The Florida Event Diary

Four freedivers of Team-PFD attempt four world records:

Martin Stepanek — Static Apnea Men

Karoline Dal Toe — Static Apnea Women

Mandy Cruickshank — Free Immersion Women

Eric Fattah — Constant Weight Men

Three world records were achieved — two in men’s static apnea and one in women’s static apnea. Below is the story of my constant ballast record attempt.

Background:

All my training was in Vancouver, BC, Canada. No pool, only gym and ocean. I knew that to break the existing 81m record, I needed to make 57m with no contractions. I finally made the 57m with no contractions in late May, so I decided to announce a record attempt. I had also done 67m many times quite easily in Vancouver, with dive times between 2:02 — 2:10.

I arrived in Florida June 22, 2001. The record was scheduled for June 29-30. I needed to make the 79m prerequisite before being allowed to try for 82m.

Day 1

Today I went out with Kirk and the student divers for my first dive in the Florida waters. There was a high wind, very rough water, a thunder and lightning storm, torrential rain, and a high current. Also, the sea lice abound, so to avoid being bitten and laced with neurotoxin we covered every square millimeter of our bodies in some high SPF lotion which claims added protection against the sea lice.

I geared up in my 3mm picasso…strange wearing a speedo and gearing up, still being so hot that there’s no rush, despite the open ocean wind…Put on my fluid goggles and nose clip, chinese blade monofin, reduced neck weight (2.5lb), and depth gauges. I jumped into the water only to be shocked that the water was warmer than the air. It felt like jumping into a hot tub. The stinger showed 29C/84F. I was boiling hot the whole time. Later I found an abrupt thermocline at 40m, where the water temp seemed to drop to about 68-75F (hard to tell through the suit). Blood pressure was a bit low, not having eaten much during the 11-hour long trip out here. I did a hang at 16m on a full lung, followed by two negative dives, good and long, as I would expect from low BP. Vis was mediocre for florida, about 60 feet, the four descent lines going down at an angle and crossing around 100 feet. As I mentioned it was cloudy with thunder, lightning, torrential rain, high winds and rough water. But I’m used to bad conditions. After the two negatives I did two pack stretches. Then, breathing up while being thrown around like a rag doll, I made my warm up dive to 46.6m, with no contractions, lasting an unusual 1:40, because there were no markers on the line, so I was looking at my gauge again and again. After that dive, I did my usual surface static, a 3:30 (2:55), amazing 2:55 with no contractions with the usual short breathe up, again, to be expected with lower blood pressure. Then I started breathing up for my big dive, still bumping into the descent assembly and bumping into the many students in the water. After about 4 minutes I was soon ready, and the rain became more torrential, and then the boat operator screamed for everyone to get back in the boat. He claimed that the rain made vis so bad that another boat nearly hit us. So we all scrambled back on the boat while Kirk struggled to get the descent lines back up. We went back to shore, and that was that for the day!

The bottom line for me is that tomorrow I’m not using a wetsuit at all. I’ll use the speedo fastskin with a swim cap. If that’s too cold, then Monday I’ll use just the 3mm picasso top, or even use the fastskin with something warmer outside during my warm up…

Got home, went grocery shopping, lovely to find all these unusual fruits so cheap….Another report tomorrow…

Day 2

More rough water, but no torrential rain. I was wearing only the fastskin. The water was 320 feet deep, vis 60-70 feet. Kirk dropped the line to 75 meters. It seemed to catch on the bottom and went at a huge angle. Later we found it had caught on some underwater structure. We didn’t know at the time so Kirk and Paul pulled up the line a bit, so they thought it was at 60 meters. Still going down at a 15 degree angle. I was warm enough, but the line delay made me a bit cooler than I wanted, always afraid of bad narcosis when I get deep if I’m cold. I made my dive, everything was going fantastic, never looking where I’m going, only looking at the line. Suddenly the weight belt at the bottom of the line whizzed by, and by the time I stopped in midwater I was a bit beyond it. I checked my gauge, 52 meters. I had tons of air, but I couldn’t go deeper because the line was at an end. I paused, wondering if I should maybe do a hang. By the time I looked over at the weight belt at the bottom of the line, I was 5 meters away from it and drifting away fast, so I started swimming towards it. After 8 monofin strokes I was no closer, fighting the current. So I started going up diagonally. After I passed 40m, the current dissipated and I got back to the line, continued the ascent at 15 degrees along the line, and made it to the surface after 1:49 with no contractions. By now I was cold so I got out.

Day 3

We dove very early today, and the water was very flat (the only day of flat water). Better vis, around 80 feet. I was using the fastskin plus a weird half-hood, about 2-3mm thick. Kirk dropped the line to 75 meters, and immediately it went down at 35 degrees from vertical. Another deep water current we assumed. The current was so bad Kirk had to bring the line up a bit to prevent the other lines from breaking the surface apparatus, so he brought it up to 60-70m. The 100 foot lines were going down perfectly straight–only the deep line was at an angle. I did my warm up down the deep line at the huge angle. Stopped in astonishment at 42.7m, as I saw the most amazing thing ever???the line was curved in a U shape, as opposing currents bent it. In other words, it went down at 35 degrees from the surface, down to 42m, then it rapidly curved, only to go down at 35 degrees in the other direction. At the junction point, the line fluttered as if in a strong wind (current). The thought of going through that gusty ripcurrent was not appealing. I ascended and finished the dive in 1:45, no contractions, but harder than usual for that depth because of the huge angle of the line. After the usual surface static, Kirk was ready to spot me. I sensed serious signs of CO (carbon monoxide) poisoning from the incessant boat exhaust. I had experienced this all too well on a boat dive in vancouver. The symptoms were classic: the sensation that you can never get enough air as you breathe, and when doing apnea, the sensation of feeling great until right at the end when suddenly you feel horrible and your arms and legs tingle. But, what could I do. Despite the feeling of not being able to get enough air, I packed, and started the dive. I descended down at 35 degrees, and felt okay. I’m actually too buoyant in the fastskin with no weight belt. As always with no markers on the line I was constantly checking my depth gauge, only because I was worried about hitting the ripcurrent. Around 45m I sank into the ripcurrent. I angled my descent posture sharply to stay near the line. Soon it got so strong I was kicking to stay near the line, as I neared the junction point. Then it was overwhelming, I kicked hard in a desperate attempt to grab the line. I got it and hung at 60.7m, sideways, as if being blown in a strong wind. I looked down and saw the weight belt about 7 meters below. Forget it I thought. There was no hope of kicking to the surface, there was no way I could let go of the line, because I would be blown away, so I pulled up in free immersion until 32m, then I kicked up to surface. Kirk met me. I felt fine until about 20 meters, when the usual CO poisoning symptoms kick in, tingling in the arms and suddenly feeling bad. But I knew I was still fine. Surfaced, took two breaths and my first words were ‘Oh my god that current is strong…’ I checked my gauge to find that the 60.7m dive took an immensely long 2:34 (actually 74 meters of distance if you do the trigonometry). I was colder today, and because of that got quite badly narced…the 3mm picasso is too warm, the fastskin a bit too cold…I got out, warmed up, jumped in with no suit and did a fun crazy canadian dive to 21m with no fins, while I watched the clinic students do their target dives.

I may be suffering a bit from the loads of SPF 50 suntan lotion I apply every day to avoid being bitten by the sea lice. I ran tonight hoping to sweat off some of the toxic ingredients that I have absorbed into my skin.

Right now, my mind wanders to the repeated failed record attempts by alejandro ravelo in this same spot exactly. Remember the story. The line was straight because the huge weight at the bottom…he closes his eyes at 25m, and wakes up at 75m, but 80 feet away from the line, decides to swim against the current forever, to grab the tag, and tries in vain to make it to the surface…Rudi warned me of the deep-sea currents here, but I guess we just have to make do with what we’ve got.

Ironically, I arrived here almost overconfident, because I think I can make the record if I’m warm, without diesel fumes, with flat water and a straight line and little current. Unfortunately the whole issue about setting a record (at least for constant ballast) seems more about knowing how to get good conditions, rather than knowing how to dive well.

Day 4

We had Andy’s boat, a 17-foot ski boat. No more clinic, just me, Kirk, Mike and Karoline. The ocean was super rough, 5-6 foot waves. The boat was overwhelmed, so we had to turn back before we got to deep water. I was very frustrated because I felt so fantastic and I was in the mood to dive.

Day 5

We had H20’s boat, much bigger, again the sea was rough, 5-6 foot waves. The boat had to go slowly because of the rough water so it took forever to find 500 foot deep water 5 miles offshore–combine the motion of the boat to the 4:30am wake up time and the diesel fumes, and almost everyone got sea sick. Mandy and I breathed off a scuba tank on the way out to avoid the fumes. Very unnatural and the air from the tank is so dry it dehydrates you. So you need to drink lots of water, which makes you more sea sick. For the first time in my life I threw up from seasickness. Mandy threw up half a dozen times, even Karoline threw up a couple of times. Mike too. Kirk, Carol, Andy and Paul were fine. I did go in the water but almost threw up after my second negative pressure dive, so I just got out, and threw up off the side of the boat!

Day 6

We had a 45-foot catamaran, no diesel, much less fumes. More rough water. It was just me, Mandy, Kirk, Paul and Marnie. The catamaran was much more stable and way faster. Mandy took some ginger in the morning, hoping it would help her seasickness. I ran yesterday evening and this morning, and didn’t eat much. Mandy felt totally fine in her stomach, I got pretty sick but didn’t throw up. I couldn’t do my pre-dive static, a vital part of my warm up, because I felt too sick to hold my breath for very long. I decided to dive without the static. I was wearing the fastskin, plus a breakaway hood and vest which I ditch before my dive. But, another 4:30am wake up, cold stormyweather, and colder 29C water meant I still got quite cold. The ocean was still rough, 4-5 foot waves. I dove off our platform which still needs some work. Again the line was going down at 15 degrees because of the current. I was now using a 1.5lb neck weight to offset my positive buoyancy problem. My first dive I went to 60m, and turned because

A) When I’m sea sick and my chest collapses, I feel like throwing up

B) My CO2 tolerance was low because I wasn’t able to do my surface static.

However, I surfaced with amazing ease, and was frustrated that I didn’t go deeper. So I dove again, this time I was totally shivering. This time I turned around at 66m, for the same reasons. It seems I can’t judge my air in this suit config, because the ascent is so easy. On my first few kicks up from 66m, I thought, ‘well, it will be close.’ Then, by the time I got to 30m, I was like ‘piece of cake!’ Shoot! Again I should have gone further, despite the seasickness, rough water and shivering. But, my buoyancy is utterly amazing. Almost neutral at the surface–almost no effort to get to 50ft. I sink from 90-100ft, all the way down, in constant buoyancy, and the way up is amazingly easy, with almost no drag from the suit. The 60m dive was 1:57 (compared to the 2:34 of the other day when the line was at a 35 degree angle), and the 66m dive was a speedy 2:04, even though I went slowly. Interesting story with Mandy today, but I’ll she’ll tell you herself. Marnie did video at 100ft, so we got some great shots. Tomorrow, unfortunately, we have to go out on the slow, rocking, diesel infested H2O boat, again with a 4:30am wake up. The forecast calls for high winds and stormy weather through the weekend.

Day 7

Starting to become very exhausted from diving every day, getting up so early, exhaust fumes again and again, getting sea sick every day…losing my appetite, finding it hard to hydrate my body…sleep cycles screwed up from never ending naps after diving. Decided to go back to the picasso 3mm. Water very rough again, 4-5 foot waves, deep water current, line going down at 15 degrees, despite the 35kg weight at the bottom which has been there every day. Back on the H2O boat with seasickness inducing diesel fumes. Got very seasick. In the water, did my warm up, mis timed it. Was ready to go, very seasick, couldn’t do statics or negatives, but Mandy was going first and wasn’t ready so I needed to wait for 15 minutes. By that time I was horribly seasick. Mandy made her dive, but, suffering from the same problems as me, she had a problem. I felt horribly sick, and with great difficulty I told Kirk that I just couldn’t dive. Then, a few moments later, I said I’d dive, to any depth, just to make a dive. I got to the line, and with my face in the water I got very emotional. I was so frustrated, how can anyone expect to make a record in these conditions, not to mention feeling so sick? I remembered Peter told me Jack Schwarz’s technique of ‘conjuration of love.’ The theory is that thoughts of love, of any kind, can normalize heart rate and even eliminate pain and discomfort. So I thought of all the people who had supported me in this attempt, e-mails from all over the world, I thought of my parents, my training partners, friends…I thought of how all these people wanted me to succeed…in my intense emotions the sea sickness either started fading or I just didn’t notice it as much…it wasn’t gone but it was reduced enough for me to actually inhale and pack my lungs, so I did, without delay. I descended down the line, 15 degree angle, against the current. During the whole descent, my mind never wandered from the thoughts of all the people who wanted me to succeed. My technique was automatic. I had been diving every day for so many days that no thoughts were required to dive. It was automatic, so I concentrated on thoughts of my friends. And, somehow, I surfaced clean, after -72.3m, in 2:41. Again, far longer than such a depth should take, but given the angle of the line and the deep current…

I managed to eat afterwards, but not much. My appetite was almost totally gone, and even drinking water was difficult. My blood pressure was constantly low–it was amazing that I made the -72.3m despite the low BP, it only showed that under ‘normal’ conditions so much more was possible. I tried to sleep for most of the remainder of the day.

Day 8

The last chance to make the -79m prerequisite. I spent a long time last night working on my psychology, and it worked. I was more confident, and I felt better. Another early wake up. I failed the blood pressure test miserably, and now I was totally unable to eat or even drink, so I couldn’t correct my blood pressure. On the boat, I was happy and confident. Today was the first day of full safety support. I didn’t feel seasick until near the end of the boat ride, when we ran into 7-foot waves. I got in the water, feeling more seasick by the minute. Once in the water, again I couldn’t do statics or negatives. I felt okay until my 45m warm up dive. I felt like I was about to throw up in the last 10 meters. There was a big current today, and the deep line was going down at 15 degrees again. The huge waves were unmanageable. Immediately after surfacing from my warm up dive I told Kirk to start the 5-minute count for the safety divers, because I know now that my seasickness only gets worse. I tried to sit on the platform but it was hopeless. It was being thrown around like a toy in the huge waves. With 2 minutes remaining I got back in the water and breathed through my snorkel, fighting back the seasickness, knowing I needed to hit the 79m marker. My blood pressure was now dangerously low–I was so thirsty on the boat, but not only could I not drink (my stomach didn’t want to) but drinking makes me more seasick. I knew with my low BP I would never be conscious from a 79m dive. If I turned very early and made a safe dive, I knew the many safety people would be a bit upset, and people would ask why I didn’t go deeper. But, I didn’t want a deep blackout. So I decided the best thing was to make a dive where I surfaced borderline. The safety people would be happy, and no one could blame me for not trying or not going deeper. So that’s what I did, and I did it perfectly, which I think is a great accomplishment, to know my own physiology so perfectly. With such low BP, I had to pack, wait, pack, wait, for a full 30-40 seconds. Finally, not full yet, I just went. I descended down the 15 degree line. I equalized at 70-71m, and grabbed the line somewhere around 75 meters, and looked below me, expecting the 79m marker to be right there, but there had been a problem with line stretch so the disk (as we found out later) was around 89-90m. I reached the surface after 2:50, I looked Kirk in the eye, and I clearly remember taking three or four breaths, then apparently I passed out for about 4-5 seconds, then spontaneously woke up. The gauge showed -75.1m. I was actually incredibly happy with the ‘result’, considering that my body was pathetically weak and dehydrated, and the conditions were horrible, and I was seasick…and despite all those things I was amazingly close to pulling off the 3rd deepest dive in history…

I’ll try for the constant ballast record again in VANCOUVER, where I know I can make it, where I don’t have to worry about rough water, exhaust fumes, seasickness, deep water currents, new germs, new food, sea lice, thunderstorms….sure, the water is cold and dark, but so what?

Again, thanks to everyone who supported me and believed in me.

Special thanks to Kirk Krack for a great job organizing, and thanks to Paul Kotik for allowing the whole Team-PFD to use his new house!

Congratulations to Martin Stepanek on his two static records, 7:42 and 8:06, and congratulations to Karoline Dal Toe with her 6:13 static record. Long live Team-PFD !!!!