Fontaine du Truffe

10 07 2009

I took a deep breath and ducked my head under the water, the visibility was terrible, I couldn’t see my hands, nothing but a milky vista filled my vision. I ran my hands down the root of a tree and let the air out of my dry-suit. My video camera was running and I was conscious not to let it bang against the stone.. (after all I was using my “cheap” lens) as I descended downwards towards a place I had been told was there and that the visibility would improve.

Just as I was beginning to consider I had descended in the wrong place or had perhaps moved away from a vertical descent the water began to clear and a semi-circular dark opening loomed up at me. I flicked on my hand-mounted halogen light, checked my helmet-mounted Q40 and kicked my way gently into the little opening. The beginning of my first ever cave dive in France and the end of a long journey.

My journey to this point had started in 2004 when I was working in Orlando and found myself with a few spare days. A couple of phone calls later to some local dive shops and I had booked myself on a two day cavern course in Gainesville. I had no idea what that meant !

The course was nothing short of fascinating, but it only served to whet my appetite I couldn’t stop thinking about what was past those grim-reaper signs telling you there was nothing worth dying for past the 60m penetration point..

Fast forward a little and during a vino-fuelled surfing session one night I stumbled upon this which seemed to offer an opportunity to further my sporadic interest in this rather niche element of diving. If you check some of my older posts you’ll see I have written about those particular exploits there.

Fast forward again to a scene where I’m driving my car out to a training site in Wales with Martyn Farr, Helen Rider and my buddy Ian France. We are talking about what lies beyond the heady heights of full cave and the extended range course that Martyn has started offering. It occurs to me that just as there is a market for newly-qualified open-water divers who would like to be guided on subsequent dives after qualification that perhaps there is a market for cave divers who would like to be given a taster of what they could expect in certain places whilst safe in the knowledge that they weren’t getting themselves into situations that they just weren’t experienced for.

Ian interrupted my monologue with “I for one would sign up to something like that, especially if it was in the Dordogne” and I felt like there was maybe the germ of an idea there..

I’m standing in the kitchen now and an email pops into my blackberry.. from Martyn. Would I be interested in going on a trip to the Dordogne to do a bit of diving ? Ha ha ha, I almost dropped the damn phone as I typed my response.. Bears in woods and Catholic Pontiffs ?

Six months later and Ian and I are driving through the ever beautiful french countryside heading for a tiny little hamlet just off the A20 not far from Gramat. Heading to a rented house to meet up with Martyn, Helen and two other guys..

The anticipation was palpable as Martyn starts to outline the agenda for the week. Progressively difficult and complicated based on a loose list of possibilities but influenced by the feedback from ourselves.

Tomorrow we will dive Fontaine du Truffe. Simple and clean (at least where we are going)..

…. I shuffle and slide down the gravelly slope and past the restriction which would have been an issue had I been wearing my twinset (something which Martyn advised against) and for which I was grateful. Immediately after this little restriction the tunnel opens out noticeably to a width of 2.5 – 3m. I fiddle with my gear checking and re-checking the things I’ve already checked on the surface. Ian appears in the restriction and I try to video him. This proves difficult without his light causing flare on the camera or my halogen blinding him. Obviously videoing this trip is going to be more complicated than I thought.

Helen arrives and we hold station waiting for Martyn, it has been agreed he will lead this dive and we will follow. Soon enough ‘Il Professori’ appears and we move off down the tunnel.

This is a very clean passage, in the winter it must see some serious flow as there is no mud and very little sand. I am surprised to see a goldfish swimming in the tunnel, must have been an unwanted pet..

..when we get to the end of Sump 1 and clamber out onto the rock I am overwhelmed by the feeling that I am somewhere that not many other people have been. I’d imagine many wouldn’t want to go there and I realise that compared to (say) the moon then a lot of people have been there, but I liked my little fantasy anyway.

The stage was a thin canal (so I left behind the camera) and required some crawling, shuffling and wriggling. Not because it was tight, but because the water level was low and we couldn’t float. This led to Sump 2 which was a lot thinner and really meandered around. “Like swimming through swiss cheese” was how Helen described it in the briefing and she wasn’t far wrong.

I really enjoyed this sump it really made me feel like a ‘proper’ cave diver because I was somewhere enclosed and could use the walls to pull myself along. At this point of course, I hadn’t experienced any other dives in France so it was definitely the best dive of the trip. I kept thinking Martyn has given us the best one first !

All too soon we came up to air at the end of Sump 2 and it was here we had agreed to turn the dive. A little chat about thirds, and line quality and laying and we were off.

Having gone in second from front I was now second from back.. this was to prove a key factor in what could have been a major problem for me…

What follows now is a useful lesson in how things can go wrong fast and then stack up to cause stress. More on that later.

First thing to go wrong was my halogen torch. It started to die on me. I had been running both 12w and 20w bulbs but the dive duration was no more than 30 mins. WTF ! Never mind, I think, I have four Q40’s on my helmet, I click on one of those and it burns bright for 30 secs and then goes out. I turn on the one below it and stays on. Excellent !

I move off, grumbling to myself about shitty torch technology when there is a clang and a yank to the hose attached to the second stage in my mouth. I stop and look down to see what’s happened and I see my left-hand 7l cylinder is rolling about on the bottom of the tunnel !

I drop down to the refit the cylinder and lay the camera over to one side whilst I’m doing that. The camera isn’t playing and begins to roll over on to the lens and I grab for it which causes the cylinder to roll further away, pulling the regulator almost out of my mouth. I grab hold of that and reset myself to start again. At this point Martyn appears and glides down to help me refit the cylinder. I grab the camera and swiftly move off sheepishly feeling annoyed that I made such a hash of sorting out such a stupid little kit problem. I wasn’t stressed just annoyed and perhaps a little embarrassed.

Perhaps, had I not been in such a hurry to move off and act like it hadn’t happened, the next thing wouldn’t have happened..

I continued on following the line and exited without any drama but I really needed a pee..

I shot off up the slope and swiftly de-kitted so I could deal with my pressing engagement. Whilst standing there contemplating life I remembered I had attached the key for the back of my truck onto my harness.. which was now glaringly devoid of key or karabiner !

I checked and re-checked all pockets but to no avail – the key was lost.. Unfortunately, I had locked the main keys (including ignition) inside the back of the truck. I had to own up that everyone’s stuff was locked up in the truck with no access. I confessed and Martyn suggested that someone (me) should get kitted up and go in and look for the key as I’d obviously dropped it in the cave.

I was aghast that I would have to go back in and search for it.. it could have been in any of a million little pock marks carved by millions of years of water action.. Depressed, I started kitting up and bent down for my harness, when I stood up there was a little key dangling on a karabiner right in front of my face behind which stood a grinning little welshman. “That’s gonna cost you a lot of beer” was all he said..

Turns out, as I was dicking about solving my cylinder loss problem, the key had come off and after I’d moved off, Martyn spotted it glinting in the his torch light.

What a lucky boy I was, the cost of the beer was far cheaper than a new mountain top for the truck !

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3 responses

10 07 2009
jackiepepper

Didn’t your mother always tell you to have a pee BEFORE you went anywhere!!!

10 07 2009
BatCat

Seriously, that’s a great posting and a nice bit of video. If only all blog postings were as original and interesting as this. But then what would I have to take the piss out of?
Nice work.
Cheers
David

5 07 2012
wills

Gayboy

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