J-2 | VISUALIZING THE DIVE STEP BY STEP
A wonderfully nice and relaxing day for us here in Santorini!
Everything should speak for increasing tension, but it is actually quite the opposite. Herbert is only working on some dry training today, the team uses the opportunity to do some freediving training and rescue training.
A team, which by the way, has now been reinforced by French apneist and photographer Francine Kreiss, who was a member of the French World champion team two years ago and has since then quit competitive freediving to dedicate herself to travels and imaging. Francine will be with us both as a member of the freediving team and as part of the imaging team. Mind you, the poor girl never realized that she’d be landing in the middle of a bunch of freaks wearing tight rubber suits who have been stuck on a boat for some weeks now… Yes, she is getting a fair amount of attention you could say. But then again, she deserves it and you can easily tell she’s been there before!
As promised yesterday, I wanted to take you today through a complete run down of the dive planned by Herbert and of what goes down in his mind while he’s racing into the abyss and back. I asked him to close his eyes and just speak out every step of the descent and ascent phases as he visualizes them. There it is, just for you, in Herb’s own words.
“First, I see that all my diving gear is together and that when I’m ready I don’t have to start looking for stuff. Once I’ve got my suit on, my relaxation starts. From that point onwards, I try to move as little as possible and do some warm-up dives. Exhale dives going to 10-15 meters, with totally empty lungs. Then I do some reverse packing (packing is the way to overfill the lungs by gulping in 5 more liters of air; reverse packing means emptying the lungs beyond what their normal emptiness would be). I do this between two and four times depending on how warm I am. Then I move to the sled and remove the weight belt I need for the warm-ups. Once in the sled, I run my own checklist and control that everything is ready and alright with it. I verify that all is correct and that the Equex is in the right position. I then ask for confirmation from the team that all safety systems are ready and functional, before giving the signal to start the countdown. We’ll probably stick with the two minutes we’ve worked with so far: I’ll confirm to the team that I’m ready and approximately two minutes later –not according to a watch!– I’ll finalize the packing to get as much air as I can into my lungs. Most likely I’ll slow down the packing to counteract the risk of a “packing blackout” (which we experienced once in training, by the way).
Then I’ll give the signal to release the sled from the water surface where a safety line keeps it out of the water to facilitate my breathing. On the boat, Peter is in charge of initiating the descent and will let it drop. First, I experience a short quick descent to the level where the air still contained in the upper part of the sled (“the lift bag”) slows it down. The first drop is smoothed down by a bungy system so that the shock is not too brutal, which would force some air out of my lungs – the last thing we want to start with! Stelias then helps the sled go past that point and I then descend to a depth of 16 meters, the sled still attached to the safety line. At 16 meters, I exhale into the Equex bottle and then reverse pack again until there’s zip left into my lungs.
Once ready, I give Stelias the signal to release the safety line and close the valve at the top of the sled which allows the air to flow out for positioning. He then pulls the quick release carabiner to allow the real descent to start and I start dropping down. During the descent, I pull air sip by sip out of the Equex to equalize as I descend. This requires outmost control in terms of inhaling efforts as equalizing on such a dive is something that goes totally over the edge and is the key to a successful dive. I have to try and prevent from breaking the descent, as this may induce some confusion for the surface team who needs to work on a second-tight timing. If they think I have already reached the bottom before I actually do, they have to perform their task and start the winch which normally only serves as a back-up. Should this happen, as it did in training, the confusion results in an early abort of the dive and a failure of the attempt.
The deeper I get, the more harder it gets to equalize and I might have to stop a couple times to do that. So the most critical part of the whole process is really to balance between the amount of air contained in the Equex, the volume required to equalize my airspaces in order to prevent an injury, and maintaing the speed of descent to stick with the planned runtime and not confuse the surface team. At some point, the Equex bottle will be totally empty of air – or totally full of water, depending on what your philosophy is: I personally consider it empty, as there is no more air inside and you can’t really equalize airspaces with water! Basically, once I get salt water into my mouth instead of air, I know the Equex is empty and i’ve got nothing left to equalize further. I then spit the Equex tube out of my mouth and further compensate with the bit of air left in my mouth. At this stage, all going well, I’m deep enough to achieve a couple more equalizations: even though the ambient pressure keeps increasing, the variations in pressure are not as important down there as they are closer to the surface. This normally allows me to keep on going a bit further down, probably twenty to thirty meters more from that point.
According to plans, that is when I reach the bottom and the sled hits the end of the line, causing the air valves connected to the two tanks inside the sled to open automatically and start releasing air into the upper part of the sled which acts as a lift bag to pull the sled back up to the surface. Should I need to stop before reaching the bottom, then I have the option to open the valves manually, which is not my favorite scenario even though we’ve also covered that many times in training. The most difficult part of that procedure is for me top pull the lever, which has to be really hard in order to prevent an accidental opening of the valves during the descent. The downside is that this procedure requires a tremendous effort for me to counter the incredible resistance at this depth and any effort at this stage burns a huge amount of energy, hence, also lots of the precious oxygen left in my vital organs. Both physiologically and mentally, this would be extremely stressful on top of the wasted energy and oxygen, it also means part of my mind starts wondering if we eventually missed the record. So, all going well, everything works out as designed, I reach the bottom and start going up with no extra effort. There comes the next difficulty as the ascend speed is so high that my body is shaking all over and it requires outmost concentration to feel at which depth to start slowing down the ascent. The water flow is so strong that I have a hard time feeling the brakes handle which induces again stress and burning more precious oxygen.
The sled finally has to be stopped at around 10 meters so I have time to get out of it smoothly, event though I’m prepared to eject as well if needed. The key point there is to be able to swim up very slowly for the last few meters, under surveillance of Kostas, so as not to allow the residual nitrogen in my body to cause a decompression accident. During these last few meters, I will try to already remove my goggles and nose clip in order to anticipate on the surface protocol: this way, after surfacing I only need to give an okay signal and not blackout for another 30 seconds for the dive to be validated. At this point, the goal has been reached and we have a record! And as soon as this is confirmed, I’ll grab the oxygen regulator and drop back down to 10 meters for an extended decompression, always under supervision of my safety freedivers and the imaging team who is on scuba. Finally, later that day, despite the tiredness, trust me that we’re going to have great party altogether!!!”
Be honest: did you just hold your breath while reading this? Well, what more is there to say for today as the sun sets down on the permanent postcard landscape of Santorin? Tomorrow, we’ll also give you an insight into the emergency plan we have set-up here. We belong to those who believe that rain is guaranteed if you don’t have an umbrella. So we’ve assembled a serious chain to face any emergency as well: knowing that every scenario has been envisioned and anticipated is the safest way to ensure that we only experience the best case scenario: a successful dive, a safe return to the surface and a new world record for Herb. Nothing is left to chance: the only thing which matches the dangers faced by Herbert is the level of risk management implemented throughout this project.
Back tomorrow. Don’t hold your breath yet, we still, have a bit more to tell before to go diving!