Ice Diving with the Tudor Pelagos LHDBy Keith W. Strandberg
When Tudor introduced the Pelagos LHD (for Left Hand Drive), I had the bright idea to test it with free diver Morgan Bourc’his, World Champion Free Diver and a friend of the brand. When Tudor first introduced the Pelagos, they made an amazing promotional film with a guy walking on the floor of the ocean-–well, that was Bourc’his.
Even though it was the middle of a very cold winter, I didn’t think, “Oh, let’s go diving in the Bahamas, Tahiti or Fiji.” No. Instead, I proposed ice diving in the French Alps.
And that idea came back to bite me. Big time.
The plan was simple: Bourc’his would meet me in Tignes, France, in the middle of the French Alps. We had already enlisted the help of the Tignes Diving Center, I had the watch and all I had to do was show up and see how it all went, then do interviews afterward.
Driving up to Tignes, a three and a half hour drive from Geneva, the snow started falling shortly after I began the ascent into the Alps. By the time I was well into the journey, I started to wonder if this was a very good idea. Snow had covered the roads and was continuing to fall, and I kept passing signs that said “Chains Obligatory” (and, no, I didn’t have any chains).
Finally, after a hair-raising trip, I came into Tignes and started the final steep ascent into the village.
And that’s where I got stuck. On a particularly tricky bit, the wheels started to spin uncontrollably and the car would go no further. So, I drove down to the last town, went into a warm hotel and called Bourc’his. Tignes was in the midst of a blizzard, white-out conditions and there was no way for me to get there in my chain-less car. So, I hired a four wheel drive taxi to take me to Tignes and gave Bourc’his the Tudor LHD for the shoot, then headed back down to Geneva, as everyone was warning me that if I stayed any longer, I’d be stuck in Tignes until the storm was over.
Bourc’his and Andy Parant, the underwater photographer, gamely went ahead with the dive, but the visibility was zero and the dive was miserable.
Through no fault of our own, we had failed.
After talking and commiserating with Bourc’his, we vowed to try again later in the year, as we both felt cheated by Old Man Winter. Bourc’his checked his schedule, the photographer was re-booked, and the dive was on again.
This second time, the weather was much better: warm above ground, still ice on the lake, and the water was still very cold. A proper ice dive was afoot, and everyone was happy.
Bourc’his had never been under the ice before, which is what made this experience worthwhile to him, and why he was keen to try again. Sure, he got under the ice the first time, but he couldn’t see anything, really, so for him, it didn’t really count.
“After that first unsuccessful session in mid-January because of dreadful weather, I had to return to Tignes,” Bourc’his says. “I could not remain with this failure, all the more because the few minutes I got to spend underwater were so peaceful.”
Sitting beside the main hole in the ice on the lake of Tignes, Bourc’his put on his fins and the Tudor Pelagos LHD, and prepared himself. “I went myself into the water and surprisingly, I didn’t feel the cold, except on my cheeks and my lips, which were exposed to the very cold (35.6 degrees F/2 degrees C) water,” Bourc’his remembers. “I breathed for a few minutes, getting used to everything, then I started my first immersion by pulling on the weighted rope. I could see a small cliff of gray rock at a depth of seven meters. I went to touch it but it was mostly sand, and I inadvertently created a cloud of sand.”
One thing that struck Bourc’his was how dark it was under the ice, emphasizing the need for good luminescence on the Tudor. In Marseilles, where he lives and trains in open water, there is a ton of light, even if you are pretty deep. In the lake, however, the ice blocks most of the light and only a little light enters through the holes made in the ice. The photographer had fixed a diving lamp to have enough light for his pictures.”
Bourc’his’s specialties are apnea with movement and depth disciplines—for him it’s all about how deep he can go. He is a specialist in breaststroke, and his world championship in 2013 was won breast stroking down without fins and without a rope.
Holding his breath under the ice was easy for him. “I played with air bubbles caught under the ice for a while, then I stood head down, feet on the ice ceiling,” Bourc’his details. “I swam between the different holes. And I was surprised that I was not cold after 30 minutes, but I was wearing thin gloves and my hands were starting to freeze. But anyway, I continued to swim under the ice for the photographs. Even though it was very dark, I could clearly see the Pelagos LHD’s luminescent watch face.
“After 50 minutes, we had enough pictures and we decided to stop the session,” he continues. “The watch wasn’t frozen and was still working! I was still not cold, except for my hands. The warming sensation of my hands was very painful, but it was certainly worth it.”
For champion free diver Bourc’his, it was a real treat to dive in the same lake, Lac du Chardonnet, where portions of the seminal free diving movie The Big Blue, written and directed by Luc Besson, were filmed.
The Tudor Pelagos LHD is a very attractive watch that updates a historical category for Tudor, the military tool watch, with a new timepiece that has the crown on the left hand side, so it can be worn on the right wrist.
To me, there are several key attributes of the new Pelagos LHD, and they are:
I am really impressed by the new Pelagos LHD. It continues Tudor’s very successful tradition of honoring its heritage while creating fantastic, versatile, rugged watches.
• The watch has a great vintage design, based on watches Tudor used to make for the military
• There are a ton of detailed design touches, like the beige hands and indices on a deep black dial, the beige markings on the matte black unidirectional bezel, the “roulette” date display (alternating black for odd numbered dates and red for even numbered dates) and the Pelagos name in red on the dial
• The fact that is a numbered edition, in a nod to Tudor’s history, when tool watches were given specific reference numbers
• The watch is powered by a Tudor in-house movement (MT5612-LHD) with a 70 hour power reserve. I am a strong advocate for longer power reserve, and Tudor satisfies.
• The Pelagos LHD comes in a 42mm Titanium case, for lightness
• A true dive watch, the LHD offers 500 meter water resistance, with an automatic helium release valve.
Bourc’his is a big fan of Tudor as well. “I like the story of the Tudor brand, I appreciate what the brand represents,” he says. It’s very robust and it’s a story of know-how, and I like the reputation of Tudor and I like the style of the watches. It’s an underwater story, so it matters to me.
“I really like the Pelagos LHD, because the crown is on the left hand side, which is better for diving,” he continues. “It is the same watch as the one I wear every day, but it is a completely different experience with the crown on the left side. Tudor was working with the French and US Navies in the 1950s and some divers asked for a left handed watch, and Tudor produced some of these watches. I am right handed but I do a lot of things with my left hand (I shave with my left hand, I eat with my left hand, I shoot basketball with my left hand), that’s why I like things that are left handed.”
Putting the watch through its paces under the water, Bourc’his was impressed. “Underwater, it was very easy to read,” he says. “The luminescence was fantastic, especially in the darkness under the ice. Before this dive, I wore the LHD for a snorkeling session and I put it into the Mediterranean Sea, like a baptism, getting it ready for Tignes. I wanted to use it in the open sea, and it performed very well. I really enjoyed wearing it.”
Throughout this whole experience, Bourc’his was a true professional. He kept his excitement level high even in the face of whiteout conditions, freezing cold and an almost total lack of visibility, so it was a pleasure for us both when he succeeded the second time around. When we said our goodbyes, I promised him that I would come to the South of France in the summer to free dive with him in better conditions.
You can bet I will be checking the weather forecast.