Life and depth in Dahab
by Annelie Pompe
... to Dahab was very shaky and fast going experience (though it felt like forever), as the driver was over 140 km/h most of the time. And with the drivers complete trust that since Allah decided if and when we should die or not, our destiny was not in his abilities of driving.
First I want to give you a short description of where I actually am. Dahab is on the north-eastern coast of the Sinai. Sinai means land of the moon (because of the extraordinary view of the full moon) and was occupied by Israel not too many years ago. Most of it is desert with the Suez canal parting it from the rest of Egypt. The tourist part of Dahab is just 10 meters from the shoreline of red sea and its beautiful diving. A few kilometers at the back of town, is old Dahab town with traditional markets and the homes of the locals. Another kilometer and you are in the middle of the desert. A beach walk takes you about 1 mile of mainly dive shops (50!), hotels, restaurants and bazaars. My first impression was the chilled out atmosphere, its all very cool and calm; no big night clubs or sky scrapes in the way. The sea and mountains of the desert is ever present.
The blue hole
...is basically a reef with a big hole going down to about 100 meters in the middle. At the far end is an opening, an arch, on 62m which is considered a very though dive indeed. The place is all built up for the divers, it was crowded with snorkelers, freedivers, scubadivers, camels, and jeeps. But looking down of the drop off at the end of the reef, the blue of the blue hole has an almost absorbing effect on you, taking all other impressions away. The visibility was so good I could see the white freediving-line just getting paler at 20 meters.
The first dive
After a short rest I decided to test a maximum dive. Freediving is very psychological so you have to mind your mind and watch your thoughts. But I had a relaxed, maybe a bit tired feeling, in my body. Unfortunately the conditions werent very good with high waves and strong winds. So I decided to try for something inbetween 30 and 40m. After a short warm-up Emil counted down 3 minutes for me, and I took my deepest breath, packing in a bit more air and went of. A few powerful kicks with the monofin and I was on my way. Some way down and after some free falling I just felt like now-is-a-good-time-to-turn. I wasnt tired or having breath-contractions, it was just time. Turning, arms over head and more powerful kicks for going upwards (it always feels like a looong way up!), Emil met me at 10 meters following me till I broke the surface. Surprisingly it took just over a minute, which is 40 seconds shorter than my last 35m dive. And I didnt even feel tired at all!!! Im more happy about that than the depth. It means I can easily do 40 next time :-)
The second dive
I did 40m easily the other day (with monofin), though with a small incident at 40,5 (Mom and dad, dont read this!) My carabiner of the safetyline attached to my wrist twisted and got stuck, holding me at my deepest depth for 4 seconds longer. My thoughts raced should I take it of from my wrist? no, then what if I black out and fall to the bottom of blue hole. Is this it then? I dont want to die, Is there any scubadivers with air nearby? But then I quickly chose to grab the carabiner and pull at it and the rope and swam the rest until it loosened. I was quite stressed on the way up, but after getting over my fright of dying I made another ensuring comfort-dive to 35.
Its a good idea to whenever you get really afraid of something, do it as quick as possible again, so that it deosnt hinder you in the future.
The 45 meter dive
The day after I did 45 (free immersion)!!! I screamed and laughed as I got up feeling quite clear in both mind and body. It still makes a stupid smile appear on my lips. I was walking on air the hole day. During the 45 dive I felt very very relaxed, comforted by the sounds and warmth of the water, thinking about technique, relaxation and equalization all the way. On good dives I usually hear coach Sebastians words in my head just fall, free fall. Equalize, one mouthfill of air will last long. It helpes me to focus on whats important, and his voice in my head makes me feel safe, Which might be even more important :-) (Thank you Seb!)
Another meter at the triple depth competition
46m: whiihooo, eeeasy!! was the first things I said coming up from my deepest dive ever. Then turning with a huge grin to the judges, doing the Surface Protocol (which is required for an approved dive), taking my mask of, showing the ok-sign and saying Im ok, though I felt pretty far more than just ok.
I had a perfect nights sleep, good nutrition, fasting before the dive and a good comforting warm-up. You have to make a warm-up to make your apneic instincts kick in. For example making a shallow but long dive, getting contractions in your diaphragm to make the spleen release more hemoglobinic blood into your system. I did 2:30 at 10 meters which was really relaxing, making me feel comfortable for a long nice dive. I felt a big nice calm and no nervousness at all. Why, Im at home in the ocean and couldnt wait to break the surface, meet the depth and challenge, going into myself, but outwards at the same time..
I was so into the feeling I got very surprised when suddenly bomp, I hit the bottom plate. Already, I thought a bit disappointed, but I quickly snatched the yellow tag of the carabiner, and started climbing the rope upwards. Back to the surface, air and life.
The search of limits
While back on land nothing could wipe the cheesy grin of my face, or the feeling of invincibility. But eventually, after breakfast and calming down I felt the actual fatigue in my body. Bill brightened my day further by telling me Im the second deepest woman in Sweden by this depth. Only Lotta Ericson (whos a pro also living in Dahab), has gone deeper a lot deeper. She did 65 today. But you never know... As also this dive felt pretty easy, I still haven't found the limit. I need to push!
It was also very interesting to watch the others dive. Many different techniques and approaches. Helping Seb, I was sad to see he didn't make his depth. There were some really deep dives and there was also two really scary black-outs at depth. One who came up from black-out at 15 meters with red froth coming from his mouth, and the other one blacking out at 20 meters coming lifeless to the surface. But both quickly recovered and were fine the day after.
...and I still aren't the best of friends (I'ts important to be good friends with your equipment, they\it should be part of you). As the judge counted down the seconds I took my last 10 deep breaths, 6 extra packings of air, releasing the rope with my left arm and duck dived into the blue. I focused a lot on technique, trying to stay relaxed at the same time, listening to Sebastians good words of advice in my head.
Just as I was thinking "now would be nice to turn" as the equalization got difficult, I felt the beginning of the bottomplate, looked down and saw my name written in white on a black tag. Some meters further I saw a opening in the coralwall- the arch of the blue hole. Yes! A few powerful kicks and the line in front of my face moved. Not looking up, I concentrated on the fish and corals passing. Writing about the dive now afterwards, I can't remember what I was thinking about. As I broke the surface, and a few fresh breaths of air and surface protocol, I yelled "whhhiiihooo" again (I got some critizism for beeing overly happy before the surface protocol :-) Also this time it felt easy enough - I still haven't got near my limit.
The no fins discipline
This dicipline surprisingly got to be the most interesting in the competition, for the hole swedish "team". I mentally went through the dive many times during the day and night and morning, and had a feeling of excitement of trying something as new on a competition. As I probably have a very bad techique I over-weighted myself, and started to fall faster at only 10-15 meters. I remember thinking "this is fun", on the way down, smiling so that water entered my mask. It was so fun I didn't notice the coming of the bottomplate, actually hitting my head in it, as I was just fininshing a breaststroke. What goes down must come up - and I was pretty heavy wearing 2 kilos more than usual. I made one kick, one breaststroke - rope didn't move, one more kick and breaststroke - rope didn't move. One more round and the rope started moving as I very slowly did the first 5 meters before it got easier. I'm happy I got the warning of this rope's-not-moving-fenomenon beforehand.
I had a very hard time getting out of the water once I was finished. I watched another world record being made, and Lotta pushing the swedish record to 41m.
The scuba dive
The day after I took Anna-Karin, Henrik and Emil scuba-diving. It was the first time for A-K and Henrik but they all did fine, with the normal beginner problems. But I also felt a bit clumsy with all the heavy equipment at the beginning, and a few times I caught myself holding my breath and even getting contractions at one time, "ooups". I don't know if I will do scubadiving for fun or pleasure anymore (except when photographing or seeing "new" fish or marine life), but it's very ok as a job (Annelie is a divemaster)
The life on land
Everywhere you go you are reminded of the religion of Islam. I will never get used to it, and especially not to the women clad in wide full black gowns with the burka covering everything but their eyes. In additon to this you are reminded of the religion 5 times a day as the mosques are yelling their messages. The worst one is at 5 o'clock in the morning, sometimes accompanied by the ghostly howling of dogs.
Today the bike broke down. I found some tools and got to work. Beeing concentrated I went totally into what I did and didn't see the hole arabic staff of men, including the bike-mantenance guy from Germany staring at me with open mounths. Eventually one of them asked me if I could fix his bike as well - he didn't know how to fix a flat tire. They are not used to women being able to get dirty and fix things themselves
I've realised the difference between bedouins and egyptians - bedouins are much nicer! I'm getting to really like the arabic language. In the beginning I thought it sounded so angry, and got disturbed as everyone was talking so angrily all the time. But I've distinguished the different ways of speaking and some of it even sounds beautiful. Two different people saying the same thing can sound like quite each others opposites, soft or hard. And the writing of the language is beautiful, it looks just like out of Tolkiens "lord of the rings"!
The big breath
A few funny observations: I'm still unconsciously practising to take my deepest breath now and then and slowly letting it out, which people can sometimes interpret like a very heavy sigh. A few nights I've woken up from holding my breath, by the sudden urge to breathe. I found out yesterday that I'm struggling out of my hood sweather the same way I fight to undress from my top-wetsuit. And I'm becoming so comfortable underwater I totally forget about breathing, especially when I'm taking photos.
The 50 meter dive
I know I can go deep, much deeper than today, but doing it with a monofin is a hole other business, especially one as hard as the one I've borrowed (I borrowed it from my "coach" Sebastian who said I had to pay rent for it if I didn't do 50m before I get home ;-). The other freedivers call it "the plank". And I still haven't been friends with it until a few days ago, when I felt like something happened and I got the hang of it. It's now like a lengthening of my legs and feet.
I haven't done many deep dives since the competition. Only one day training without students when I went to 45 three times - Free immersion (pulling down and up on the line).
I thought I had to do everything perfect to make deep dives. But I half gave up being vegetarian because I felt weak and washed out. I'll have meat twice a week. But other then that I haven't been eating very well or training hard, I even feel a bit of a cold (maybe that's the trick!?).
When I woke up this morning I just had a good feeling in my body. Well rested and relaxed. But more important, I was in a very good state of mind. It's hard to explain, I just thought "today might be a good day to try 50".
I started out well with a good session of yoga for a few people, a banana/guava/sharonfruit and milk smoothie for breakfast and then trying to get everyone else sorted. Me, Niklas from Gothenburg Apnea Society, his girlfriend, and mother (visiting), Fred, a old student and Roland were finally sqeezed into a small jeep and off we went. Well at the place I had the mandatory lemonjuice and soon after found myself sitting on the platform looking out over the bluehole, like every day on the competition. I didn't feel nervous at all, I didn't really think at all from what I remember.
I did my warm-up exactly as usual and then lay on my back doing my breath up, Roland supporting my weight so that I wouldn't sink with my lungs under the surface. Then the last few breaths holding on to the bouy, a good duck dive and of I went. I pushed a little bit too hard on the rope, and I think I wasted some oxygen at that, but when I got negatively bouyant enough I started falling, eyes closed and falling and falling. I completely focused on the equalization (the frenzel fattah), and I got it perfect down to the bottom, where I just lost a mouthfill to the contractions coming. As I felt the half tennisball I made a quick turn, and knew it was a long way up - but I was completely calm, focusing on the coral and fish on the way up. My legs was burning like crazy with lactic acid and I slowed down when it got lighter and I closed to the surface. The surface appeared very fast and I didn't see my safety diver, or even think of it. On the bouy I made a quick surface protocol and yelled "wihoooo" so that everyone at blue hole heard it :-) Then I just laughed uncontrollably for a few minutes. You can't believe how much if a kick it is!!
Then I got the usual deep-dive-cheesy-grin on my face, and it's still there.
Within half a year Annelie had done a 60 meter dive, and a 70 meter dive... and is aiming for a...