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Thailand Cave Diving

After many years of following the adventures of divers like Mike Gadd, Ben Reymements and Matt Partridge in the deep caves of Thailand, Craig and Harry finally got the chance to go have a look for themselves with the help of Ben and Simone Reymenents of Blue Label Diving in Phuket. There are two well known caves in the region, both deep and both with some exploration potential.

Sra Keow is a very deep site (240m) that Ben himself bottomed out. It is found in a stunningly beautiful karst area not far from Ao Nang and the small entrance pool belies the enormous system that awaits divers below. The second site is Song Hong further to the north east. Song Hong is a large lake that drops into a very large sinkhole that runs to the north. Ben has pushed the northerly tunnel to nearly 180m depth and about 250m metres penetration. This was the site we were keenest on exploring.


   Sra Keow - a small entrance lake conceals an extraordinarily deep cave.


   The much larger lake at Song Hong has easy access down the concrete steps. Perfect conditions!

Sra Keow was on the way to Song Hong so we stopped for a quick dip to check all the dive gear had survived the flight from Australia. Unfortunately the visibility after heavy and unseasonal rains was 30cm at best, so we quickly moved on to the primary goal at Song Hong. Accommodation at the very clean and pretty Burilumplai Hostel was excellent, and the Thai food was to die for! And best of all, Ben brought a bevy of Danish support divers. Incredibly helpful and enthusiastic divers who made our trip very relaxed indeed (read very lazy mules). So thanks to Ralf Wagnersen, Henrik Rudolf and Claus Rasmussen.


   Wetmules, Danes and a Belgian in Thailand...what could possibly go wrong.

The infrastructure in Song Hong is excellent. Ben has stainless wire ropes set up to hold an IBC style habitat at 9m and a larger orange Turtlepac habitat at 7m. In the toasty 27 degree water deco is a breeze, especially if the Danes bring gin and tonic (with ice) down to help you out. Well, it was Ralf's birthday.

So, over the course of a week we started following Ben's line down the left hand wall of the enormous sinkhole. At 10-20m intervals, there are continuous circuits of line that can be followed around the hole. To give you an idea of the size of the place, the 70m circuit took about 30 mins to scooter around. Some serious mapping and exploration of all the walls is required so plenty of work still to be done here. But we were focussed on finding out if there was a tunnel supplying fresh water into the site down deep. Craig and Harry both diving the trusty twin Megs, recently equipped with the new Subgravity back mounted counterlungs (success). Ben diving a rEVO with the very sexy new front mounted Triton as his bailout rebreather. Watch this space as we think this little unit has many applications.

Twin Megalodon rebreathers - not recommended if you have a bad back!

                                  Ben with rEVO and Triton has all bases covered.

Ben has previously laid line down to around 175m, a pretty amazing effort as a solo dive swimming a significant distance and with a flooding bailout rebreather. Not surprisingly he did not have much time to look around down there!  

By the time our build up dives were complete and we were ready to see the end of the line, some equipment problems were starting to creep in. At about 130m Ben's scooter suffered a catastrophic implosion. Now we have heard a lot of stuff implode in deep water. Paul Hosie's home made battery packs letting go at 60m in Kija Blue were impressive. Scooter flotation tubes at 221m in the Pearse were eardrum bruising and switched off all the video lights. But a whole scooter body? That was loud! I expected to find Ben's imploded head next to the shards of scooter but there he was securing the reel as if nothing had happened!  
       
Ouch! Worth zooming in on this image! Ben even got an electric shock underwater when he tried to pick up the battery pack.
The next day we managed to get to the end of Ben's line and what Ben hadn't seen was that he sinkhole seemed to finish just in front of his tie off. Sad news for the team but there looked to be some dark water off to the right so the next day we hatched a plan to lay a new line off to the right and check it out. As Craig and Harry scootered down the last 10m of the  line they jumped off to the right, and there appeared a dark black crevice heading off into the distance. Craig tied off at 190m and we were back in business. Ben came down while we were on ascent and took one of the scooters down to confirm we looked like we had found a new way on.
Ben's electronics were on the blink the next day so maybe not everything escaped the scooter implosion unscathed, and in fact that was the end of the diving for him. With no scooter and no working rebreather he retired hurt. He headed back to Phuket with Ralf, leaving Craig and Harry in he capable hands of Henrik and Claus.
Some minor issues with the Twin Megs saw the lads doing one more test dive to 120m, then the following day they were ready for another push dive. All geared up for a scooter into the distance at >200m depth there was considerable excitement. At the end of the recently laid line Craig tied in again, and then scootered off only to find the deep tunnel ended abruptly at 196m depth, only another 30m in. For this section of the cave at least, it seemed like game over. Six hours of pleasant warm deco and the quest for new cave in Song Hong was over. Great diving and great buddies nonetheless.

A final dip in Sra Keow on the way home found the viz much improved and after a bounce to 136m, they enjoyed being devoured by the local shrimps whilst on deco. Happy days!
The road into Sra Keow. The area is full of possibility.

Sra Keow at its inviting best...




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