Wednesday, September 30, 2020

New Record for Variable Ballast : A Personal Account

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After my third world record set in the Constant Ballast class at -87 meters/287 feet,?? (in?? Dominican Republic waters, April 2002)?? I spent 5 months on Ambergris Caye, Belize. After some preparation?? in the shallow waters there,???? Subaquatic Safety Systems (SSS)?? Hyperbaric Chamber’s owner?? Mauricio Moreno put me in contact with?? the Director of TDI/SDI Central America. He arranged everything for my?? next world record attempt in Mexico. Bah??a Divers, located in Akumal,?? became our dive operator and we were hosted by Bah??a Principe Resorts.

["PatrickCri" right]After setting 3 records in the physical disciplines of Freediving,?? I decided to explore the darkness of the abyss and compete in the sled disciplines. I chose?? the Variable Weight Class,?? wherein?? the athlete uses the sled (weighted device) to go down but has to come up?? by pulling or finning,?? without the help of an inflatable balloon. During my training I had already approached the 90 meters/300 feet depth just by finning up and down, without help of any weights, so I knew I was ready to make this next step

This discipline was totally new to me. I did not have much experience?? riding the sled. The training was supposed to last for 1 month and I had planned my progression really slowly. As a Physical Therapist I am aware of the?? time required for the human body to adapt to this kind of stress.

I had no real target,?? only that of going beyond the actual world record of -117 meters. While waiting for the construction of the sled we started the training with a weight attached to my ankle, with me?? gliding along the main rope. I knew I was physically strong, so the key the questions were:

  • Can I cope with the stress?
  • Can I equalize at those depths?
  • How much will the narcosis affect my dive?
  • Will my monofin be a handicap for this dive?

I had only 24 days to figure all that out when I started the in-water training cycle. As we were in the middle of the hurricane season we were taking a lot of risks. Murphy’s Law struck us twice, with hurricanes?? Isidore and Lilly reaching the Yucatan Peninsula. We encountered many problems – weather, mooring, equalization, flu-?? forcing us to postpone the event to November 10th, 2002. The easy and slow progression was just another utopian dream. We were already behind the schedule.?? I have to admit that at that point Isabelle was of???? great moral support, and I had a fantastic crew that kept encouraging me. Above everything Audrey’s tragic accident hit us tremendously and a cold wave of fear and uncertainty struck the whole team. This tragic accident reminded us the necessity of a good and efficient safety system. The training went on and it bonded our team even more.

To pass the target depth I had to work on my equalization, and after a month of data and calculations I was finally able to predict the depth I could easily reach without breaking or slowing the descent. As was the case for my constant ballast dives,?? everything cleared up when I found the solution and the dive became just an athletic?? performance with a stress factor to cope with, nothing mystical.

The day of the record was delayed by unstable weather conditions. Th AIDA judges were to be on site?? for only 4 day,s and the weather forecast was for even worse to come. It was now or never.

Doctor Brian Lapointe, the famous Senior Marine Biologist from Harbor Branch Oceanographic Institution, was honoring me with his presence and the event was followed by crews from National Geographic, NBC, Televisa and other local television and newspaper media. As usual, I began my preparation with a static and some negative dives to squeeze my lungs,?? followed by a warm-up dive to 50 meters. We were ready for the final countdown when the wind picked up. For security reasons we decided to wait and after 40 tortured minutes I received the green light from the crew to enter the water.

["PatrickDeparts" left]The final 10 minutes’ countdown. Now the divers are now all around me. A last glance to Tim, Eugenio, Octavio, Mauricio, Dana and the rest of the divers. We don’t need to talk, I can feel their tension but they have that big smile on their faces saying "You’re going to do it!". Minus 4 minutes: the divers submerge to position themselves all along the rope. Tim and Eugenio will be the bottom divers,?? and the others will be deployed at intervals of 20 meters from each other. Minus 30 seconds: I am about to take my final breath when, incredibly,?? one of the judges next to me starts asking irrelevant questions to a safety free diver about the camera!?? In the corner of my eye I see Isabelle gesturing and ordering silence. It is with this last picture in my mind that I close my eyes, thinking of her having to protect me and my concentration until the very last seconds. At that moment nothing can stop me, the tight time frame has to be respected for the mixed gasses divers.

Final breath, followed by the lung packing technique ,which helps me to store up to 10 liters of air in my lungs. With a hand gesture, I signal Isabelle to let me go.

After the shock of the sled penetrating the water I start relaxing my muscles to reduce my oxygen consumption to the minimum. A that point I lose all track of time, as if somebody had stopped the universal clock. I completely forget that as a human being I am supposed to breathe, and instead I start living from equalization to equalization. Three times during my descent divers will signal my progression to the targeted depth, where an ambient pressure of 13 kilo per square cm will surround me.

As I relax I hear the friction of the sled against the rope, dropping faster and faster into the blue. Last signal at 95 meters. I prepare myself for the final impact and open the break. TOUCHDOWN, 120 meters.

I open my eyes and flash a?? victory sign??to the camera. I close my eyes again and start my ascent. I concentrate on every muscle required to extract me from the pull of gravity. I keep repeating to myself: "You’ve done it". As I progress I hear the divers banging on their tanks and screaming in their regulators. I answer them with a big smile, showing them that everything is OK. My lungs, squeezed to the extreme, start deploying again, as if I were pulling myself out of another dimension.

["PatrickRecord" right]Last signal. I open my eyes to see Isabelle escorting me?? the last 20 meters. I break the surface screaming, expressing my joy. According to the federation’s rules nobody can touch me for the next 60 seconds,?? to prove the depth was mastered.

The dive was completed in 3 minutes and 10 seconds:?? a 1:10 descent and a 2:00 minute ascent. A fully-equipped staff of 7 doctors and paramedics of SSS Hyperbaric Chambers was present to supervise the safety of the event, and waited with us for the last diver to come up after his 135 minutes of decompression time.

["Patrick120m" left]I would like to thank my partners: SSS Hyperbaric chambers, Bahia Divers, Bahia Principe, TDI/SDI Mexico, Placid SA, Poseidon Mexico, Sunbreeze Ambergris Caye, Barefoot Watersports, Fundacion Ecological, and Xel-Ha, who contributed to the realization and safety of this world record attempt.

I want to dedicate this dive in person to all the friends we made during this event,

See you down there!

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