Extended range cave diving

21 01 2009

“Hello Boy !” greeted me as the door opened and my hand is squeezed to the point of pain.

This is the usual greeting I receive when visiting Martyn Farr at FarrWorld, the home of one of cave diving’s best known and experienced proponents.

It seems like a long time since I first met Martyn, over 3 years now, but he doesn’t really change, still vertically challenged, still as fit as the proverbial butchers dog and still a fascinating and bewitching orator. I first attended his Cavern Course and then progressed through Intro Cave and Full Cave until I was a qualified cave diver… what a scary thought that was.

Tha famous Martyn Farr (and the not so famous me)

The last time I saw Martyn I bent his ear about continuing education and guided trips, amongst other things, so I was pleased when he contacted me to let me know that he’d created a new course outline and would I like to be a guinea pig for it ?

I jumped at the chance.

The new course would be focusing on the use of stage cylinders for extended range penetration, which made me chuckle, but then I suffer from a bad case of double-entendre-itis. The date was set for early January and I started making preparations.

Arriving at Farrworld on Saturday, armed with one of Helen’s mugs of tea I was full of anticipation for the new content and eager to get started.

Martyn kicked off with some background discussion about the need for stage cylinders, their different types, benefits and drawbacks, deployment and carriage all mixed in with a healthy dose of banter.

We would be diving in the Silica Mines . A place I have visited more than once before…

It has to be said I fully understand why Martyn takes people there for courses, I doubt there are better places to go that can provide a true overhead experience with crystal clear water and (on the initial levels) access to the surface every 25m in case of emergency. All that aside, however, you never get over the lovely little climb that you have to endure with your kit from the car park up to the mine entrance, and you have to do it twice !

Martyn has a good sense of humour, but when he tells you you need a rucksack, he’s not joking you really do ! I doubt it’s a ploy to sell these but if it is it definitely works. I have one, and so do the other students I have trained with.. You really need them to haul the twin 7l cylinders up the hill, this time, however, I had an additional stage 7l cylinder. It is aluminium but it really didn’t feel that much lighter !

We adjourn to Martyns workshop for a bit of bondage with elastic..

Martyn's Tackle Room (ooh err)

Titter-ye-not, it turns out that one of the best ways to carry a third cylinder when wearing cave configuration is to get yourself an elastic bra and belt which you wear under your harness and then use them to support the additional cylinder. There are other ways to do this, Martyn talked about them in-depth and offered us the opportunity to trial several methods of cylinder carriage. I opted for the UK style elastic bra rather than the international side-mount approach, which is one I have used before when diving with a twin-set.

Some of the other topics we discussed included..

  • regulators, guages and hose stowage
  • colour coding for clarity
  • poor visibility identification mechanisms
  • cylinder types, sizes and composition

Very soon, we’re off to Dinas and that little climb.

Having survived the climb we ferry the kit down to the waters edge and start to kit up. Martyn oversees the kitting up process, hose routings, harness configuration and a myriad other little things. A question here and a suggestion there soon add up and you find yourself with a streamlined and functional set-up.

Martyn suggested we spend some time in the ‘canal’ off to the right of the entrance which has a max-depth of 2m so we can practice dropping off and picking up the stage cylinders.

Moving off, I am pleasantly surprised that once horizontal in the water the stage-cylinder has almost no effect on my trim, sure it is a little cluttered at the front with 3 regulators and 3 guages but practice makes perfect. I find myself a quiet corner and commence the drop-off and pick-up process. It’s actually quite a simple thing, and I think I’m doing great when Martyn cruises up and shifts my cylnder 5 feet to the left. Hmm, thinks I, must have put it down wrong or something so I continue with the pick-up and repeat the process 3 times more. Martyn signals to turn the dive and we come back to the surface. I get good feedback, so I query why he moved the cylinder, apparently I had strayed under a roof overhang which made it into an overhead environment… funny, I never noticed !

Martyn suggests we move into the main mine area and briefs us on the dive ahead. Both Ian (my fellow student) and I have been here before, but Martyn’s brief is as detailed as ever.

We move off down the 2m green mainline and then down on to the 6m level, to continue up to the next main junction where we will drop our stage cylinders. Ian and I perform our drops and Martyn checks them over to make sure we’ve adhered to a couple of safety features. Upon the given signal we turn the dive and re-load the cylinders. I try to do it on-the-fly without touching down or causing silt, I congratulate myself too early by breathing from the stage before turning the gas back on, leading to a hasty bit of valve twirling — ha ha Martyn missed that !

…there ends day one of the guinea pig course.

Martyn makes me a happy chap by announcing we can leave all the kit staged in the mine as we’ll be back tomorrow which means no lugging gear up the hill !

The journey back to Llangattock is peppered with some choice stories and comments from Martyn and I discover that Ian and I have an acquaintance in common in Gozo (Hi Dave).. We adjourn to the pub for a debrief which lat all night and results in us discovering that the ruffty-tuffty cave diving maestro has a penchant for Baileys-on-ice !

All too soon my restful slumber is rudely brought to a halt and when I remember where I am I bound out of bed, stopping for the best breakfast in Llangattock, and zoom over to Farrworld.

Today is going to be the day, I will do my furthest ever horizontal penetration into an overhead environment.. Well that is a horizontal penetration where I believe I have full cognisance of my course of action. I have been inside the Zenobia (when I was a very newly qualified diver) following a dive guide for a long long way, without a line, redundant air source, redundant lighting , filed dive plan, safety reel etc etc resulting in my reaching the safety stop with 10 bar and needing to suck on the proffered octopus… another story, but perhaps a useful one, as it has made me very cautious about overhead penetration.

We discuss the dive plan with Martyn and all seems very reasonable.. so much so, I am very calm kitting up, I guess that is how it should be.

Down to the water and we start kitting up, my kitting process goes very smoothly, I have forgotten nothing and everything seems to come together like clockwork. This proves to be a negative thing for me, Martyn has issues with Ian’s gear and a discussion ensues on small configuration tweaks… all good stuff, but I am hanging in the 6 deg water waiting for them when I realise I am..

  • effin freezing
  • desperate for a pee

..neither of which I can do anything about because there is NO way I am dekitting now and I don’t have a pee valve (note to self) so I pray for swift kit resolution..

Eventually Martyn is content with the kit configuration and we move off. I am leading.

Heading down the green main line I jiggle my cylinders and shrug the harness till everything is sitting comfortably. I check and re-check all three second-stages are where they should be. Lights are all working, 2 main and 2 backup and everything is good.

All too soon, the first junction looms up and I place my first exit-peg and take a sneaky look back to see if Ian is OK, a light circle confirms he is. I turn down to the 9m orange main line and head off left down a large square-cut tunnel. The visibility is as good as ever so it’s easy to keep an eye on the mainline, I concentrate on not getting fixated with the line and trying to take in the surroundings both for navigation purposes and for mere tourism.

Soon enough the next junction comes up quickly and it is time to drop my stage, I move over the junction (pegging on the way) and switch to one of my side-slungs. I am hovering over the line and am determined not to touch down when dropping the cylinder so I steady my breathing remove the top retaining bungee, shut-off the valve and slide the cylinder out from the waist bungee. I lay the cylinder next to the line and wrap the second-stage hose around the line to secure it and breathe in to move away and survey the results. I am pleased with the results, really can’t see any silt.

I wait for the OK from Ian and then we move off into uncharted territory. I have never been this far in the mine before.

Soon the line just stops and I have to remind myself that this was in Martyn’s brief, I need to deploy my gap reel, so I reach back for it but it isn’t there ! Oh bugger, thinks I, then I remember this has happened once before and I shove my hand under the right hand cylinder and find the reel snugly nestled down between the cylinder and my portly midriff !

I unclip the reel and tie off on the loop in the end of the mainline and move off looking for the continuation.. and there it is, so I tie off to that loop and we continue on – no drama, but that’s the way you want it.

Now we really are in unexplored (for me) areas of the mine and I start to really take notice of the rock structures, faults, strata etc. Even though this is a mine there is still lots of interesting things to see.

All this geological gazing nearly caught me out, I almost bumped directly into another line, same diameter and colour as our mainline but traveling at 45 deg from bottom right of my vista up to top left and away up a vertical shaft to the 6m level.. It’s easy to see how in a poor viz situation it would be possible to get caught in this very poorly laid line, luckily I saw it and maneuvered around it, so did everyone else.

I’m checking my gauges and I’ve still got plenty of air so we’re going to be going for some time yet. Then I notice a waved light from behind, a signal to stop, so I turn to look for my buddies and Martyn is waving his finger in a circular motion – time to turn back. We turn the dive and head back for base.

When we reach the stage cylinders the pickup goes without hitch, I remember to remove all my pegs and the only thing at the forefront of my mind now is just how badly I need a pee !

Eventually, we are at the line reel to the surface and I break the link and reel in the line to break the surface at a dive time of 47 mins.

The water was 7 deg and we hit a max depth of 10.2m according to my computer, but what it doesn’t record is the linear travel, Martyn estimated the main orange line to the turn point was 250m. That is the furthest I have ever penetrated into this mine, very satisfying it was too..

After breaking out of my dry-suit for that much needed pee I start my de-kitting and hauling process to try and beat the next welsh rain shower.


Ensconced back in Martyn’s kitchen the debrief began, and for once, it wasn’t a litany of horrendous errors. Martyn pronounced himself pleased with the dive and the various elements he had suspected would go wrong. I allowed myself a virtual pat on the back as Ian and I fed back our thoughts about the course. I promised I would blog about it, so I’ve delivered on that one..

Driving home I got to contemplate what had occurred that weekend and what my thoughts and experiences would distill down to. I realise that overhead environment training is not for everyone, but if it is something you are interested in I can thoroughly recommend training with Farrworld.

Do I think this is a good course ? I think Yes, ultimately it is. Even if you don’t want to go cave diving the things you learn are applicable to many aspects of open water extended range diving.

Many good things have been said about Martyn in the past, I don’t need to repeat them, his actions and achievements speak for themselves (if you don’t know what they are try the power of google), however, I feel I can add a very important point about the learning experience. When Martyn is teaching you, despite the fact that he has been doing it every day for years and years, he makes you feel like it is the first time he is imparting that piece of knowledge, and that you are a specially chosen and important recipient of that knowledge… A sign of a great educator.




4 responses

2 01 2013
Farrworld Extended Range Course

[…] […]

16 03 2013

I think what you posted made a great deal of sense.
However, think about this, what if you composed a catchier post title?
I ain’t suggesting your content isn’t good.
, however what if you added a title that grabbed folk’s attention? I mean Extended range cave diving | I’d rather be diving.
. is a little vanilla. You could glance at Yahoo’s front page and see how they write news headlines to grab people to click. You might add a video or a related pic or two to get readers interested about what you’ve written.
In my opinion, it could make your blog a little livelier.

1 05 2014
Dragon city free Gems

A cycle began when a warrior king (such as Sukhothai’s founder,
King Sri Intratit) expanded and consolidated territory by conquering rivals,
building a stable, populous kingdom and forging local alliances.
(In some very strict games, a player’s turn continues in such a
situation only if the card he fishes for completes a book for him.
We suffer because we go against His Will; His Plan for us is peace and joy.

12 09 2014

Because here is a list of multiplayer games gdfbgdgdkabd

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: