The expedition in Croatia follows the traces of those of the preceding years, made easier by the already existing contacts and by the friendships already struck up. Also the general knowledge of the territory and the exploratory foretaste of some sources, enables us to have a clear idea of where it is advisable to start the expedition.
The greatest unknown factor which is impossible to avoid is the weather and in our case it means more or less abundant rains, a more or less strong current, more or less poor visibility and so on.
In this expedition I am with Jean Jacques and other friends as Alberto, Davide, Lorenzo and Valeria who will help us for some time during the expedition; we belong to the expedition organized by the Croatian speleologists named “Zermania” that will give us precious indications and will help with the transport of our materials which normally is not a very easy iob.
Before reaching Croatia, we stop in Brescia at the Giòsub where I pick up some new powerful underwater illumination equipment, and in Trieste, to make some changes in my rebreathers Voyagers, directly in the head office Aquatek. During the winter and the spring I have focused on the adjusting of a "bulky" closed circuit completely overflowing, to wear on the back, suitable for dives in environments of big dimensions and on another more practical side circuit, that is carried as if it were a relay tank and it allows the maximum mobility in narrow environments or in environments where it is necessary to carry the equipments in aerial zones for a long time, even if the respiratory comfort is penalized because of its position.
Knowing previously the morphology of the hollow that we are going to explore, it is necessary to have two alternatives.
In Croatia, the first place that interests us, is Racovica, a small town situated next to the Bosnian border not very far from Plitvice, where is located the homonymous spectacular natural park undisputed destination of numerous tourists.
Our reference man is Alan Milosevic who has remained at the base camp perfectly organized for the speleological explorations of the caves in the neighbourhood.
The first source for us is Sinjac, that is located in the village of Jezero (lake); to reach it we must go past a half-deserted highland about 800 meters high; we notice one first great difference in comparison to two years ago: in fact we observe that several houses have been restructured and the Bosnian people that lived there before the hard Yugoslavian conflict, little by little are returning to live there.
Toward the end of the highland, on the left of our road, there is an enormous green lawn that replaces the lake that is formed by the rains in winter and spring periods. We go down to about 400 meters and as soon as we enter the little village, we take the excavated road that will take us near the lake formed by the spring; we cover the last two hundred meters in a lawn whose grass outstands the height of the bonnet of my car and, after having parked at about ten meters from the entrance of the source, we go to see the conditions of the water. The pleasant surprise is to find it incredibly clear: Lorenzo will take many photos helped by such a favorable situation.
This has been the fourth attempt in the last two years and for the first time, putting my head underwater, I can see the whole entrance well, beautiful, with considerable erosions and the trunk of a tree that during the preceding dives, when there was little visibility it seemed threatening and now it is alone stately: the tallest branches depart from a depth of .3 meters and the final part of the trunk goes down to a depth of over 20 meters; below at a depth of.41 meters a wheelbarrow fallen in the spring in 1936 makes beautiful show of itself, for the joy of Lorenzo, and its wheels still turn when you push them.
In the following days, for all the five days of the exploration, the weather is very changeable alternating sunny spells to storms and heavy rainfalls that flooded the roads dragging gravel and mud and drenching us when we moved from our cars to the entrance of the source.
However the visibility for the first meters is still good and so besides being facilitated in the exploratory penetration, also the photographic repertoire becomes rich of documentations on the morphology and on the biology. At the end of the dives devoted to the photos, Lorenzo and Alberto go back home; one more dive is necessary to make the route in the source safe.
While I remain in the camp to prepare the equipments, the others, Jean Jacques, Alen, Davide and Valeria that in the meantime have reached us are very helpful according to their competence; above all Jean Jacques takes care of the arrangement of the material for the progression and of the decompessive safety line. For Davide and Valeria this is the first time in this source, therefore they are free to take a first contact with the source making a dive in the initial well.
When everything is ready, the night brings me the last precious suggestions. During the first exploratory dive, I go down into the well vertically, I follow the slant tilted of 45° along which besides the stones and the gravel, I also find bottles, pots, shoes in great quantity. At a depth of.85 meters., where Jean Jacques has left the emergency tank, the rock is sometimes light, sometimes dark and its section of about 7m./ 8m. I horizontally go past an expanse about twenty meters long and 1.5 meters high, I can recognize the point, I am close to the limit of my previous last year’s exploration.
The line ends tied to a jag of rock: I’m at a depth of 119 meters and at 203 meters of distance from the entrance. Quickly I take the end of the line from the reel, I tie it with the already existing line and I can begin to explore the new passage. The gallery widens so much that I can’t see the opposite wall; the dense water, the wall and the muddy bottom prevent partially the penetration of the light of my torches HID by 10W. After a horizontal passage 50 meters long, I find myself at a depth of .130 meters.; I decide to go back.
Davide, who is the main supporter of my decompression stops, meets me when I’m at a depth of.21 meters bringing me warm tea and the spare batteries for my electric heated jacket. The dive has lasted 17' and the total time of decompresion necessary to resurface has been 120'.
To continue the exploration, I decide to use an underwater propeller and, while I am reorganizing my equipments, Jean Jacques goes to position it at a depth of 115 meters of depth, in a point where the course of the gallery is almost horizontal. In the very vertical passages the propeller would penalize the rapidity of my descent.
On August the first I resume the exploration with my double circuit with which I feel more at ease; I reach the propeller only 5' from my departure, I position myself in the front of it thanks to a change introduced by Jean Jacques: it is the first time that I have used it with this system, but immediately I feel at ease feeling it perfectly balanced between my legs.
After a comfortable route about seventy meters long, I reach a depth of 134 meters.: I am forced to abandon the propeller tying it to the line, because the progression becomes more delicate: the gallery starts sloping down again with a strong inclination and I prefers to swim softly with my fins. I take control of the partial pressure of the oxygen, at every anchorage I inevitably lift suspension and the visibility in these points is reduced to few tens centimeters. All of a sudden I hear the little voice inside me that suggests me that it is time to go back: I tie the line to a rock. Looking at my instruments I see 18’ have passed and that I am at a depth of 155 meters. I go back quickly to the first decompression stop, then I slowly reach the surface after 209.' When I finish loading my car, I draw the conclusions: the 117 meters of new galleries and a depth of 155 meters make Sinjac the deepest Croatian source.
When I am alone for a last look at the little lake, a thought crosses my heart: the melancholy in remembering my friend Massimiliano Valsecchi who should have been with me and who has lost his young life this spring while he was devoting himself to this activity he loved so much on the Alps Apuane.
Underwater speleology, that these last few years has become a job also for me, has been my “drug” for twenty years and the lack of it makes my life with no important stimuli. Days pass, wounds are healed, but the scars remain engraved in the heart and in the mind and it is not easy for me to proceed dragging behind me this sad memory.
The next destination is the source of Kusa whose exploration for us began last summer.
It is located in the southern part of Croatia, next to the village of Obulin not too far from the park of Velebit. Even here there is a speleologic camp organized by Tiki the person responsible of the expedition Zermania in conformity with every possible necessity: two farmhouses rearranged the month before, a counter for the electric energy, a kitchen, chemical bathrooms, a computer room to see and to elaborate the images; in the only hotel of Obulin has been installed a press reference point.
The part already explored of the source is a first syphon 200 meters long and 50 meters deep.; beyond this, there is a long aerial part less than 200 meters long, quite uncomfortable for the transport of the material, there are three "easy" climbing 5-6 meters high, two little lakes to go beyond swimming, mud on the stones that makes the march slippery till to reach the second syphon already visited by me last year for 350 meters. of length.
JJ, Davide and I check the conditions. As a rule the rainfalls this summer have been scarce; the level of the water is low but last week's violent rains have made the visibility very bad. A team of strong willing carriers help us for the transport as far as the entry, then we transport a part of the material to the syphon, to equip it with the safety stops, while another part will be prepared beyond, in the aerial part, to prepare the exploration of the second syphon. Having passed the first syphon, some uncertainty on the result of the exploration rises due to the very bad visibility that will limit considerably the progression. We decide to wait for a couple of days to see if the conditions improve.
On August 6th, after going after the first syphon, accompanied also by Alan, we divide among us the materials to carry to the second syphon, necessary for my dive: side closed circuit, torches, fins, reel: the usual equipment, in addition to two tanks of iper-oxygenated mixture for further safety.
In four we proceed fast and in short we transport all to the second syphon, where I dress again in a suitable way to make a first recognition. The entrance of the syphon is two meters long and one meter high and wide and, being rather loaded, I can hardly get in. Underwater I replace the line, set the tanks, I go down to a depth of 40 meters.; and I go back with a very bad visibility in comparison with that of last year but enough to try.
The following day we still reenter in four and we bring the propeller to the second syphon. I enter the water and I go down to a depth of 55 meters, I continue repairing the line broken in various points because of the spring floods and reach the depth of 25 meters, the point where I had observed a gallery on the ceiling; I place the propeller, tie the line and the magic moment, the conquest of the unknown, begins.
I go up first vertically, then bent, then horizontally; I have arrived at a crossroads, I enter a wide hole 1 meter by 2 meters I find myself in an aerial room with stalactites and pisolites but without evident prosecutions. I return downwards and at a depth of 7 meters there is another very muddy gallery that I cross for 25 meters. Again I’m in the air, but walking with the boots in the mud is not very healthy, therefore I take notice for the next time. Back again, down with visibility zero at the base of the well then, following an umpteenth route up and down, I’m in the air again. It’s easy to get out of the water but to continue, the speleological equipment is needed: I am at the base of a well and it is necessary to climb.
On the way back, an elastic fouled up the screw of the propeller; apart from this drawback that makes me lose ten minutes, I resurface without any other obstacles after 100.' After that all out with 150 meters. of new additional exploration.
For this year the explorations in Croatia are concluded but, in our list, we have added another source whose name is Krnjeza and to reach it is a true adventure: 5 Kms in a canoe on calm waters, at least in this period, and after that half a kilometer on foot, to reach the source crossing the bottom of a wild canyon with steep walls more than 400 meters high and heaps of stones more suitable for snakes than for humans.
The period devoted to Croatia is ended. We rearrange the clothing, the equipments, the tent, while we are getting ready to say good-bye. The uncontaminated nature of these places gives a last extraordinary vision: an eagle flies down planing at about thirty meters above the camp, it circles and then suddenly with a pair of strokes of its wings, it flies away continuing its regal flight as far as our eyes can see.
Participants: Alan Kovacevic, Alen Milosevic, Alberto Marconi, Davide Corengia, Jean Jacques Bolanz, Lorenzo Del Veneziano, Luigi Casati, Tihi Kovacevic, Valeria Nava
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