Most landlocked divers recall with a shudder the pool sessions that were required to learn skills for open water certification. Often conducted in an over-chlorinated high school pool, they’re more a rite of passage than an inspiration. Well, for divers in Brussels, Belgium, pool sessions have a whole different meaning thanks to John Beernaerts’ NEMO33, the world’s deepest indoor swimming pool. The 33-meter (100 foot) deep dive training facility is filled with non-chlorinated filtered water and features various caves and ledges for practicing submerged exploration. Unless you’re an astronaut with access to NASA’s Neutral Buoyancy Lab, there’s no other place in the world like NEMO33.
Beernaerts was inspired to build NEMO33 after returning to his cold northern European homeland at the end of 20 years of diving around the world. While NEMO33 isn’t exactly Cozumel, it has become a dive destination in its own right, with divers from all over the world visiting to explore its man-made depths. If ocean diving can seem primeval and alien, NEMO33 evokes a Bond villain lair or some sort of elite Navy SEALs training camp.
The top section of the tank is rectangular, with ladders, lights and platforms at shallow depths for skills training. A 12-sided shaft that lies below drops to its maximum 100-foot depth, not unlike diving in a flooded missile silo, adding to the pool’s eerie industrial appeal. Windows are built into the walls for viewing from the dry side, and caves at 35 feet give some challenge and variety to divers who want to do something other than go down and up.
Like seawater, chlorine can be very harmful to the neoprene, rubber and composite materials of SCUBA gear. So NEMO33 uses filtered, non-chlorinated water that is gin-clear and kept at a constant 86 degrees — warmer than the Caribbean. Wetsuits are purely optional. The facility prides itself on being sustainable and environmentally-friendly, consuming less energy than a conventional pool while remaining at a higher temperature thanks to solar power.
When NEMO33 isn’t in use for dive training and skills practice, it also serves as a film production locale and top tourist destination for European divers who can’t get to the tropics or just are seeking bragging rights.
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