Nine weeks after finishing Anui’s maintenance at the Boat Works, we are still on the Gold Coast. So much waiting and rain… and you know how much we like that!
We have used the time as best we could but overall it has been tedious. Things did not exactly go to plan. Why is it taking so long to get away? COVID, avoidance of cyclones, persistent wet and stormy weather, medical checks all combined to limit where we could go and to keep us in SE Queensland.
While hanging around, we have of course taken the opportunity to do some maintenance on Anui and on the crew! Winches greased, corroded TV aerial fiddled with and new one ordered, first COVID jab for Chris, skin checks and biopsies (all clear) and even a visit to the vet for Bengie for anti inflammatories as she is a bit arthritic…
We had just about made up our mind we’d leave next week but then Wade discovered fraudulent transactions on his credit card and we need to stay here until his replacement card arrives! So we keep waiting and waiting and waiting.
Training for free diving has been a good way of using the time but here too we have had delays. The last part of the course is the ocean session during which you gradually dive down to 20 meters and practise rescues, but it requires a calm day without swell. With the bad weather conditions it has been cancelled several times. After a week of 20-40 knot wind, bucketing rain, 3 to 4 meter swell out in the ocean we are hoping the conditions improve and we can finish the course. It is excitement plus as we are booked on the dive boat for Saturday! If it does not happen we will leave without the certification and finish that off at the end of the year when we come back south.
The good thing is that with all the waiting, we have had time to practise and get the requirements of the program down pat: breath hold, underwater swims, duck dives, equalizing techniques, safety protocols. Much of this is done either at the pool or on board. Apnea training and learning a new equalisation technique can be done sitting on the couch or lying on the bed!
Is it all worth it? Definitely. Is it hard? Quite hard for Chris and not particularly pleasant for either of us! But we have improved a great deal. As with anything that puts your body through extremes, there are practical and mental learnings.
The most significant practical skill was learning the Frenzel equalisation technique. Most people equalise the pressure in their middle ears as they dive by pinching their nose and blowing, thus ‘popping’ their ears. This is called the Valsalva method. You do this snorkeling, you certainly use it scuba diving, when you are going down at a gentle angle or descend feet first at a slow pace. But Valsalva does not work with freediving because you go down head first, vertically and quickly while trying to conserve the limited air in your lungs. The Frenzel equalisation method teaches you to use your tongue and soft palate to direct the air in your mouth to your Eustachian tubes. It is a game changer for efficient and painless descents but it is a change of habit so takes time and practice.
On the mental side, it is the mind over body challenge that is remarkable: the emotional control to stay calm, resist natural urges and condition your body to deal with higher levels of CO2 and lower O2.
We have stretched our usual breath hold and diving depth boundaries well beyond what we could do before, but we are also very much aware that we are not youngsters nor are we particularly fit thus need to be very careful. There are increased risks with age and health conditions, so at the very least the course is teaching us how not to kill ourselves freediving!
A word of warning: if you wish to learn free-diving, ensure you take an accredited course for your own safety. And don’t assume that because you can scuba dive you can free dive; they use different techniques and safety protocols.
At least by the time we can escape, the cyclone season will be nearly over and we will be able to head off for our up and coming season at the reef. Can’t wait to put all that training to good use!