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Diving with the world record holder

FB IMG 1458481059260Daniel Sammut. All photos: Stephan Stafrace

 

 

'You're going diving!' my editor shouted at me.

'Oh yes ?.' I tried to sound nonchalant as images of five star resorts in the Maldives floated before my eyes.

'Yes. With the world record holder for cold water diving'.

Uh oh. 'Are you sure I'm the right person for that ? What about Dave? Or one of the techies?'

'No. It's you. Get your stuff together.'

For a brief moment, I imagined some Godforsaken lake, deep in the Arctic circle, surrounded by polar bears. But then I discovered to qualify as 'cold', the water has only to be below 15°C. And secondly, the world record holder is Maltese. So I would be diving in my backyard.

The dive itself was commemorative. It was a year, to the day, since Daniel Sammut, 25, had broken the world record for the longest cold water dive (13 hours 42 minutes on 19 March 2015) and he and 8 of his 25-man team were reuniting to celebrate. My instructions were to be at the Cirkewwa dive site, at 8.30am prompt, to dive with them.

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Cirkewwa is a strange dive site. It is at the very north-west tip of the island, right next to the ferry terminal. On the surface it looks like... well, a ferry terminal, but underwater it is an extremely beautiful place.

I arrived at 8.45am (I know, I know...). Daniel and his team were almost ready to jump and I had to rush a little to catch up with them.

As I hastily put my equipment together I cast an eye over the team. The first thing that struck me was how young they all were. Perhaps that says something about me, but I suspect as well that record breaking is a young man's game.

The second thing I noticed was the quiet efficiency. There was no rush, no shouting, none of the competing egos that can sometimes mar a dive. They all went quietly about their business, helping one another when help was needed. If rush or impetus was required, and sometimes it is in any serious endeavour, a big moustachioed seargent-major figure, called Patrick, provided it (why do they always have moustaches?).

Daniel himself is similarly quiet in his temperament. I had expected to be dealing with a bit of a braggart. You know the type, they think Andy McNab writes literature. But Daniel Sammut is a quietly intelligent young man who is full of modesty about their achievement. He claimed that the logistics and planning for the record attempt were, in many ways, more difficult than the actual dive. He even implied, the young fool, that I might have been capable of it.

Nor is he unduly worried that someone might take the record from him. At times, in fact, it almost seems as though he would welcome it if someone did. And he has no plans to try and reclaim it when it is eventually broken again.

His biggest challenge in the water was the cold. As he puts it: 'There is a good reason why the equivalent warm water record stands at 72 hours while the cold water one only stands at just over 13 hours. More preparation and equipment is needed, not to mention the amount of will power required not to just surface and go and relax next to a warm fireplace.'

His most emotional moment?

'At the point when I broke the record. At 12 hours 34 minutes a number of my team came down to congratulate me. Even though I am not an emotional person by nature, I couldn't help but breakdown and bawl my eyes out. All the emotions, the stress and effort of the previous months, came out at that moment. I had done it, thanks to all those who had helped and supported me.'

On the commemorative dive one year later Daniel, his team and I managed a 40 minute dive in water of 16°C. Long enough for me, thank you very much. But if you are reading this and you are beginning to have designs on his record, Daniel has these words of advice: 'With hard work and with the help of true friends, anything is possible.'

And, when you see him, with his team, you start to believe it.

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