IN 2015 I JOINED a group of divers from Project Morpheus to check out some caves in the south-east of Rijeka, Croatia. One of them, called Izvor Licanke, was a man-made resurgence used as a pumping station for drinking water for the local town of Fuzine.
The cave had been explored only once, by the prolific French cave-explorer Frank Vasseur. He had dived the first flooded section, or sump, some 19 years earlier and, after 350m or so of swimming and climbing, came across a second, completely unexplored, sump.
He made remarkable progress in poor visibility and reached a depth of 36m, but because of political access issues, he was unable to return. Nor had anybody else been there.
Entering any cave in Croatia requires government permits, and these are especially tricky to obtain when it comes to diving in a town’s drinking supply!
Project Morpheus had, however, acquired the permissions required to dive Licanke so, several months later, my other half Richard Walker and I headed back to find the second sump and, with Frank’s agreement, try to extend the line.
The first trip did not go as planned. Rich and I tried to self-carry 12-litre side-mount bottles and deco gases and, on reaching a short rope-climb, spent several hours running around in a high-level boulder chamber with no sign of a sump.
We contacted Frank Vasseur to find out where we had gone wrong, and prepared for the next trip.
The team, from left – Mark Burkey, Ashley Hiscock, Rick Van Dijk from the Netherlands, Richard Walker and Christine Grosart. Not pictured is Robert Varesko from Hong Kong.
It was the following June before Richard and I were able to return to Licanke – this time with the help of Rick Van Dijk, who was keen to get involved.
We set aside three days for the project: day one for carrying, day two for the push-dive and day three for carrying the gear back out again.
The first obstacles inside the cave were a couple of deep lakes. Swimming through these with multiple, heavy bottles was not a good idea, so I came up with the idea of using a Halcyon life-raft.
We attached it to a scooter, piled it up with cylinders and towed them across the lakes.
We then had the monotonous task of simply carrying the bottles in caving bags to the second sump, involving a short rope-climb and some hauling, large slippery boulders which moved and a bit more streamway with jagged edges.
Rich and I dived with side-mounted trimix and decompression bottles. Visibility was 6m. We followed Frank’s line down a shaft to 21m and over some gradually undulating sand slopes. The cave was roomy, 10m wide and 8m high.
I reached Frank’s final tie-off, which was exactly where he had said it would be, and began laying line. At a distance – and also depth – of 42m, we hit our gas reserves. Rich made a survey and the cave was wide open, so we vowed to return the following year.