Free diver sets local record at 164 feet
A woman free diver has set a new record for Bermuda and South Africa, and raised thousands of dollars for marine education and research.
Beth Neale reached a depth of 164 feet (50 metres) at the weekend, more than twice the length of a tennis court, two miles north of North Rock, which itself is some ten miles north of St Catherine's Point.
Ms Neale beat her own South African women's unassisted free dive record of 47 metres set last year.
Ms Neale, 36, said: “It feels amazing. I had the best time I have ever had in my free diving career. The visibility was so clear, that the tech divers could see me leaving the 50 metre mark from the surface.
“There was a rainbow on the day and the water was a beautiful blue; it was incredible. I really felt like I was completely in the zone, more than I have even felt in my life.
“Even my warm-up dives were better than any other warm-up dives I have done before. I was able to stay relaxed and calm and focused. The dive felt extremely easy.”
Ms Neale, who held her breath for nearly three minutes to complete the feat, came close to failure when she lost the tag that marked the 164-foot mark and used as proof that she had completed the dive, as she ascended.
She said: “I had some wardrobe malfunctions.
“As I was going down reaching 50 metres, the strap for the tag fell off my leg completely because I was so compressed, so I had nothing to stick it to.
“I had to stick it into my wetsuit sleeve, but when I started swimming back up, at about 40m it came right out; I had to grab it and stick it back in.
“It added 14 seconds to my dive which is quite a long time, but luckily I felt completely fine, it didn't affect me in terms of my breath hold.”
The dive was unassisted, which meant Ms Neale could not use fins or a line to help propel her down, and is the deepest certified free dive in Bermuda waters.
All she was allowed was a wetsuit and a noseclip.
Ms Neale said: “It is the purest form of free diving.”
She also used the dive to raise cash for the Bermuda Zoological Society, the support charity for the Bermuda Aquarium, Museum & Zoo, which backs her Kids on the Reef free diving and ocean education course, which she runs in the spring and autumn.
She has drummed up about $20,000 in donations so far, which includes $12,000 from her Kids on the Reef GoFundMe page, which will remain open for several more days.
Ms Neale, a ten-year veteran of the sport, three-time South African women's national free diving champion and African women's continental record holder, said her body became “negatively buoyant” at about 20 metres and started to sink on its own.
She added: “At that point my mind is completely still — the only focus I have is on my equalising my ears. When I reach the bottom, that is when the hard work begins because I have to swim back up even though I am negatively buoyant.”
Her record attempt was watched by two judges from international free diving organisation Pure Apnea and two safety free divers in case of an emergency.
She was also accompanied by photographers, videographers and her partner and coach Miles Cloutier.
Ms Neale said the dive was “inspired by my work with Kids on the Reef to get more children free diving and learning to love the ocean”.
She added: “It can transform their lives. In Bermuda, many of the children I teach have never had the opportunity to even snorkel before, and see how beautiful the underwater world is, but it is really important that they do, so that they have a connection to the ocean.
“You only protect what you love and you only learn to love the ocean if you can experience it for yourself and free diving is the best way for children to have that experience.”
The BZS said: “We would like to thank Butterfield & Vallis, Rubis and other donors who supported Beth and the BZS marine education programmes through this record breaking event.
“As well as AXA XL, sponsors of the spring sessions of Kids on the Reef, and Hiscox, Bermuda Lionfish Taskforce, and the Neil Burnie Foundation for their commitment to the fall programme.
“And, finally, we would like to thank Alan Waring and Beth's entire dive support team for their time and diligence in making this a successful and safe event.”