Setting the personal limits
I don't consider cave diving an adrenaline sport. In fact, it's the opposite. Going to an extremely deep point in the ocean, just to get a number for a depth record, that is not my motivation. I would happily do, and have done a lot of very deep dives, for a reason such as a historic shipwreck that nobody's managed to dive. I have more of a kind of Peter Pan, never grow up, child-like approach to exploration. Being there is just magical. It's my drive.
So, I would happily do, and have done a lot of very deep dives, for a reason. It could be a deep water wreck that's worth researching. Or a cave that's not been explored.
I'm happy to use my equipment to the depth at which it's rated. And there's virtually no equipment rated to the extreme depths that have been pushed by record seekers. With regards to time in the water, again, it's the same thing. I look at the training I had when I started to cave dive, and what I was told were redundancy and bail-out. So if something goes wrong, there's a plan B and a plan C. Everything pretty much in triplicate.
I don't consider myself as a risk-taker. In fact, it's the opposite. If anything during a dive makes my heart rate goes up, I will stop and analyse what's going on. Then I will work out why that's happened, fix it, and then abort that dive. Because if you're not focused and thinking clearly, processing all the information around you, basically you're scared, and then you have a higher level of risk.
All the dives I've done, exploratory and otherwise, have revolved around redundancy and backup. But at the same time, being self-sufficient often within a team. Each diver is totally capable and equipped to do any dive on their own. I genuinely believe and always have, that divers who are properly trained and practice are safer than your average sports diver, snorkelling around on a reef with very little training and very little idea.
Is there any reason that I could risk my life for? No.
I've done rescues where pieces of the dry cave had flooded. We would dive through the flooded normally dry part of the cave, running, heavy rope, and taking food and stoves and blankets and stuff to cavers trapped in a higher, dry portion of the cave inside, so that they can sit it out till the water goes down. But if you get there and the conditions just not diveable, then no. I don't think I can think of a single reason to risk my life, and certainly not because of laying a little bit more line or going the furthest.
A lot of people died because they pushed too far and too hard. And a lot of them were personal friends. I've been right on the hard end of this sport. I've been doing it professionally for 22 years. And if something happens, it subdues me more. It doesn't stop me.
Crazy adventures or safe undertakings?
Basically in the general scheme of things, if you just write a description of a regular arctic cave dive and put it out on a forum, 99 per cent of divers worldwide will go, holy shit, that's advanced and completely crazy. You're in like three degrees of water. You're running a 17-minute bottom time, between 50 and 70 metres, giving you a 90-minute decompression, in an overhead, on rebreathers, on trimix. It's just like juggling chainsaws with your eyes shut. But it's not, if you're properly trained.
I was once training in Florida. We did a morning dive with students. We discussed that if you go into a cave without a guideline, backup gas or backup lights, you're going to die. It's a when not if. And that lunchtime, they pulled an open-water diver from 120 metres inside the cave, on a single tank with one torch. He'd got lost and drowned. Well here you go, here are your training guys, I said.
So it's only dangerous if you act dangerously. The cave's not dangerous when you have the right equipment and training, and the ability to say no. We get there one day, and the visibility and the conditions are horrendous. You go, shit, let's go to the pub. Too many people don't, they just go for it anyway because they've driven so far and they've filled the rebreather with the gas, and they don't want to say no.
You need to have the equipment, the mentality and the training. And you need to keep it practised. So if you have six months off, start again. Don't just think you can jump straight back in. What if a failure happens at the end of the penetration, the furthest and deepest point? With our abilities and training, we would just look at it as like, oh, bloody hell, how annoying is that? Now I've got to clean the rebreather because it'd be full of water that that'd make a horrible mess or whatever. Tell the team I've got a rebreather failure, let's leave immediately!
Scootering out, with the diver with the broken rebreather in the front so that at any point he can stop, say I want to go a bit slower, or stop and say can you give me some more gas, please. And he controls the exit. But at no point during that, or momentarily, would his heart rate have changed or his breathing rate gone up because he's like, it's not a big deal, the rebreather doesn't work. But I've got all these tanks hung under my arm just in case that happens and hey look, it just has.
At the end of the day, all this equipment is worth thousands and thousands of pounds, but it's going underwater, so one day it will leak. Just accept that. If you ever dive thinking it won't, and there are these crazy fools out there that do this alpinist approach, so they'll go in on that rebreather. So, when it fails, they'll drown. But they do it based on the fact they've got 100, 200 or 300 dives behind them where it didn't fail.
That's Darwinism, exactly. But it's a popular thing. It's like a, it's called alpinism because it relates back to, when they first started climbing the big Himalayan mountains like Everest, they got 50 people with siege tactics, camp one, camp two, camp three, camp four, camp five. Stock it, move back, and so on. Then Reinhold Messner turned up and ran up Everest on his own without oxygen, solo, in one day. The difference is, on a mountain, even a high one, you've got time to sit there and think about it for a while. Underwater you just drown, because you can't breathe water, no matter how good you are. So, alpinism underwater is just insane. That is Darwinism.