THE TARGET AUDIENCE FOR Underwater Potholer seems fairly clear – cave-divers. This book isn’t calculated to get the general public excited about obscure subterranean activities; it’s far too detailed a catalogue of dives for that.
That said, just as veteran British cave-diver Duncan Price is clearly addicted to his chosen pursuit, there is also something addictive about his book – and it creeps up on you.
You start off bracing yourself for 30 years of fleshed-out logbook-led reminiscences, and to a large extent that’s exactly what the book is, based on exploits in cave systems in Wales, Yorkshire, Florida and France.
Descriptions of cave-dives can be tricky to visualise, too, even with the diagrams provided. But it’s Price’s deadpan delivery that keeps you reading on, as everything that can go wrong on a cave-dive does.
Kit gets broken, dropped, mislaid, forgotten; the author gets lost, stuck to roofs, trapped, low on gas – the list goes on, and you find yourself just turning the pages and waiting for the next setback.
But Duncan Price doesn’t seem to be a man who gets rattled – he takes a breath and quietly sorts out the problem, retrieves or repairs the kit, improvises a plan B, and seems exactly the sort of person you want to have around when you’re in a tight spot.
Any danger of a tedious “I’m mad, me” approach is avoided by his understated style. The book is nicely written, with some neat turns of phrase: “Boulders held up by force of habit” I particularly liked.
There are episodes that make you laugh aloud and inevitably quite a few tragic moments as fellow-divers lose their lives, but this is an insight into the workings of a very closed community.
Duncan Price got into cave-diving in the early 1980s after the Martyn Farrs and Rob Parkers had laid down daunting markers, and he honed his skills diving alongside the likes of Rick Stanton and later taught others such as John Volanthen and Chris Jewell.
What fascinated me was the hope-for-the-best nature of so many of the dives, and not only in the early days. We’re often told how the strict disciplines of US?cave-divers have helped to shape leisure-diving, and when Duncan and Rick first dive with their Florida counterparts the contrasts are soon apparent: ”Once in the water, Tom asked us if we were going to do a buddy check. Rick and I looked at one another in a confused sort of way: Duncan to Rick: ’Are you ready?’ Rick: ‘Yep!’ Duncan: ’So am I. Let’s go!”
Nothing seems to deter Duncan Price – even when diagnosed with cancer, he still gets the dives in. And he makes no bones about his make-do-and-mend diving style, referring to his dive gear at one point as “unreliable tat”.
His often complex mixed-gas diving and planning is self-taught, as is his rebreather diving on home-made units, but it has worked, and he’s still around to tell the tales.
His successes and failures are laid out in this book for all to read. Not bad for a man whose only formal diving qualification to this day is BSAC Snorkel Diver!
Steve Weinman

Whittles Publishing
ISBN: 9781849951586
Softback, 224pp, £18.99