Last year, after putting it off for so long, I became a diver. I finally completed my PADI Open Water and joined the ranks of the dive community. Since then, I hadn't done a great deal of diving. By that I mean none. I had done zero diving. In fact, one could almost say my dive experience was in the negatives because I had forgotten almost everything I had learned.
So, in typical fashion, I threw myself in the deep end. Pun intended. I got myself dry suit certified, went to Iceland, wandered through the snow, and dived the Silfra Fissure in water barely above freezing; a dive known all over the world for it's interesting location, between the tectonic plates of North America and Eurasia. It was easily the most interesting dive I have done, which isn't much of a statement, given it was my first dive outside of my certification.
On the morning of our dive, our guide Stefano from Dive.is greeted us with his brilliant smile and charming Italian enthusiasm. "You're in luck" he says. "The temperature is in the positives." By that he means it is three degrees Celsius. Of course, by the time we get to the dive site, the temperature has dropped. "No worries", Stefano says brightly, "it just means once we're in the water, we can't leave it or everything wet will start to freeze." Nervous chuckles all round. What the fuck are we doing here? No one is going to pull out though.
Stefano takes us through the dive briefing. The tectonic plates are slowly moving apart year by year by about 2 centimetres, changing the fear of it suddenly slamming shut, to one of it violently tearing open and boiling us alive in liquid hot magma. This is a drift dive through part of Thingvellir (Þingvellir) Lake which is fed from Langjökull Glacier, about 50kms away. The water is filtered through volcanic rock for close to a century, which explains why it is so clear and visibility, or vis as us divers all call it, is excellent.
As anyone can imagine, glacial water isn't warm. In fact it will be close to freezing. "2 degrees", Stefano explains. "Expect your index fingers and face to go numb. Perfectly normal." He holds up his hands and flashes his smile. "Don't worry, I haven't lost any fingers yet."
On goes our dive gear, which looks to be in perfect condition. Well serviced and fully prepared for us. All we have to do is stand in one place and the crew do everything. Giancarlo explains the gear we will be using for the dive, making sure we know what we're doing. They are friendly, very competent, and comfortable with taking groups out. Once I am strapped in and stand fully loaded, I realise I need to use the toilet. While you might get away with peeing in a wet suit, you definitely can't in a dry suit. I convince myself it is probably just nerves. I am probably wrong.
We trudge to the entry point along a frozen path littered with patches of snow, past tourists who have stopped to take photos of the Silfra Fissure and joke about the insane fools getting in the water. We do a buoyancy check, dropping down to a couple of metres and I get my first view of the fissure from underwater. I am completely in awe.
What a dive! The visibility is over 100 metres and we couldn't have asked for a better day. The sun's rays pierce the surface of the water spreading dappled light across the rocks of the divide. The cliffs drop down towards darkness, tinged with deep sapphire blue. We stop for photos in the closest point between the plates, Stefano leading us in and taking photos of each of us reaching out and touching each side. As a new diver, I am still anxious and unskilled, but even I am mesmerised by the scenes around me.
The dive takes us over several shallow parts, each time dropping into deeper canyons, where the icy blue of the water makes this look like a scene from a fairy tale. We cross down into a part called the Cathedral, deep and wide, with the sun streaming in from above. I have a memory which will be with me forever, lying back and looking up from 10 metres below at the blue sky, the bubbles from our group rippling across the surface of the water.
And yes, my face and index fingers did go numb. But it was worth it.
Dive.is are one of a number of companies who take people to the Silfra Fissure. I was diving with two friends who are dive masters and another who is an experienced diver. We all found the team at Dive.is to be competent and professional. The gear was of a high standard and I have no problems recommending them. Keep in mind, they're not paying me for this, so I'm recommending them based entirely on my experience.
Please note, you have to prove you are currently certified to the level of PADI Open Water or equivalent, and are dry suit certified in order to dive the Silfra Fissure. Dive.is also run PADI courses, so you can become certified while you dive the Silfra Fissure. They also offer snorkelling tours for non-divers.
They operate mostly year round, though not every day. Dive.is do get booked out, so make sure you book online. If the weather is too cold, then you may only do one dive instead of two, as the gear freezes between dives. Do not let the cold put you off!
Part of the Golden Circle, the Silfra Fissure is in the Thingvellir National Park in Iceland. It is about 45 minutes drive from Reykjavik.
Book online here. They offer a pick up service from Reykjavik and will get you everything you need. They ask you to bring along some warm clothes and socks. I wore a thermal merino, a thermal t-shirt and thermal pants and my body was OK. I had two pairs of woolen socks, but I could have done with a third pair.
I also recommend taking a change of clothes, a towel and some food, though you do get hot chocolate and cookies from the team. It is very welcome after the first dive!
Because you don't go to Iceland to be warm and comfortable. You go there to see amazing and do amazing. Get on it!