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GUE Cave 1 course report - The final entry

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This was it. The final day of the course. We were refreshed after a day off, although Neil's arm was still giving him a lot of pain.

I had stopped taking the piss at this point because I realised he was quite literally gritting his teeth in order to get through the final day. I just told him that I would do everything I could take help with the heavy lifting to take the strain off him and he needed to protect the wrist as much as possible and let the team help him. By now he was getting used to Imogen and I moving his cylinders around, and assembling his kit for him where necessary. That's the beauty of being in a standardised team. He could have used my kit and it would make no difference. 

We were all hyped up and ready to get this done and finished. In all honesty I was in no doubt that we were doing ok on the course, but you still never really know, and you certainly don't know what can happen on the final day, so we put our game faces on and went to breakfast in order to performing our daily ritual of stealing lunch. In fact, this had become so standardised it's probably worth a mention. Go up to the counter and get a little bit of fruit. And an apple. Put the fruit pieces on your plate and the whole fruit in your bag. Go back up and make a couple of sandwiches whilst another member of the team hunts for paper napkins to wrap them in. Once breakfast is done hightail it back to the rooms and empty both mini bars of water bottles. Then walk round the corner to the hotel gym and empty the shelves of water. Now we have sandwiches, fruit and three litres of water each. On with the show. It become ridiculous. I don't really know why we didn't just order what we wanted from reception as we were all inclusive anyway. 

Again, I'll also show you a video I found on youtube which does a pretty good job of showing you what it's like. 

This place had lots of promise with tunnels like "death arrow passage" and "The dead zone". Awesome. I mean, what could possibly go wrong.

The plan, as I wrote earlier, was to do 1 cave dive, then an open water dive, and then a final experience dive. 

We started with a field drill of line cutting and repairing. I won't go into the details but the critical thing here is that you don't do something dumb and cut the line so that you are holding the end that goes INTO the cave, having now just cut and let go of the bit that leads home. That would be unfortunate. Danny walked us through the process, which is all very logical and well though out. If you are entangled, you don't bother trying to untangle yourself. you just cut the line. However, you mark it with an arrow first and then cut it in a specific place so that you end up holding the arrow pointing towards the exit. Then you repair the line. It was all a welcome relief in all honesty after days of multiple failures and having to think through increasingly complex scenarios. 

Once we had got our heads around that it was into the cave for the final skills dive. This actually turned into two dives. On the first dive we just didn't seem that switched on, perhaps because we had just come back from a day off, and didn't think the scenario properly. We got out safely, but we could have done it with less drama if we had stopped to think. So Danny took us into the cave and we went through it again. This time we nailed it. Once the failures had reached the point where someone was out of gas wen did a blind exit whilst sharing gas and swam out of the cave. I was really pleased with how it was gone. Danny let us go through the debrief and then asked us if we were warm enough to do an open water dive. 

I should mention at this point that because my various team members had soiled their drysuits with urine - I am not sure whether it was through fear, pain or user error - I had lent out all my base layers and thin undersuits I had been using and was down to using a Fourth Element Halo. Now, just to clarify, The temperature was in the low 40s. The water temperature was about 26 degrees C. It was so humid that you can have put your clothes in the hotel swimming pool to dry off. And I was wearing the same undersuit that I use in the UK in the summer. I was melting. Within two minutes of putting the suit on I was panting like a dog. So as Danny asked if everyone was warm enough the other two had a small discussion and bravely decided to continue whilst I simply begged "can we go back down now please?"

Danny laid a line in about 3 metres of crystal clear water and then put the team on the line before entangling one of us. We had to reorganise the team so that the two people not entangled were on the exit side of the line and then go into the drill, cutting the line and then repairing it once we were free. We each had a go at this with no drama and then Danny decided to show us the "advanced" way of doing it. Imogen did a decent job of entangling Danny with Meredith hovering around for safety, at which point Danny did something I'm still not sure I saw properly. He put an arrow on the line, attached a spool to the arrow, attached the spool to himself. Then twisted, slashed the line, joined the line back together and then was somehow just hovering there holding the spool in one hand and the arrow in the other, with the perfectly fixed line in front of him. I'm absolutely sure that above my head at this point was a bubble that said "What the f*ck?". It was very, very impressive. There's usually something on a GUE course to remind you the instructor has lots of experience and a skill level that you are years from attaining. I remember watching Rich Walker hovering vertically head down in front of me in the middle of an ascent giving me instructions. I was supposed to be listening to the instructions but instead I was thinking "how the yellow rubbery f*ck is he doing that". I remember seeing Andy Kerslake cut a line with one hand and donate gas with another and thinking that if he needed to do something with one of his feet at the same time I suspect that wouldn't stretch him either. This was Danny's time. I'l never forget it. I'm sure if it was taught to me properly, and I was allowed to go through it as a field drill and then practice it, it will turn out to be a simple drill. However as a demonstration it just looked like mystic sorcery.

Anyway, after a brief lunch it was time to get back in and do the experience dive. There's not much to say about this in all honesty. We went cave diving. We did a GUE edge. We calculated and agreed our turn pressures. We did a bubble check and a long hose deployment. Then We tied off and swam into the cavern. We found the main line and tied off to it. We went for a lovely swim to heaven's gate. We turned around, and swam back, having been underground for about 45 minutes. 

After the dive we debriefed as usual, packed up the kit and headed back to ZG. Danny went the same routine I do on fundies, asking us what we had wanted out of the course, and whether we had got it. It wass a very frank and honest discussion, and at the end of it Danny announced we had all passed Cave1.

So, I guess it's time for me to summarise my thoughts.

Danny Riordan is an absolutely stunning instructor. His field drill work is his strong point, which is engaging and memorable. He gives you an amazing amount of histroical and contextual information which helps you remember the drills. He is patient, generous, and yet demanding, and misses absolutekly nothing. I would recommend him in a heartbeat and it will be hard for the guys to talk me OUT of doing Cave2 with him should the time ever arrive. 

Cave1 itself is the most enjoyable GUE course I have done. I think in all honesty that's because I was learning something completely new, and because my own personal skills were at the level where I found the course interesting and challenging, rather than difficult or stressful. If you did Cave1 without your fundamentals skills being completely reliable the course would chew you up and spit you out. the course is cleverly designed, with the demands being slowly increased rather than putting you under huge stress. Exposure to the caves is also graduated, presumably to try and avoid freaking you out, which does apparently happen from time to time. 

So what did I get out of the course?

Well, if you remember I wanted a few things. 

I wanted a check in the box as it is a pre-requisite for becoming a Tech1 instructor. Jod done, and next up will be me looking for intern spots being doing a Tech1 instructor training course next year. 

I wanted to develop my own awareness and finesse. Goodness, it did that. I've slowed down hugely in the water, taking far more in, using far less gas. I think my SCR dropped by about a third between the points before and after the course. My propulsion techniques are slower and more considered, and I'm far more aware of where my hands are and what they could damage.

I also wanted to see something new. Oh crap. Here's the problem. Cave diving is awesome. Just awesome. It's fair to say it's given me a new passion for diving. It also makes UK technical diving look like bloody hard work. All that rocking about on a boat, being blown out 50% of the time, paying a fortune for helium, going out for two hours, getting half an hour on the wreck in shit viz. It's going to take me a little while to get back into that idea in all honesty.

Mexico is hot. Really, really hot. Apparently we went in the wrong time of year, when the insect levels are high and it's really humid. Great. We'll know better next time, and there will be a next time, because in addition to being hot, Mexico is also stunningly beautiful. The people are friendly, the food is interesting and the beer is ice cold. Oh, and just in case the message hasn't got across, the diving is absolutely mind blowing.



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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.