Cave diving duo plunge to new depths in epic 4km underwater adventure

Fri, Sep 10, 2010, 01:00

A POLISH and Belgian cave diving team have completed what they believe to be the longest traverse of water-filled underground caves in Ireland and Britain.

The two Irish-based cavers say that the “unique and complex” system under the Gort lowlands in south Galway, well known for its flooding, is also one of the most challenging subterranean routes in western Europe.

Artur Kozlowski, a Polish quantity surveyor with his own cave dive training company and colleague Jim Warny from Belgium undertook 45 dives to complete the epic traverses totalling 4km.

“It involved several years of planning and some of it took place during wet weather so we could use streams to guide us. It may also be one of the longest siphons in Europe,“Kozlowski told The Irish Times.

Britain’s most extensive traverse between two caves is just over 3km, but the longest British traverse without any exits is 1.8km – just over 2km short of the new Irish route, Kozlowski points out.

Two years ago, Kozlowski navigated the deepest underwater cave in Ireland or Britain, when he descended 103m (338ft) in the Pollatoomary cave in south Mayo with the support of fellow speleologist (cave specialist) Tom Lane.

This surpassed the previous British/Irish record of 90m attributed to Britain’s deepest cave, Wookey Hole, in the Mendip Hills in Somerset. Kozlowski’s new achievement with Jim Warny involved descending 27m and 62m respectively in several limestone sinks or “pots” in the Kiltartan/ Gort/Kinvara area of south Galway.

The Gort lowland area between the Slieve Aughty mountains and the Burren has been explored extensively by cave divers since the early 1980s, and British speleologist Martyn Farr established a record here for the longest (245m) and deepest (34m) sump in Ireland.

Farr, who trained Kozlowski, was one of a team of cave divers, known as the Dark Shamrock expedition, which explored over 3km of underwater caves between Gort and Moy villages south of Kinvara in the 1990s.

Farr also discovered Pollatoomary in Mayo in 1978, but his pupil Kozlowski set the record for it.

The recent traverses completed by the Pole and Belgian are associated with several rivers, including the Coole system. The waterways run from the Slieve Aughty mountains down into the karst limestone landscape and surface just before Kiltartan.

“They descend, surface again near Coole Park and then run underground to the sea at Kinvara,” Kozlowski explains.

Most of the diving was undertaken in and between caves known as Polldeelin, Polltoophill, Pollaloughabo and Moran’s, using lines which were fixed to measure distance. Polldeelin was the location for a Garda diving team in the 1990s which undertook a weapons search, but had to pull out at a depth of 20m.

Maximum depth on the Pollaloughabo-Moran’s cave traverse was 27m, and 62m between Polltoophill and Polldeelin , which they named “Riders on the Storm”.

The pair used deep-sea diving rebreathing equipment, which draws on both oxygen and recycled exhaled gas and involves considerable technical expertise. They also drew on local knowledge offered by a number of farmers in the Kiltartan, Castletown, Caheroon and Moy areas, including the Nolan, Quinn and Cunningham families.

Visibility was poor, sometimes limited to “half a metre”, Kozlowski explains.“In this situation it can be very difficult to find the route, particularly if you disturb the silt, so we found it was useful to dive during rainy periods so we could use underground rivers to guide us.”

“It means we had to be totally self-sufficient, as there is no rescue – only recovery, if you are lucky.”