by / Thursday, 17 September 2015 / Published in DAHAB, GUESTS, MARINE LIFE, NEWS, PADI, SAFETY, SPECIALTY, TEC DIVING

Whoosh… a year has gone by. Remember what I’m talking about? That’s right, pat on the back for you. It has been one year since Team #WorldRecord350 helped Ahmed Gabr to break the world record for the deepest diver at 332.35m.

Here’s a blog by Oli about the day itself:

The 18th September 2014 was the most exhilarating and stressful day off my life.

As the Surface Support Officer for Ahmed Gabr’s Guinness world record dive, it was my responsibility to run the day and make sure everyone was in the water at the right time with the correct gases for them as well as any other stages of equipment they needed for other divers. The dive was almost 14 hours long and the logistics had to be planned out minute by minute to do this successfully.

My involvement in the team started about 5 months ago when I was approached by H2O to help out and conduct the surface support for Ahmed’s training dives. I broke my patella earlier in the year so couldn’t be a support diver but wanted to get involved so jumped at the chance. It turned out to be a blessing in disguise as instead of focusing on doing training dives myself, I became very involved in the planning and organisation of the dives. This gave people more time to deal with planning of the big dive. This was at a time when the team was growing and the amount of equipment needed was too!

The training dives leading up to the big day were just as important for the team as they were for Ahmed Gabr because it allowed us to try out and perfect systems and protocols which were critical to a successful outcome. We learnt a massive amount on those dives from how to tow the deco ladder with the DPV’s and how to remove Ahmed’s quad system and replace it with an X-Deep sidemount unit to the best way of handing over leashes of tanks from a boat without losing them.

I’m a bit of a geek and created a spreadsheet which contained the plans, gases breathed, a carry roster for each diver and a runtime sheet to run the dive. We developed a labeling system for the stages so everyone knew who the tank was for, what mix of had was in it, who would carry it and where it would be which worked well and with Jaimie’s attention to detail in labeling it worked perfectly.

For a training dive, I would normally get the plan from Jaimie earlier in the week and create the paperwork needed for the dive including blending and labeling everything correctly as well as laminated plans of Ahmed’s dive for each diver. The last thing to do was create the dive runtime which was an amalgamation of everything happening in the dive into one document to run the dive from. Jenny would then double check it. I would then make sure everything needed for the dive was prepared and ready for the day. We always had a briefing the day before were I would go over the logistics and organising of the day and we would talk about any dive specifics with the whole team.

As the Surface Support Officer, during the day of a dive my role was to make sure everything was were it should be at any given time. This is not so easy when you are staring at the water unable to know exactly what is happening underwater! You have to just trust in the system and get any communications from divers exiting the water.

We developed a system of giving people a 25 minute warning before they needed to descend, but this actually meant they needed to be in the water in 15 minutes and ready to descend with 2 minutes to go. I also developed a long distance sign for one minute which involved me holding my hand in the air which the team liked to remind me about! Other dive specific hand signals and protocols needed came out of in depth debriefs the day after the dives.

The planning grew dramatically as we went from a dive with maybe 30 cylinders to one with about 150 and from 3 hours to almost 14 hours.

I started focusing my attention on the main plan once they had developed Ahmed’s plan and Jaimie had planned the support dives and stage rotations around that. Our planning and paperwork trail for each dive had grown and now it was time to refine and perfect it for the 18th September. As the dive was so long I decided we needed a timeline minute by minute to be able to visualise the dive and make sure timings were correct so I made the MOAT or Mother of All Timelines. This beast was 15 pages long and stretched across the back of the planning room! It was extremely useful in making sure that there was sufficient overlap of divers with Ahmed, enough surface interval between dives and enough (correct) gas for everyone. As always there was Jenny to double check everything which meant a couple of mornings of head scratching for both of us as we checked everything. I ended up dreaming timelines!

By the time it was time to load the trucks and head off to load the boat on the 17th, the support diver team had grown to 15 people and we had approximately 150 scuba cylinders for the dive. We also had numerous specialised pieces of equipment – the deco ladder, the pyramid, a specially designed weight to keep the line straight and all of Ahmed’s personal dive gear including the quad system of 4x20l steel tanks.

Fitting all of this on the two boats was a challenge in itself and although we managed to fit it on, by the end of the day, everything was everywhere. Just like returning home from holiday, how did it all fit on the way out?

Waking up on the day at 03:30 on the 18th with very little sleep after preparing the boats was a strange experience- all the training and planning came down to the next 18 hours. The day before had been an absolute flat calm day and so we were hoping for the same but unfortunately that was not to be the case. This had been the same during all the training- every Friday we dived it was windy, but Thursday was calm. Now it was Thursday and Wednesday was calm!

The plan for the dive was for both boats to moor together with the pyramid and deco ladder behind the boats, however after taking to captain Karim of the Aeolus, it was obvious this was not going to be possible to begin with. The pyramid would have to free float with the Aeolus nearby and the Ghazala 6 moving around as needed. It also meant most of the drops for the divers had to be done by Zodiac. This was a complete change of plan and meant coordinating both boats and divers via handheld radio. A much more complicated undertaking as the first five deep support divers were on the Aeolus while the deco ladder team and other support divers were on the Ghazala 6.

Once the pyramid and world record line watched like a hawk by Talal Omar of Guinness World Records was put in and Ahmed was ready my job really started. Ahmed was taken out to the pyramid and we coordinated between boats so that when he dropped the stopwatches on each boat were synchronised. The deco ladder was deployed by Frank and Dan and we waited until Jaimie descended 40 minutes later to meet Ahmed at 110 metres. The next twenty minutes were probably the most hectic of the dive. Jenny was due to descend, Alex was getting ready to go in while Catherine and Brian were preparing to put out the first four deep support deco gases on the ladder from the Ghazala 6. But we all had in our mind that we were waiting for an SMB from Jaimie to let us know Ahmed’s status. Suddenly it appeared at the surface and Sam picked it up in one of the Zodiacs. I can still see the good news slate sailing through the air as Sam picked it up and shouted that Ahmed had done it!

At this point I’d just like to apologise to all the support team that I might have snapped at during training or on the day. I did run the boat a bit like a military operation and if I upset you sorry! Even when the SMB did come to the surface, all I could think of was the runtime and don’t make anyone late by picking it up!

The first 5 1/2 hours were always going to be the most stressful for me as all the support divers went in and out including multiple dives for the deco ladder team of Frank, Dan, Brian and Catherine taking down about 30 stages for everyone and removing the same in empties. Regulators and stage rigging had to be swapped over, water and food taken down for Ahmed and all using the Zodiacs.

The last task of this phase the dive was the quad removal. This involved teams from both boats deploying at the same time, meeting at the pyramid and dropping as a 4 diver team with all the bits and pieces required. The plan was to remove Ahmed’s heavy 4x20l steel cylinders and replace them with the X Deep unit for comfort and better circulation as we had seen how tiring wearing the quads for 8 hours was on a training dive. The quad team (Jaimie, Dan, Brian, Catherine and Khalid) had practiced this numerous times and were prepared for Ahmed to be pretty tired at this point. What they weren’t expecting is for him to shrug them off like a jacket! Dan hardly had time to the line to the surface to remove the quads safely.

About 5 hours into the dive, the wind died down as it often does in the afternoon here and once the quad team had deployed we were able to moor the boats together. This period of calm was absolutely vital for us as it gave us all a chance to breath, eat and rest. At this point, I was on the Ghazala 6 and when the boats were moored and I saw the quads come back on board the Aeolus I breathed a sigh of relief. I looked at my watch, saw the time had hit 5 1/2 hours and had to go to the bow of the boat for a moment to catch my breath. On returning to the dive deck, I was sent to bed kicking and screaming by Dan, but not before I put the runtime up on the TV for all to see the saloon so the sponsors and witnesses had an idea of what was happening in dive. I feel asleep almost immediately without thinking dive- something that hadn’t happened in months. Looking back, I needed that also as I’d been on my feet for 32 hours with very little sleep!

I awoke a couple of hours later and the boat was calm and people were eating. I ate then went out onto the dive deck were I found they’d disconnected the deco ladder from the pyramid and towed it to the back of the Aeolus. I wish I’d seen it happen as it really is proof that our training dive and experiences had been of use.

The last 6 or so hours of the dive should have been easy now. As Ahmed’s deco stops became shallower, so did the support divers’ dives and the interval between then became longer so things slowed down but Mother Nature decided we’d had it too easy. The wind picked up and we had to unmoor the boats for safety as night descended on us.

Frank and Dan spent the last the hours holding the deco ladder by hand and moving it every ten minutes or so as the boat moved in the wind for the safety of Ahmed and the support divers so it didn’t get stuck under the dive deck. I really felt for the last few divers at 6 and 3 metres with Ahmed as they had a real work-out under the water, dealing with empty cylinders, switching from oxygen and back for air breaks a strong current and some pretty wavy conditions! Sameh and Khalid both came out with Ahmed, and both looked more tired than Ahmed when he got out!

Watching Ahmed climb out of the water and only minutes later chatting to the witnesses and official Guinness adjudicator is a testament to the whole team and to what an amazing human specimen Ahmed is. It was the proudest moment of my life so far and I feel very privileged to have been a part of it.

Now what’s happening next year?! – Jenny’s starting all over again 😀