I am back in Toronto after 10 great days in Roatan, Honduras where I was safety diver at the Caribbean Cup. On the plane home I tried to think about the best take away from the competition in Roatan. Is it the amazing athletic achievements which most people consider super human? Is it the great diving in crystal blue water? Is it learning from so many knowledgeable freedivers? Is it bonding with the other safeties on a small platform for 7 hours each day or is it meeting so many passionate and truly nice people? I came to the conclusion that it is a marvelous combination of all of the above, and also having a front row seat to all the warm-ups and performances.
The women in the competition were: DeeDee Flores, Elisabeth Mattes, Iru Balic, Kerry Hollowell, Sofia Gomez.
The men in the competition were: Alejandro Lemus, Carlos Correa, Carlos Coste, Daniel Arias, Nicholas Mevoli, Robert King, Ryuzo Shinomiya, Sebastian Alamosa, Steve Benson, Walid Boudhiaf, William Winram, Yuri Krainov
I will not be writing much about all the great performances by these amazing athletes, because it has been done by lots of other people, but I will try to describe what a competition is like for a safety diver.
Our days started at 5:30 with the alarm clock waking us up at sunrise. Three of us: Marc, Natalie and I, shared an apartment and it made for a great morning together discussing what and how much to eat for breakfast and talking about the days performances, the weather and how long we expected the day to be and what to bring for snack and what to drink on the platform. We started safetying on the 19th of May, which was a day before the competition officially started and met on the beach at 6:30 each morning to get the platform rigged up, dragged out and attached to the mooring. (Ren and Ashley had already been organizing and safetying the training for a few weeks when we got there – You guys ROCK).
I normally started the morning by diving into the warm blue water to get the platform untied from the moorings and swim it back to the beach. Because we are freedivers (and we didn’t have enough rope), we tied up to the anchors screwed into the bottom under the water and needed to dive into the water each day. Below is a picture of Esteban and me screwing his anchor into the sand, which was too hard to do without a little helping air.
The platform was floated to the beach and the crew and all the gear boarded and we swam the platform out a little so we could connect to a boat. Every night we removed all competition rope from the platform and stored it at the Bananarama Dive shop which was open early each morning so we could get the rope back.
As soon as we were attached to a boat, we started rigging the lines, which quickly became a routine and most days all lines would be ready before we got halfway to the mooring spot.
Esteban had dropped a 500 kg cement block at 500 feet of water which we anchored to the first day. A big glass bottom boat and another boat also anchored to this mooring during our training days, which worked until the wind picked up and we started (without knowing it) dragging the heavy cement anchor after us. We thought that the strong wind had just pulled the ropes under water and because of the strong wind and current we just needed to free the large boat from the mooring and only leave the platform attached. The ropes were too tight to untie so we had to cut them and saw to our horror that the lines disappeared into the deep. We had lost the large anchor block to the deep.
We made the decision to float the platform in the current so people could still train which worked well except for the wind picked up at the end of the day which cause some drag on the dive lines and we ended up quite far from the beach.
The next few days, we tried to tie up to a mooring closer to the beach and run a long rope out to the platform and the glass bottom boat, which worked well because the current was away from the beach and we stayed nicely in deep water.
When the actual competition dives started the glass bottom boat was changed out with the much bigger catamaran. This caused us a little re-rigging and we were all somewhat nervous about the amount of pull we would get from the Cat. On the second comp day Esteban dropped new cement anchors and we used the mooring close to the beach and this new mooring to anchor the platform. We then tied the stern of the cat to either side of the platform, which created a great comp zone. This setup worked well until the last day of the comp, where the waves and current picked up a lot and the current changed direction. We tried to attached in a similar manner as the other days, but the weighted lines had too great of an angle to use for diving.
After tried tying up to the moorings in different ways we decided to postpone the comp for an hour, drag the platform down the beach and then drift with the current which that day was along the beach. This wasn’t ideal, but the best we could do under the conditions and only a few of the deeper dives were affected. With the rig floating and the high waves, we still had 4 national records on the last day.
A lot was learned about how to anchor a platform off the beach of Roatan under different weather conditions, but I think the diving here was very good for the athletes, which can be seen by amazing string of national records and a world record dive with Bi-fins.
We did not have a lot of blackouts during the comp and only one below 10 meters, which must mean that the athletes weren’t too stressed. Many of the divers even had enough left in the tank to smile to the safeties on the way up. Iru and Sofia do take the best smiles during accent award, because of their amazing smiles when we met them at 20 or 30 meters. As a safety there is nothing better than seeing competitors enjoying their dives.
We had two warm-up lines on the back of the platform which did mean that divers had to watch their head on accent, but this was the best way to assure that all the lines stayed separated. Having two warm-up lines seemed to be enough and only a few times did I see athletes sharing a line.
The platform was a little crowded at some points, but then us mean safeties would step in and throw anyone off who wasn’t diving next or wasn’t part of the crew. The catamaran was always close and there were always plenty of rope to hold on to in the water. The platform held up very well and supported more than 15 people at one point and 10 people most of the time that were working, relaxing, breathing up or judging from it. Esteban built this platform in his garage and he did an outstanding job.
The catamaran provided a very stable viewing platform and allowed the athletes to comfortably relax before and after their dives. Most days there were also family members, friends and a few strangers watching the dives from Captain Dave’s beautiful boat. After a few days when we got fast at setting up the lines the safeties would join Captain Dave and crew for 30 min of relaxing before the first athletes showed up. One day the weather cleared up and we had a beautiful view of all the mountains in Honduras.
Diving as a safety is something we all took very seriously and on the training days when we were all getting to know each other we ran through scenarios and tried to rescue each other on the surface and from depth. So everyone knew their spots and what to do in case of an emergency we wrote down 5 roles and specified the tasks for each of the roles, before, during and after a dive. Because all of us had not safetied together before, this allowed us to quickly get on the same page and we had no misunderstandings during the comp. We would in the morning and afternoon discuss what could be improved, but the last several days the afternoon discussions was replaced with more of a celebration after a long day and Captain Dave was very kind and provided us with a beer on the platform as we were being dragged to shore – Thanks for this kind gesture Dave.
We would each have 25 – 35 dives per day down to between 10 – 35 meters. Each dive would last 40 sec to 1 min 10 seconds, if everything went to plan. Most of those dives were fairly easy and I found all of those very enjoyable and after a few days the dives could be done with almost no breath up. For all dive we did do lengthy rest and breath up, because it would be needed for the dives were we had deep rescues or when the athlete had underestimated the time needed to complete their dive. We had created a great rotation which allowed us to switch between the roles after each dive and allow some rest after longer dives, so we could continue to be fresh the whole day.
5 safety divers seemed perfect for this size of event. We could handle the rotation with 4 safeties, where 3 were on the comp line and one person on the two warm up lines. The third safety luckily never needed to dive in an emergency, but was backup in case of one or two couldn’t equalize or they ran out of air waiting for the diver. Number three was also used to keep an eye on all the other divers in the water, making sure the boats didn’t get to close and to keep track of the dive time. We did have a lung squeeze which took a safety out of the water for a day and a reverse block removing another safety for a day and a half. It was these days where a team of 5 was mostly needed, so the comp could continue with no one noticing.
Working each day from 6:30 and ending the day between 13:30 and 14:30 did make us tired, but this is a great way to spend a vacation and can be highly recommended. Our Safety Team lunches we had at Bananarama after getting back to the beach and all the time we spent together on the platform I treasure and several moments will go into the permanent memory bank.
The dives as a safety is not all that deep, but we got a chance in the morning during our warm up to get in some training for ourselves. The incredible clear blue water of Roatan is a pleasure to dive in and I personally loved to drop into the blue with the competition line, when it was lowered for the first competitor of the day. I also remember a few warm-ups hangs on day 3 and 4 where I just didn’t seem to need air any longer. Hanging on a line looking up on the activity around the platform I remember the feeling of complete peace, which is one of the reasons I freedive.
Being on or around the platform all day allow the safeties a great perspective into all divers preparation, mental state and how they cope differently with the sometimes stressful pre-dive moments. It was extremely interesting to see how some divers consistently were able to block out their surroundings and focus on what they needed to do. As safeties we would routinely talk about all the dives at the end of the day and the announcements before the days started, which helped us know which dives to pay extra attention to and also get to know the divers better. Knowing the divers routines, facial expressions and body language greatly helps in knowing when to step in if a diver need rescue or maybe just a helping hand on the platform or at the surface before a dive to keep divers comfortable and less stressed. As a safety diver it is also great to know what people like and expect from us at depth. Do they prefer us to be at 20 or 30 meters, do they prefer grouper calls (Sorry Iru, will never happen again) and do the like us to tell them the depth with our fingers. I suggest that all competitors make this clear to their coach, who can then discuss with the safeties and agree on what happens under water and give the diver better peace of mind knowing precisely what will happen. If nothing was requested, we would meet divers with targets swallower than 60 meters at 20 meters and the rest at 30 meters with grouper calls and no depth signals on the way up.
To summarize the experience of being a safety in Roatan can be done by me already wanting to book my ticket again for next year. Esteban had a dream about having a comp in Roatan and he carried this out very well and put so much heart into this which was felt in all aspects of the competition. The personal touch of inviting us all back to his place for a dinner on the beach, the tremendous energy level he always displayed and the huge hugs we all got on the final day set the stage for a great comp. Roatan is a great place for a comp, with great accommodations, lots of water taxis and dive boats, a beautiful beach and very friendly people always willing to help. This was a great competition and think it will be even better next year.
Thanks to Esteban for making this happen and to all the volunteers we got to hang out with every day
One of the safety divers