Job Profile: Deep Support Diver
Ahmed Gabr wants to smash the world record for the deepest scuba dive. Jenny Lord, one of his deep support divers, talks about the challenge of handling 30 stages of different gas mixes and 'Killer Tomatoes'
I’ve been part of the support team helping Ahmed train for his world record 350m dive since January. During that time, I’ve seen the team grow from a couple of people, to more than 20 support divers, surface co-ordinators, event managers, planners, gas blenders, photographers, and doctors.
I’m an advanced trimix diver, and have been diving for six years. When I first went along to help out, it was just to ‘take a couple of photos’. The initial dives at H2O were all done at the Blue Hole with just three people, starting off with shallow (100m max) ones inside the hole, moving slowly deeper over time. We started off with twelve litre twinsets and stages, slowly moving to fifteen litre twins as the dives got deeper and needed more gas, before putting together a set of training quads - four twelve litre tanks, with the centre two manifolded together. These were to get used to using quads, and to build up to the huge 20 litre quad set that Ahmed will be using on the day. The four, twenty litre tanks weigh around 94kgs, along with that he also has a 12l aluminium cylinder mounted behind them for suit and wing inflation. He needs these in order to carry the huge amount of gas that will be required to get him down to 350m, and then back up to the first support diver.
The support diver’s main job is to carry the extra stages that Ahmed will need. Once he starts to get shallower, he will be swapping gas mixes in order to start off gassing. In total he will use around 30 stages filled with various different gas mixes to complete the dive.
When we started training, we used a freedive buoy to support the line that Ahmed will be ascending up. We had one heart stopping moment when a freediver started tugging on the line to tell us to get off it, before he got some very energetic gesticulation from me to indicate that we’d put this line in for us to train on, and he should stop pulling as it would affect our deco! He quickly moved on, and was nowhere to be seen by the time we surfaced. The freedive buoy worked well for the shallower dives, but as the training got deeper we needed to move to the outside of the Blue Hole where the ground drops away to several hundred metres. This brought in a new challenge of how to support the rope, with the extra weight that was needed on it to keep it straight. That was how ‘The Pyramid’ was born - a giant floating metal structure, supported by large jerry cans. This has evolved over time, mainly thanks to Frank and his fantastic welding skills. We nearly lost the whole pyramid before he modified it, when the old welds gave way under load and the jerry cans all popped out! Luckily it was rescued, and now is used on all the training dives.
We also now have the deco ladder - a huge structure of pipe and ropes that will give Ahmed a place to rest on each of his long shallow deco stops. This is attached to the pyramid, and supported by four big red buoys, affectionately known as the ‘Killer Tomatoes’.
Our final dive at the Blue Hole was a 220m dive, just off the main wall on the outside of the hole. This involved the whole team, which had now swelled to seven support divers, a surface co-ordinator and various other helpers (including my dad, who’d come over on holiday and got roped into helping out!).
The dive went very smoothly, until at the 9m mark, when the mooring line that we’d tied on to snapped. This was the first test of our emergency response plan. An SMB went up - the sign that assistance was needed. Immediately, divers were in the water, making their way over to the pyramid. As soon as it was clear that everyone underwater was okay, a plan was made to drag the enormous deco ladder in closer to the shore, where we could tie it off. This was done with the help of two DPVs that had been brought along in case of emergency. The rest of the dive went as planned, and Ahmed surfaced after over 7½ hours, a little cold and tired, but happy.
Since then, we’ve been doing all the dives off the boat as this is where the attempt will be happening. Frank and Dan are experts at deploying the pyramid, line and deco ladder, and the job that used to take Jaimie and I three hours now takes them less than thirty minutes. All the team are comfortable carrying multiple stages, and have got used to diving with Ahmed, particularly his party trick of taking his reg out and examining it for a minute or two before putting it back in (he can hold his breath for 5 minutes!). The hardest job of the day now is pulling the line back up, as it has quite a bit of weight on the bottom to keep it hanging straight. Every day that we’ve been out on the boat has been windy, which has been good training for us, as we don’t know what the weather will decide to do on the day.
We’ve also got a lot smoother at getting everything ready for each dive, not an easy task considering how much equipment is involved. Each stage has to be filled, tested and labelled according to a strict labelling system which shows who is using each stage, what is in it, and how deep it can be breathed. All the deco ladder, pyramid and line fixings have to be packed, along with the killer tomatoes. And finally, everyone has to make sure they have their own dive gear, as Oli, surface co-odinator, keeps reminding us that 'I am not your mother'!
So, from going along to ‘take a few photos’, I now find myself as second deep support diver, meeting Ahmed as he returns from what will hopefully be the deepest ever dive. It’s been a pleasure and a privilege to be part of such an amazing event.
For more information vistitwww.h2odiversdahab.com/world-record
To support Ahmed and his team please go to http://gogetfunding.com/project/the-worlds-deepest-dive-350m