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Diving in Darkness


A manual of overhead environment diving in caves and mines, under ice and in wrecks, by Martyn Farr

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Diving in Darkness

From the cover

Diving in Darkness is the long-awaited, global guide to diving in an overhead environment by Martyn Farr. Written with a minimum of technical jargon, this book is a significant addition to the literature on the subject, with extensive coverage of those areas which are all too often passed over in more general works. It will dispel misconceptions and myths by providing a clear, concise and modern overview of the essential equipment, skills and techniques required to dive in caves, mines, wrecks and beneath ice.

With a foreword by cave diver Jill Heinerth, Diving in Darkness covers equipment, line-laying techniques, communication and air management; indeed, every aspect of the sport, with appendices on special situations in wrecks and beneath ice. Diving in Darkness contains the distillation of more than thirty years of experience gained by a master practitioner and will prove invaluable to all divers who wish to extend their horizons into this exciting arena.

For the companion title: Classic Darksite Diving

  • Author: Martyn Farr
  • Binding: Softback
  • Size: 17.5cm x 25cm
  • Pages: 128
  • Illustrations: Over 165 photographs and diagrams in colour
  • Publication date: 2003
  • ISBN: 978-0-9526701-5-5
  • Other: Companion volume to Classic Darksite Diving



1     The Overhead Environment
2     Equipment
3     Lights
4     Guidelines
5     Air Management
6     Considering Depth
7     Stress
8     Dive Planning
9     Techniques
10   Emergencies
11   Advanced Techniques
12   A Final Comment

A     Further Reading
B    Training Organisations
C    Calculating Gas Requirements
D    Ice Diving
E    Wreck Diving
F    Glossary


From the cover:

Award-winning author of the internationally acclaimed book The Darkness Beckons, Martyn Farr first entered a cave in 1961, an adventure which sparked a lifelong drive to explore the inner earth. He turned to cave diving as the last great frontier in 1970 and is now well known for his cave explorations throughout the world. He continues to push into the unknown from his base in South Wales, UK, where he trains divers in the overhead environment.

In Descent

MARTYN Farr needs no introduction. Having devoted his life to caving, his name is synonymous with cave exploration, cave diving, underground and underwater photography, and writing.

Most cavers have read at least some of Martyn’s words; apart from being Descent’s correspondent for Welsh news, there are his many books. My first encounters with Martyn’s literary efforts were The Darkness Beckons in 1980 and The Great Caving Adventure in 1984, a book that entirely captured my imagination and which I read repeatedly – it inevitably encouraged my own enthusiasm for cave diving.

Since that time Martyn has released a multitude of other titles such as Darkworld and Underground Wales. With more than thirty years of cave diving under his belt and having developed that range of writing ability, Martyn’s experience makes him well placed to write his new book, Diving in Darkness.

The immediate assumption is that Diving in Darkness focuses on cave diving – which it does, but Martyn pushes the expected limit in his usual manner, to include considerably more. He expertly guides the reader through overhead environments (diving beneath a ceiling, such as caves, mines, wrecks and beneath ice), with chapters covering every relevant topic; it goes beyond being a good read and becomes an essential reference.

On picking up Diving in Darkness, flick through it before settling down to read it. The multitude of fabulous photographs, mostly taken by Martyn from around the world, jump out immediately. The standard of the photographs is superb and they are presented in full colour from cover to cover. And I mean that literally – in the 128 pages there isn’t a single spread not adorned with colour (and that includes the index!).

The book opens with an excellent foreword by Jill Heinerth, a cave diving instructor with a wealth of credits that include ice diving in the Antarctic, and is followed by an introduction about training and taking the first steps into diving and overhead environment diving. The action starts in chapter one, explaining the overhead environment perspective to associated problems and dangers, including the fact that there is no air surface to escape to, silt and darkness problems, and how to deal with these issues. It evens goes into landowner relationships and con­servation of the environment.

Martyn then covers the huge topic of equipment, making a clear distinction between an open water diver (depending on someone else in the water to help out if problems develop) and someone in the overhead environment (where self-sufficiency is essential). Everything from suits to cylinders and buoyancy is detailed, showing configuration options. There are very useful photographs in this section; I particularly liked those ‘in the field’ and that on p41 in the lighting chapter, showing a ‘modified’ Super SaberLite with a removed clip to prevent entanglement risk.

The book guides us into route-finding and safe navigation; covering line reel options, line laying techniques, tagging and ‘out’ markers. For me, this chapter alone – it is extremely well written – proves the value of the book and is clearly written by a grand master.

Further chapters cover air management, depth and decompression, and something that is often overlooked in all avenues of diving: stress. How to perform under stress, with the emphasis on training, is the headline here. Importantly, Diving in Darkness is not intended as a stand-alone guide to overhead environment diving; it is meant as an adjunct to proper instruction, and as an aid of this nature it is invaluable.

Dive planning, underwater hand signals, information about diving solo and in teams, techniques for buoyancy and trim, diving in poor visibility and dealing with emergencies (loss of visibility, light failure, line entanglements or running out of air) are all included, plus scooters, diving with gases other than air and rebreathers. Finally, appendices cover further reading, training organisations, calculating gas requirements, ice diving (well worth reading for entertainment value, even for divers who never intend to venture below an ice ceiling), wreck diving and, finally, a glossary.

This is the book that I wanted to read twenty years ago. Now it’s here and I cannot recommend it enough for those taking their first steps into the overhead environment, or those who think they already know it all and fancy some good reading with excellent pictures. Even old hands might pick up a tip or two from Martyn’s distillation of thirty years’ experience. Read and enjoy.

Descent (174), October 2003, p24, by Steve Thomas

In Dive

THERE'S a school of thought which holds that cave divers are the most proficient divers in the world, and I'm inclined to agree. Here, Martyn Farr extends his caving knowledge and techniques to the challenge of diving in all manner of overhead environments.

In refreshingly jargon-free text, Farr takes the reader through the techniques which separate thinking, advanced divers from the rabble. He packs 30 years of diving experience into 130 well-illustrated pages. There is invaluable advice on guide lines, air management, dive planning and dealing with emergencies, which you will not find in any coursebook.

Dive, December 2003, p25

In Speleology

THIS 128 page book provides a detailed introduction to ‘overhead environment diving’ (underwater situations where access to the surface is not possible). It deals with entry to underwater caves, penetrating wrecks and diving under ice. There is considerable overlap in the techniques required for each of these advanced forms of diving. Sensibly the book deals mainly with cave diving but then covers special considerations for ice and wreck diving in two of the appendices.

Some readers of Speleology may not be aware of the revolution in cave diving in recent years. Traditionally in the UK the aspirant cave diver would be an experienced caver who wanted to learn to dive underground, mainly with a view to exploring new passages both within and beyond sumps. There are now increasing numbers of open water divers with no caving background who are interested in cave diving as a ‘pleasure’ activity, many of whom have no real interest in original exploration. It is mainly for this latter group that Diving in Darkness has been written. However there is also a wealth of useful information for ‘proper’ cave divers – in the Cave Diving Group (CDG) sense – and this book certainly deserves to be on the shelf of any serious UK practitioner, especially if contemplating a trip to dive in overseas caves.

Martyn is probably the most experienced British cave diver currently offering commercial courses. This is reflected in the clear and authoritative style of both the text and the 170 illustrations (all in colour). The photographs are superb; some cavers who don’t dive at all will consider buying the book for these alone. There are magnificent images from some of the world’s most scenic underwater caves, with detailed captions pointing out both good and poor technique as revealed by the lens. Martyn’s experience is also evident from the safety culture he promotes. The attractions of cave diving are (rightly) made clear, yet throughout the book he advocates a progressive and intelligent approach to learning the multitude of new skills needed for doing it safely. The clear and simple summaries of key points at the end of each of the chapters underline the golden rules of safe diving in the ‘overhead environment’.

I was pleased to see good advice on landowner relations and access arrangements (e.g. p22). There is some concern about groups of open-water divers wanting to visit our more easily accessible resurgences in the UK. Some of these divers are apparently unaware of the often lengthy negotiations which cavers have undertaken to maintain access.

A few CDG members may find certain technical recommendations unfamiliar, for example the buddy-breathing section (page 55 onwards). However this book is an overview of techniques which are widely accepted around the world. British cave diving conditions are significantly different from those in many other countries and our ingrained ‘solo ethic’ is probably not appropriate elsewhere. Another minor eyebrow raiser (for some CDG members at least) will be the assertion that the best way to learn cave diving is from a commercial instructor. Bearing in mind the very different background of the majority of likely readers of the book (and their lack of access to CDG-style mentoring), for most this comment is almost certainly true.

One especially pleasing feature is the lack of apparent bias towards any of the training agencies offering courses around the world. A full list of contact details is given near the end for those wanting practical instruction and there is a comprehensive bibliography of suggested further reading. In summary, this is a book full of wisdom and sound advice drawn from Martyn’s long and successful cave diving career. It is well presented and attractively illustrated. For the serious open water diver it will provide essential reference material. Certainly CDG members will benefit from owning a copy and even cavers who don’t dive should find plenty of interest within these pages.

Speleology (3), September 2003, pp29-30
by John Cordingley, British Cave Rescue Council Diving Officer 1985-2012

In NSS News

THIS is a short introduction to diving in an "overhead environment," where the diver cannot ascend directly to air. The book is really about cave diving, with anything but token references to ice and wreck diving relegated to short appendices The author, who also wrote The Darkness Beckons, a fine history of cave diving, has very wide experience, and the book covers techniques used around the world (American divers will have to get used to tank pressures in bars and tak sizes in water capacity, with, say, 12 liters equivalent to roughly 100 cubic feet at 3000 PSI.) While the advertised 170 color photographs include a lot of simple equipment illustrations, there are three or four dozen nice photographs of divers in underwater caves. Farr rightly emphasizes that no book is a substitute for proper training and special attention to local practices, but the book will give anyone, including those who believe that the cave ends where the ceiling stops getting lower and starts getting deeper, a good feel fro waht's involved. In fact, I'd say a curious caver is likely to enjoy the book more than a trained cave diver. Even an expert, though, will find something new unless he's dived in a wide variety of caves.

NSS News, January 2004, pp26-7 by Bill Mixon

[Ed. I'd asked Greg Francek to review the book as well since he's an experienced cave diver. His comments follow:]

DIVING in Darkness is an international guide to diving in overhead environments. Martyn Farr, a technical diving pioneer for over thirty years, provides the reader with a clear and concise overview of the essential equipment, techniques and skills required to dive in caves, mines, wrecks and under the ice.

With a Foreword by cutting-edge diver Jill Heinerth, the issue of risk assessment, problem solving, and calm patience as crucial survival skills is a common thread running through this text. At 128 pages this book is shorter than many others on the subject, yet the author's coverage of critical topics such as guidelines (line laying), air management, stress, and depth considerations are the most well rounded I have seen in text. The book has dozens of interesting and beautiful color photos of overhead environment diving activities from around the globe.

What you won't find in this book is militaristic procedures and strict training standards that are common in technical diving. The theme of this book is that there is not any one way to do it. The author lays out a technical background of international exploration then encourages the reader (diver) to seek out options, gain eperience, and most importantly, exercise critical thinking.

NSS News, January 2004, p27 by Greg Francek

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