182 Punekars recently formed the longest human underwater chain, giving India a new Guinness world record.

“We’re going to lose the record!” was the slightly panicky thought that raced through my mind, as I massaged participant 157’s cramped up and completely tight right hamstring. I was executing the cramp removal technique on him nine feet underwater, where he was one of 182 divers who were hanging on to a guide rope, linking hands and officially attempting a Guinness world record. Not one participant could’ve de-linked and surfaced while the event was being timed and frankly, if I’d had to hold 157 down forcibly, I must admit I would have (thankfully, the cramp released, allowing him to stay linked), it was either that or have seven months of preparation go down the drain.

Almost seven minutes later, the 182 participating divers and close to 40 supervising dive professionals surfaced to the realisation that they had set a brand new Guinness world record.

REWIND TO MAY 2016

Siddharth Pujari and I are now into year 4 of Absolute SCUBA as founders; Founded as Pune’s first scuba diving centre, we had been focussing on training and travelling, and we were plotting our next adventure when we got the call. The spirited Chrysalis Entrepreneurs Forum of Pune is an establishment led by the charismatic Manish Gupta, fondly hailed as MG. A collective of over 1000 entrepreneurs in and around Pune, CEF is amazing to see in action. They have great sessions led by MG, get the best people to come and inspire the members and have the wildest Annual Day functions I have seen in a while.

It was their idea to attempt to break the existing Guinness world record for “The Longest Human Chain Underwater”, with an original number of 221 participants. Charmingly, they simply wanted to unite and create a ripple of positivity and cheer in the mostly gloomy scenario that was mid-2016 (and this was even before DeMo). We loved the fact that the main Forum Council members were temporarily giving up their extremely busy day-jobs and focussing on all it would take to finally form the chain.

The task we had signed up for had no real precedent; the record had been set only twice in 60+ years of Guinness history, with 111 and 173 certified divers from France and Italy respectively. There were no dive buddies in India to call up and say, “Hey, how does one attempt a world record for over 200 divers?” Sid and I debated and decided on Koh Tao in Thailand, an island with over 50 dive centres and a huge bunch of resources available to attempt such a mammoth task.

We needed over 250 sets of gear and almost 40 dive professionals for a day of practice and the official attempt the next day. The Absolute Scuba team of four spent months training the participants in swimming pools, and in the meantime, we roped in Mumbai-based QUIDICH Drones – great friends, certified divers and passionate about such an opportunity. Founders Rahat and Gaurav were instrumental as our ‘eye in the sky’, helping us see the chain forming (or not) in the bay.

CUT TO 20TH DECEMBER 2016

The Absolute boys arrived in Koh Tao after 26 hours of travelling from India, with some lost baggage (later found) and a delayed ferry trip – the record was the first thing on our minds. We got to work quickly – 200+ metres of rope was weighed down and laid out in Sairee Bay, the official attempt site, and 250+ sets of gear were segregated, labelled and assembled. Videographers, the drone team and dive leaders were briefed. Following the dive plan was critical – evidence had to be collected from both over and underwater. Guinness World Records had volumes of paperwork to understand the rules and guidelines to follow. The crux of it was simple: not one diver could de-link from the chain, in order for the record to succeed.

THE FORUM ARRIVES

26th December was meant for a practice run, where everything would be put to test, and it started gloriously enough, with amazing decorum and enthusiasm – and then it all fell apart. The transition from the pool to the sea could be explained and prepared for theoretically only to a certain extent, and many individuals created weak links in the chain by not being able to settle down, adapt and stay submerged. I remember trying to be everywhere (and failing, of course). My colleague Siddharth sprinted up and down the beach trying to coordinate on a radio, with Gaurav and myself in the water. Jayesh and Shaun were doing their bit to motivate and organise, along with the group and section leaders. Clusters of divers were on the surface everywhere, and the drone showed us how large gaps existed in the chain.

Then, people started running low on air. Groups were recalled; Sid and I were so hoarse from shouting that we could barely whisper. We found a quiet corner and assembled the core team and dive leaders. The forum went back to their resorts equally quietly, realising that all was not well at all. De-briefs and analysis later, we knew what to do. The drone suddenly became a pivot point, when we realised its full potential. Dive plans were revised where needed, and it was midnight when we wrapped up.

27TH DECEMBER

A visibly altered and determined-looking forum showed up the next day. They had been given a “talk” the night before by MG, and something had changed in their resolve. The practice day had helped sort things out on the ground too, and before I knew it, the last of the participants had kitted up and entered the attempt area. To see 240+ fully kitted-up divers and dive leaders, holding hands and walking out in the bay, is something I will never forget – and not see again in a hurry. The chain formed, held, swayed, adjusted and filled in gaps and held on despite intense cramps and completely flooded masks, in a few cases. The rest of it was a blur.

We surfaced, waiting forever on the surface for Paulina, the Guinness judge to see all the evidence. It was excruciating when Sid radioed me over in the water to whisper “We have got it!”, and I could not announce that till we all got safely back on the beach. I remember touching the record certificate briefly, and then the chain claimed it for group pictures. We unfurled the Indian flag, and stood proudly beside it, singing Jana Gana Mana as loudly as we could.

When it was all over, I recollected where it had all started – with the simple idea of holding hands in unity, to create positive news worth cheering for. I feel the record did just that – and more. As an achievement, the Longest Human Chain Underwater is special, considering we had a grand total of one certified diver in the chain and about 40 per cent non-swimmers too. This is a first for scuba in India, and I hope it bodes well for the future of this splendid sport.