Nah, he can't dive...
Updated: Feb 16, 2020
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 his images 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!” The adventure had begun.