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Cave Divers From Somerset Establish New Record in the Dordogne

sent in by Clive Stell


Clive Stell of Bath

A team of British cave divers have beaten the depth record for Dordogne caving at the Grand Souci in the Commune of St. Vincent sur I' isle.

The team consisted of divers Tim CHAPMAN, Sean PARKER and Clive STELL, all of the Bristol Exploration Club and the British Cave Diving Group, with Andrew KAY of the Speleo-Club de Perigueux and the Wessex Cave Club acting as logistics and surface Controller. The record breaking descent went to 107 metres below ground level, and the bottom of the cavity has not yet been found!

This was not cave exploration as visitors to the underground tourist sites of the departement probably imagine it, for 102.5 metres of the site are under water.  Obviously in these circumstances not only does progress require a quantity of expensive equipment and meticulous planning, but also nerves of steel.  The reward for the cave diver is knowing that he has been to a place where no one has gone before. As a favourite expression goes, "more people have been to the moon"!

The Grand Souci is a geological enigma for the region.  Most caves in the Dordogne are predominantly horizontal, and until now, the deepest known was the Trou du Vent in Bouzic, at the extreme southern border of the departement.  Only further probes into the Grand Souci will help to explain its origins: at present it is considered to be a "relic" of a massive and ancient under ground system formed millions of years ago, before the verdant hills and valleys in the area even existed.

For the technically minded - the 'point' dive, made by Clive Stell of Bath, took 2 hours and 47 minutes, of which only 18 minutes were for the descent and exploration, the remainder the ascent and respecting the previously scheduled 'decompression stops'. Special computer programs had been used to calculate the mix of gasses to be breathed by the diver, because at such depths pure oxygen or even compressed air, become fatally toxic. The mixture used is known as 'Trimix', comprising oxygen, helium and nitrogen all mixed into the dive cylinders in precise quantities with different mixes used at different depths.  It is not cheap: each cave dive to these depths costs £100 in gas alone, not to mention the equipment to use it.

Clive decided to be prudent and turned around two minutes earlier than his maximum scheduled dive time permitted.  In the dark, hostile world of a flooded cave, it is better to play it safe.  At a depth of 94 metres the visibility dropped to a point where Clive could not seen his gauges despite bright dive lights but he continued on laying the dive line linking him with the world above until any situation became too dangerous.  In these conditions, it is easy for a diver to become disoriented.  His mission was accomplished: the deepest cave in the Dordogne at 107metres!

By Andrew Kay - La Chassenie, 24390 Chervieux-Cubas, Dordogne, France.  Note: The official deepest cave dive in Britain is 67.5 metres at Wookey Hole in Somerset.