As someone who enjoys adventure, I’ve always felt that setting a record of some sort for an act of derring-do should be on my bucket list. Sure, I’ve wrestled crocodiles, run ultra marathons, drank the water in Mexico and have eaten a Dutch Frikandel at a Shell Station outside of Zeeland, but these things strike me as a relative walk in the park. No, I wanted to do something that could truly land me on the pages of credible journals such as the National Enquirer and Huffington Post. It’s why, after watching Deep Blue Sea one evening (LL Cool J should have won a BAFTA), I decided to set upon breaking the recently set 2014 record for scuba depth of nearly 1000 feet (300-odd meters). Now, I had no desire to just glide past this depth, I wanted to ball up the current record and toss it into a mid-century modern wastebasket by making my way down to 700 meters (that’s 2000-something feet). And, I wanted to show all of you high falutin tool watch collectors that such a feat could be pulled off with one of the world’s most elegant watches: the Vostok Amphibia.
I chose the Vostok Amphibia for a couple reasons. First off, it’s been around for a long time – let’s call it 1967 – and while my Dad would chide me, I am a firm believer that anything old has to be good. Second, and more importantly, statements about specifications of things made during the Communist era tend to be massively – well, understated. Heck, things in the modern Communist era are understated. Just read about the modest accomplishments of that gent who reigns in North Korea! So, yeah, I kind of felt like a Cold War era-designed diver would be up to doing service well beyond its quoted 200M limit. And, since my model was purchased (by the chiding person I mentioned above, by the way) during the Perestroika period, it was finally broken in enough to put it to the test. Having never been opened for a service (Russian watches simply never break down – Czech models do, though), I figured the compressor case seals had only ripened with age. Hint: I was right!
Now, coming back to the preparation for my record setting dive with the Vostok Amphibia, I knew I’d need some assistance. Look, as mentioned, I am one hell of a specimen, but the thought of diving down 700M with some tanks on my back sounded awfully boring. A guy like Jason Heaton of Hodinkee and TGN fame might delight in taking a bunch of fancy pictures and testing out all of his uppity kit, but I considered myself a horse with blinders; I was on a mission. And then there’s the whole decompression thing. Yeah, I’m more of a fan of “no decompression” but not like my Doxa bezel spells out – I mean, I don’t want to decompress – what a waste of time. After such a dive to 700M, I wanted to be topside as soon as possible. Can anyone say “paparazzi” and Möet? Furthermore, I was in the middle of season 2 of Stranger Things so, yeah; a guy had things to do. So, how would I get myself 700M down to the sea floor and where would I do it? Well, naturally I needed a submarine and it just so happened that my choice of dive site was a confidential spot in the North Sea. And how would I requisition such a submersible, you may ask?
Have you ever visited the Netherlands? Well, I have, and aside from having an enormous number of caravans, it’s essentially one big neighborhood. Strike that: it’s two neighborhoods. It’s Amsterdam and everything else. Still, it’s a country where seemingly everyone knows everyone and that means that connections count. For me, when I decided to undertake this undertaking, I used my connection and I undertook calling the Royal Dutch Navy because they have, ding ding ding, a submarine. Actually, if you believe Wikipedia, the Netherlands has exactly FOUR submarines! Back to the story – I rang the Navy, explained my idea and how the little-discussed Dutch Navy could find itself within the center of fame and guess what? They said no. Then, I told them I was a friend and colleague of Robert-Jan Broer and it was like a magical door opened. Yes, I had to find a way to get the Admiral a copy of the Omega Speedmaster “SpeedyTuesday” #700, but we have connections there too. I should mention that I used Robert-Jan’s name and he should feel proud, but I only named him because, seriously, no one can pronounce “Nijenbrinks”, “Buijsrogge”, or “van Heerebeek”. So, yes, the Royal Dutch Navy was ready to put me on a Walrus-class submarine. But what would I bring with me for the dive alongside my trusty Vostok Amphibia?
Have you ever visited Germany – or Mallorca for that matter? Well, I live in the former and the latter was my first European beach visit. I can still recall Mallorca and it was mainly because everyone was so naked. That was a bit of a cultural sledgehammer, but I realized – and should have remembered from my youth in South Florida – that the typical choice of bathing attire in my current country is the Speedo. Now look, you might snigger when thinking about such a skimpy suit, but it does allow for serious freedom of motion, makes one aerodynamic, and could even allow me to serve as a double for Jamie Foxx in the in-film music video “My Name is Willie” should he ever reprise his starring role in a sequel for “Any Given Sunday”. So, for sure, this is what I was going to take. Additionally, I received an Aqua Lung anniversary knife alongside my Doxa Black Lung and that seemed like a good thing to have along despite it not being brand consistent with the Vostok Amphibia. I just didn’t know what kind of stuff lives down that deep, but I was picturing those sharp-toothed fish with the little light bulb thingies sticking out of their foreheads. And finally, a diver needs fins and a mask and as a vintage guy, I thought of the company “Voit”. Yes, a lot of these dried out and cracked, but when you pay the big bucks like I do on eBay, there’s little you can’t find.
Coming back to the Vostok Amphibia I chose to employ, these 40mm watches are amazingly basic, but effective. As mentioned, Vostok employed a compressor style of case sealing with a massive sintered rubber seal inside to help make up for the lack of machining tolerances. If you push on the back hard enough, it’s even a little spongy! Another quirk about the Vostok is its crown.
The lightweight (read: hollow feeling bottlecap-esque piece of steel(?)) crown, when unscrewed and pulled out, flops around like the arm of my daughter’s doll. It’s chuckle worthy, but was apparently designed this way to avoid damage from owners who might push down on the crown while winding and, therefore, damage the stem. It sounds logical to me and when you likely had a lot of Ivan Drago’s running around, the watch needed to be able to resist that famous promise: “I will break you”. Well played, Vostok! When pulling that crown out, by the way, it’s purely for time setting and there’s no hacking. No, the only hack involved here is my writing, my diving skills, or what I thought I’d have to do with that badass knife. Moving on… As you can see, I chose to outfit my Amphibia with a high quality $6 silicone strap in 18mm from O.Frei. It gives the watch that vintage edge while allowing me to preserve the equally high quality leather (?!) strap that was originally supplied with the watch.
I knew I’d have to prepare for my 700M dive with the Vostok Amphibia, but I guess I didn’t know how much I’d need to prepare. No, the conditioning – at least of my heart or mind – or underwater training wasn’t the tough part. I run at least 6km every week and deal with German customer service at retail stores on a daily basis, so I consider my cardiovascular system and mental state to be tip top. On the diving side, I once tested out my Dad’s SCUBA gear (all vintage US Diver’s stuff) in our 6-foot deep swimming pool for about 5 minutes and I found breathing through the regulator to be exactly like breathing on dry land. It made me realize that all that PADI stuff is purely an excuse for those in training to go swimming, so I considered myself as good to go. No, the tough part was the dietary training.
When they say deep diving takes some intestinal fortitude, I actually thought that meant “guts” and “chutzpah”, but no, “they” meant real gastro control for a reason that I’d yet to discover. It was here that I contacted my friend, Balazs, who hails from Hungary. You see, Hungarians are unique amongst Europeans in that they eat a lot of spicy food. They’re essentially Europe’s version of Mexico in that regard. One of their staple foods is this red peppery sauce that’s eaten with just about everything called “Ero’s Pista”. Now, as the husband of a Slovak, I was introduced to this stuff a while ago and I use it sparingly in soups and with chicken. It’s delicious! But what I found out is that I’m a novice in terms of my usage of this condiment and this is where I employed Balazs. The guy stood over me much like Mick did in Rocky (that’s my 2nd Rocky reference if you’re counting) with a whistle and made me guzzle the Pista. After roughly a week of true intestinal trauma, it was as almost as if a light switched and suddenly I was fine. Yes, my fortitude had arrived and my date with the Vostok Amphibia had grown nearer.
Have you ever seen The Hunt for Red October or have you ever spent a couple days aboard a Dutch Naval submarine? Well, I’ve done both, but only one whilst wearing my Vostok Amphibia. What I remember about the movie – aside from Gene Hackman making Denzel bloody (oh wait, wrong movie, and could that really happen in real life?) – is that everyone had to be really really quiet or the enemy just might be able to hear you through that machine that beeps and has a green screen. Well, I’m not sure about protocol aboard a Dutch underwater boat, but things were different. Everyone on board was wearing klompen!!! If you’re not familiar with these, they’re the traditional wooden shoes used by Dutch farmers and they make a racket! Clearly, “run silent, run deep” didn’t run here. Aside from that, though, what I next put into use was my gastro training. With the Dutch Navy, they don’t eat Navy Bean soup (wtf?), but they do eat Split Pea soup and drink milk – for every meal – and often couple it with Gouda cheese. Now, submarines refilter and recirculate air on board, but those systems can only handle so much. It was a rough and tumble couple of days out to the dive spot and the return was only moderately less comfortable as we’ll see.
When we reached the dive spot, the plan was for the Admiral to open the hatch, allowing me to swim out with a tank, and then to stand on the sea floor for about 5 minutes – because 5 minutes seemed like a long enough period to set a record. Before entering the chamber – you know, those serene chambers in every movie where divers come in and it’s amazingly dry on the other side of the tumultuous ocean, I checked my dive bezel. Shit. The rotating bezel on the Vostok Amphibia was and is almost completely unintelligible. First off, it’s not overly difficult to turn and that’s not an attribute when looking at the spec sheet of any diver including the Amphibia. Second, it has 20 minutes worth of these odd red dots and the rest of them are black. None of them glow and, that’s right, none of those dots are numbers! They’re not even in Morse Code! So, I was just going to have to use the first red dot as my indicator and count on the lume.
Once out in the ocean, I have to describe the feeling as cold and dark. Like really cold or even “maybe donning my river culture swimsuit was a bad idea” sort of cold. But, a real man can withstand about 5 minutes of anything and I was destined to try. I had no trouble finding the bottom, but when I looked down at the Vostok Amphibia, I realized that the lume, well – it sucked. I switched on my flashlight (Radio Shack with vintage Rayovac batteries (9 lives!) – take that Heaton or Stacey with your titanium flashlight!) and checked the time to let the 5-minute countdown begin. I did forget to mention that I brought my Olympus down with me – in a waterproof case of course – and it was time to shoot some photos – the one above is absolute proof that I was down there. Here again, those guys Heaton and Stacey (we call them “Heacey” at the ‘tello to make life easy) are full of it. All those gorgeous aqua tinted pics they take are simply a farce – I’m guessing they’re simply shots at the local YMCA pool with some serious Photoshop editing – perhaps even melding in some Finding Dory stills. My view was the kind that honestly has me believing that the whole Moon landing was shot in a California studio. There was nothing down there – and I mean truly nothing. But – I did it – I set the record at 700M and the Amphibia was none the worse for wear! Aside from the green pea soup that was awaiting me back aboard the sub, the celebration was pretty epic. In the mess hall, the crew held a 2-day marathon of Rutger Hauer movies (who knew he rivaled Chuck Bronson?) for our ride back and brought out the good stuff: those little waffles with caramel inside.
Once back at port, I found myself mobbed by the international media and, honestly, everyone wanted to know – what watch was I wearing? Was it a Rolex, an Omega, a Seiko, a Dick Mille, or a racy Hublot? No, it was the rather pedestrian Vostok Amphibia – a watch that you mere mortals can buy for under $90 on Amazon. And, check yourself – don’t go for the so-called “Scuba Dude”. Really, you’re wearing a record-breaking dive watch, so adding a diver on the watch is an example of serious overkill – people know you mean business if you choose this watch – duh!! Don’t be a silly Wes Anderson hipster and rock the “Steve Zissou” either. You’re not Bill Murray, you can’t be and you never will be. You don’t even own a Proton pack or a proper mustache! No, do the right thing and order the model that I wore that has some letters that I don’t understand, but am told they mean “KGB”. The KGB knew how to get things done; they were closers – just like me! So, yes, pick a winner when you choose your Vostok.
Look, there’s a lot of this story that’s true. Examples of such are the fact that I own an early 90’s Vostok Amphibia, used a SCUBA tank in my pool, I do like Ero’s Pista, and “Heacey” are far braver than I in their adventures. Let’s hope that everyone I’ve included here has a good sense of humor because this was all done in jest – especially the Dutch Navy (my experience is that the Dutch do have a good sense of humor, thankfully) as I don’t want to run afoul of that hearty bunch. I’m sure I didn’t make it clear, but the Vostok is one of watchdom’s greatest buys – and you need one if you don’t own one. It’s a real piece of history, a bargain (on Amazon), runs like a train, and is very different than anything you own. Plus, most say that these watches need to be serviced every 10 years – or the average amount of time it takes our watchmaker, Paul, to service a watch. The last thing, if you’re not using a Vostok Amphibia (and if you are it probably doesn’t have the right date due to lack of quickset), check your calendar – it’s April 1st. Cheers…