Tuesday, July 16, 2024

The Ultimate Darkwater Freedive Site We Found By Accident


While in Greece, we stumbled on the Ultimate Darkwater Freedive Site.

Matt Longbottom and I were waiting out the last 2 days of a freediving trip after everyone else had left.  We decided to explore a muddy cave close to where we were staying.

It turned out to be one of the top freedive sites in the world.

My name is Marcus Greatwood I am a breath-hold photographer. I’ve been teaching and filming Freediving for 20 years.  I’ve held records, coached 6 world records, run a huge club, taught thousands of people, and taken many of them around the world.  For the past 10 years, I have specialized in Extreme Location Freediving:- exploring on a single breath.

There are a few candidates for the Ultimate Dive Site – mostly in Dark Water, (underground lakes) where the utter, complete darkness keeps the water impossibly clear.

What makes The Ultimate Freedive site?

  1. Crystal clear water
  2. Technical access
  3. Deep enough (but not too deep)
  4. Stunning vistas below & above the water

The Caves of Kefalonia

The initial objective was to dive The HMS Perseus, a spectacular British WWII submarine wreck off the south coast of Kefalonia, with 6 experienced NoTanx members.

On arrival we were shocked by the devastation from the worst hurricane to hit the Ionian islands in 800 years, boats were sunk in ports, and major towns left without water or electricity for days. The resultant bad visibility in the sea rendered filming virtually useless.

Kefalonia is traversed by huge flooded subterranean passageways (Karns) which have, at several points, collapsed creating cenotes similar to those found in Mexico. Several of these have become our favorite dark water dive sites, which we have been exploring for several years.

During the week we visited “The duckpond”, the final section of the limestone tunnels that leads out to the sea. An unassuming entrance leads to a series of low ceilinged caverns decorated above and below the water with amazing speleothems which belie the historically low water levels – stalactites can’t grow underwater.

As a senior-level group, we were able to explore further, pushing on to airspace that we called the Toblerone, “just a simple” 20 meter swim into a vast black cavern lined with Stalactites.

After everyone left, Matt and I stayed an extra couple of days to show a local friend of ours some caving techniques. I had spotted a muddy hole a few years previous which we thought would be a perfect place to practice abseiling and ascending on a single rope.

Muddy Hole

This dry hole requires a 30m abseil into a chamber, at which point there is a boulder choke (natural dead end). When I arrived, I looked through a small hole and saw a shard of water further below. I thought nothing of it. When Matt abseiled down to me he decided to slip through the small hole to explore.

At this point, everything changed.

He swore.

A Lot.

Followed by “you have got to see this Marcus”

At his behest, I slipped through the letterbox crack at the bottom of Muddy Hole… and entered into a huge chamber at ceiling height.  It was literally covered in huge white speleothems, stalactites, and curtains, that fell from the ceiling and walls up to 8m high.

What we had found, by accident, was an amazing cave, visited by only a handful of cavers since 1970.

As caving goes this was JACKPOT.

But even more surprising, dramatic & exciting was the lake of crystal clear water at the bottom of the scree slope 25m below me.

The lake was azure blue in my headtorch, leading off in both directions through heavily decorated tunnels to the left and right.

There was no doubt we HAD to come back to dive, the next day was our last day on the island.

The Ultimate Freedive Site We Found By Accident
The Ultimate Freedive Site We Found By Accident

The Dive

Getting to the water takes the best part of 2 hours, at which point we have to swap caving gear for freediving kit, prepare the underwater cameras, torches, and video lighting before entering the water.

To say we were excited is a gross understatement, at water level we could see into a tunnel on the left. Lined with huge stalactites, columns, flowstone, and curtains. As we moved into the tunnel it opened into a chamber 10m wide and 5m high, the gin-clear water dropping off some 15m below us. This National Geographic worthy chamber had only be visited by a couple of cave diving teams – but they had entered through a long underground tunnel (with easier access for scuba).

I had trouble holding the camera steady as we swam around a perfect circle of stalactites reached down from the ceiling to form a cage at the surface, the gateway of which enticed you in. In places, the formations slid effortlessly through the surface of the water falling into the dark depths below. The second chamber was formed of pristine ice white flowstone, flecked black by the few bats that had made it so far underground.

We dived, filmed, and stared in silence at the amazing location. We returned to the main chamber and decided we still had time to see if we could enter the right-hand tunnel.

To cut short.

We could…Just.

We had to duck under 100 razor-sharp stalactites, whose growth had been terminated by the water. (Stalactites can’t grow underwater, as they are formed by drips depositing their mineral loads as they fall, meaning these tunnels were once dry or at least the water level was significantly lower)

Only a freediver could enter this passage.

The Ultimate Freedive Site We Found By Accident
The Ultimate Freedive Site We Found By Accident

And the passage continued, more and more stalactites hanging meters long to touch the water, our movement governed by a head size path through the maze.

We knew were the first people ever to have entered this chamber.

And the passage continued.

A total of 4 individual chambers, each more magnificent than the last, hidden for centuries in complete darkness protected by a calcium portcullis or pure, glistening white.

Below us, we could see the deep tunnel and cave line traversed by the intrepid scuba divers from another entrance some 200m away, but they could never surface here.

Looking from under the surface 1000 scimitars hung down to the surface. We identified a safe surfacing point, only then could we safely drop down into the void below, our chosen exit had to be lit by our buddy or there was no way we could have located it from below.

Excitement, adrenaline, cold, and the physicality had taken its toll on us, our breath-holds were short, our dives truncated. We returned to the beacon of light we had left at our entry point and slowly climbed out of the water. We knew we would be well on our way home to England within 24h so took a few moments to appreciate the spectacular location as we donned caving harnesses and started the long climb out.

A truly awesome experience. One that I feel compelled to share with others through Caving, SRT, and dark water training.


Marcus Greatwood
Marcus Greatwoodhttp://www.notanx.com
Working with Loic Leferme & coaching numerous national & World Records (inc. Herbert Nitsch 214m in 2007) helped me develop a complete training system. The techniques I teach are used in a huge variety of situations as well as enjoying the Oceans such as athletes, scuba divers, golfers & martial artists. Always start with Breathing & Relaxation.Efficiency is found through Awareness. Our club, based on this system (NoTanx), has grown exponentially since 2000. Showing a huge appetite for enjoyment of being underwater, as well as developing good technique and personal well being. Recently we have developed Phreatic Diving Techniques in conjunction with Caving to access lakes deep underground.