Jul 192016
 

The end of the line

The joy of Timor is the big tunnels. And the white walls, and the clear water. The karst landscapes creates a lot of dolines and only a few go to water – the countryside makes you work for underwater success. So when one of the beautiful blue surface pools finally does drop into massive going tunnel the elation is incredible.

In this series of photos Dave and Sandy had carefully manoeuvred their way into an entrance pool they discovered last year. This time the water was still clear when they got in. Sandy was able to find her way through the small hole at the bottom of the pool and into the big blue passage beyond. This particular entrance pool is on the other side of a large dry rockpile, with another large blue underwater tunnel at the other end. Sandy left the half empty reel after reaching her air limits, and we returned the following day with extreme optimism.

Reeling into the unknown

I joined (hijacked) Dave and Sandy’s follow-up exploration dive to take some photos. Being able to take photos of underwater exploration in progress is incredibly rare. With new caves in Australia mostly ridiculously hard to access, taking the camera into the unknown is usually a step too far. Even if the camera does make it to the end of the line, finding enough time and clear water to take photos of the action is tricky. Cave divers tend to get excited as new cave unrolls in front of them and become reluctant to hang around for modelling.

The first photo here is of Dave picking up the reel from where it was left the day before. You can see the blue water behind him with the silt rolling in as our bubbles hit the roof. In the second photo Dave moved to the left of a large underwater rockpile and I swam over the top to get this shot of him reeling out. The closeup of the roof here shows the incredible porosity of the limestone. I needed clear water for a one time chance at a photo, but Dave needed clear water for a one time chance at finding the way on. After the last photo here it became apparent that we would be working our way around the underwater rockpile for a while. Squeezing ahead with the camera was silly – it both significantly reduced the chance of us breaking through, and left me off the line in poor conditions.

In addition to the silt created by tying the line off on the rock to the left and the silt exploding from the ceiling overhead, you can see the fuzzy water of a disturbed halocline. Challenging conditions for both exploration and photography. The need to find new cave took precedence. Dave headed past me and I grabbed the line, wrapped up the camera and moved into his silt cloud, photography complete.

Silty halocline in Timor

Jul 122016
 
Split shots in Timorese air chambers

One of the features of Timor is the very soft limestone that I talked about last week. As well as exploding cave ceilings, this also leads to large breakdown piles in the cave tunnels. Which means that the big blue passages are periodically interrupted by collapses both underwater and above. As you can see from these shots, air chambers provide a whole new playground for cave photography. Taking split shots in the ocean means waiting for very calm days or finding sheltered spots. Underground, in a place completely enclosed by rock, there’s no need to worry about the weather rippling the surface. When the divers are still the water surface is completely flat. With a rock to stand on and not [read more…]

Jul 072016
 
Silt explosions in Timor

We are back in Timor this week, expanding the limits of the caves we have previously discovered and exploring new caves and new areas. Luckily for me, pushing new areas in known caves means swimming through previously discovered areas first. This makes photography possible – I know what the cave discovered last year looks like, and what’s going to happen when we get in there. I can plan my lighting and instruct my dive buddies for the best shots in otherwise challenging conditions. This Timor trip is the first one where the photography has really come together to show off the beauty of this new area. The limestone in Timor is soft and crumbly. It’s easy to see ancient and [read more…]

Jun 282016
 
Scooter practise under Flinders Pier

A big part of big trips is the preparation that goes into them. It’s nice to look at the results – great photos, new cave, nice maps, stories of epic adventure – but rare that the hours of practise and prep get the same publicity. So today’s photos aren’t spectacular or even very exciting. They are important though. Expedition diving is hard work, and a lot of that work occurs before the trip even begins. You have to put in the hours in advance to get results. Pretending that you were born a cave diving genius is fun but somewhat deceptive. It also encourages untrained or underexperienced divers to attempt things they probably shouldn’t. With that in mind and an upcoming [read more…]

Jun 212016
 
Taking tanks into Elk River again

The weekend before last saw us back in Elk River. After an exciting push trip back in January and a subsequent epic tank extraction trip in March, it was time to start loading freshly tested and filled tanks back into the cave. Going downhill is easier than hauling tanks up to the surface. However the air inside each tank definitely adds weight and as we had a three day weekend on our hands we made good use of it. On both Saturday and Sunday Dave, Sandy and I humped a large tank from the surface to the beginning of sump 5. There had been good rains in Gippsland in the preceding week. I was hoping for slightly higher water levels [read more…]

May 312016
 
Green water in Piccaninnie Ponds

It’s been a little quiet here on the website, which is a good indicator that I’ve been ridiculously busy. I have some exciting upcoming plans and there’s been a lot of travel logistics to arrange. I’ve also just realised that my website passed its five year anniversary while I wasn’t looking. Two hundred and forty four posts later, I haven’t run out of inane things to say about photos. Looking back through the archives gives me a great sense of satisfaction in how far both my underwater photography and my ability to write about it has developed. If you’re thinking of creating a more comprehensive online record of your photos than Facebook provides, I can highly recommend getting started on a [read more…]