Fatally Flawed

Bookshelf: Fatally Flawed

Fatally Flawed: The Quest to be Deepest – Verna van Schaik

Fatally Flawed
Fatally Flawed

Verna van Schaik holds the record for the deepest dive on scuba by a woman, to 221 metres in a water-filled cave called Boesmansgat in the Northern Cape. If the name Boesmansgat rings bells, it’s probably because you heard about it as the cave that claimed the lives of Deon Dreyer in 1994, and, more recently, the Australian diver Dave Shaw, who went to recover Deon’s body. The story of that mission is recounted in Raising the Dead (also called Diving into Darkness).

Verna van Schaik was present on the day when Dave Shaw died – she had a critical support role as the person managing all the divers from the surface. She describes her emotions and how difficult it was to know what to do in the situation that arose. Her account of the build-up to Shaw’s dive, the actual unravelling of events, and the aftermath, is fascinating when read in conjunction with Raising the Dead, because she was actually on the team, whereas the other book is written with the apparent objectivity of a third party. Van Schaik criticises Dave Shaw and Don Shirley for going ahead with the dive – she says that they hadn’t slept enough, and that there had been several critical equipment failures the night prior to the dive which made it a desperately risky undertaking.

The book traces her career as a female deep diver. It includes her struggles to be accepted in this very male-dominated sport, her struggle to find and keep a trusted dive buddy, and numerous descriptions of the difficulty of managing a team of divers engaged in high-risk record-seeking endeavours.

She describes the fear she has felt on some of her record-setting dives, and the experience of becoming entangled in her line while at the bottom of a cave, all alone. Very deep dives are of necessity solo dives – there simply aren’t enough people who can and want to dive that deep for buddying up to be an option, and when every single small decision is a choice between life and death, having a buddy can be more of a liability than a help.

Van Schaik does, however, stress that very deep dives require a team of support divers who meet the deep diver on his or her way up from the deepest point. She prefers continuous support (never leaving the deep diver alone during the long decompression) but Shaw and Shirley, for example, planned for divers to be with them only for ten minutes of every hour.

It’s a quick read, could have done with a spell-check, but, especially if you’re familiar with the Dave Shaw story, I recommend it.

I actually read this book on my iPad using the Kindle app and you can get a Kindle copy here, but you can get a hard copy of the book here. As an aside, I found Verna’s old blog, here. It’s an interesting read!

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Lapsed mathematician, creator of order, formulator of hypotheses. Lover of the ocean, being outdoors, the bush, reading, photography, travelling (especially in Africa) and road trips.

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