an underground world to discover
After the first typical and usual question “Ah well, you do cave diving? ” the result such as a ritual is often “But you see what? And aren't you a little crazy? ”. On this surge of curiosity, Sebastien Delautier, who is above all a passionate, makes us discover this universe. In a context where we travel little this can be for the most reckless divers formidable and unforgettable dives.
After more than ten years of diving mainly at sea, at the end of 2018 I was offered to try cave diving. 1h45 drive from my home in Toulouse, the resurgence of Ressel was therefore my first experience in cave diving. An unforgettable dive, and the first photos taken which convinced me to continue the experience. Since then, I dive more often underground rather than in sea ...
Dives all year round
For me, cave diving it is above all close and practicable dives almost all year round in the south-west of France. My passage underground was the opportunity to discover the existence of dozens of accessible and famous sites. Hundreds of kilometers of galleries, partially or completely submerged, in water at constant temperature all year round. 14 ° C is refreshing in summer but in winter it is much more pleasant than the Mediterranean. The only diving limitation is during flooding, but it never lasts long. The rising water sometimes even makes certain sites plunge again, the dry entrances of which had become too complex to cross.
Outside of France, cave diving is practiced in many countries. Each has its specificities in the sites as in the diving conditions (temperature, visibility,…). The temperature can be freezing in Norway, or more comfortable like in the cenotes of Mexico.
In this article, we will only discuss local diving in the kartz of southwestern France, which represents the bulk of my activities under ceiling.
100% exploration ...
Underground the word exploration takes on a different meaning. Man has already been to the Moon and mapped most of it. But regularly near you, speleonauts are the first to discover new galleries never before seen by humans. Without being one of those who push breadcrumbs into the unknown, I appreciate the atmosphere of diving. Illuminated only artificially, the progression through the cavities evokes night dives where every corner that the beam of light touches is like a new place. Visibility is often exceptional compared to the sea. 20m, 30m, sometimes even 40m are common in some sites. Under these conditions, the contemplation of the galleries dug by water over geological time is an activity in its own right in underground diving. If France is quite poor in submerged concretions, the volumes are rich in meanders and variations in the color of stone are often a festival. The crossing of a siphon often reserves beautiful spectacles in the exposed parts, impressive vault, gigantic rooms,...
... and 100% security
Ceiling diving, of which cave diving is a part, involves a different engagement than free surface diving. In fact, in the event of an incident (regulator failure, loss of visibility, etc.) the consequences are immediately more complicated to manage because it is impossible to simply let yourself float towards the surface. Most of the time, the distance traveled on the outward journey must be on the return. A progression of 300m within a network represents 20 minutes of kicking on the return before being able to go out in a breathable environment.
Safety is therefore at the heart of the practices of cave divers. Each possibility of an incident is anticipated, and procedures and equipment are carefully adapted. For example, the diving suit is redundant (with many variations, depending on the cavities and the divers): the current configurations are the Bi-cylinder (2 × 10 L dorsal, 2 x S 80 sidemount), or the rebreather with 2 cylinders separate escape hatches in the event of machine failure. In addition, each dive is subject to preparation (study of the topography, checking of conditions, planning of gas and consumption) and the equipment is checked many times before the start of the dive.
The technical specificities could be the subject of a separate article and these are only examples. It should be remembered that cave diving is practiced safely, and that cave divers are often planners and equipment maniacs.
Community and engagement: a state of mind
Precisely, underground divers: this is also an aspect that led me to practice over time. The commitment to cave diving brings a significant mental intensity to each dive. The practitioners come out transformed. Each new dive is an opportunity to create a strong team, or to go further in the experience with an already proven team. The pursuit of a common exploration, the making of photographs, all of this leads to the generation of unique experiences and connections.
The community formed by cave divers is united and helps to advance the discipline, by improving procedures, mapping or maintaining dive sites. A state of mind oriented towards the conservation of the common good left to us by the millennia of erosion.
Conclusion: we never tire of it
As a photographer, I am one of the divers who have no problem doing the same dive site 10 times. Underground it is even more true.
The progression in any cavity, even already known, is a highlight. Attention is to be paid to everything, oneself, his teammates, the environment, the breadcrumb trail,… Mentally intense, each dive allows you to let go and completely forget the surface to focus only on the present time.
As for photography, it is also a constant attraction. The cavities do not move or move very little, and it is thus possible to anticipate the lighting plans as in a studio. I can improve photos that I have already taken or try to create new things according to the wishes and the team. It's a constant renewal and, in short, you understand, I never tire of it ...
To know more:
Sout 'diving association
French Federation of Speleology
Cave diving at the FFESSM
IANTD cave diving
TDI cave diving
GUE exploration blog
Text, cover photo (teammate Lucas Degan) and photos illustrating Sébastien Delautier's article all rights reserved
About the Author:
Mountain since birth and diver since 2007, I bring back photos of Nature in all its forms. My goal is to make people discover places that are sometimes as unexplored as they are magnificent.
Currently based in the south of France, I mainly dive in my adopted region between the south-western cavities and the Mediterranean.