Wed. June 25
9:15 AM. A final boarding call for Air Canada flight 1131 to Vancouver bleats over the waiting area PA. One and two at a time the stragglers come. Like stubborn oxygen molecules they reluctantly detach themselves whatever inane actively has kept them from arriving on time and rush to the gate in a flurry of haste. With each new arrival my chances of securing a seat is reduced significantly.
Its not the first time I have been bumped off a confirmed reservation and likely will not be my last. Why should an airline take the chance of underselling when they can oversell and simply appease us leftovers with a cheaper ticket on the next flight out?
Yes I know there is no meal on this flight but my bag has already left without me you see and we all know what can happen to an unsuspecting bag lying about with thousands of dollars of fins, masks and wetsuits. For Security Reasons of course.
12:30 PM. CAFA president Kirk Kräck is already waiting for me on arrival and after a quick bite we meander over to the international terminal to find Tony Marcuccino, one of six AIDA judges (including myself) here for the 2003 Canadian Freedive Nationals.
5:00 PM. Dramatic cliffs fall from the driver’s side of the Sea to Sky highway which hugs walls of sheer granite on its way north to Whistler and further on, the heart of the Canadian Rockies. We turn early off this narrow and dangerous road, the hiccup in Vancouver’s 2010 Winter Olympic bid, where the majestic coastline plunges straight down into the cold dark waters of Howe Sound.
Ansell point is the practice place of choice for most of Vancouver’s freedive community. This perfect little cove offers depths of up to 100 meters almost immediately offshore. Already there are safety divers Luc Gosselin and Greg Fee and by the time Kirk, Mandy-Rae Cruickshank, Tony and I get our gear in order Jade Leutenegger (who by the way took third place overall in the Eastern Canadian regionals last week) and Chris Kearney are quick on our heels.
In my new Picasso 7mm Chicle the 17 Celsuis/62 Fahrenheit is pleasingly refreshing. Chronically cold I find myself laughing at the thought of actually being too warm as Mandy-Rae and I swim out the float. All that however is quickly forgotten as we arrive at the float and Mandy-Rae begins her regular warm up routine.
Regular. There is nothing regular about today’s practice and everyone in the water knows it. Regardless of our chosen and appointed roles as friends, judges, and competitors over the next few days in this moment here, now, every one of us is here for Mandy-Rae. Seventy-three meters unassisted in practice last Saturday. We’re talking World Record here. In this very spot. In total darkness. In near zero temperatures.
Two minutes! Luc calls out the time, Mandy-Rae is already on her back doing her final breathe up. Kirk is at her side, slow methodical breathing, holy crap where have I been? One Minute Thirty! Mandy-Rae reaches up to rub her cheek, is there something with her mask? One Minute! She does it again, I look over at Kirk who is completely focused on Mandy-Rae. No its nothing, she’s scratching her face. I swim back a few more feet, worried that my anxiousness might affect her. Thirty Seconds! Slowly purging Mandy-Rae bobs up and down in the slight chop, she’s completely absorbed as are all of us now, practically breathing in time.
Ten Seconds!… Five!, Four!, Mandy-Rae begins her packing, Three!, Two!, One!…… Plus Ten!… Kirk and Luc both look at their gages, Plus twenty! Twenty-five!, Twenty-six!, Twenty-sev.. Schloosh! a small swell covers Luc’s voice as Mandy-Rae rolls over and silently slips underwater. Gone.
Thirty seconds! Luc is now counting out loud the dive time. From the moment her fin-tip sank beneath the surface Mandy-Rae was lost into green haze that dominates the first ten meters. After that it opens up clear as night. One Minute! Kirk is already purging. One Fifteen! Suddenly the float dips hard, Mandy-Rae’s turn. Kirk dives followed closely by Luc, Tony, and Jade. A few seconds later and Greg Fee is also gone. I look around. Alone. Everyone else is below me, below the haze. I watch the float… Tony reappears.
"Not enough breath-up" Tony murmurs. A moment passes, then the float dips again. Not a good sign. One fifty-five. Neither of us can see anything so we keep our distance. Sploosh! One of the spectators breaks the surface behind me but I don’t turn, focus steady on the float. Two twenty-nine…. ROOOSHHH! The surface erupts as Kirk breaches, Mandy-Rae rag-doll in his arms. No mask. White-blue lips. Schploo-ploosh, the other divers surface. Kirk is already over her- Two Quick Breaths, two, three, four- Breath!, two, three, four, Breath! two three, four Brea…! After fourteen seconds Mandy-Rae wakes up. "I was dreaming!" she laughs.
Only Mandy-Rae’s laughter exists. We are all still in her dream, the one she was having. In it she is ascending, the line in front of her, feeling strong knowing she has made it.
Later on I ask her when her dream ended. "When I woke up in Kirk’s arms", she replied.
Mandy-Rae had a strong decent to 72.8 meters, made the turn (first dip) and began her ascent. Immediately her mask began to leak. By 50 meters her sinuses were flushed and at 35 she reached for the line (second dip). By the time Kirk sees her at 30 meters, half kicking and half pulling her way towards him, the mask is half off. At 25 meters it comes off completely and Kirk is there, pinching her nose and covering the airway with one hand and holding her tight with the other. Kirk rockets past the safety divers, at eight meters she goes out and moments later he breaks the surface with Mandy-Rae unconscious in his arms. Two minutes fifty-eight seconds. Plus fourteen.
Once you have seen a miracle nothing ever looks the same again. This was no miracle. A near-perfect performance, equipment failure and textbook rescue/recovery. A remarkably controlled emergency, a perfectly averted disaster. Exactly what you would want to see should you have to.
Friday June 27 starts the first of day of competition of the 2003 Canadian Freedive Nationals. The first event is Dynamic Apnea at the University of British Columbia Aquatic Centre. Mandy-Rae Cruickshank will not be competing this Friday, she’s preparing for Constant Ballast on Saturday.