Photo: Rich Carey/Shutterstock

Robert Silva, Endurance Diver

by Adam Roy Jul 6, 2009
Some people run marathons for charity. Robert Silva plans to break a world record for it.

On September 13, Illinois scuba diver Robert Silva will travel to Belize’s Ambergris Caye, where he will attempt to set a new world record for longest saltwater dive. To succeed, he will have to stay underwater for over 36 and a half hours.

Change of plans

Silva, 31, initially set out to break the much longer freshwater record, which stands at about 120 hours. The location of the dive was going to be Haigh Quarry, a former limestone pit in Kankakee, IL.

In March, however, Silva received a call from Tina Haigh, the quarry’s owner. Haigh Quarry was withdrawing its offer to host the attempt.

“It was a liability issue,” says Haigh. “I talked to my attorney and my insurance company, and they advised me not to go ahead with it.”

After searching for another site and “just hitting dead ends”, Silva received and accepted an offer to challenge the saltwater record at Ramon’s Village, a dive resort in Belize. For Silva, who completed his PADI Divemaster certification in Belize in 2005, it would be a return to familiar waters.

The move will shorten Silva’s dive by over 100 hours, but it will also bring the unpredictability and hazards of ocean diving into the attempt. Between training and working 12-hour shifts as a materials and warehouse lead, Robert Silva took a few minutes to talk to Matador about his upcoming dive.

Q. Why did you decide to make this attempt at breaking the world record? Have you done this kind of extreme diving in the past?

I’ve been a team captain for the American Cancer Society’s “Relay For Life” for several years, and I’m always trying to come up with new ways to raise money for it. This year I decided to combine my love of diving and raising money for this charity by making this record attempt. Outside of cage diving with great whites, I have not done much “extreme” diving.

Q. Has most of your support crew stuck with you through the move?

Ramon’s is going to provide most of the staff for the dive, and they are allowing me to bring 5 of my own team members with me. It is a little more of a challenge for my team members now because they will need to get passports and there are extra expenses for them.

Q. What are the official rules for attempting to break this record?

The rules, as they have been explained to me, are that I must not surface at any point during the attempt. It must all be done on standard scuba gear and tank changes must be done underwater. [I must achieve] a depth of 20 feet for at least 20 minutes; outside of that I can be at any depth.

Q. 36.5 hours is a long time to be underwater. How will you eat and sleep?

My diet will consist of mainly liquid meals. The plan is to use a Camelbak-type system, like hikers use.

To sleep , the plan is to clip off to a line and just try and relax enough to sleep for a bit. Support divers will always be in the water while I’m trying to sleep to watch my air supply, so I don’t run out.

Q. What about the rest of the time? How do you plan to keep yourself occupied?

I plan to listen to music, come up with some little games that can be played underwater and talk to the team; the plan is to have two-way comm units for communication with the surface. And, of course, I will pass some time watching the wildlife.

Q. What kind of physical training are you doing to prepare for your attempt?

The biggest training item is time in the pool, just experiencing long duration and gear changes underwater. I am eating more healthy than I have in the past.

More than athleticism I believe it is going to take the proper mindset to get through the dive. I’m not going into this thinking it will be a cakewalk to sit underwater for so long. I know it will get harder on my body and mind the longer I stay under.

Q. What are the main challenges that you expect to face?

The main concern I have will be the weather. The weather can make or break this event.

I’ve had people ask about sharks, and things like that, [but] one thing I’ve realized is that sharks are not mindless killers. I’ve seen sharks while diving Belize in the past and they were never a problem. I expect to see mostly nurse sharks, and they tend to be very docile.

Q. To what degree does your dive’s success or failure depend on luck?

I think luck only applies to the weather; September is a high point of Hurricane season. I’ve been to this same dive spot in September in the past with perfect weather, but again, it’s out of my control. Being as prepared as possible will give me the best chance of success.

Q. What kind of potential emergencies or problems are your preparing for?

The biggest issue will be possible gear problems. Saltwater can be hard on the gear; having to do tank changes underwater could introduce saltwater [into] my regulator.

I plan to have secondary gear on the boat that can be sent down to me if needed, and also a second setup put together and ready for use on a line beneath the surface. I have scuba medical insurance, which includes airlifting me off the island if it becomes needed.

Q. In your opinion, what does it take to break a record like this?

Being prepared as best as possible and being in the proper mindset. You have to be willing to take a risk. Doing something like this is outside of any normal type of dive, and no matter how much you prepare, something is sure to happen. Keeping my cool and dealing with the unexpected will be very important for this dive.

It also helps to have the support of your friends and family. Though they all think I’m a little crazy for wanting to do it, they all stand by me and give me their support.

Q. If you succeed in your attempt, you will have done something that no diver has ever done before. Where do you see yourself going from there?

I guess I could see myself making another attempt at the same record. I’ve also been looking into other scuba-related records for future attempts.

Community Connection

You can follow Robert Silva’s world record attempt on his website, World Record Scuba. For a more relaxed take on Belize’s Caribbean islands, check out Jenny Williams’ article Go Slow on Caye Caulker, Belize.

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