By Brittany Shammas, Sun Sentinel
FORT LAUDERDALE, Fla. — Allen Sherrod surfaced from a stormy sea nearly three years ago with swollen hands and scabbed legs, weak but triumphant.
He’d spent two days — 48 hours and 13 minutes, to be exact — at the bottom of the Atlantic Ocean, 900 feet from the shore of Lauderdale-by-the-Sea. It was a dive that earned Sherrod a spot in the Guinness Book of World Records.
But it didn’t last long. A British diver stayed submerged in the Mediterranean, off Malta, for 49 hours and 56 minutes in October of last year.
Now Sherrod, 48, wants his record back. The Weeki Wachee, Florida, man plans to slip under the surface of the ocean again Thursday morning, in the same place he last claimed victory.
This time, if all goes as planned, he won’t come back up for 55 hours.
“It’s not a competition against any person,” said Sherrod, a former Scuba instructor and dive shop owner. “It’s kind of a competition against the environment. I mean, the environment’s who you’re going against. Your mind and the environment.”
He said his goal is to raise awareness of charities that will benefit from fundraisers held during the dive, including Diveheart, which gives scuba opportunities to people with disabilities. He also wants to draw attention to the artificial reef just off Lauderdale-by-the-Sea, and the area’s world-class diving.
“I’m pretty excited for him, but on the other hand, you worry about him, too,” said Craig Dietrich, a Jupiter, Florida-based diver and underwater photographer recruited to document Sherrod’s stay at the bottom of the Atlantic. “It’s a pretty big challenge.”
While submerged, Sherrod will limit his diet to Gatorade and a chocolate-flavored energy drink. He’ll watch TV on an iPod in a waterproof case — mostly “SpongeBob SquarePants,” a favorite of his — and communicate through his “self-contained underwater loudspeaker” invention, called SCUL.
And he’ll try to steal some sleep.
Sherrod said he plans to take it minute by minute, waiting for the minutes to turn into hours and then days.
He’ll avoid keeping a timer — when he did that before, he said he “saw the thing moving backward.”
His wife, Barbara Wynns, will make frequent visits and the pair will renew their vows during an underwater ceremony. A diver and former mermaid performer at Weeki Wachee Springs State Park, she understands the pull of the sea.
Two boats stationed overhead will monitor Sherrod. And a team of divers from across Florida will constantly be at his side, helping with tank changes on a rotating basis. Chuck Baldwin, the dive operations coordinator, said he and about 15 other divers were happy to sign on.
“He’s doing something that everybody likes to do, be underwater and stay there,” said Baldwin, owner of Pompano Beach’s U.S. 1 Scuba. “If you’re an avid diver, you get to point where you say, ‘Hey, I want to live here.'”
Among the challenges the diver could face is the weather. Sherrod said he is hoping this time won’t be a repeat of 2011, when strong currents forced him to cling to an artificial reef for stability and sometimes carried support divers away.
Then there’s the chilliness of nights spent undersea. A heated dry suit should offer protection against the cold that made Sherrod shake when the sun went down each night last time.
Sherrod, who called his 2011 stint underwater “pretty easy,” says it’ll be fun. A longtime lover of diving, he’s made several attempts at beating records and until recently held the one for the longest fresh water dive, at more than five days (saltwater dives are more difficult because of the current and tides, so the records are shorter.)
While talking to a friend about sleep arrangements for the upcoming dive in the Atlantic, Sherrod was unconcerned.
“He says, ‘I’m not going to be down there that long,'” recalled Richard Black, of New Smyrna Beach, owner of Florida Dive Connection, an online news and information site, and coordinator of events during the upcoming dive. “Here’s a man who’s conditioned to think 55 hours is not that long.”
Photo: Orlando Sentinel/MCT/Tom Benitez
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