7:00 AM. Its been light out for hours, probably to give the sun a chance to warm up properly for its mid-day burn. Up and out the door, a quick stop at Rowan’s Reef and we’re on our way to Sunset Marina. Just take the Sea to Sky towards Whistler, keep your eye out for the Ansell point exit and make your next left. Follow the road down straight to the marina and meet at the dock farthest from the main building for 9:00 AM.
11:40 AM. Although it was a late start we managed to catch up all but half-an-hour thanks to a quick set up for Constant Ballast out in the open water. The float and line configuration, three practice lines, one competition and counter ballast, float freely in the gentle current off the port-side of our three-boat flotilla. In one are the competitors, another the safety divers and tethered last, the official timers, our EMT and his first aid equipment.
Two Minutes! Helen Lightfoot calls the official time as she has for the last dozen western competitions. A few feet away, on her back at the line is Mandy-Rae Cruickshank current women’s Static World Record holder, and former World Record holder in No-limits. Below her, waiting patiently at the incredible depth of 71 meters/
232 feet, is another potential World Record marked by a tag with her name, ‘CAFA 2003 Nationals’, and the signatures of three of the attending AIDA judges, Kirk Krack, Doug Peterson and myself.
One Minute Thirty! Safety diver Eric Fattah slides into place between Kirk and myself, the three of us surrounding Mandy-Rae as she continues her calm ventilations.
One Minute! Eric and I exchange a quick glance, an affirmation of our previous arrangement in which, at the half-way point of Mandy-Rae’s dive, Eric will descend to approximately 25 meters, wait until she appears from the depths below and shadow her remaining ascent. On his tail will be Kirk with the underwater camera to document the attempt. My job is to provide back-up support for the last fifteen meters.
Thirty Seconds! Mandy-Rae begins her purges. Ten Seconds! Kiss, kiss, kiss- kiss, kiss, kiss, she packs in the last of her air, Five! Four! Three! Two! One!, then rolls over and gently slips below the surface. Ten Seconds! Helen continues the count, now ascending, for the benefit of Eric, Kirk and I. Thirty Seconds!,… One Minute!… One Minute Thirty! Eric and Kirk both starts their packs, One Minute Fifty! Sloosh-sloosh, Eric and Kirk leave the surface as I continue the count in my head. Twenty more seconds, ten, start packing and go go go. My heart races, and beats a path trough the thick green haze to ten meters. By twelve however it’s a clear and cool look down in to nothingness. I level off at fifteen and will my heart to slow. It doesn’t want to.
I know this water. This is where I attended my first ever competition two years ago. It’s where I discovered the first freediving community in Canada and its where, by total surprise, I qualified for Team Canada. It only stands to reason then that I should feel comfortable here however my heart, which is usually much more cooperative in these matters, seems to have its own ideas about pacing today.
And so, just as I begin to make out figures emerging well below me, I run out of air early forcing me to begin my ascent. Three quick breaths at the surface and my face is back in the water, the haze. A commotion below. I move to my left, breathe deeply and prepare to reach forward if necessary. Eric breaks first with Mandy-Rae’s airway secured firmly. Kirk’s video camera is right there. I back off a foot. She’s dreaming again.
Eric deftly removes her mask and blows repeatedly across her face. Eight seconds pass and Kirk takes over beginning artificial respirations. Two breaths, two, three, four, Breath, two, three, simultaneously I reach out and Kirk hands me the camera- we are of the same mind, Breath. Kirk doesn’t miss a beat, he delivers two more breaths and Mandy-Rae is around. In the arms of her partner she drifts towards the boat where she will go on Oxygen for five minutes as per CAFA policy, tended to by our EMT.
Tom Lightfoot is the kind of guy you can count on. True blue some might call it, or a real mensch as my Dad would say. Tom is going for the National no-fins record (currently his own at 43 meters) with an announced performance of 50 meters. He’s got what it takes.
Because of Mandy’s blackout we have imposed a two-minute delay in the schedule to ensure Tom gets a proper warm-up. Tom is connected to the line by a meter long lanyard, another AIDA/CAFA standard.
One Minute! Helen calls out the time for her husband. Other than Kirk and Mandy-Rae these two have more competitive freediving experience than any other two freedivers in Canada.
It is Eric and I now on the line beside Tom. Kirk is at the boat with Mandy-Rae. I have the video camera. Thirty Seconds! Tom begins to purge. Ten Seconds! Five! Four! Three! Two! One! Tom disappears. As before Helen continues the count. A fifty-meter no-fins dive should take Tom about two minutes to complete. At one-minute ten Eric goes down to wait below and a few moments later I follow. Camera on I pass ten meters and the visibility open up. Fifteen meters, no Eric, no Tom. I am becoming negatively buoyant and, slowing my kicks, I begin to sink. Where are they? I wait, sink, wait. Too deep.
By competitive standards I am far from what could be considered a sizeable depth but ever since my episode last October (, first published by DeeperBlue.net Sept.10, 2002) any depths could have serious consequences. Taking control of my situation I turn topside as just below me Eric takes over for Tom.
Eric’s powerful stride propels the two of them upward and they surface seconds behind me. Like Many-Rae before him Tom is present in body only.
Unlike Mandy-Rae, Tom does not quickly come around. Time is pulled and stretched, Tom there not here. Jaw clenched. AR starts. We call for the EMT. Helen cries out. Breathe into his nose. I can feel time leaving us behind. “Sorry’, time says, ‘I’d love to help but its now or never”. Then- GASP! The laryngospasm breaks but still no breathing. Kirk arrives and takes over AR. The airway now free Tom responds almost instantly, hand lifting out of the water with a weak OK signal. Kirk delivers more air and the other hand comes up. Tom lifts his head. Helen behind me. Tom in a daze, slowly focusing, now here. Kirk takes him in a firm embrace.
Kirk, Tom and I swim to the boat. On oxygen. OK. Considering the circumstances at hand and the strict schedule of our tri-mix divers below we decide to call the event.
Full strength. The Sun’s unwavering intensity offers no shade from the reality of today’s incidents. Two dives; two successful recoveries. Two dives; one failed performance, one critical mistake. Carefully we the judges, still in the water, go over the details. Tom reports that after not seeing the bottom plate he turned on his own. His gage reads 59.2 meters. The line to Mandy-Rae’s 71-meter World Record attempt was not reset.
10:17 PM. The judges and I are still talking about what we learned today and what we need to learn. We are glad to have passed this difficult test but we know that the future of competitive freediving in Canadarelies on our ability to adapt and learn from our experiences and mistakes.