Diving deep into the void

IT’S dark side of the moon stuff, it’s like exploration.” So says Sebastien Murat, the free-diver, of life at the bottom of an ultra-deep plunge into the void. “There’s no one down there with me, and the idea of actually having air is really completely foreign.”

Murat, a 43-year-old Australian, now lives in a tiny Swedish fishing village on the Baltic where he’ll spend as much as six hours a day under water. We meet in Antibes, where he is pursuing the world record free-dive depth, which is set at the 240m mark. To put that in context, the new Heron Tower on Bishopsgate is 230m high – and Murat goes down and up that far on a single breath. Or so free-diving orthodoxy would go – but in fact, Murat does it on almost no breath at all. His techniques are overturning long-held assumptions in the sport.

“Most free divers talk about their extraordinary lung capacity that they look to expand with strong respiratory muscles. I decided to breathe out instead – I was sacrificing my oxygen stores by exhaling, but I found I could hold my breath more or less the same, and as soon as I did it I sank like a stone.”

Murat’s pursuit of the world record is being supported by Swiss watch brand Maurice Lacroix, which this year released its most interesting, genuinely sporty dive watch, the Pontos S (£2,950, right). It represents something of a fresh direction for the mid-price brand, with its rugged design and breezy flashes of colour. It’s a clever design too – where normal diving watches have a rotating bezel to mark off time left in an oxygen tank, the Pontos S has a rotating ring sealed inside the case, operated by a crown integrated with the top chronograph pusher.

Murat is one of the more unusual in his sport. His technique is based around “mammalian dive reflex”, which is seen in animals like seals, otters and penguins.

“Whales, reptiles, birds, they all exhale when they dive, so I started looking at the science of this,” he says of his system, which reduces his heart rate to 35 beats per minute. “I’ve never had a blackout or experienced narcossis, and since I’m carrying so little gas, there’s much less risk of decompression, which is otherwise a problem.”

Of the orthodox methods he adds: “to hell with the rules – I’m big on reality, not artificial rules!”