First Cave 1 class in Portugal

By Nuno Horta

A GUE Cave1 class in Portugal? Yes we can!

GUE’s Cave 1 classes are traditionally associated with exotic trips to Mexico, Florida or France. Our plans to undergo GUE overhead training also started with an exotic trip in mind, but the recent change to GUE’s teaching standards allowing (under certain conditions) the realization of overhead classes in just in 1 cave system made it possible to do the class at home, with the local buddies and in the caves which we would be diving more often.

This opportunity allied with the fact that many members of the local GUE community were already involved in surface activities in the local cave project Alviela (www.alviela.com) made it all the more tempting to experience a new diving environment, and change the frontier-less nature of the ocean for the complexity and charm of the submerged fresh water caves.

And so began plans to host Daniel Riordan in Portugal for 2 GUE Cave 1 classes.

The target caves (refer to “Caves in Portugal and Spain”, GUE Quest 9.1) are located some 100km North of Lisbon with no access to logistics, so the team needed to plan and implement a comprehensive logistics operation to fill tanks for the 2 classes. Taking advantage of the logistics which the Alviela Team were putting together for their 4 day team meeting in April, we scheduled the classes just before the project meeting to be able to leverage resources and also do some diving during the meeting.

Alas, nature rules and late heavy rains in April turned the water in Alviela non-diveable; visibility was limited, and flow was very high. With Danny already on his way to Europe, we were scrambling to look for alternative sites; sea caves in Sagres, contacts with local speleological groups near Sesimbra, Spain etc. When all seemed lost, the local cave divers went to check out Pena on the wild chance that the rains would have been enough to submerge what is normally a dry cave and fills only for 2 or 3 weeks during heavy winters.
Bingo! Conditions in Pena were spectacular; visibility over 10m, little or no current, and the water level just at the right spot. For a cave class this is by far the best cave in Portugal, with easy logistics, easy access (compared to Alviela!), and shallow depths, but even the local cave instructors don’t dare plan anything ahead of time here, because of its high uncertainty in conditions.

As luck would have it we had Danny Riordan for 2 of the best weeks of diving in Pena in the whole year.

For logistics we were indeed fortunate to be part of a GUE community (Refer to “Building a GUE Community”, GUE Quest 9.3). With the help and contribution of many we were able to assemble some 20 sets of doubles, which would cover almost all the dives for the class making our life easier during the week, and giving us more time to rest after the rigors of each day of training.

After a long but pleasant day of theory and dry-runs we started Dive 1 in a familiar environment – the sea. Based in Sesimbra, we charted our usual dive center Anthia Diving Center to run the first OW dives and support the filling of the many tanks.

Navigation, line work, reduced or no visibility, touch contact, gas failures, equipment failures in a crescendo of controlled chaos, to prove to ourselves that we were ready for the real thing – a real overhead environment.

We left behind the familiar environment and headed for Amiais de Baixo, a local village near the caves that is also the head quarters for diving operations. The Hotel Amiribatejo is the cave divers paradise; friendly hosts, clean, simple and inexpensive rooms, access to huge storage room, place to run noisy compressor when needed, ample area for classes.

The days were long and intense. Long in water sessions, theory presentations, dry exercises, the inevitable equipment management and repair. The complexity of the diving scenarios increased every day and the teams enjoyed the experience even when the decisions were not the best - we were after all doing what we like most; diving and exploring a new world.

The instructors rigorous but positive attitude helped keep the team’s spirit high and the motivation going. We finished the class tired, motivated and more cultured. The values, rationale and rigor of the earlier GUE training was amply demonstrated in this class.

Both teams concluded their training and the local community is richer with 6 new Cave 1 divers.

Thanks, Mr. Riordan, Entrada dive team and local DIR community!


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