position - an aircraft would normally ditch with the wheels up.
At the nose is an Allison V12 engine, also used in early versions of the famous P51 Mustang, though soon superseded by a licence-built Merlin engine of Spitfire fame.
A pair of wolf-fish poke their heads out to check out the visitors, then disappear deeper between the wing spars. Plumose anemones stand on the tip of the tail, waving goodbye as I follow the buoy line back up to the hole, taking care that my own safety line doesnt tangle.
It may come as a surprise to hardcore diving readers, but many of the divers signed up for this ice-diving trip because of the day and a half off that begins the afternoon after the P40 dive. An hour in the minibus to Svanvik and we are outside Venkes house, where 54 Alaskan huskies know it will soon be time to run.
Getting 54 huskies into harnesses and attached in the right place to the right sleds takes quite a while, even with Venke giving directions and all of us helping. Or perhaps its because all of us are helping!
The dogs get more and more excited, pulling at the harness. Then its anchors away and were off - but not for long, as one sled has left its driver behind.
Its both easier and harder than driving a Skidoo. Its easier because the huskies have minds of their own and do half the driving for you; harder because the huskies have minds of their own and do half the driving for you - or without you, in the case of our missing driver.
Its almost dark when we arrive at our overnight hut in the forest two hours later. Venke oversees un-harnessing dogs and moving them to two lines of kennels, girls to the left, boys to the right.
In the fading light its hard to tell one sex of hairy dog from another, but Venke demonstrates the method and we spend 30 minutes groping the animals to find out which side of the track they should go. The dogs dont like it, but theyre used to it.
Even out in the remote forest, away from any roads or electricity supplies, every hut has its sauna, in this case heated by a wood-burning stove and lit by candles and an oil lamp.
Divers who would normally wrap up in multiple layers beneath drysuits get as hot and steamy as they can stand, then rush outside and roll in the snow. The air temperature is 36° below zero. I stay in the sauna, as do the Norwegians.
Crazy English seems to be the verdict.

WE RETURN ON A LONGER ROUTE the next day, and the day after are eager to dive again. The site should have been the wreck of the steamship Johan Faulbaum, but a couple of days before our arrival in Jarfjord a storm had broken the ice-sheet above the wreck, and the chunks had drifted out to sea.
With the daytime temperature never rising above -10°C and night-time temperature consistently below -30°C, the ice is starting to reform above the Johan Faulbaum, newly frozen water glueing together chunks of ice that have drifted back in with the tide.
Lars Petter and Anton take the RIB across to assess the site. There is too much ice to dive the wreck open water from the RIB, yet it is not solid enough to make a hole and ice-dive it. We spend the day diving from the RIB at a pair of rocky sites further down the fjord. With wind chill and any water coming onboard instantly freezing to slush, this experience turns out to be much colder than the ice-diving.
Spray that lands on us freezes instantly. Anton has a shovel for bailing the boat. After each dive we pull padded exposure suits over our drysuits and huddle from the wind as we head back to the dive centre to warm up.
By now I am well into the habit of entering the water with everything turned off, then just floating for a few minutes with first and second stages submerged to thaw out.
Fat spider-crabs guard their rocks, a bit dopey until they suddenly wake up and scuttle off. Anemones are sparse but big. Monster dahlia and plumose anemones stand in the gentle current that circulates with the tide. I find a tiny spider-crab. Is it a baby of the fat invasive species, or a local distant cousin
On the way back up the slope, my buddy Roger tugs my fin, then grabs a rock and holds tight. At the start of the dive, his inflate valves for suit and BC had both been frozen closed. He had got round it by using oral inflate until they thawed out. Now the time has come to dump air from his suit, and the dump valve is frozen solid.
Under gloves and straps, his wrist seals are not easily accessible. With thick gloves, pulling a latex neck seal is not an easy or controllable prospect.
I lay my camera down and gesture to his zip. In his eyes I can see his mind ticking away as he contemplates the prospect of my opening his drysuit zip at 10m in literally freezing water.
Clutching the rock, he nods yes. I ask again to make sure, then quickly pull the zip open a few inches and close it again. A big glob of air comes out of his shoulder, and we complete the ascent and safety stop.

ANOTHER GREAT THING about the dive centre is that, while there is a dedicated drying room to one side, in effect the whole basement is one big changing and drying room. Both Rogers Weezle and Roger are soon warm and dry enough to join me on the second dive.
Its hard to say which is more impressive, the Northern Lights every night or sunrise across the fjord every morning. Solid ice off to the right; a skin of fresh ice directly in front, then more ice off to the far side, where the wreck of the Johan Faulbaum lies. We sit in the warm while Lars Petter and Anton take the RIB gently through the ice to check the dive site, but it proves still too fragile to dive through.
Its plan B - back on the Skidoos to our hole above the P40 for a last wreck dive through the ice. The hole has frozen again to a good 20cm, but by now we are veterans of the ice, cutting and shifting blocks quickly and efficientlyI dive next to last, then stay kitted as the standby diver for the last pair. It may be cold, but its warmer than on the RIB.
In fact I feel positively toasty as I daydream in the sunshine, a crust of ice forming on the outside of my drysuit. There is something hypnotic about the white and the ice, both
above and below the water.

Kirkenes and the surrounding area suffered some of the heaviest and most sustained air attacks of WW2, with 328 separate raids.
Occupying German forces needed to hold bases in the north of Norway from which to attack Allied supply convoys to Russia, and the Russians did their best to disrupt the Germans.
On 17 June, 1944, twenty-four Soviet Air Force P40 Warhawks of the 1st Squadron of the 78th Fighter Plane Regiment attacked German-occupied Kirkenes, dropping 11,950kg of bombs, setting buildings alight and sinking a vessel in the harbour. Eight German Focke-Wulf 190 fighters intercepted the Russian attackers. One was shot down by the Russian aircraft and German flak guns shot down a P40, piloted by Junior Lieutenant Ivan Georgievich Logutov.
Logutov ditched his crippled aircraft on the calm water of Jarfjord. He escaped but was captured by the Germans, and survived the war.
Kirkenes was the first Norwegian city to be liberated by Russian forces, on 25 October, 1944. (historical research by Rune Rautio)

In World War One, the Johan Faulbaum served as HMS Q5 with a Royal Navy crew. This innocent-looking merchant-man, stuffed with wood to stay afloat, was bait. She steamed around looking like a plump target for a U-boat.
On 7 June, 1917, she was torpedoed by UC29. Commander Campbell manoeuvred the ship to ensure that she was struck aft of the engine-room on the last cargo hold. A specially prepared panic party ran about and launched the lifeboats.
Lulled by their antics, UC29 surfaced to finish off the doomed ship with its gun. Disguised guns on the Johan Faulbaum opened up and sank UC29. The ship was towed to port for repairs, and Commander Campbell was awarded the Victoria Cross.
In WW2 the Johan Faulbaum batted for the other side. In 1944 she carried supplies of wood and cement to German forces facing the Russians across the border at Kirkenes.
Unloaded, she was heading for home when a group of five Russian P40 fighter-bombers attacked, fatally damaging her for the loss of one aircraft and its pilot.
She was towed into Jarfjord with the intention of beaching her but sank before reaching the shore.
Holes are drilled, then the ice is sawn into triangular blocks
a hole drilled in the middle and a rope with a wooden toggle on the end allows the blocks to be pulled out
roping up before entering the water
King crabs are a common sight below the ice
Allison V12 engine of the P40 Warhawk
cloth-covered control surfaces rotted through to the aluminium
header tank behind the engine
the cockpit canopy
beneath the ice
Things grow big here - this is a monster dahlia anemone
The support team above the hole, viewed from below


GETTING THERE: Fly with SAS via Oslo to Kirkenes.
DIVING & ACCOMMODATION: Arctic Adventure Dive Centre, Kirkenes.
WHEN TO GO: February to early April. Water temperature will be zero and just below - its salt water. .
MONEY: Norwegian krone.
PRICES: A one-week trip inclusive of diving, ice-diving course, transfers, accommodation, all meals, dog sledding and Skidoo excursions costs £1490 plus flights (£200-£300 return) with XO Holidays,, 0870 486 7580. TOURIST information: www., 020 7839 6256.