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Creatively Exploring the Red Sea

Mix together strong coffee, GUE divers, err models, dancing, a liveaboard, and six-day photoshoot on the Red Sea and you would have the annual Creative Trip with the Red Sea Explorers. Sponsored by DAN Europe, Fourth Element, GUE and Halcyon Dive Systems. What might such a week-long, breathe-outside-the-box photoshoot—in the Red Sea!—look like? Here’s a snapshot.

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Header Photo by Julian Mühlenhaus

Each year, GUE makes a trip to the Red Sea, in Egypt, with the goal to drink coffee, go diving, and most importantly, capture photos and videos. Anyone from a GUE Recreational Diver Level 1 and up can join for a week-long adventure with multiple dives a day at some of the best dive sites in the world. With the global pandemic continuing to be a factor,  we thought we would miss the trip again this year, but we were able to follow travel guidelines and gather with friends old and new for a very successful trip. This year the Creative Trip was sponsored by Fourth Element, DAN Europe, Halcyon Dive Systems, Red Sea Explorers, and GUE.

Here are some of our captured moments and thoughts on the trip from photographers and models.

“Photography is not my day job anymore these days, so my personal goal was to practice my hobby. Essentially, I wanted to create a few beautiful images with the help of models who are comfortable in the water and disciplined in their approach to diving. I managed to do that, coming away with several dozen photos that I’m excited to add to my portfolio. Working together with the other photographers and filmmakers was an unexpected bonus, and the highlight of the trip for me. Somehow, between all the planning, diving, sorting, and editing of photos, we also found the time to  exchange ideas for new images, share lighting and editing techniques, and collectively level up our skills. It was an intense week, but I certainly learned a lot. I’ll be back next year if I can – I’ll just book another week of holiday afterwards to recover!

6 DAYS – 16 DIVES

Photo by Andrei Voinigescu
Photo by Andrei Voinigescu
Photo by Andrei Voinigescu
The Red Sea is an ideal setting for this kind of trip. Warm water, easy conditions for diving, and effortless logistics (thanks to Red Sea Explorers), which means the whole team can focus on the fun stuff – image-making. Great visibility makes for much more impactful wide-angle photos (my favorite). And the reefs, shipwrecks, and charismatic animals which were excellent subjects and backdrops for our talented models. There are so many great wrecks to explore, even in shallow water! Now that I’ve had the chance to visit some of them, on my next trip I’d definitely like to focus more on interior shots and creative lighting techniques to capture the mood of wreck exploration.” –Andrei Voinigescu, Florida, USA

5 Shipwreck Dives – 11 Reef Dives

Photo by Andrei Voinigescu
Photo by Andrei Voinigescu
“Before the trip I was buzzing, obviously, as there are not  many things that sound better than a week on a boat and diving in the Red Sea, but oh boy it delivered more than I could imagine. Before the trip, I was a bit anxious since it was my first Creative Trip. I had zero modeling experience underwater, or any for that matter, so all I had was my willingness to learn. Luckily, my anxieties were instantly cured, as working with these photographers and videographers was just incredible. The constant feedback, tips and tricks, as well as just sheer talent of these guys will quickly turn you into a top underwater model.
Photo by Andrei Voinigescu
Photo by Imad Farhat
Photo by Imad Farhat
Photo by Imad Farhat
Photo by Andrei Voinigescu
It’s  frustrating that a piece of paper cannot translate how amazing this experience was for me. Even now, writing all of this, I’m smiling and I feel this fuzzy warmth, as well as excitement for next year. I would also like to say a big, big thank you to every single one of you who was there and who made this trip so special. I hope to see you next year!” –Robert Zawrzel, Poland

4 Creators – 13 GUE Divers

Photo by Julian Mühlenhaus
Photo by Julian Mühlenhaus
Photo by Julian Mühlenhaus
“To date, I have been on four creative trips. None was like the one before. But there were a few things all of the trips had in common—a nice group of divers with a common goal, a certain level of diving experience, a lot of fun, and a lot of good pictures afterwards, even some really good ones. For me as a photographer who likes to take pictures of divers, I always hope to tell a small story with each picture.

Another great thing about the trip from a photographer’s point of view, especially this year where we had three photographers, was the opportunity to learn from others, sometimes during editing pictures and talking about editing possibilities and styles, sometimes only by seeing pictures that others took at the same dive site and getting more inspiration and ideas.
Photo by Julian Mühlenhaus
Photo by Julian Mühlenhaus
Photo by Imad Farhat
During the trips I have seen some of the wrecks multiple times (i.e. Giannis D, Thistlegorm). But  every trip with another dive team with another set of skills offers a totally different view of the wrecks. For me, for example, the dives where we were able to be inside the wrecks with more experienced divers allowed  the wrecks to appear totally different and opened up a lot more opportunities than before, especially the opportunities regarding lightning the interior.” –Julian  Mühlenhaus, Northern Germany

Over 10k Photos and Videos Taken

Photo by Julian Mühlenhaus
Photo by Julian Mühlenhaus

How to Become a Model on the Trip

To join the trip as a model, one needs to be certified with  a minimum of a GUE Recreational Diver Level 1. You also need to have mastered the following skills:

  •  Patience in order to wait for the photographer to position you where he wants and waiting for him to be ready.
  • Buoyancy in order to be where the creator wants you to be and adjust very very very minor buoyancy changes and body position to get THE shot.
  • Solid communication skills in order to understand what the creator tries to tell you to do.
  • Great awareness in order to know where you are in space, where the environment is in relation to you, where the other people in the modeling team are, taking care about team’s exposure and gas checks, taking care about good looks and proper gear placement of all team members.
  • An Understanding of what the creator wants, your position as a model, any light position if used, your “mood”. 
  • Great attention to detail in order to spot all minor inconsistencies on yours and your team’s equipment.


How to Become a Photographer on the Trip

If you’re a photographer and/or videographer, you can send your work to the trip organizer, GUE VP Dorota Czerny, who determines which creatives will be joining. The skills a photographer needs outside of the ability to use a camera are:

  • The ability to clearly express to the models—before and during the dive—the ideal image you’re seeking and the scene as you imagine it (as well as according to the sponsors’ requirements).

The dates for the 2022 Creative Trip will be 18-25 September.

Photo by Imad Farhat

Cave

Diving Into The Famous Ressel Cave

Belgium service member, cave explorer and tech instructor Kurt Storms takes us for a dive into the Ressel cave system located in Lot. Get out your reels.

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By Kurt Storms. Photos courtesy of K. Storms unless noted.

The Lot and The Dordogne areas of France have an abundance of beautiful caves suitable for all levels of diving expertise, situated in glorious rural locations. Sites are mostly found on three rivers: The Dordogne, The Lot, and Célé. The Lot area lies in the northern extremity of the Midi-Pyrenees region, which stretches from the confines of the Dordogne Valley to the highest peaks of the Pyrenees, forming the heart of South-West France. Cave divers from all over the world return to dive here year after year. With over 20,000 known caves, France is one of the premier cave diving areas in the world. One of the most interesting regions lies in the Southwest, around the rivers of Lot and Dordogne. Here you find a multitude of long and deep caves with mostly crystal clear and relatively warm water, offering superb diving conditions. The water temperature averages 14º C/57º F and the visibility normally varies between 5-30 m/15-100 ft.

Finally!!! We can go to the Lot again. The COVID conditions have thrown a spanner in the works. But because we are all now vaccinated, we can finally leave. This time, for a week of training and then a week of diving holiday with my wife Caroline Massie. Two students (Jo Croimans and Bram Van Gorp) are with me for the training. The next few days, they will be busy with skills and dry teaching. Theory has already been given in Belgium so that we can get the most out of our dives. 

Why the Lot?

The area in France is popular because most European divers take cave classes there so they don’t have to travel to Mexico or Florida. One of the most famous caves around here is Ressel. Ressel is located in the village of Marcilhac-sur-Célé, in the heart of the Lot. Most pictures you can see online show huge, dramatic  blocks of white rock, flat structures, and the shafts of this cave. The facilities are pleasant, we have a large parking area for our cars, and finally there is also a conveniently located building with a toilet. From the car park we have only to walk about 100 m/330 ft to get to the entry point on the River Celé where we can put all our equipment needed for our dive.

Ressel History

The Ressel was first dived in 1968, by two divers of the speleo club Auvergnat. Martin and Debras reached 150 m/492 ft. It was only in 1973 that the line was extended to 300 m/984 ft, with a maximum depth of 30 m/100 ft. In 1975, Fantoli and Touloumdoian reached Pit 4 and went to a depth of 45 m/147 ft. Further exploration continued over the years, especially by Jochem Hasemayer in the early 1980s, where at 1100 m/3609 ft into the system he planted his knife in the rock to which he attached his line. This knife is still there.

On August 12, 1990, Olivier Isler was the first to cross Sump 1. The total dive time back and forth was 10 h 35 min. End of Siphon 1 is at Lac Isler, and from there on you can continue to the next siphons. Ressel consists of 5 sumps, of which siphon 1 is the longest (1850 m/6070 ft) and the deepest (83 m/272 ft). From Pit 4 onwards, the deep section begins, which can only be done with trimix mixtures. In the following years, the further sumps were explored by gentlemen like Rick Stanton, Martin Farr, and Jason Mallison. In 1999, the end of Sump 5 was reached. The total length on the main line is 4415 m/14,485 ft.

Spectacular Views In The First Section

To be honest, the visibility is spectacular all around. More than 10 m/33 ft visibility, which was near zero before the start in the Celé River—quite a change. As soon as we got to the entrance, the water cleared like snow in the sun. The first thought that ever crossed my mind was: How on earth did they find this cave? How, with the visibility of the river, did anyone see a hole that is 6 m/20 ft below the surface on one side—which is frankly not that big. Enquiries with the locals revealed that when the cave is full of water, you can even see a geyser in the river! Another impressive detail. 

There is a rope that runs from the point where you get all the way into the cave, and it continues to the main line; you don’t need a primary reel here—it’s really easy to find the entrance, at 6 m/20 ft deep. Then there is a huge tunnel with white giant boulders, which is impressive.

The first dives were only up to the T (180 m/591 ft penetration), where the obligatory skills were practiced, so that later one can widen the comfort zone. This is also a very beautiful part, especially because of the large blocks that lie here. There are even two exceptional phenomena visible; these are two blocks consisting of white limestone, with a large black spot in it. You won’t find these black spots anywhere else. It is wonderful to be able to admire nature like this.

My wife, the students, and I got in, and on the first dive, with a sidemount set consisting of 2×80 cf (dual 11 ltr) tanks, we did the first T, taking the left corridor. On the next T, we continued toward the shaft to a maximum depth of 30 m/98 ft to take a look. It is so impressive! We felt like we were going to the abyss, and actually we were, to the abyss below ground and underwater. But now they were even more curious about the famous Pit 4 of the Ressel.

To be able to do this dive, we had to bring the right amount of gases. The first dive was with Jo Croimans, my student; he had his sidemount configuration with an extra 7 ltr along, I dived with my Divesoft Liberty SM rebreather. There we went, all prepared. The way there is about a 28 minute dive. On the way, I showed Jo the shunt that goes to the deeper part of the first loop. Enjoying the ride, we continued until we reached the point of the shaft. 



Here I asked Jo if everything was Okay, he indicated that it was, and we descended to a depth of about 40 m/131 ft. I could see in Jo’s eyes that he was enjoying himself. But we didn’t have much time to enjoy ourselves, because we had to go back again. If you have deco, you can do it all on the way back on a nitrox 50 (NX50). For the advanced divers, you can take your oxygen at 6 m/20 ft and finish any decompression on O2.

It’s actually a great dive, and the cave allows for a variety of dives, just by choosing different depths in the tunnels, to have different perspectives.

Once we got to the top, Jo couldn’t stop exclaiming about the amazing beauty of this cave, and especially Pit 4. This made Caroline want to go and have a look too. This dive was done a few days later, when both gentlemen had gone home. This time we did the dive by scooter, a big difference. In 13 minutes we were at the shaft, and again I saw a happy face. How nice it is as an instructor to be able to pass on your passion. This is what we do it for. Ressel is one of the most beautiful caves in Europe. It remains an easy, accessible system.

The Ressel is and will always remain a special cave. Last year, I did the deep loop (1160 m/3806 ft long, 73 m/240 ft depth) here with two friends. And I still enjoy it when I talk about it. We still have to come back to do the rest of S1.

Additional Resources:

X-Ray: Pushing the Ressel—A Cave Diving Expedition in Lot, France by Erik Wouters (2013)

YouTube: Cave diving in France: Emergence du Ressel (2016)

Facebook: Here is a cave exploration project also going on nearby in Lot, France https://m.facebook.com/thehiddenriverproject. Find their map: here. 


Kurt Storms is a member of the Belgium military, and is an underwater cave explorer and active technical/cave/rebreather diving instructor for IANTD. He started his diving career in Egypt when he was on vacation, and the passion never ended. Kurt is also founder and CEO of Descent Technical Diving.  He’s diving on several CCRs such as AP, SF2, Divesoft Liberty SM.

Kurt is also one of the pushdivers that is documenting a new slate mine in Belgium (Laplet). This project was news on Belgium Nationale TV. Most of his dives are mine and cave dives.  In his own personal diving, Kurt’s true passions are deep extended-range cave dives. His wife (Caroline) is also a passionate cave diver. In his free time he explores Belgium’s slatemines. When he is not exploring, he takes his camera with him, to document the dives.

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