On the long weekend of 9 - 11 August 2007, a group of intrepid divers braved the winter cold and headed for Wondergat in the North West Province to take the next step on their Cave Diving qualification.
The group which went out and set up camp on Thursday was made up of the Johnson clan, Karen, Awy (Lichtenburg club), Francois Bacon-Sandwich, Dave W, Niel / Polina & Rob and Bastijn.
Nuno, Gareth & Glen arrived Friday after earlier reports from Wondergat suggested that the nights were brass monkeys / frigid. In fact, some of the crew had scampered into Mafikeng to buy extra blankets. As far as I am aware this was a first ! This inclement weather did not affect the diving. The water was a balmy 18 degrees.
On our arrival at about 19:30 we found an exceptionally well laid out camp. In fact, on arriving, it was the good Dr Lowndes who suggested that we go and look for the WUC group because this orderly campsite couldn’t possibly belong to our club!
The night progressed with tales of past dives and experiences and everyone looking forward to the next days diving.
The day got started early at about 7am with Hearn and Lytle making excellent coffee for the entire group as they arose. Well done and thanks guys, we all appreciated it thoroughly!
Nuno got the group together for the pre-dive briefing and by 9:30am the group was in the water practicing their cave skills. It is incredible to witness how the members of this course have developed over the last year or so. Twin tanks, computers, redundant DVs, dry suits and stage cylinders are now standard equipment.
Visibility was about 7 – 8 metres and the water was a comfortable 18 degrees. After a +/- 40 minute dive the group returned to camp, among some interesting comments from Nuno. When I enquired about the dive, Nuno responded:” I was too shocked to laugh, I couldn’t believe what I was seeing !”. “It was chaos down there !”.
From the post dive debrief, it surfaced (excuse the pun), that the reeling task did not go so well, with most reels having been incorrectly reeled in and causing over-winds, knots and jams all round. The Johnson boys also had much fun looking for errant Dorff markers which they could sell back to their rightful owners.
With lessons learnt and firmly implanted into each team members’ memory, a hearty breakfast was enjoyed by all. Once again, thanks must go to Hardy and Zena for making it so comfortable for all.
The rest of the day was spent by all relaxing and enjoying dives exploring Wondergat itself with its interesting caves, memorials and especially the rare Wagon Wheel fossils, dating back millions of years. Zena managed a Wondergat dive record of 4 minutes duration before calling time because, quote “the sunshine has gone “.
As it was my first experience of Wondergat, I was blown away by its beauty and the secrets it is always willing to share even if you only go down a few metres. I met a fellow diver who has been diving Wondergat for the past few years at least once a month and he remarked that every time he dives, he sees something new. Just last weekend he spent 19 hours underwater over 6 dives and took more than 1000 photographs!
Saturday evening was again spent around the fire with an awesome communal braai and a glass of South Africa’s finest! The days diving must have taken it out of all of us as we all called it a night by about 9:30pm.
Another leisurely early start to the day with coffee all round and a pre dive by Nuno. Once again the dive was started at 9:30am for approx 40 mins. This dive was to repeat the tasks from the previous day’s rather unsuccessful attempt. After this dive, however, there were smiles all round as the tasks were done very well, within good time and all the rules abided by. At the post dive, Nuno and Gareth had good praise for the group and were very happy with the level of performance.
Once again a hearty communal breakfast was enjoyed. Nuno, Dave and Awy said their goodbyes while the remainder of the group geared up one final time for a quick dive to the grave stones and police sign. On their return to the North grid they practiced their SMB skills. Three surface marker buoys shot to the surface narrowly missing Glen who was waiting on the surface to descend to 15 metres. As the group ascended it was hilarious to watch the three SMB lines try and avoid each other. Once again, I was treated to seeing the fossils for the last time, before the dive ended.
Overall, the weekend was a roaring success and special thanks must go to Nuno Gomes for sacrificing his weekend. Also, thanks to Hardy and his family for great catering arrangements. To everyone else, thanks for good company, great laughs and awesome stories to take back home.
For all of you WUC members that aren’t too sure about going to Wondergat; at least try it once and I’m sure you’ll find it will become one of those spots you cannot help but returning to.
To the weekend team, thanks for making a newbie 1* feel completely at home and allowing me insight into why you are all so committed to your diving. The bug has firmly bitten and I cannot wait for the next trip out.
Roll on Badgat…….