Despite challenges such as darkness, limited visibility and cold temperatures, the waters in and around Sweden offer unique opportunities for underwater exploration. Worlds away from the warm, clear waters of the tropics, Swedish diving is in a class of its own.
Ice diving may add an element of danger, but for many Swedes, the amazing experience makes up for the extra risk. Photo: Alex Dawson
Swede Ingvar Elfström introduced the world’s first single hose diving regulator in 1958 – a development that contributed to a growing interest in scuba diving in Sweden. As diving equipment became accessible to the public, curiosity for underwater exploration, scientific and recreational, blossomed.
Swedish waters provide divers with a range of diving opportunities, from wreck exploration and nature dives to ice, quarry and cave diving. Great nature diving is found along the west coast of Sweden, while some of the best wreck diving is found in the waters surrounding the island of Öland.
Diving conditions are often demanding, creating the need for equipment that is not required in the tropics. Among other things, dry suits help keep divers comfortable and diving lamps assist when navigating through dark waters.
Diving in the east coast waters of Sweden sometimes call for a little extra light. Photo: Karl Bäckström
Many divers believe that these challenges are a small price to pay for the quality and variety of diving found in and around Sweden. Diver Magnus Keijser says these demands are also great training for divers.
“Because of darkness, cold and low visibility, we learn to rely heavily on instruments and diving partners,” Keijser says. “I often say that if you can dive in Sweden, you can dive anywhere.”
Mint condition wrecks
In 1663, Hans Albrecht von Treileben and Andreas Peckell used a diving bell in Stockholm’s archipelago to salvage a number of cannons from the Vasa, the massive ship that sunk after a maiden voyage of less than a mile in 1628. After bringing those guns to the surface, the wreck was forgotten.
In 1956, amateur marine archaeologist Anders Franzén found the Vasa again and efforts to raise the entire ship ensued. In 1961, after an unprecedented effort, the hull finally saw daylight. In excellent shape after 333 years, the ship has been preserved and can now be viewed at Stockholm’s Vasa Museum.
Wrecks along the floor of the Baltic Sea, like the Vasa, remain well preserved due to the lack of wood-eating organisms that thrive in saltier waters. The Baltic Sea is the largest area of brackish water in the world; its mixture of fresh and salt waters is uninhabitable for the teredo navalis, or the shipworm. Home to an estimated 40,000 known sunken ships, the wreck diving here is among the best in the world.
One out of an estimated 40,000 wrecks in the Baltic Sea. Photo: Magnus Keijser / uvfoto.se
Underwater photographer Alex Dawson knows what it is like to come across a sunken treasure off the Swedish coastline. “I was diving once when we discovered a 17th century wreck,” he says. “The mast was still intact and standing – it was amazing. Small items on the deck and some of the ship’s details were incredibly well-preserved.”
Breaking the ice
Just a few cuts with a chainsaw and the lakes and quarries that disappear annually under snow-covered sheets of ice are easily attainable to divers. Underwater visibility increases when bodies of water freeze over, due to intensified light and reduced water movement.
“It’s very special light – great for photography. The effect that the ice has on the water is dramatic and provides better visibility than when the lake or quarry isn’t frozen,” says Dawson. “For safety reasons, more preparations have to be made when ice diving, but it’s worth it.”
Keijser agrees. “When the sun lights up the snow layer on the surface, it’s like swimming under a gigantic, soft, white lamp.”
This flooded mine in Dalarna offers divers several kilometers of tunnels to explore, 120 meters below ground surface. Photo: Nicklas Myrin
Diving into the unknown
Nicklas Myrin became interested in cave diving as a teenager. He was helping a group of divers as they headed into Lummelundagrottan (the second longest cave in Sweden, located along the northwest coast of Gotland). As the divers headed into the unknown, Myrin was forced to stay behind. “The divers could go on,” he says, “The rest of us couldn’t. I looked up to them.”
Today, Myrin is one of an elite group of Swedish cave divers. Working with the Swedish Speleological Federation, Myrin and his companions donate much of their free time to cave diving all over Sweden. Much time is spent observing cave formations and gathering samples for research purposes, making dives both interesting and thrilling. “Cave diving is a hobby that I really burn for,” says Myrin.
In addition to caves, Sweden has plenty of flooded mines to investigate, some of which date back as far as the 12th century. And with an estimated 150,000 divers in Sweden, more variety of underwater exploration is never a bad thing.
- The Swedish Sports Diving Federation (Sweden’s only non-commercial membership organization for sports divers) is made up of 210 clubs and has 500 instructors.
- Wrecks can also be found in all three of Sweden’s largest lakes, Vänern, Vättern and Mälaren. Vänern (the largest) is said to have about 10,000 wrecks.
- Five of the most popular diving destinations in Sweden are: Lysekil, Smögen, Kullaberg, Väderöarna (all four on the west coast) and Björkvik (in Stockholm).
- Most Swedish divers have their first diving experiences in Sweden before heading to warmer waters.
- Cave diving in Sweden can be divided into two categories: sump and cave diving. In sump diving, divers explore both the dry and wet areas of a cave. In cave diving, the emphasis is on the diving experience itself.
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Anders Porter is a freelance writer and journalist from California. He lives in Grythyttan, Sweden, about 250 km (155 miles) west of Stockholm, where he runs a translating firm and works as a personal English language coach. While obtaining PADI diving certification in Thailand, he brushed up against the belly of a whale shark. His life flashing before him, he suddenly remembered that whale sharks only eat plankton.
The author alone is responsible for the opinions expressed in this article.
© Photo 1: Alex Dawson
© Photo 2: Karl Bäckström
© Photo 3: Magnus Keijser / uvfoto.se
© Photo 4: Nicklas Myrin
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