By Nilay Kar Onum
"I told my team: ‘I will complete 72 hours underwater… unless I die.’"
Fighting talk from 43-year-old Turkish diving instructor Cem Karabay. But he was able to back it up by breaking the Guinness World Record for the Longest Open Saltwater Scuba Dive by spending a mammoth 72 hours under the Mediterranean, emerging from the sea – tired but victorious – on Monday.
Speaking to Anadolu Agency, Karabay, a lifelong lover of the sea, talks about what he experienced underwater, which he describes as a safer place for him than his mother’s womb.
"I was always dreaming of the moment I would break a record, by closing my eyes before the attempt. I was sure that I would make it," he says self-assuredly.
The existing record had been held by 36-year-old Egyptian diver Walaa Hafez, who spent 51 hours and 20 minutes underwater near the Egyptian Red Sea resort of Hurghada last month.
Karabay decided to make his own attempt in the Turkish Republic of Northern Cyprus, on the country’s national day of July 20.
He generally prefers to make record attempts on important Turkish holidays and anniversaries.
But it is not the first time the adventurous Turk has carved his name into the record books. He held the 2011 Guinness World Record for the longest scuba dive in a controlled environment [in a pool in Istanbul], which lasted a titanic 192 hours, 19 minutes and 19 seconds.
Dubbed the "Aquarium man", Karabay stresses the importance of doing exercises underwater in order to emerge healthier.
“I pedaled on the first day in order not to lose the power of my leg muscles and lifted weights. I played football with my team friends and played backgammon," he said.
Footage of his Cyprus adventure shows Karabay, relaxed and playful, on an underwater platform equipped with lights, weights, an exercise mat and even a small football goal.
Surrounded by safety divers day and night, Karabay was even able to enjoy meals underwater.
It was the “easiest thing" for him to eat and drink, he claims: “It is due to my skills, techniques that I use while eating and drinking and success of my team."
Karabay did not eat only liquid food but surprising meals like meatballs, traditional Cypriot kebab, halloumi cheese and quail eggs.
"When I learned he wanted soup, I immediately went to home and prepared some for him," says his wife Mine Dinler, who is also a diver and was a member of Karabay's 25-strong support team.
"He was very comfortable underwater [but] we were in a panic for him."
Everything was normal on the first day, according to Karaday, but difficulties started after 24 hours when he began to experience pains.
“I had groin cramps after 24 hours. I felt so much cold, sometimes I trembled with it. My lips were bloated because of the salty water […] but I never took a step back."
Across the three days, he slept for only seven hours.
However, he said he never risked his life during the process: “Breaking a world record is not easy. You surely need to pay a price but no record is more important than a human life.
“If I felt something serious about my health underwater, I would immediately end the process."
His wife Mine was always following her husband closely and she was going underwater around twice a day during his attempt.
“When I saw his lips were bloated under the water, I became very sad but I tried to control myself in order not to cry in front of him and so as not to demoralize him,” she says.
“It was much more difficult and stressful for us than him,” she adds.
The visionary diver appreciated the interest that his team and wife showed during his record attempt.
“The biggest support came from my wife Mine and my team. The creatures under the water also did not leave me alone.”
Cem Karabay is dedicated to continuing his record attempts.
His long-term aim is to break all the world records that could be broken underwater to make people love and value the sea environment.
However, his initial plan is to set another world record for the longest open saltwater scuba dive in cold water on April 23 next year, when Turkey’s National Sovereignty and Children’s Day is marked.
That record is currently held by British diver Sean McGahern who spent 12 hours and 34 minutes underwater in 2012.Anadolu Agency website contains only a portion of the news stories offered to subscribers in the AA News Broadcasting System (HAS), and in summarized form. Please contact us for subscription options.