Original Drama >> General
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THE UNDERWATER ADVENTURES OF
It all started when a friend (Jim Woods) and I were invited to join another group in a visit to
snorkel dive in Betangabie Bay which is just south of Eden in New South Wales and adjacent to
We spent a very enjoyable weekend swimming and snorkel diving in a maximum depth of approximately
ten meters of water admiring the marine life and the wreckage of craft which had sunk in the inlet.
Following this little adventure I decided that I would repeat the exercise but I felt that I needed
to spend more time underwater than was possible with a limited lung capacity.
As soon as we returned home, Jim and I went to the local Sports store and purchased diving gear and
a book outlining the dos and don'ts along with the safety precautions to be observed.
All this occurred in the early 60's of the last century. The restrictions with regard to underwater
diving such as licences and professional instruction in those days did not exist.
We did learn about The Bends, Air Embolism and Nitrogen Narcosis, the cause and symptoms of these
afflictions and how to avoid being afflicted.
Our diving gear consisted of a full neoprene wet suit, fins and self contained underwater breathing
apparatus (SCUBA). The SCUBA gear consisted of an eighty cubic foot capacity air tank which was
normally charged with filtered air
to a pressure of approximately 2800 psi.(cold). The air tank is fitted with a regulator valve and a
mouthpiece allowing the user to breathe cool, clean air at ambient pressure. Pressure increases by
one atmosphere every 32 feet in fresh water and every 30 feet in salt water.
Also needed was a face mask and snorkel to allow us to see without distortion underwater and allow
us to breath through the snorkel while on the surface thus conserving air plus an adjustable weight
belt to counteract the positive buoyancy of the wetsuit.
The next requirement was to familiarise ourselves with the equipment and learn to work with it.
Knowing of a deep pool in a reasonably accessible creek, we travelled there and suiting up we spent
about four hours swimming and diving to about 30 feet, periodically removing the breathing
apparatus, leaving it on the floor, free surfacing and then free diving to refit the gear.
We also practiced “Buddy breathing”, that is, only one of the two wearing breathing
apparatus and sharing with his Buddy.
The next thing to do was to buy a second tank each so that we could have one tank each on the shore
in reserve in case of trouble.
At last we are ready to tackle that big wide ocean.
Suit up, into the water and stay down among the fishes for as long as we liked, well, almost. That
amount of air will last for approximately one hour at two atmospheres (30 feet).
Next it's around to Disaster Bay and into the real ocean where sea life is particularly spectacular.
Parrot fish of all hues, Leather Jacket male and female, the male beautifully coloured but the
female rather drab but they are both terrific eating.
We swam with Morwong, Moray eels, many and varied species of shark, schools of Tuna and many other
fish species too numerous to list.
I had an interesting experience on that first dive. Swimming around in about 100 feet of water I was
having a great time grabbing hold of rocks, pulling hard and propelling myself through the water
when I grabbed one of the larger rocks and to my amazement, a ten foot carpet shark (the water
magnifies the ten foot to appear to be about fourteen feet) took off at great speed, I took off in
the other direction at great speed and I became the second man to walk on water. I have always
maintained that I was not sure which of us got the greater fright but I must admit that I think it
was not the shark.
Over the years we visited that area on a regular basis, carrying spear guns and never returning
without a large ice box full of fish including an illegal number of Abalone.
The deepest I dived in the open ocean was 185 feet.
There was one more challenge.
We had read of the limestone caves outside Mt Gambier in South Australia and so we arranged an
Easter weekend to explore them if possible.
This was something entirely different, different diving and different knowledge required. We went
quite unprepared both in our knowledge and equipment.
We knew that it would be totally dark in the depths and at least we prepared for that by purchasing
cheap torches from the Coles store (no supermarkets back then). We needed to drill holes in the
outer cases of the torches so that the pressure would equalise inside and outside the case otherwise
the increased water pressure at depth would crush the torch.
We left home on the Thursday evening and drove all night arriving in Mt Gambia on Friday morning,
(first mistake) made some enquiries as to the caves, purchased a map of the area, located a dive
shop where we would be able to refill our air tanks and headed off to start our great adventure.
There were three caves that we wanted to explore, Piccaninny Ponds, Kilsby's and the Shaft.
For our first dive we chose Piccaninny Ponds and by early Friday afternoon we decided to wait no
longer, arriving at the site we suited up (sans the weight belts. We had learned that neutral
buoyancy is achieved at the pressure around 100 feet and to wear a weight belt past that depth would
be dangerous) and entered the water (second mistake, we knew that we should not be diving in our
tired state after driving all night but we were young and foolish and considered ourselves
At ground level the “Ponds” resembles a swamp but as we waded into the water to swimming
depth and looked down through the water we were amazed. The scene that greeted us is called the
“Cathedral” and aptly so. Gazing down through the water which is about 100 feet deep at
that place was like gazing up into the vaulted ceiling of a huge cathedral. With the sun high
overhead the water was crystal clear and the beauty of the scene defies description.
After savouring the beauty of it all for a short time whilst just lying on the surface and breathing
through our snorkels we decided to take the plunge, literally.
At this stage, I should point out that it is recommended safety practice when diving caves to use a
“shot line”. This consists of a rope or cord, knotted at even intervals, anchored at the
surface and is played out during the descent.
Another lesson learned the hard way!
We descended to the “roof” of the cathedral and came across a tunnel descending deeper
and decided to enter it to see to where it led.
After about a further 20 feet Jim, who had done most of the driving from Sale to Mt Gambier,
indicated that he was tiring and would return to the surface. I acknowledged his signal and in
return indicated that I would go a little deeper. Another huge mistake! That type of dive, for
safety reasons should never be undertaken alone.
Once about 30 to 40 feet inside the tunnel the sunlight could no longer penetrate and it was as
black as the inside of a dog so it was time to switch on the torch and hope that it would work and
it would last for the duration of the dive. The water was, here also, crystal clear as it is being
permanently filtered through limestone.
There is no danger from air embolism or nitrogen narcosis and nor is there a need to allow for
decompression in this type of dive as the volume of air available restricts the diver to a bounce
dive, that is straight down and back up again but it is prudent to try to save a little air and
breathe the bottle dry at about one atmosphere just to be on the safe side.
I followed that tunnel downwards to about 240 feet at which time I decided that it was deep enough
for the first dive and decided to ascend.
That is when it all fell apart.
As I think it was Robbie Burns who wrote “The best laid plans of mice and men gang aft
As I ascended, the tunnel branched off in several directions and I had no Idea which tunnel would
lead me out of there.
Oh for a shot line, although at that time I had never heard the term.
Time to think! I think! Stay cool Reg, don't panic. How can I not panic? If I choose the wrong
branch then I am to be entombed in this watery grave for all eternity.
So I stay cool (figuratively and literally as the water is ice cold).
I spent a few seconds considering which branch may be the better to chance whilst shining the beam
of the torch into each in turn when suddenly I realised that there was a very slight movement of
sediment in one branch only. This must be the branch through which I descended and disturbed the
sediment. Saved! Well for another 50 feet when I came across more branches. Again the torch trick!
Again the sediment movement in one branch only.
Now I can only hope and pray that the batteries in the torch last and that the torch does not fail
The torch lasted out and after two more sets of tunnels I found myself back in the cathedral with
light and could see the surface.
I ascended and heaved a great sigh of relief.
I never again attempted that type of dive either alone or without a shot line.
On Friday evening we met four other divers.
Both Jim and I were officers in the Army Reserve serving in an artillery unit.
It turned out that the four we met were also members of the army reserve in a commando unit and were
We arranged to dive Kilsby's on Saturday.
Kilsby's is on private property some distance from the ponds and just looks like an open pit about
50 yards in diameter. The walls are sheer and the water level is about 30 feet below the ground
There was a ladder permanently fixed to on wall leading down to water level to facilitate easy
access for divers.
The commandos lowered their dive gear by rope to a ledge just above the water level then spurning
the ladder a with and challenging look at Jim and me they launched themselves feet first into the
air to land in the water 30 feet below.
They climbed into their dive gear and then looked up at the two of us calling, mockingly,
“Well aren't you coming in or are you scared to jump”. I could have told them that I was
but I held my silence.
I looked at Jim and Jim looked at me. I could see that Jim was no keener on jumping than was I but
after all we were officers and they were mere ORs.
With a shrug of resignation we lowered our gear to the rock ledge and, with a great deal of
trepidation, followed each other over the edge to the water below.
I for one was surprised to find how easy and how exciting it was to make that jump and that day I
was to make the climb out and repeat the jump three times just to experience the exhilaration again
Once kitted up and in the water we observed the same crystal clarity of the water that we had
experienced in the ponds, however the light was much better as there was nothing over the water to
interfere with the sunlight.
The view is like looking down into a huge amphitheatre, the floor quite clear through 120 feet of
water clear enough to be able to pick out individual stones and rocks 200 feet down.
We spent some three hours exploring in that pool but we were starting to learn and ensured that we
kept at least one other person in sight at all times.
Following Kilsby's it was time to, once again, make the trek into Mt Gambier to recharge our air
Prudence told us that we should dive no more that weekend as we had performed three deep dives and
we would soon notice the build-up of nitrogen in the blood stream but when you are on a high and
experiencing a (possibly) once in a lifetime adventure then who thinks of the word prudent.
As we sat around having an evening meal at the campsite we discussed with the commandos a schedule
for the following day. It was decided that we would dive and explore The Shaft. Then our new found
friends stated that they intended to carry out a night dive in Piccaninny Ponds that night.
Well, nothing ventured nothing gained so Jim and I decided to accompany the others and so we made
This time we had a shot line organised. There were to be no knives carried (which in retrospect
proved to be a good decision)
We were to swim down in single file and set to to determine the order.
I cannot recall the full order but as I was wearing a depth gauge on one wrist and a waterproof
watch on the other it was decided that I should be the lead swimmer.
We waited until it was dark and entered the water. As I have already described the caves I should
not bore you with going through the details again except to say that the torches were necessary from
the moment we entered the water.
As we descended into the depths I can recall looking back and thinking that it appeared that a line
of Fire-flies was following.
I followed the same route as in the previous dive in this location (I think) and led the group down
until the depth gauge on my wrist showed 285 feet.
That is when it all went “pear shaped”.
I started to black out and recognised my condition to resemble what I had read about Nitrogen
Narcosis. As the name suggests, this is a narcotic affect caused by an excess of nitrogen in the
blood affecting the brain. The result can be a loss of consciousness, euphoria or an irrational
state, in other words closely resembling alcohol intoxication.
I turned around to ascend but my way was impeded by the floating shot line and the other swimmers
above me. I kept tangling in the line but managed to untangle each time and slowly ascend. The
others had, by this time, turned and started their ascent but it is a slow process as ascending too
fast can result in air embolism which is, in fact, a release of air bubbles through the lung wall
resulting in air bubbles in the blood stream which can prove fatal.
At the time I was thinking nothing of this and in my sorry state I felt that the others were
deliberately impeding my progress.
When the diver above me kicked off my facemask I believed that it was deliberate and, in retrospect,
the rule against carrying a knife was vindicated as I feel sure that, had I a knife available then I
would have tried to slash my way past.
We eventually reached the open air and I lay in shock for some time. Finally we returned to the camp
and it was time to retire for the night.
I did not get much sleep that night as I assume that I was still under the influence of the nitrogen
narcotic and probably suffering still from shock.
Another day dawns and after breakfast it is time to once again recharge the air tanks and then to
the next dive.
The Shaft was discovered on private property when the ground collapsed under the weight of a cow
wandering across one of the paddocks.
There is just a hole in the ground, large enough for a man to fit through but too small for him if
he is wearing his SCUBA gear.
The crust around the hole is about 3 feet thick and the water is level about 30 feet below. There is
e ledge about 2 feet wide around the perimeter of the water and extending roughly 2 feet above the
water level. An ideal place to sit and don the tank and other necessary accruements!
There is a rope ladder anchored at the top and extending to the ledge below.
In turn we lower our tanks etc. to the ledge and descend the ladder (no heroics this time, no feet
first jumping, just a sedate descent).
On the ledge we get ourselves organised and enter the water. Again, in this cave as in the others,
the water is so clear that it seems as though you can see forever.
At a depth of about 100 feet there is the apex of a rock cairn of conical shape the base of which is
The others descended immediately but I was still suffering nerves from the experience of the
previous night. I felt that I could not even enter the water and certainly could not dive below the
Eventually I convinced myself that, unless I could force myself to try then I may never be capable
of diving again.
I gingerly climbed into the water and lay on top admiring the beauty of the scene, trying to pluck
up the courage to descend.
After about 30 minutes I inserted the air regulator into my mouth and with great trepidation began a
very slow descent.
I had to summon all my nerve to really struggle down to 100 feet after which I seemed to forget my
fears and followed the other divers down the side of the cairn to about 300 feet.
The clarity of the water was such that, looking towards the surface, the hole through which we had
entered was clearly visible even from that depth and the sunlight shining through at an angle left a
circle of light on the surface so that there appeared to be two holes in the surface.
We surfaced without any more dramas and decided that we had had sufficient diving for one long
weekend, vowing to return and extend our exploration at the earliest opportunity but it was not to
About 2 weeks after we were there, five divers from the Adelaide dive club were lost in Kilsby's and
shortly after that the government decreed that the caves were too dangerous and were closed to
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The preceeding was a work of fiction. Any statements regarding any person, place, or other entity (real or imaginary) is the sole responibility of the author of this work of fiction. Fan Works Inc. takes no responsibility for the content of user submitted stories. All stories based on real people are works of fiction and do not necessarily reflect on the nature of the individuals featured. All stories based on other copyrighted works are written with authors knowing that these works violate copyright laws.
Please see the Terms of Service for more information.