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Deep Diving Stories

Disclaimer: Do not try any of these techniques!

This is a story of a -67m personal best I set on September 17, 2000. However, to fully understand the story requires knowledge of the previous week’s dive, a -57m Canadian record. So I’ll start with that.

September 10, 2000: A -57m Canadian record

It was the last CAFA Western Canadian Regional freediving/apnea competition before the World Cup in Nice. I was still getting over a flu which had ‘grounded’ me since my -62m personal best three weeks before (August 20th). In fact, I had tried diving on September 3rd, but my sinuses would barely equalize, and the water had cooled dramatically (58F surface, 45F at depth), so I froze my butt off in my 3mm suit and my cold got worse. I knew from that weekend that I would no longer be able to use my 3mm wetsuit this season. I was really disappointed, because I knew that as soon as I put on thicker neoprene, my depths would suffer. But I had no choice. The thought of even trying to beat my -62m depth with a 5mm suit was terrifying. I had resigned myself to a sub-60m depth for the competition. I had announced 57m when I registered. I was a bit worried about the competition in general since I hadn’t been to the gym for 20 days because of my flu.

Saturday, September 9th, we completed the pool part of the competition at the UBC outdoor pool. I was happy with a 5’41 static and a 100m dynamic. I was worried that being in the pool for so long would make my cold worse, so I went straight home after the pool while the others went out for a drink.

During the past three weeks, not being well enough for any physical training, I decided to analyze and improve my psychology and diet. I made a long list of positive diving affirmations, which I recorded on a tape, over and over. I had been playing this tape to myself quite frequently, trying to program my mind for confidence and success. Also, I had been experimenting with drinking water mixed with sea salt. My raw food diet provides no salt, and I constantly suffered from low blood pressure due to my body’s inability to retain water. My theory was that if I simply drank water mixed with salt, I would then become thirsty for a couple of hours, as my body craved water to store. And, as I would drink, my blood pressure would rise, which is critical to avoid a black out. This weekend would be the proving ground for both of these techniques.

As I awoke on the morning of the 10th, I was overwhelmed with negative emotions. It was one of those days that I felt like staying home and resting. But, I had to get up and go to the depth competition. I was not happy with my psychology at this point. I was anxious and nervous. I was planning on wearing a 5/6mm wetsuit top, and a 3mm bottom, with 4.4lbs of weight. Contrast this to the 3mm full suit with 2.2lbs that I was used to. I had never even tried the hybrid suit combo, and the 4.4lbs of weight was nothing but a mathematical calculation. And, inscribing 57m, I had calculated that the dive would take as much effort and time as the 62m dive with the 3mm suit, which lasted 2:16. So, I was basically trying to tie my personal best during the competition, although the numbers didn’t show that. So I was understandably nervous.

So, I got up at 8:35am, knowing that I was supposed to get in the water around 1pm. I packed my gear. Then I ate lots of raw almonds and sunflower seeds, and one avocado. I mixed 13g of sea salt with 50ml of water, and drank the horrible tasting concoction. Soon after I felt queasy in my stomach, bordering on nautious, and the feeling lasted about 30 minutes.

Soon I packed everything in the car and left. While in the car, I was obviously thirsty from the salt and I drank a lot of water. I played my diving-affirmations tape, and with each repetition, my mood and attitude improved, amazingly. Before long I felt happy and confident. As I neared the end of the 55-minute drive, I put in a different tape, with some inspirational music. This lifted my mood even more. By now I was totally confident.

I parked at Kelvin’s grove and ate another avocado. That was a bit risky, I don’t usually eat that close to diving. Before long I had hauled my gear down to the beach. Kirk was giving the safety divers their briefing. I started gearing up. My gear consisted of a dacor bandit mask, an impulse 2 snorkel (which I ditch before the dive), a rubber belt with two picasso hydrodynamic weights, 1 kilo each, picasso 5mm socks, picasso 3mm gloves, and the 5mm arms/6mm body picasso wetsuit top with the 3mm picasso pants. In case you’re wondering, Picasso is one of our team’s sponsors (!) I was, as usual, using my chinese bladed monofin.

We synchronized our watches at 1pm, and my 45 minute warm up officially started. I did a pack stretch lying on my back, then I lubed my monofin footpocket and got in the water. I swam out to the warm up line and started my five minutes of facial immersion. I checked my watch, and the surface temp was 58F, as expected. After my facial immersion I did three exhale dives to 21ft, each lasting 0:35. Then I did another pack stretch. Then I told the safety person I was going to make a warm up dive. This was a new addition to my prep routine. I went to 121ft, and was not very happy with the state of my lungs. I had a small contraction before I got to the surface, which shouldn’t happen on so shallow a dive. Then, I started my warm up static breath-holds. I was going to do two, instead of the usual one, another modification to my prep. The first was 3’30 (1st contraction @ 2’30). Now there was 9 minutes and 16 seconds until my official countdown. I was planning on finishing the second static 2 minutes before my final countdown, so I started it with 6:00 remaining until my countdown. Half way into the static, the safety person wanted to put the official Apneist on my wrist. I let him, but it obviously bothered my breath-hold. It ended 3’30 (1st contraction at 2’50). Of course I don’t push these breath-holds. Now there was 2:27 left until my final countdown. I took off my mask and breathed very slowly and shallow, afraid of overventilating. Then Peter told me there was one minute to my countdown. I swam seven meters to the official line. I put my mask on again, and started breathing, face down. Just as I started my breathing, Kirk called ‘2-minutes!’. I started my ‘saturation’ breathing, holding for about 3-5 seconds at the top of each breath, exhaling and inhaling slowly. Normally I am quite anxious during the 2-minute countdown. But, this time was different. The affirmation tape had worked wonders. I was so happy and confident, I literally broke into a giggle twice! During my breathing, I concentrated on the huiyin acupoint, which is the source of all relaxation. However, as Kirk called 30-seconds, I was a bit worried. I had miscalculated. I had finished the last static too late, and my body was still laced with CO2, even by my standards. As I took my last breath, I felt no satisfaction, no sense of being oxygenated…but I still was confident, after all, the depth was 5m less than my pb, but then again, I was wearing a thicker suit. As I finished my last breath, I found out that the 5/6mm top was more restricting. Instead of the usual 38 lung packs, I packed 43 times before being full. Then I started my dive, with Brett LeMaster trying to capture as much digital video before I vanished into the murky green water.

I kept my posture perfectly inverted, which is rare among monofin divers.

The descent was uneventful until about 25m/82ft. Then I felt a gentle burn in my lungs. This was disastrous. Normally I don’t feel anything at all until 45-50m/148-164ft. I had been right in being worried about my CO2, but it was worse than I thought. Nevertheless, I continued descending, and, as physics dictates, the increasing pressure caused the burn to increase and increase. Now the burn was getting bad, and I still hadn’t heard the 45m alarm from my Apneist. I knew I was fine as long as I didn’t get any contractions on the descent. Soon the alarm sounded, and I put my left hand around the line (arm extended), looked toward my knees, and sank with my eyes closed. As planned, I counted ‘one-thousand, two-thousand…’ up to seven thousand. Then, according to my math, I should have been able to see the light at the tag. I opened my eyes and sure enough I could see the tag about 5 meters away. I grabbed it and started the ascent. I waited for the nitrogen narcosis, but it never came. Now I was confident. I still hadn’t had any contractions, and I was confident I was going to make it. I counted my monofin strokes, and I made at least seven strokes before the first contraction. I did remember to re-inhale from my mask a few times. I had one or two more strong contractions, and then I saw Kirk through the corner of my eye, and Brett was in front of me pointing the digital camera at me. I totally forgot to re-inhale during the last 60 feet. I reached the surface and after a few breaths took my mask off and gave Kirk the ‘okay’ sign. They video taped the depth gauge and the tag. The dive time was 2:15, one second slower than the 62m dive in the 3mm suit. As I had predicted, the effort and time were the same as a dive 5 meters deeper with the thinner suit, meaning that I lost about 5m in this hybrid suit configuration. After all the others divers dove, and the trimix diver decompressed, he confirmed that there had been no line violations. And that was it, I was the new Canadian constant ballast record holder, beating George Bryan-Orr’s previous record of 54m, set in Cayman in November, 1999.

I was lucky enough that both my static record (5’41) and the 57m dive were on the local news. It gave me confidence.

The affirmation tape had worked wonders and totally fixed my psychology problems. Also, my blood pressure had been excellent, with no signs of light headedness at all. Of course, the salty mixture had made me nautious when I drank it..hopefully I could fix that.

September 17th, 2000 — A monster personal best

I knew I had two more weekends of training before I left for the World Cup in Nice. I had originally planned to hit 65m before leaving for Nice, but the cold water conditions meant I still needed to use the thick hybrid suit configuration. However, the 57m dive had not been that difficult, especially considering that I totally miscalculated and went down laced with CO2. I felt that if I fixed that problem, I had another 8 meters in me, in this thicker suit.

During Saturday the 16th, I drank some salt water in the morning and evening to retain as much water as possible.

Then, the morning of the 17th arrived. I was up at 9am, I ate two avocados, a bunch of raw almonds and sunflower seeds. I mixed 13g of sea salt with 50ml of water. After drinking it I immediately drank 500ml of purified water, to dilute the salt in my stomach. It worked. I had no queasiness or nautiousness. I packed my gear and left. In the car I drank water, played my affirmations tape again, and also the inspirational music tape. Again they put me in a great mood. This time I ate nothing upon arriving at the site.

My gear was identical to the previous weekend. Again, after gearing up, I did one pack stretch lying on my back. I got in the water, and swam to the deep line. Our deep line is on a huge reel. The line has 5m markings on it, so we can put light sticks at predetermined depths as we lower the line, even without the benefit of scuba divers. I had told Tom to put lightsticks at 33m, 45m and 65m. I was hoping to make 65m, even with this thicker suit. It was a bit ambitious–I realized it was the equivalent of 70m in a 3mm suit, but I was in a good mood. I did the usual 5 minutes of facial immersion, followed by three exhale dives to 21ft, each lasting 0:35. Then, I did a lung pack stretch. I was not at all happy with the amount of air I packed, so I did another pack stretch right after. Then, I told Stephanie I was going to start my warm up dive. I was planning a deeper warm up than usual–another change to my prep routine. I started my warm up dive. When I passed the 33m lightstick, I could already see the 45m lightstick. I decided to sink down to it, even though I wasn’t quite negative enough. I then confirmed what I had earlier feared. Using 3mm pants and a 5/6mm top, the buoyancy is concentrated at the chest. Plus, the extra weight around the waist moves the center of gravity towards the legs. This means that the center of gravity is far behind the center of buoyancy, and I was extremely unstable as I sank, and I was unable to sink upside down. I sank horizontally, holding onto the line. I descended to the 45m marker (which was actually at 46m). On the way up, I checked the depth of the 33m marker. The aqualand read 112ft. Despite wasting time trying to read the aqualand in the darkness, I hit the surface after 1:45 with no contractions. That was excellent. The deepest I have ever done with no contractions was 47m, so I had basically tied my best. The water was 60F on the surface, but unlike the weekend before, it was cool and cloudy, and I was a bit chilly. I was only planning on doing one warm up static–last weekend I had accumulated way too much CO2 after two statics. I did the static, and it was 3:30 (2:30), but the contractions were far apart, and it felt easy. By this time Tom was over at our line, so I told him my dive plan. I started breathing through my impulse 2 snorkel, face down. The usual breathing pattern. Except that I breathed for about 3 full minutes. Again I concentrated on the huiyin, and I was giggling with confidence. I took my last breath, remembering that I would have to pack extra because of the restricting suit. I packed 43 times (the same as last week), and started the dive. As in the warm up dive, I made an extra effort to kick harder in the beginning. I was so buoyant in this suit that the previous week I had taken forever to reach 20 feet (as I realized when I watched the video). This time the start was good, and I felt oxygenated. As usual I kept my hands by my side until about 50-60 feet. Once again I continued to look down towards my knees to keep myself perfectly inverted. At about 60 feet I extended my arms and started a wider undulation. My left ear tube was a bit tight, but it wasn’t causing any real problems. Soon the first lightstick passed, marking 112ft. Then I passed the 45m marker (actually at 46m). As usual, I hooked my hand around the line with my arm extended, looked toward my knees, closed my eyes, and started sinking. Again I was overwhelmed with my instability and just couldn’t sink inverted without constantly compensating. I tried to relax anyway and I counted to 12-thousand. I opened my eyes, expecting to see the red lightstick marking 65m. However, all I saw was darkness. My lungs still felt good so I kept sinking in this ridiculous semi-horizontal posture. Soon the light stick came into view. I grabbed the line, and extended my free hand, touching the light stick. A thought crossed my mind. I thought, ‘Well, if Tom unreeled the line properly, I should be at 65m…’ I started the ascent, arms by my side, kicking slowly. My lungs felt fantastic, yet I knew I had an enormous trip to the surface. I didn’t even think of it, I just thought about the present moment–kick, relax, kick, relax. I knew that all I had to do was reach the 46m lightstick with no contractions. Immediately after I started the ascent, I was overwhelmed with nitrogen narcosis, stronger than ever before. I think I also felt some euphoria from the high O2 pressure. It got worse and worse. My lungs were searing now, and I was resisting that first contraction. In my delusional state I saw the green lightstick pass by (46m). Relieved, I let the first contraction hit me. Now the narcosis started fading. The CO2 in my lungs was now severe. Even with my extreme CO2 tolerance, I had another massive contraction as I passed the 112ft marker. However, I was actually happy at this point. During dives this deep, the 100-110ft point on the ascent is basically a sign that the dive is almost over. And, my lungs felt good enough to finish the dive. The next thing I remember was seeing Tom, as he met me at 60-65ft. As I reached 30ft, I was very buoyant, and I stopped kicking. An instant before I broke the surface I exhaled. Then I took some rapid breaths. My recovery pattern was not as clean as I would have liked it. I checked the gauges. The apneist read 67m/2:28 (or 221ft when switched to imperial). The aqualand read 215ft. However, during my 57m/187ft dive the week before, the aqualand had read 184ft, and also 200ft instead of 203ft during my 62m dive August 20th. Nevertheless, the line is measured, and the 65m indicator was 1m below the surface. So according to the line itself, the depth was 66m/217ft. Given that I lost 5 meters in the hybrid suit, I had effectively broken my personal best by 10 meters in one dive! Plus, I had totally forgotten to re-inhale at all.

I was in disbelief. I couldn’t believe that I could have reached such a depth wearing a thick wetsuit.

The salt worked again, my blood pressure was excellent.

I was in disbelief for the rest of the day, unable to accept that I had made such a dive using a snorkel, a non-modified mask, a thick suit, with an unstable weight situation. Who says you can’t dive deep in cold, dark, murky water?

I’m looking forward to diving with fluid goggles, a nose clip, wrist weights, a 3mm suit, in warm clear water, and breathing off a platform..!