Another entry for the Guinness Book of Records

free diving 14.04.2021



Breaking this record has been a personal goal of Karen’s since about 2004/2005 when Verna van Schaik and Nuno Gomes respectively broke the female and male depth records. Since being a member of the Wits University Underwater Club, Karen was fortunate to have the opportunity to know both these individuals and their achievements were a large inspiration for the attempt on this record. Karen started technical diving under the tutelage of Nuno Gomes at Wits Underwater Club and continued to develop as a technical diver after leaving Wits Underwater Club when she and her now-husband Francois, started their own dive club/ dive school called Somewhere Out There Diving where she has been involved as a part-owner ever since. The idea of Somewhere Out There Diving was to create a business entity for the purposes of out-of-the-ordinary, expedition-type diving trips and this married up well with the technical diving endeavors that have been embarked upon as part of the lead-up to Karen’s world record attempt. 

Karen started SCUBA diving in 2001 and proceeded into the realm of technical diving in 2006 and has gradually and progressively built up experience and skills to the extent where she was sufficiently competent and comfortable to attempt the women’s SCUBA diving depth record. 

In the days preceding the record attempt, the dive team firstly placed the stage shot line in the cave and over a number of dives, to different depths, placed stage cylinders with a variety of gas mixtures that would be needed for the record attempt dive on this line. Once complete, the record line, with the necessary depth tags, was placed and no further diving was allowed before the main record attempt dive.

The women’s depth record attempt dive took place on the 26th March 2021 in the Boesmansgat Cave, Mount Carmel Safaris Farm, Northern Cape, South Africa. The whole team of 17 people had an early start, waking up at about 4 am that morning in order that the dive could start as early as possible. This meant that the team descended down the hole to the waters’ edge whilst beautiful dawn was breaking over the rim of the hole. The dive got underway with Karen descending at 7.10 am that morning with Peter Reid, the deepest support diver, following a few minutes later. 

Karen descended to 30m where she switched gases and then continued to 110m where she again switched gases and dropped off stage cylinders. After switching gases at 110m Karen switched over from the stage line to the record line and began her descent to 236m. On her descent, Karen passed the first 2 tags (226m and 231m) and decided to stop at the 3rd tag of 236m and not to continue to the deepest tag at 251m. Karen clipped the 236m tag off of the line and onto a D-ring attached to her dive computer strap for this purpose and then proceeded to inflate her wing-type buoyancy compensators to start her ascent. 

Karen's first stop was at 211m where she took stock of her situation to ensure all was ok. She then proceeded to 110m, met two support divers (Don Hauman and Michael Partridge), where she made her first gas switch for the ascent. Then continued to ascend to 80m where she picked up additional stage cylinders. At 60m Karen met another 2 support divers (Jakob Iten and Atish Dayal) and here she dropped off empty stage cylinders and picked up new cylinders and did her second gas switch. Jakob Iten only stayed with Karen for a short period of time and intentionally headed back to the surface as soon as possible to be the first person to inform the surface support on the status of Karen and the deep support divers, who all had significant decompression obligations and could not surface for a long while yet. Thereafter Karen ascended to 30m where again she met up with 2 support divers (Joseph Birtles and Francois Bain) and again dropped off empty cylinders, picked up additional cylinders, and did her third gas change. From 30m upwards, the support divers started bringing Karen warm fluids to keep hydrated.

At 18m Karen met additional support divers (Hani Williams and Louis Henrico) and again clipped off depleted stage cylinders and picked up new stage cylinders appropriate for this depth and completed her fourth gas change. At 9m Karen did her fifth gas change and at 3m her last gas change onto 100% oxygen.

The total dive time was 7hrs and 18mins of which the first 15 minutes was spent on the descent to the maximum achieved depth.

Once Karen surfaced, she handed the 236m depth tag to an impartial witness, Theo van Eeden. This was also witnessed by both Frank Slabbert and Kevin Dolphin of CMAS South Africa who was also impartial witnesses.

Francois Bain


Karen before the dive.

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