You don’t generally associate the sport of Scuba Diving with World Records.

That’s mainly the preserve of competitive sports. However, last year, one Irishman decided he was going to create a new World Record for the longest underwater distance travelled while scuba diving. Christopher (Christy) Healy did this to raise money for charity.

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In early 2010 Christy and his wife Trish were told that their only child, Stephen (18) had Non-Hodgkin’s Lymphoma (cancer of the lymphoid tissue). The family faced the illness head on. A cousin of Christy’s who visited the hospital regularly was also an active volunteer with The Share a Dream Foundation who do incredible work for sick children all over Ireland..

To ‘give something back’ or ‘pay it forward’ for all the help and support received by the Healy family, Christy decided, as you do, to set a new World Record scuba diving 10 kilometres underwater to raise funds for Share a Dream. Christy is an experienced dive instructor having first trained with Burren Sub Aqua Club in 1998 and now runs the Atlantic Diving School in Ennis, Co. Clare (The coastline of which offers some of Ireland’s best dive locations). Christy’s namesake,  Saint Christopher is the Patron Saint of Travellers and is especially revered by athletes, mariners and ferrymen I am told.  Scuba diving wasn’t around in his time, and if it was he probably would have advised against such a crazy notion.

To swim 10k is a feat in itself. To do it underwater kitted up in full diving gear is another matter altogether. It was clear that Christy had to be fit for the challenge. I’ve attended lots of dive training courses over the years, but as far as I know, there aren’t any that prepare you for creating new World Records!

Christy took up cycling as he felt it was ‘a great way to get the lungs working’ and was supported by a group of friends who accompanied him on cycles of up to 30km a day. Along with this he also started to do press-ups and sit-ups to harden the body. Six weeks before the World Record attempt a fitness trainer gave him a special exercise training program along with nutritional advice on what to eat and drink. He had to train 6 days a week — two days diving, two days running (one of which was a jog & sprint exercise on a treadmill gradually increasing the repetitions and the other purely running), one day body training (resistance training) and one day where he had to spend an hour on a trampoline. He was advised to consume 3000 calories a day with a high protein diet (including meats, nuts, seeds, pasta etc.) and drink 3 litres of water a day and an extra litre while training.  In order to be able to drink clean water while diving, a special bag which released water when a hose was bitten on was used.

The logistics of the dive itself also had to be worked out. It’s quite hard to work out distance travelled underwater. The team initially experimented with long ropes that were weighed down and tied to shot lines. They planned to move one to the front of a row of ropes as Christy passed the end point. This plan was abandoned in favour of a team of guide snorkelers, working in shifts, pulling a guide rope for Christy to follow. Another team of snorkelers acted as messengers between him and the cover boat, bringing him change of air bottles and anything else he required.

For greater comfort during training he tried attaching the dive bottles to his stomach instead of having them on his back. This worked well for him and was the technique he used during the dive itself. At the suggestion of a friend he tried using split fins instead of his regular ones. On a trial run he increased his distance by 0.4km using a 12litre bottle filled to 230 bar and swam for an extra 20 minutes (from 1.8km & 70 minutes to 2.2km and 90 minutes). By the time he was ready to do the dive he was covering 3km with a 12litre bottle.

The original plan was to do the dive in the Atlantic Ocean from the Aran Islands to Doolin in Co Clare. On the first attempt at this distance Christy managed 8km before calling an end to the dive. A number of minor setbacks had accumulated to defeat his attempt. Cold had also set in and the turning of the tide weighed on his mind.

The dive location was then changed to Lough Derg on The River Shannon, Ireland’s longest river. He didn’t have to worry about tides on the lake, but the visibility is only about one meter due to the run off from peat bogs around it. On the 23rd October 2011 Christy made his second attempt at setting this new record. He counted kicks to pass the time and thought of his son receiving Chemo in hospital. After 6 hours 21 minutes and 1 second Christy surfaced having covered a distance of 10.2km earning him a place in the record books.

Since completing the dive Christy has published a book ‘The 10k Record’. It goes into much greater detail about the technical side of organising the dive and his own and team member’s personal recollections. To date he has raised over €15,000 ($18,000) for the charity Share a Dream Foundation. Copies of the book can be ordered from lulu.com.

Christy has now started training for an even greater challenge, to complete a dive from Ireland to Scotland!

Story by Derry O Donnell

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