Freedive UK arranged an incredible shipwrecked event where 14 of us stayed on a deserted island and had to fend for ourselves for 4 days with skills taught to us from some local Moken, learning how to freedive, build spears, spear fish and forage for food!
The first couple of days were spent learning the basics of freediving, getting acclimatised for those visiting from other countries and snorkling/freedive trips by longtail boat. The basic technique of freediving involves resting on the surface and calmly breathing to reduce your heart rate. The less your heart pumps then the less oxygen is taken from your lungs, moved around the body and transformed in to carbon dioxide. It is the build up of carbon dioxide inside you that makes you want to take another breath, not your body asking for more oxygen. You then take a series of deep breaths in, filling all of your lungs and mouth with air to get as much oxygen inside you as possible, then you calmly dive. I managed to hold my breath, on the surface but under water, for 2 minutes and 9 seconds, it wasn’t easy and was a case of mind over matter, I really wanted to exhale and felt very uncomfortable. When actually diving it’s even harder, as you have to equalise all the way to adjust to the pressure and as you swim you use up oxygen faster! I only managed 38 seconds and 10 meters when actually freediving, I need more practice and bigger balls.
After the acclimatisation and practice we headed out of Phuket and to the island of Racha Noi where we stayed for 3 nights. The beach was beautiful, with a very fine white coral sand and crystal clear, warm, blue water around it, but it was pretty inhospitable. The beach faced the rising sun, with no cover, so the temperature at mid-day was through the roof.
The island itself didn’t have very many resources, no fresh water and very few (if any) coconut trees or palms, so the perception I had in my head of creating a glorious shelter and eating tons of fresh coconuts went straight out of the window. As you can see from the picture below, the shelter I built consisted of 2 sticks and about 3 palm leaves, half covering one side!
2 Moken tribesmen taught us how to make our own spears, by blacksmithing metal rods down to barbed points, then splicing them on to a length of bamboo, before finally sharpening them. It was seriously hard work and took a long time for us to get them all done, but they worked, one of the guys managed to spear several reef fish with his. My spear was too long and too bendy though, so when I went in to the kill the tip would drop about 6 foot and hit nothing!
As well as traditional spear fishing around the local reef, we’d go out several times a day in the longtail boats to do some freediving and fishing using actual spearguns. The fish would make a habit, when we found them, of remaining out of range but we did manage to spear a Barracuda and another fish that was too boney too eat. The Barracuda was grilled to perfection and tasted delicious. I’m not sure if it was because I was delirious from sunlight but it was one of the nicest fish I’d ever had.
Over all, I learned a lot about freediving and what it takes to survive on a desert island. All I can say is thank heavens for plastic bags and cigarette lighters as trying to rub 2 sticks together really wasn’t working. If I did this again, on this island, I’d consider it beach camping rather than surviving and bring an entire festival’s worth of camping equipment with me. I’m glad I roughed it under my little shelter though as I learned a lot about how I’d definitely die if this was a real situation on this specific island and it gave my ego a bit of a check.