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Thursday, July 18, 2013


Richard William Stanton biography

In cave diving there are two different styles; technical divers who dive in flooded caves but rarely leave the water and cavers who dive but treat the flooded section as a barrier to finding further dry cave. Rick Stanton is a rarity in that he is at the top of both disciplines. Time and again he has exhibited a knack for pushing beyond the limits at which others believed the cave to have ended.

Stanton, a fireman from Coventry learned to dive in 1979 whilst at university with the primary intention of exploring caves and sumps throughout the British Isles. This has been an ongoing process right up to the present day.

 In the last 8 years, Rick has been involved in more technical cave diving using rebreathers, (often two at a time) for long penetration and depth. He has concentrated on the long deep siphons of N Europe, mainly in the Lot region of SW France, but also in the other French, Spanish and Italian caves where he specialises in combining caving techniques with long and often deep multiple sump systems, transporting large amounts of diving equipment through the dry sections of the cave in the pursuit of exploration.

Typical have been his dives at the popular site of Emergence de Ressel in southern France. This river bed cave was thoroughly explored in 1990 by the extraordinary Swiss solo cave diver Olivier Isler, who reached a dry cave section. Unable to remove his triple-circuit rebreather system unaided, Olivier swam back, declaring that he thought it unlikely the 2km long, 80m deep sump would ever be passed. using open-circuit equipment. Nine years later, Stanton and diving partner Jason Mallinson made an epic five-hour inward dive followed by a six-hour outward dive, all using open-circuit equipment. In the process, he explored hundreds of metres of dry cave passages to a further sump. This led to a three year project involving dives totalling over 4000m in five sumps & spending two days in the system.

In 2004 when six British soldiers were trapped in a Mexican cave by flood water, Rick Stanton was one of two divers flown out by the British Government to accomplish the rescue.  His quiet and confident nature made him the ideal diver for such a task; persuading one of the cavers who was scared of water to make a 180m dive out of the cave!
Constantly making and adapting equipment specially for the cave environment, Rick believed that small, lightweight rebreathers offered a way of furthering exploration at many sites. He has developed and manufactured two CCR units, most recently a unique side mount, fully closed circuit rebreather which has been instrumental in his achieving the British cave diving depth record of 90m in challenging circumstances at Wookey Hole, Somerset, the birth place of UK cave diving. Here he pushed on through gravel squeezes previously considered to be impassable at depths in excess of 70m. When Rick says something is impassable you can bet it probably is!

A short resume of Rick’s diving highlights:

1979: Started dive training at Aston Uni BSAC age 18, also joined the caving club

1982 First true original exploration dive in PolnaGun, S Ireland

1985 First major UK cave find by diving a sump in a Yorkshire pothole called Notts Pot – this was significant enough to get reported in the Guardian newspaper.

1988 Exploration dive at the bottom of a 900m deep cave called Cabexa Muxa in N Spain & major exploration project at Darren Cilau, S Wales involving camping underground for 6 days.

Early 1990’s Big discoveries by diving in the caves Gingling Hole in the Yorkshire Dales & Daren Cilau in South Wales; leading to further explorations during lengthy projects lasting three years.

1996 Joined a German expedition to survey the Ressel cave system in France. Learnt about & then further developed deep diving logistics.

First major exploration of a French cave Gouffre de l’Oule with Jason Mallinson

1998 Passing of the 1800m long 80m deep Ressel sump on open circuit. A landmark dive that paved the way for further dives here over the next three years, end is now 4050m of diving in five sumps .

1998/9 Lead divers on Bill Stone’s Wakula II project using Cis Lunar rebreathers & an electronic mapping device – lengthy bottom times beween 70-90m then 16 hours of decompression.

2003 Exploration of sumps at bottom of one of worlds deepest caves in Mexico. A Bill Stone led expedition which then made the Cheve system the 9th deepest in world at 1484m .

2003 Made connection of St George resurgence cave to the Padirac show cave many kilometres distant.

2004 helped led 6 military cavers to safety through 200m long sump in Cuatzalen Mexico after they had been flooded in for 10 days.

2005 UK cave diving depth record of 90m attained in Wookey Hole, Somerset under arduous conditions as part of a two year project. Passed the 1100m long S2 in the Cogol de Veci, N Italy a sump discovered on an expedition the previous year. Involved camping in the cave for two nights between sumps.

2006 Significant extensions to Black Keld in Yorkshire, passing 4 new sumps. Extension to Oiel de la Doue.

2007 Exploration of the Pearse resurgence in New Zealand taken from 120m to 177m on a home made rebreather, the deepest cave dive in Australasia.

Passed S12 then the newly found S13 in Fontaine del Truffe, pushed the St Sauveur cave to 186m depth. Passed the 2nd terminal restriction at the Landenouse, all in the Lot region of France.

2008 Pushed the Tannerie resurgence in the Ardeche to 222m deep.
2009 visited the terminal Hasemayer of the Rinquelle resurgence in Switzerland & visited the end of Cocklebiddy Cave in the Nullabour desert Western Australia

Plumbing the Depths of the Largest Underwater Gypsum Cave on Earth

“The reward is the possibility of seeing something beautiful, something that nobody has seen before you.”
Even with lights, it is dark, and the sense of claustrophobia is overwhelming. Passages wind off in different directions to confuse the careless or unprepared. And should you find yourself in danger in these tunnels in the Earth’s crust, there can be no quick escape; no way to scream, even. Why? Because Russia’s Orda Cave is not only deep underground, it is also underwater. As cave diver, Bogdana Vashchenko warns, “There are hundreds of ways to die in a cave, and many divers never come back.”

The Orda (or Ordinskaya) Cave is located in the shadow of the Ural Mountains, in Russia’s Perm Region at the border of Europe and Asia. It is the longest underwater cave system yet discovered in the former USSR, measuring 4,400 meters (14,435 ft) long – most of this underwater – and up to 43 meters (141 ft) deep including its dry sections. The cave also contains the longest subterranean passage fully flooded with water, which 935 meters (3,067 ft) long. And in terms of the size of its underwater galleries, it is one of the world’s biggest caves of its kind. What’s more, new smaller passages and caverns are still being found. So it’s definitely not a good place in which to get lost.

“The first time I went to the Orda cave in 2005 I immediately fell in love with it,” cave diver Bogdana Vashchenko tells Environmental Graffiti. Her husband Viktor Lyagushkin is the photographer who took these stunning photos, part of a book project called Orda Cave Awareness. “It was an incomparable delight,” she enthuses, “floating in zero gravity in giant rooms filled with absolutely clear water.”

Entering the icy waters of the cave system’s submerged section is a challenge in itself. The temperature can be a freezing -20°C (-4°F) at the surface, with the water temperature itself a heart-stopping 5°C (41°F). Making matters more difficult are the slippery steps and ladders one must navigate when descending from the surface entrance down to the water.

“As you enter the cave you feel the air temperature drop and you just know the water will be cold,” says another cave diver, Lamar Hires, of the descent into the Orda Cave. “There were patches of ice in the cave left from the previous winter thaw.” Chilling – quite literally!

Yet the rewards are great for braving the frigid waters. “Orda Cave is very diverse and each passage is different,” says Vashchenko. “Therefore, swimming in it is never boring. Each dive is very different. Moreover, it is not completely explored and you can always find a place where nobody else has been. This inspires me for each new dive.”

“For millions of years this amazing place has existed,” says Vashchenko, offering a glimpse of a grand history that makes our existence on the planet pale in comparison. “Water formed this palace when there were no humans here to see it.”
But now, of course, there are. “It is a special feeling,” she says of exploring the caves. “I think it's the same feeling cosmonauts have on the Moon. You are hanging with no gravity in this strange, unusual world. You fly like a bird over its landscapes.”

Orda Cave is known to divers as a “white bride” because of the chalky color of its gypsum rock, which formed around 200 million years back in time. Yet, this gypsum, while gorgeous to look at, also presents difficulties for explorers. “If you touch something it may break off in your hand,” explains Hires. And this can prove more dangerous than it might sound...

“If you try to ceiling walk it may rain down on you,” says Hires, expanding on the difficulty of diving in gypsum caves. Indeed, he’s even “watched a piece of the ceiling the size of a cinder block fall from the ceiling” and seen boulders at the bottom of Orda Cave “the size of cars and buses, sheared from the ceiling and resting on the floor.”

For those not in the know, cave diving is a combination of two occasionally risky but popular sports – caving and SCUBA diving. The result is an activity that is far more challenging and potentially more dangerous than either activity considered separately.

As well as losing their way in the myriad passages, cave divers have to contend with low visibility, potentially strong and tricky water currents, and perilous depths. And, as suggested, there is no easy getaway. In case of an emergency, cave divers cannot swim straight to the surface but instead have to trace their path all the way back to the exit, which may be a long way away.

Naturally, such hazards are not lost on Vashchenko. “We understand the danger of such dives, but take it gently,” she says. “We manage the risks and try to make our dives safer. In addition, I want to say that all divers who were involved in the [photographic] project trained a lot to be able to find exits from the most difficult situations.”

Like any underwater cave complex, Orda Cave is not a place for those likely to be afraid of its depths. “Do we feel fear? The answer is ‘no’,” asserts Vashchenko. “We control our risks, we manage them. Before each dive we discuss each possibility to find solutions to any situation that may arise. If it is too risky, we do not dive.”

And yet, overall, risks are part of the terrain. “Is it risky? The answer is ‘yes’,” says Vashchenko frankly. “You must be aware of each step, or you will die.”
“Thank God, Orda has been kind,” she adds, “and up until now all the divers who entered its labyrinths have returned home. Although maybe it is proof of their high level of ability.”
Because of all the potential hazards and difficulties, cave diving is a rather elite sport. In order to gain access to watery chambers like these, a diver has to undergo extensive training, and indeed most fatalities associated with the sport are associated with a lack of such preparation or else inadequate equipment.

Cave diving requires the use of specialized equipment like dry suits and rebreathers (closed circuit breathing apparatus). The divers also use guide lines to find their way around the often maze-like tunnels. Not using a proper guide line is thought to be the leading cause of death among divers who venture into caves without proper training.

There is yet another consideration Vashchenko says divers take into account when it comes to planning a successful dive. Occasionally, she tells us, lots of small problems can mount up as one is embarking on an expedition – with strobes or non-essential equipment like camera housings, for example. This is a warning sign.

“It happens to all cave divers,” says Vashchenko of such pre-dive technical glitches. She reveals that when too many things go wrong before an expedition, divers have been known to say: “the cave does not want to see you.”

According to Vashchenko, there is a kind of mysticism to cave diving and its associated dangers. “Cave divers believe that caves are alive,” she says, “That there is some kind of spirit living there.”
“If the cave does not want to see you but you insist, strange things may happen to you,” she adds.

As for the task of photographing the Orda Cave, Vashchenko says: “We worked hard. It’s a job. We had a stunning cave, and our task was not to spoil the photos through incompetent actions.”

“The team practiced at the surface and then did lots of dives to get a good result,” says Vashchkeno on the preparations undertaken in order to get these stunning pictures. “It was physically hard; the water temperature was about 5 degrees [underwater] in the cave and 20 degrees below zero at the surface.”
And not only was it cold, but each time the team descended into the caves they had to take all their equipment with them, the best part 50 meters down. “It’s hard, but we wanted to show people this beautiful cave so that they could share our admiration,” concludes Vashchenko. And seeing these amazing photographs, we’d say they have succeeded in doing just that.
Sources: 1, 2, 3, 4

Sunday, July 14, 2013

Video of the day: Cave diving in France

Sport Diver TV has been created to offer you a selection of the coolest underwater videos out there, from murky wrecks and technical dives to reef-scapes and animal encounters.
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Historic double-stage exploratory cave dive made between Grand Bahama's Mermaid Pond and the ocean
By Eddy Raphael
Jun 21, 2013 - 1:43:01 AM


Cristina Zenato and Oscar Svensson stand in front of the landmark sign for Mermaid Pond in West Grand Bahama IMAGE credit: Eddy Raphael

Freeport, Grand Bahama Island - Cristina Zenato, Diving Operations Manager, UNEXSO, and who is a NSSCDS cave instructor made history in December 2012 when she performed an historic double-stage exploratory cave dive made between Mermaid Pond in West Grand Bahama and an ocean blue hole.

This pond has been traditionally referred to as The Spring, a body of fresh water that is believed to be connected to the ocean (approximately 1,000 feet away), by an underground vein or cavern. It is believed that this reservoir of fresh water (crescent in shape with an approximate overall dimension of 97' x 40') is the result of a natural filtration process where salt water is filtered through the earth and rocks and eventually becomes fresh water.

World renown diver and shark handler, Cristina Zenato in West Grand Bahama Island IMAGE credit: Eddy Raphael

Friend, colleague and photographer Eddy Raphael gives an account of the exciting day, along with providing the photographs seen here:

One sunny afternoon in late December, my phone rang. I answered it,and the conversation went something like this, ‘Eddy! Eddy! Eddy! Get your camera, can you?! Meet us in Hawksbill by Mermaid Pond as fast as you can, we are going to make the connection! Come on, are you busy?? Come anyway!! Hurry!’ – Well, I didn’t get to speak much, apart from getting directions.
It was my very excited friend and cave instructor Cristina Zenato. Having dived the mysterious inland Mermaid Pond and found a new tunnel, she decided to explore it with her cave student and Rolex Scholarship winner Oscar Svennson, to see if they could find the link through to the ocean blue hole she had dived from the beach. If the two connect it will mark a great geological discovery.
Locals have now protected this unassuming, serene, and pretty little fresh water pond as part of the Bahamas conservation effort. Winding sharply down into the earth away from the tropical lush greenery above, it turns into a tunneled twisting abyss of bacteria coated ceilings amidst strange orange sulphur colored water. Mmmm. A cave divers delight!
Standing on the edge of the pond as final gear checks go on, crash hats are donned and gear is checked, and checked, and checked, the suspense makes me anxious. The locals look on with wonder and marvel at these crazy folk about to go down into the swampy abyss.You take into account that the rules are set, and cave divers don’t venture where they shouldn’t. Tragedy would most probably follow,and sadly, has done so in the past to surprisingly well trained cave divers. But this is Cristina we’re talking about. I’ve done surface support before when she solo dives and it has the same feeling of suspense, but a good suspense.

Cristine Zenato (left) and Oscar Svensson ready to take the plunge deep into Mermaid Pond in West Grand Bahama IMAGE credit: Eddy Raphael

Looking at my watch, Cristina firmly looks up at me from the entrance and says, ‘one hour’ and waits for my response. I look back and she has this kind of odd expression on her face that neither fills me with confidence nor does it make me doubt her, it’s a mysterious look that she gets when maintaining her balance is required. Controlling stress levels and task loading is what she trained for. Of course, I realized at the very same second the fact that personally, there is no other person I’d rather be with in a cave, than her. Her cool nature whilst diving is unsurpassed, and for a cave diver, this is fundamental. Looking at my watch, I nod my head.

Divers who cave dive are splendid divers. They are the helicopter pilots of diving, able to maintain the utmost calm and control of their safety,whilst simultaneously traversing pitch black underground flooded networks sometimes with very challenging gaps and fissures, and our Bahamian caves are old, twisty, and delicate. They were around before everything. Millions of years old. Every cave diver knows that every time their fins twitch behind them they must be careful not to break any ‘decorations’ or crystals that may protrude up from the floor, or hang from the ceiling. They do their best not to stir the silt, or they may be blinded by sediment and get lost. They manage their gases,dive time, and equipment on the fly, juggling ever-changing conditions.The training of a cave diver is elite and awesome. For me, simple‘Cavern’ training came only after open water diving professionally as a photographer for many years, and it was rather eye opening.Now, you take the combination of the caves and the divers, you then add exploration of tempting tunnels and the addictive desire of discovery, and you may think: Danger? You bet. Scary? Maybe. Worth it? Absolutely. This is what it’s all about. Goose bumps on the skin.Satisfaction and reward.

Cristina and Oscar in Mermaid Pond before their descent. IMAGE credit: Eddy Raphael

I glance over at Yoli, the other Rolex Scholarship winner who is visiting us and we both silently grin in anticipation without showing the we both aspire to explore caves and hope that one day we can both be good cave divers. The silence is broken by a brisk bark. ‘Bye!’Cristina and Oscar’s heads duck below the surface, and are gone. The pungent smell from the disturbed pond water makes us wonder what else is down there. I look at my watch.

Normally a rush of adrenalin is a thrill, but at this point I’m thinking about good luck and cool thinking, and all the other things that you don’t want to think about. Breeeeathe, I know they’ll be successful.Okay! one hour.
There isn’t much to do beside taking pictures and waiting up top,because even if something happens deep in a cave, we wouldn’t be ofany help. Rescuing cave divers can only be achieved by other cave divers.
We get back in the car this time and decide to get a large well-earned cup of coffee for Cristina and a small bottle of beer for Oscar when they emerge victorious. A couple of Jamaican patties help to fill our stomachs. Positive thoughts fuel us all the way back to the ocean.Walking the 1/4 mile down the dirt road to the ocean toting the victory beverages, we feel the strong southerly wind and emerge out onto the flat rocky coastline, which stretches into the water. Where is that blue hole? Scanning the waterline along from shore we see a bubbling blowing volume of water jutting up from the ocean. Timing is everything for them as the tide has dictated which way the water will flow. Resembling a boiling pot of water, it is here that Cristina and Oscar are going to emerge.
At least that is what we hope... As time goes on, it seems like an eternity. ‘I should keep the camera fixed on the hole’ I say, ‘maybe they will pop up, after all it is an hour now’. Yoli and I watch some children collecting stranded Octopi in a bucket for their dinner, and feel a little helpless like the Octopus. The late sun turns yellow-orange reflecting off the waves and we both turn silent.Come on guys...appear!

Photo: Arek Pers

Finally, a yellow helmet appears, and a grinning face along with it, they did it!! Staggering like crows they haul their side-mount tanks and more stage tanks slowly up the shore, and tired but laughing receive their hugs and back slaps. The sense of satisfaction on everyone’s faces is wonderful.

So it really goes all the way through... This marks an important time for Cristina, and now she can add even more to her extensive mapping project. Back at the car, there is gear laid out for breaking down and picture taking and talking and smiling. There’s even a little dancing. Amongst the hugging and dancing, Oscar holds up his hand and we all notice a small piece of duct tape wrapped around his finger. ‘Did you hurt yourself Oscar?’ says Cristina. Now remember that Oscar is also her cave student and cave divers are honest with one another. There is a code that allows a diver to call the dive before it happens, there are no questions asked. No reason needed. It avoids embarrassment, and more importantly accidents and situations from developing. Simple and effective.
However, if you hold back some small piece of information from peer pressure etc., this may be the one small thing that could potentially cause a tragic catastrophe.
Oscar’s eyes get a little wider, and guarding his finger with his other hand he says sheepishly ‘I broke it a little while ago, it’s only a fracture and...’ but before he can finish his sentence a sonic boom has broken the air. The lightning fast slap to the rear of Oscar’s head by Cristina has just reinforced the cave diver code in a way he will never forget.
Nevertheless, it truly was a great day!

Circular water to the right of this photo is the area of the blue hole, and location that Cristina and Oscar come up from. IMAGE credit: Eddy Raphael

Success! Oscar Svensson and Cristina Zenato make history by crossing from Mermaid Pond to the open ocean off West Grand Bahama. IMAGE credit: Eddy Raphael

Video: Cave Diving Along The North Shore Of Hawaii

Wednesday, May 15, 2013 23:44
(Before It's News) The latest video from the folks at Makai Creative certainly is beautiful.  Shot of the North Shore of Oahu, the short film captures some adventurous divers exploring underwater sea caves. The natural lighting is amazing to watch, but what is even more impressive is that this group wasn’t using any scuba gear on their dive at all. They simply went down with a good set of lungs filled with fresh air. That makes these shots breathtaking in more ways than one!

The Ocean Is My Playground: Cave Diving from Makai Creative on Vimeo.

Huddersfield cave divers' amazing expedition to almost a mile under the earth's surface (Picture gallery)

Expedition member (circled) in the Anthodite Hall on the Mexico cave dive
Expedition member (circled) in the Anthodite Hall on the Mexico cave dive

A YORKSHIRE explorer is celebrating after leading a team of adventurers to the lowest depth ever recorded by cavers in the Western Hemisphere.
Intrepid Chris Jewell, 31, of Huddersfield, spent seven weeks navigating the Sistema Huautla cave system in Mexico known as the most remote place ever reached inside earth. Take a look at some of his amazing pictures below.

His group, which was made up of 40 people from around the world, managed to dive, swim, climb and descend through a myriad of pitch black tunnels.
They had the gruelling task of navigating eerie, water-filled abysses known as sumps and at one stage swam underwater in darkness for 600 metres in a 28-metre deep river.
During these dives, the group had no knowledge of where they were heading.
Team member Jason Mallinson, also from Huddersfield, reached the depth of 1,545m, the deepest anyone has been in the Western Hemisphere and the eighth deepest in history.
The group managed to beat the previous record of 1,484m set nearby in the Cheve caves, while the previous record in Sistema Huautla was 1,475m.
The experience is a far cry from Chris Jewell's day job, where he works as an office-based software consultant in Manchester.
For the expedition, Chris managed to negotiate nine weeks unpaid leave, describing it as a once-in-a-lifetime trip.
He said: "You dont know what is happening in front of you but we traced the waters route to a canyon seven miles away.
"We knew where it was heading but we didnt know what was between. It is genuine exploration and it is really exciting.
"We spent up to 10 nights underground at a time, sleeping in the cave and scuba diving flooded tunnels to make it deeper and longer.
"You don't feel the depth underground, but you are aware of the remoteness and that youre two days away from sunlight.
"It is quite tranquil and eerie in places, but it is also very noisy in others because of the fast-flowing river."
The largest underwater sump was 600m long and 28m deep while the last sump reached was 440m long and 81m deep.
Team members came from the UK, USA, Canada, Poland and Mexico, working tirelessly to haul ropes, camping equipment and scuba gear up and down.
First, the cave drivers had to swim 600m underwater through two flooded tunnels to reach their advance camp.
They then spent one week exploring sump 9 and also looking for a way to bypass the flooded tunnel which represents the current end of the system.
It was sump 9 where Jason reached the record depth, with the explorers going without natural light for more than 10 days.
In total, they took 500kg of equipment for the trip, with the group setting off on February 28 this year.
Chris added: "It was incredibly deep and incredibly remote. It was a challenge and adventure and it was physically very demanding.
"Measured from the highest entrance point to the lowest depth, the part we reached was 1,545m deep.
"At the time the depth wasnt the most important thing, we were just pleased we ran a safe and smooth operation.
"It was a bonus that we got the record, we felt fantastic."

Read more: Examiner