Belgian cave diver KURT STORMS explores – and photographs – the sumps of French underground attraction Font Del Truffe
The Lot department in the south-west of France offers visitors the prospect of a few small cities scattered in amazingly beautiful countryside. There is some tourism in the summer months, when certain parts of the region can get quite crowded, but usually it’s all very laid-back and quiet.
For non-divers there is plenty to do, ranging from visiting show-caves, hiking and canoeing to simply enjoying the landscape and the food. Visiting cave divers have additional action to enjoy.
The people are helpful, though speaking French is an advantage in this part of the country, because not too many of them seem to speak English. Food supplies are no problem, with a choice of plentiful nice little restaurants where you can obtain great meals to supermarkets for those who prefer to self-cater.
Finding your way to the various cave sites can be a bit tricky, at least the first time out, before you have all the required locations collected in your GPS.
The sites are widely spread out, but if you take the city of Gramat as your starting point you’ll find that they lie no more than 20 to 60 minutes’ drive away. But that drive will include a lot of twists and turns!
I chose as my base – and gas-fill supplier – Olivier “Oli” Bertieaux’s dive-centre The Cave To Be, and rented an apartment only 100m away, fully equipped with microwave, fridge, oven, wi-fi and so on. Between two and seven divers can be accommodated there, and it was readily affordable, with an appealing atmosphere.
Olivier can fill your tanks with whatever you want, and his blends are spot on. He can do 300-bar fills and has a booster for the closed-circuit rebreather divers. He keeps track of everything you order during your stay and you simply pay at the end – it’s a great set-up!
When we arrived at the Font Del Truffe site the water level was very low and the water itself fairly murky. It really didn’t look that inviting, but a group of Slovak divers were emerging from the pool and they told us that visibility was very good once inside the cave.
My first descent was with a former student of mine, Jo Croimans. Once at the bottom of the pool the dive commenced with a pretty tight restriction – or at least it would be from a backmount diver’s point of view but I was on sidemount. Once past this, I felt as if I had arrived in heaven.
I hardly have the words to describe my love for this cave – its colours, configuration and the sheer “rhythm” of the place are breathtaking.
S1 is only 160m across, with a depth that maxes at 15m, and on average it is far shallower than that. Unfortunately, the water level was particularly low on this occasion, making it tricky to proceed to S2. I don’t mind doing some sump diving, so I enjoyed taking my dive-gear off – which with sidemount is super-easy anyway – in order to explore the second sump.
This part of the cave is much smaller, and also cooler than the tunnel that precedes it. After a while we turned and swam back to the entrance, reaching it to give us a total dive-time of about 50 minutes. You can see what the cave is like from my photographs.
We looked at each other, checked our pressure gauges and made the very easy decision to follow up with another dive, but this time with my wife Caroline (Massie) joining us. She had never been into this system before, so she was feeling a bit nervous.
I went first, so that I would be in a position to provide any help that might be needed, but she glided very smoothly through the restriction. I was able to take some photos before Jo entered the cave. We then used our time to take some cool pictures in S1, finally surfacing after a total dive time of about half an hour in the 12°C water.
If you’re suitably qualified and want to experience Font Del Truffe you can – there are a total of 13 sumps, with a maximum depth of 30m.
Our cars were parked right next to the cave entrance, so it didn’t take long for us to get back in the warm to enjoy our sandwiches. After that it was a trip back to Olli’s to get our tanks refilled and to clean my Divesoft Liberty SM-CCR.
All three of us were wearing big smiles, because tomorrow we knew there would be another great Font del Truffe cave to dive.
The Cave To Be is based in Gramat and instructs and dives according to TDI / IANTD / GUE training standards. From April to mid-November it can offer three apartments for up to four people and a studio for two, at 25-30 euros pp per night, or camping at 10 euros pp per day.
Kurt Storms is a Belgian military, underwater cave and mine photographer/ explorer and technical/cave/rebreather instructor with a passion for deep extended-range cave dives. He is founder and CEO of Descent Technical Diving.