He wasn’t surprised by how dark it was beneath the ice. In some places, the pack was up to 6 metres thick and acted like a giant blackout curtain. However, where the crust was thinner or almost dissolved, the sun’s rays penetrated the water, which Dei likened to "shards of light flooding into a beautiful cathedral".
The reliability of the Caribbean 1000 would be vital during the Artic experiments. Not only would divers have to keep their eyes on how long they’d been under water, in sub-zero temperatures they had to know exactly how long they’d been in the water. 28 minutes was the agreed absolute limit, any longer, and the diver risked paresis, frostbite, or — worst case scenario — hydrocution.
Both Diver and assistant were vulnerable to bear attacks when entering and exiting the ocean (CREDIT: MONDO SOMMERSO 1966)
After 20 minutes in the water, Dei could no longer feel his hands or feet and was suffering excruciating pain in a molar. The same tooth had caused some discomfort a week earlier, while he was eating a gelato in Rome, but this time the pain was unbearable. He put his hand to his cheek and realised it was completely numb, being the only part of his skin that was not protected by neoprene. It was time to end this initial dive.
The cold was not the only thing that posed a danger to the expeditionists. Polar bears were a constant threat, and many experiments had to be abandoned or relocated due to their proximity. Divers were particularly vulnerable when entering or exiting the water; in their shiny, black wetsuits, they resembled seals — the bears’ primary food source. Dei even described seeing bears above the ice pack while he was under the water. They were peering down through the ice toward the divers, seemingly aware that something edible was beneath. Orcas were known to venture under the ice pack in search of a meal, and they too could easily mistake divers for seals. The dive team were also warned about a type of seal weighing between 300 and 400kg — the ‘storkobbe’. Tromsø hunters told of storkobbe seals biting into the hind legs of swimming adult polar bears and pulling them down twenty or thirty metres to their deaths.
It wasn’t only during dives that the Caribbean 1000 proved its worth on the expedition. At the 78th parallel, during summer months, there are 24 hours of continuous sunlight. Night and day soon became an abstract concept, and the team used the 12-hour bezels on their watches to keep track of their sleep/wake cycles.
Dei returned from the North Pole in August, with the most remarkable collection of wild polar bear images the world had ever seen. His underwater shots revealed for the first time the strange and eerie landscape hidden under the Arctic’s frozen crust. For OW, the most interesting material Dei bought back was the precious data, methodically logged in a daily journal, detailing how the Caribbean had performed in one of the coldest place on earth.
Having survived the arctic expedition (both watch and diver), a year later the same OW Caribbean 1000 would accompany Roberto Dei on an expedition to the Red Sea, to undergo testing in one of the world’s warmest diving environments. That’s a story for another day, save to say that both expedition teams expressed their complete satisfaction with the excellent performance of all the OW Caribbean 1000 watches.