"Do you want to go to the Doux de Coly?" said John Cordingley late one nignt in the New Inn.
Luckily the Anti Caving Trip defence system was still working despite the beer. "Don't know, never heard of it, anyway it's your round." was the reply. He fetched the beer (yes, I know it's hard to believe this - a teacher buying beer - but it's true). Anyway, he'd started on again "You'll love it. Big clear sump pool, deep, bound to be a nice campsite, I can't imagine the Swiss roughing it, far too rich for that". Soon I found myself writing the "Dear Sir, Please send me something free for my holiday. . . . .ops." Expedition type of letter and having convinced my wife and amputated the rear seats from the back of the Range Rover to get the kit in, we set off.
After annoying caravanners at Portsmouth with the "Keep Yorkshire Tidy" sticker, we duly found ourselves at the siphon - no epic journey - this was going far too smoothly. The next shock was that the sump pool was big and clear. Cordingley hadn't conned me after all, I thought.
WRONG. The campsite was a cross between the surface of Mars and the Gobi desert. At first we thought we'd blundered on to a spaghetti western film set as the tumbleweed rolled by. Even the lizards had gone on holiday to escape the furnace heat, leaving only barbed wire bushes and a tap 500 yds away.
Having set up camp we wandered back down to the sump where a friendly girraffe was browsing the tree tops. This turned out to be Olivier Isler, the expedition leader. He's at least 6ft 12 inches tall and so thin it looks like he has to walk around in a shower to get wet.
Next day we got to dive. No chance of a quick look in. It was can you tow this scooter to 1350 feet in and 200ft depth. But it was big and very clear. This set the tone for our diving for the next few days, shuttling gear backwards and forwards to the deep point. The giraffe meanwhile had developed a serious case of the "runs" and eventually resorted to a deck chair in the back of a hire van on which the doors were closed when nature called. (About every ten minutes.)
The gear was stowed in a large workshop, with full facilities like lathes, welding tackle etc. and the amount of gear was amazing. Much more than the average dive shop carries. You name it, it was there: scooters, rebreathers, compressors, videos. We reckoned about £300,00 worth. Eventually the Giraffe regained control of his bowels and aided by Ivor Bigbelly, the designer of the rebreathers, made several checkout dives. Then disaster struck.
One of the Swiss was relining the sump and when just over 3600 ft in the scooter failed. Towing it back at over 200 ft depth meant that the emergency air dumps had to be used and he ended up with over 5 hrs extra decompression to do. Eventually he surfaced after 8 hrs and was forced to eat a Cordingley stew - just not his day.
The scooter problem was tracked down to the batteries, all fresh from the manufacturer who'd had them cycling for 3 months and had guaranteed them. Basically two days were lost in trying to sort these out and eventually it was realised thnat too many days had been lost to push the cave safely and install bottle dumps etc.
With the pressure off, this meant John and myself had more time. Martine was taken for her 3rd cave dive to the top of tne shaft 9OOft in and we got to do a dive on Trimix. We learned how to mix the relevant gas up to make it and took plenty of underwater photographs in the good visibility. J.N.C. also managed to star for the Swiss film crew one day. (Hopefully it will never be shown in this country). He also got to the bar more often where such delights as crow's gizzard salad and raw bacon were sampled. For a man who lives off changing colour meat most of the time, John strangely faltered at the raw bacon. We also met a Belgian diver who put the Pennine to shame. Once a small quantity of alcohol was added he became an animal eating anything at sight, belching at both ends more than the cottage bunk room when filled to capacity - a real man's man.
Eventually after becoming sloshed we had to leave to move on to Lacave (?) where fellow Pennine member Andy Goddard was met, with several LUSS members, but that's another story. Best bit of the expedition was probably riding on the scooters which go from Stop to Very Fast in a fraction of a second. The only way to cave dive. So if you fall over two torpedo-like objects at Green Close one day you'll know that we've gone even further in attempting to go caving without expending any energy.
P.S. If Cordingley invites you on an expedition, don't believe a word he says - sell all your gear as quickly as possible.