Learning to cave is the beginning of a whole new adventure.
Where else can you take up a hobby which can lead to exploring parts of this planet where literally, nobody else has ever been?
All the mountains have been mapped and most of the ocean floor has been documented. But nobody knows what lies inside the Earth until somebody goes there.
Many cavers spend their spare time ‘digging’ to remove obstructions in caves such as sand or boulders to open up new cave passages, or even dig open new ones from the surface.
I’m far too impatient for that! In order to discover places no human has ever been, I took up cave diving in 2004 and never looked back.
I had mostly used conventional SCUBA equipment, reconfigured for appropriate use in caves. Following my 2017 exploration in a cave called Izvor Licanke in Croatia, the logistics of using this equipment became a limitation. The cave was deep and we only had enough gas and bottles for one dive on the expedition.
So, I bought a machine called a Closed Circuit Rebreather. It meant learning to dive in a slightly different way and I figured the best way to learn was to get lots of time in the water. My partner Richard and I headed out to Egypt last summer to take a little break and spend hours getting used to my new equipment.
Hopefully, this new rebreather will open up many doors and allow me to explore Licanke even further to discover yet more places unknown to humans.
Want to begin your adventure with us? Book now for your ‘Try Caving’ experience with WetWellies!
Several hundred nautical miles from land, somewhere between Shetland and Norway, my medical bay is quiet.
I can’t hear any radios screeching for ambulances to clear, no controllers watching my every move, no drunks rolling in their own vomit – alcohol is not allowed offshore.
I’m on board the Olympic Areas, a spanking new ‘multi purpose’ vessel designed for the oil and gas industry. She’s a Norwegian vessel and I’m enjoying the copious amounts of salmon for lunch – and dinner.
Having left full time employment in the NHS early in 2017 and trained for over a year as an Offshore Medic and Diver Medic, the opportunity came quickly to leave dry land and head out to the oil rigs of the Thistle Field.
I was flown to Aberdeen by business, my hair grew long, I ate some fantastic food and the 80+ crew on board were super polite and a pleasure to be around. This is just as well as I was on board for 5 weeks!
It meant I couldn’t take any WetWellies bookings over the summer but fear not, we’re back in business this winter – so best to book before I vanish again!
We have availability on the following dates and early birds booking before the end of January will receive a 10% discount across the WHOLE booking.
The Krnica dive team know how to throw a good BBQ.
You can’t get away with a trip to Krnica without at least one good BBQ. Despite being in Fuzine, we kept the tradition. We spent the first day looking for this elusive BBQ and couldn’t find it. It wasn’t until several days later that we realised that the accommodation had a whole room dedicated to BBQ – decorated with various stuffed animals, of course. Robbie set to work and cooked up a storm and there were a few sore heads the next day.
We spent some time doing some interviews of the team for the forthcoming film on the project and then headed off to the local show cave which we were pretty convinced linked up somehow with Licanke. First of all, Spilja Vrelo was downstream of Licanke – so our efforts some distance upstream were unlikely to see us popping up out of the water and terrifying the tourists. It might well link to Affluent du Charlotte, a smaller dry passage which heads south east not far from the first sump. Either way, the show cave guide didn’t know much about it.
The show cave was short but well decorated and the cool of the underground was a welcome break from the baking heat outside. We went for a drive up into the hills, almost directly north of where our survey was heading. We were met with thick forestry and a non-starter of a task to find sink holes. We had the whole of the mountain to explore yet and it was probably easiest done underground…
We said goodbye to Rick, who had an impending date with his daughter’s ballet performance and set off via several scenic routes to Krnica. Unpacking the van was a hot and sweaty affair and we shoved various items into various bags and boxes for bringing back to the UK at various intervals. Rich fortunately managed to get hold of some squid and chips from the café next door to Krnica dive centre as I was getting withdrawal symptoms and we headed off to pizza Kum to catch up with JP & Anne-Marie Bresser.
I decided that our last day should be spent in the sea. Ash and Mark looked a little nervous for their own reasons. Ash did not have much experience on his rebreather in the sea and wasn’t confident in his use of a twinset, but he would give it a go. Mark knew this was a bit of a step up for him, but we were confident he would be OK. We sorted our gear the next morning and headed out on Santi Boat, a large and comfortable dive boat with an awning for shade and a nice bow to lie on and soak up the sun.
The two hour ride took us out to the SS Lina. She has been on the seabed for a long time and is 100 years old. She is a proper mini Titanic – completely intact, bolt upright on the seabed and the stern is 20 metres deeper than the bow, allowing divers to pick their depths. We would dive it on nitrox this time and stay in the forward area. JP and his students jumped in first and we took our time and descended as a team.
Rich and Ash headed off to play with photos and I took Mark on a gentle tour. I could tell he was enjoying himself and we spent half an hour enjoying the warm water, the view and the fish. Mark surfaced spluttering about how amazing it was and after lunch, we set off for another dive. Mark peered down into the now empty holds and gestured if he could go and take a look. I replied “Of course” and Mark immediately went inverted and shot head down into the hold and swam about, enjoying his new environment. I began to wonder if his ideas of finishing his diving career when he got home were founded at all. Rich took some photos and Ash had vanished into some overhead compartment to make himself feel more at home.
More sunbathing on the return journey and we cleaned up and packed, ready for another BBQ at Krnica Dive centre. We caught up with old friends, made new ones and hatched plans for the next trip. This is about as perfect as dive trips go and I would do it all over again in a heartbeat. We cannot thank the team at Krnica dive enough, nor Apeks for their support and the gang who put in so much time, effort and money to support the exploration. We fully intend to come back soon with rebreathers and find out what secrets Licanke holds next.
Morning broke and the team were treated to myself and Rich arguing over our identical 5mm wetgloves…
This is normal. It’s pre-dive stress and we had to get rid of it somehow. Better with each other than the rest of the team.
Breakfast and coffee out of the way and normality resumed, we headed to the cave via the local shop, to get some provisions. The underground food was getting complaints, so Ash and Rick, given that we had very little to carry on this day, decided that they were going to cook hot dogs. We ventured into the butchers to purchase some BBQ food for the evening and Rick sought out some European looking sausages in a jar from the supermarket. But we needed buns. So, spotting some likely looking hot dog buns, Ash gathered up a good handful…
Myself and Rich got into our drysuits and it was a careful caving trip to sump 2, trying hard not to slip over and rip them. We took 5 minutes to ourselves whilst floating in the lakes to talk through our dive plan and deco schedule on the fly – we simply didn’t know what depth this cave would go to or where it would go next, so we opted for 60 metres maximum depth and a total run time of about 40 minutes from the bottom of the shaft. This gave us 10 minutes to get to the end of last years line and another 10 minutes at whatever depth to lay some more. I was running the line again and Rich would be trying to jot down a survey behind me.
We also knew that we needed to bridge the buried line with a spare spool, so that went in the kit list as well. I would go in first and tie off the ‘good’, larger camera to the oxygen drop to give me something to do on deco. I’d take the go-pro all the way but, having lost the attachment which tied it to the new halcyon cordless torches, I’d have to hand hold it, which is a bit tricky really when laying line! I’d have to see how it went…
On unpacking the bags of ‘stuff’ I realized I had left the carefully cut out and laminated “Eurotek Divers Get Everywhere” cookie back at the ranch. Oh well, that was the least important item.
Kitting up was a relatively chilled affair. Rick helped me on with my 4 sidemount bottles and Ash did the same for Rich. We had lots of light from the filming lights, which was quite welcome and the promise of hot dogs when we came back. Mark had a good go at taking photos and video but the water was chilly and I was itching to get on with it, knowing how cold it was last time. We had a lot of dexterity work to do with camera, line reels, bottle juggling etc so opted for 5mm wet gloves again. Next time we’ll definitely go dry…
Setting off the visibility was noticeably clearer than last time and we soon passed the oxygen bottles which Ash had placed. Going along the right wall we got a birds eye view of the shaft and could see that the line was not in a good place against the overhanging wall. Frank had doubtless had very little option as he’d experienced much worse visibility. I had a good look and spotted a much better route for the line which we would be replacing on a follow up trip if the cave ‘went’ this time. The line was laid in 1998 and was thin and had been given a good battering by the winter floods every year since. Typically for Frank, it was well laid and belayed, just needed re-routing in the shaft.
The shaft was my worry. I was very pleased that Rich agreed with me that we would not hang about there decompressing, rather we would rattle through it and fix the deco at the bottom and the top. The mud on the overhanging wall turns the visibility to zero and coupled with a frail line, we were worried about it snagging on our multiple bottles and breakages. A line break in there would be a nightmare and pretty dangerous.
We soon met the 50% deco bottles and continued down the gravel slope to bridge the buried line. Rich set about doing this and we went on, enjoying the cave and its stunning visibility. It didn’t take long to reach the end of Frank’s line and the beginning of ours from last year. It was still in good condition and we carried on in gently undulating cave at an average depth of 38 metres until I recognised my last tie off. I unclipped my line reel and tried to keep relaxed.
Going into unknown cave is exciting and it takes experience to keep your cool. Slow is smooth and smooth is fast, I thought. I didn’t want to waste time fumbling about, so I sorted my regulator switch and tied in the reel. I signalled to Rich and he signalled back, digging out his wetnotes and compass. We were off! The cave, to my relief, didn’t really trend much deeper. We did reach 50m at one stage but it stayed roughly in the 45m mark. The undulating sand dunes in the floor were rippled and pretty. The left wall continued sweeping around shallow bend and the right wall could be seen about 10 metres away. I found good tie offs every 15 metres or so. As much as I wanted to just string out the line as fast as possible, the nature of the cave means that line breaks
are inevitable as it takes thunderous amount of water in flood. Tie offs would make future issues easier to fix. I kept swimming. The go-pro became a pain with the line reel so I reluctantly clipped it off. My gauges began to threaten to turn me around. I was approaching my gas margins and the cave was still going… At -43m I met a gradual slope upwards with hardly any tie offs. Typical. I went a few metres further and found a slab of rock in the floor. It wasn’t perfect but it was all we had. I wrapped the line
around it, cut it free and Rich and I both thumbed the dive. The release of pressure as we turned is instant. Of course, you’re not out of the woods. Mountain ascents don’t count if you die on the way back down. But for 10 minutes Rich and I had a fantastic dive along the new passage, especially as I was now behind him and could enjoy the view with the benefit of his silhouette behind his light.
Rich was swimming about and clearly enjoying it. We negotiated the sand slope and had some bottle juggling as we ditched the very buoyant Ali 80s and got rid of them onto a leash. We clipped the 50% bottles on and did our gas switch in deteriorating visibility. We set off up the shaft. Rich was now just behind me and all seemed to be going well. As the shaft became more awkward, we went single file. I was just thinking that it didn’t seem as bad as last time, when the unthinkable happened.
“Oh Sh*t!” I repeated it several times in my head and also out loud to myself through my regulator. “Just keep calm, keep your head….you have loads of gas to go looking for him and he has plenty of gas too…..”
Despite loads of training and plenty of “Oh sh*t” moments over many years cave diving in less than desirable conditions in British caves….nothing quite prepares you for that moment when your boyfriend is in acute danger.
I had just lost Rich Walker.
The broken end of the line flailed behind me and I stared at it in horror. We knew this would happen. A 19 year old, thin exploration line in a slightly off-vertical shaft, which gets battered every winter by floods and melt water from the mountains above the cave entrance, with sparse, psychological belays and zero visibility…add to the mix a bouquet of spent ali 80s and there we had it. An emergency.
I gathered up the loose line to stop it forming another hazard and wrapped it around a nodule of rock on the sloping wall. Trembling, from both fear and the cold, I unclipped my exploration reel whilst staring into the fog in the hope of seeing his light. There was nothing but silence and the glow from my torch. I tied in the line reel and set off to where I had come from.
Rich, doubtless thinking I was trying to assassinate him, calmly deployed his search reel and headed upwards, following the overhanging wall. No sooner had I set off down the shaft, we ran into each other. Fear turned to overwhelming relief and the sicky feeling turned to butterflies. We tied our reels off and made our way to the 6 metre oxygen drop, shivering in the 7 degree water at the end of a 97 minute dive. We had just discovered beautiful, virgin cave passage but for 5 extremely concerning minutes, it barely seemed worth it.
We finished our deco, cold but relieved. On surfacing, Mark was at the ready with his camera. I gave him 5 minutes to get is shots. Poor guy, but I was super cold and by the time Rick waded into the sump pool to help me off with my gear, I was shivering uncontrollably.
We really, really needed those hot dogs!
We climbed the small boulder pile to the make shift kitchen to be met with a very sheepish Ashley, who was poking the sausages around in the boiling water.
“The bread fell in the water…” he lied.
“You mean there is no bread?!!” I wailed.
Like two naughty school children, Rick and Ash started giggling and Mark hid.
“Well, on the upside…they were covered in sugar!” Ash had bought the Croatian equivalent of iced buns instead of hot dog rolls and we felt a little more smug. Rich and I scalded our fingers fishing the hot dogs out of the boiling water and ate the lot in minutes.
Ash raided Rich’s wetnotes, wanting to know how much line we had laid. We didn’t know and didn’t care. Last year we only laid 42 metres at 42m depth on our first dive in sump 2. In France we had laid 42 metres on our last dive in Fourmi Perdreau. I had laid 42 metres in Garrel in 2012……
“You’ll never guess what!” Ash called out.
“Don’t!” I said “DON’T tell me it’s 42 metres!!”
Ash laughed. “Nawwwww…you laid 99!!!”
Bloody 3m knot intervals. That’s going to change next time…..
Day two, and we were on schedule. All the bottles, harnesses and lead had arrived at the bottom of the climb. Ash replaced the rope on the climb, which was looking a bit frayed.
Mark wielded his camera, shooting video for our short film and this was expectedly time consuming, but it was important to get the lighting and the focusing right.
Once at sump 2, Rich decided that standing still was too difficult and somehow manage to step backwards and trip over a small, sharp lump of rock. I turned to see him doing a backwards flying angel into the streamway. Unfortunately, he landed on another, larger lump of sharp rock which caused an impressive bruise on his thigh which seemed to grow day by day.
Whilst by our standards, the caving was easy, you cannot take your eye off the ball for a moment in this cave as it is so seldom travelled and the rocks are sharp and friable. Boulders move and hand holds sheer off. Rescue from outside isn’t really an option, so the team tried hard to exercise care.
Ash set off into the sump and returned half an hour later, spluttering about having had a “f***ing epic dive!”
The visibility was crystal but as expected, had gone to zero in the 21m deep shaft where mud clings to the roof and exhalation bubbles bring it down.
Ash also reported that Frank’s old line was buried for several metres on the sand slope beyond the 21m deco drop, so a spool would be needed to clear it. He’d had a go at pulling it out but it wasn’t budging. To push that amount of sand upslope, there must have been some serious flooding over the winter.
Satisfied, Ash left with his bottles and we re-grouped to take some still images and a bit more video. It took 8 flashguns to light up the main passage and the results were stunning. We stood in precarious positions, looking this way and that way, while Mark composed his shots.
The dry cave is big, with sharp black rocks and boulder at foot and reddish mud walls closer to the roof. There are some decorations but not many and the boulder choke with rocks the size of cars, is hot and sweaty and slippery going. It’s always a relief to get back into the streamway again to cool off.
Lunch was an interesting affair. Ash doesn’t really eat anything other than Haribo and Nutella and usually opted to go without. We found some tins of tuna salad which survive sumps quite well, but this time brought them through in the dry tube with some forks this time….
They weren’t very nice but they were edible. I bought some jaffa cakes and thought chocolate and cherry sounded pretty cool, but they soon invited complaints. It seems gastronomy is an issue underground so we definitely needed to work on something better to keep the troops happy the next day.
As we surfaced from sump 1, Robbie was there – as he always is – to pull the twinsets out of the awkward concrete pumping station.
Rich looked at my twinset and picked up the go pro which had been clipped off to my harness. “Ooh, that doesn’t look good…..”
Water was sloshing around in the housing. I opened it quickly, pulled the battery out and Mark gave me some silica gel to begin the possibly pointless task of drying it out. The cave had killed the second camera in as many years and I was quite annoyed. Luckily Ash had one and offered it to me to use in the second sump, for which we were very grateful.
The days were always followed up by cold beers, housed in Rick’s huge ice box.
Robbie found us a nice restaurant, which served up trays of delicious food…we had pork, sauerkraut, huge balls of home made gnocci and a meat stew. The local wine was superb and we always made an effort to get out of the cave in reasonable time for tea. Nobody wants to still be in the cave late into the evening so the extra days were welcomed.
I was a little nervous about the next days dive. There is always a lot of pressure. We had brought these guys out to help us, spent 3 months training Mark to cave dive, Ash had driven 2 days to be here, Rick drove down from the Netherlands….even though they wouldn’t have batted an eyelid if we had failed, we definitely did not want to let them down. I went through my check list in my head over and over and at some point, fell asleep.
Richard Walker was already in Croatia, settling in for several weeks of teaching technical diving courses once our cave exploration was over. Ashley Hiscock drove down from the UK in remarkable time and didn’t manage to get arrested once! He brought the larger items, such as the two dry tubes for camera gear, food, filming lights, flash bulbs and flashguns.
Mark and I had tested our pelicases and ‘depth proof’ camera boxes in a local quarry and they all flooded. We decided that the camera boxes could not be trusted, so we would dive them through flooded, dry them out the far side of the sump and re-pack the camera gear from the dry tubes into them for easier transportation through the cave.
Rick Van Dijk drove from the Netherlands and brought some cylinders and extra gas in case we needed to top up the bottles for sump 1.
Mark and I flew on a convenient new flight from Bristol to Pula. The journey was uneventful and we spent the flight going through our plan to make a short movie of the project.
Mark is a superb photographer but he had never really got into shooting video, so this was a great opportunity for him to give it a whirl. We spent a day in a welsh cave practising and getting camera settings and lighting right before the trip, which was time well spent.
One important job was to get the dry tubes weighted for diving through sump 1. No matter how much you fill them, they seem unsinkable! They need a lot of lead and Ash and Rich had fun trying to weight the ex Gavin standard body scooter with two nose cones, in the sea! At least we would need 2 kilos less in the cave. Even then, it rode like a wild animal…
Robbie from Krnica Dive Centre came with us and he was in charge of making sure logistics went smoothly. He located our accommodation and did all the Croatian speaking for us. The gite style house was warm, comfy and had the best BBQ room we’ve ever seen. It was also home to an extraordinary array of stuffed animals, from bears to fighting pheasants, stoats and deer heads. It was a bit strange but caused a few giggles.
Morning from our bedroom looked sunny and pleasant. After breakfast and a plan of the day, we headed to Licanke, a short drive from Fuzine and set off into the cave.
Mark was undertaking his first cave dive, chaperoned by Rich and myself and had no trouble at all. He thoroughly enjoyed it and surfaced on the far side of sump 1, grinning from ear to ear. We shed our twinsets and started drying out the camera boxes while the dry tubes and exploration bottles came through with Rich, Rick and Ash.
The next job was to inflate the Halcyon life raft. We acquired this odd bit of kit many years ago and were never really sure what it was for. It turned out to be quite useful for cave diving projects and to date, has never been in the sea!
The deep lakes were the first obstacles in this cave. Dropping heavy bottles in here would have been a nightmare and swimming them across the lakes very cumbersome and time consuming.
We worked out that the best way to do this was to load the life raft with bottles and scooter it across the lakes.
Mark set up the filming lights and shot some great video of the whole affair. We set aside 2 days for the filming and to get all the gear to sump 2. Half the job was done on day 1 and we were on schedule.
“My feet keep sinking!” Mark protested as he spluttered out another mouth full of chlorinated pool water. “I’ll never get the hang of this”.
A chilly, dark, damp evening at a swimming pool in Bristol was to be the first of Mark Burkey’s cave diving lessons.
Well, not strictly true. 15 years ago he undertook a PADI open water course on his honeymoon…immediately followed by his Advanced open water course. He had not dived since and admitted to never feeling completely safe with the training he had been given or the experience he’d had. He instructed me to treat him as a complete beginner and that matched my plan entirely.
His first job was to join the Cave Diving Group. Never an easy thing and neither should it be. Qualified divers mentor new members and trainees in all aspects of cave diving in British sumps, which are usually small, cold and miserable.
The CDG dive sidemount for this reason and the group has been doing it for a very long time, decades before the commercial sidemount courses emerged.
Training is free, as the group is an amateur organisation, but it takes several years as there is a lot to cover, much experience to be gained and success is solely reliant on the motivation and time constraints of both mentor and trainee. I once pointed out to a group AGM that training in the CDG was not indeed free. It costs me several hundreds of pounds a year to train a new diver…
Mark, being well known as a thoroughly decent bloke, active caver and phenomenal cave photographer, plus being proposed by me, had no difficulty in being elected unanimously. The deal was that I would train him in back mounted gear (as appropriate for this particular cave) and we would write a specific training programme for him around that. He would join specifically for the trip to Croatia and then once the job was done, let his membership lapse. If he suddenly fell in love with cave diving and wanted to continue, he would become my responsibility and trainee. Mark felt this was highly unlikely.
With a little time around the CDG meeting, I introduced Mark to the diving gear he would be using. It was a twinset and wing set up, GUE style and identical to mine.
I walked him through gas analysis, how manifolds work, different types of cylinders, how to switch regulators and where all the inflators and deflators were. We did some dry skill runs and Mark got the opportunity to build and strip down his equipment.
Roll on a week and Mark had driven a long way for the first of his diving lessons, so we made the most of it and arrived at the pool a little early to join the public swim before my scuba club arrived.
The idea that he needed to be a decent swimmer had escaped him and the first job was to fix his comfort in the water. He was not a natural waterbaby.
Legs waved around everywhere, sinking occasionally happened and effort was overriding finesse and efficiency; All of which needed to be fixed before we even put our fins on. The hour swimming lesson resulted in a steep improvement and I began to realise that Mark takes education very seriously, likes getting better at things and more often than not, gets new stuff right first time. I was beginning to think I could definitely work with this guy.
The scuba club began to arrive so I popped outside to bring in Mark’s gear as well as my own. My friend Jayme, a solid GUE diver and all round great helper of all things, accompanied us to help out and shot some video to help with the feedback.
The biggest surprise to Mark was the difference in how ‘We’ do things as opposed to how ‘He’ had been taught in Lanzarote on his honeymoon.
We don’t wag our legs up and down, dragging up the silt. Rather, we frog kick and glide. We don’t do our skills resting on the bottom. We establish neutral buoyancy and the ability to hover in a horizontal trim, completely still; no matter how long that takes. Then the skills are just monkey see, monkey do.
The initial dives were like bambi on ice. Establishing stability in mid water is tricky when you have been taught to do your skills kneeling down and at lift off, keep swimming to stay off the bottom…while doubtlessly over-weighted and negative.
By the end of the hour in the water Mark knew what was expected of him and the penny was dropping. After another pool dive, we were ready to get hold of a 7mm semi dry and move into open water. Caving in a drysuit sucks. You either overheat or damage the suit and there is really nothing pleasant about it at all.
We were very fortunate to have been in contact with Apeks, who were very happy to sponsor Mark for the expedition with a complete set comprising wing, backplate, harness and regulators. This meant that we did not have to worry about equipment and could simply get on with the task in hand.
In Licanke, there are several hundred metres of sharp, bouldery caving so it made sense, owing to the short first sump, to cave in wetsuits. Only Rich and I would be forced to do two journeys in drysuits, to cope with the cold on the exploration dive.
Mark was put through the ringer. But he seemed to be enjoying it.
He was following cave line blindfolded, doing lost line searches, emergency valve drills, S-Drills, mask removal, gas failures, more fin kick finesse….It seemed like overkill for such a short sump but we could not afford to have anyone on the expedition who was a risk. He would have to pass the sump a minimum of 8 times and although he would be chaperoned by either Rich or myself, we wanted him to have enough stability and know what to do should anything go wrong.
Mark took it all in his stride and soaked it up like a sponge.
It was not long before he began to look like a cave diver.
This short film shows his progress after 2 pool dives and 7 open water training days.
Mark Burkey is a caver – and a bloomin good one. In recent years he has been making a name for himself on the cave photography circuit, winning several awards and hisimages are in high demand from media publications and promotions.
Rich and I were on the lookout for someone who could take high quality images of the project and also shoot video for our short film idea.
Now, neither Rich, Rick nor I are bad cave photographers but our attempt at documenting the project in 2016 failed miserably.
First, my DSLR flooded in it’s underwater tube which rendered it useless for the remainder of the trip. The three of us were preoccupied with getting half a dozen cylinders and other diving equipment to the sump and back in 3 days so the media took a hit and we returned with almost nothing. Put simply, we could not carry the kit, organise the trip, dive the sumps, explore the cave and video ourselves doing it. Not in the quality we wanted anyhow. We needed someone else to take on the job.
“What about Mark Burkey?” Rich tapped away on Facebook messenger while he was in some far flung country teaching a diving class.
“Nah…he can’t dive” I replied, wishing he could.
The first sump was something of an obstacle to regular dry cavers. It was only 40 metres long and no deeper than 6 metres. But even so, it was not a free dive, the water was 6 degrees last time and the visibility deteriorates inevitably as the divers drag negative loads through the sump for transportation on the far side.
“Well, you’ve got 3 months to teach him…..” Rich said.
I did. But what were the chances? First, he would need to be free for the trip. Then he would need to want to do it and be prepared to document the whole project, which we already knew was hard work.
I had only caved with him once and he barely knew me.
Then he would not only need to learn to scuba dive but cave dive too. It was a tall order and I brushed off the idea whilst struggling to think of somebody else.
I was bored at work one afternoon, which is a rare occurrence and thought to myself “Stuff it…he can only say no”. I phoned him up.
Mark had been to my talk on Croatian caves at the Hidden Earth conference a year or two ago and seemed excited about the project. He would check the dates, check the flights and all being well, would be able to come along.
It wasn’t long before he called me back and said he was pretty much on.
“Oh…um…there’s just one other thing” I said.
“You need to learn to cave dive by June!”
A hearty laugh came down the phone followed by a definite “OK!”
Croatia is a beautiful country and one I have been very lucky to visit many times. My partner, Richard Walker teaches technical diving in the small fishing port of Krnica, Istria and I have been out to Croatia to dive in the sea and the caves on many occasions.
Over the last couple of years, Rich and I have been visiting a particular cave in Croatia, near Rijeka called Izvor Licanke. After a couple of reconnaissance trips, we explored completely virgin underwater cave last year and we were determined to return and continue the exploration.
The cave is a resurgence, meaning that the underwater passage meets daylight as water pours out from underground into the river and lakes downstream. There is a short, shallow ‘sump’ or flooded passage which soon surfaces in a couple of lakes and some huge passageways beyond. A high boulder climb up to almost the roof, leads back down to the river again and a short distance upstream the second sump is met.
Sump 2 was first dived by French explorer, Frank Vasseur way back in 1998 and he dived for 140 metres to a depth of -36 metres. Due to local politics the team and everyone else were denied access and the sump remained unexplored until 2016 when Richard and I, having spoken to Frank, extended his line with the efforts of only a small team of ourselves and our Dutch friend, Rick Van Dijk. With permissions in situ, we were able to apply three days to the project; one for carrying the diving gear through the first sump and the dry cave to sump 2; one for the exploration and one for bringing all the gear out again.
This year, Rick joined us again and I also invited my ex Cave Diving Group trainee, Ashley Hiscock, who was making quite a name for himself to come along and help.
The previous year we had struggled with time to shoot any meaningful video and I flooded my DSLR camera in the first sump when a dry tube failed, so we were keen to have someone along to do the images and video for us so that we could concentrate on the task in hand.
We had just the person in mind. But there was a catch…