In association with Performance FreeDiving International
The wind’s strength is the same as it was yesterday, although its direction has changed slightly from SW to SSW. This makes all the difference. Danny picks us up at the dock at Cobalt Coast at 8 a.m. and a minute later we’re hooking up on the wall a stone’s throw away from the resort. The wind is blowing us perfectly off shore and the current is hardly noticeable.
Thirty minutes after leaving the resort, Doc is getting into the water. He’s readying himself on the sled. He’s had some equalizing issues over the last couple days but he’s going ahead. He’s questioned us on the plan till he’s sure he has it right. He touches down at 30m and successfully ascends, but he’s not completely satisfied with this dive. Doc knows right away what he did wrong, and on surfacing says immediately, "I know what I did wrong. I can do this". He is one focused freediver.
Mandy’s up next. She is trying her first free immersion dive since last year’s Cayman event. At that time Mandy made a free immersion dive to 65m / 213ft, but turned early because she had a deep constant ballast dive the next day and wanted to save herself for it. Unfortunately, that small miscalculation meant that Mandy didn’t make her prerequisite dive in time. The prerequisite demands that you dive to within 3m / 10ft of the world record depth. So she was disqualified from making an attempt. Too bad, as she had another seven days on island to train. But, those are the rules of the game.
Mandy is wearing her new 2005 3mm Oceaner Performance Freediving Competitive suit and is ready to roll. It’s her first dive in this discipline and a 68m / 223ft prerequisite dive. Our only concern is that the sled is already mounted, so she has to work around it on her first couple of meters. Zero plus something and she’s off. She misses her first line grab below the sled! This might not be so good. Considering it’s her first dive, there’s a possibility she’ll turn early and miss making her prerequisite.
As I arrive at 40m / 132ft, I see Spencer below me at 50m / 165ft and soon Mandy comes into view. "Go Mandy!! Go!" Spence is yelling. Seconds later I’m following her. At 30m / 99ft I move in front of her to show her that I’m here and to show her what depth she’s at. Now we’re at the surface. "Did you make the plate?", I ask. Her grin tells the story. Mandy’s successfully made her free immersion prerequisite of 68m / 223ft. Way to go!
The next prerequisite to meet is the constant no-fins, and then the variable ballast. We’ll need to meet those by April 1st. That gives us nine days. The next attempt Mandy will make will be 90m in variable.
Next up is Martin. As Mandy and Martin’s depths increase, so does the depth at which I’m meeting them for safety. A good rule of thumb we use to calculate the depth where the safety freediver meets the athlete is a quarter to a third of the target depth.
Martin’s plan today is 110m / 361ft and then a 115m / 377ft attempt in variable. One problem sneaking up on Martin is a sticky left ear during warm-ups. Let’s hope it cooperates. Using the new, quick and efficient two-clutch system, Danny adjusts the line to the desired depth: 110m / 361ft. We hook the lanyard system to the sled’s top end ensuring that it won’t hang up, and Martin settles in to a comfortable breathe-up. As I’m meeting him at 30m / 99ft we agree that I’ll give him a ‘three-fingers-up’ so he doesn’t forget where he’s at.
Like clockwork the sled is zooming down the line and one minute, twenty seconds later it thuds to depth with Martin riding it. On his ascent I meet him eye to eye and I see Martin looking extremely strong. It amazes me how deep I can see the athletes in their new, custom, gold and silver Oceaner Performance Freediving Competitive suits. And Martin is wearing his new 7mm suit. After hitting the surface Martin describes his dive and the technique of the descent. 110m / 361ft is a success. Another 19m / 62ft and he’ll achieve his 6m / 20ft prerequisite for variable ballast. The day’s going great.
In variable ballast we’re allowed to wear suits with a maximum thickness of 7mm. No more than the fabric on the trunk area can be doubled up. The benefit is in the increased buoyancy on the ascent. The drawback is the warmth of the Caymanian water, but occasional flushing prior to the drop helps take care of the heat.
Next up is Doc, whose target is at 40m / 132ft. While Doc is preparing, Mandy’s changing into her 7mm suit for her variable ballast dive. We’re experiencing waves and all the head down work while changing is starting to turn her a bit green.
Meanwhile, Doc saddles up on the yellow beast. (We’ll have find a friendlier nickname for the sled as it’s starting to act tame today — but that’ll have to wait till later.) Now my first priority is Doc and his successful 40m / 132ft. "Relax into it Doc, remember your equalizing, but just relax", I repeat continuously. He’s looking really relaxed and I’m only worried that he’ll fall off the sled, asleep in the water 😉 Purges, packs, signal, release and he’s slipping down into the deep blue water.
Within seconds I start my descent to watch his dive. He’s nearing 30m / 99ft. "Go Doc, go!", I’m silently screaming. He’s going to make it! Seconds later he touches down at 40m / 132ft. Success!! Alternating kicks and pulls he ascends to the surface, and although he’s keeping his head aligned I can see his eyes rolling upward in search of the surface. At 10m / 33ft I drop my arms as always (it’s another waypoint for the athletes so they can prep for recovery breaths). Surface, recovery breath and, "BOO-YAW! How does forty meters feel?". Doc’s inquisitive look shows his surprise — he still believes he was doing a 30m dive. We’re laughing with enthusiasm that he’s made the target. The blame is jokingly placed on good-natured Danny who’s willing to accept the depth "error". In reality, we had decided that Doc achieving a slightly larger increment of depth would do away with any residual anxiety he might have, and help keep him really relaxed. It worked.
It’s Mandy’s turn again. But as I swim up to her she loses her morning oatmeal. Seasickness is getting the better of her today, so we’ll adjust our line-up. Mandy will go first, then Martin, and then Mandy again if it’s a two-drop day. After some discussion she decides that she’ll give it a try as her stomach feels much better now it’s empty. If it’s not working for her, she’ll bail early.
After a five minute countdown Mandy makes the drop. As I meet her on the ascent she’s looking amazingly good. I believe she’s touched the target depth of 90m / 295ft! Breaking the surface almost to her waist, Mandy’s smile tells the whole story. It’s a new personal best in variable ballast, and 26m / 85ft short of the requirement to be met in nine days. She’s made one step closer to a new world record while working through the seasickness.
The athletes’ day is done. Danny, Spence, Peter and I clean up the lines, sled, safety diver lines, deco bottles, and the rest of the in-water kit. Spence is fifty minutes into deco. He’s quickly becoming the most overworked member of the team (besides me!). It’s a good thing that Dave is arriving this afternoon as he’ll give Spence a well deserved break. The PFI team’s growing and growing.