Treasure Chasers

January 11, 2011

Balaklava and Its Reputation as a Scuba Divers Paradise

Filed under: Shipwreck — Tags: , , , , — admin @ 4:37 pm

Balaklava and Its Reputation as a Scuba Divers Paradise

Crimea an autonomous republic is re-inventing itself after the ending of the old soviet union. Private enterprise is flourishing and well-stocked shops and good restaurants are the norm. Transport and accommodation are cheaper than the Mediterranean resorts but the weather is better and the sightseeing amazing!

Visitors from all over the world are welcomed in a country which has opened its doors to foreign tourists by reducing visa requirements to a minimum.

Whether you want wine-tasting or scuba diving, mountains or sea, to visit the Byzantine ruins of Khersoness, or the fabulous Livadia Palace near Yalta, home of the last of the Russian Tsars – or if you just want to relax on the beach and then while away a warm summer evening in a gourmet restaurant, Crimea has something for you.

In this article we will focus on the Balaklava and its reputation as a scuba divers paradise.

Balaklava Harbor lies on the Black Sea coast of the Crimea in the Ukraine. It is a fine natural harbor and provides excellent all round shelter. In the past the harbor was closed to all private vessels and was home to the Soviet submarine fleet. Yachts should establish the current position before attempting to visit Balaklava.

Balaklava is rapidly changing from being primarily a working port and (in Soviet times) a secret submarine base for the Russian navy, to a leisure destination for tourists, lured by the history of the place and the drama of the rugged coastline. Period houses along the waterfront are being restored, a new hotel, the Golden Symbol, with its own harbor has opened and the place has an air of fresh prosperity.

The harbormaster at the Golden Symbol, himself an ex-submariner, will tell you about the maze of tunnels within the hillside, that allowed large numbers of Soviet submarines to hide unobserved. It is an indication of the way things are moving that you can now take a tour inside the previously secret base, and the large floating dry dock which used to be used for submarine repairs is to be moved to the naval harbor in Sevastopol this year. Crewing a submarine was a dangerous business, and the town has several memorials to sailors and commanders who are remembered for acts of bravery.

Unlike elsewhere in Crimea, restaurants in Balaklava are generally called Tavernas – a nod in the direction of the `Archipelago Greeks’ from the islands, who settled this part of the coast under Catherine the Great. It was a Greek battalion which attempted to prevent the British occupation of Balaklava at the start of the Crimean war by holding out on the commanding heights where the ruins of the Genoese fortress overlook the town. There are locals with Greek names today, who can trace their encestry back to this period.

Apart from the excellent restaurant `The Gavan’ on the ground floor of the Golden Symbol, there is a famous seafood restaurant with a good selection of Crimean, Georgian and French wines and an English menu, as well as numerous tavernas along the waterfront.

The `Aquamarine’ diving centre offers scuba diving along the coast, and from the Golden Symbol you can get a variety of boat trips, from sea fishing to dolphin spotting.

There are three swimming beaches along the Balaklava inlet, but the locals will advise you to walk the extra distance to the far side of the Genoese fortress, where the beach faces the open sea – or to get a boatsman to take you to a wild beach along the coast, accessible only from the sea (but make sure he remembers to come and collect you!) or to swim in one of the numerous sea caves which abound under the cliffs.

A submarine turned by its bow to the shore and went with a slow speed towards the rock. The rock parted and hid the black-deck cabin at first, then the entire submarine.

Those who found themselves at the Balaklava seaside late evening could watch such a scene. A tourist would hardly understand what happened, whereas the local people would guess that the next submarine that entered its shelter would be at the underground ship-repairing factory.

For a long time, residents of Balaklava did not know exactly what was happening in the underground factory. Nowadays, it’s possible to wander the dark winding halls with a guide. The excursion to the navy complex-museum “Balaklava” clarifies the mysterious past of “Facility 825″ -a top secret complex where the Soviet subs were hidden and repaired.

In the mid 1950s, Josef Stalin, a leader of Soviet communists, amazed by results of A-bombs dropped on Hiroshima and Nagasaki, gave the order to hide the underwater fleet from possible nuclear attacks. The order had to be carried out and soon military engineers prepared the project for the constructing of a giant underground complex, located in the thick of the rock, deeply underground. This facility had to serve as a house for subs. It had to include such a roof and doors that could allow the ship to enter and exit by its own speed. And inside, it had to be able to survive A-bombs in the company of other subs, surrounded with the consideration and care of commanders and repairers.

You can hire motor launches and sailing yachts by the hour to take you out to sea or to perfect beaches accessible only by boat because of the steep cliffs. You may want to take a dip from the boat and swim into sea caves. For more serious diving, scuba equipment and guided dives are available from `Aquamarine’. The Black Sea is home to the bottlenose dolphin and chance encounters are not uncommon.

If you fancy a spot of sea-angling, you can hire a boat, rod and line and the services of a local seaman who can take you to the best fishing areas. In some cases you can cook and eat what you’ve caught on board.

So if you want a vacation with a touch of the deep sea extreme, head for the Crimean Peninsula. The sea waters will gently embrace you and the Black Sea shelf will readily reveal its historical secrets of sunken ships and ancient epochs, breathtaking underwater landscapes, caves and volcanoes, as well as acquaint you with marine life. Even though this underwater fairytale is quickly over; the memory of it will stay with you for the rest of your lifetime.

Like a museum, the Black Sea preserves military relics. A great number of shipwrecks were left following the Crimean War of 1853 – 1856 that enveloped the waters of the southwestern Crimea from Cape Lukall to Cape Sarych. During a single hurricane in November 1854 in Balaklava Harbor, 60 British, French and Turkish vessels sank just as they readied themselves to bombard the fortress city of Sevastopol. On that fateful day, the sea took into its embrace the pride of the British fleet, the sailing frigate “Prince” and 20 thousand Pound Sterling in gold and silver. The legend of dozens of barrels filled with gold and silver still attracts treasure hunters all over the world and frigate itself was long ago renamed “The Black Price” in order to make the intrigue more exiting.

One more wonder of Crimea’s underwater realm is an English frigate, whose name still remains in mystery, which went to the bottom with a cargo no less precious than that of the “Price”, numerous bottles of wine and cognac, which caused divers to christen it in “The Drunken Jack”. Today in the wreckage of the ship, you can find a bottle of wine or cognac that has already been maturing for more than a century. At depths from 6 to 15 meters, one can finds the eternal resting place of other heroes of the Crimean War: the legendary “Lord Reglan” and his fair lady the “Duchess of Glendaloge” and the majestic warriors “Gung”, “Pyrenees” and “London”.

The Second World War also left its marks in Crimea’s submarine spaces. In Unforgettable impressions will remain after a visit to Balaklava, a small town in the vicinity of Sevastopol. During the Sovjet era, there was a submarine shooting range there in the area of Mramorna Balka. Today, at a depth accusable to divers, one can see the remains of broken targets and unsuccessfully lounged torpedoes.

Retrieved from

Stig-Arne Kristoffersen
A Globetrotter
www.lulu.com/stig


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