CAVE SLAVES – or Sun, Sand, Sea and Coddled sausage

My trip through the archives continues with an article written by my father (he is the one in the blue suit) about one of our exploration trips in 2003.

Imagine the scene. All is peace and tranquillity in the retirement household. I have just returned from “minding” my brother’s pub for two weeks (free ale!) and have consigned the resultant pile of dirty clothing to the washing machine. Nothing to do for a while but relax in my chair and muse on this and that. The phone goes – it is Vikki – would I like to got to the South of France for a week? Too true I would.

“When?” I ask.

“We leave Sunday, early in the morning.” Comes the reply…

Today is Friday and tomorrow I have promised to “mind” the AKS dive shop in Conway. Better start packing then.

“O.K.”

Saturday consists of dashing to Conway (early!), dashing back (6pm), bolting my dinner, loading the rapid transport system, rocketing to Staines, loading my gear into Trevor’s van(11pm) and going to bed.

Sunday dawns bright and early (too bl—-y early – 0430!) and off we go to Dover. Luckily Trevor finds Dover too and I transfer to his 4 wheel drive VW van, clutching a walkie talkie. One sea voyage and a dried up French version of the standard “Full English” later, and we are in France.

Dad on his 2.5m dive

Dad on his 2.5m dive

Vikki had described the wonderful views to be enjoyed as we drive down the backbone of France in glowing terms; just as well – it was misty all the way. Naturally Trevor’s secret is safe with me, but it is surprising how well a diesel van goes when half filled with Super unleaded.

Just after lunch(time) on Monday we find a Hotel, with rooms available, and drive off to the dive site. French dive sites, in my very limited experience, seem to feature rough tracks, open fields and possibly a pond in a wood. This one was no exception. The entrance to the cave is underwater and a bit of a squeeze, so Vikki took Trevor in for a quick orientation, leaving Martin standing forlornly on the bank.

Back at the Hotel Martin is discovered sneaking dive gear into the room via the fire escape. The red haired lady proprietor is unimpressed and Martin is roundly rollocked because of his muddy boots. This sets the atmosphere for the whole visit (frosty).

Tuesday morning we have breakfast in a field (cornflakes), later we have lunch in the same field (Not Poodle – V). Eating in a field becomes a habit. Today the cave is “loaded”. I ferry cylinders to the cave mouth and pass them down to Vikki. It was a tough dive – I was down to nearly 2.5m! Martin had a long and deep dive to do, far into the cave, to drop a scooter and cylinders. Vikki and Trevor meanwhile dropped cylinders in the first section. This was Trevor’s first expedition cave dive and lasted two hours – his comments as he came out? – I quote – “Bloody ‘ell Ed”

Wednesday, the day of the BIG PUSH, and we awake to SNOW!! This definitely was not in the brochure. The drive to the site is over a plateau covered in snow, but as we approach the top of the hill that winds down into the valley, we can see that “our” valley has no snow in it at all – God has smiled on the venture. We stop in the field, and, as has become second nature, feel the need to eat breakfast.

Durzon snow

Snow!!!! EEK!

The next priority is to get Martin off on his big dive.   He suits up, slips down the hole, and Vikki follows to help him clip on all those cylinders he needs. Once he has gone, Vikki and Trevor do a one hour dive to drop off some more cylinders, and then the waiting begins in earnest. There are things to do but everyone is mentally thinking about where Martin might be and what he might be doing. After he has been away three hours Vikki starts a regime of periodically popping into the cave to see if Martin has returned. At the four hour mark Trevor takes a turn and reports back that Martin is not there yet. Vikki is now visibly anxious and suggests that she and Trevor should get back into their rebreathers in case they need to go further into the cave to meet Martin. Just then bubbles are seen seeping through the rocks and Trevor pops down once more to confirm that Martin has returned to the deco point and all is well. Good we can all breath easy now.

Martin still has four (he has already been in the cave for four hours) more hours of deco to do but in the meantime some cylinders and one scooter can be extracted from the cave so there is still activity in the camp. By now it has fallen dark and the generator is purring in the background, but not for long. We have a restricted amount of fuel due to the “Super unleaded” incident (the generator fuel can was used for diesel) so we need to press on with the job.

At last Martin emerges after 8 ½ hours (during which time V& T have each spent over 4 hours underwater and been in the cave 13 times!) cold but safe. Everyone is fed and we all go home. Back at the Hotel the night watchman, the only hotel employee who is friendly towards us, is persuaded to liberate a few bottles of wine to celebrate with. Altogether a good day.

The start of a long dive

The start of a long dive

Thursday is a day off so we rise a little tardily. Breakfast was going to be in our room, but the chambermaid shooed us out, so I eat mine in the reception/lounge area. This occasions double barrelled black looks from the proprietor AND the waitress, it would kill a lesser man but by then I am immune.

A sightseeing tour is planned for our day of rest – guess what? – yep, it’s to a dive sight. This sight is truly spectacular and is in a gorge (1300m down a mountain) at the bottom of which is the source of a River. Water gushes in the proverbial torrents from the rocks and in the past an enterprising soul has built a water mill to take advantage. We scramble round it all and then find the entrance to the diveable cave. Down we squeeze into a short dry section, stretch over a pool and there it is. A very small pool about the size of a pub billiard table. The people who do these things must be mad (inc. my daughter and son-in-law? – V).   We go off to a nearby town to eat an outstandingly brilliant meal and drive back in a true blizzard (well Trevor does – the rest of us just shut our eyes and pray).

Friday and the remaining cylinders etc need to be extracted from the cave. The overnight snow has fallen on to ice and we are worried about that winding steep hill into the valley. We make it all thus far but the track to the dive sight beats the Vito and Trevor’s 4×4 van is needed to do a bit of towing. A long dive for Martin again and a lesser one for V and T and all is safely gathered in. This is a VERY cold day – Vikki has icicles forming in her hair – we estimate the temperature to be well below freezing. Similar towing arrangements and an alternative (read flatter) and very picturesque return route and we’re back at the hotel somewhat relieved and completely exhausted.

And then we went home.

Oh? The Sun, Sand and Sea – there wasn’t any.

& the coddled sausage? – That’s a tale best left for long dark cold winter nights.

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