WHY UK CAVE DIVING IS DIFFERENT
Little did I realise, when I first slipped beneath the surface of a filthy reservoir near Bolton as a teenager, how diving would become a lifelong passion. It’s taken me to some incredible places over the years, often where no-one else has ever been. As a youth I was a member of Darwen Branch of the BSAC; there was really no other option in those days. I’ve always been grateful for the friendly way they looked after me and nurtured my interest.
I was an experienced caver by the time I started to learn to dive, so it was inevitable that I’d want apply these new dive skills to water-filled passages underground. But if you even mentioned cave diving in those days, you were regarded as some sort of reckless leper! Throughout my diving career I’ve found it fascinating to watch how the two disciplines have grown together. Open water divers used to be lousy at line laying for example but cave divers in those days had laughably poor buoyancy control. Slowly, each “faction” came to realise that the other had so much to offer and the two seem to dovetail very well nowadays.
As with most human activity, the hazards are known, the risk quantifiable and it can be made fairly safe with a bit of common sense. Anyone who wants to extend the scope of their diving can now be professionally trained by diving agencies such as PADI in the specific skills needed to survive in the various closed water environments. The quality of such training, from the basics of Cavern diving through to full on cave diving, is excellent and it will open up a whole new world to enjoy for most divers.
The real appeal for me, as a youth, was the existence of so many undived “sumps” in British caves. Very few people were cave diving then, so you could pretty much guarantee to discover something new on most trips, if you were willing to make the effort of getting the gear there. But even when I started many people believed cave diving was so dangerous that, unless there was new exploration involved, it just wasn’t justified. The idea of going for a cave diving holiday in crystal clear French mega-tunnels, or the stalactite festooned cenotes of Yucatan, was unheard of.
However, British caves are far more harsh and unforgiving than those in most other countries. Our underwater passages often have bad visibility, complex routes through difficult terrain, lines frequently shredded by flooding, dangerously loose boulders, shifting sediments which stir up all too easily, difficult physical access, etc. There are a very few nice underwater caves with easy access and certainly a number of flooded mines which mimic conditions in Majorca or Florida fairly well. But to be serious about cave diving in the UK, you really need to be a caver first.
Most interested cavers would apply to join the Cave Diving Group, already having gained basic diving qualifications. If you also have cave diving qualifications obtained from one of the other main training agencies, so much the better. You would need to persuade two qualified members to agree to sign your application form, who would also commit to act as your mentors and you’d be expected to get to the standard where you could apply to be qualified yourself, within 5 years. This isn’t meant to be “elitist”; it’s more to do with ensuring that those who do get involved have the right level of commitment for their own safety. There is a school of thought that if you learn to cave dive in Britain, you can then do it anywhere. It was no co-incidence that those most closely involved with finding and rescuing the Thai football team from the Tham Luang cave in 2018 were all very experienced Cave Diving Group members.
Like a number of cave divers who are active in Northern England, I’ve been a customer at Reefers and Wreckers since shortly after the business first began. I’m a great believer in the advantages of supporting my local dive shop, one of which is the excellent service I’ve always enjoyed in return. Which of course gives me the opportunity to thank Mick Turner (and “Balders” before him) for looking after my somewhat specialised requirements for a very long time; cheers fellas!
You can read more about the Cave Diving Group by following this link.
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