Monday, March 29, 2010

Scuba diving in Sokcho

Video coming soon.

Over the weekend Lisa and I went SCUBA diving in Sokcho (속초), South Korea's smallest and northern-most city.
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About 50 miles from the border with North Korea, Sokcho lies at the base of the Seorak Mountains (서락산), a famous mountain range that attracts thousands of visitors in the fall, when leaves are changing color. On the other side Sokcho abuts the East Sea (Sea of Japan).

We signed up for a dive trip with Deep Blue Quest, a dive company run by Russell Krogh out of Seoul. Since we were coming from a different direction, we opted to ride up with our friends Ara and Ruthie, and meet up with the company at Mun-Am Resort (문암 리조트), the dive site. They were bringing a team of 4 Open Water dive students who would be completing the open water portion of their certification requirements. The four of us, plus one of DBQ's DiveMasters, were the only fun divers for the trip.

About halfway up the coast the weather changed dramatically, and snow began to fall. By the time we arrived in Sokcho about half an inch of powder and slush covered the ground, and it was continuing to shower. We considered the weather ruefully for a moment, but decided to make the best of the situation and ago ahead with our scheduled dives.

The water was COLD - from 3 to 5 degrees - and, though relatively calm, visibility was atrocious. On our first dive Saturday afternoon visibility was less than 1m. There was a lot of sediment from kelp plants floating suspended in the water. We didn't have much time to look around anyway. Within twenty minutes of our descent one of us was too cold to continue, and we would rush back to the office to warm up with coffee by a space heater.
warming up

Cold-water diving was a first for all of us, and after our first dive we weren't thrilled about it. Lisa, whose hands and feet get cold even indoors, decided not to go on a second dive on Saturday afternoon. Though visibility was better on the second dive, we still didn't see a lot of animal life. There was a variety of starfish, sea cucumbers, and sea slugs, but the fish, octopus, and nomura jellyfish we were hoping to see were absent for the duration of our visit.
getting the gear in order

the view from our minbak

We were scheduled to complete three dives on Saturday and one on Sunday with an optional 5th dive Sunday morning. As it turned out we barely squeezed in all four dives. DBQ seemed a bit disorganized. The four of us were sharing equipment with the dive students (although we had paid to rent our own gear), so we had to wait for each other to finish diving, strip gear (and in some cases wetsuits), and hand it over before we could head out for our next dive. We didn't even get in the water on Saturday until after 2pm.
dive briefing in the snow

beach dive

We were forced to abort a boat dive on Saturday afternoon as well, in a controversial turn-of events that ensued when aKorean dive team was sent to anchor the buoy line to the seabed. We sat in our wetsuits inhaling carbon monoxide fumes from the boat engines as the snow continued to fall around us. We waited for 20 minutes until we decided we were too cold to even get in the water at that point, and told the boat captain to take us ashore. He yanked on the buoy line to alert the divers below (who were nice and toasty in their expensive drysuits), and they surfaced five minutes later with an octopus in hand. Though we never got the full story out of them, they claimed that they spent the 20 minutes searching in vain for the line anchor.

Though Deep Blue Quest was competent and professional, their services were on the expensive side. The trip cost 350,000 won/person ($310) for four dives, minbak accommodation (our room was SWEET, with a balcony overlooking the ocean, but cost only 40,000 won), and three meals. We never got a cost breakdown, which would have been nice. I can only hope that we had top-of-the-line insurance (damn, I guess I should have asked about that in advance).
geared up

fishermen preparing their nets

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