Sunday, July 6th, 2003
Seeing as my sinuses were still in bad shape I decided not to do any static training and to stay dry for a bit longer. Gilles also was not feeling too well so he decided to take a rest as well. Instead, the three of us worked with Andre, Kevin and John from the dive team, all of whom had expressed an interest in some static apnea training. Gilles took Andre under his care so they could work in Andre’s first language, French. John and Kevin were under my tuition and did very well. Kevin suffered from a lot of distractions, but did a personal best time. John surprised us all, most of all himself, with a 5:03. Andre surpassed 4 minutes with Gilles and was pleased as well.
After breakfast Gilles, Paul and I headed for the airport where we met with some Tourism Board officials and boarded a small plane for South Caicos. It was a 15 minutes flight to this small, quaint island and the end of the Turks & Caicos chain. There are no major hotels there at all and the pace of life is endearingly slow. Today was the launch of “Fisherman’s Day” (officially tomorrow), the local fishing tournament and I was going there to give a presentation to fishermen and a group of US students studying marine biology. Their month long “field trip” was almost at an end, but judging by their sunstreaked hair and tanned skin I think they had a good time! The presentation went very well and there was a lot of focus on apnea physiology, due to the large proportion of local spearfishermen attending. Spearguns are against the law here, and Hawaiian slings are used instead. I am fascinated by the skill that must be needed to hunt with the slings. The local spearo hero is a guy called Prince who I spent time talking to about the technique he uses. And I have promised myself that we will return to try it for ourselves!
Before his self-inflicted death less than 2 years ago, freediving legend Jacques Mayol had a home of South Caicos, so we took this opportunity to visit the house which he spent time in. It stands on the highest point of the island and was once the home of the island’s District Commissioner. It is a true West Indian style plantation home, with white washed wood siding and green shutters. Although the home is in need of a lot of work as a result of years and years of neglect, but it has island character. There is an almost 360 degree view of the sea and a breeze constantly blows. Jacques had built his own home elsewhere on the island, but it was apparently uninhabitable for some time, so he spent his time in this large house on the hill.
After a quick lunch of fresh local lobster and conch salad we had to run for our plane back to Provodenciales. On the way we passed the disused saltflats, which fuelled local economy of years gone by, and are now home to a local colony of flamingos. South Caicos is a very charming place, surrounded by smaller islands and keys, which provide stunning views and private beaches. I feel drawn to it and am eager to go back.
Tired from our flying visit, we rested for a while back at the hotel and caught up on the Wimbledon results of the men’s final between Philipousis and Federer. Then, while Paul watched Tiger Woods win yet another tournament by 10 strokes, Gilles and I grabbed just our masks for a nice swim from the beach. In a small area around the boat dock we played with colourful fish, a friendly stingray and a baby nurse shark. This is my favourite kind of freediving. No wetsuit or fins, just a mask and 30 feet of water. There can be so much to see! It was a nice way to end our day and to test my sinuses a bit. They squeaked and whistled, but cleared. I am hoping for a little better for tomorrows dive to 100m.
Monday, July 7th, 2003
The weather is not cooperating. The site was rougher than it has ever been, but because my sinuses showed signs of improvement, we decided to give the dive a try. With safety divers ready to descend to 100m, 70m, 50m and 20m I did my first part of the breathe-up on the back of the boat, to avoid the stress of being tossed around in the waves. During the last few minutes I was on the sled, trying to remain relaxed while the sled rose and fell up to 3 feet at a time, and waves crashed into my back. When zero was called I just wanted to leave the surface for some peace underwater. Just as I gave my signal to release the sled, the boat heaved up under a large swell. As Nigel pulled the clip the boat lunged down hard and literally catapulted the sled downwards. I think I was at 10m in 2 seconds! At 50m the safety divers were surprised to see me so soon, and even the divers at the bottom couldn’t believe they were seeing the sled move so quickly towards them. But as I descended my sinuses got tighter and tighter, and just as I heard the taps from Andre as I approached the bottom, I decided to leave the sled to reach the knot in the rope alone. I had reached about 94m when only one side of my head would clear, the other locked up with congestion. I surfaced very well but comfortable with my decision not to push the extra 6m and risk a reverse block barotrauma on my ascent.
After a short while on the surface talking with some guests from Beaches who had joined us, I decided to get out of the water and change into my other suit to do a quick breaststroke dive. I knew clearing head-down would be harder so I decided to do something between 25-30m, just to see how it feels after such a long break from it. As I chatted on the boat and began to put my suit on, I spotted a large dorsal fin breaking the water about 20m from the boat. Immediately I thought it was a shark and was worried for the decompressing divers, but as soon as that thought was complete I saw more fins and realized it was a small pod of dolphins. We all jumped in the water, but only to hear their friendly squeaks and whistles as they moved further and further away from us. The hydro ariel hanging in the water from the boat picked up a lot of their communications, but soon they were too far away to see or hear. After a brief visit from the local wahoo the divers surfaced and we were on our way back to shore.
After our usual team lunch, I did a long interview for the London Financial Times newspaper and then we all rested while watching a DVD. In the evening we attended the weekly Managers reception where I signed more autographs and chatted with new guests. Then we met with Andre and an extremely pleasant restaurant called “Caicos Café” just a few minutes from the resort. It is run by a very nice French couple and guests sit outside under beautiful flowering Poinciana trees – and the food was great.
Tuesday, July 8th, 2003
My aim was to start today with a solid 5:30 static apnea. I was joined by Andre and Kevin who were eager to continue training and did very well. Kevin is approaching 4 minutes, which is a big improvement for him. My 5:30 was comfortable enough as well.
In the afternoon Paul and I accepted an invitation to visit Iguana Island with a local company called Silver Deep who run boat trips to other islands for sight-seeing, snorkeling and shelling. Iguana Island is completely uninhabited, except for the many reptiles who will happily eat lettuce from your hand. It was a nice change of scenery and pace for us, and really interesting to see the iguanas up close and friendly!
For dinner we went to a local bar/restaurant called Sharkbite, which is in a small marina near Beaches Resort. We didn’t have much time to spend at the restaurant because we had to be back for my regular 8:30pm presentation on the stage and autographs afterwards.
I am generally feeling better today, but not as strong as I did during the first 2 weeks here. Mentally I am eager and determined, so I hope that will make up for any lacking energy! The main problem seems to be the weather, which is still not good. Although the sun continues to shine for the tourists, the wind blows hard and is kicking up the sea again today. There is a tropical storm brewing southeast of Jamaica called “Claudette”, which is predicted to become a hurricane in the next 48 hours. Even though it is far away from Turks & Caicos, the bad weather on the fringe of the storm is certainly affecting our area. It wont be a major storm because it is moving quite fast, so hopefully it will move away quickly!