Day 16 – Employing three safety systems

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In association with Performance FreeDiving International

It’s early to West Bay dock and we’re out. We find a mooring ball that lays us in deep water. Today’s order is Mandy, Martin, then Doc, Doc, Doc. Although the visibility and water conditions are great, a slight current moves us onto the deep reef and causes a little hang up on the wall for us.

Mandy starts off with a free immersion attempt and all goes well. Bill Coltart’s at depth videotaping, while Dave’s at 50m / 164ft as the safety diver with the ascent bag. We are employing three safety systems. First off we’re using a ‘diver assisted freediver retrieval system’ (FRSDA) which means that the divers can use the 114kg / 250lb ‘pillow-bags’ with both a climbing ascender and a carabineer. The ‘diver assisted’ system is deployed when the troubled diver is at, or above, the safety scuba diver. The safetys either attach the lift bag onto the diver’s lanyard or onto the line where it’ll catch the lanyard.

The second safety system is deployed when the troubled freediver is deeper than the safety divers. The climbing clamp is snapped onto the line and the same ‘pillow-bags’ are inflated. During deployment these 114kg / 250lb ‘pillow-bags’ lift the freediver, the entire line, ballast and sled (if used). With this system in place, we don’t need to have safety divers all the way to depth. However, they will be hanging within 20m / 66ft of the bottom depth where they can clearly observe how the athlete is progressing, ready to assist if necessary.

The third and last safety system is the counter balance. We’re currently using it as a balanced counter-balance system. This means that the weight at depth on the athlete’s side of the line is equal to that of the counter line (which is running down on the other side of the boat). Currently we’re using 36kg / 80lb on the counter line. Setting it up this way makes it easy for one person to adjust line depths from the boat. The key to this being a ‘fast ascent’ system is the additional 36kg / 80lb of ballast that can easily be deployed from the boat with a tag line. When dropped, the weight falls along the counter line, eventually hitting bottom ballast and adding the additional weight. As this is potentially dangerous for anyone down there, the safety divers have their own descent and safety lines to keep them away from the counter line.

Back to Mandy’s free immersion dive …
She hits bottom and ascends to Spencer’s loud cheers which’re somewhat muffled through his rebreather. I meet her at 30m / 99ft. At the surface it’s clear that Mandy’s made the depth prerequisite of 72m / 236ft in free immersion. So now she’ll sit out a few rotations. It’s Martin’s turn.

Martin’s going for a no-fins attempt of 71m / 233ft. He’s starting to excel at no-fins as he gets even deeper. It seems to be getting easier for him as he gets the feel of the discipline. Today there may be another unofficial world record in no-fins. If he’s successful, he’ll be only nine meters away from Umberto Pelizarri’s legendary 80m / 264ft constant ballast with fins attempt — now immortalized in the IMAX film ‘Ocean Men’.

Martin heads down to depth and 1:30 later I go to meet him as safety. The smirk on his face makes me wonder what’s up. I’m sure that if I’d looked closely enough at the time, I’d have noticed the sand and coral streaming off his wetsuit hood. On surfacing Martin starts laughing and tells us the whole story. He descended and hit bottom with his head, all the while our safety diver Bill Coltart videoed him doing it. It turns out that as Martin was making the attempt the winds had slowly changed direction and we’d drifted onto a deep pinnacle which just touched the bottom weight.

Doc steps up to the plate for his first dive of the day to 40m / 132ft. He’s working on consistency now. He successfully makes his 40m / 132ft variable ballast dive and moves on to his next attempt to 50m / 164ft. Unfortunately he lets his equalizing slide, and wisely decides to bail out at 47m / 154ft to avoid causing any barotrauma to his ears.

In between these two dives, Mandy makes an attempt in no-fins to 41m / 135ft. It’s one of the easier dives she’s done to date. Certainly, five to seven more meters will be on the agenda for tomorrow.

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