I have always loved being on, in, or below the water. While at a dive show in London I was fortunate enough to stumble across an inspirational talk by the freediver Patrick Musimu who had just completed a 200 metre dive on one breath – incredible. My interest fired up I found a company that specialised (DeeperBlue.com) in training freedivers at a 30 metre deep tank in Portsmouth.
What an amazing weekend it was at a huge tank known as the S.E.T.T – Submarine Escape Training Tank – in Portsmouth. The S.E.T.T is essentially nothing more than a large cylinder filled with water, designed by the Navy to train its submariners to learn how to escape from a stricken submarine, sitting at depth. The weekend I was there it was solely for the purposes of training us to be freedivers.
The instructors were, as I had imagined, relaxed, welcoming and just like a family within a short space of time. The first day we had lectures on the risks and precautions to be taken when freediving, and how to be safe by always diving with a buddy. Before long though we were let loose in the tank. It was deep and blue, a downward tunnel to nowhere. It was approximately ten metres across, and filled with warm, 30 degree water. We began with static breathholds, relaxing our breathing, slowing it down to maybe six breaths, and below, a minute, and then dipping our heads in the water and seeing how long we could stay there before resurfacing. I built up to a fairly comfortable 2 minutes, and was itching to get down underwater. My buddy, Andy, would tap me at half minute intervals, and I did the same for him, each of us watching out for the others signal that they were still conscious. Soon each buddy pair were given a rope to guide them down into the depths. We breathed ‘down’ to a relaxed slow level of breathing, took a big, full breath, filling the stomach, ribs and upper chest with air, emptied it again, then filled up once more with air and ducked down below the water. The buddy would don a mask and snorkel and track our movements underwater, ensuring that we had not collapsed. We then took turns pulling ourselves down ropes and back up, managing a respectable 15 metres in the morning. By the afternoon we were at 20 metres, and I was having a few problems equalizing my ears. At the surface after each dive we were told to take three inhalations, one at a time, deep and forced, but letting the breath leave the body at its own speed. Our buddy focussed on our eyes and checked for any chance of a hypoxic fit, or shallow water blackout.
The next day we were given long fins, and taught how to descend into the depths without a rope. I tried a pair of carbon fibre fins, and a proper freediving mask later in the day. My aim for the final dive was to get to the bottom, 30 metres, and return safely and comfortably. I held myself at the side of the pool and took my breathing down to something slow, something at peace; my body felt good, physically, mentally and spiritually as one. My breaths were now perhaps four a minute. I took a long breath, filling my body from the stomach, deep and long and then emptied my body of air. A final breath, deep filling my very being, I nodded at my buddy, took a slow duck dive and headed into the blue, equalizing as I went. I kept my head tucked in, I felt right. As I descended, I equalized, and after about 15 metres fell without finning, now negatively buoyant, into such peace.
The blue held me, like an eye holds a tear, everything was in balance. At twenty metres I felt a slight panic, but ignored it and continued. I touched the floor at 30 metres with my hand, and flipped over and stood looking back up to the surface. I had made it. My focus for the journey back was to remain calm, and fin slowly. My buddy met me at 15 metres, and I returned home. Freediving, or to use its proper name ‘Apnea’ is often described as a journey outside time.
Check out some excerpts from the weekend. Note that the girl ‘collapsing’ underwater is just part of the training –