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The following is 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.

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Underwater Adventures
By Faith

 


THE UNDERWATER ADVENTURES OF

REG BOUCHER

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 Disaster Bay.

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.

Back to Batangabie!

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 were soon to learn.

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.

PICCANINNY PONDS

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 “bullet proof”).

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 agley”.

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 me.

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.

KILSBY'S

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 privates.

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 surface.

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 and 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 tanks.

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 our plans.

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!

The Shaft

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 beyond sight.

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 surface.

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 be.

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 divers.

3

 

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.

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