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  • Writer's pictureChristine Grosart

Herault 2015 - The Dutch invasion!

Thursday 27th August 2015

We’re on the road again with the usual overladen van, to head down to the Herault for just under 3 weeks of caving and diving.

This year is a little different, in that we have been overtaken by the Dutch. Anton Van Rosmalen somehow managed to persuade me to give up a week of our trip to support him in his plans to dive a cave called Coudouliere.

This cave (if you have been following us!) is next door to the Perdreau and hydrologically, they connect. Like most sumps in the Buéges valley, it also connects with the Source de Buéges so careful negotiations with the mayor of Pegairolles de Buéges and the local caving clubs mean that we are ‘go’ for plans to survey the sump.

It is reported as 1650 metres long and at least 600m of that is at 100m depth. In addition to this, the entrance to the cave is a 50m long, just off vertical boulder choke with some awkward squeezes. The biggest challenge is likely to be getting scooters and rebreathers into the cave in the first instance rather than the dive itself.

The ultimate goal is to radio-locate and survey the reported huge dry chamber at the end of the sump. A diver called Patrick Bolagno, from Marseille, passed the sump and discovered the chamber but there is no published survey of it beyond crude distance and depths. Further more, the radio-location attempt was not successful. This is not surprising as it is imperative to have a good survey to at least ensure you are in the right ball park.

Anton took upon himself a challenge to build a ‘lazy boy sump mapper’ which is based on the John Volanthen design, used for Pozo Azul.

With help from John and various intellectuals in electronics and engineering, Anton has built a device which is so far, producing reasonable results.

It is not known if the sump is lined with knotted or tagged survey line and without being able to make contact with Bolagno, we have to assume that distance will be difficult without re-lining the whole sump.

The hope is that the sump mapper will eliminate this obstacle.

Dr Graham Naylor introduces us to the Nicola 3

If this is successful, the next job will be sending in deep team 2 to set up a radio location beacon in the dry chamber. We owe Dr Graham Naylor (inventor of the Nicola phone, which has doubtless saved many lives already in it’s use in the Gouffre Berger and on many cave rescues) huge gratitude for his advice, patience and for building us a radio location system built around the prototype Nicola 3 radio.

We’ll also have the use of cave link, a communications system. This is less useful for radio-location but essential for communications with the underground team.

I’m a pessimist and the glass is always half empty. From experience, ambitious plans often only go half right. Anton is also aware that this is several weeks worth of work. We also plan to survey the shallow passages of the cave so there is an awful lot of work left to do in the cave.

The amount of work far exceeds the amount of time we have. The primary objective is to return with some data, get at least one team through the sump and have lots of fun using new technology and techniques new to some members of the team.

It is a great opportunity for many of the divers to put their skills to use, such as surveying, photography and videography and for the GUE divers, working with diving gear in dry cave.

I haven’t had the best preparation, badly injuring my ankle whilst at work. In the last 5 weeks I’ve been hopping about on crutches with a moon boot. My ankle is still swelling at random and although the pain has decreased, is still feeling unstable.

It is somewhat fortunate that my duties in the first week are limited to safety diver, medic, project manager and general bossy boots. Working for the NHS means I cannot afford a rebreather and to be honest, I’m not overly bothered about getting one. So my ankle will get another week to recover and my ‘big’ dive will be later in the trip where I’m super keen to get further into the Gourneyras.

The journey is the usual format. Ferry, drive until exhaustion, Formula One hotel, drive the last bit and arrive at Val d’Herault in a daze.

Table covered in diving gear, cleaned and repaired


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