GUE Cave 1 class – Lot / France

Already in October 2006 we signed for a Cave 1 class with Tom Karch in France, after we just couldn´t manage it the years before. The class itself took place from September 3rd to 9th 2007. Due to the long waiting time before the pleasant anticipation was big enough, when we headed on Friday 31st of August off from Innsbruck. Each of us with two 2*12´s, the “normal” dive gear, and backup material for even the most exceptional case (e.g. backup drysuit, repairkits for lights, regulators, suits etc.) and a lot of food for the whole week – not to forget the Nespresso machine!

At 13:30 we finally left Innsbruck with direction France. The route led via Zürich, Genve, Lyon and direction Clermont – Ferrand, where we spent the night on a parking lot beside the highway, because we were already more than 8 hours on the road. At the next morning we headed to the goal of our trip, Cajarc. At September 1st we arrived at the little village of Salvagnac – Cajarc and met with Tom at the appartments of Moulin de Lantouy, where one of the appartments war reserved for us for the next week. We met there also Chris Maillot, who would exam Tom as Cave 1 instructor during our class, Andrea Marassich (=Mara), who started to become a Cave instructor and spent the whole week with us, and Danny Riordan, who held another class at the same time. After meeting all these guys and saying hello, we put our luggage to the appartment and rested for a while after the long drive.

At the next day we got an overview about the class from Tom and what we could expect from the following days. We talked about the basics and got a foretaste of the upcoming week.

The next day the class started and it got serious. First we had to do our swim test and were really pleased about the nice weather, because we had to so our swimming and breath hold diving in the river Lot. So went Chris, Tom, Mara and we 2 in the river and crossed it for 6 times, after that we had to do our breath hold diving in the intransparent green water. At least the water temperature was quite OK and our thoughts about getting cold were without any reason. Immeadetly after that we spent the whole afternoon with theoretical lessons. Tom explained to us the limits we would have after that class, the right sequence of a dive (including the pre dive preparation) and the possibilities for communication. From time to time Chris added something or talked about an example from his experience to explain important points. Although we thought we would know the basics from various sources (magazines, books, internet, etc.) we got clear on many points or learned by far enough new. For the evening we got homework to do, which was to repeat the ways of communication and hand signals out of the booklet “Cave diving communications”.

The next morning we met at 7:30 sharp behind the appartments with reel, spool, line markers, cookies and our goodman handles and gloves. We did a dry run how to work with a guidline, follow a guidline, laying line, adding markers etc. Of course we got a lot of information and comments from Tom, Chris and Mara, who gave us valuable hints and corrected us when doing something wrong.

At last we drove in the afternoon to Marcilhac sur Celé to do our first dives. The cave Tom choose for our first cave dives was the Ressel, one of the best known european caves. But before we could finally enter the cave, we had a detailed briefing and to demonstrate and eqiupment check, a valvedrill and a safetydrill in the open water. The visibility in the water of the river Celé were everything but promising. The debriefing of our valve- and safetydirll as well. Nonetheless we got the limits for our first cavedive from Tom – time, depth and gas. At last we followed the mainline through the riverbed to the caveentrance, where the visibility cleared immediately.

Even though the limits were quite restrictive (e.g. maximum penetration time 8 minutes), it was an impressing experience. On the way back, we had to demonstrate the different fin kicks and were checked by Tom. At the ascent we were both convinced to have done a good job. By far – the debriefing took quite a long time and after the critics from Tom, Chris had to add something as well.

For we had enough gas left in our doubles, we dig directly afterwards another dive. The limits were more generous than at the first dive. This time Klaus lead the dive and just before we reached the first T in the cave, my mainlight “failed”. OK – pull out my backup light, signalize the partner (who already turned around due to the missing light shine), communicate the problem with my main light, store the lighthead, store the cable and way back out. If we thought that would have been all of our problems at that dive, we were wrong. Shortly after that, Klaus had (of course by chance) as well a light failure. These “light failures” should follow us through the whole class. We had not a single dive thrughout the whole class with not at least one light failure. Of course we could find the way out with our backup lights without any problems. As Tom asked me what I thought, when my light went out, I had to smile. I told him that he was a liar at the briefing! Toms face at that answer was delicious! I explained to him, that he said the way in would be “reserved” to enjoy the cave, and that the problems would only accur at the way out. Because we has already reached the first T in the cave, Tom wanted us to turn and so he “made” the light failure. The following debriefing wasn´t really shorter than the first one. For the evening we had again a lot of homework to do: we had to make knots in the line of our safety spools to mark the distance, to assess our SAC-rate (surface air consuption), write down the protocol for a primaty light failure and of course rehearse all the topics we had already learned.

The next morning we started again at 07:30 with theory and dry runs. Special attention was on gas failures at valves and regulators and how to handle with such situations and to get these efficient under control. We did the dives number 3 and 4 in the afternoon again at the Ressel and prompt we had on top of the primary light failures as well most different bubble scenarios.

The next day we went for all dives at the Gouffre de Cabouy. Again we had light failures, bubbling regulators and valves and sometimes zero visibility. Of course only scenarios, but under the watchful eyes of Tom and Chris, the stress to make no mistakes was stimulation enough. We simulated in the entrance pool how to follow a line at zero visibility, staying in physical contact and on top of that made a gas sharing szenario. All in all we made 4 dives that day and were tired enough after that. But we had to refill our tanks and brought them to André Grimal at Gramat, who has a filling station with all technical finesse and as well the possiblility to fill all kind of mixed gas. While André did the filling, we did some dry runs in his garden to avoid idle time.

At Thursday we went to Pont de St. George. We did in the entrance pool our obligatory valve- and safety drills. Meanwhile checked Chris the visibility and had to tell us, that the conditions were too bad for our class. So we changed the plan immeadetly and went to the Cabouy. The highlight of the next dive was beside the obligatory light failures and bubble szenarios the lost diver drill. Later that day we did again two dives at the Ressel and exercised to find our way out of the cave at zero visibility in touch contact, what worked surprisingly well. At the next dive we could at last pass the former mentioned T, and take a look at the shallow part behind. Just like to pay for that, we had to demonstrate at the way out a lost line drill. It took quite while, becouse Tom wanted us to do that with closed eyes. In a situation like that, you realize immedeately why the gas reserves at cave diving are that strict.

For the last day of the class Tom choose the Landenouse as dive site. The entrance at the brickwall cistern is at low water level spectacular enough, but the cave behind makes it well worth. To avoid boredom, we had again several light failures and on top a lost partner, who was placed well behind a corner. At the following last dive of the class, Chris joined us for a team of three and throughout the whole dive we were waiting for most complex szenarios to appear, like gassharing, lost diver or lost line or at least a problem with a regulator together with a light failure and then to communicate the problem to teammate number three. To our total suprise it was just a fun dive. The last drill was to bring a unconscious diver to the surface. This was difficult enough, but Chris has the endurance to work as “victim”.

Later in the afternoon, Klaus and I had to write our exams and after the correction of that, Tom could tell us that we passed the test and the class and he passed his course, to become a GUE cave instructor, as well. Happy, eased and tired we went to the village for dinner with Chris, Mara and three duch guys. Later we were joined by the two (former) candidates from Danny´s class, who passed their class as well. All together we had a very funny and international dinner.

At Saturday we enjoyed a longer sleep before we packed our stuff and said goodbye to Tom, Chris, Mara and all the other guys.

The way home was planned again in two stages for we wanted to get some kilometers done that day. After we had some gas left in each of our doubles, the way back home lead by the Ressel where we met again the “usual suspects”. Chris, Mara and a few others wanted to benefit the spare day for a dive (otherwise they wouldn´t get in the water ;-)). Our dive should happen without any familiar light failures and bubbling valves. So we passed the first T and followed the shallow part of the cave until it got deeper and deeper. As a shaft led deeper than 20 meters, Klaus gave me the “call the dive” signal, even we had some gas left before we hit our turnpressure. But we came to a second T (the point where the mainline comes back to the sidepassage we took). This should be enough for that time and we were already 370 meters in the cave. So we enjoyed the way back and at last the cave entrance in the backlight, before we ascended and met Chris, wo was swimming along the Celé to the cave entrance.

The way back home was without any problems and done in two stages as planned and on Sunday we were back at Innsbruck.

All in all it was a very interesting and informative time. We have learned a lot to use not only for cave dives, but for a joyful dive in a lake, at a reef or at a nightdive as well. We can only give a full recommendation for this class.