Vertical Blue 2012: Dean’s Black Hole

CWT -94m: finning out of the gloom

I’d made plans for Vertical Blue 2012 early in the year. My training partner (Will Winram) and I were going to train Constant No Fins (CNF): with zero current, Dean’s Blue Hole is perfect for it. With two AIDA World Championship silver medals in CNF, Will’s the perfect person to train no fins with: he’s an expert on training and technique.
But sometimes even good plans go out the window. In August a film project landed in Will’s lap, and he had to back out of VB. My first reaction was to back out too, and go as a safety diver: that would leave me more free time to spearfish. Will talked me into staying in the comp (and doing constant weight), and in hindsight, this was a good idea. Since I didn’t plan on doing CNF, I didn’t bring my light neck weight. In hindsight, this was not a good idea (more on that later).
Had I been looking for omens for VB, they may not have been good. In addition to losing my training partner, Hurricane Sandy hit the Bahamas in late October, and then devastated the U.S. East Coast. My family (in Rhode Island) were spared the brunt of the storm (I was glad to be with them when Sandy made landfall), but New York was hit hard, leaving friends and their families without power and transportation. Long Island (Bahamas) avoided serious damage, but suffered a barrage of insects: kamikaze mosquitos, which even flew down our snorkels offshore; scorpions, showing up in odd places (in my yoga mat, and in other divers’ wetsuits and beds).

CNF descent

But as soon as I started training, I was glad I came. Dean’s Blue Hole is magnificent: the size of an Olympic swimming pool (about 50 yards or meters across), it plunges over 200m (650 feet) straight downward. Sheltered by a headland and reef, Dean’s is free of waves and current that can make deep diving difficult or impossible (more pix of Dean’s are on the “Photos and Videos” page). Vertical Blue is an extraordinary competition: with over 50 of the world’s best freedivers, it’s a chance to catch up with old friends and meet new ones. In addition to Will Trubridge (our host), Guillaume Nery, Alexey Molchanov, Ant Williams, Morgan Bourc’his, Simon Bennett, Ashley Futral Chapman and Alena Zabloudilova were competing. I met others for the first time: Miguel Lozano from Barcelona, and Alfredo Roen from the Canary Islands. Miguel and I hit it off from the start (both being Barcelona football fans), and Alfredo and I did some serious spearfishing (his roommate Simon egging us on to spear instead of train).
Dean’s Blue Hole does have a dark side. In fall and winter, wind and groundswell stir up sand, and tides bring it into the blue hole. This causes poor visibility at the surface, and darkness at depth: not low light, where it’s hard to read your gauge, but pitch black, where you can’t see your hand passing in front of your eyes. That can be creepy. At Vertical Blue, Dean’s was mainly black: complete darkness, pierced only by the lights of the bottom cameras, eerie beacons looming out of the depth.
So into the darkness we dove. I announced free immersion for Day 1, and set a new U.S. record of -87m (285 feet). On Day 2 the darkness got me: I had problems equalizing, and with the lights seeming far below, I turned early. When I got to the surface my gauge read 88m: I’d been only 5m (15 feet) above the plate. I was disappointed, but on my next dive did an easy -94m (308 feet) constant weight, for a second U.S. record.
For the last comp days, I planned another free immersion or constant weight attempt, but a look at the overall standings got me thinking. Guillaume and Morgan seemed focused on the AIDA ranking list, rather than a medal at VB: a decent no fins dive might get me onto the podium. There were only two problems. First, my no fins neck weight was in France: the weight I brought—2+kg (5 pounds) —is too heavy for CNF. Second, I hadn’t done a no fins dive in over a year (since the 2011 world championships in Kalamata): unless your name is Herbert, a deep no fins dive with no training is a bad idea. So I skyped Winram: how deep should I announce with no training? How deep could I go without the lactic acid buildup (guaranteed in CNF) leading me to bail out and pull up the line?

White card: into the medals

We settled on 56m, which was a good call. Using a weight belt for the first (and hopefully last) time in competition, I finished easily, but the lactic build up was distracting. Only practice gets you over that mental hurdle. Could I have done 60m? Sure. Could I have done 70m that day? I’m glad I didn’t need to find out. It was enough for third place overall, at the largest individual competition of the year. Not bad for Plan B.
Making the podium at VB is something I won’t soon forget, as are many other charms of Long Island: boat trips to offshore reefs, morning swims in the sea, fresh fish (Thanksgiving dinner of mutton snapper and grouper cooked by the French team—Guillaume, Morgan, Chloé and Remy—was extraordinary), and a spontaneous house warming party at William and Brittany’s in early December. All the more reason to hurry back to Long Island!