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Technical divers reach new depths in Krabi

Sra Keow cave recorded at 240m deep making it Asia’s deepest cave.

Krabi, Thailand

Phuket and its neighboring provinces are home to some of the most popular diving spots in the world. However, it’s not just tourists and recreational divers who are flocking to the region. Technical divers have also been coming here to push the boundaries of the sport to its limits.

Technical diving involves going beyond recreational limits. These vary depending on the dive organization, but are typically between 30-40 meters.

Phuket resident Ben Reymenants, a “mixed gas instructor trainer evaluator” and certified hyperbaric technologist working for the SSS Recompression Chamber Network in Thailand, provides a more in-depth – one could say – definition.

“Technical diving is a form of Self-Contained Underwater Breathing Apparatus (Scuba) diving where a diver does not have immediate access to the surface, such as when penetrating a wreck or cave, or if there is a (virtual) ceiling above the divers in the form of an obligatory extended decompression [underwater] stop,” explained the diver, technically.

“The difference is also in the education and the equipment. A technical diver needs to take two of everything in case of failure: two tanks, two buoyancy devices, two masks, two computers.”

Last year, a pool of water in a pristine jungle in Sra Keow, Krabi, frequently used as an elephant watering hole, became a point of interest for two cave divers, Cedric Verdier and Mike Gadd, who did an exploratory dive to 200 meters, yet failed to reach the bottom.

With a passion for exploring uncharted territory, Ben, Cedric and Mike formulated a plan for another exploratory dive that would hopefully take them to the bottom of the cave.

On February 18, Ben and Cedric returned to the Sra Keow cave. With a team of experienced support divers and medical staff on hand, they descended independently of one another. Unlike recreational diving, technical diving is often done solo, as each diver is equipped to be self-sufficient in case of an emergency.

Ben, who at one time held the record for the deepest open ocean dive using Scuba at 202 meters, reached the bottom at 239 meters and set a record for the deepest cave dive in Thailand.

Ben described the dive, saying, “At 12 meters the cave started and because of the fine sediment, the visibility was reduced to one meter. I dropped fast and after just four minutes I passed the 60 meter mark. The visibility got better, the angle steeper, the stalactites disappeared and I could see where the running water had created a genuine piece of art in the limestone.

“Below 150 meters, the cave turned into a giant cathedral, the walls disappeared and my only visual reference was my slowly spinning reel in front of my eyes. One of my dive computers had gone to sleep and I asked myself ‘what the hell am I doing here?’

“At 190 met-ers, high-pressure nervous syndrome kicked in. My hands were shaking and I could feel tremors on my spine. Suddenly I got hit by something: one of the walls sneaked up on me and I bounced off. I looked up and saw a large cloud of dust following me.”

Finally Ben reached the bottom. “The feeling of falling into a giant duvet blanket shot through my head. The bottom was composed of fine yellow silt, settled over thousands of years. Very gently I sunk into it up to my knees, coming to a full stop.” His gauge read 239 meters and it was time to start ascending.

The ascent, which needed support divers to come and unload the 25 used tanks, took a total of nine hours. At one point Ben was carrying 11 tanks while at a depth of 55 meters. The last three hours of the dive were spent in a small, homemade underwater habitat.

Constructed by Ben, Mike and Cedric, the habitat is a large water tank inverted and lowered to nine meters. This allowed the divers to eat, unload their diving equipment and read while breathing 80% oxygen from a supply hose. When Ben reached the habitat, Cedric, who had descended first, was already waiting for him.

Ben’s motivation for the dive? “Finding places nowadays where no other human has set foot is very difficult.

“This, combined with the mystery of that cave in the middle of the Thai jungle, made it intriguing to have a look and see how deep it went.”

Support, planning, experience and sponsors all helped make the dive a success.

“For an extreme cave dive, a large team is needed to help with the logistics and secure the safety of the divers,” says Ben.

“Maurizio Carmini and Laurent Bihler were the safety divers, and on the surface were dive medics Eefje Pattyn from Phuket and Marina Frei from Ao Nang. Dr Luba Matic confirmed the health of all divers before, during and after the dive. Local dive shops Seafun Divers, One Stop Dive Shop, Deep Blue Divers, Ocean Zone and Protech provided tanks and gas. O’Three Drysuits supplied the drysuits and Li-quivision supplied a custom-made depth gauge.”

As for his future plans for more exploratory dives, there seems to be no stopping Ben.

“Well, the cave system still has a lot of unexplored side passages and one major passage at 80 meters leading to another lake.”

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