Time to get serious

Alright then, I’ll give you the story behind the last “pictures only” post. I was not going to be messed around by invisible ashes from Iceland again, so I came up with a clever plan: take a bunch of very deep, and very serious freedivers, get them all down to Nice, squeeze them on a sailboat and start training. The freedivers where: George, Liv, Elisabeth, Martin, Jakob and my friend Andy, who is a boarder and sailor, but we just made him into a freediver, too, so now he’s lost.

Elisabeth and I arrived first, and, since we are so serious, went straight out to dive, just next to the port of Nice, where the shore conveniently drops right off to 100m+. It was lovely, if a little fresh, with around 15°C on the surface and a charming thermacline hovering at about ten meters. I was doing my hangs at 9.6m. You get the picture. We both did a couple of easy dives, although I was holding back a little with some pain in my left upper jaw. Remember the Aspen dental disaster? Well, the tooth came out as soon as I got back, and the surgery for the implant was done the day before arriving in Nice. The guy not only drilled a hole through my jaw into my sinus, but also recommnded NO exercise for a week. Great.

Since I could definitely feel the new sinus-to-mouth connection on deeper equalisations, I was taking it easy the first few days, and did a maximum of 50m. We did couple of fun variables going down with the bottom weights, and I was beginning to feel a little adapted. One morning we had set to rope to 60m, where Elisabeth did a lovely dive, and I went after her with my alarm set to 48m and every intention to turn at 53. On the way down, I was testing a new thing I picked up from the Danish guys last year: if you cannot equalise, level off, raise your head, clear, drop down again. Since I was diving without packing and still messing around with the mouthfill, I missed a couple of equalisations and levelled off for the first time at around fifty. It worked beautifully, which got me quite excited, and I did the same thing again at around 55m. Raising my head, I could see the plate, which Martin had loaded with some tags, to make things more fun. “Oooooh, I can get a tag” thinks the blondie, and quickly drops down to sixty. Feeling terribly pleased with myself, I started swimming up, clutching my piece of velcro. After about ten meters, it started to feel kind of hard. Reaching forty, my legs were completely lactic. I struggled all the way to the surface, came up onto the buoy, forgot to take a breath and had my first nod off from a deep dive. Ooops!

Liv helped me to calculate descent and ascent speeds during my dive, and we soon saw that something was not right. I went to check my weighting the next day, and discovered that I was neutral at six (!) meters! No wonder swimming up felt kind of hard. I took it easy on the rest of dives, and stuck to the low fifties, looking for some adaptation. Liv had fun playing with no-fins-no-arms, which got her to 26m and gave her a new understanding of the power of her leg kick. Jakob did a lovely 72m dive in the gathering dusk and we got new freediver Andy all the way down to 17m. See? Serious, serious training. Yoga in the morning, then training, then sleeping, then eating, then training, then sleeping. Well, I will admit, there may have been the odd moment of silly behaviour and fun activities, such as climbing the mast and swinging from a rope. We did have mess-with-Andy-day and mess-with-Jakob-day, too, which were highly entertaining. All in all, we got the fun out of the way most days and then fitted in a little freediving, too.

I flew back to Berlin for a whole day, where I whizzed around and sorted out various things, before putting all my stuff back into my bag to head for Athens, and the third Mediterranean freediving world cup. I arrived a few days early, together with William and Phillipe from Canada, to see if we could get some pre-comp-dives in. Energizer bunny/organizer Stavros was busy rushing from one end of Athens to the other to buy a kilometre of rope and a couple of tons of weights, so it did not look good. I talked Will into coming to the pool to coach me in a static instead. Yes, you did hear right, a static, which I believe just illustrates the level of my desperation. Since I had done a total of two static sessions in the last eight months, having to surface after four disgusting minutes because I felt low on O2 should not have been a surprise, but I tell you, it was. I roped Phillipe into doing some more and am now back to 4:45, still horrible, but O2 fine. After three nights of being pampered with lovely food by Giota, we caught Stavros in a moment of weakness and he said yes to a quick diving expedition. We had to go and rent a boat, which, beautifully, was called the “fun-yak”, and got dubbed “f***-yak” right away. It was exactly like trying to ride a bathtub a couple of miles away from shore through the swell. There was more water in the thing than outside, and bits started to fall off it five minutes into the trip. Clever freedivers that we are, we had decided to do variable dives, just holding on to the weight. Will went first, aiming for sixty meters, and got to the end of the rope, which, strangely, turned out to be at 57m. I found all of fifty meters, and by the time it was Stavros’ turn, he had all of 48m! The f***-yak was drifting so fast, we were doing sideways depth, going shallower by the minute. To reward ourselves for this useful and clever training session and enormous exertion, we consumed an enormous dinner and then headed off to get serious in Kalamata the next day.

We invaded the Messinian bay hotel around lunchtime, and the poor staff got their first glimpse of the trouble they were about to be in. It started with Will, who was inspecting various rooms to see if he liked the bathtubs, and continued with the fact that half of us appeared to have arrived early, a problem in a hotel full of guests for a Greek wedding. Some people above my head have flooded a bathtub since then, we have been asking the poor waiter for olives and cheese when he doesn’t have any, half the people are vegetarian one day and eat meat the next, the other half don’t eat pasta or bread, and all of us want lunch and dinner at times when the staff usually have their break or are on their way home. It can’t be easy. One waiter tried to make sense of the situation, so he went around asking how many of us were vegetarian, so we immediately asked what the vegetarian option on the menu was, which got him looking quite suspicious. He finally relented and said: well, you can have some rice. As opposed to pork with rice, that is. You get the picture – I don’t think they quite understood what they got themselves into when they agreed to put us all up.

Training started last Monday. The boats are mooring so far away from land, taking the transfer out feels a bit like heading into international waters with a little rib. Every evening at around seven, Stavros puts up a list that we have to sign into, to get a training slot. This causes mayhem and lots of elbow action, since 34 freedivers all want to train at 10am, much in the same manner as all freedivers want to eat bananas. We have people from all over the world here again, including top divers Guillaume Nery and Natalia Molchanova, who has announced a variable world record and is training on the sled every day. So far, things have been mixed for her, since Stavros has got the big sled out here, which definitely resembles a rocket. I believe it makes a whizzing sound on the way down. She does not like the speed and has had some trouble clearing her ears, but still has a few days to go before her attempt.

Since I got no training in Athens (well, not counting the funny-yak outing), I did not think I could get close to my target depth for variable weight this time. Going out on the first day, I was distracted in the water, and totally forgot to take a mouthfill at the surface on my FRC warm up. This suddenly occurred to me at around ten meters, so I just brought air up without thinking about it, thus giving myself my first ever squeeze, on a warm-up dive. What can I say? Blond. Rest in the afternoon followed and then a careful 65m sled dive the next day, which went very well (except for getting a cramp just before I hit the bottom, minor detail), so I was considering either 70 or 75m for the day after. Coming up to the line, Stavros suggested 75, which sounded just fine to me, so off I went, on the rocket sled. I had a depth alarm at 65, and was wondering why I was taking so long to the bottom, when I finally had to hit the break having lost my equalisation due to another cramp. Pulling up I was a bit unhappy with myself for not equalising down to 75, and was thinking things like: I am not ready for a deep sled dive this time, it’s not happening, I’ll make a new plan, etc. Back at the surface, they all looked at me a bit funny, and Stavros kept trying to see my computer. In the end I checked it myself: 82,5m!! Apparently, there had been a bit of a misunderstanding with the rope, which was at 85m instead of 75m. They had a fun moment topside when the guy on the sonar shouted out “seventy meters – seventy five” and then, instead of “touch down – coming up”, he said “eighty?”, which had them wondering whether the sonar was broken. It was not.

Having thus just skipped a whole training dive, I took a day off and then went for ninety meters yesterday, no need to mess around when things are going well, after all. I woke up feeling kind of nervous, and was quite convinced that this was not going to happen all the way through my warm-up. I got on the sled, did a breathe-up without countdown, released the brake and went faster than ever. At 65m, I stuck my elbows out to try and slow down a bit, but looking at my profile, it made no difference. At around 80m, I cleared one ear but not the other, which I proceeded to ride to 92, where I opened my eyes to find that my mask was fully equalized! I even made it back to the surface without a cramp this time, and, apparently, came up and said “fuck that was good”, all on camera for the South African film crew who are here shooting a documentary. Dive time was 2:14, 92m at 58sec, average descent speed 1.7m. Last year, I did 90m in 2:40, but somehow the rocket descents seem to agree with me, and I have decided to waste no further time and have declared a record attempt for Sunday.

Cross those fingers! I need all the luck I can get.


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