Freediving in the Philippines. Epilogue

Some people asked me why I needed that. Here’s why

I do not know where to start… Perhaps I should start by telling how a long time ago, when I was a kid, I watched a movie called “The Big Blue”, and it forever imprinted in my memory, somewhere between the French cartoon “Time Masters” and the Bratislavan TV series “She Came Out of the Blue Sky”.

Afterwards I always wondered how Luc Besson at such a young age (when the movie came out in 1988, he was 29) could make such a powerful movie. That is, up until I looked at the page about him on IMDB, from which I learned that young Luc loved the sea. He planned to become a marine biologist specialising in dolphins. But at the age of 17 he had an accident which rendered him unable to dive.

I grew up in a place called Sochi on the coast of the Black Sea. Swimming and diving were always a part of my life. And I did it neither better nor worse than other boys. I do not know exactly when it came upon me, but somewhere by the end of high school I started to realise that the sea gives me a whole new world – I just need to submerge my head under water. Then the fuss and noise of the world goes away and a new freedom appears – freedom to swim like a dolphin. And in this new world I feel at home. Unfortunately, back than I didn’t know what I could do with my newly discovered talent.

It was only 10 years later when I discovered the Internet, I found out that I was not the only one, that there were others sharing my passion, and their name was “freedivers”. And the very first website where I came across the word “freediver” was Julia Petrik’s site “Homo Delphinius”.

Further, as I found the clue, I began unwinding it. I read all I could find about freediving in Russian and, when I moved to Australia, I started exploring the English-speaking Internet. So, Homo Delphinius was followed by Deeperblue.com, then by Umberto Pelizzari’s book The Manual of Freediving. This book gave me all the theoretical knowledge I needed. But I still could find no opportunity to apply it in practice.

In Australia, freediving as a sport is poorly developed. There are spearfishers, but somehow I wasn’t interested in killing fish. It is ironic that in a country, which is famous for its achievements in the field of water sports, there wasn’t even a branch of AIDA, the International Association for the Development of Freediving, three years ago. Now we have one, but, unfortunately, it is sort of virtual. Although Australia has its own freediving team and records, there is neither formal training nor AIDA-accredited courses. Nevertheless scuba diving is very popular, and dive shops offering PADI (Professional Association of Diving Instructors) courses are practically in every suburb. I obtained an Open Water Diver certificate just to realise that scuba diving was not what I needed. When I was putting on pounds of equipment, including a massive tank and BCD, I was losing that freedom to swim underwater like a dolphin, which attracted me to the underwater world in the first place. Then, because of the lack of a better option, I started playing underwater hockey. This was a dynamic game and good exercise, but that crazy romping in the pool was not what I was looking for. Unfortunately, underwater hockey did not give me the second component of freediving – the silent tranquillity.

Well, that is almost it. From time to time I thought about going somewhere to learn freediving. To Moscow, perhaps, or to Egypt. Or to England for Deeper Blue’s course in the SETT pool. But it was all so far away and so expensive….

And then one day I saw a post at one of the online forums. The post was saying that the group of Russian freedivers led by Julia Petrik was about to have a freediving course on the Philippine island of Cebu and invited whoever was interested to join. I saw it – but didn’t pay much attention. Thought I was too busy at work, at home (I have a small kid and it was still a long time till annual leave). But a few days later I returned to it. Something clicked inside me, and I decided to go, no matter what. I took an unpaid leave, got my wife’s approval, contacted Julia, and bought a plane ticket. And yet even then I could not believe that I would get there. All that was too good to be true….  Then a few days before the scheduled departure I had a pretty serious food poisoning and lay in bed a couple of days with a fever. I thought I definitely wasn’t going anywhere. And yet destiny wanted me to go.

You know about the rest. All that has accumulated in me over the years or even decades of searching unwound in a flash, like a compressed spring. And what comes next – even I don’t know.

By the way, Luc Besson now can dive.

The End.

© 2010 Sergey Stadnik

Freediving in the Philippines. Day 12

Everything comes to an end. It was time for me to say goodbye to the Philippines, that hospitable place, which gave me so many new impressions over the last few days. At eight in the morning, a taxi was to pick me up and take me to the airport. Three hours in the car, then an airport, a plane, and three and a half hours to Singapore. Mark, Michael and I met for breakfast. Last conversation, goodbye. Then I went to say goodbye to the sea. I looked at the bright blue surface stretching to the horizon, and tears rolled down my cheeks. Then I jumped into the car and set off for the airport. On the way, I asked the driver to drop in at Club Serena, but having arrived there, I found out that everyone else had already left.

rotonda

Here I was writing this diary

Airport, customs, passport control… All of those necessary attributes of travel are the same every time. They take a lot of time, but there’s no way to go around them. And when yet another door closes behind you, you realise that something is over, finished. And something new begins.

Singapore. How strange it was to plunge into this world after the quietness and calmness of the Philippines. Bustling airport with trains running between terminals, roads with five lanes in each direction, hurrying people… Civilisation. And in the Philippines I did not even have a TV in my room, although I can’t say I missed it.

Singapore, Clarke Quay

Singapore, Clarke Quay

I had five hours before the flight to Melbourne, while my Russian friends had seven hours before theirs to Moscow. We jumped into a taxi and went to Clarke Quay, a place Mark recommended. The Moscowers were astonished by the cleanliness around them. As for me, that place reminded me very much of Melbourne. And the fact that we drove on the left side of the road only added to the similarities.

Clarke Quay resembled Melbourne’s South Bank a lot: a place on the river bank, where both sides are packed with restaurants. A lot of delicious food and hordes of tourists. Since we couldn’t fit into a single car, we arrived in two taxis. I was in the second, and we left the airport a little later. When we arrived, the guys from the first batch had already dispersed. I was disappointed – I hadn’t said a proper goodbye to everyone yet. I set off on a task of finding them, and I spent the next hour running from one restaurant to another on both sides of the river. I knew their phone numbers, but my phone for some reason worked very poorly and I could not get through to anyone. Finally, I found them all in one place – at “Quayside Seafood” restaurant. I still had time and I could not pass up the opportunity to have a dinner.

We drank beer and ate fish and crabs. And when it was about time for me to go, I picked up a glass and said a very simple toast:

— Thank you for changing life.

I do not know whether they took me seriously, but I was absolutely serious. Something happened to me during those two weeks. Yes, I did things that I didn’t know I was capable of. But still that is not the point – meters and minutes are not of critical importance. The experience itself was the most important. Probably, an astronaut who goes for a spacewalk experiences something similar: emotional shake-up so strong that it permanently changes the outlook on life. I know that happened to me. I do not know what I am going to do with it, but I have no doubt everything will be as it should be.

Night Singapore

Night Singapore

When I try to trace the chain of events that led me to the Philippines, I wonder how it all fit together. This chain is stretched for years, and perhaps for decades. Decisions taken, at first glance completely unrelated to each other, formed in a line along which I walked. At job interviews I was often asked where I saw myself in five years. I never knew what to answer, but now I know even less. Can we plan our lives ahead?

For example, Mark, as I said, changed his career as an IT manager in Singapore for the role of hotel manager in the Philippines. How could it have been planned five years earlier? Some might say that I believe in destiny, and maybe I do, but not quite. In fact, life is not a straight line. The world is not static; it is constantly in motion, in a perpetual state of chaos – which actually might not be chaos. We just do not know the rules of the game, so when something unexpected happens, we call it an accident. Events collide and intertwine, forming a network of possible choices and consequences. At certain points in life, everyone comes to a place from which he can turn right or left. And depending on that his life will turn out differently. We can not plan our futures five years ahead. We can only hope to be in the right place at the right time and pull the right string.

But that’s not all. I believe that sometimes the probabilities add up themselves, stars align, and what should happen happens. That happens not always and maybe not for everyone, but sometimes that is enough to forever change someone’s life.

I said goodbye to everyone and departed. I still had half an hour, and I walked along the river in the Singapore night. Then, with some difficulty, I caught a taxi and went to the airport. Airport, passport control, customs… Seven hours of a night flight. And in Melbourne’s airport I was met by my family.

My vacation was over, but what I experienced will stay with me forever. And I hope that wasn’t the last time.

The End.

Although, not yet. Some people asked me why I needed all this. Okay, I’ll tell.

The text © 2010 Sergey Stadnik
The photos © 2010 Sergey Stadnik, Vasily Avseenko
The music track used in the video is “Nine Voices” by “Yes”.

Freediving in the Philippines. Day 11

A restaurant at “Blue Orchid”

A restaurant at “Blue Orchid”

Back when I was preparing for the trip, I got in touch with Julia, and she told me that I had a choice to stay in one of two hotels: Club Serena or Blue Orchid. I looked at the Blue Orchid’s website and, to my surprise, in a left-side menu found a link labelled “Aikido”. Since I am a black belt in aikido, I was interested. The link itself did not lead anywhere, but after a little research, I discovered that the owner of Blue Orchid, the Englishman Michael McCavish, was a fifth dan of Tomiki aikido. I contacted him, explained who I was, and asked if I could book a room at his hotel. Michael replied that he was glad that I would stay at his hotel, but he at that time would be in Japan on business.

When we first saw him in the evening after returning from Badian Resort, the first thing he said to me was: “I came back a day earlier than planned. I felt that I had to talk to you.” I did not even know what to think about it. Another coincidence in the chain of random events? Maybe. Maybe not.

I did not dive on this day. Firstly, my ear was aching more and I did not want to submerge my head underwater. And secondly, I felt that I had already achieved everything I came for. But one thing remained – I had to talk to Michael. A fifth dan means decades of hard work and discipline. There aren’t that many people in the world who achieve that.

Michael showed me his aikido style. I myself do Iwama style, which dates back to Saito Sensei, one of the senior students of Ueshiba, who was the founder of aikido. Iwama is considered to be a style that conveys what Ueshiba himself did most accurately. Although, honestly, no one knows exactly what he did. Kenji Tomiki was also a student of Ueshiba, but apart from that he had eighth dan in judo. And the style he created combines the techniques of aikido and the competitive spirit of judo. In Iwama aikido there are neither competitions nor fighting. It is believed that competitive spirit contradicts self-knowledge and self-improvement, which are the essences of aikido. In Tomiki aikido, contests are part of the program. Both these points of view have the right to live.

Michael spent a couple of hours with me and showed me his style. Frankly, I was somewhat confused. The techniques he demonstrated were on the one hand familiar, but on the other hand executed in a completely different way. Moreover, they were named differently too. I do not know if I learnt anything from that exercise, but it was very interesting.

And then we sat at the lunch table and talked about the role of chance in our lives and of the choices we make. I had three recent examples in front of me: my own, Michael’s, and the hotel manager Mark’s. Just two months earlier Mark worked as a manager at Hewlett-Packard in Singapore. Then Michael offered him a job as a manager of the hotel; Mark moved to the Philippines and since then has been living there. How’s that for a career change?

Our last dinner table at “Club Serena”

Our last dinner table at “Club Serena”

That was our last evening in the Philippines, and Club Serena’s owners decided to arrange a farewell beach party for us. After the sunset a dinner table was set for us on the beach, just like on our first evening. And there was dinner, and wine and rum flowed like a river. There was a surprise too. A flying Chinese lantern was prepared for each of us. Such a lantern looks like an inverted paper bag with a candle attached at the bottom. The candle burns and fills the space inside with a hot air, which makes the lantern fly. Everyone wrote a wish on a piece of paper and put it into his lantern. Thus, everyone’s desires were to rise into the sky. However, we were unlucky: there was a breeze and many of the lanterns fell into the sea. But if you ask me, that was symbolical that freedivers’ desires fall into the sea rather than take to the air. I think that’s the way it should be.

Launching a flying lantern

Launching a flying lantern

The end of the eleventh day.

The text and the photos © 2010 Sergey Stadnik

Freediving in the Philippines. Day 10

Surprisingly, I did not have a hangover next morning. Either I did not drink as much as I thought I did, or the quality of the local rum was much better than I expected. Therefore I, as usual, appeared by the pool of Club Serena at 10 a.m.

A view fon the roof of “Blue Orchid”

A view fon the roof of “Blue Orchid”

We had a depth diving scheduled for the morning. A buoy was put right beyond the reef for us, and those few people who were able after the previous day’s celebration swam to it, accompanied by Julia. To be honest, I did not want to dive deeply on that day. Although I still wanted to know what I was capable of and knew that I hadn’t reached my limit, somehow I was sure I wouldn’t dive deeper than I already did during that stay. And besides, my ear started to ache. Earache is an occupational illness for all depth divers. The combination of cold sea water and high pressure does its work, and a diver is prone to picking up ear infections. The nearest doctor was three hours away, so I decided to wait until I got home to Melbourne.

We started to dive in turns, but apparently everybody was worn out. I dived to 22 meters. It was a good result for me, and it showed that I could dive to 20+ meters pretty comfortably. Although I did not beat my previous record on that day, I was OK with it. Everything has its place and time, and I knew I would have another opportunity sooner or later.

A turtle

A turtle

Furthermore, I began to realise what was holding me back. It wasn’t the pressure – even at 26 meters I could successfully equalise pressure in my ears and I felt no chest compression. That is, I could go deeper. But I was getting out of breath. Also, I just didn’t have the proper equipment. My Mares Volo Race fins were good for swimming, and they proved to be excellent for underwater hockey. But still they were very soft and not made for freediving. They simply did not give the necessary propulsion. The first stage during a deep dive, when you have to overcome your own buoyancy together with the resistance of water, is very important. And you will need all the power your fins can develop. The monofin, of course, is the most effective in this case. Especially the so-called “hyperfin” – almost all of our experienced guys had them. “Hypers” have a different foot pocket design. In them, the heel is raised above the surface of the blade to compensate for the relative weakness of the ankle muscles. This is uncomfortable but effective. “Hypers” are sold in many countries, but manufactured mainly in Russia. They have already revolutionised the fin swimming sport and now almost completely conquered the world of freediving. Fins made of carbon fibre or glass fibre are also very efficient, whereas my fins, made of rubber and plastic, were not as good.

A scene with a guitar

A scene with a guitar

Besides, I was plainly freezing. As I mentioned earlier, my own open cell wetsuit was too warm for the tropical waters of the Philippines, while the borrowed 3mm steamer, as it turned out, was too cold. The problem was not even that the wetsuit itself was thin, but that the cold seawater could freely pour under the collar, cancelling out all the thermal insulation provided by the rubber. There are suits with tricky zippers, in which this problem is solved. Next time, if I won’t be able to find an appropriate open cell suit, I will at least get one like that. As I said before, in between dives freedivers lie still on the surface of water with little or no movement. Those were the moments when I was freezing. I had to twitch my arms and legs to warm up, and as a result I could not relax.

That morning I was not the only one who was freezing; and after diving for an hour, we returned to the shore. After dinner we settled upon going to another reef, where Julia wanted to film for her TV project. Since I was getting cold in the water, I decided to try to dive in my own open cell wetsuit. The reef turned out to be very close to the place where we were diving to the plane. Once we arrived, the preparations for the filming started. The theme was musical. The guys fetched out a violin and a guitar. The guitar was bought here on the island a few days earlier. I saw it before, but couldn’t guess what kind of fate awaited it. The guitar was a key part of the script. However, getting it underwater turned out to be not easy. The guitar was too buoyant and it took a 2-pound weight to sink it. I pulled on my wetsuit and plunged into the water. And then I was up for a big surprise.

When I had dived in the borrowed steamer, I attached a 2 kg weight to the belt to offset its buoyancy, and that was enough. I knew that my open cell wetsuit was more buoyant, and put 3 kg of weight on the belt. Turned out, that was not enough! I could dive with great difficulty – the suit kept me on the surface. So I had to go back to the boat and fasten one more weight. That helped a little, but still was not enough. Unfortunately, I didn’t have any more weights. Furthermore, the suit was clearly too thick for tropical waters, and I was getting hot. Meanwhile, a few meters below the surface the underwater concert was in a full swing. The show was really beautiful; and maybe we will see the video one day. However, I soon realised that my clumsy figure could accidentally get on camera so I preferred to wander off. Since I couldn’t really dive because of my buoyancy, and I was getting hot, I soon returned to the boat, pulled the suit off, and just relaxed and waited for the rest of the guys to return. It was not my day.

We had yet another trip planned for the evening. We booked a dinner at a prestigious hotel, Badian Island Resort. Julia stayed at that resort with friends on the previous New Year’s Eve and loved it. That resort is on a separate tiny island, and usually only the resort’s guests are allowed there. But we boldly introduced ourselves as a team of tour operators from Moscow, and they made an exception for us. For a modest fee of 1500 pesos (around $30) we were promised a tour, a buffet dinner, and an entertainment program.

Badian Island Resort, reception

Badian Island Resort, reception

It was already dark when we set off. From our hotel we had to ride 40 minutes by car to the pier, and then travel for another 10 minutes on a boat to that island. Once we disembarked from the boat, we were welcomed by girls from the Badian Resort’s staff. They presented each of us a necklace made of flowers and asked us to walk over to the reception. There we were asked to pay upfront. Then the tour followed. The problem with the tour was that it was already completely dark, and we couldn’t see anything. Nevertheless, we were shown around the island. Despite the pitch black, it was obvious that Badian was an exclusive resort for the rich, where the number of staff exceeded the number of guests. Massage rooms and spas with baths covered with rose petals were all around. At one place a cascade of personal swimming pools was arranged so that occupants could lie on special couches (yes, right in the pool) while watching the sunset. After some time, since we could not see anything anyway, we were shown directly to the area around the main pool, where the dinner tables were set up. I have to admit that the dinner was delicious.However, we soon found out that drinks were not included into the price we paid. In front of me at the table stood a bottle of red Australian wine – Hardy’s. I asked how much it was. Having received the answer, I converted it into Australian dollars, and it turned out that the price was about three times more than I would pay in Australia. I decided to pass with Hardy’s and ordered a glass of a house red instead. In the meantime, we were all looking forward to the show.

Spas with rose petals

Spas with rose petals

For those 10 days while we were in the Philippines, we didn’t see any manifestation of the local culture. And we were very interested to hear and see some local songs and dances, something ethnically Filipino. On the other side of the pool, where a small stage was installed, two men with guitars appeared sometime later and started singing. They sang in an unfamiliar language, perhaps one of the Filipino languages. When they finished, lights turned on over the lawn next to the stage. Music started playing, and a group of dancers in ethnic costumes ran out onto that impromptu dance stage. I can not say that they danced badly, on the contrary – it looked very nice. It just didn’t feel like Filipino dancing. Rather, it was entertainment for foreigners, folk dancing to Western music.

The folk dance show

The folk dance show

They danced a few numbers and even tried to lure us into a dance and, to some extent, succeeded. After them a man with a guitar came to our table and started singing. He sang a very sad and very long song in an unfamiliar language. It is unclear why he decided that this song was perfectly suited to this moment. For the first few minutes we endured that. Then someone offered to give him money to go away. After a few more minutes we couldn’t take it anymore, and one after another started fleeing from the table. Finally he finished his song and left. After that an elderly Caucasian man walked to our table.He turned out to be the hotel’s owner himself. He greeted us on behalf of the resort and presented a free drink for everyone, which slightly warmed our Russian souls. And then the entertainment continued, presented by the already familiar Filipino “Simon and Garfunkel” and dance revue. The man with a guitar didn’t come back, thank God.

When the entertainment program was over, we decided that we ate and drank enough, and made for our hotel. But we had a discussion and decided that, as “tour operators”, we would not recommend that place to our clients. Maybe it’s good for wealthy retirees, but personally we liked the hotels we stayed in much better.

When we returned to Club Serena and I, having opened the bus’s door, set my foot on the ground, I saw a tall Caucasian man waiting for us.

“Is one of you Sergey?” he asked. “I am Michael, the owner of ’Blue Orchid’”.

The end of the tenth day

The text © 2010 Sergey Stadnik
The photos © 2010 Sergey Stadnik, Vasily Avseenko

Freediving in the Philippines. Day 9

I began the day with a remarkable feat – I got up early and went to yoga at 6:15 a.m. Yoga is cool, but because I wasn’t used to it, for me doing it was tough. By the end of class I could not wait for it all to end. We agreed, as usual, to meet at 10 by the pool, and I went to my hotel for breakfast.

Ocean view from Blue Orchid

Ocean view from Blue Orchid

On that day we were going to have practical tests for freedivers’ certificates. As contenders for the two-star freediver level, members of our beginner group had to do the following:

  • Remove the mask at 10 meters and surface without it. To simulate a leg cramp underwater, remove one fin at 10 meters and resurface using the remaining one.
  • Perform stand-by protocol for another freediver, accompanying him to the surface from 10 meters depth.
  • “Rescue” a freediver from 10 meters.

The more experienced guys who were going for three stars had to do everything the same, but from 15 meters depth. Oksana briefed us and explained the rescuing techniques. In the meantime a couple of buoys had been put in the sea just beyond the reef in front of our hotel. I borrowed a dive computer from a friend who wasn’t going to dive with us. And after the briefing, we suited up and swam to the buoys. One buoy was intended for us to do our tests, while at the other one more experienced guys, who didn’t have to do the tests, practised depth diving. We began as usual with some exercises. I pulled myself down and up the rope by the hands a few times, then dived once using fins, and after that told Oksana that I was ready.

Underwater forest

Underwater forest

The first step was to remove the mask at 10 meters. To make it more clear for us, Oksana tied two tags to the rope: at 10 and 15 meters. I dived to the first one and, holding to the rope with one hand, I pulled off the mask. Removing the mask at this depth felt like hitting my face against the water. And instantly I saw almost nothing. I know that scuba divers can even put on a mask under water, displacing the water from it by exhaling through the nose. But scuba divers have plenty of air, while freedivers do not have that luxury. Therefore, clutching a mask in one hand and clinging to the rope with the other, I swam up. I passed the first test. In fact, everyone did that without any problems, but not everyone liked the experience. Then it was my turn to pass the second test. I dived to 10 meters and, holding to the rope, took one fin off. And, holding the removed fin in one hand and guiding myself along the line with the other hand, I swam up. Pretty soon I realised that paddling with two legs did not make sense – the bare foot provided no thrust. Therefore, I went on ascending working with one fin only. Piece of cake. And then the most interesting part started: performing stand-by duties and rescuing another freediver.

As I already wrote, freedivers do not dive alone. When a freediver dives into depth, he is watched by another freediver from the surface. The safety freediver dives to meet the ascending freediver and accompanies him to the surface. Because most troubles usually occur to a freediver in the upper 10 meters on ascent, that is where he should be met. If a dive isn’t very deep, about 30 meters, such a dive usually takes little more than a minute, and it is easy to calculate the time when a safety person needs to dive. Besides, an ascending freediver is visible from the surface. Freedivers who dive to greater depths usually know how long it takes and let the safety diver know when and at what depth they need to be met.

Underwater corals

When it was my turn to take the test, Oksana dived, and I was lying on the surface watching her silhouette fading out of sight. When she disappeared completely, I dived after her. I stopped at 10 meters and watched her rising from the depth. When she came up to me, I started ascending alongside her, looking into her eyes. The safety person needs to see the eyes of the freediver, to be sure that she is all right. At any hint of an abnormal behaviour he should be ready to come to the rescue. I passed that test successfully. After that I only needed to rescue a freediver from 10 meters. The exercise started the same way as the previous one: I dived after Oksana and I was waiting for her at 10 meters. When she levelled with me on her way back, her body went limp – she portrayed the loss of consciousness under water. If that happens for real, it is a critical moment. After losing consciousness under water, a person may instinctively try to inhale. Once water enters the upper respiratory tract, one more reflex kicks in, this time protective – the trachea is closed by so-called laryngospasm, and the water doesn’t get into the lungs. But in that case time is crucial – there will be about two minutes before laryngospasm is released. If a freediver is not brought to the surface within that time, the water will get into the lungs, and the diver will effectively drown and will have to be given CPR. Once Oksana “fainted”, I, as she taught us, grabbed her under the shoulders and dragged her up.

During such a rescue, the first thing to do on the surface is to hold the unconscious diver so that the airways are above the water. Then you need to take off his mask and call him by name. If a person does not regain consciousness, then hold him with your right hand under his head, pinch his nose, and do mouth-to-mouth resuscitation. That is what those of us who were going for two stars had to do. The guys who were going for a higher level additionally had to transport an unconscious diver to the shore and do CPR.

Underwater corals

I passed the test on the second attempt: the first time I forgot to pinch Oksana’s nose while doing mouth-to-mouth. But the second time made everything right.

When we all passed our two-star tests, the guys going for three stars had to do all the same. However, they had to “rescue” a freediver from 15 meters. When it was Vasily’s turn, Oksana said that it would be good for him to save someone else. She was already tired of playing a “victim”. Moreover, for Vasily that would be too easy: he is about 100 kg, and Oksana is a frail and slender girl. So I volunteered to be rescued. I dived to the 15-meter mark and then dropped a bit deeper until the computer on my wrist showed 18. I started ascending, and when I caught up with Vasily at 15, I closed my eyes, released the rope, and went limp all over. Before I could relax, I felt that I was being dragged up. Then everything went according to the plan: he pulled me to the surface, removed my mask and did resuscitation. Because I passed all the tests, I didn’t have to do anything else, and I asked Oksana’s permission to do some depth diving practice at the other buoy.

That time Tania was my safety freediver. The first time I dived to my usual 20 meters. Then, while I was waiting for my next turn, I tried to relax and catch my breath as I was taught. Then I handed over the snorkel to Tania and dived.

Underwater corals

When I was going up, it seemed that the rope in front of my eyes was barely moving. And I felt like darting to the surface as fast as I could. However, that would lead to nothing good. I once read an interview at the deeperblue.com website with one of the students of the freediving course in the SETT pool in England. He started to have diaphragm contractions at 25 meters and he bolted for the surface. He was lucky not to black out. And an instructor who was diving next to him was trying to calm him down all the way to the surface. Panicking under water is the last thing you want to do. Bad thoughts need to be banished. You should be calm, thinking about the light and blue sky that is waiting for you on the surface. And paddling by slow but wide fin strokes: one, two … until you feel like in the last 10 meters positive buoyancy embraces you and brings you to the surface. Immediately after surfacing it is necessary to make a quick exhale, then take a deep breath and breathe deeply for a few seconds. Then the official protocol requires you to remove the mask, to show the “OK” hand sign, and to say, “I’m OK.” During all those activities a safety diver and, if that happens in a competition, a judge is staring into the eyes of the freediver. In tournaments, there were cases when freedivers lost consciousness after having already gotten to the surface. If this happens, the result does not count.

Having caught my breath, I looked at the computer on my wrist, which embodied the depth to which I dived – 26.1 meters. And having left the guys at the buoy, I swam to the shore. I accomplished more than could hope for. I was happy.

Underwater corals

After lunch, we went diving to the sunken plane. The plane itself is an old small “Cessna”, which was thrown to the bottom specifically for tourists to dive to. It lies at 20 meters depth, which slightly varies depending on the tide. That was just about on the verge of the depth to which I could dive comfortably, and I was wondering if I could get to it. But before we could dive to the plane, first we had to find it. The plan was such that the captain of our boat with his local assistants would locate the plane and place the boat right above it. Then we would throw a line straight down, and dive along the line to the plane. When we got aboard, the captain, a Filipino, cast a glance at our uncomplicated equipment, assessed the lack of scuba tanks, and asked:

— Snorkelling?
— Yep, — we confirmed — snorkelling.

However, not all turned out smoothly according to plan. The visibility in the water was less than 10 meters, and the plane couldn’t be seen from the surface. The search took a while, but finally it was found, and a rope with a weight was thrown down. And then we faced another surprise – a strong current. The buoy drifted, and a rope was hanging out of plumb at a 70-degree angle. In such circumstances, the only sensible way to reach the plane was to go down the rope, though not straight down. If a freediver tried to release the rope, he would be instantly carried away and wouldn’t find the plane. The first guys went down, and upon returning reported that the plane lay at 22 meters. I waited for my turn and, having taken a deep breath, dived down, pulling myself down the rope. Going down against the current was hard; I think it was my most difficult dive there. Perhaps if I was just diving, I would not have reached 22 meters in such conditions. But at that moment when I was ready to turn around and go back, I looked down and saw the plane just a few meters below me.

Nemo

Nemo

A few days before, Julia told us that on the Red Sea visibility in the water can be such that the depth tag, which an athlete has to reach, is clearly visible from the surface. She said that being able to see the goal helps immensely and adds strength.

She was right. I reached the plane. I clapped my hand on the roof, looked inside, and then let go of the rope and went up: keeping to the inclined rope upon ascent was not necessary and I wasn’t worried that I would surface a few meters away from the buoy. Then I waited for my turn and dived again. This time I even had enough air to swim away from the cockpit and hold on to the plane’s fin. On that my diving program for that day had been completed. And I couldn’t say I was disappointed by the way the day passed. Oh no, quite the opposite. Later that evening, standing on the beach and looking at the fading sun slowly diving into the sea somewhere far away, I realised that my life was changing forever, right there and then.

And later in the evening we celebrated March 8, which is Women’s Day in Eastern Europe. A table was set for us on the beach. The guys got hold of flowers somewhere in this middle of nowhere, and we presented them to all our girls. And there was a festive dinner. We drank wine and rum, sang songs and danced. I went to sleep after three o’clock in the morning with a firm conviction that no one would turn up for yoga the next morning.

The end of the ninth day.

The text © 2010 Sergey Stadnik
The photos © 2010 Vasily Avseenko, Sergey Stadnik

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