Visiting churches, old homes, even hanging on a missile launcher are interesting ways to pass time in and around Moscow.
Visiting churches, old homes, and hanging on missile launchers is even better when they are underwater.
Such adventures await those who undertake diving in Moscow, whose waters "the Red Sea couldn’t hold a candle to."
To take advantage of the growing interest, many diving centers have recently appeared in Moscow offering training courses and entertainment programs, including scuba diving events in the Moscow region and in foreign seas.
The health standards for diving are stricter than most sports. Those with spinal chord problems, ear and nose defects, weak lungs, abnormal blood pressure, epilepsy or other serious ailments, including psychological disturbances will not be admitted. Poor eyesight will not prevent one from participation, as diving masks for both shortsighted and longsighted people are available.
However, not all diving clubs impose tough health controls. ‘Sprut Club’ demands a comprehensive medical check up while ‘Extreme Club’ will take your word for it that your healthy.
Before you can search for sunken treasures, you need to take a training course. There are two basic training courses – NAUI (National Association Of Underwater Instructors) or PADI (Professional Association of Diving Instructors).
The NAUI and PADI systems are quite similar, offering group or individual lessons. Instructors will devote to you as much of their time as is required for you to become ready for open-water diving. The PADI system offers more courses for professional development. In addition to the basic training courses (primary to professional), you can study to become a certified "altitude diver" or "underwater photographer."
All diving clubs offer ‘trial diving’ days for prospective members. A novice is invited to a free diving event to decide whether he wants to go in for diving or not. If the answer is ‘yes,’ the newcomer will be given a primary course that includes classes, written exams, pool training and, finally, a qualification open-water event. Those that successfully complete the program receive a primary diving certificate.
With this certificate in hand, it’s time to hit the real waters. Diving events are organized at both expensive foreign destinations (diving clubs take care of organising tours) as well as in water reservoirs around Moscow. Some are skeptical about diving in Moscow region’s water reservoirs. ‘What a diver can find there? No coral reefs, no sunken ships – only dirty and turbid waters, sunken logs and, with luck, you will see a couple of fish.’ These people are not down on Moscow. NAUI instructor-trainer Vladimir Filippov at ‘Sprut Club’ said, "Diving in the Moscow region is something no Red Sea can hold a candle to! First of all, conditions are close to extreme – cold water, poor visual range (only 1-2 meters compared to 30-40 meters in a sea). It gives a good shot of adrenaline!"
Diving season in central Russia begins in June and ends in September. However, this does not mean other months of the year are unsuitable. ‘Aquanaut,’ a 5-star PADI diving center, has a sub-ice diving section. Aquanaut has a base in Moscow (Olympiisky Sports Complex) and a base in Pirogovo, Moscow region. The club’s diving pool at Olympiisky (2-6 meters deep) is under repair and will reopen in September, but the Pirogovo base is accessible now (visual range – up to 2 meters). Opened in 1995, Piogovo’ diving range is large – 2.5 sq. km and 11 meters deep. The range is equipped with everything necessary for training and taking qualification exams. Going a step beyond the ordinary, Pirogovo’s underwater range includes a missile launcher, a Mercedes and a bathyscaph.
Aquanaut offers diving tours to the Bezdonnoye Lake (Kaluga region), 270 kilometers from Moscow. A two-day diving tour to Bezdonnoye with austere accommodation and a full set of diving equipment costs $100. "We plan to add the Rybinskoye water reservoir to our list of diving tour destinations," Sergei Kurkov, senior instructor said. "The creation of this water reservoir had placed a whole village under water. They say it is a very interesting place for diving – lots of sunken houses and churches," Kurkov added.
For children who want to dive, the Extreme Club offers tours to Beloye Lake. "For children, we issue diving certificates from the age of 14," Extreme Club Administrator Marina Yalova said. "Usually we arrange tours for groups of 12-15 people."
Beloye Lake is located in the Ryazan region, 180 kilometers from Moscow. The lake is 35-meters deep, visual range is 1 meter and there are fish including crayfish for viewing. Picturesque pine groves and sand beaches surround the lake. Fishing is free. In addition to fishing and diving, there is an opportunity to play paintball (renting equipment for two days with a box of 2,000 paintballs cost $120). "Going to Beloye, be sure to take something to protect you from mosquitoes," Marina Yalova warned. "This is perhaps the only minus of the place."
Extreme Club’s Moscow base is located at the MVTU sports complex.
‘Sprut Club,’ named Russia’s best diving center in 1999, operates three facilities in Moscow: ‘Pravda,’ ‘Izmailovo’ and MVTU. Only MVTU is open at the moment. The club organizes weekly diving events at the Moscow Dolphin Aquarium, where you can swim together with porpoises in seawater. A two-hour session with a full set of diving equipment included costs $50.
"We offer weekend tours to several lakes and water reservoirs, including the Tomilino Quarries, Rublyovo, Beloye Lake, Senezh lake and others," NAUI instructor-trainer at ‘Sprut Club’ Vladimir Filippov said. "Accommodations are quite austere – a choice of a tent or a room in a shabby hostel."
Tomilino Quarries, though located very close to the Moscow Ring Road, are quite suitable for diving – the depth is up to 12 meters. There are huge stones at the bottom to explore, lots of seaweed to wade through and fish to fight with. However, the place is overcrowded with leisure hikers on weekends. A tour, including two dives with a full set of equipment, is $40.
Senezh Lake is 60 kilometers northwest of Moscow, near the town of Solnechnogorsk. Though the water is rather turbid, the place is excellent for a weekend hike. Lots of fish and crayfish, beautiful verdant landscapes and interesting bottoms to explore. Night-diving is especially thrilling. For fishing, you need to obtain a license from the local Fishery Inspection Office, and harpoon fishing is forbidden. A program of two diving sessions is only $20.
‘Captain Cook’ diving center offers weekend tours to the Beloye Lake located at the Moscow region’s eastern segment, near the town of Shatura (not to be confused with the Beloye Lake located in the Ryazan Region). The lake is 55 meters deep, but visual range is very poor, not more than 1 meter. With luck, you will see fish. Accommodation and catering are of basic quality.
All Moscow’s diving clubs and centers offer exciting tours to Zvezdny Gorodok, where the unique Yuri Gagarin Astronaut Training Center’s hydro lab is located. Not very long ago it used to be a strictly closed facility. A 3-4 hour diving session with a full set of equipment provided will cost you $50-60. The pool is 12 meters deep and water is crystal clear and warm (28 centigrade). At the bottom, you can explore a model of a MIR orbiting station unit. For a full impression you can try a real spacesuit on.
14a Kastanayevskaya Ul. Metro: Bagrationovskaya Tel: 737-3377 www.kuk.ru
A primary course according to the PADI system is $100; for children aged 12 and up. A primary course + scuba diving event is $250; a two-day trip with diving in water reservoirs of the Moscow region with the club’s equipment is $70; membership cards are available for $150 to $350