FANCY A DIP IN A 100FT-DEEP SWIMMING POOL Its a very pleasant way of passing a Saturday afternoon.
Last year I reported on the NoTanx Full Day Introductory Course, run by freedivers and promoted as a way of helping scuba divers control their breathing better.
Inevitably, attendees are surprised to discover that they can hold their breath for two minutes or more without much trouble, and may well become intrigued by the whole idea of breath-hold diving.
If nothing else, your snorkelling could be more satisfying. Enjoy bubble-free interaction with marine life for minutes at a time, without the trouble and expense of buying a rebreather!
Anyway, having done the necessary static breath-hold and finning 40m under water on the intro course, you are allowed to progress to the next stage - the AIDA 2* Freediver course at the SETT.
This is the Submarine Escape Training Tank, located at the bleak-looking RN Blockhouse in Gosport on the South coast. The 30m-high tower contains one of the worlds deepest pools.
This is not in any way about how deep you can go, NoTanx supremos Marcus Greatwood and Andy Laurie would intone solemnly several times during the day. Whats it all about
Fun, we would mumble dutifully, knowing it was the answer required.
But of course, we all knew that it was really about depth, if only to satisfy our own curiosity.
There were about 20 people around, and at first it was difficult to separate the NoTanx club-members, there to instruct, practise and act as safety divers, from the trainees, all scuba-divers. Once in the water, it was easy to distinguish the fish people from
the newbies.
A NoTanx team was about to go to the Middle East for public performances in a giant fish-tank, and while at the SETT they were keen to brush up on their moves.
You take a cranky lift to the eighth floor. What you see looks like any other round pool - until you peer down towards the distant bottom of the shaft.
Built in the 1950s, the SETT remains one of the worlds best training facilities for the purpose. Submariners were traditionally released at the bottom, punched in the stomach as they went to expel any air, and expected to make their own way to the surface. I preferred the softie idea of dipping in from the top.
There are eight 3m ladders, with a downline alongside each one and another in the centre of the pool. Further down there are hatches and blisters (containing unbreathable air) around the sides. Experienced freedivers settle into these and relax. I wasnt expecting to be relaxing too much.

THE SETT IS KEPT HEATED to a balmy 33°C - surely we taxpayers are spoiling those submariners! Still, I wasnt complaining on a winters day. Despite the water temperature, for some reason I had elected to wear a shortie wetsuit, and it was only after the first few attempts that it became apparent that its buoyancy was hindering my efforts to submerge. That was my first excuse.
You start by doing your breathe-up to relax and rid the body of excess CO2 - eyes shut, head on elbows, two deep breaths followed by long exhalations using the diaphragm, followed by a couple of candle-blows. Practise in the bath. You then descend the line hand over hand, either feet- or head-first, eyes still shut.
Having done the earlier course, I found that worrying about shortage of breath was barely a consideration. You know you have at least two minutes worth in you. It all looked easy, but my confidence in my ability to become the next Herbert Nitsch soon plummeted (unlike me).
What surprised me were the number of things I needed to think about. I would remember one or two, but forget the others.
I am conditioned to behave in a certain way when scuba-diving, and to expect fresh air on demand. Im used to being able to exhale bubbles, which is frowned on in freediving, where you need to conserve your air.
I found it hard to get the balance between equalising the mask as well as the ears while retaining air. Trickiest of all was to relax sufficiently to keep my body shape streamlined and my head forward. After each breathe-up, my mind told me that I was not at all nervous and in fact relaxed, but my body had other ideas.
When Marcus showed me the video images, all splayed limbs and stiff neck, I looked as tense as a hedgehog in a balloon factory.
I probably made some 15 descents through the day. It was easier going head-down on the centreline with eyes open, but I only ever managed to reach 12m or so. The main difficulty was usually in equalising my high-volume scuba mask (my second excuse). My breathing circuit would suddenly lock up, at which point I would turn and ascend. Still, its not about depth, its about fun!
My buddy for the day was George Bull, from Epping in Essex. He concentrated well, performing rather better than me. It was interesting to watch his progress in what he described as an underwater playground.
It gives you the chance to overcome a lot of stuff about yourself, he said at the end of the day. I found it really valuable. The buddy thing makes the experience relaxing and reassuring.

WE SPENT SOME FOUR HOURS in the pool, interspersed with lectures and discussions, a lake-diving video over lunch and a freediving digital word game. I scraped through the multiple-choice exam. The only disappointment was that too little time was left for participants to carry out the 10m rescue, the final element required to make you an AIDA 2* Freediver (a title that sounds impressive, you must admit).
I had little faith in my ability to carry out a 10m rescue that day anyway.
But Marcus and Andy were right, the course was fun. Triathlon competitor Ruth Jenkins from Kingston described it as very enjoyable, well-run and the teaching was helpful. Having done the initial one-day course last week, I achieved everything I wanted to achieve.
Its a great experience for beginners - and the two courses so far have been wicked days, was the assessment of Gavin Thomas from south Wales. His mate Ian Smith from Leamington Spa told me: Its a lot harder work than I thought - theres a lot to take in, but the guys here really know their stuff and can help you relax. Its been well worth it - really good fun.
Gavin and Ian had managed to reach 15m or more on their dives - not that depth matters, of course.

Steve Weinman
No Tanx,
AIDA 2* Freediver
One-day course at SETT, £130

UntitledThis 2* course has since become two days rather than one (with an open-water session at £45). And despite the flippant suggestion, NoTanx says please dont practise in the bath!