Volume 46 Number 3 Article 2
4 April 2008
“So Beardy, how long would it take to get to the sump without dive gear?”, Pete asked me as I fettled with my 10s in the kitchen at the Farm.
“Two minutes”, I answered, to Pete’s visible relief.
“But it will be good having somebody else to help shift the gear. The entrance is a bit awkward.” Pete was back being worried.
With no indecent haste we gathered our gear and headed off to Chapel-le-Dale, waving to Helen, Carmel and Liz as we drove past Bernie’s. At the car park Pete made some unenthusiastic noises about getting into his wetsuit. I had warned him that I had found Midge cold on recent dives, but his mildewed caving gear was not quite sufficient justification for calling off the dive. As we gathered our gear I made a reference to flippers.
“Do you use that term just to wind me up?”, Pete asked.
“No. I use it to wind all divers up.”
“Well it’s working.”
“Easy tiger!”, Pete teased me, as I stumbled, getting down to the dry streambed. I frequently have cause to give Pete that advice when his enthusiasm overcomes his competence making a particular move underground.
Showing him the awkward entrance to Midge he recollected his response the first time Oxford took him caving: having walked up the fell to do Swinsto his first response had been “We’re not going into that tiny hole are we?”
I sent him down first, much to his consternation: even without gear it was clear that he wasn’t naturally attracted to the awkward bedding plane. After a foray to attempt the entrance without gear he came back to make a half-hearted attempt to ferry the gear in. After the immediate bedding plane the cave drops down via a gap that is only just Pete sized to a lower bedding plane that is a trifle more generously proportioned. Soon we were in passage large enough to stoop in. Stopping to catch our breath, Pete asked if that was the worst behind us or was there more torture to come. To his relief I explained that the sump was 15 m walking away. Putting our bottles on our harnesses we dragged our tacklesacks the rest of the way. Soon we collapsed panting in a heap at the sump.
“I like what you’ve done to the place!”, Pete quipped as we kitted up. My response, in regard to the relining I had done, indicated I had not got his joke (or if I had I hadn’t found it funny), so he explained that he was referring to the décor. In particular the “cave-like” effect.
Suddenly it was clear that all was not well with Pete’s gear. He had managed to acquire not one, but three leaks in his right high pressure hose. One leak may be regarded as misfortunate, but three seems careless, as Oscar Wilde would no doubt have pointed out, had he been able to get through the entrance bedding, particularly in a high pressure hose!
We debated our options. Had the leaks been on a low pressure hose he might have dived anyway, but on a high pressure hose the risk was too high. I offered him the use of one of my spare regs, in the back of my van. Faced with the choice between not diving or going back for my spare regs Pete decided to go back. As I finished my pre-dive checks I could hear Pete rasping his way back through the entrance bedding. I got on with my dive, the goal of this, my fourth dive in Midge, being to tidy up some of the mess of line: two lines run parallel for much of the dive, before it turns into a right cat’s cradle nearer to the junction to Hurtle. I wrapped the line I had taken out around my hand, then tying it in a bundle before putting it in a tacklesack: sometimes Rupert’s advice turns out to be good. On my way out I passed Pete. I gave him the OK sign and he just about got it together to give it back: his buddy diving skills need some work!
As I was packed the last of my gear away for the trip out, Pete surfaced, complaining bitterly of the cold in his 4 mm wetsuit. He lamented the fact that I had forgotten to turn the emersion on. During the course of his dive he had hatched a cunning plan to mend his high pressure hose with gaffer tape and was certain Steve Round would have some. He was not put off by my sceptical response to this idea.
Soon we were back grovelling in the bedding planes on our way out, with much puffing and panting. Bottles banged, harnesses screeched as we rasped our way inch by inch to the entrance, Pete breathing in judiciously at a couple of points to get through. In the entrance itself, I piled the gear in front of me, counting the pieces: two tacklesacks, two sets of flippers, three bottles.
“Where’s your second bottle, Pete?”, I asked.
“Shit. I’m lying on it.”, he replied, unable to see it due to his contorted posture.
With all the gear piled in front of me, I struggled to squeeze past it. Eventually I was able to get above the gear, now able to stand up. From an awkward angle, Pete tried ineffectually to help hand each piece of kit up to me. Soon we were both out, much relieved to have done the dive and be able to stand up again.
“Tea and cake before Hurtle?”, I asked Pete. Not much argument from him in that regard.
Steve Round met Pete’s request with incredulity, but duly retrieved a roll of black gaffer tape.
“It matches my hose!”, Pete exclaimed, ever fashion conscious.
“It probably won’t fail catastrophically.”, Pete mused to Andy Whitney, Andy noting his careful use of language. Ray was likewise perplexed at the sanity of diving with a bit of gaffer tape ineptly wrapped half a dozen times around three holes in a hose at 200 atmospheres. Given that this dive was my first dive in a dry suit, by all accounts a complex piece of dive kit, I found myself questioning Pete’s suitability as a dive partner.
Having survived the slither down to the pool to get into Hurtle we began to kit up. Pete tested his gaffer taped regs.
“They’ll last do for another ten years.”, he quipped in a self-satisfied manner, smugly pleased with his inept handiwork.
Pete ran through the does and don’ts of dry suit use one more time, then we started the experiment to determine the amount of weight to be neutrally buoyant. This consists of a phenomenally complex algorithm, almost as complex as the one for breeze blocks on a fireplace: get into the water with what you consider to be too much lead, see if you can sink, remove a piece of lead then repeat until you can no longer sink.
Having duly accomplished this piece of brain surgery we moved onto the next exercise: sink to the bottom of the entrance pool, inflate to achieve neutral buoyancy, then slowly rise to the surface, taking care to dump air as you rise so as not to do an uncontrolled buoyant ascent. I learnt to “move the bubble”, as Pete called it, by gently rocking, taking care not to get the air bubble in my feet and inverting, then being unable to dump from my shoulder dump valve. This felt strange, but I managed it without any problem. By the second time of watching me do this, Pete was bored.
“Let’s do a dive into Hurtle.”, he said. “You go first on the way in so I can see you. Then on the way out, we’ll swap around so I can keep an eye on you. Remember to dump air as you come up on the way out, and stay slightly negatively buoyant to keep you on the bottom.”
I had less air than Pete going in so I expected that I would be turning the dive before him, but at a certain point, at about 19 m depth Pete indicated he wanted to turn the dive. He later explained that he remembered all of a sudden he was diving on a duff piece of kit. Going a long way with a diver doing his first dry suit dive was a trifle imprudent. On the way out, as we came up the air in my dry suit expanded and I started rising until I was 6 feet above the line. I had forgotten Pete’s exhortation to pre-emptively dump air when coming up and knew I wanted to be down on the line. At this point Pete decided to interfere and getting my attention indicated he wanted me on the line. Inverting I managed to get down to the line and we continued out.
Soon the glimmer of daylight filtered through the tannin stained water announcing the entrance pool: relieve all round! At this point, coming up further and having failed to dump air, it all started to go horribly wrong and my trim went to shit. Now in the safety of the entrance pool Pete left me to sort myself out, contorting myself like a trussed up, break dancing seal, trying to get the teacher’s attention to go to the toilet.
As I listened to Pete’s deliberations as to the strengths and weaknesses of my performance in the dry suit I luxuriated in the warmth of the dry suit.
Soon it was time to struggle up the slope of the Hurtle entrance, which Pete had very kindly lathered for me. Back to Bernie’s, but this time Pete’s buying .
NB In an attempt to “mix it up a bit” I have tried to write this from Beardy’s point of view. Apologies to Beardy for “putting words into your mouth”.