During the more settled months of the year I had started getting into wreck-diving seriously. But every winter, after the boat had been put away, we would find ourselves drawn deep underground, seeking out unexplored mines and workings. These forays would often end with us just staring at a pool of clear water with features just visible below, enticing us in.
In flooded caves or mine-workings there is no current to worry about, weather is rarely an issue and most locations offer excellent visibility.
An old mine-cart, still on the rails as it was left.
This type of diving is not to be taken lightly – or done on a whim simply when it’s too rough to dive in the sea. Once a diver has left the main access shaft he can’t just swim up in an emergency, and might need to cover a considerable distance horizontally to reach an exit-point.
Other issues include very dark, cold water, silt build-ups and isolated locations.
So we always carry multiple lights, plan our air and gas reserves using the rule of thirds, and use twin-sets where possible.
We mark exit-points well, using a shot in the main access-shaft with strobes, and use lines and markers even in good visibility, to ensure that we can always find our way back out.
Most of the mines are those in which we have already explored the topside workings, and can be sure of having reasonable access and clear water.
We take several team-members along to help with kit and to be on hand should an emergency occur. This deep underground, I wouldn’t dive with anyone I don’t know well or haven’t dived with much. It’s all about teamwork and trust.
We’ve discovered some pretty amazing artefacts and sights. Many of the mines had been closed suddenly, and once the pumps were stopped the rising water didn’t take long to reach its natural level.
Many tools and personal items were left in situ and remain there now. Usually we’re the first people to see them again.
Wooden shaft-linings, ladderways, wooden boxes, mine-carts and small tools still lie where they were dropped as much as 200 years ago, with no tide or storm action to move them.
‘Rusticle’-type protrusions on the rungs of a submerged ladder 25m down at the base of a flooded shaft.
Recently we came across a flooded shaft that still had its man-way ladders in place. The wooden sides were in perfect order, and the metal rungs had sprouted long rusticle-type protrusions, reminding me of ROV images I’ve seen taken miles below the Atlantic on the Titanic.
Future projects include other mines with local history that have never been dived. We have done many of the easy-to-access sites but a few older ones will require a lot of effort to reach the flooded sections. These could hold the most interesting underwater discoveries yet.