-8 weeks: Our deep diving training trip in Turkey


Hello to everybody, we’re back from Turkey, and I am very excited, after having done a couple of deep dives for the first time in so many years. It doesn’t matter how many deep dives I’ve done, that amazing feeling never gets old, and this time it felt uniquely special, since I thought I would never get a chance to do this ever again. Unfortunately, I am still a little sick and don’t have a lot of energy left after working out, so I will be brief and try to cover the parts of our journey that Rudi didn’t cover in his post. He always covers the technical and training aspects while I deal with the more personal parts of the experience, so here’s my take.

Our trip was planned for 2 weeks, the first of which was reserved for media activities, sponsor meetings and the fine tuning of some final details before we got wet. My mother had driven from Ankara and she met us in Istanbul. Since I spend so little time in Turkey I like the spend as much time seeing them as possible wherever I am, and enjoying my mothers home cooking instead of eating greasy foods outside all the time is an added bonus. So, every night, after hours of interviews and meetings, we spent time at one of my mother’s best friends, Figen, enjoying home cooked meals and great conversation. It was a relaxing way to end the hectic days, but the pressure of Istanbul did nothing for my health, and that, coupled to the amazing pollution in the air got me so sick that, once again, I had to go on antibiotics for fear of not being able to dive a week later. The 4th time in 5 weeks that I had to take antibiotics, and by now, I could feel my muscles so deflated and my energy levels so low that Rudi and I were really wondering what it would be like when it came time to dive. And amid all the growing concerns, I met with the owner from Boy-Tech, the company that makes my custom wetsuits, and we tried my “winter”, 7 mm record suit. He used an incredible material, which keeps me warm, and is very, very flexible and easy to breathe in, so all in all, this was a positive thing. He also made it so well that it felt even more comfortable than my previous 3mm suits. For those who don’t know, a suit is one of the most important things for deep freediving, comparable to the tires on a racing car, so we felt somewhat better having such a good suit to dive with.

After 4 days in Istanbul, we drove to Ankara, where my father, sister and the rest of my family was waiting, ready for infinite meals every night, much to Rudi’s delight. I tried to spend as much time at home as possible, resting and recovering, but in all truth, I wasn’t feeling that much better. The quality of the air in Ankara isn’t much better than Istanbul’s, and due to the already cold weather of Autumn, the windows are mostly closed everywhere, so breathing fresh air is not so easy, and this probably didn’t help with my recovery. It got to the point where, after having gone to the gym just once for some light weights, Rudi decided to cancel all the training and preserve my energy for the diving days ahead. While in Ankara we took care of the 2 final details on our side: meeting with the safety team and inspecting the sled. We headed over to Aqua Club, one of Turkey’s best set dive centers, owned and operated by Asutay Akbayir, where we met all 6 divers Asutay personally chose to be in the Safety Team. They will be my guardian angels during all the my training dives and the record attempt, and for the first time, is an all turkish team, something they are understandably very proud of. The meeting went well and we were impressed with their enthusiasm and professionalism, and we felt better again, knowing that important piece of the equation was also taken care of. Next, we drove to the machine shop where the sled was built, all resplendent in shiny aluminum. It looked great, solidly built, and the bigger fin box, needed to accommodate the huge Waterway monofin that I’m using, doesn’t look like it will slow the sled down as I feared, so once again, another step forward. With that, we spent the last day at home enjoying some quality time with my family, which in Rudi’s case, he had not seen since 2004, so it was all very nice. My parents decided to spend a few days with us in Bodrum while we were diving, so rather than flying there, we drove, a long but very scenic and enjoyable trip.

When we got to Bodrum, we were greeted by Mutlu Gunay. Mutlu has been with us since my first record in 1999 and has come with us everywhere ever since, performing the duties of coordinator, boat manager, safety officer, videographer and “doer” extraordinaire. When something needs to be done, and done right, and done fast, Mutlu is the one we trust with such duties. He had spent the previous week dealing with the unenviable task of “Variable Ballasting” the boat, which means welding an arm for the sled on the back platform and a system of pulleys strong alongside the side of the boat to connect to the winch in the front to be able to pull the 200 kilos of ballast, sled, cameras and rope up after every dive. Even worse, he had to set up the mooring for our boat, which implies finding the most suitable location with 200 meters of depth and then drop a 10 ton weight there and float a line from it to the surface so we can tie up to it. This involves barges, cranes, coordinating with lots of people and a lot of luck for any of the needed things not to go wrong, which of course, it did and he lost the first mooring and had to do it all again the next day. Not his fault, the mooring business is rough and unforgiving, and out of the 7 moorings we have successfully positioned around the world, we have failed 5 other times, 3 of them in Egypt and 2 in Turkey. Sometimes the line holding the weight to the barge break before arriving at the destination, other times the depth charts are wrong and you drop the mooring in 900 meters of water when the charts read 160 :-), etc, etc, etc. So yes, Mutlu got hit by the “mooring curse” once again, but by the time we got to Bodrum, and thanks to the generous help of our dear friend Erman Akarsu, he had managed to have everything ready and waiting for us, despite his frustration and fatigue.

So, on to the diving side of things. As Rudi said in his article, the weather played rough with us, and we could only do 3 dives out of 6 we had planned. My main objective was to get accustomed to deep water again, to practice the new technique with the new monofin and new wetsuit, and to basically find my “sea legs” again. I felt like I had never stopped diving, but I also felt very tired when the dives were over. Not immediately after the dives, my muscles never gave up on me on the dives, but the minute I got back to the boat, took the suit off and sat down, I felt this wave of fatigue washing over me. I was paying the price of weeks without proper training, lots of antibiotics and illness, but all in all, as the dives progressed, I felt better and better and, as Rudi wanted me to ascertain, I started forming an idea as to where my potential was in terms of meters. Meaning, at the end of each dive, I knew how much deeper I could have gone, given the reserves I carefully assesed I had left after coming to the surface. But optimizing the system takes practice and time of course. I agreed with Rudi that we would work of making my descent a little faster, so we weighted the sled accordingly, but amazingly, the new sled is so hydrodynamic that it dropped much, much faster that our physics calculations had indicated, and even after we took more and more ballast off, it kept taking me down like a “express elevator to hell” (a phrase from one of Rudi’s favorite movies, “Aliens”). So, my ears were always trying to catch up with the equalization, due in part to the fact that I had some congestion left in my sinuses, so after hitting the bottom, instead of concentrating and going over the list of mental check-ups we had prepared, I was ascending just dealing with ear pain. But all in all, the dives felt good and easier than I expected they would, and the 92 meter dive was the easiest I’ve ever dived to that depth, even when doing No Limits years ago. I had another 20 meters left in me on that dive, and that of course, is very encouraging. Based on how weak I felt during this trip I’d have been understandable if these dives felt difficult but the fact that they even felt easy was the best result we could hope for. We finished our dive period with an extensive check-up in our hospital sponsor “Bodrum Hospital”.

One other objective of this week was to optimize our process together with our new safety team. Diving for freediving safety is requires whole new set of skills to be developed and we used this week to achieve this. And it went very well, they worked with Swiss precision, always ready, always on time and now I have all the confidence that in December, they will be 100% ready. Those poor guys were always blending gases until late at night every day, and when we start diving deeper than 100 meters every day in December, this workload will only increase. So we did our best to pass by the boat in the evenings and spend time with them, since I know very well that even though I’m the one going for the record, all the other people in the team work equally as hard. Who said freediving is not a team sport? Anyway, like Rudi said, we know now what we need to do training wise for these last final 4 weeks, and we have started already. So, if we can recover my health completely, or at least 80-90% of it, and the weather cooperates with our proposed schedule in December, I feel I have a very good shot at this record. So, I remain optimistic, but I also know that the hardest part is still ahead of us, so let’s see what happens.

2 Responses to “-8 weeks: Our deep diving training trip in Turkey”

  1. Kars says:

    Nice write up, thanks!

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