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GUE Cave 1 course report - Part 5

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Well, after all the hullaballoo and drama of the previous day, I was looking forward to what would hopefully be a more relaxed affair when I woke up the next day. The first order of business was to rap on Neil's door and see how he was doing. When he opened the door he was smiling, which I hadn't expected.


I asked him how bad the pain was and he said "the painkillers are keeping it bearable". Make of that what you will. Two of his fingers and a thumb were sort of working in that he had limited movement in them, but the last three fingers might have well been prosthetic. He could feel pain in them, but there was not a millimeter of movement in them. He was determined to go ahead. The theory should be no issue for him anyway, and with a thumb and a couple of fingers he could maybe even hold a line. Shutting down a valve might be a bit painful though. Having listened to him carefully I decided he was well enough for banter to be re-engaged, so I told him to look on the bright side. With a working thumb at least he could call the dive when he got scared like a pussy, but he was conveniently still injured enough that I'd have to do all the lifting and carrying for him.

It was around this point when I sat him down and informed him that I'd done several courses with GLOC and he'd never been such a dumbass that he'd fallen over, so Neil needed to get his shit together and man up. After taking another handful of "man up pills" at breakfast, we climbed into Danny's truck to go to ZG. Danny was appropriately concerned and interested in Neil's progress, and basically assured Neil that he'd do everything he could to be flexible, but the worst case scenario was that we would reach a point where Imogen and I had to carry on without him. I really, really didn't want that. Would I depend on my wife to save my life underwater? Yes, without question. Would I ever stop fucking hearing about it for the res t of my life? No. Neil needed to man up because he didn't understand how important it was to me that he be on this course. It was at this point that Neil made a fatal mistake. Even though he was clearly doing an awesome effort of manning up and cracking on with it despite being in awful pain he had up to this point not complained once. However, when Danny asked him how he was feeling, he responded "My arm is a bit tired". Oh dear. Neil had forgotten he was British. 

Naturally, I spent the rest of the course reminding him of this moment.

"Can you give me a hand with my twinset?" - "Why, is your arm tired?"

"Could you pass the salt?" - "Why, is your arm tired?"

"Do you want to see the menu? - "Why, is your arm tired?"

"I'm looking forward to seeing my wife" - "Why, is your arm tired?"

this last one led to a series of piss takes about Neil thanking God he's ambidextrous, and also that he should heal quickly due to the disproportionately excessive level of musculature in his right forearm. Etc. Etc.

Anyway, at ZG Danny launched back into the course. First up was an absolutely fascinating mental tour through the history of a cave. Why they form, what types of rock do they form in, what types of cave are there, what features exist in a cave, how those features form, what type of wildlife exist in a cave, our responsibility to protect this fragile environment. Being a die hard wreck diver who thinks that the Oceans should be filled with bleach to kill all the wildlife and improve the viz when I am diving I had not expected to be interested in this, but again Danny's passion was infectious and I spend the rest of the course REALLY looking at the caves and understanding them. It's a bit like how much more enjoyable a wreck dive is if you know what you are looking at and can put what you see into current and historical context. Caves are the same. They are either a big-ass hole in the ground, or an incredible time capsule, frozen in time by the water. Once you start looking at the geometry of the cave, the debris inside it, the flow, the speleothems, all of a sudden you start to see a history of the cave in your head. It's awesome. You're seeing tens of thousands of years of history. 

At this point we went back to Eden, just up the road. We were not doing any diving today, but Danny wanted to get through as many of the field drills as possible, basically resting Neil's arm as possible. Trying to avoid it getting tired, I guess. We went through more complex navigation. We talked about how you search for a lost diver. I had presumed that if you failed to find a lost diver than you leave them and they are basically in hands of luck. Whilst this is true to a certain extent, the process of looking for them is remarkably thorough and methodical, and it's amazing how many breadcrumbs you can leave for that diver to help them find their way out should they find their way back to the line. If I ever find a line having had to search for it, swim along it and find a backup torch pointing along the line, then a spool, then the mainline, and then a cookie showing me the way home, the owner of that cookie will never have to buy a beer again. Losing a diver in a cave must be horrific, but the team puts in a damn good effort to find them. A GUE team will not risk everything, but they will, within a specific framework, do absolutely everything to give that diver the best possible chance. It's all coldly logical, and you cannot help but wonder how many cave divers have died over the years when this process was being developed. That's the other thing that hits you about cave diving. There's no bolting for the surface and risking a bend. It sounds obvious, but it really only hits home when you look at that surface and realise you have to swim for half and hour before you will see natural light again. 

I should stop at this point to share a realisation I had. GUE has a quite a few procedures. We have procedures for going up, going down, valve drills, vale problem diagnosis, lost buddy, lost line, gas sharing, gas sharing exit, etc etc etc etc. you are exposed to many of these procedures at the fundamentals level, but it really hits home why they are in place once you experience cave diving. It's beautiful, but unforgiving. It's easy to see that the rules have been developed by people who have lost friends. It's easy to see that it must be tempting to bend the rules. Swim a little further. Don't bother leaving that cookie. Lay the line quickly rather than well. fortunately, it's also easy to see that although caves are beautiful they will solidly bite you in the ass if you start thinking you are better than the people who developed these rules. I asked Danny if pulling people out of caves is a tragic event he has had to be involved with, and he replied "Sometimes". Tragic.

We went through the missing diver stuff without any difficulty and started talking about the lost line drill. Again, GUE's approach to this is coldly logical and methodical. drop to the bottom and find a reference point by feel if necessary. Work out how far you are from the line you are likely to be. Perform an immediate visual search looking for the line. Or for clues - bubbles, light, etc. then begin a systematic search which I will not describe here. If you want to go cave diving, get training. We went through the exercise finding the mainline, tying off to it, and then finding our way out. this is the nightmare scenario. You might find your team again. You might not. You might be swimming the right way out of the cave. You might not. If you have paid attention to Danny's instruction, you have been soaking up clues about the cave on the way in, clues you might be able to recognise or use on the way out. Even on dry land it took us a little while to find the line, I could only imagine how long it would take inside the cave. 

We moved on to blind exiting the cave. This is a simulation of a complete silt out, not light failure. You have 9 lights that you have both visually tested and tested with a multimeter before you kitted up. It's unlikely they will all fail. However, a complete loss of visibility inside the cave is a real possibility. so you practice exiting the cave in touch contact, learning signals for going forward, back, stopping, crossing the line, sharing a regulator. One interesting aspect at this point is that GUE teach primary take. I'll say that again for all the "no agency teaches primary take" brigade. If you are in a zero viz environment, GUE teach you to ask for the reg with touch signals, but then take it if they do not respond. We learned how to keep the team together, how to cross the line if we hit an obstacle, how to avoid banging our heads into things, how to avoid pulling the line off tie-offs and placements. We did this in silence, making it as real as possible. The only sounds were the sound of insects eating me and Neil's arm getting more tired. Actually to be fair Neil put in an epic performance. It must have been hurting like a b*stard but he got on with it. 

At lunchtime, we jumped off the cliff into the water. Like the GUE professionals we are I jumped into the water like someone who had just been tasered, and Imogen screamed all the way down. It's about 20 feet ffs. We went for a swim to cool down, and even Neil joined us, which to be fair was probably the best thing he could do for his arm. Honestly, it was awesome. Cool, crystal clear water was a welcome relief after the obscene temperatures that the day had reached. 

After the swim is was back to more field drills. We looked at directional and non-directional markers. Here is when you really just how modest a guy Danny is. The non-directional marker. He quietly talks about it and how to use it, then talks about the issues he had when developing it. He shows you some basic prototypes he came up with and you can see how it evolved. This is done without ego to demonstrate the problem the cookie is designed to solve. Then he moves on. I'd be standing on the cliff shouting at all the other cave divers "SEE THIS? I DESIGNED THIS. YOU LUCKY BASTARDS!" but Danny is a nicer guy than I am. We talked about when to use cookies and arrows and, perhaps more importantly, when using them might just result in confusion in the cave, something GUE cave divers strive to avoid. 

And then, we called it a day. No-one fell over. No-one ended up in hospital. Neil was in a lot of pain but was doing a great job of manning up. His fingers were still a disaster, but he was determined that tomorrow would be a diving day. I admired his guts to be honest, but I knew tomorrow would be difficult for him. It was going to be a busy day in the water.

The only amusing thing of the day was Neil’s head. He was bitten 25 times on his face during the evening. 25 times. That’s 25 fairly obvious welts. He looked like he had chicken pox. When he was walking through reception someone looked worriedly at him as they walked past and I whispered “Ebola” whilst making a cut throat sign shaking my head sadly.


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Gareth Burrows is a GUE Instructor trainer, and a personal diving coach for recreational and technical divers of all levels, specialising in improving buoyancy control, trim and stability, in-water confidence, and ascent management. He has trained with PADI, TDI, IANTD and GUE as well as serving as a DO in a BSAC branch. He has been diving cold water wrecks in Europe and around the UK for over a decade, and can usually be found diving out of Brighton, Portland or Plymouth. He is qualifying later this year as a cave diver and looking to become a GUE tech1 instructor in the 18 months. He has trained or coached hundreds of divers from newly qualified open water divers, to course directors and technical instructors.