Going into diving withdrawal is never fun. Trust me I’ve been there.
It’s that time of the year again when the temperature gets a little colder and water-related activities in the Northern Hemisphere cease to exist. As you can probably imagine for scuba diving fanatics like Joey and me, it’s our least favorite time of the year.
Not only does the weather take a dreary turn for the worst, but our scuba diving adventures become few and far between. That’s why we headed to Belgium, for a much-needed dive fix.
Some people go to Brussels to sample to the Belgian waffles the country is famous for, while others go for the impressive architecture and cultural scene.
But don’t let any of that fool you. Joey and I went to Brussels for one reason and one reason only; to scuba dive in the Nemo 33 indoor pool. And as we were traveling through the capital we were right in time for the designated noon time scuba session. Glub, glub, glub, glub – that’s scuba diver lingo for yahoooooooooo!
The Nemo 33 was designed by Belgian diving expert John Beernaerts. His goal; to recreate the water conditions of Bora Bora in his home country of Belgium. After three years of designing, testing and constructing, on May 1, 2004, the Nemo 33 opened its doors.
This world-class facility made some pretty big waves in the diving community. The multipurpose pool was used for recreational diving, freediving, dive instruction, film production… It’s currently even being used for fitness programs.
For ten years, the Nemo 33 held the record of the world’s deepest indoor pool. In that time scuba divers from all over visited the pool just to take a dip in one of the worlds best.
While still a world-class facility, now the Nemo 33 sits at number two in the world after the completion of the Y-40 in Padula, Italy.
Die-hard scuba fans will immediately recognize that the first part of the pool’s name “Nemo,” pays homage to Captain Nemo, the hero from the classic tale 20,000 Leagues Under the Sea. This submarine captain, brought to life by author Jules Verne’s, was a visionary who created a new civilization under the sea.
The “33” portion of the pool name, arises from both the depth and temperature parameters of the water. The pool is a maximum depth of 33 meters (108 feet), and the solar heated spring water (yup that’s right, it’s non-chlorinated water) is kept at a cozy 33 degrees Celsius, making it so that divers can enjoy diving wetsuit free without getting cold.
I couldn’t believe my eyes when we pulled into the Nemo 33 indoor pool parking lot. My first thoughts were; are we actually in the right place?!
We were about to dive one of the world’s top facilities, yet from the outside, the building hardly looked like it could house a pool. I had felt the same way when we had arrived at the Y-40 pool in Italy. The mind easily forgets that most of the pool is actually built underground.
As soon as we entered through the front doors, there was no mistaking; we had arrived at the Nemo 33. The restaurant was decked out in nautical dive decor, and several huge windows looked into the clear blue waters of the pool. The more I looked through the window, the antsier I got to get in and dive, dive, dive!
We paid the dive fee at the front desk and were buzzed through the metal entrance pretty quickly.
When we arrived on deck and spoke with the pool support staff, we found out that this day would be structured a bit differently than what we were use to. Instead of immediately suiting up in our dive gear, the pool required us to hop in with our mask and snorkel and do a short and shallow 15-minute freediving session.
To this day I think that this regulation was in place merely to gauge our ability and comfort level in the water before allowing us in the deep part of the pool, but given that Joey and I don’t practice the art of freediving, we were both a little weirded out. While I couldn’t remember the fine details, we’d both been around long enough to know that typically freediving and scuba diving shouldn’t be encouraged on the same day.
Given the unknowns regarding gas bubble build up in the body and the fact that we were about to do a pretty deep dive for recreational diving standards, it was perturbing to have minimal instructions given and just being instructed to freedive before scuba diving in the first place.
I was grateful that we are pretty knowledgeable scuba divers and knew enough not to exert ourselves and stay shallow. It worried me to think of the potential risks that a less experienced diver could have in this same situation.
As per our instincts, we spent most of the designated 15 minute freediving time, floating at the surface. We did do the occasional freedive but made sure to stay very shallow and to not push ourselves.
Almost as soon as we got the assemble-your-gear signal, Joey and I were on deck picking out our BCD’s and hooking our regulators up to the valves of the tanks. Hoses pressurized and dive computers reading 3000 PSI we wasted no time lowering our gear into the water where we would be able to suit up easily.
It felt great to be putting on dive equipment again, even more so in the warmth of the Nemo pool water. Once I leak tested the seal on my underwater camera housing we were off to the races.
Being the only divers scheduled to dive the Nemo during this particular hour time slot, Joey and I had the pool entirely to ourselves. How lucky are we?! It’s not every day you get to have a facility like this solely to yourself.
As we approached 30 feet (9 meters) my underwater therapy began. The smooth tile of the pool floor greeted my feet as I touched down on the bottom of the freediving pool, it felt good to be back in the water. Once Joey and I had both equalized, we swam through the small overhead environment towards the deeper cylindrical scuba diving basin.
Being 20 feet (6 meters) shallower than the Y-40 pool, heading down into the cylinder of the Nemo was nowhere near as daunting as its Italian counterpart. Without hesitation, we jumped from the ledge, skydiver style, and coasted down the water column arms and legs stretched out like a starfish enjoying the rush of the water flying past our bodies.
Clearing my ears for the third time, we landed at 33 meters (108 feet) on the grated bottom. We had made it to the abyss of the Nemo pool!
As I glanced up, I could see my breath releasing a cascade of silver bubbles beelining towards the surface. Holy moly there was a lot of water above us!
Even though we had ample air left in our tanks, a flicker of the pools overhead lighting was our signal that the scuba diving session was over and it was time to make our safety stop and head to the surface.
The tail end of our dive was pretty uneventful. We retraced our fin kicks from the bottom back to the surface.
As we were wrapping up our dive, the next wave of scuba divers walked onto the pool deck. There was probably 10 of them. All I could think was; man we sure picked the right time to dive the Nemo 33!
A short day trip while passing through the Belgian city of Brussels, was the perfect way to get out of a diving rut. The day was miserable, rainy and cold, so we took advantage of our location and the less than ideal weather to dust another pool dive off our bucket list.
Overall, diving the Nemo 33 was a very different experience in comparison to our dive at the Y-40 pool.
As stated by Maya Angelou: “People will forget what you said, people will forget what you did, but people will never forget how you made them feel.” The combination of unfriendliness demonstrated by the staff and the questionable freediving practices encouraged before scuba diving was enough to leave me feeling very unwelcome and unsettled. While I’m sure the Nemo had no intention of making us feel this way, we certainly expected more from a world-class facility.
Moving forward; for prospective divers looking to try a dive at an indoor pool facility, Europe certainly has a few to choose from. Our recommendation; head over to Padula Italy and dive the Y-40 the Deep Joy, the staff is terrific, the pool is brand-spankin’ new, and it is the deepest indoor pool in the world.
Who wouldn’t want to dive in that!
Cost: Scuba diving in the Nemo costs € 25.00 for a certified diver. The pool also offers group packages which includes options like; 2 dives + 1 meal + 1 night accommodations for as little as €120.00 for a couple.
Seasonality: Good news if you are a diver planning to dive the Nemo 33; the pool is open 365 days a year (that’s every day of the year in case you were wondering). There are dive and freedive sessions that happen everyday but the operating hours vary depending on the time of year. When planning your day in Brussels, check out the pool’s website for the exact schedule.
Restrictions: Diving and freediving the Nemo 33 indoor pool is a nice change of pace from ocean diving. Here is the list of requirements that divers must meet before being permitted to dive in the facilities:
Have you been scuba or freediving at the Nemo 33 indoor pool in Belgium? How was your experience in comparison to ours? Would you go back?
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