Saturday, July 23, 2011

Exploring tidal caves

Diver zipping herself into a heavy rubber drysuit

Dive Chicks:
I’m rethinking why Himself, who is known for his bad temper and dislike of most people, was so accommodating in letting Anya and me visit Crag Abbey. Aside from the sex the old bull was getting with us being ‘new tail’ for him and the fact that with our escorts and Cyndi’s he has three men with military backgrounds and who are expert shots to go hunting with as well as his son, John, who at 37 is taking an advanced degree at Oxford after time in the Royal Marines. As I mentioned before I’m having a wonderful time, but in hindsight it seems to be working out almost too well, though in the U.S. Cyndi is my Ward and we were recommended to him by the Duchess, who returning readers will remember now lives permanently on Virgin Gorda.

What got me to thinking about the possibility of there being more than just gratitude for taking care of Cyndi was him asking us, or at least me, to bring my diving gear along. I didn’t give it much thought at the time, but the Abbey is on a cloud shrouded 2,600 ft crag on the range over looking the Atlantic coast so the opportunities to go diving at the Abbey – other than in the heated pool - seemed nonexistent, until a few days ago when at breakfast Himself wanted to know what dive gear I brought. The Duke said his divemaster recommended twin aluminum 80 cu/ft tanks for diving in the tidal pools and caves on the western coast where he has oceanfront property as part of the Abbey’s dependencies. Before he had never mentioned where and what the diving was to be.

I first told everyone at the breakfast table my new modified Orca Alpha 2011 wetsuit because I love wearing it and it makes my body look even sleeker than it is which, even though the body sheath is mainly 5mm neoprene, is a delight to wear. The Orca Alpha is designed for triathlon competition so it is extremely flexible and very buoyant which I find convenient because I dive a lot with twin steel 130 cu/ft tanks which are very negatively buoyant even when empty so the suit buoyancy lets me get by with minimum inflation in my BCD and increases it’s overall lift capability with my gear config. The wetsuit Anya is diving is a 5mm O’Neill. Both our suits have the optional hoods. The only problem with wearing a standard Orca is that there is no relief zipper not that I mind peeing in it, but w/o a relief zipper I can’t have sexual penetration by a man underwater so I had the crotch modified to add a relief zipper.

Cave diving in drysuits: Of course when diving the North Atlantic, even in the summer, you need more than a wetsuit if you plan to be in the water for more than a few minutes. So I was glad I’d had the foresight to also bring one of my black Avon heavy rubber drysuits along with thermal undies to wear under it because the ocean water off the Isle of Skye is very cold. I’m using an OTS Guardian FFM that has the reg on the side and an ambient breathing valve which is great for air conservation while in the water prior to diving or awaiting retrieval. I think a FFM is much safer in case of being tossed around by heavy surf or losing consciousness so I don’t expel my reg.

John is an excellent swimmer and wears a GNT drysuit. He used to dive and play in the tidal caves during the summers in his teens so he offered to take me and Anya to see the extent of them. Anya begged off, I think she wants to get Penelope alone as I’ve seen them looking longingly at each other. Returning readers know Anya is Bi and from the way I’ve seen Penelope looking at her there is certainly a strong attraction between them. So it was just John and I who went diving the tidal caves. The tides around the Isle of Skye have a range of from 9 to 15 or more feet between low and high tides so the caves are very dangerous. John says the caves have been and still are used by smugglers and swimmers even with SCUBA can be easily trapped and drowned by a rising tide. Most of the bodies that have been recovered have been wearing European dive gear and were strangers to the area.

We took a Land Rover down to a cottage – a four hour drive - near a tiny beach on one of the Duchy’s oceanfront properties and there spent the night. The next morning the caretaker had a small Zodiac on the beach for us at low tide. Before we donned our drysuits John milked me so that I was good for 5 or 6 hours w/o needing to have my breasts emptied again. After stepping into our drysuits, before we sealed ourselves into them we put on special strap-on boots over our drysuit booties. The strap-ons have soles that scrape the slime off rocks and have suction cups designed to hold the wearer’s feet securely to the smooth rocks. John said the boots were a huge improvement over the corrugated soles of drysuit booties, but even so there was no guarantee that the wearer wouldn’t slip so care was needed in placing my feet on tide-smoothed and slippery rocks in the caves. We wore no BCDs relying on managing the air in our drysuits to control our buoyancy. That was risky given that we could be thrown against the rocks by tidal surges, but John said the surfaces were smooth so being thrown against a rock wall was more likely to break bones than puncture our suits and I was up for the added risk.

The caves we were to explore were just down the coast so it took us about 20 minutes to get there after we got through the surf getting off the rocky beach. John is an expert with the Zodiac and timed our entrance through the mouth of the cave perfectly so we were swept in by a wave and the light from the entrance penetrated about 100 feet into the cave before we had to turn on the LED lanterns that we brought along. We still had small long-life waterproof LED torches in our utility belts. John tied off the Zodiac to an outcropping and we fastened ourselves into our tank harnesses and fitted our FFMs over our hoods and checked the seals. I turned on the boats location beacon and we checked our receivers to make sure we could pick it up to use as an aid to getting back to the boat. Then we eased over the side and into the icy water.

An unwelcome discovery: John wanted to show me the submerged part of the cave where as a teen he had set up a ‘secret room’ of the sort he said male teens like to do so we took the LED lanterns and swam under a rock wall that barely showed an opening at low tide and about 30 feet further along a ten foot wide tunnel and when the walls of the tunnel disappeared entered a pitch black room where we headed for the surface. I opened my ambient breathing valve (ABV) and gagged at the scent. I quickly closed the valve and purged my mask trying to get as much of the cloyingly sweet scent of decaying flesh out of it as possible. John had smelled it too so still breathing off our tanks I followed him up a series of stone ledges, rather like steps, to a part of the cave that was above high water even during spring tides and there we found a dead diver.

She didn’t seem to have been dead long although the chilled conditions in the cave must have slowed decomposition. She hadn’t been eaten by crustaceans so you could still tell from her face that the body was female. She was in what seemed to me to be an old Russian drysuit of heavy green rubber and one leg was bent at an unnatural angle so she had be injured somehow. She had taken her FFM off and her 120 cu ft tank was empty so she must have tried to breathe the air in the chamber and suffocated. She had a waterproof case with her which I was going to look at, but John stopped me not knowing what it contained. It was at that point that we ended our visit to the tidal caves. The trip back out to the Zodiac was uneventful and since it was at slack tide we had no trouble getting out of the cave and into the ocean and returned to the cottage. As soon as we got out of our dive gear John rang up a friend of his at Thames House and told him what we found and was asked to post a lookout on the cliff above the cave to see if any one else tried to enter it before they could get a forensic team on site.

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Powys , Wales, United Kingdom
I'm a classically trained dancer and SAB grad. A Dance Captain and go-to girl overseeing high-roller entertainment for a major casino/resort