“In the future, I’ll be more careful about having good ideas so I don’t end up having to weld in 45 degree heat.”
So says Frank Vahrenhorst, one of the team responsible for helping Ahmed Gabr attempt to reach 350m on open circuit scuba this month.
Frank’s role on the team has been to manage the giant floating pyramid that supports the line that Ahmed will be descending down, and the 30m deco ladder that will enable the divers to have a resting place during the long deco stops in the shallows. He joined the team after being asked to help recover the original pyramid, when it had sank before one of the training dives. Frank is an ex-commercial diver, so he has had plenty of experience using lift bags on large objects, something recreational divers (certainly in the Red Sea) don’t have to do very often. He quickly proved himself to be a valuable asset as he not only easily and safely recovered the pyramid, but also identified its weaknesses. Again, Frank’s commercial background came into play, and he was able to improve the design and re-weld the pyramid, making it far stronger than it had been before. His practical experience and knowledge of hydrodynamics has helped him to design a few things that will lessen the workload of the team on the day, very important considering it will be an incredibly long and tiring day for all involved.
Most people who know Frank see him as the bluff, straightforward guy who is passionate about two things: diving and welding. This record attempt has shown him to be far more. “I’ve always preferred solo sports such as horse riding, fishing and windsurfing, so being part of a large team like this has given me an opportunity to work alongside others, and change the way I normally work”. He has also proved himself to be an excellent ‘ideas’ man, something he has come to regret when he has to implement them!
Frank is no stranger to working under pressure, in his previous life he has had to deal with some unusual situations; one of the worst being the time when his surface team had not taken the tides into account and the boat he was working under lowered onto him, pushing him into the silt. His cool head helps him to prevail, and has helped him respond quickly to deal with any situations that occur. At times it even seems like he is several steps in front because of his practical way of seeing what needs doing before anyone else does.
During the training dives Frank is helped by his ‘wingman’ Dan. They are a great team and have developed to the point of needing very few signals between them to understand each other. I had the pleasure of watching them recover the ladder on the last training day, the first time I had done it since they had taken on the task. It had previously taken me around an hour and a half to pull the line and ladder up, and stow it all. This time it took them around twenty minutes, while I mostly floated uselessly watching their silent communication to each other.
Every time the pyramid and ladder are deployed Frank will be found watching them like a hawk and at the slightest sign of an issue is in the water sorting it out. With Ahmed going to 350m it is vital that everything is in the right place at the right time. Frank works alongside a few other divers to ferry tanks in and out during the dive, ensuring all the divers have the gases they need. This will involve multiple dives on the day of the attempt. There is a strict timetable in place to make sure no one is doing too many dives, and everyone has a decent surface interval between their dives. Without this support, the deep divers would have to carry many additional tanks, making their job much more difficult.