“You need to stop doing that”
Updated: Nov 21, 2021
Some of the best, if a little uncomfortable advice I was given when I was a Cave Diving Group trainee, came from none other than Rick Stanton.
As a diligent and conscientious trainee, I would spend hours poring over cave surveys before I went diving. I would work out the gas I needed, what size cylinders to take, whether there would be any decompression and the depth profiles.
It wasn’t a bad thing to be learning, but of course I was diving in caves where others had been previously and lines were in situ. They had been surveyed and, in many cases, photographed and filmed (less so in the UK, I hasten to add).
The CDG refers to these dives as ‘Tourist and Training dives’ in its newsletter, which is the bible for finding out about submerged caves not just in the UK, but around the world.
Anything where nobody had ever been before; a new discovery, was referred to as ‘Exploration’.
You can see then why it irritates genuine cave explorers to hear the latest cohort of cave divers saying they have explored this cave and that cave - and then being immediately disappointed to find they just dived a tourist route. The word is getting muddied by those who think that because it is their first dive in the cave, it counts as ‘exploration’.
The term in the cave diving world is very clear cut, to distinguish between new discoveries and ‘tourist’ dives along existing line. If you are not the first person to go there, it is not exploration.
“You need to stop doing that” Rick said, bursting my bubble. “I know you’ve been taught to study cave surveys but that won’t help you when you go into new cave”.
I was 26 years old and about to undergo my qualifying test in the CDG.
I didn’t dawn on me then that Rick was already looking at my future in being a cave explorer and I shrugged off his comments as something only he did - and carried on studying the survey in front of me.
He was right though. If nobody has ever been there, not only will there be no line in place to follow but you will have no idea of what the cave will do.
You get a hunch of course, from years of caving and cave diving experience and having dived other caves in the region.
I have an unfinished geology degree so have an inkling of what a cave might do.
But Licanke was acutely unhelpful.
Chris sets off into sump 2. Video: Mark Burkey
Caves in Croatia had a habit of plummeting super deep, 100 metres + and when we hit 50m in Licanke, we feared the worst. Decompressing in 7 degrees was miserable. Given the cave already had a dry section, we figured it would do one of two things; Go to surface, or plummet deeper.
Really, really unhelpful.
All we could really do was plan for how deep we were prepared to dive and how much deco we were prepared to do on any given dive. That would determine the limit of exploration.
I’m not in the habit of winging it and sorting it out at the the deco stop. That’s silly.
Gear accumulates at sump 2, Licanke. Video: Mark Burkey
To plan for virgin exploration, we simply look at our logistics, capabilities, gas available and time available. Put simply, based on what we did last time, we make a personal decision on what we are prepared to do this time.
It really is that simple. Conversations go along the lines of “I really don’t want to do more than 3 hours deco in there tomorrow” or “We’ve only got two bottles for pushing….so how far will that get us if the average depth is 30m, 40m or 50m?”
You need to know your swimming speed, scootering speed given the conditions, plan for various average depths and decompression contingencies.
Thermal factors need to be considered and lots of ‘what ifs’.
What if we lose a stage bottle? What if we lose a scooter? What if the rebreather malfunctions?
We try to mitigate all of the ‘what ifs’ and inevitably, the cave will throw something at us that we hadn’t bargained for. That’s exploration.
I kitted up into my KISS rebreather and performed my final checks.
Rich was unable to dive, which meant several things:
- I would only be able to carry enough bailout gas* to get me home from sump 3, thus I would not be able to undertake exploration alone on this dive.
- I was also towing a back-up scooter which limited the amount of extra bailout I could take.
- I would need to carry all my equipment through the dry sections without help and this would be extremely time consuming.
- There was nobody able to rescue me if I got trapped beyond sump 2.
I set off, disappointed that this was only to be a recce dive, but I already had a wild and cunning plan in my mind to salvage the expedition - I just needed one phone call.
*Bailout gas is contained in open circuit scuba cylinders, which are used as a safety factor to get a diver home in the event or rebreather malfunction or failure. Rebreather divers should always carry enough bailout gas to get them home from the furthest and deepest point in the event of rebreather failure.
About the author
Christine Grosart is a Paramedic, working offshore mainly on diving vessels.
She started beach cleans around 2011 and has gone on to be a trustee, secretary, instructor and underwater photographer for the charity Ghost Fishing UK.
She wrote the first training course for scuba divers to remove lost ghost nets, in the world.
In 2009 she visited the far reaches of Wookey Hole cave and still holds the British female cave diving depth record.
In 2020 she became a Fellow of the Royal Geographical Society for her work with Ghost Fishing UK as well as her cave diving exploration.
In the same year she was included in the BBC Radio 4 Women's Hour Power List.