When most people fly to the Dominican Republic on holiday, they relax next to swimming pools while drinking cocktails topped with tiny umbrellas.
Not so for Patrick Widmann. The Austrian cave diver and explorer prefers deep, dark underwater tunnels where anything can happen.
And on September 23, 2015, anything turned into setting the record for the country’s deepest cave.
Patrick Widmann dived in the Dominican Republic’s deepest cave
Is that how you learned of the cave Nascimento del Río Sonador?
Exactly. It was a tip from a local. The closest town is Puerto Plata. From there, you drive 30 minutes south, then hike 40 minutes into the jungle. When we dive, we hike and horses bring the gear.
What does the cave entry look like?
The cave has two sumps – a sump is a water-filled passage of a dry cave. You do a first dive and surface in a dry gas pocket. Then you take off your fins and walk through this waist-high river. It’s only 20m long, but it takes 15 minutes to push through with a 45kg rebreather on your back. It’s a full-fledged, heavy-current river.
He reached 100m before having to return
So what does this record-setting cave look like?
It’s like a canyon where you often can’t see the bottom. You’re sandwiched between two walls of rock. I’ve had moments in similar caves where I think about the fact that most people, if they dreamed they were in my situation, would wake up drenched in sweat. But I have the biggest smile on my face.
Talk us through what you saw toward the end of your cave dive.
At one point, the ceiling drops. I realise the only way to travel is straight down. I’m in a small tunnel, as wide as a car. Then I’m spat out into this big room. The floor again is gone. I’m swimming through what is essentially a giant crack. Beneath me, nothing but black. I could have pushed the cave horizontally – to see how far it stretched in that direction. Instead, I decided to descend, to find out how deep the crack went. When I finally reached the bottom, I realised it was only the top of a beautiful slope. The feeling at that moment is similar to the high that mountain climbers feel when they see panoramas of summits.
He will go back to dive further
At what point did you realise the cave set a record in the Dominican Republic?
When I reached 100m – that became the new record.
That’s a pretty even number.
The max operating depth for the bailout gas I was carrying was 100m, so I had to stop.
The location is secret, and so remote that horses brought equipment
So you’re saying whoever goes back will set a new record.
That’s where you’re wrong. It’s not whomever goes back. It’s when I go back.
And you’re slated to resume the expedition as early as March 2016. Why not sooner?
I could have kept going this past October, but I would have frozen my ass off.
It’s not whomever goes back. It’s when I go back.
– Patrick Widmann
Are you worried someone will beat you to it?
Nobody knows where it is. You’d have to know how to find the farmer whose land the cave is on. Plus, there aren’t a lot of people who do sub-100m cave exploration.
So what record do you think you might break next with this cave?
At this point, God knows. It could be 200m deep. It might be the deepest cave in the world. For a cave diver, the worst time is the in-between. You have no idea how much it hurts.