Sailing and freediving

Heading north from West indies in a 27foot sailboat, moving along the chain of islands called the lesser antilles aiming for the world championships in freediving on Long Island Bahamas in late november 2009.

Bought this boat with a friend and we (he) intends sailing it back to Sweden.

My purpose is to explore sailing life again, live on the boat during the world championships and get some training done while going there.

I have passed 40 years of age and training doesnt come that easy any more (never did actually). I have a personal best of 56 meters depth without fins, it was once a swedish record and gave me a 5th position in a world championship 2007. Now I want to get in shape and beat that.

Subject data::
Weight 72
Length 187
Resting heart rate 56
Vital Capacity 6.3 (5.9 when starting freediving)
Lung capacity 8.2 litres
HB (blood value) 145

Training philosophy: do as little as possible.

Diving history:
Started competitive freediving 1999
Prefer depth and all disciplines without fins.
Equalization problems at 14, 19, 27,33, 45, 60+
Like the feeling of depth and risk involved in freediving.
Have been selected for three WC´s, taken part in two.

The journey
I land on St. Vincent. Launch the boat after cleaning and anti fouling paint. From a boat neighbiur we buy two coats of commercial semi hard paint. Perfect. Same day as launch we head down to Bequia, a place I visited by boat 1989, 1992, 1997 and now 2009.

One would think that being on a boat in the west indies would leave lots of opportunities for freedive training. Land is scarce, water abundant. Clear warm water. And you the skipper can do what pleases you. Freshwater in the tanks, diesel filled up, bunked up with rice and heaps of cans of food and even a little fridge supplied by free energy from your solarcells. Noseclip on and and just fall over the side in your underwear, there might even be dolphins.

In short: Freedom.

That´s the fairy tale, the reality looks like this.
You the skipper is responsible for the safety of this 8 meter yacht, always keeping an eye on the weather, the violent squalls that might occur, the tradewind swell tossing you around, the salt and the heat, did I mention the heat, and the salt? Gnawing on everything onboard the relentless sun beating down. There is constantly 5-10 things that can be repaired. Is the engine overheating, is that gas connector corroded? Why isn´t the left solar panel charging, why is the oilpressure gauge not functioning, where the hell is that dripping water by the chart table coming from. Always a risk of falling overboard, of fire, of leakage in this 40 year old boat, sickness, theft and vile authorities attacking you with paperwork. If I just had some more freshwater to keep salt out of ears and hair, will we make landfall before dark, I thought I had a chart for this area.

Wow, great the sea is calm nearly calm, I could jump in and do some FRC´s (half lung dive training), but I just had 1 liter of porridge, what the heck, i´ll just do it, but there´s only 20 meter of continuous line, and it has never been straight so far, even just a light breeze pushes the boat enough to give the line 10 degrees.

So on this 5th day I just had the opportunity to do a couple of FRC´s and no goggle customization outside Bequia lighthouse. I hear the crackling of the reef at 20 meters. And today at the almost deserted island Monteserrat anchored over 7 meter sand, total empty lungs and 10 neg packs. Raised arms and push of from the sand bottom. Sun is setting got to check the anchor before the sudden darkness that just happens at 5.43 in this part of the world. Got to get some air blowing through that boat, even the nights are sweaty.

The young man on the photo with guitar in hand is the cook, safetydiver, deckhand, maintenance guy, and musician. He finished college some time ago and we are currently discussing other options to medical school (his mother wants him to sweat away for 7 years just to be confronted by a bunch of psychosomatic hypochondriacs). I think its a much better idea back-packing through Kazakhstan, into Mongolia, reaching China with his guitar on his back. Playing his way onwards, building up a nice cover repertoire that will make him big in Japan. He is related to Djingis Khan so genetically it makes sense to do a trip like that.

We clear out of St.Vincent and head for St.Lucia, but in the end when the wind dies, we decide to head out at sea and go for the nex island, french Martinique. We make it there before sunset the next day by motoring against the wind along the coast. We find a huge supermarket, a boat chandlery, but no officials to do the paperwork with. We carry onboard 50 kilos of provisions after paying with euro. Then we eat china food in the harbour, get a good nights sleep at anchor and leave before sunlight the next day.

I held my breath 5.43 in my bunk, skipped Guadalope passed its lights during a night sail. Tiredness can be felt as a pain in the body. And when approaching Monteserat the next day, the vulcano relieves a yellow foamy cloud of, well, what do vulcanos puke? Its a goast town ashore, the place is deserted, evacuated, the lava sweeped away half the houses in 1995, a police boat comes with men waiving there arms, get out.

And at last anchored at the end of the island. Ska music echoing from land and out to our anchorage, but we start of with system of down, moving on to Tracey Chapman. And if Bob only shot the sheriff, who shot the deputy?

I need to fix the inlet to the toilet and get that outboard going, but I need new sparkplugs. Probably not much diving tomorrow. Three random cans and rice makes dinner. Suntan goes from red to brown, but my ass is still white.

Tomorrow on to St Eustacius, my 60th country.

Saba one of the smallest inhabited islands in the West indies. Rising steep from the ocean floor. For many years not even a harbour, just a stony beach where goods had to be hoisted up the mountain side. Today a small windy harbour and an “airport” with the shortest runway ever seen. A peculiarity to this island is that they run a university specializing in a 5 year medical degree (if you can pay 7000 usd a term).

We anchor on the leeward side that never actually is in lee, they island is too small to shelter from the atlantic swell and the trade winds. High up on the mountainside we see houses. Below us we catch a glance of sandy bottom some 15 meters below our keel.

I decide to pull myself down along the anchor rope. We got 45 meters of line out. After only some 30 seconds I get the urge to breath and abandon the dive. I swim back to the boat and decide to warm up with CNF up and down to the bottom a couple of times. The bottom is at 18, I count my strokes down, trying to get a feel for my hydrodynamics. I release some air on the bottom and refrain from pushing of from the sand. I feel something resembling lactic acid in my thighs on the way up. Something is wrong.

I remember the beach last night on the previous island St. Kitts. I speed swam in and jogged 1000 meters back and forth on the beach, did 150 situps, 90 push-ups and that swam out to the boat where I attached myself to a shock cord and did 200 legkicks, and 200 breaststrokes. I dried on deck in the setting sun. feeling a rewarding tiredness in my small supply of of muscles.

The previous days session must be the reason for my bad apneic shape today. I decide upon that reason and here on Saba I switch to some empty lungs along a rope. On my third dive make it to 12 meters. Experiencing that brief altered state of consciousness, when being totally empty freefalling into silence and pressure. Thats enough, I decide on supper. Rice and cans as usual.

Doing a 5 minute breath hold in my bunk.

From now on easy sailing, I hope. We took a left turn at St.Marten and headed for BWI (British Virgin Islands). 303 degrees which means mainly west, and since the trade winds blow from NE to SE it means at worst a broad reach. I am bit nonchalant concerning this “sailing thing”, the actual navigation. After having sailed over 35.000 nautical miles in different boats cruising is a question of transportation. But since we lack proper charts (maps) for BWI, I will have to shape up. We will make landfall tomorrow midday based on my memory from previous sails there. I will sneak in behind Necker island and start looking for Trellis Bay, I met an artist named Aragorn there some years back.

On the whole I am a bit reluctant to step ashore, it tends to be costly. St Marteen summed up to 500 usd. Lots of expensive food is stocked on board (mainly rice, peanutbutter and beans) and lots of tiny bits and pieces that boats need. I spend 2 hours a day repairing stuff. The previous owner was not that - loving- with his boat.

Toilet - OK
Bilge pump - OK
Wind rudder - OK
Outboard - Dead
Temperature gauge - possibly OK
Engine - overheating.
Anod - on the propeller

As we leave St Marteen from the french side the sun is setting. We time our departure so that we make land during light hours. Its a fairly easy sail of 77 nautical miles, some 16-20 hours. I stand barechested on deck tying up a rope. The fore deck always brings a feeling of solitude from the “other crew”, its closer to the sea. The bow cuts the water, my body is heaved up and down gently. Luke warm winds remind me of my skin. A sensual stroke. I look down at the surface and even though light is vanishing behind the horizon, and we are far out in the bay I can sense the bottom, whiter patches rush by below the keel. Some 7-8 meters under us.

Yes I like this life.

A polish guy explained it fairly simple. The secret of happiness. What I am going to tell you is pure science, he wrote a thesis on it. We find pleasure in succeeding. When the task is defined and clear and the rules are simple and fair, we find great pleasure in taking on a challenge and growing from new experiences. It is like sports. I want to do a 2 minute hang at 30 meters. I try, fail – try again succeed and this brings a feeling of content. It is important that the level of challenge has a balanced relation to our skill. It is about choosing the right mountain to climb.

In my case I noticed that I find pleasure in solving all these small problems that a 40 year old boat confront me with. I see things improving, the leak in the front cabin is gone. The lid to the engine room has new gaskets and fits perfect. The teak on the foredeck is oiled, and not only deters water better, it is nice to look at.

The main purpose for me on this trip is to beat my personal best in freediving breast stroke to depth of 56. And I want it to not only to look easy, but feeling it as well. I hate those contractions and the feeling of vasocontriction and lactic acid making me all lame. I have to acquire some physical self confidence and change attitude.

Started preparation 6 weeks ago.

30 breath holds with 2 minute contractions

18 x 3 minute walking apneas with swim movements

15 x 35 minute cardio training at 80% of max pulse.

13 x 25 minutes general muscle.

20 severe yoga stretching with the purpose of preparing the lungs for depth

This might seem a lot for the leisure freediver, but ridiculously little for the elite freediver.
Yes it is not much, but done in right amounts, at right time, with right intensity it has effect. Also if you lead a general smart healthy lifestyle not forgetting, rest, sleep, special diet, hydration.

The 6 weeks land training above led to:

Resting heart rate of 52
1.2 kilos of added muscles
0.5 kilos of loss of fat (yes I have some).
And above all a feeling of fitness and and added physical self confidence.

The route so far:
St. Vincent
St. Kitts

St. Marteen
Brittish Virgin island.
Dominican Republic

All in two weeks, and now we plan a big leap of 400 nautical miles passed Puerto Rico to Dominican Republic (an island shared with Haiti, east of Cuba, south of bahamas.

On the BVI island of Just van Dyke we get som last internet acess on the Soggy Dollar bar (nothing costs a dollar anymore in BVI). In the morning we find 25 meters depth and I do 4 pull downs, 3 swim downs that feel surpisingly hard, and three empty lungs, the last one being 15 meters and I feel just fine after that. RV 2 liters down to 15 meter is quite extreeme.
In the afternoon I do 200 arm strokes attached to the boat with a rubber cord, and 200 kicks. Feeling the grip of the water trying to tone some muscles.
My ship mate joins me for a last session before sunset and our departure, We know we will be at sea for 3 days so we feel we need to work out. 2 kilometers running along the beach to glares and comments of the charter yacht tourists parked in sunchairs on the beach. Its good to train with someone half your age, it keeps the pace up. I try to outrun him but I dont succed, he is fit, he recently won a Tae kwondo competition. I add 150 situps, some 100 push ups and some other stuff. We swim out to the boat at anchor and make food before we set sail to Dominican republic 400 nautical miles away.

We enter at night, a bad idea, but I have no intention “hanging around” outside the coast half the night while being dead tired. Luperon is a hurricane hole, meaning you might survive a hurricane here. A tiny entrance opening up to a lagoon surrounded by mangroves. A sleepy “spanish” fishing village, at least it was 12 years ago when I (entered at night) visited here before. I google mapped the place and saw several yachts from the bird view.

I has been three very easy days at sea, winds from behind, averaging 5-6 knots. At the most 20 knots o wind, usually calmer with warm night winds and a friendly full moon. The wind wane did most of the steering, books, writing, guitar playing, fished but lost a huge jumping tunalike fish.

Now a new chapter away from the "beachy west indies". Dominican republic