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Wednesday, June 05, 2013

KARST UNDERWATER RESEARCH

Sulphur SpringsMain ArticleCave SurveyTeam Members
 Click here to download the official KUR report

Sulphur Springs is located in Hillsborough County, Florida in a heavily urbanized area of Tampa on property owned by the City of Tampa. In the past, the spring had been open to the public as a park and swimming pool. In 1986, the spring was closed to the public due to high concentrations of coliform bacteria.
Karst Underwater Research explored Sulphur Springs to provide the city with survey data of the cave system and identify possible intrusion points within the system. The city also expressed an interest in the fluctuations in the chloride levels at the spring.

Hydrology
The spring discharges an average of 44 cubic feet per second(cfs) into a concrete retention pool 50 feet in diameter. A set of weirs on the south side of the pool control the discharge of the spring from the retention pool to a 500 foot run that feeds the Hillsborough River. During periods of drought, an adjacent pump house is activated to pipe the water about two miles away to a city drinking reservoir.

The main contributor to the pollution is a series of sink holes extending three miles north of the spring. Stormwater and street runoff are directed into these sinks via large drainage pipes.

An environmental study contracted by the City in the late 1980's provided tantalizing information about what the system might be like. Dye tests at various sinkholes north of Sulphur Springs indicated that one sinkhole about 5,000 feet north of the spring was hydraulically connected. Two other sinkholes, approximately 8,000 feet north of the spring, connected directly into the system and two others (Curiosity Sink and Blue Sink 5), which are approximately 12,000 feet from the spring, directly connected to Sulphur Springs. Curiosity and Blue Sink have been filled in since these dye tests were performed as a result of a land collapse during nearby construction.

The predominant limestone layers in the system is the Tampa formation. The limestone is yellow to brown in color and soft and course in consistency. The system has depths ranging from 30 to 118 fsw. The softest layers appear to be in the 30-40 fsw range. The limestone is cut with layers of clay that appear to be responsible for most of the breakdown as rock separates along these clay lines.

Biological Studies
The floor, ceiling, and walls are covered with a fluffy brown detritus. In some places these deposits were over six inches thick. Every move -- every exhalation -- sends this detritus bellowing everywhere like a blizzard. Samples taken of this papier-mache-like matter later revealed that it was actually pulverized plant matter -- broken down to the cellular level. Interestingly, nothing living was found in the samples examined by the city. It is suspected that the detritus is introduced to the cave system along with the coliform bacteria at the Poinsetta and Orchid Sinks.

On later dives, brackish water vents were discovered. These vents had developed during the project and were not present on earlier dives. Surrounding these vents, white hair-like growth developed and flourished in the mineral rich water. It was noted that the flow from these vents fluctuated and when the flow diminished adequately or ceased, these growths died. The main tunnel leading southeast from the terminal room had only minor (weak flowing) salt vents when first explored. On subsequent dives, the brackish flow from these vents and others further upstream had increased significantly. The largest tunnel (bearing southeast from the terminal room) had changed from containing minor salt vents to issuing enough brackish water that the entire tunnel became a light-refracting halocline. As the salt flow increased from deeper in the system it was noted that the vents first discovered closer to the entrance had ceased to flow. During this transitional period there was little to no rain fall. The initial salt vents were discovered following a period of significant rainfall. All salt producing vents found to date have been between 80 fsw and 118 fsw.

As a result of the elevated levels of salt water in the system, free-floating, jelly-like organisms were identified throughout the system and in the basin. None of these organisms were present prior to appearance of the first salt vents. These organisms appear to be originating deep in the system and carried out by the flow. Samples taken indicated that these organisms are Thiothrix (a unicellular gliding bacteria that derives energy by converting hydrogen sulphide into elemental sulphur).

Cave Exploration
Sulphur Springs From discussions with local cave divers and city officials, KUR was told that there had been no divers in the system to date. During the mid 1980's, a few local cave divers were granted access to enter the spring, but found the flow to be too great (with no hand holds), and the opening too small. In the late 1980's one cave diver was able to get through the entrance restriction with a sidemount setup. After this initial dive, the city decided it was too risky to allow diving, and again halted access to the site.

In March of 1994, Jeff Petersen and Frank Richardson negotiated an agreement with the city to allow exploration of the spring to help with ongoing effort to find a solution to the pollution entering the system. The initial KUR members consisted of Curt Bowen, David Miner, Jeff Petersen, and Frank Richardson. Sulphur Springs contains almost every negative feature associated with cave diving: low visibility, heavy silt, extreme ceiling/wall percolation, high flow, restrictions and soft/unstable limestone.

A thick layer of detritus covers everything within the system, nearly zero visibility results on all exit phases of dives that involve exploration of new passages. As a result of brackish intrusion, the water maintains a hazy quality that (when coupled with the light-eating detritus covering the walls) yields 20 foot visibility under the most optimal conditions.

Tunnels range in size from 3' X 3' to one large room with average tunnels being 10' X 10'. The floor of most tunnels is covered with breakdown varying in size from boulders to fist-sized rocks. Some areas have sand dunes and clay beds.

Because of the initial restriction, sidemount gear was used on the first three dives. Thereafter, the restriction was excavated enough to allow divers to squeeze in with backmounted doubles. Later, a PVC ladder was tied into the bed of the entrance to allow divers easier access; a rope was attached to pull stage bottles and scooters into the system.

Stage bottles were introduced to allow further exploration. The final two swim dives consisted of triple stages and doubles. Due to the high flow and intrinsic inefficiencies of carrying three stage bottles, the maximum penetration from the entrance was limited to 2,700 feet. Set up dives were planned but never executed due to scheduling difficulties.

The decision was made to use scooters to reduce the work load on the dive team. Using Teknas and Aqua Zepps an additional 500 feet were added. At this point, the tunnel appears to be impassable without resorting to sidemount techniques to negotiate restrictions where inflowing water is apparent.

Due to the low visibility, efforts are continuing within the area from 1,800 feet to 2,700 feet to identify any other possible side tunnels. Surveying of smaller/ancillary tunnels continues. Maps presented are drafts only.

As of the date of this document, approximately 5,000 feet have been surveyed with a maximum penetration of 3,200 feet in the tunnel that appears to be headed for Alaska Sink and a maximum penetration of 3,600 feet in the main tunnel where the primary flow is coming from Poinsetta Sink. There have been approximately 60 dives in the system to lay line, survey, and collect samples.

Alaska (10th Street) Sink
Two dives at this sink (on private property) indicated an extremely narrow restriction (10-12 inches) at the base of the debris cone with a silty bottom. No flow was detected on either dive. Because of the extremely silty conditions, further efforts at Alaska have been suspended until the KUR has pumped out some of the silt to clear the passage. Water in the sink was significantly clearer than at Sulphur Springs, having a gray tint rather than the green-brown tint of Sulphur Springs' water.

Poinsetta/Jasmine and Orchid Sinks
Five dives have been attempted at this sight (on City of Tampa property). Flow was noted at the bottom of the sink. The upstream tunnel has a limestone ceiling, but is currently impassable due to collapses of surrounding earth. The blue-tinted water issuing from the upstream tunnel is the clearest noted throughout the system. Efforts to excavate this opening to make it passable resulted in another collapse; efforts upstream have temporarily been suspended.

The downstream openings are all in soft earth and take in considerable water including plant matter. Although one of the down stream openings is slightly larger than the upstream open, no effort has been made to penetrate this tunnel due to the instability of the surrounding earth, the syphoning effect, and decreased visibility.

Orchid Sink (one block south of Poinsetta/Jasmine Sink) is a dry sink. The sink contains drainage pipes that direct water from rainfall into the basin. After heavy rainfalls, the water swirls clockwise until it is dry again. It is suspected that the sand layers just below the surface at the bottom of sink are responsible for grinding up the plant matter before it filters into the cave system.

Curiosity Sink, et al
Two dives were performed in the curiosity sink area (City of Tampa property). One was performed at Blue Sink to confirm that no opening remained after the reported collapses from nearby construction. The flat, leaf-covered bottom of the sink was a level 5-7 feet with no apparent flow and tannic water.

A second dive was performed at a spring located in the Curiosity Basin (on private property). The owners of the property reported a strong flow prior to the Blue Sink collapse. Subsequent to the collapse, the resulting back up of water in the basin and increased hydrostatic pressure has significantly diminished the flow from the spring. The owner reported intermittent flow apparent at the surface. The reconnaissance dive indicated a tree limb choked entrance with no flow.

Springs Eternal Project



oasis in the dark.SEv2.xl
Oasis in the Dark
Photo by John Moran
and David Moynahan

Our Water, Our Future


The Springs Eternal Project is an evolving series of creative partnerships initiated by Lesley Gamble, John Moran and Rick Kilby in collaboration with a diverse community of springs scientists, researchers, artists and advocates.  Our goal is to work across traditional institutional and cultural divides in order to understand how and why the health and flow of our springs are in serious decline, and to inspire Floridians to work together to ensure timely and effective solutions that benefit everyone, including future generations.
The Springs Eternal Project is a celebration of the springs we were given, a meditation on the springs we could lose, and an invitation to the people of Florida to fall in love with our springs all over again, mindful that the choices we make today foretell the Florida of tomorrow.
Please click on links in the menu bar to find out more about each of the current projects.
Springs Eternal: Florida’s Fragile Fountains of Youth documents thirty years of acclaimed Florida nature photographer John Moran’s forays to the springs, chronicling their beauty, the diversity of people who love them, and the changes many of us have seen.  Springs Eternal runs from March to December 15th at the Florida Museum of Natural History in Gainesville, Florida, before moving on to other venues statewide.
Also debuting at the Florida Museum of Natural History, Rick Kilby’s Finding the Fountain of Youth: Exploring the Myth of Florida’s Magical Waters examines how the legend of Ponce de León’s quest for restorative waters shaped the Sunshine State’s image as a land of fantasy, rejuvenation, and magical spring-fed waters. Rich in images, this exhibition is based on an upcoming book by Rick Kilby, published by the University Press of Florida. It shows how the myths surrounding the discovery of “La Florida” influenced perceptions of the state that still echo today.
*urban aquifer debuts at FLMNH.xl.1122
Urban Aquifer debut at the Florida Museum of Natural History, Gainesville, FL. April 20th 2013
Urban Aquifer, created by Lesley Gamble, is a real-time performance artwork and ongoing public service event that “daylights” the aquifer under our feet, reaching out to people who may never have visited a museum or a spring.  Wrapped in large-scale photographs of the springs, Regional Transit System buses flow through our urban conduits as a metaphoric aquifer, the lifeblood of our region. QR barcodes on the buses link viewers directly to the Springs Eternal website, which offers a wealth of information about springs featured in the exhibition, including news, science, history and public policy, as well as groups and organizations involved in springs research, education, advocacy and restoration.
Providing opportunities for insight, wonder and delight, the Springs Eternal Project transports the springs to the forefront of daily public consciousness, empowering Floridians to make good choices for our water– and our future.
Cave Divers Entering the Labyrinth
Cave Divers Entering the Labyrinth

PATRICIA A. BEDDOWS, PH.D. - CAVE DIVER SCIENTIST

Patricia A. Beddows, Ph.D.
Environmental Scientist and Hydrogeologist
McMaster University, Canada

Patricia Beddows studies the hydrology, geochemistry, and geology of limestone areas where caves have formed. These "karst" regions supply approximately 25% of the world's water supplies, host unique biology, and preserve records of the human and geological past.
Patricia's research in the karst Yucatan Peninsula began in 1996 as an assistant to researchers from the Mexican National Autonomous University. This impressive experience directed her career path with both her Master of Science (McMaster, Canada) and her Ph.D. (Bristol, UK). She has explored the hydrodynamics of the most extensive flooded cave systems in the world, found in the Yucatan. Her research continues today with students and projects dedicated to assessing cave water, contaminant flows, and reconstructing past conditions.
As a Postdoctoral Research Fellow at McMaster University, she also provides modern calibrations for past climate records in 6 other karst regions across North America. Patricia enjoys caving and cave diving whenever possible, is tri-lingual, has published 17 articles and chapters, and provided 26 professional and public education presentations to date. She is proud that her research contributes to better environmental management in karst lands and appreciates the extensive support of all the cave divers, landowners, NGO, agencies, and government officials that have made the research discoveries possible.

Diver deaths spawn rumors of underground waterway


by Mike Smith Daily Lobo
Blue_Hole1
About 120 miles east of Albuquerque, on the eastern edge of the town of Santa Rosa, N.M., lies a tiny oval of blue water – a spring-fed sinkhole about 80 feet wide and 81 feet deep – known as the Blue Hole.
Blue_Hole2
Sometime ago a group of scuba divers dove into the Blue Hole, eager to explore every nook and fissure of the smooth-walled sinkhole. After climbing out, they realized one of their divers had disappeared.
Six months later, the body of that diver finally surfaced, but not in Santa Rosa. It was discovered, the story claims, in Lake Michigan – more than a thousand miles away – naked, waterlogged and with much of its skin scuffed off, as if it had been pushed and scraped through miles of rocky tunnels.
If the story is true, one of the longest underground waterways in the world could lie directly beneath us. Perhaps the direct water route across the continent searched for by the explorers Lewis and Clark actually exists – underground. Andrea Sachs, in a Dec. 19, 2004, Washington Post article, wrote that there is a protective metal grate covering a spring that produces about 3,000 gallons of fresh water per minute on the Blue Hole’s limestone floor. And, she wrote, that grate also seals off an elaborate network of caves that twists southward 200 miles, down to Texas.
“I don’t think anyone knows just how extensive that system is,” said Si Minton, owner of New Mexico Scuba Center. “No one has ever explored the total cave system below Blue Hole.”
“The only maps (of the cave network) are apparently sketches made by rescue divers. There are reportedly some rooms below the sink, and it goes to 250 feet with a going passage beyond,” said Mike Poucher, cartographer for the National Speleological Society Cave Diving Section. “How far does it go? No one knows.”
Poucher said the grate blocking the cave system was installed in the early 1980s, after at least four divers died in the caves during the previous decade.
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In March of 1976, the Albuquerque Journal reported two of these deaths, detailing how a group of 10 university students were diving in the Blue Hole one morning, how 21-year-old David Gregg and 22-year-old Mike Godard failed to resurface, and how it took the State Police multiple dives to recover their bodies. In 1979, two other divers got lost and died in the caves. Their bodies were recovered as well.
That the bodies of all who drowned in the Blue Hole’s caves were quickly accounted for suggests that the Lake Michigan story really is only rumor, as does the area’s geology.
The odds of there being a hydrologic connection to the Great Lakes from New Mexico are about as remote as finding a wormhole to transport you there across time and space,” said scientist Mike Spilde, UNM’s resident cave-geology expert.
“In other words, it just doesn’t exist. First, it would require a continuous rock stratum capable of supporting caves to be present all the way from New Mexico to the Great Lakes, which there isn’t. More importantly, the body would have to get past the huge hydrologic barrier of the Mississippi River. The river acts as a giant collection system, moving not only surface water to the ocean, but a lot of subsurface water, too. The body would have to swim upstream to get to the Great Lakes,” he said.
So, perhaps the story isn’t so strange after all.
However, in 1976 and 1979, as the young divers swam their ways silently through dark caves deep beneath the New Mexico desert, feeling the walls for a way back out, the truth of the story was probably strange to them. As they lost their way, their headlamps dimmed and died, their air supplies seeped away in panicked moments, and they swam from this life into the wide unknown that follows. The events of their mornings could not have felt entirely normal.
Me jumping into Blue Hole in 2007
Me jumping into Blue Hole in 2007

Piccaninnie Ponds

Piccaninnie Ponds
Both Ewens Ponds and Picaninnie Ponds are two popular freshwater diving sites in the south eastern region of Australia. At the Picaninnie Ponds, you can dive, swim or snorkel across the chasm and swim down to check out the underwater creatures and plants.
The best part of the Picaninnie Ponds is its crystal clear waters, which actually gets slowly filtered naturally through the limestone. The process is occurring since thousands of years and it has resulted in the formation of various limestone forming underneath the pond water.

Piccaninnie Ponds Diving, South Australia

The pressure built due to the uprising of freshwater to the surface has resulted in the erosion in the limestone that in turn resulted in the chasm formation. The Picaninnie Ponds also boast the large underwater cavern of the Cathedral; the mechanism behind the formation of this cavern is same as the chasm.
Divers can get some picturesque views of its majestic naturally sculptured limestone white walls. The chasm at the Picaninnie Ponds also has an abundance of green algae on its white walls.
With a clear underwater visibility up to 40 metres, this pond is one of the spectacular and stunning freshwater diving sites in the entire South Australia. As one of the largest freshwater springs, this pond is a popular diving destination among the novice and experienced divers.
You will see a variety of small fish, snails, mussels, mites, amphibians, shrimp, frogs and tortoise here. Apart from that the pond water also houses an array of beautiful aquatic plants and weeds.
The Picaninnie Ponds truly represents the region’s unique geology and spectacular hydrology.

Piccaninnie Ponds Information

If we have been able to help you in any way, please share our website by using the buttons to the left.
Address: Piccaninnie Ponds Road, Wye
Operating Hours: 24 hours
Prices:
Adult: $11.00 Snorkelling permit (per timeslot)
Adult: $68.00 Cave diving permit (annual)
Adult: $32.00 Cave diving permit (per timeslot)
Enquiries:
Phone: 08 8735 1177
Email: trudy.barnett@sa.gov.au
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THE HERAULT CAVE DIVING EXPEDITION

The Herault
Google Map showing the department Herault,
just north of the mediterranean coast.
The Herault is a region of France, just north of Montpellier and forms part of the Languedoc-Rousillon department.
It is surrounded by the departments of Aude, Tarn, Aveyron and Gard.
The region is primarily limestone, offering scenic river gorges, natural cirques and beautiful caves.
The Herault also produces excellent, fruity wine and is the home of Vin de Pays de L'Herault, which produces mostly red wine and rosé from the region.


The Viz valley, Herault

The region has several major river valleys, two of the most significant are the Vis and the Herault. These river valleys host several cave systems and the Vis in particlular is headed by the Source de la Vis (or Foux de la Vis), a stunning resurgence and old mill at the head of the valley, 1KM walk from the nearest road.
The river Herault is 92 miles (148KM) long and the source is on the slopes of Mont Aigoual, part of the Massif Central in the Cévennes.

Along the rivers are some picturesque towns, such as Saint-Guilhem le Désert and Saint Maurice de Navacelles, which hosts the jaw-dropping Cirque de Navacelles. There are also some superb show caves to visit, which offer quality excursions and excellent commentary of cave formation in the area. Grotte des Demoiselles offers cathedral-like fossil formations and dripstone organ pipes, amongst some chambers of large dimensions - the 'Cathedral' is 52 metres high.
La Grotte de Clamouse is one of the best decorated caves in France. Showing off plentiful aragonite, pristine stalactites and columns and straws and helictites, the show cave do an amazing job of commentary and education with the slide show at the start of the tour. The light show near th eend of the tour may not be to everyones taste, but they put a lot of effort into everything they do and do the cave justice. Clamouse light show.

Grotte de Dargilan is a beautiful showcave set in the breath taking scenery of nearby Lozére.

 Herault 2007
The team gather at the bottom of the pitch
in the Seoubio
Herault 2007 by Christine Grosart

The Herault is a stunning region of river valleys in the Languedoc department (34) of France. It is situated a couple of hours north of Montpellier. A British team from the Cave Diving Group had been exploring this cave with the assistance of the local cavers, who were keen to find a 'back door' to the cave by digging down from the surface.
The British team made many trips and mapped out several Kilometres of muddy cave, involving 8 sumps, the first of which is a pebble squeeze which needs to be dug open in order to pass it.
I first visited this cave in 2002 and assisted on subsequent trips before my cave diving training. One of the original team invited us to have a look at the current end of the cave system one Easter, as the rest of the group had stated that they were not going to go back and we were welcome to take a look.

The cave ended in dry passage and the previous team were stopped by a mud climb which required a rope to negotiate. These are my logs of our trip to the cave over the four days we spent at the Hortus Plateau.


Divers set off into Sump 1
05/04/07
 

Calaven de La Seoubio, Commune de Claret, Herault, X=721,52    Y=171,80   Z=300m
Divers – Jon Beal (JB), Clive Westlake (CDW), Charlie Reid-Henry (CRH), Christine Grosart (CSG)
Surface support – CPLA
Four divers went down to the Herault to both have a look at and extend the terminal point of the cave and to radio-locate a possible surface dig site.
JB rigged the entrance pitch and we set about lowering equipment for the exploratory trip and JB dug out the boulder choke in Sump 1, which is blocked by cobbles. Once a reasonable size and passable, CRH and CSG dived back and forth passing kit through the choke, with JB and CDW taking gear forwards to Sump 2, ready for the exploratory trip.

Chris sets off through sump 1
06/04/07    Divers JB, CDW, CRH, CSG.The divers dropped the pitch and got changed with the French Papparazzi circulating and taking pictures!
Entering the water would have been easy – exiting would have been very difficult without a ladder or similar. On the return, everyone noted the radio-location site and CSG and CRH had separate, near drowning moments for different reasons in the lakes on the way home. A very relieved and happy team surfaced to a very relieved and happy team of French papparazzi (CLPA) some 11 hours (roughly) later.
Quote of the trip: CSG at the bottom of the 30m entrance pitch - “I suppose I'd better get onto this rope – then I can have a sit down!”  (Clive rolls around laughing).

09/04/07  Divers JB, CDW, CRH, CSG

 


Gear recovery trip: It was made somewhat easier thanks to CDW and CRH bringing the gear from Sump 2 back to the upstream side of Sump 1. CRH and CSG ferried gear through the squeeze and the gear hauling finished up a successful trip and we said goodbye to the Seoubio for 2007.
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
In addition to the exploratory trips to the Seoubio, we enjoyed some dry caving and cave diving in some of the other nearby sites.Here are some log book entries from the trip.

03/04/2007 Source du Durzon, Commune de Nant, Aveyron (Access currently denied as of 2012)
Divers: Clive westlake, Christine Grosart
Pleasant dive down to 29m, about 300m in. I dived backmounted which was interesting in the entrance choke; would have preferred to be sidemount.


Grotte de Vitalis
Photo by Clive Westlake
04/04/2007 Cave de Vitalis  Grotte Vitalis
Clive Westlake, Christine Grosart
This cave was dubbed the 'Cheese Cave', not surprisingly as it was once used to store cheese! A very warm cave and we managed to navigate it quite well, given Clive couldn't remember any of it and I had never been there before. A couple of interesting rope climbs and nice formations, but many have been ruined due to the careless passage of cavers.



Event de Rognes
by Clive Westlake
10/04/2007 Event de Rognes (Rubbish Dump Cave)
Clive Westlake, Jon Beal, Charlie Reid-Henry, Christine Grosart
Cracking little trip, with loads of gour pools, climbs, swims and decorations. All arrived att he chamber where the passages split three ways and get grisly beyond. Definitely a wetsuit trip!

11/04/2007
Foux de Lauret
Jon Beal, Clive Westlake, Christine Grosart
The CLPA kindly arranged to open the cave for us and we found the entrance after some debate - to crawl for about half an hour in dug-out sand crawls. These opened out into pleasant, meandering passages with turquoise blue pools which were gin clear.

Elaine Hill in the Foux de Lauret (2012)
by Christine Grosart
Navigated our way through pools which made pleasant swimming in wetsuits and down to the lower gallery, which was a large railway tunnel of a passage, with helictites and large gour pools with turquoise water sparkling in our lights.
After finding a bypass to the sump, a narrow rift up on the left out of the water by a large boulder, we stumbled across a beautiful chamber with gour lakes, rippled sandy floor and sparkling crystal gour cascades.

12/04/2007 Source du Sorgues (Cornus, Aveyron)
Clive Westlake, Christine Grosart
Superb resurgence-flop in a very inviting blue pool with beautiful cave passage beyond. Dived the length of the large passage to the start of the narrow, upwards rift which is the terminus of the cave. It got a bit committing in a twinset and I retreated, whilst Clive was busying himself writing on his slate: 'Abime de Mas Raynal 2KM that way!'
Dived home in comfort and escaped decompression, to surface in a miserable downpour.

Chris setting off into the Sorgues, 2007

 

Friday, September 9, 2011


Esperelle

Before I go into details of our dive here, I should stress that this cave is NOT for public access and is indeed the water source for the town of Millau. Permission is required to dive here and we obtained this through a friend and a French cave diver before visiting the cave. Illegal dives here are quite likely to spoil ongoing attempts to reach an agreeable solution about diving the source, hence I have withheld its whereabouts.

The plan was to video the cave and as a result, will offer any footage we have to the local speleo activists to use in their quest to demonstrate how important divers are in the protection of caves and scientific hydrological research. At the end of the day, we are the only ones who can actually see what goes on under the water, under the rock, in the dark.
We drove almost 2 hours on nothing but winding roads and stunning gorges until we reached the village and after a little inventive French speaking and some friendly locals, located the source. We parked up but our French guide, Mehdi, was not there. Worried, I made a few calls back home to some friends who knew him but there were no such worries, as he showed up minutes later, having been diving in the Font d’Estremar all day!

We began carrying kit to the cave and we spoke to Mehdi in our best going out French and he spoke to us in pretty good English. He was to dive with us and both Rich and Joe had video cameras.

Due to gas logistics (there are no filling stations down here, so all trimix was pre-filled, as were deco gases – the rest is to be topped off by the compressor, courtesy of the Derbyshire Section CDG) Rich and I dived sidemounted as these were the only ‘backgas’ cylinders we had left which could be used, the rest still full of 15/55 for next week.

Chris in the entrance series of the Esperelle
So we dived on 60m gas to reach pretty much the terminus of this cave, which ends in a jumbled, jagged breakdown choke at -65m.
The journey there however, was spectacular. Clive Westlake, my ex-CDG mentor was the last person to dive here 4 years ago and prior to that, the last diver had been in the cave no less than 8 years ago. And it showed.
Mehdi in the Esperelle

Our exhalation bubbles sent bits of conglomerate and chert raining down on us and wafting past the video cameras. Anything you touched simply broke off in your hand so we dived it with kid gloves. The entrance is a narrow rift and we dropped off our deco bottles as we followed the winding, ‘diaclase’ (maze) to the head of a shaft.

I’ve seen some impressive underwater shafts, some pretty famous, but this was one of the more pretty and intricate ones. Mehdi dived a Megdalon ‘recycleur’ and stealthily crept along behind us, grinning in awe at the view he was presented with, descending above Rich with his double 18W filming lights, above me with my HID… he said it was pretty amazing! The visibility was infinite and sparkling blue.


Mehdi diving the Esperelle
I saw the line snaking off towards the breakdown terminus and thumbed the dive at 59.9m. We had a nice ascent and Mehdi began chatting to me through his RB and I felt obliged to waffle some crap in French back!!
We picked up our deco gases and Rich filmed Mehdi down some side passage while I wrestled with getting an ali stage clipped off to sidemount 12s, all the while feeling a bit underweighted; I soon realised that this was due to a sticking wing inflator valve which was filling my ‘Scoff-Bag’ at a rate of knots. Giggling at my stupidity for not noticing it sooner, I told Mehdi I was fine and that I would deal with the simultaneously freeflowing regulator later……
Such annoyances don’t spoil a great dive like this though and we surfaced at dusk, waffling in barely coherent Franglais at how good it was and how worth the drive etc etc.
I asked Mehdi if he would please join us for dinner, or a beer at least. One step ahead, he produced a bottle of delicately balanced local white wine which had been cooling in the resurgence all the while!!
Oz and Joe are elated with their dive
We waited for the others to surface and giggled uncontrollably as they had stuck true to form, getting totally lost and taking the wrong line and ending up in some shit-hole about 0.5m high and full of mud, unable to turn around etc. They did make it to the deep in the end but they won’t live it down as it’s not the first time either! - LOL.

The stars started to come up over the gorge and the white limestone cliffs were lit by the moon and we tore down the gorge after Mehdi who showed us to a very welcome pizza restaurant and made sure we were looked after.
An absolutely awesome dive, great company and a superb evening. Days don’t get much better than this. Thank you Guy.

Event de Rodel

Oz kitting up at dive base
Rich still wasn’t feeling up to a ‘big’ trimix dive, but was feeling a little better so we opted for an easy tourist dive which I had yet to visit.
The cave is close to the road (100m) and involved another 100m dry caving. We set off in the afternoon so it was a pretty hot carry to get our kit and all Joe’s filming gear into the cave. We had also opted for drysuits which was a good thing underwater, but involved a bit more carrying too. Kneepads are a must over drysuits in this cave.

A couple of hours of carrying, setting up, filming and getting ready to dive and Joe and Oz set off with the camera and Rich and I began kitting up to dive on their return.

As they returned, the amazing, azure blue sparkling water flashed in their lights and I knew this was going to be good…..but nowhere near as good as it turned out to be.

Oz and Joe spat their regs out and announced it was ‘stunning’ so without further a do, Rich and I set off under the rock and were greeted with perfect white walls, cobbled floor and sparkling blue water with infinite visibility.


Screen grab from Joe's film footage of the sump
I dived in front and we weaved our way along the bedding planes, taking our time and gawping at this beautiful underwater scenery.
We soon met a cobble slope which was snug and required some digging. Oz and Joe and already dug a bit to get through so very little work was required on our part and we popped through easily and continued to virtually the end of the line. Rich followed me through and we ended up in a convoluted boulder choke which was getting smaller and nastier and was clearly a section of breakdown and the line was in bad order so I thumbed the dive as we were close to thirds anyway and had a leisurely swim home.
The carry out took half the time of the carry in and Oz and Joe had neatly tidied everything into 4 manageable tackle bags. We were out just as dusk turned to nightfall and we headed back to camp for dinner and some wine. A good day out!