DAY ONE — Arrival (Monday 17/7/00)
And now a quick impression of Turkey in July…(writer sweats profusely, fans face, mops brow, gulps water, looks for shade etc..).
Yasemin sure picked a good month to spend underwater. It’s 40 in the shade and 24 in the blue. Where would you rather be? As those who read my last email will already know, I am a guest of freediving body F.R.E.E. (Freediving Record and Education Entity) for two freediving record attempts by 21 year old Turkish freediver Yasemin Dalkilic. Yasemin, or "Yas" to her team and trainer Rudi Castineyra, have gathered in Bodrum, Turkey to attempt to set new Women’s World Freediving Records in the following categories:
1. Variable constant ballast freedive, where the diver pulls themself down, then back up a vertical line without fins,
2. Limited Variable Ballast category freedive, where the diver rides a sled to the bottom of the rope, then pulls back up wearing fins.
3. Unlimited Variable Ballast category
These records would later turn out to change in more then one way.
I’m met at Bodrum airport after flying across the plains and stone
mountains of Western Turkey and taken to the Club Med style Iberotel, the staging ground for Yas’ attempts. Signs (literally) of her presence are everywhere: the world may not know ore care much about freediving yet but Turkey sure does.
I’m introduced to various members of the support and safety crew. Yes, they are at pains to make me feel welcome. And yes, I’m cynically sure that F.R.E.E. want me to see and tell how well organised they are. Which brings me to another issue I’ve been wrestling with: the ever proliferating list of different records. Various freediving bodies, usually the creation of a few individuals (after all, the freediving world does have a very small population) keep drawing up and announcing new records. Where will it end?
Where should it end? I don’t know, but time will tell. Some will be accepted as more legitimate than others. And this will happen very simply: some will always be challenged, others will simply be ignored.
So what’s legitimate and what’s not? Perhaps the South Africans could come up with a "constant sealskin freedive" category for sharky waters? By a process of reduction, the one true category would be how far a human could swim down and return from without so much as the aid of a swimsuit. This however, bears little relation to what most of us do in the real world, whether spearfishing or freediving. I’m comfortable that record categories
will sort themselves out in the next few years. Egoists, stuntmen/showmen and try-hards will find an embarrassingly short list of challengers to their claims. I think the current list will keep expanding for a while and then contract due to natural attrition.
One thing’s for sure: you now have to be an exceptional human being, let alone diver to be a world record contender — regardless of the flag you dive under.
So back to Turkey. My first impression of Yasemin’s ("yah-sem-een") record team is one of harmony. Sure there’s all the usual dynamics of a big group doing something difficult and dangerous. But there is an astonishing level of diving, technical and audiovisual skill in the group. More on that later.
The dinner conversation ranges from particle physics to the subtle difference between a very fine single malt whisky and a big old, fat-ass cognac. No, not really, we talked diving.
I’m told that Tuesday will be a training dive in preparation for Wednesday which will be Record Day. With that I head for my room, very happy to be among divers again and walking in the warm Mediteranean night.
DAY TWO — Getting Deeper (Tuesday 18/7/00)
The full logistical implications of attempting a VERY DEEP DIVE become apparent with my first stubbed toe on Turkish soil. By the way, everybody in Turkey from flight attendants to customs officers has been very nice to me so far.
Just like any other TV shoot, I find lots of expensive equipment lying around to trip over. The dive boat is about 20m long and white. Well the parts that aren’t covered in divers or equipment are white. Clearly there are several Americans in the crew. You just have to look at the mountains of shiny gear to know that. One of them is former World Record Deep Air Dive holder Hal Watts a.k.a. "Mr Scuba". Now there’s a name to live up to.
Hal is one of two judges and technical diving consultant to the safety team. He struck me as being almost supernaturally safety focussed. Like most spearos/freedivers I tend to ridicule Scuba divers a rule. I don’t think there is a technical diving question Hal couldn’t answer. I have to admit I found his knowledge and grasp of the subject fascinating. Don’t worry. I’ll get over it.
The second judge is one the nicest people I have met in diving. Rudi De Nardo hails from Sardenia, Italy and is both a deep diver, specialisng in wreck hunting and an architect. Hal was on top Rudi on the bottom. To avoid confusion with Yasemin’s coach Rudi Castineyra I referred to him as Judge Rudi for the rest of the event.
Mountains of gear transform themselves into a coherent set up and Yas begins warming up with several dives before hauling herself hand over hand into the abyss and back. The goal is 55m and this is just a training dive. I’ll go into detail on Yasemin’s technique later in the week, but today she does a couple of negative (empty lung) dives to about 15m before reading for the main event.
Back on board the air, nitrox, trimix and God-knows-what-else breathing safety divers and video divers are readying themselves. They then wait like well-disciplined individual floating dive shops on the surface for Rudi’s 5 minute warning. Rudi is always there with Yas. Whether steadying her breathing or speaking encouragement, he’s by her side in the water and on the duckboard.
The dive begins. Slipping off her semi-immersed seat she duck dives and hauls herself down. Yasemin has a purpose built hi-density foam platform with attached bucket seat. She sits loose-limbed and relaxed on this platform between her customary two warm up dives. She is wet to her waist.
I have been given the awesome responsibility of steadying this platform in Rudi’s absence to make sure it doesn’t drift and kink the dive rope. Full of new found importance, I move in to do so and gain a very good view of the bubblefest below.
Yas moves quickly out of sight. We film. We safety. We steady the platform. We wait. Back up she comes, moving like a slow motion circus performer climbing a rope. It’s a very beautiful and reassuring sight. Yas lets go of the rope about 4m down and allows bouyancy and momentum finish the job. Rudi has been with her for the last 20m. They break the surface together.
"Breathe" says Rudi and she does. Long and loud. I’m about 3m away, steadying furiously and rather well I might add. Yasemin is clearly a little wobbly. No samba though. She’s just weak after the effort and later complains of fatigue after 3 weeks of training, unfamiliar food and stress.
This later prompts Rudi to decide to call off tomorrow’s line assisted constant weight record attempt. Safety and a concern for her long term well-being are cited as too important. Needless to say Yasemin is dissappointed.
The safety divers — who’s job is every bit as dangerous as Yasemin’s — emerge and a debrief takes place. The poor bastards have to decompress for about 40 minutes after one of these dives and only emerge blinking and shivering long after the initial excitement is over. But you know Scuba divers — give ’em a bunch of heavy tanks and lots of dials and they’ll play happily for hours.
Later that night there’s a big announcement. Yasemin and Rudi have decided to attempt to set a new record in the Limited Variable Ballast category (sled down, rope back). 100m is the goal and tomorrow is to be a Record Day.
I go to bed further impressed by the discipline, commitment and humility of everyone involved. The fact this is a team effort is very clear. I am also picking up a lot of interesting training information that I will share with you later in the week. My access to email here is limited so I will go into much more technical detail later for those who are interested.
DAY THREE — Record Day (Wednesday)
Record Day is sunny, as usual and the media are here in force. After some problems and delays setting up for a live broadcast yesterday, the dive boat heads out a 6.30am. They have to set up and string a cable some 500m to shore for a Turkish live outside broadcast team and growing camp of media.
We pass an ambulance and paramedic team on standby at the dock and board one of two very nice inflatables to head out to the boat. We are flagged down by the other inflatable on the way there. A passing motor yacht has cut the cable! Shit. I can easily imagine Rudi’s reaction…the combined anger of the crew took the paint clean of the poor yacht.
We arrive at the boat. Yas and Rudi will come later when the set up is complete. I chat with Yasemin’s mum.
She’s says she’s always little nervous, but proud of her daughter’s achievements. I mention helpfully that Yasemin always wears a string of Turkish "evil eye" repellent beads on her wrist so she should be OK. Her mum doesn’t appear to hear and tells me that Yasemin has always loved the ocean and mentions her years of competitive fin swimming which I didn’t know about. Yasemin doesn’t waste words. You really have to probe her in conversation, her replies are very precise and she is one of those rare people who can speak in paragraphs.
When Yas and Rudi arrive by inflatable, all is ready and the cable repaired. They will have 4 video cameras underwater and countless others above. It turns out that this record attempt was covered LIVE by 13 TV Turkish channels and went out live by satellite to dozens of international carriers.
Yasemin and Rudi sequester themselves on the foredeck and begin with deep, slow breathing cycles and onboard stretching get her into a dive-ready state faster than I thought possible.
I’m not sure of the exact duration of these breathing cycles — perhaps Yasemin or Rudi can post a summary — but the goal is to help her metabolism shift into dive mode. After half and hour or so she suits up and she and Rudi check details with the safety crew
She made it: a new world record of 100m was set, although her gauges all said 101m. The little flouro green rag doll hanging on the sled descended and climbed with what seemed like ridiculous ease.
I have spent my first three days watching these people with growing admiration. Yasemin, Rudi and her team are helping build a new sport and they are doing it with care. The freediving and (ahem..) Scuba experience assembled here is staggering. There are veterans of record attempts by Pippin, Pelizzari, Debra Andollo, Meaghan, and others.
I have to get offline now so you’ll hear more, much more tomorrow.