A week or two later, I was competing at the Individual Worlds Contant Weight championships in Nice, and met Lotta there. Before I had a chance to ask about going freediving with her in Dahab, she mentioned about a forthcoming freediving competition she was running – the Triple Depth challenge. When I discovered that the dates coincided with our visit, I was slightly disappointed. It would have been both unfair and potentially life-threatening to suggest to Laura that I take 7 days out of our holiday for another freediving competition. And if Lotta was busy with this, she wouldn’t have time to take me freediving.
Back in the
, a thought occurred to me – I could always offer to safety dive for a day or two. I emailed Lotta about this, but it was a non-starter. She needed a team of safety divers for the whole competition, not just people who would turn up for the odd day. Just when I was about to abandon the whole idea, life delivered one of those lucky blows it sometimes does. Laura had been looking into the possibility of doing a 5 day Trimix course – if it was possible for her to do this in Dahab when the competition was on, then perhaps I could consider entering. A few emails confirmed that this was possible – it would mean that I could only do one day’s training instead of three, but I’d be able to compete in Static, Free Immersion, Constant Weight, and CW Unassisted.
3rd November 2005, Blue Hole, Dahab. The first day of training for me, and the last for everyone else. I shared a line with Natalya Avseenko, and decided that I would focus on Free Immersion. The bottom weight was set at about 70 metres – a little further than I wanted to attempt. I was aware that the
record was 51 metres, so I decided to aim for something between 50 and 60. Natalya kindly safetied me, and the dive took just over 2 minutes to complete. My D3 computer showed 54 metres. This was a pleasing indicator. Setting a
record is something that I am only prepared to do in competition – that’s just the way I like to approach things. This meant that I felt I had the capability to do just that in the Free Immersion discipline.
The next day was the static competition, which was a side discipline and did not contribute to overall scores. Many people wisely avoided this. Four days worth of apnea disciplines in succession is a heavy toll. I felt I had no choice but to compete – I had a ghost to lay to rest. Six months earlier I had suffered a blackout in competition at the CIPA International in Nice. I needed to prove to myself that I could make a better judgement with my decision on when to surface.
I felt relaxed in the warm Dahab sunshine as I warmed up, with Fred Stone, our other
competitor, coaching me along. When Official Top was finally called, I was quite happy to do a short breathold, as long as I came up clean. My first tap seemed early – I was expecting it at 5 minutes, not 4. I looked at my timer which read 5 minutes, but I had started this earlier than Official Top, and I had a moment of self-doubt about whether this had been at one minute before or two. Instead of dealing with the struggle phase, I was involved in mental calculations trying to establish where I was. I pointed to my ear several times, and eventually the safety coach realised what I was wanting and called the time, “six minutes”. Time to focus on a slow, careful surface. I drew my first breath at 6 minutes 20 seconds – a competition PB for me, and a 2nd place. Most importantly, no sign of LMC. The guy who came first ( 6m21s ) was not so lucky, and had such severe tremors that he nearly hit himself on the pool edge. He had no recollection of surfacing, but somehow managed the protocol in the right order, and was awarded a white card. Rules is rules. Somehow I think they’ll be changing though.
The announcements for the next day’s Free Immersion went up on the board in the evening. Perhaps I shouldn’t be making an overall judgement based on my own decision, but I felt that a lot of us had been guilty of a common practise. Inscribing depths we hadn’t been to in training. In my case a good 10% over. For my part, this was because lack of training had left me not knowing where exactly I should be targeting. I wondered if this was the same with the others – there were certainly some big numbers on the board.
The first day of the depth disciplines, and the Women had all behaved impeccably, reaching their targets without incident. Natalia Molchanova set another Women’s World record with her dive to 78 metres. I had my trusty coach Fred alongside me for my performance ( and vice-versa ), and it all went according to plan. On my ascent my focus switched to thinking about surface protocol, and the long, slow extended pulls had shortened somewhat. But everything was fine on the surface, and I was pleased as punch to have established a new
record in Free Immersion – 60 metres.
The last 2 competitors put the safety divers well and truly to the test. Both had deep water blackouts – one at 17 metres, the other at 22. I won’t go into graphic detail, but they were both the worst blackouts I have seen, in 3 years of competing.
Constant Weight day was possibly my favourite. I feel naked without my fins on, so it was good to get back in the water with them. My 61 metre dive was the 2nd deepest of the men’s, although a fair distance behing Ryuzo’s 82m. When I grabbed my tag, I saw in front of me the Blue Hole arch, where so many Scuba divers have lost their lives. There was something ethereal and spiritual about it, and yet again, my focus drifted. I paid for this in the last 20 metres or so, suffering from muscle fatigue. The safety divers went on to red alert several times, as I had to stop more than once on the ascent. I think if I hadn’t made the ‘OK’ signal, they would have intervened.
Final day was unassisted, and yet another big one for Natalia Molchanova – a 55 metre dive yielded another World Record. For me, I was now feeling tired after four solid days of competing, and my 38 metre dive was challenging enough.
The final part of the competition was the award ceremony. Ryuzo Shinomiya easily won the Men’s overall, 48 points ahead of 2nd. He also came away with 3 new National records – a triple challenge indeed. Lotta Ericson came first among the Women, beating the Italian newcomer Linda Paganelli by just one point. ( Linda now ranks second in the world for Constant Weight, and like Ryuzo came away with 3 national records. Not bad for a debut performance. )
I was more than happy with my own performances. All except static were personal bests, and as well as the national record, I made 4th place overall among the men. Lotta must have been happy too. As well as her own performances, she had pulled off a competition that yielded 2 world records, and no less than 14 nationals.