World Record Diary — Part V

Thursday, July 3rd, 2003

We have had 7 good training dives, so I guess it was about time we had one that wasn’t so good!  The sea at the dive mooring site was pretty harsh but my warm-up dives went fine.  The boat was pitching a lot and the sled was consequently doing the same.  During the 10 minute count-down my preparation breathing wasn’t going well.  To compensate for it I made the mistake of flushing too much which isn’t a good thing to do when you also need to do some packing for deep dives.  Today we were headed for 100m, which is a depth I don’t normally have problems equalizing to, but with Variable Weight dives I like having very full lungs because the buoyancy assists me on the ascent.  During my last couple of flushes I began to tingle.  After only a few packs, I began to feel lightheaded so I gave the signal to release the sled.  Often I find that the immediate hydrostatic pressure of the first few meters helps to ease tingling.  But it didn’t happen that was this time and I felt a strong LMC during the first 10m of the descent.  So, not knowing how that might affect the ascent from 100m, I aborted the dive.  It bothered me a lot that the safety team had dived for nothing but John made me feel a lot better about aborting the dive when he finally came up from his deco.  He told me that all of the safety divers know they can call off the dive if they don’t feel comfortable with the situation for some reason, and the reason they feel comfortable is because they know that nobody else on the team, me included, would be angry if they did.  Therefore, they would never be upset if I called off the dive.  It helps a lot to have the team working so well together and respecting each person’s role so much.  They all give me a lot of strength. 

I decided to not go for a Constant Weight Without Fins training dive so Gilles used the opportunity to get on the sled and do a 60m Variable Weight dive.  He did very well, especially considering the conditions out there.  For the first time he used the noseclip instead of a mask and enjoyed the sensation of blindness.  I have always believed he has a lot of potential as a freediver and now he is fired up to test himself which is great.  We’ll see if he can do a good static apnea dive tomorrow in the pool…..it builds mental strength quickly!

Despite the chop on the surface, beneath the waves it was the usual beautiful blue.  And today we were visited VERY close up by another nice wahoo.  Then a couple of monstrous barracuda came right up to my fin-tips during my warm-up dives.  Today John and his team of safety divers tested some underwater communications masks and I have a sneaky feeling the fish were attracted to the hydro-ariel that dangled from the boat.  Just as long as no big sharks get curious……!

Paul and I couldn’t sleep at all last night – it was as if we knew today’s dive wouldn’t go well.  Even after a couple of cat-naps in the afternoon I was still exhausted after the morning static apnea, but for some reason my mind was too awake for sleep to come.  And I was starting to get a sore throat.  Suspiciously, Kevin didn’t join us today (Nigel did a great job with the count-down in his place) because he has a cold – it’s going around the island apparently – so I think he might have very kindly passed it on to me!  Paul has an infection in both ears so I think it’s time for a trip to the doc!  It always happens to both of us during training so I guess it’s a good thing that we are getting it out of the way early on!

We had a team of local media out on the boat today so it seems we’ll be getting some media.  It’s important to me that the people of these islands feel a part of what we are attempting to do with this event and I am writing a weekly diary for the local paper and providing them with fun snapshots of our adventures.

I keep forgetting to mention that JoJo the friendly dolphin of these waters has paid us a visit a couple of times.  Unfortunately he doesn’t come all the way out to the dive site with us (it’s too deep and he is a chicken!) but some mornings he swims around the boat as we leave the dock.  It’s a nice distraction to see him chasing the boat, even if he gives up after only a couple of minutes.

In the evening I was up on stage again to talk about the event and invite guests to join us on the boat.  After such a bad night’s sleep last night and a pretty bad day, I was in bed by 9:30pm and probably asleep 2 minutes later!

Friday, July 4th, 2003

HAPPY FOURTH OF JULY!!

I decided not to get wet at all today in the hope of getting over my congestion as fast as possible, so I helped Gilles to do his personal best static apnea time instead of training myself.  He hit a solid 5:03 and was really pleased.

Meantime, my cold had got worse over night so Paul (who has an ear infection) and I went to the doctor after breakfast.  After a blood test I was diagnosed with a low white blood cell count due to a bacterial infection, which caused a nice case of sinusitis and strep throat.  I can’t breathe at all through my nose!  (It was interesting to see that my red blood cell was quite a bit higher than average, which the doctor theorized was because I was dehydrated.  I doubt that a lot as I am drinking tons of water like any freediver does around competition time!  Actually, I think the high hemoglobin level is as a result of the apnea training, the way the body compensates for apnea by sequestering and releasing red blood cells.)  So I was prescribed Cephalexin, Sudafed and Otrivine (exactly the same as this time last year – all the doctor did was change the date on the letter required for the AIDA judges!) for a few days, but told I could dive as I do not have a virus.  Anyone who read my diary last year knows that I was panicking about how long this stuff will stay in my system and whether any residual ephedrine might be detected in the urine sample I have to give to the IOC.  Well, this time around I know all will be well and the only thing I worry about is how, if at all, the medication will affect me during dives.  So I have decided not to take the morning dosage until after the training dives, so that way there will be about 10 hours between the last dosage and the dives.  It has all left me wondering about my current way of doing things, in that I stop taking any vitamins or supplements when I begin the dive training because I am nervous about the fillers used in the tablets.  Normally I just take a multivitamin, vitamin C and Iron each day because I don’t feel I get enough of these things in my daily diet.  I am nervous about the fillers for 2 reasons.  Firstly, because although I am sure they have all been tested for various reactions in humans at atmospheric pressure and deemed safe, I doubt their effects have been tested at 10 or 20 atmospheres!   Secondly, because I would hate to fail a drug test because of some filler I wasn’t aware of.  So, my way of dealing with it is to take nothing at all and therefore risk nothing.  But it seems I am risking getting sick!!  So perhaps I should have stuck with my multivitamin!!!  Too late now though…… 

In the afternoon Paul, Gilles and I were invited to go on a tour aboard the Undersea Explorer which is a semi-submarine craft designed to show tourists reefs without ever getting wet.  It was a fun trip over some pretty reefs and I can totally understand the attraction for people who don’t dive or snorkel, because you really get to see quite a lot.  Of course now we are trying to figure out a way to get the boat out to the record site for the attempt so that those interested in seeing it, but not swimming in 7000 feet of water, can get a nice view.  It would work really well.

Of course we continue to watch Wimbledon and I am beginning to wonder what we will do after Sunday when it is all over!  We ate an early dinner and then watched About Schmidt on DVD before going to bed.  Both Paul and I were feeling pretty rough, and outside the weather was stormy, so things weren’t looking good for the next day’s dive.

Saturday, July 5, 2003

I woke up at 6am feeling like I had been kicked repeatedly in the face.  My sinuses were solid and my body ached.  But after an hour spent drinking tea in bed and taking a hot shower I did feel a lot better.  And very determined to hit 100m today.  Paul reported feeling better as well.  But the weather did not.  We still have a strong wind out of the southeast, which is great for tourists sunning themselves on the beach, but bad for freedivers training for world records!  The dive site provided 3-5ft swells and high winds, but we all agreed that beneath the waves all was well.  But I could barely get beneath even the smallest wave today. 

It was the worst pain I have ever had in my sinuses – and barely a foot underwater!  I could clear my ears but my sinuses screamed and throbbed.   The thought of the inevitable reverse block on the way up made me call off my dive, and that’s only if I could get down of course!  After a good few tears at the back of the boat I pulled myself together.  This was just one thing I can’t control and it makes me more determined to control the things I can!  In truth I am disappointed because I know Paul really wanted me to surpass the men’s World Record mark of 120m in this discipline and, before I got sick, I realized that it was quite likely I could give it a good shot.  I seem to have found a different technique for the ascent that doesn’t make my muscles scream for oxygen at all and I figured that with the right amount of training dives I might take a stab at 122m as we were already so far ahead of schedule.  But now we have lost 2 dives and I may lose one more on Monday if my congestion hasn’t cleared up, so I will be lucky to surpass my own previous best of 106m.  It’s annoying, but there is nothing I can do about it now except be resolved to give it my best shot.  If I cared more about the world record I would be more upset, but I am very realistic.

So we decided Gilles was ready for a 70m Variable Weight dive.  The divers positioned themselves for him as he prepared sitting on the back of the boat.  At 4 minutes he got on the sled and 30 seconds later a massive swell pitched and dropped the boat dramatically, yanking the sled and snapping the clip that was keeping it above the surface.  If Gilles had been on an inhale, and not in the middle of exhaling, I am sure he would have gone for the dive anyway, but instead he was forced to release the sled a couple of meters down.  At the time, Paul was busy turning the camera on and continued to do it without realizing he was being pulled down by the sled until he felt the need to equalize around 20 feet.  He cleared his ears and looked up to see what was going on, so I motioned for him to turn the brake on the sled to stop it from descending completely in case we could salvage the dive.  He held himself together incredibly to accomplish all that, but it would take too long to bring the sled up with a liftbag and get it in position again and the divers would have to begin their deco before Gilles could begin a second attempt.  I guess it just wasn’t meant to be!  Retrospectively, the same snapping of the clip would almost certainly have happened to me on the sled, which would have meant an aborted dive for sure.  And as it happened, we must have a guardian angel, because while waiting for Gilles to arrive at 50m on his way to the end of the rope, Andre had a rebreather malfunction that meant he was getting pure oxygen before it could be remedied.  This was a situation that was unnerving at 50m but would have been much worse at 100m which is where he was going to be for me.  Their emergency procedures were excellent and everybody was completely safe, but it did make us wonder if we were being controlled by fate today.

Finally we brought the rope up to 30m, tied it on with a thick piece of rope, and gave Kevin his first drop.  He loved it and did really well, declaring that he should have gone deeper.  Gilles and I were disappointed that we didn’t get to dive, but it was difficult to be unhappy around Kevin who was grinning from ear to ear about his dive.

While I got out to take my medication, Paul and Gilles coached Carol (who should have dived at 70m today but got to stay dry) into some pull-downs on the rope.  After some brief breathing training she overcame her habit of breathing underwater and did some nice calm dives.  In a way, this was a nice change for me, with everyone else focusing so much!  Tomorrow she, John, Andre and Kevin want to do some static apnea training with us, so maybe they will ditch their tanks altogether one of these days!

The wind continued strongly all afternoon and it doesn’t seem like it is going to let up for another couple of days, which is very frustrating.  Last year we didn’t have a single day like this.  There has been a tropical storm in the Gulf of Mexico that moved east over Florida, so I think the weather we are having here is associated with that.  I just hope it moves out tomorrow.

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