Friday, 26 June 2009

Blue people at the mediterranean freediving meeting

I made it back to Crete for the second Mediterranean Freediving Meeting. Truth is, it was a close call: I had a particularly blond moment at Athens airport, where I forgot to put my watch forward by one hour and was still happily sitting in the McCafé, reading, when I heard my name from the loudspeakers, asking me (plus a couple of other blond people) to please make my way directly to gate 31, where my flight was now closing. I ran through the airport and thought I was clever when I put my divewatch in my bag at security, to stop it from setting of the beeping thingy. Unfortunately, it did set off the very slow guy who was x-raying my belongings, who had to ask his boss, who had to tell another equally challenged underling to look at my bag, who had to rummage through all the important things we girls carry around with us. When I arrived at the gate, they had to call the captain and ask if there was time to get me to the plane. Moments later a guy pulled up in a Volkswagen Golf, and drove me across the airfield, tires screeching in the corners. You can imagine my relief, and my surprise, when I found the flight full of freedivers, most of whom had spent four hours at the airport, too, but had all made it to the plane on time, since the only blondes (William Winram and Bérangère Duclos) had Will’s wife Michéle to take care of them. A taxi ride across the mountains delivered us to Sougia, where we headed straight for the beach and the Lotos café, our favourite hangout from the year before, to kick off the freediving meeting with one of their fresh juices. Raki will follow on the last night.

We are around thirty freedivers this year. Most have been attracted by the raving of the ones who were here the last time. In a way I am having mixed feelings: on the one hand, it’s nice to see my friends, on the other hand, it’s a bit like one of those secret holiday spots: you tell everyone about them and before you know it, busloads of Thompson package tourists have arrived. Never mind, I’m sure it will make the final party even better. Organizer, head safety diver, and general man of all trades Stavros has set up a list with slots for everyone to sign into training times. He is a little less energizer bunnied than last year, mostly due to a very well trained crew of safety divers, whom he has given radios, so he can now boss them around at all hours. I went to sign up for some sled diving right away and was fascinated by a note stuck to the pen that reads: “If you remove this pen from this list, it will selfdestruct and all your apnea capabilities will disappear instantly”. Apparently, and I am not mentioning any names here, plans have been made to plant this pen on fellow competitors as a fantastic new way of sabotaging opponents. When the first person fails to leave the surface as they attempt to duck dive in the competition, we’ll know that the pen has found its victim.

Training was off to a good start for most of us. I remembered how much fun was to be had whizzing down on a sled when I headed right down to sixty and then seventy meters in the first two days. Many of us have commented on the fantastic conditions, how calm the sea is, and how blue the water. Stavros claims that he has been out painting everything blue every morning and then ironing the waves, but I think he is lying, and has in fact passed this task to his safety slaves. I have been out early with William Winram, Stavros and Nicloas Guerry, to dive on the sled. William had obviously not had a good enough word with (brunette!) wife Michèle before he set off to dive, and had proper blond episode at 120m on the new giant no limits sled. It is a clever construction: When you hit the bottom, you pull out a pin that releases the weights. Then you inflate the liftbag, and off you go, minus thirty kilos, at ridiculous speed, back to the surface. Now Will, combining blond hair with a male thought process, decided to be extra clever and inflated the bag while the weights were still attached, to the point where the sled was beginning to move. Then he pulled out the pin and dropped the thirty kilos. You can imagine what happened next. The sled, now turned rocket, took off at warp speed, smacking Will’s foot but mercyfully avoiding his balls as it blew past him. He tried to grab hold of the kneebar – not a chance – and shot of the bottom attached only by his lanyard, which he had to climb along to get back to the sled. He spent the next 100m hanging on with one hand, while clutching his goggles and hood with the other one, screaming, in his own words, “fuck, fuck, fuuuuuuck” all the way up. At least he was screaming in his head, and gave me a very convincing demonstration of the facial expression he wore during the twenty seconds it took him to get from 120 to 30m. Here’s a picture:

Yesterday the weather turned and a strong wind moved in some biggish waves. I was out on the first zodiac taxi again, together with Nicolas Guerry, whom I managed to elbow out of the way (well. Ladies first, after all) to head down to 80m before he had a chance to get on the line. It was a great dive, except that I did not manage to pack very well, due to the fact that I was submerged in waves all the time, and then had no air left to equalize at the bottom as planned. As soon as I was safely back up, Stavros announced that the anchor was dragging and we were getting into shallower water by the minute, so he cancelled all diving for the rest of the day. Somehow, and I am not quite sure how precisely, Nicolas has decided that it was all my fault and I am to be held responsible for his missed dive. Now, and feel free to express your opinion here, in my experience it is usually the men who are to be blamed for everything? Anyway, I believe I have been made to make up for it, so all is well. Today he went out to do some more variable weight, and returned having decided that he does not like sled diving. Something obviously didn’t go well, but since I am having a day off, it was not my fault this time, honest!

The Danish team is here, represented by Jesper, Maria, Rune, Jakob and Christian, who was training with me in Dahab. He has been steadily heading deeper, but said he chickened out today, a habit we will not allow him to pick up. Meanwhile, Maria’s luggage just stayed behind in Kopenhagen, so she has spent the days in her sarong, and the time in the water in my 3mm suit, which fits her perfectly. I am convinced she is headed to 70m, which Jesper passed today with a pb of 73m. Every time he gets in the water, he does a pb, it seems, and then he had the cheek to complain that he had air in his mouth but could not figure out how to use it. This seems to be a very desirable problem to me – I would love to have air in my mouth at seventy meters. In fact, I would love to be at seventy meters constant weight, period. Jakob is even more annoying, diving to wherever he wants with plenty of air to equalize and strength to spare. The brits are represented by George, Liv, Dave and Stuart. It was Livvy’s birthday yesterday, so George organized a special treat for her: a birthday swim with lots of freedivers, all dressed in blue. Now Liv has a special thing about men in blue, you have to ask her for details, but since plenty of them turned up, it was a right birthday treat. I promise to get hold of a picture and post it here soon.

In the evening, we all headed to Lotos (again) where she was given her present of an enormous blue inflatable shark. Yannis, one of the safety divers, also had his birthday, so the guys went out and got him an inflatable turtle the size of an island, which looked like it could eat the shark for dinner. Things were going fine when Rob King turned evil and started to bring out the Rakis, getting Liv into great spirits pretty quickly. We reached the peak of excitement when she discovered the longest eyebrow hair ever on one of the safety divers, which, and I have seen this with my own eyes, reached down to his cheek. Liv was so fascinated by this, she started to go round to measure the eyebrow hair of all the guys, until she was taken home by George and Stuart, who were beginning to worry that she might develop a bit of a fetish for men who wear their eyebrows long enough to have to flick them aside when they look at you.

Tomorrow we are hoping that Stavros will have found the off-switch for the wind again, although he seems to be too busy being bossy to pay attention to small matters like that. Dave Tranfield, known to his friends and builders up north as Trannie, has been inching his way deeper in constant weight no fins. Today he was pleased with a result of 45m, and showed great common sense and unusual macho man reserve in announcing that he would go for 46m tomorrow. Stavros, in bossy mode, was having none of this and told him that he should go for 47. When Dave said he felt that 46 was plenty, Stavros said: “47. It’s my rope!” Whatever next? He has told me that I should set the plate to 90 tomorrow, do I dare to disagree? He is shorter than me, but in terms of body mass, I’m afraid I might lose. I’ll report more soon. So far no one has got off with any people they shouldn’t have, so I apologize for the lack of interesting gossip. If none is forthcoming, I promise to make some up.

Saturday, 20 June 2009

A small matter of Egyptian plumbing


I have just returned from Dahab (first visit since September!), where I stayed with Sara in her lovely, luxurious new house. Most noteworthy is the guest bathroom, which sports a previously unseen, top-notch item: the steaming toilet. We are undecided as to whether this will catch on in the high-end fixtures market, but remain hopeful that others will see the advantages to having such a versatile fitting. Here’s the story: apparently, the boiler didn’t work, so Sara got the plumber in to fix it just before I afrrived. So far so good, all was well, hot water working. A couple of nights later, Sara was woken up by an almighty bang that sent the glasses rattling in the kitchen. When she ran out to see what had exploded, clouds of steam were billowing from the guest bathroom, much in the manner of a hamam. On closer investigation, it became clear that the steam was pouring out of the toilet bowl! Trying to turn off the water supply, she found the tap too hot to touch. The whole toilet was literally boiling. When we removed the cover and had a look into the cistern the next day, all the plastic parts had melted. Amazing. The plumber had removed the maximum temperature cut out setting on the boiler, so the water just kept heating and heating. Eventually, a valve blew, and the massive pressure found the only way out, which, and this remains a bit of a mystery, seems to have led into my loo. Welcome to Egypt.

Small household problems aside, I went out to the blue hole for the first time in eight months. The plan was to take it easy and have some fun, since I was sure it would take a long time to get adapted again. Imagine my surprise when I hit 57m in three sessions – only 2m off my pb from the previous year. All the dives felt remarkably easy, no lactic legs, hardly any contractions, feeling relaxed and happy down there, taking a good look at the arch every time. Pooltraining is now beginning to appear in a whole new light to me. What is also working very well is training with my second computer: I dive on the long line but use a depth alarm. Since I like having a target, I set the alarm to the minimum depth I want to reach. If I feel good when it goes off, I count to three and turn. This allows me a certain amount of room in the warm up training phase, to progress as fast as my body will let me. At the end of the first week, I was back at 60m, with a big smile on my face.

Meanwhile, Sara has been working towards her ultimate goal, the 100m dive. Danish diver Christian was also with us, he has been hiding from the other Danish freedivers, and never met any of them! This will be changed when he comes out to Crete next week. He has set himself a good target of 56m unassisted, and was getting steadily deeper as the week progressed. With his help we managed to safety Sara in a couple of nice, deep training dives, where she was looking strong – she’s on track. In my last deep session I wanted to see what I could do with my mouthfill, and put the rope to 67m. I held on to some air long enough to hit a new depth of 66m, feeling excited but also like there is more work to do: I arrived there with no air left to equalize. In the end I enlisted the help of number one Italian coach Linda, who tweaked my technique during two sessions. First one was mouthfilling only, and I improved enough to take the mouthfill a good six metres deeper than before. Then, in the second session, came a revelation. Apparently, I am a freak of nature, and can only equalize with a noseclip when I have mask on my face, which I fill with water. I know it’s weird, but there you have it. When my alarm went off, I was taking the biggest mouthfill ever. Where did all that air come from? We think what has been happening is the following: since I can kind off equalize hands free, I don’t need a lot of pressure to push against. It looks like I have not been pinching my nose very well on the way down, thus allowing a bit of air to escape on each equalization. This is most likely the reason why I don’t have anything left when I get to sixty. I am very excited to test this theory in Crete next week, where my new mantra on the way down will be “pinch the nose, pinch the nose, pinch the nose...!”