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By Jesper Kjoller
Header and other images by with additional images by Naim Chidiac
Deep pools are not a new idea. There are a few of them in Europe already and they offer divers an opportunity to train or to enjoy deeper dives in a controlled and safe environment. Exciting as these spots are, they are still essentially swimming pools with chlorinated water and white square tiles. The recent launch of Deep Dive Dubai completely changes the landscape. Never has an indoor diving facility provided so many compelling reasons to visit.
Dubai has a tradition for creating attractions and facilities that result from out-of-the-box thinking. As an example, the desert-bound Emirate obviously does not have any alpine skiing opportunities. So, Ski Dubai—an indoor ski slope—was developed. There were no safe road cycling opportunities, so over 200 kilometers of dedicated cycling tracks were built. Dubai also boasts an opera house and a Ferris-wheel larger than London Eye, not to mention the world’s tallest building, the Burj Khalifa. Dubai also has one of the most impressive and popular skydiving facilities globally and the world’s longest urban zipline. The examples of these “only in Dubai” wonders are endless, and they keep coming.
The Persian Gulf is a sandy and shallow basin and does not offer the most exciting diving, so in order to provide divers with reliable training opportunities, a 60 meter/196 ft pool was proposed as a new addition to the list of Dubai wonders. But, true to the Emirates’ inclination for extraordinary endeavors, the creators of Deep Dive Dubai decided to develop the idea a little further and give this project a unique Dubai spin.
An Underwater Metropolis
A 60 meter pool could have quickly become a somewhat dull and sterile environment unless a more creative approach were adopted. Numerous international design teams and professional theming companies explored ideas for something that would be unique and marvelous. The development team was expanded to include world-record-setting explorer and aquatic pioneer, Jarrod Jablonski, founder and president of Global Underwater Explorers (GUE). The design team wanted something that could engage a sense of fun, intrigue, and fantasy while recognizing the important role diving has played in the history of the UAE.
Recalling the importance of pearl diving in the development of both the region and international trade, Deep Dive Dubai was designed in the shape of an oyster. The pearl diving profession was once an essential trade for Dubai until Japan introduced industrial pearls some hundred years ago and strangled the pearling industry. Many Emirati families can trace their ancestry to a time when they were involved in the pearl trade. The design team finally landed on the idea of a sunken city, providing a surreal diving environment and nearly endless opportunities to develop unique and interactive spaces with the ability to change parts of the facility to keep the environment fresh and engaging.
Deep Dive Dubai is themed as a submerged metropolis intact with seminal city furniture such as lampposts, shopping carts, bicycles, billboards, ATMs, trash cans, phone booths, fire escape ladders, among other everyday objects from a modern metropolis. You get the picture. But you will not only be diving amongst urban artifacts. After an unknown post-apocalyptic incident eroded the city’s walls, you can explore a fully furnished apartment. The different rooms in the apartment are decorated with classic artwork on the walls, furniture, and toys. There is also a workshop with cars, motorbikes, arcade games, and much more.
It is anybody’s guess what happened here. Did the entire city sink? Did a natural disaster cause it to be flooded? An earthquake, perhaps? Or is it possibly a model of a human city in a parallel universe? An enormous tree with roots that stretch deep down almost from the surface adds to the mystery and implies a nature take-over.
The outside of the building—inspired by a giant oyster shell—and the diving environment resembling a sunken city are linked together by the décor inside the impressive three-story facility surrounding the 60 meter/196 ft shaft. The interior design of the dry areas is reminiscent of a spaceship from a 1970s science-fiction movie with flowing organic lines forged in the 3D printed walls, clean white interiors, and open spaces. Imagine a flying saucer shaped like a giant oyster shell landed on top of a block of Manhattan after a natural disaster flooded the neighborhood. Oystershell. Spaceship. Metropolis. The metaphors are mixed, but the mystery will definitely spark your imagination. Divers exploring the underwater environment in Deep Dive Dubai will marvel at the enigma, and it is impossible not to speculate what really happened here.
Adding to the mood and atmosphere, the diving facility’s curtains can cover the gigantic window panels and the skylights in the roof, insulating the complex from the sunlight. This will allow the advanced light system to create different settings or even simulate a night dive experience in broad daylight. Multiple hydrophones connected to an advanced sound system allow for playback of music, soundscapes, or verbal diver recall in an emergency. The possibilities for creating underwater sensory experiences with light and sound are endless.
Spectator Sports Anyone?
Divers who always wished they could share their diving experience with a non-diving friend or loved one have a once-in-a-lifetime chance to do just that. From the surface down to 12 meters/39 ft, viewers can watch divers traverse the first two floors of their adventure below the dive deck. Visiting divers, friends and family can also enjoy a delicious meal or fine refreshments in the spacious restaurant while they relax and enjoy the view inside the pool through vast glass windows. Deep Dive Dubai will have managed to turn diving into a spectator sport. The pool is also covered by 56 cameras serving a threefold purpose: the video feed can be shared on large monitors that are situated throughout. This feed is also projected to the dive control station where the dive supervisor monitors all areas inside the pool for safety. A video capturing the visitor experience can be edited and shared with the guests after their visit.
A Research Facility
While on the subject of safety, conservative ratios between guides/instructors and guests/students and the cameras covering all angles of the huge body of water ensure a safe experience. Deep Dive Dubai also provides ideal diving gases to optimize safety: nitrox for shallow dives and trimix for deeper dives. A multinational team of handpicked dive professionals, including instructor trainers from PADI and GUE as well as record-holding freedivers and technical divers, are on staff.
The controlled and predictable environment delivers the optimal setting for people of all experience levels —from first-time scuba divers and freedivers to those seeking one of the world’s most unique diving experiences. Even high-end technical divers and freediving athletes will find the experience rewarding. From fun-filled dives to focused training, there is something here for everyone.
Divers can even enter underwater habitats at 21 and six meters (70 and 20 ft) while talking to one another and looking out large windows into the pool. They can use the habitats for fun, training, or decompression. These habitats resemble commercial diving bells and can be supplied with different gases from the surface as needed. Display monitors and surface communication devices enhance the unique experience, offering diving support or to provide even greater safety.
Deep Dive Dubai also houses the largest hyperbaric chamber in the Middle East and North Africa (MENA) region. Most decompression chambers are small and uncomfortable tubes that only allow for one or two patients and a tender to be inside during the recompression therapy. The centerpiece in the hyperbaric facility in Deep Dive Dubai is a modern, fully automated 10-person multi-station chamber with comfortable chairs, an entertainment system, and even a full-size bathroom cabin.
Divers Alert Network (DAN) Europe conducted a thorough review of the facility’s functionality, intrinsic safety, operating procedures and the level of staff training through its Recompression Chamber Risk Assessment (RCAPP) program. They are also providing Deep Dive Dubai and their diving staff with medical assistance services, access to an emergency hotline, as well as accident and liability insurance coverage.
Having easy access to a modern and advanced hyperbaric facility provides another level of safety and opens interesting scientific research possibilities. The unique combination of a hyperbaric chamber and a 60-meter dive facility under the same roof will provide the perfect platform for medical research in diving physiology and related areas of interest. Deep Dive Dubai will liaise with international universities, diving physiologists, and DAN Europe while exploring unique research projects in diving medicine.
There are classrooms for teaching dive courses with windows facing the pool, meeting rooms, and a comfortable 50-seat conference area with a large screen for presentations, seminars, and product launch events. Deep Dive Dubai will offer many exciting possibilities for movie production as one of the largest underwater studios in the world.
Taking The Plunge
We walk down the slope leading into the pool and don our fins on the ramp while clarifying the last details of the dive plan. We are diving open circuit trimix, and we carry 50% nitrox to accelerate our deco. The view when we glide out in the middle and look down is breathtaking. I do not have any fear of heights, but I can’t help but feel a slight tinge of vertigo when I look all the way down to the bottom of the shaft. Sixty meters is gloriously deep! We descend all the way down while enjoying the view of the cityscape surrounding us. It is a surreal experience to see all these convincing objects of everyday life in an underwater environment. We arrive at the bottom, and when we look up, we are met with another Deep Dive Dubai signature sight – the circular shaft towering above us with the super bright light in the ceiling of the facility resembling the sun catching our bubbles.
We leave the bottom and enjoy the view of the brick walls in the shaft decorated with strange graffiti—the artists were obviously narked when they created the weird creatures covering the sides. Arriving at 40 meters/130 ft, we swim into the circular donut-shaped garage, where cars, motorbikes, and arcade games are scattered. There is even a full-sized Star Wars Stormtrooper and a pool table. We complete the 62 meter/203 ft circuit and ascend the monumental staircase leading to another donut at 30 meters/100 ft, where we arrive at the apartment. The occupants apparently had to abandon their living space in a hurry, leaving magazines and a box of popcorn at the coffee table. The TV is still on, and the living room is decorated with posters of iconic movie stars. In the apartment donut, we also pass the music room with the grand piano, the kitchen, the dining room, the bedroom, and the art room. There are so many details to take in, and I realize that it will take many dives to fully explore everything.
The variety of wayfinding lights illuminate many areas while further mood enhancements allow softly lit areas or even areas one can enjoy in total darkness. An entirely new kind of cave diving! We ascend from the apartment through a library shaft with walls covered by bookshelves filled with timeless literature. We do our gas switch at 21 meters/70 ft inside the shaft and begin the decompression portion of the dive while studying the book titles. Shakespeare, James Joyce, Jules Verne – all the classics are there. We complete our decompression while exploring the shallower part of the pool and we wave at the passing spectators outside the windows. Never have 45 minutes of deco stops been less boring!
A Guinness World Record
Deep Dive Dubai is, without a doubt, the most impressive diving facility in the world. After your first visit, you will probably struggle to decide the most remarkable part of the experience. Is it the friendly and professional staff? The luxurious surroundings? Or maybe the cutting-edge technology? Perhaps it is the never-ending row of wonderful surprises and details in the theming.
When you get the chance to improve your diving skills in a controlled and exciting environment with tips and tricks offered by world class diving instructors, you will probably find that even if Deep Dive Dubai is the deepest pool in the world, the record depth—officially verified by Guinness World Records—is maybe the least interesting feature.
FACT FILE – DEEP DIVE DUBAI FILTER SYSTEM
The water in the pool is treated in one of the largest and fastest filter systems in the region, with a capacity to circulate all 14 million liters/3.7 mil gallons of water every six hours.
First, it is passed through a perlite filter which consists of a naturally occurring siliceous volcanic rock. Here larger particles such as dust, debris, and organic matter are removed. Perlite is a naturally occurring volcanic glass that is super-efficient—it only produces 10% of the amount of backwash compared to a sand filter.
The second step is ozone ionization to control bacteria. NASA developed this process for drinking water production in the Apollo spaceships in the 1960s. The ozone treatment significantly reduces chlorine usage by 80%, and chemical byproducts such as bromide are greatly eliminated.
The third step involves two huge UV reactors that disinfect the water terminating all the bacteria. UV is commonly used in hospitals to sterilize operating room instruments.
After that treatment, the temperature is adjusted, and the water is pumped back into the pool. It is unnecessary to replenish with water from the outside except to compensate for a slight loss of volume due to evaporation.
How does Deep Dive Dubai compare with other deep pools? See InDepth: Size, err Depth, Matters: Why Do Pools Keep Breaking Records?
Originally a professional musician, Jesper fell in love with diving almost 30 years ago. He made a career change and became instructor in 1994 and PADI Course Director in 1999 when he was offered the editor chair of the Scandinavian Diving Magazine DYK. Jesper became a GUE instructor in 2011, and in 2015 he moved to Dubai to apply his skills in underwater storytelling and imagery as Marketing Manager of Deep Dive Dubai. From Dubai he travels the world to teach and report for international dive magazines and to participate in dive projects like the yearly Mars field studies in the Baltic Sea or deep wreck explorations in Egypt. In 2021 he began as Editor-in-Chief of Quest, the GUE Member Journal.
Award winning photographer and tech instructor Becky Kagan Schott explains why these nine curated Great Lakes shipwreck photos are her favs.
Photos and words by Becky Kagan Schott
♪ ♫ Pre-dive Jam : Imagine Dragons – Whatever It Takes ♪ ♫
“All of these shipwrecks have compelling stories of tragedy and survival. Some are stories of mystery. Each one is very unique. What I’m trying to do with each is capture a bit of that story with a powerful image and match the two.”
“Out of all the shipwrecks that I’ve shot in the Great Lakes, from shallow to over 300 feet deep, the Cedarville was one of the most challenging shipwrecks for me to photograph because of the lighting. It is very harsh with being in such shallow water and it being so big. And then with it being almost turtled, it’s very dark underneath, so it’s very shadowed. This image is special to me because it was about three years in the making. Every year I would go and experiment with new things, just trying to capture an image that really showcased the bow of the shipwreck—this massive freighter—where these fatal decisions took place in this wheelhouse. So, that’s why I have the wheelhouse illuminated, and I’ve got a diver up there sort of helping to illuminate the deck of the ship. Again, this one is special because it wasn’t just that I went and captured the image the first time around. It really took thinking and about it for three years to finally capture an image that I was happy with.”
Daniel J. Morrell
“Seeing the Morrell really gives me chills. The bow section, the stern section, obviously the engine room here is in the stern. I wanted to capture an image that looked like somebody just went in and turned the lights back on. And since the shipwreck is covered in quagga mussels on the outside, there’s not a lot of features on the outside. But when you enter and you go inside, it is so clean. This image was another year in the making. And it was like a coordinated dance. I closed my eyes and I walked through every step of the dive so many times in my mind, from descending down the line and entering through the skylight. I had a safety diver that you can’t see pictured here because this is about 205 feet deep (62 meters) in 38°F/3.3ºC water, so it’s very cold. And I knew with three of us going in there, we would not have much time to execute the shot before it would get stirred up because it’s silty. But we got in, we did the light placements, and I probably only took six or seven shots. At that time, it wasn’t about quantity, it was more about quality. And I did end up capturing pretty close to the image that I wanted, one where you can see the diver looking at the telegraph. And then you’ve got the tool bench behind the diver where, if I were to take a close-up picture, there were still hammers and screwdrivers and everything. To me, this is where somebody worked, and this was the last place somebody worked before or while the ship went down. So it’s not about taking a picture of an engine room, but capturing that emotion and that human element.”
Cornelia B Windiate
“This image is a pretty special one to me. It was the first time I ever dived the Cornelia B Windiate. This wreck just captured my imagination. When I first saw it it was like being transported back in time, being on a piece of history. Like when I pictured a shipwreck as a kid, this is what I pictured as a shipwreck. And growing up in Florida, this isn’t what we’d see when we dived. So, dropping down on the Windiate the first thing I saw was the big wooden wheel on the back and then the freestanding masts and the lifeboat off to the side, which just captured my imagination. And this is a shipwreck with a lot of mystery still surrounding it. It disappeared in 1875 with a crew of nine, and the crew of nine was never found. And then the ship was actually thought to have sunk in Lake Michigan, but it was found in Lake Huron. So who knows what happened to the crew. But, since obviously the lifeboat is with the wreck, they didn’t make it. But it’s one of the most intact schooners that I’ve been able to dive with its intact cabin. There’s a spiral staircase leading down and two woodstock anchors on the front. And those standing masts are pretty special.”
The Sidewheel Steamer Detroit
“This was also a pretty unique wreck; diving it is like you’re going back in time because it sank in 1854. There are not a lot of intact wooden sidewheelers with intact paddle wheels on the side and with the walking beam engine. There used to be a bell, but unfortunately it was stolen. Here you see two very good friends of mine, Jim and Susan Winn, who passed away a couple of years ago on a different dive, which makes this photo even more special to me, even though it was special before that just because of the shipwreck itself. This is around 210 feet deep (64 m) so it’s a deeper wreck.”
“I just shot this one a couple months ago during this summer. And it was one of those days where it was dark and raining, and this wreck is in about 145 feet of water. So we knew it was going to be dark down there. Which can be disappointing in some ways, but in other ways, when I know something is going to be dark, I just know that lighting is everything. Lighting could really make this pop. So Kevin Bond helped me out by illuminating one of the anchors. And there’s like four different anchors on the bow of this wreck. It has this beautiful bow. It’s an interesting wreck. If he would’ve illuminated from the other side you would’ve seen this mushroom anchor that you can kind of see down on the far right-hand side. I like moody. And they don’t always have happy endings, so I think moody plays well with a lot of these wrecks.”
“The Gunilda sits in 270 feet of water. I mean we’re not at 270 feet in this picture, probably more like 250 feet (77m). We just had such limited time. So my goal with the Gunilda was I wanted to create a photo that nobody had ever seen before. When I saw photos of this shipwreck before I’d been there, they were all close up shots and details of just the bell or details of the wheel or the binnacle. Small details. So I wanted to see if I could execute a shot that gave you a little bit more of a wide-angle look. It’s difficult because there is snow-like particulate in the water. So it was more difficult than I had imagined. And the visibility isn’t as good in Lake Superior. But I had two divers helping me out with this shot to help illuminate the flying bridge with the wheel and the binnacle and the telegraph and another one to help me illuminate the chart house. And then I also had some lights inside to help the windows glow, and put lights around the wreck as well. I think I’m the first to capture a wide-angle shot of the Gunilda. I’ve never seen another one like it.”
“This photo is special because it was extremely hard to execute, and it was a team effort. Everybody had to be on the same page, so this was a planned shot. It’s around 250 feet (77m) deep, and there’s absolutely no ambient light whatsoever. It is pitch black, and you are very far north in Lake Superior, so it’s just cold, dark, and deep. And you have very limited time at that depth. So the idea here was to have a couple friends illuminate through the skylight as if natural sunlight was pouring back into the wreck for the first time. And I had no on-camera lighting for this shot, so I just wanted it to appear as if the ship was floating again and the sunlight was pouring in through the stained glass window.
As you can see, the chairs and the table are bolted to the floor, and there is a fireplace in the background, and there is still a clock. Off on the far right-hand side, you can see the bend from my lens with the window there. The difficult thing with getting this shot is we couldn’t go inside these rooms. They are very small. So I had to gently stick my camera through a window. And you can actually see some of the glass shards at the bottom of the frame. When you’re in 37°F/3ºC water and you know that you’re going to have two hours of decompression to do, you don’t want to rip your dry suit. So you have to very carefully stick your hands or your camera through so you don’t cut or rip any part of your dry suit. My dive buddies did an amazing job helping me to achieve this image.
One of my favorite comments I ever got on this photo was, ‘I don’t know why everyone is making such a big deal over this photo.’ Since there is no diver in it, somebody thought it was actually on land and it was just a dusty old room with sunlight coming through. And then when it was explained that it was 250 feet (77m) underwater, and it was pitch black with no light, they were a little more impressed.”
“This is another new shot that I just shot a couple months ago. The FT Barney was another very intact wooden schooner that I really wanted to get to. And this is also a very old schooner. And having an intact cabin and wheel and being just within technical range, around 150-160 feet (46-49m) deep was very appealing to me. But I just really liked the way the shot came out—kind of moody—with my buddy Bob illuminating the wheel and the cabin area. I just love these schooners. There’s something romantic about them. They bring you back in time.”
“The Typo is another wooden schooner and the bowsprit is still intact with the rigging still on it. And you can see Jim illuminating that anchor with that forward mast with the crows nest still standing. The very first time I dived this and I took a photo of the bow of the wreck, just like this, I looked at the back of my camera and it didn’t even look real to me. I looked up at the wreck with my own eyes and just took it all in because it just looks surreal. It just doesn’t even look like such a wreck can exist. And it really does. What I love about this is just the standing masts, the bowsprit. It looks like it’s still sailing on the bottom.”
In addition to photography/cinematography, Schott is an accomplished author and has just begun creating 3D photogrammetric models. Here is some of her work:
3D model: Sketchfab Cornelia B. windiate model
Alert Diver: Thunder Bay National Marine Sanctuary
Alert Diver: Straits of Mackinac Shipwreck Preserve
Michigan Blue et al: Dark Memories and Underwater Photographer Captures Forgotten Stories Beneath the Great Lakes and a video news series
Becky is a five-time Emmy award-winning underwater cameraman and photographer whose work appears on major networks including National Geographic, Discovery Channel and Red Bull. She specializes in capturing images in extreme underwater environments including caves, under ice, and deep shipwrecks. Her projects have taken her all over the world from the Arctic to the Antarctic and many exciting locations in between, filming new wreck discoveries to cave exploration and even diving cage-less with great white sharks. Her biggest passion is shooting haunting images of deep shipwrecks in the Great Lakes. Becky is a frequent contributor to numerous dive magazines, both US-based and international, and her photography has been used in books, museums, and advertising. She is also a technical diving instructor and leads expeditions all over the planet. www.LiquidProductions.com www.MegDiver.com
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Award winning photographer and tech instructor Becky Kagan Schott explains why these nine curated Great Lakes shipwreck photos are her...