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My Freediving Story...

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Alun

Well-Known Member
Oct 5, 2001
763
83
118
I enjoy reading about other people's experiences of freediving, mainly because I've only ever freedived with a very small group of people, almost exclusively in one place, so it's always interesting to learn about what freediving means to others. I had a good day of freediving today, so I thought I'd share with you a day in my life as a freediver!...

[Please excuse any grammatical, typographical or spelling errors! English is my second language - this is my excuse!]

Today I was diving with another DB member (bam bam), whose real name is Sam. He is a university student from England and a natural freediver. We were going to dive in North Wales, as we usually do once a week. The site is called Dorothea, a flooded slate quarry which dates back nearly 200 years. It was named after the owner's wife. These days, it is treated essentially as common ground. There are some legal issues over ownership that I'm not even going to begin to explain! Until about 1970 it was one enormous hole in the ground. Once the pumps were finally shut down, the water level rose to match the local water table, leaving a 110m deep puddle in the middle of Snowdonia National Park. To set the scene, it is situated amongst some large hills, and visible from mount Snowdon, the highest peak in England and Wales. The drive in takes you along a rough track that winds its way between vast slate waste tips which cover acres of land. In fact, the slate tips are so large they almost completely form the horizon whilst within the quarry complex.

When you finally arrive at the site, you drive along the edge of a 25m high cliff , below which lies 40m of water. Welcome to the 'shallow end'. To give you an impression of the size, it is roughly 400m in diameter and about 1 mile in circumference. All around you see huge mounds of broken waste slate, derelict buildings, and wooded areas. Usually it's very quiet and extremely atmospheric. Some people describe the place as being quite eery. The silence is only broken by wind blowing in the trees and ravens calling from above. More often than not, the weather is atrocious, with rain and wind being blown in from the Irish sea. Occasionally, during the summer months, the sunshine makes it seem rather pleasant, but still intimidating nonetheless.

At the impromtu parking area, situated at the natural ground level, you look down into the quarry. The water level lies about 20m below the natural ground level, and the quarry is virtually surrounded by sheer cliffs, some of which are over 90m in height from ground level to the quarry bottom. An extremely steep track leads down to the water's edge.

Today the weather was cold and gloomy, but it wasn't raining and we were very happy about this because there is absolutely no shelter from the wind or rain. Ah, God loves the infantry! Lately, I have been changing into my farmer-johns before leaving the house because I live nearby, but Sam didn't have this option since he had to endure a 3 hour early morning train journey over from England. Unfortunately, the water temperature had dropped by 2 degrees within a week, due to some very cold weather, leaving us with a surface temperature of 6 degrees. There was no two ways about it - this was going to hurt!...

We talked over our plans for the day and in the end decided to do some recreational freediving, rather than training for depth as we usually do. Sam only has a 5mm Picasso suit, and is now beginning to feel the cold, more than myself in my 7mm Picasso. We thought that it would make a nice change - to explore new places in the quarry. Having got changed, we made our way down the water's edge, put on our monofins, and gently slipped into the 6 degree water.

The first port of call was the '40m ledge'. This point is close to the centre of the quarry and is often used by technical divers to help them navigate their way to the bottom at 110m. I have many old photos of the ledge taken when the quarry was dry, but have never actually dived to that point before, so I thought it would be interesting to dive down and compare what I saw with the photos.

Having reached the position of the 40m ledge Sam had a problem with his Sphera mask, and had to spend over 5mins taking it apart and putting it together again. Something that he could only manage without his gloves on! Having a major mask leak in those conditions didn't bear thinking about, so he made sure that it was ok before putting it on again. Once Sam was happy we began our warm-ups, consisting of only 2 empty lung dives to 10m. Usually we spend more time warming up for deep dives, but considering the temperature, we felt that we just wanted to get going. Sam dived first and reached the 40m ledge, only to find that someone had placed a sign indicating the depth. It was a 40mph highway speed limit sign!!

On the way down to meet Sam, I could see that the visibility was rather good, for Dorothea. The water is green in colour and generally very clear. With depth, the green colour fades slowly darker and beyond 60m becomes the deepest black imaginable. Now it was my turn to visit the ledge! I made my way down with slow monofin strokes, and looked down at 30m to see the ledge coming into view 10m below me. Even at that depth, it was very clear, and oversaw a vast area as I sank down. At the bottom, I looked around in search for a small slate hut I had seen in the photos, but failed to find it in the gloom. Had the sun been shining, perhaps the light penetration would have been sufficiently strong to allow me to find the hut. But as it was another overcast day in North Wales, it was not to be.

The hut was used as shelter by the workmen during their lunch breaks and as blast houses to protect themselves from dynamite blasts. There are a number of such huts scattered around underwater. When viewing these structures, you a reminded of the hard work the quarrymen endured everyday. Each piece of slate was ultimately handled by hand, in all weathers. The work was extremely dangerous and many died from falling debris, and even more from lung diseases in their old age, including my grandfather who worked in the slate industry as a young man before the first world war broke out.

It was time to ascent. During my first few strokes I felt heavier than expected, and only then realised that I forgot to pack, as I usually do for dives over about 35m, but it was no big deal. I was met by Sam at 15m, and we broke the surface together back into the cold winter air. We briefly discussed what we had seen and I visualised what I saw in relation to the old photographs. Sam dived to the ledge once again, and also failed to see the hut. I began my second dive to the ledge to resume my search for the hut, and looked out for a railway track that I had also seen in the photos. Unable to find neither, I again began my ascent, feeling lighter this time, as I had remembered to pack a little before diving.

continued....
 
Last edited:

Alun

Well-Known Member
Oct 5, 2001
763
83
118
My Freediving Story (part 2)

continued......

Having undertaken a preliminary exploration of the ledge, we then decided to visit an underwater tunnel. Dorothea quarry began life as five separate quarries. As they grew, the boundaries between them became narrower and narrower. Eventually it grew into one large quarry, but the boundaries remain to a degree. Tunnels were dug between them to allow water to drain down from one to the other, and presumably to allow easier access for the quarrymen. The water would eventually drain into one quarry where the water was pumped out by an enormous steam engined pump, which is now a 'listed building' (protected). There are a number of tunnels around the quarry ranging in depth. Unfortunately, only one or two are realisitically accessible to freedivers. The deepest is situated at around 88m - beyond the reach of elite freedivers, unless diving with 2 no-limits sleds, but that's getting silly! The tunnel that we were swimming to was at a much more modest depth - 20m! On one side of the quarry, a thin peninsula reaches out into the quarry, through which the 20m tunnel runs. I decided to lead the dive, and therefore it was my responsibility to do 'the hand thing', whereby I hold up my hand to indicate 5 breaths to Sam. This is our way to countdown our preparation in order to begin the dive together. This is an easy dive, and so we are comfortable about doing it together.

5-4-3-2-1.... I dived facing the sheer slate wall of the quarry, which is lightly covered with a strange sandy substance. Each stroke pushes water against the wall, and washes off the sandy stuff in big clouds, and unfortuantely tends to ruin the visibility! After a few strokes I looked down to find the entrance of the tunnel at around 20-22m, rolled through 180 degrees and began the swim through. Naturally, it is very dark inside the 2m diameter tunnel, so my Q40 mask light made a big difference. The tunnel is wide enough to stroke with a monofin, but care is needed not to knock any pieces of slate. Having reached the end of the 10m tunnel, I turned to watch Sam following me, and we ascend the other side under the overhanging branches of a tree. Sam later told how he looked up from the tunnel exit 20m down and could clearly see the tree branches above the green water.

Now it was Sam's turn to take the lead and do 'the hand thing', and we began the return leg of the journey. This time, before I entered the tunnel, I looked down towards my feet to see the tree branches silhouetted above me. It was quite a sight. Again, I entered the tunnel, and swam slowly, scanning the floor with my Q40 in search for anything of special interest. Having surfaced the other side once more, we wondered where to dive next. By now we had been in the water for an hour and were feeling quite chilled, but not enough to warrant an end to the day's diving! I suggested that we visit 'the crane'....

This was a site that I had seen using scuba gear once before and always wanted to go there freediving, but never got round to it. We began our 200m surface swim over to the other side of the quarry, which is located in a fairly dark enclosed corner. Perhaps for that reason Sam remarked that he didn't like this area much. I decided to dive first since I had a rough idea of what was down there, and so began my preparation next to a buoy which marked the position of the crane 35m below. The water seemed a little darker and murkier as I descended, but once I reached 30m, I looked down and everything slowly came into view... At the bottom I found what I had remembered from my narcotic scuba dive a few months earlier. There lied a 10m long arm of a crane and one of dozens of cars to be found in the quarry- mostly deposited by bored local youths! I didn't stay long at the bottom since I was now feeling quite cold. Ascending from the bottom, I was in a world of my own and totally in my element. I reached the surface all too quickly for my liking, as it's usually my favourite part of the dive. Having described the local conditions and what I found there, Sam felt more comfortable about the location and went to take a look for himself. On my second dive, I found what seemed to be an old engine, perhaps part of the crane workings or an old tractor, and once again savoured what was probably going to be my last dive of the day. Once Sam had finished his second dive to the crane, we realised that we had been in the water for over 90mins, and decided that we had better call it a day.

By now my feet were frozen solid and could barely feel anything. My body was getting rather cold too, and could only imagine how cold Sam was in his 5mm suit! On the way back to the edge we passed another piece of machinery sitatued in 9m, clearly visible from the surface. Did we have enough energy and motivation for one more dive? Of course we did! So we dived one last time.

Unfortunately, today I had forgotten to take my variable weight diving gear down to the water. Sometimes I like to do classical variable weight dives, as Haggi Statti did many years ago. This is done by swmming over to one of the submerged slate tips and choosing a piece of slate of the correct weight. Heavy enough to make you just negative at the surface with a full breath. This is then suspended under a small buoy, and taken over the a corner of the quarry that is about 40-42m deep. The dive simply involves detaching the slate from the buoy and holding on for a free ride along the sheer cliff down to the bottom. In that corner it is exceptionally dark, even at 40m, so unfortunately, it is difficult to make out anything down there. Without the gear, we had to leave the variable dives for another day. (I do not recommend this type of diving unless you are an experienced and confident freediver with very good equalisation ability.)

On reaching the water's edge, we took off our monofins and made our way back up to the car. During the winter months I often measure my core temperature with a thermometer to help me correlate acutal core temperature with the intensity of cold that I feel. It read 33 degrees, which is pretty much what I expected to see. Sam tried to take a reading, but the digital thermometer failed to give a numerical reading for about 20mins. The only reading was an 'L' indicating 32 or below! Although neither of us experienced symptoms of hypothermia, we accepted that we had probably 'pushed the envelope' somewhat that day, so we decided to limit our in-water times to 90mins in these conditions. We finally summoned the courage to take off our jackets out in the open air, and hurridly whipped on our clothes and shoes.

All in all, a good day was had by all. So there you have it... recreational freediving under extreme condtions... UK style! This story pretty much sums up what freediving means to us in our corner of the world.

[Some photos of Dorothea can be viewed within the AIDAUK yahoo group if you're curious - see my www link. You have to subscribe in order to view them. But you can always unsubscribe afterwards once you've seen them.]
 
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efattah

Well-Known Member
Mar 2, 2001
3,294
487
173
Nice Story

Alun,

Nice story! The conditions sound very familiar. Very impressive that you guys can dive deep with only such a short warm up.

Concerning the core temperature, I have measured my oral temp after extreme conditions, and I find the values completely meaningless. For example, when shivering violently sometimes my oral temp will be more than when I'm warm and calm. This is probably the reason that researchers use 'rectal temp' (!) I do know that the average joe loses consciousness around 33C core temp (first, shivering becomes violent, then shivering stops and unconsciousness soon follows). I know that shivering begins between 35.0C and 36.0C (36.0C = average joe's shivering temp, 35.5C = marathon runner, 35.0C = australian aboriginal who sleeps outside).

Eric Fattah
BC, Canada
 

Alun

Well-Known Member
Oct 5, 2001
763
83
118
Thanks

I have read somewhere that oral temperature tends to be about a degree lower than the true (rectal!) core temperature. So I was probably around 34oC in actual fact. The other possible factor is that when diving I do allow water to enter my mouth, usually at the surface, and this is bound to 'artifically' cool the mouth even further.

I've read that people who are climatized to cold begin to shiver at a lower body temperature than those who aren't acclimatized. Instead of shivering their bodies secrete norepinephrine which increases metabolic heat production to compensate. Presumably, this process generates heat more efficiently than shivering at low body temperatures. I'm sure there must be an element of mental adaptation too.

My ideal surface temperature for deep diving is around 16-18oC, where I feel cool, but not cold, and very low temperature at depth (4-5oC). I suppose it all boils down to what you're used to.

I think our dive reflexes must be stimulated very strongly by the cold water, and by the empty lung dives. That's my explanation for not needing much warm-up?


alun
 

ivan

looking for deeper water
Jan 26, 2002
1,503
48
0
hi

I dont understand why it is that the best freedivers dive in the worst conditions eg 6 degree water poor vis etc. Mate if you are diving 40m in those trash conditions I recon you would be doing 50m recreational here in 28 degree celcius over 100ft vis. I dive in these conditions and im still crap imagine how poor I would be in your water. I don't generally dive if the water gets below 23 degrees celcius. The rule is the best freedivers come from the cold dark waters.

cheers
 
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Ben Gowland

Aplysia gowlandicus
Apr 4, 2002
365
41
118
44
Cold water fun

We do it because we don't have a choice!

Or the money to zip abroad every weekend.

From my experience, diving in cold water is only harder because I wear a thicker suit. In the summer we wear suits akin to those used in warmer mediteranean water and end up doing the same depths that we can do in warm water. Having said that, this is only my experience and I have never had the chance to do any really serious training abroad - the most I had was 5 days in Ibiza.

Ben brrrrrrrr.....
 

Alun

Well-Known Member
Oct 5, 2001
763
83
118
You may think it's cold here, but Scandinavian divers probably think our waters are tropical in comparison! It's all relative in the end, and you just get used to the conditions wherever you live/dive.

As you gathered from the story, I dive in freshwater. On the few occasions I've dived in the sea I found it strange having to get used to waves, and even the salt water taste in my mouth.

Cold water isn't necessarily that bad, as long as you're not feeling really cold, ie. shivering badly. As I said before, I think it gives you a stronger dive reflex, which is a good thing. Dark water can be a good thing also, because you lose your sense of depth. This helps (me, anyway) on a psychological level. Of course, it may work in the opposite way for those who are used to good viz, because they like to see where they're going.

To be honest, I think the deepest dives I'll ever do will be right here in the UK (during the summer months!). A 7-day trip abroad just wouldn't give me enough time to adjust.


alun
 

ivan

looking for deeper water
Jan 26, 2002
1,503
48
0
hi

Impressive I guess we are suited to our life time conditions. I once dived in a lake with 1m vis I dont think I could dive deeper than 8m cause it was dark and scary.

cheers
 

Bindlestitch

New Member
Dec 18, 2002
100
13
0
46
Great story Alun! I enjoyed it. It reminds me of some of the quarries here in Missouri.
Thanks for sharing!
 
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