Dean’s Blue Hole is the world’s deepest salt water “blue hole” located near the Bahamas. Neatly tucked away in the cove of Long Island near Clarence Town, it can be seen from a distance; a turquoise-tinted circle of darkness skirted by the lighter blue of the shallow water and the bleached sand of the beach. Blue holes are aptly named because they are typically water-filled caves that form sinkholes almost 100 meters deep. This particular blue hole plunges to a record depth of 202 meters which makes it notably exceptional. At the surface, its circular rim has an underwater opening of diameter 25 to 35 meters but 60ft down it opens up into an awning of at least 100m-its limestone edges have still not been found.
These cavernous depths effectively block out the worst of the Caribbean’s tumultuous waves, making it the ideal place for deep sea diving and so scuba divers along with free divers regularly swarm the beach for recreational sport and competitions that happen year round. But diving into abysmal ditches doesn’t come without pitfalls. Locals have warned enthusiasts against this ‘devil’s creation’ that can suck you into it depths; and it was indeed these pitfalls that sucked Nicolas Mevoli, an ambitious young free diver, into his early demise.
In essence, free diving is a simple but treacherous sport. Free divers hold their breath for as long as 5 minutes to dive as deep as they can without oxygen tanks or fins to aid them. This is why it is considered one of the most primitive forms of sport; man pitting against the ocean. But it’s not as simple as that. Visualize holding your breath for seconds on end, while physically exerting your body for free fall into depths of numbing darkness, defying the basic urge to breathe. Imagine the deafening noise of silence as all chatter fades with the receding surface and the claustrophobic darkness closes in.
Even so, free diving is decidedly unforgiving in terms of the barometric pressure that takes its toll on the human body. Unlike fishes’ lungs, the human respiratory tract is filled with air capsules not meant to withhold high underwater pressures. At such impossible depths, a free diver’s capillaries will often hemorrhage under the immense stress causing temporary or sometimes lasting damage.
Free divers are, however, quick to brush off the danger. They relish the feeling of going places where humans have never been. Many will describe deep diving similar to being suspended in gravitiless space instead of the seamless depths of a crushing ocean. Mevoli himself wrote in his blog,” Water is acceptance of the unknown, of demons, of emotions, of letting go and allowing yourself to flow freely with it.” It was thus with this mindset, that Mevoli and his diver enthusiast friends gathered on a Monday afternoon at the Dean’s Blue Hole for the annual Vertical Blue international free diving competition. As the countdown began and the Atlantic splashed around his shoulders, Mevoli began gulping in mouthfuls of air to prepare his muscles for the physical onslaught. His bloodstream was adrenaline soaked, ready and when the mark was called he was off, lunging into a fateful dive, his body lithely gliding against the water, disappearing amongst sandfalls and corals. When Nicolas hit the 30m mark he sensed the pressure shift and aptly forced the air he’d accumulated into his mouth and his ears relieving his lungs and ‘equalizing’ the pressure. At the 68th mark, however, he faltered, but against his better judgement continued till 78 and resurfaced soon after, falling into unconsciousness. When resuscitation efforts at the site failed, he was taken to the nearest hospital but by then Nicolas Mevoli and his aspirations were long gone, his lungs having succumbed to barotrauma. He was another life lost to the blue hole.