Nov 152012

When Toad Hall was discovered on the 1982 trip, Cocklebiddy Cave earned the world record for the longest underwater cave penetration from the surface. So when the team returned in 1983 to push beyond Toad Hall and dive into the third sump, they knew they were making history. Dad took some great photos of the adventure, so I’ll be splitting the story of the 1983 trip over the next three Thursdays.

New aluminium sled design

L to R, Hugh Morrison, Robyn Allum, Simon Jones (back to us), Ron Allum far right. Ron explains his newly designed home-made aluminium sleds to the divers. Ron had become skilled in aluminium welding as he built a boat and made these in his back yard. Note the constant volume scuba-fed buoyancy chambers incorporated into the design.


It’s a long swim to Toad Hall….Ron showing off his extra large fins, with a combined length almost longer than he was tall. The impressed audience is Robyn Allum, Phil Prust and Peter Stace.

Tanks in the entrance

Tanks by the entrance lake in Cocklebiddy, with four empty sleds ready to be loaded.

Loading the sleds

Unsure, Hugh’s brother Graham Morrison and Ron Allum loading the sleds at the entrance lake. The dry tube running down the centre contains food and camping equipment – the team intended to sleep in Toad Hall before pushing into the third sump. Triple tanks are being prepared in the background, and this photo gives a better view of the low pressure scuba feeds on the sled buoyancy chambers.

Sled preparation

Hugh Morrison and Simon Jones concentrate on loading a sled in preparation for pushing it through to the first rockpile, 1km in. The long hoses were left accessible in case of emergency, with no plans to breathe the sledded tanks in the first sump.

Launching the sled

It’s all about getting the sled in the water. 14 tanks plus a dry tube of supplies and various pieces of diving equipment tied on the outside weigh a lot. Dad’s the one in the middle with the battery box on his waist. The guy of the right is so strong he’s left his weightbelt on for the exercise. Hugh is showing true trip leadership by watching carefully to make sure no-one makes a mistake (other side of the sled, facing the camera).

Cocklebiddy first sump

Hugh Morrison with a sled, transiting the first sump. Note the emergency long hose hanging down while Hugh swims 1km in a single tank and BCD, pushing 14 tanks. The single has a second plastic backplate on it, facing the camera, for carrying it through the dry cave. Those who were paying attention to the 1982 trip will note the modified wetsuit has returned. Hugh turned his wetsuit into a shortie with a dive knife at the first rockpile before starting the second sump push dive that discovered Toad Hall. Bare knees are much better for long distance cave diving.

First rockpile

Of course, a 14 tank fully loaded sled was not going to make it over the first rockpile. With a 1km underwater swim behind them, the divers deconstructed each sled and carried the gear across the rockpile, before putting it all back together to tackle the second sump. 12 divers came through to the first rockpile in total.

Rest stop on the roof

At 1km and 2km intervals into the second sump, the team stopped and parked the sleds on the roof for a break. This also gave Dad a chance to grab some underwater photos of what was an epic swim. Six divers and three sleds swam the length of the second sump, with two divers to a sled – one at the back to push and one at the front to steer. From left to right the divers in this picture are the bare-kneed Hugh Morrison, Ron Allum and Phil Prust. The other second sump divers were Dad, Simon Jones and Graham Morrison. Dad had spent the weeks leading up to the trip practising pushing the sleds around Ewen’s Ponds.

If you look at the left hand sled, the yellow bundle on the top is Dad’s foam sleeping mat which was too big to fit inside the dry tube. The middle sled has the reels of line destined to unroll in the third sump. The team had fruit boxes to drink before continuing on down the tunnel.


Coming up next Thursday, the excitement of camping in Toad Hall and the dive into the third sump. For those who’ve missed an episode all of my Cocklebiddy history posts can be found listed here. If you’d like to stay updated without checking back, you can subscribe via RSS or email (scroll up to the top and enter your email under “Follow me on the web” and click “Subscribe to articles”).

  3 Responses to “Cave diving through history: Cocklebiddy Cave, 1983 (Part 1)”

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  1. Great post!!! This sounds like the film “Sanctum” although they had the modern diving kits but it’s still under the same idea and one more thing classic still rocks \m/… 😀 Thanks for sharing and I’m looking forward for part two…

  2. Wow – this is an amazing record of a dangerous dive. It indicates how much equipment, planning and practice is involved. You’ve gone to a lot of effort and it’s very clear and detailed. These are courageous people on an historic adventure. Thank you very much for sharing this, it’s very useful to me as a screenplay writer to have this ref for my research… cheers!

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