http://www.casj.co.uk/ ( Tribut on original Chris Jewell's site )
I make no apologies that this story is told from my perspective or is very narrow in its perception or scope, this is simply the story of my friendship and diving partnership with Artur. I’ve also put in links to Artur’s side of the story as I think it makes for interesting reading.
At Easter in 2008 I did my first cave diving in Ireland, in Fermanagh to be precise. Before I went I was conscious that there simply wasn’t anyone sump diving over there at the time. All the records of previous exploration were done by UK cave divers and members of the CDG and no one had done anything in Fermanagh since the 90’s. I figured Ireland had lots to offer and that with pretty much with no one else on the scene I’d have rich pickings for many years. The 2008 trip was really successful and I even came over to the SUICRO symposium that Autumn. At the symposium I listened to Artur talk about Polltoomery but I certainly didn’t think of him as a caver or someone who would be interested in the sort of diving I was doing.
To my surprise as Easter 2009 approached and we planned a return I began to get a few emails from him about Fermanagh. I wasn’t best pleased about this but at the same time I reasoned that as he was a ‘local’ I could hardly be precious or claim ownership of any sites. He made some advances in John Thomas and then turned his attention to Upper Cradle. We’d dived here previously (Simon Cornhill, Hilary Greaves and I) and unknown to us found new underwater passage whilst trying to reach the Monastir way. Artur carried on from the end of our line and surfaced in a new section of cave which he called the Northern Way. He showed his talents here, whilst we’d simply blundered into the sump laying line he followed his compass and knew he was going somewhere different. I was also impressed with his approach to diving these sites which seemed to throw accepted practice out of the window. The ‘traditional’ approach to this sort of site would be with a wetsuit and a pair of 7ltr bottles. A diver can effectively self-carry with this kit and have a 40-45minute dive before hitting thirds and getting too cold. Usually you would also wait for low water levels in the hope of getting good visibility. http://arturconrad.blogspot.com/2010/05/upper-cradle-hole-discovery-of-northern.html
Artur’s approach was very different. Due to owning different kit and finding it more awkward to transport cylinders from Fermanagh back to Dublin he preferred to take several much larger bottles. In fact for Upper Cradle he used 2 x 12lts and 1 x Ali80. He also didn’t own a thick cave diving wetsuit so all his exploration was done in his drysuit at this point. Finally waiting for good weather in Fermanagh is like waiting for Christmas in Hell so he assumed the visibility would be terrible and preferred to use the strong water flow to find the source of the continuing cave. Rather than see the way on, he’d feel it. All combined these new tactics gave him a long time underwater in relative comfort in which to figure out the sump, lay line and survey. I’m sure this approach to diving also stemmed from the fact that he didn’t have a group of peers and veteran cave divers telling him how it should be done – he just did what he thought best – and it gave some excellent results.
Over Easter of 2009 I was back in Fermanagh with Dave Garman and we arranged to meet Artur and Al Kennedy for a few trips including a dive in Upper Cradle to see this new section of cave and even attempt a surface voice connection. Dave and I wore wetsuits, home made buoyancy bags, wellies, helmet mounted lights and ‘small’ bottles whilst Artur was in his drysuit with a pair of 12s and a canister light.....
..the approach could hardly be different. It was quite something to see him caving and climbing with his handheld light and crawling around in sharp cave in his drysuit. He gave the impression this worked perfectly and I was quite jealous although on later reflection his drysuit never seemed very dry to me and a wetsuit appeared in his kit so I’m not convinced it was the best for all conditions. I was also very impressed with his determination and ability as a dry caver even at this point. When we later met Al Kennedy on the surface where we thought the new section of cave lay I watched him hammer at rock and attempt squeezes only a veteran digger and explorer would attempt – he was seriously keen!
After looking round the ‘Northern Way’ we made our way to the ‘Monastir Way’ which is where Simon and I had previously been heading for, attracted by the same thing Artur was – an undived sump. Artur had tried the main sump on a previous trip without joy then put 13m of line into sump 3a, which we now focused on. Artur dived first and laid 52m of new line. Then it was my turn. About 15m into the sump however I encountered an underwater squeeze. I was still wearing my buoyancy bag and where Artur had pushed through in his drysuit with only minimal digging the elbow of my inflator wouldn’t push past the ceiling. It took me 10minutes digging underwater before I could get past the restriction and although I carried on I never reached the end of his line before hitting thirds. It seemed ridiculous to me that he’d been able to get further in a drysuit that I had in a wetsuit but I was fast learning that a thin membrane suit can be pretty slim. http://arturconrad.blogspot.com/2009/04/towards-monastir-sin-k-team-chris.html
I did however get my revenge that trip with the discovery of ongoing passage in Monastir cliff. Whilst Artur was else where I had laid 15m of line in very tight cave, all feet first and going with the downstream flow. The following day I was back with Artur. I dived first (in my drysuit so I was already adopting some of his ideas) and pushed on for another 15m before hitting thirds. Then it was his turn and I sat back to see what he could do. After 15minutes he returned and simply said to me “you’re a tough bastard!” he’d found the cave very tight, reached the end of my line and retreated. Of course knowing Artur anthing like that is a red rag to a bull and I knew he wouldn’t let this challenge go easily. http://forum.technicaldiving.ie/index.php/topic,1462.msg8878.html#msg8878
We kept in touch after the 2009 trip, I read his articles and exploration reports with interest and we swapped emails about various caves. I would sometimes send him pages he wanted from the CDG newsletter or look up sites. We had a gentleman’s agreement to leave Monastir cliff till I was next over and I also asked the same thing of him for Shannon and Pollnagossan. The rest I told him were fair game. One site I’d dived in Fermanagh was Ahinwrawn and he and Al Kennedy had a disastrous trip here when a rock fell from the roof smashing into Arturs face and keeping him off diving for around 3 months but certainly not dampening his enthusiasm and I know he still wanted to return there.
Easter 2010 saw me back in Fermanagh. The student caving symposium was on so we spent the first four days of our trip at the event. I’d arranged to meet up with Artur for diving but was somewhat dismayed to find him on a bender. He told me later that he never liked having ‘a’ beer – if he was going to have a drink he was going to have a lot of drinks! On the morning of our first days diving I dragged him out of the sleeping bag he was sharing and we prepared to go. However shortly before we left he opened a can of cider (it was 11am)… and I knew (or at least hoped) that he wouldn’t be diving today. He let off plenty of steam during the symposium but once it was over it was back to the serious business of cave diving – and Artur did take it seriously. We dived together in Monastir cliff for two days and this time he was in a wetsuit a wellies! He made an excellent advance on the first day whilst my dive was limited to clearing branches and other rubbish from the passage. Then on the second day I tied my line reel into the end of his old line coming from the Monastir Way sump 3a. I returned triumphantly with a shout to the dry chamber and he knew we’d done it! He then went on to make the through dive and prove the connection – a dive which required serious nerve.
After an already eventful week things were about to get even more ‘exciting’ with a trip down Pollnagossan. I had dived here twice previously but been stopped in sump 2 by line issues and then a squeeze which needed to be dug through. I knew exactly what I had to do this time and so went into sump two first, with a plan for Artur to follow 15mins later. Sump two is particularly unpleasant with almost zero visibility and lots of silt on the bottom. To make it more complicated there was a line trap approximately two thirds of the way through where the old line was pulled in tight into a crack. To get round this I had previously laid a new section of line in a square around the restriction, using two silt screws as belays. Shortly afterwards the gravel meets the ceiling and this is where I’d turned back in 2009. On our 2010 trip I managed to dig through this section and then wait for Artur on the surface. Together we then headed for the end of the cave passing 7 known sumps and looking for the undived sump 10. The “easy walking passage alternating with a series of short sumps” described by Martyn Farr in 1983 failed to materialise, instead we had knee deep mud and by the time we got to sump 10 I was pretty unimpressed. To add to this feeling there was a line in sump 10 where we were sure there shouldn’t be. We passed this and the line continued into sump 11. Artur dived first with me close behind as we’d done in the preceding sumps. We expected it to be short but 70m later he gave me the signal something was wrong (repeated squeezes on my hand as vis was zero) and we turned back. On the surface he explained he’d found an abandon reel in front of a squeeze and asked if I wanted to go first? I declined without much hesitation but Artur was still keen and we agreed that I’d give him 20mins before following him into the water. I was hoping he’d come back and I wouldn’t have to dive but after a very cold 20minutes there was no sign of him and so I entered the sump. After some unpleasant unwater squeezing I surfaced in a chamber where I was in the water up to my chest. There was no sign of Artur but the line continued onward down into another sump. I was getting really cold by now and just as I was debating what to do he surfaced. We were both cold and luckily for me he didn’t take too much persuading to turn around. Artur had his own difficulties getting back through sump 11 but I was unaware of this. I was focused on getting back out safely and the underwater squeeze I’d dug through in sump 2 on the way in was playing on my mind. It seemed to me that if it collapsed it would be very difficult to dig from above.
Back at the start of sump 2 we both wanted to go first. No one wants to be the last diver on the way out usually and here the sense of isolation was even more pronounced. However I knew the cave better than he did and I’d dived sump 2 several times by now so I knew it was right to let him exit first. The only condition I put down was that he would wait for me at the bottom of the gravel slope incase it collapsed and he could dig it for me. He did this and I easily got through the squeeze, gave him the signal and sent him off ahead of me. Two minutes later I followed slowly until I reached my first silt screw, part of the line I’d laid to navigate around the line trap. I moved onto my new line and headed for the second silt screw. Just as I reached it I found a hand on the line – “what the hell?” I thought, “he is supposed to be long gone by now”. I gave him a few moments but the hand stayed where it was. We couldn’t communicate in the zero visibility and we didn’t have any pre-arranged signals to deal with this. If he’d have given me the signal something was wrong we’d have turned back for the surface on the far side of sump 2 and he didn’t want this.
After another short while I passed over his hand and continued along the line figuring that I had to at least get myself out in one piece. I moved forward not knowing where he was and began to doubt I’d actually touched him – was I imagining it? With one hand on the line I decided to reach back and see what I could find – swiping with my hand I caught him and grabbed him. I pulled him towards me and put his hand on the line the gave him a shove in the right direction and waited till I felt he’d gone. Alone once again I made a slow exit wondering if Artur was ahead of me somewhere or whether I’d lost him underwater. To my immense relief he was there when I surfaced and all I had to say to him was “you lucky bastard!”
I vowed never to go back to Pollnagossan and although Artur said the same initially he did keep mentioning it too me and said he was considering a return.
The week in Ireland cemented our friendship. We talked about cave diving and everything else every evening and I found Artur an excellent companion. I also learnt about his laid back style.. People are usually waiting for me to fettle kit and pack for trips but with Artur the tables were turned. Late morning after I was packed he’d still be drying his wetsuit and covering it in large amounts of glue whilst I waited. Early (or even late) afternoon departures were not unheard of.
Artur and I had a lot in common – he was an excellent self-publicist, something I’ve been accused of and everyone says I always pose in photos whilst Artur made no bones about the fact that he did. We’d infact started cave diving around the same time, both from different backgrounds but both ambitious and keen to make a name for ourselves. I’m not always convinced of the benefit of tourist dives and Artur was positively hostile to the idea of cave diving for any reason other than exploration! In short we were on the same wave length, the only difference being that Artur was closer to the more serious and obsessive end of the spectrum.
He said to me several times that Ireland had all the cave diving he needed and so I was surprised and delighted when he asked if there was space on the expedition to Pena Colorada in Mexico we were trying to arrange. I also knew he was signed up to go on Bill Stones J2 expedition in 2012 so the lure of exciting foreign caving expeditions was getting him. Our first trip abroad was unexpected. I was due to go to Spain with John Volanthen but at the last minute John had to go to France to take part in the search for the missing cave diver Eric Establie. I figured there was only one person I knew who could drop everything at short notice and come to Spain and that was Artur. As it happened the CDG divers taking part in the rescue attempt in France needed a few things from the UK so we stopped off in the Herault on our way down where Artur was able to meet Rick Stanton and John Volanthen. The following day we arrived in the Pyrennes in the middle of a storm which set the scene for the rest of the trip. I’d promised Artur sun in Spain but all we seemed to get was drizzle. On the first day we carried kit upto the entrance of Fou de Bor with help from our Spanish hosts. The rain did stop for us and we began to get hopeful. After many short but very sweaty caving trips we had kit set up at the sump and began to put it all together. To make matters more difficult there was a steep muddy slope down to the water and no dry land at the bottom. It was getting late by the time everything was ready but we dropped below the surface to find out what the cave was like. Visibility was terrible but we expected as much as the water in the pool was static. We hoped we’d meet nice clear water pretty soon but when we got below 20m and into the full flow of the underground river it was clear that conditions were terrible. We turned the dive and headed out. For 3 days we waited for conditions to improve whilst we were given a guided tour of the local area by David Magdalena. It was pleasant but really wasn’t what we’d travelled to Spain to do and it sapped my morale. Finally though we got to make our big dive, the story of which I have told in more detail in other places. One thing probably not communicated before though about that dive was the real sense of team work and shared underwater exploration. Generally speaking in the poor visibility we were both used to, diving as a team didn’t happen and swimming side by side down new passages definitely not! However in Spain just after I tied on the reel we descended a 20m shaft together, side by side. I can still picture this clearly. Working the reel and watching my rebreather closely I descended with my head up, looking back to watch the line whilst Artur was head down looking into the new passage. As we swam off into the unknown I took the lead with Artur behind finding places to attach the belays. We waited for each other on the return and completed our decompression together – for a solo cave diver used to being independent this was about as close to team diving as I’d ever come before and I was very happy to have Artur as my team mate.
We repeated our process in Bordonera a few days later with Artur running out the line whilst I did the belays. Back at 6m on our hour long deco stop we swapped messages on my dive slate and filmed each other for the film I’d later make. The journey back to the UK wouldn’t usually justify a mention however on this occasion I was feeling a bit tired and in need of some comfort food. After 3 hours a sign for McDonald’s provided the perfect answer and we were soon stuffing our faces. Three hours later another McDonald’s sign loomed on the motorway and so for a laugh we pulled in for another burger – both ashamed of eating at the golden arches twice in one day and promising to say nothing to anyone else! However as evening approached we began to look for somewhere to eat. In a French town we located the local hypermarket but as it was a Saturday, 7.30pm and France is a backward country – they were closing for the night and refused us entry. We drove round the town, then tried the next one and as it approached 9pm it became clear that there was no where to eat in France… except bastard McDonalds! So we ended up consuming a third Big Mac and swearing repeatedly never to tell anyone.
Although it was a whole year before I saw Artur again we were in frequent contact online, especially after we agreed to return to Spain in the summer of 2011. Having said that getting verbal commitment to go on the trip was easier than getting him to book a ferry – just the week before we were due to leave I was still pestering him and half wondering if we’d be going away at all. This would be our most ambitious trip, driving all the way to Spain in a large yellow transit van of unknown vintage purchased only a few weeks before, spending two weeks exploring two different sites and doing a series of dives which for me would be the biggest dives I’d ever done. With this in mind I was therefore slightly anxious (and amused) that the night before he left Artur was still asking me questions about gas mixes whilst I’d had my cylinders filled for weeks already. I will be writing a proper detailed report on the trip and what we accomplished but this seems like a fitting place to put down some more memories about Artur. Our spirits were high on the journey down and we kept the banter going for many hours before one of us would eventually sleep – Artur objected to paying for the toll roads and from his lead I developed an aversion to them as well so we did our best to avoid them. His trusty old mobile phone had now been replaced with a modern smart phone – an Android, and with some deal on data roaming he was never off the bloody thing! I even took to calling him Artur Android to make the point when he seemed engrossed in the phone. I also learnt how much of a gannet he really was – our shared food was always in danger of disappearing when I wasn’t watching. One day we purchased a pack of chocolate biscuits and ate half during the afternoon. The next day when I got up I couldn’t find them in the van.. because Artur had got up in the middle of the night and had a midnight snack! The only piece of food which was safe was strong cheese which he couldn’t stand and I remember him sitting outside the tent with an umbrella whilst I smeared bread with strong Spanish hard cheese. The dives were very successful and although we dived together on the first dive in each cave, in each case on the second dive we agreed that he would go on further whilst I did the survey work. Despite this the exploration still felt like a team effort and he never claimed the glory for himself. For my part it was clear that Artur was in his element here. He had the experience, the equipment and what he achieved was very impressive.
http://www.casj.co.uk/ ( Tribut on original Chris Jewell's site )