Monday, June 23rd, 2003
After our usual start (breakfast at 7:30pm – all I have is a croissant and a protein shake) we were on our way to the dive site just after 8am. Despite beautifully calm seas and light wind inside the reef, the boat was subjected to heavy swinging on the mooring. As I did my warm-up dives the descent rope went from dead straight to bowed as the boat went from side to side at the surface, and waves reaching a meter high sloshed over our heads periodically. Not exactly ideal conditions, but not so bad as to cancel the dive. Every time we have dived out there little fish join us, swimming under our bodies as we breathe at the surface. Today it was just one fish about the size of my hand, which was pretty unusual, but it’s nice to have something to watch out there in the big blue. Of course, I named him Nemo!! My sinuses seem to have cleared up and I had no problems during the warm-up dives at all.
We were joined by our underwater photographer today, Philip Shearer from Big Blue Unlimited here on Provodenciales. Alas, his camera flooded horribly almost as soon as he hit the water, so it will be a couple of days until he can shoot anything below the surface. Together with Phil who dived without his camera to 35m, John and Carol were situated at 80m (the bottom of the rope), Ariane at 50m and Mike at 20m. Nigel was our Captain today, with the responsibility of pulling the clip that releases my sled for the descent – he said it was hard for him to do and gave him a shiver down his spine. I hit the bottom easily, still not needing to slow the sled during the descent, and returned to the surface comfortably. I still feel a bit like I am finding my groove down there yet, and not quite in my routine. The dive took 2 minutes and 13 seconds which I feel is a bit long for me so I think I was a bit too relaxed leaving 80m and should perhaps kick a little stronger in the first 20m of the ascent. I stopped pulling or kicking on the way up at about 10m and let my buoyancy take me the rest of the way. It gave Mike a bit of a scare, but he just watched Paul and I glide to the surface and afterwards understood to expect that on my dives because it saves energy and oxygen.
After helping to return the sled and ballast to the boat I took the decompressing safety divers a drink each at their 10m stops and then took a 10 minute rest on the boat because I wanted to see how deep I could go without any gear apart from a mask and depth gauge (Constant Weight Without Fins). The water feels pretty good without a wetsuit (about 82 degrees F, almost 30 degrees C at the surface) and my favourite way to be in the water is just with a mask and bikini anyway. My plan is to do a dive like this every day that I do a Variable Ballast training dive, just to see if I can reach a respectable depth in case I decide to also set a World Record in this discipline, which was introduced at the beginning of this year. I know nothing about how to do this, other than to use breaststroke throughout the dive, so I will only take small steps in progressing deeper. Today I entertained the divers with a little dive to 23m/75ft, which I really enjoyed a lot. It really is free to be under the water so deep with so little gear! I am sure that dives over 30m are very challenging, but for now it was just fun. In the future, as I get deeper, I will use the proper dive rope to do this on, because the deco line is at the front of the boat and exposed to the full force of the waves and the most vertical movement as the boat rides them. Also, I don’t have a float set up on the rope, so I use my toes to grip it and stay stable for a 5 minute breathe-up.
Back on shore the team ate lunch together and then went our separate ways – the mixed gas divers to blend their gasses for Wednesday’s dive to 85m, Phil to see what can be salvaged from his camera, Mike to walk the dogs at the home he is house-sitting, Nigel to take a group of Beaches guests out for a snorkel, Paul to communicate with the outside world electronically, and this PRINCESS to bed for a nap!! Now can you see why I feel pangs of guilt??!!
This evening started with a reception around one of the many pools here, where the Managers of the many departments introduce themselves to newly arriving guests. I have been asked to be present at these receptions each week to talk with the guests and autograph photocards for them. It seemed to go well – we ran out of cards twice! – and many people mentioned they had just seen me on Letterman or The Discovery Health Channel.
We had dinner at Le Petit Chateau, an adults-only restaurant in the French Village and then headed to bed. Some time in the night, around 2am, I have a phone interview to do for a live morning TV show in the UK, so we thought we would get to bed early! As I write this it’s almost 10pm and Paul is already asleep. He works very hard all day coordinating everything, and spends just as much time in the water as I do (personally I think his job is much harder than mine) so it’s hardly surprising he is so tired! Hopefully he will sleep through my interview and I will be able to get to sleep when it’s done. I probably wont even open my eyes! But whatever happens, we will be up at 7am to do some static training in the morning……..goodnight!
Tuesday, June 24th, 2003
It was hard to get out of bed at 7:30am this morning after our sleep was broken by the interview, but we were in the pool on time. The static training didn’t go very well — lots of distractions while divers prepared themselves for some pool drills. They banged tanks and dropped weights at the edge of the pool, which kept making me jump! I finished with a 5:20 which was fine by me.
After breakfast at Schooners, where we ate outside with a beautiful view of the beach and fed a stray cat (there are so many cute kitties around!), we spent time working on the computer and resting. After lunch we decided to go for a drive, firstly to the local supermarket to get some sport drinks for the divers, and then to visit with some friends and the editor of the local paper. We also stopped to give a local woman and her two children a ride home, which took us on a great tour of the northwest part of the islands.
In the evening we attended a small reception around the main pool of the French Village and then had Italian food at Guiseppe’s. At 8:30pm I gave a short reception on the entertainment stage and spent an hour signing autographs and taking pictures with the guests. A lot of people have just seen me on TV in the USA so they seem already to be interested in Freediving. I think from now on we will have guests on the dive boat when we train in the sea, which will be a welcome distraction for me!
Wednesday, June 25th, 2003
We awoke to beautiful sunshine and a nice breeze again today. I decided to stay in the room after breakfast to stretch, rather than going straight down to the boat. It gave me about 15 minutes to loosen up my muscles while the team got themselves ready to go. Paul called the room when everything was set. We had a new face on the team today, Claire, who is a technically trained diver who has volunteered to dive for me on her days off until the rest of the team arrive. To observe how it all works, she was positioned at 20m with Mike, on scuba. Ariane was at 50m and John with Carol at 85m. Also on the boat were a family of 4 guests from Beaches who came along to watch the training so I chatted with them on the way out, which was a great distraction.
The visibility was not so good today and the sea seemed a little dark. For the first time, there were no small fish under the boat, so my warm-up dives were a bit boring! Except that Phil was there snapping pictures… I wore my new D3 fins by Guidone, which are a little stiffer than the fins I have been using for the last 2 and a half years (3 World Records). The dive went very well and, despite being 5m deeper than the previous dive that I did in 2 mins 13 seconds, today’s dive took 2 minutes and 10 seconds. I am more comfortable with this shorter dive time, and my legs did not feel any more tired with the new fins, so I will stick with these fins. The water was darker than expected at 85m, and with the camera mounted on the back of the sled (shooting my ascent from depth from behind) the sled descended a little slower than previously due to more friction on the line. It un-nerved me a bit as I was unsure if the lean was caused my current or not, and kicking up from that depth with current would not be fun! But I trusted in my safety team who know they should call off the dive if there is a current that will affect my performance.
After the dive was done and the sled brought up, I began to give Matt (one of the Beaches guests on board) some lessons in equalizing to see if he could manage a 15m Variable Ballast dive. Unfortunately, despite great effort on his behalf, his equalizing wasn’t reliable enough for the dive. It’s probably my fault – I don’t think I am the best teacher in equalization because I take for granted that I was never taught how to do it. But Matt and his family seemed to have a good time and enjoy watching the dive. And they enjoyed watching Paul do his first ever Variable Ballast dive too – to 30m with no fins on. I think he is pretty hooked now, so hopefully he will be inclined to go deeper. He doesn’t respond well to encouragement from me – I think it feels like too much pressure – so I will just sit back and watch what he decides to do!
Just before the safety team completed their deco, I got back in the water (this time on the real dive line) to do a Constant Weight With No Fins Dive (aka Breaststroke Dive). This time I hit 27m which is a small step deeper than last time. It’s fun to do, and not too hard yet, so I am just enjoying seeing how deep I can do.
After lunch with the team I fell asleep watching Wimbledon on TV while Paul worked on the computer. In the evening we went to sit in the sea for an hour and watch the sun go down, which was very relaxing. We ate dinner on the beach at Schooners (of course I fed the stray dog half of my dinner!) and then we had desert at the Café in the French Village.
All in all, it was a good day. The dive went well and I seem to have found my groove a little better than before. It really helped to have the guests on board the boat with us and I hope people will come each day!
Thursday, June 26th, 2003
This morning started well with a 5:48 static apnea in one of the main pools. An audience of guests and ground staff gathered around which is helping me a lot. We were near the pool bar where music was playing and I could hear it through my 7mm suit – it was awful elevator music, but it still helped me!
As usual we had a nice cooked breakfast before doing some work on the computer and making some phone calls. Around 2pm I took my new monofin down to the beach to play. Guidone has made me a beautiful carbon fibre and fibre glass fin which is not too stiff and easy to maneuver. I will probably never do it justice, but I enjoyed playing in the shallows with it this afternoon. I rescued a windsurfer and helped push to rig to shore, found some sunglasses in the sand at 10m and picked up shells. It was a total escape for one hour and I loved it.
But then it was back to business to meet with a Tourism Department official who is our main contact here and super efficient. The Daily Telegraph in England recently ran a story about the Turks & Caicos Islands putting me on a set of stamps and we have had a lot of great feedback about it. The stamps will be issued in July so I am looking forward to seeing them! It seems it is highly unusual for a living person (other than the Royal Family) to be put on stamps in the Commonwealth – infact it has never been done – so lots of people seem to be talking about it. It’s just me, members of the current Royal Family, Queen Victoria and the Virgin Mary who are the only British citizens to appear on stamps. It’s starting to sink in just what an honour this is!
We grabbed a quick oriental dinner before going to the airport to finally pick up Gilles. He was a few days delayed but it is great to have him here with us again. Gilles is a great friend of mine and an accomplished freediver. In the last year he has been focusing on his film career and he is officially on the team as underwater videographer. He sure bought a lot of equipment with him!! He is staying at Comfort Suites (who have sponsored his room) until he can join us here at Beaches when his room becomes available. It’s just a 10 minute drive away so it’s pretty convenient.
Once again I gave a short presentation to a few hundred guests this evening and then signed autographs and t-shirts before heading for bed. Tomorrow we will set the rope at 90m/295ft and I’ll see if I can crack 30m in Constant Weight without Fins, so wish me luck!