A Supporting Role – Nov 2003

More from the Dive Diary archives – Vikki

They say ignorance is bliss and if I’d known what I was in for I certainly wouldn’t have been quite so keen to be a support diver.

Having complete a 5 hour, 90m CCR DPV Cave dive (my personal “biggest dive”) two days previously I decided that exploring the Durzon was a step too far and could wait for the next time. I made the decision not to go! Although, not doing a dive sounds easier than doing it, my decision was complicated by the knowledge that if I didn’t dive Martin would have to go it alone. On balance, even though I would worry like hell, I thought he had a better chance without me.

So Friday 8th November saw me face down in a crystal clear emerald pool passing 2 monster DPVs (Fat Boy and Black Pig) and a load of bail out/deco cylinders (names unknown) down a wonky limestone chimney to Martin. Off he went to “set up” the cave by staging 6 cylinders and one of the DPVs. Rebreathers make a wonderful tool for cave diving but no bubbles makes it hard to monitor decompressing divers, especially when they are also inside a cave. After about 1 ½ hours I wriggled into the cave to see if Martin was back – no joy. Even though I knew he might be longer I was getting a tad uneasy but ½ an hour later he was there decompressing and I relaxed. I pulled Fat Boy out for charging and Martin’s deep bailout cylinders thinking, “this support diver stuff is a piece of cake!”

Durzon 2003

The following morning and the atmosphere had changed. The air was charged with nervous excitement, extreme concentration and methodical preparation. Martin and I reverted to minimal conversation as we normally do during the preparation for a big dive. We knew that the line ended by a small hole with water flowing through so fast that nobody had been able to get through, not even on a DPV. This hole was about 90m deep and over a kilometre back. We had no idea if Martin would be different or even if he would get that far. If he got through what would he find? If, if, if….

We didn’t discuss what we would do if something went wrong. We’d been through every scenario many times, discussed all the options and the morning of the dive is a time to be positive, cautious but positive.

By midday Fat Boy and 4 more cylinders were in the cave and I was helping Martin kit up. Once he scootered off I watched him until he disappeared. Then I listened until I could no longer hear the whirr of the scooter. Then I waited a bit longer, just in case,…then I decided I’d better exit and prep my rebreather for the next dive.

I was going to meet Martin at 40m. I would collect cylinders, one of the DPVs, stay with him for some of his deco and courier cylinders, food and drink in and out of the cave. Of course, we weren’t exactly sure when he’d be back and during the 2 hour surface interval I slowly prepared my kit and tried to visualise the dive. Every time I got to the 40m section I tried to see Martin swimming towards me or better still bumping into him earlier. Every time I thought about what I would do if he wasn’t there I got a feeling of cold lead in my core and I had to stop my train of thought. Could I cope if he didn’t return? I was in a mountainous region of France, with a phone that didn’t work, a language I am not fluent in and in an emergency I would be completely alone.

Every now and again I thought of Martin and where he should be “by now”. I tried to feel if he was alive, I tried to hear his thoughts; to know if he was still breathing…

At 1500 I entered the cave. My brain was on concentration overload. I slowly and carefully did my checks and swam off. The current was strong so I swam steadily and kept my breathing under control. The line is marked with distances 5m apart and each one brought me closer to Martin and a conclusion. One way or the other. I concentrated on the line, on monitoring my rebreather and scrolling through my mental checklists. At about 300m in and 25m depth I saw a dim glow ahead of me. I struggled to keep my swim pace even as relief dared to raise its head and then, as he circled an OK signal with his torch, flooded over me.

As I reached Martin and hugged him & put our foreheads together, tears of relief filled my mask. He showed me the end of his exploration reel attached to the DPV and I knew he’d done it. He’d got through, he’d been in new cave passage, in a place where no other human being had ever been.

With that over I carried on to pick up Fat Boy and some cylinders. I then stayed with Martin until he reached his 9m stop. By this time I had been in the water nearly 2 hours and Martin was approaching 4 hours. He still had 4 hours to go.

Back on the surface I went about my chores with a bit of a smile on my face. It wasn’t over but at least now I could help, I no longer felt helpless. As the light was fading I repacked the CO2 scrubber in my rebreather, prepped and checked everything and took it back into the cave for Martin. Kit exchange from one rebreather to another is difficult at the best of times but after 5 hours in 10C water I was concerned that Martin would be too cold to operate properly. I had a regulator on standby just in case but I needn’t have worried, before I knew it he was in and I was stripping the cave of the used rebreather, cylinders that were no longer needed & DPVs. By this time Martin had been through two torches and was now onto back ups.

An hour later, it was now pitch black outside and I had carried most of the kit back to the van and packed it away. The DPVs each weigh 60kg and although I managed to get them out of the water I struggled to carry them any further and had to abandon them for a while. Finally at 1930 I joined Martin for his last 20 minutes. He exited the cave after an 8 hour dive to a maximum of 110m. In total I had been in the water for over 4 hours although my max depth was a more modest 40m. I followed with the last two cylinders and then went to put the kettle on. After the most extraordinary day we sat down for a terribly ordinary cup of tea …and as I glanced at Martin I knew he was already planning a return trip, aaargh!!!!…


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