Cave Diving, Cave Exploration and Cave Mapping in Yucatan, Mexico

File Fish in Bonaire

Ek Be: Cave Exploration with No End in Sight

Last week we returned to Ek Be for more cave exploration in Mexico. We decided to leave the west end for some time and focus more and more on the east end, trying to push it north and south.
At this point it was clear we needed one scooter per diver as the distance to the end of the line got bigger and bigger. The main issue though using a dpv is the restrictions and tight places that force us to stop and swim the dpv over and over again. Especially right after passing Cenote Ek Be, there is a restriction where the shroud of the scooter literally scrapes the ceiling and the bottom if you find the right place to pass.

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But so far we continue to be lucky laying in average 2000ft+ per day. It is really an amazing place to dive as I hardly know any cave that is so intensely decorated. We need to move super slow and carefully to avoid damaging the cave. We cruise around at an average depth of 3ft and often end up in a dry cave and have to search for ways around it in very smallish cave. But its full of leads everywhere and often I feel like swimming through a sub level park garage in a huge supermarket. Using a compass while laying line is crucial in order not to swim in circles. The X1 dive computer is an incredible asset for this application.

Every once in a while we stumble upon massive flow riffles that are timeless indicators of the amount of water that used to run through these passages. It is a surreal and amazing trip though time.

Two days ago we did a double stage scooter dive with a two hour time laps between divers. The only way to pass the restrictions is to clip one stage between the legs while super-manning both the other stage as well as the scooter. Its a slow and painful process but beats the heck out of swimming for hours =)

The end of the line used to be 7000ft in, which took a bit more then an hour to travel. Once there two team members managed to lay together 2800ft of new line, not only adding this amount to the system but making important steps towards a connection with another system further north. The dives took a bit more then 4hours to complete but both explorers came to the surface with huge smiles, which were only slightly diminished by the thought of carrying 8 tanks and 2 scooter back out of the jungle.

Lastly yesterday an important discovery was made, a Cenote close to the end of line, a new starting point that would, at least for some time, save us the stages and dpvs and brought us to an arms reach close to a possible connection. Of course there is a little draw back, the Cenote is about 500mtrs away of anything that remotely resembles a road. So now we have to find it on land using our survey data and a GPS, then cutting a new 500mtr trail and start hauling our gear there for the first dives…We just can’t wait!!!

We will keep you posted!

May 3, 2011   4 Comments

Ek Be Rediscovered and Growing

We promised to keep you posted on the Ek Be exploration. Here comes the good news! We were finally able to dive Ek Be on April 8th and it was a very productive day with 3697 feet of the original lines resurveyed. We also added 244 feet of new exploration in just two dives!

The cenote we found and cut a trail to was named Cot Tunich. It is situated at the center of the cave system. It is a perfect starting point for our explorations. It has a wide cavern area that connects to cenote Ch’ul Nay. The distance between the two is around 200 feet. The cavern is a bit dark and has a ghostly hydrogen sulfide layer. Sunlight entering from a small window on the ceiling brightens the whole thing up and makes it really cool.

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The cave runs mainly west to east and we can say that it looks like a branch of Dos Ojos running parallel to its downstream. We decided to resurvey the whole cave to have a uniform database to work with. While resurveying Ek Be, we would mark possible leads and push the end of lines when possible. The historical survey from QRSS showed 7189 feet of existing lines. It took us a few more dives to finish it all and then we really started to have fun, trying to go west towards Dos Ojos and east towards X’cacelito and Xel-Ha.

Westbound upstream explorations resulted in a connection with another small cenote. This is probably the cave reported as Scorpion Cave by Simon and Donna Richards in 2004, We also discovered a deeper cave level (50 feet) made of white flaky limestone, completely different from the upper level with wide bedding plains filled with cream color formations.

Over 3500 feet of new cave passage was added to the upstream alone, bringing it very close to Dos Ojos. The negative aspect is that it is becoming difficult to explore in this section of cave. We are finding a maze of narrow and unstable passages that connect a series of large collapse chambers. It won’t be easy exploration, but we will keep trying.

Going east beyond cenote Cot Tunich (Ek Be), we found a lead at the end of the original line that opened into an incredibly wide bedding plain. Much of the passage is very low, even for side mount configuration. Thousands of tiny stalactites cover the ceiling giving you the feeling of moving through a glass shop!

In a few days we extended the cave 350 meters eastbound towards the ocean, exploring almost 4000 feet of new cave. During the last dives we arrived at the pre-historic Plasticine Ridge where the old coast line used to be. As expected, the cave divides and turns north and south. The possibility of going through the ridge at this point is not known. There are a few cave systems where the tunnel is big enough to swim beneath the ridge. We will soon find out if this is the case at Ek Be.

Thanks for reading, more news will follow! Quiet Diver Team.

April 24, 2011   Comments Off

Rediscovering Sistema Ek Be

Ek Be (Star Road in Maya) is a name that we heard many times. In a mail we exchanged, Jim Coke called it a “Lost Cave” and explained to us that it had been explored in the early nineties but that the data in his possession was not complete and he was unaware of the cave exact location.

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The idea of finding it and bringing it back to light was obviously fascinating.  We knew that Ek Be was in the area between Dos Ojos and Xunaan Ha, between these huge systems there is a vast unknown area that calls for exploration. We could not resist and a couple of weeks ago we decided to go scouting in the jungle looking for it.

Our only reference was a GPS way point Jim had passed us, it was the location of Cenote Zotz, and not far from it we should find our cave. After a three hour long jungle walk we found ourselves at the edge of a big collapse filled with vegetation, we descended into it and promptly found what we were looking for: cavern and water!
Unfortunately it was already dusk and we had to head back without checking for cave. A few days ago, April 1st, we went back to the spot to open up a small path and search for existing line or virgin cave.

Jumping in the water after fighting the jungle was already a pleasure but it was nothing compared to what the cave offered us: free diving from our entrance it was just a short swim before we could see light coming from the other side, a small dive and we reemerged into another and equally beautiful cenote! We were so fascinated and excited that at first we did not notice the blackened old line running a few feet deeper: that was it! We were definitely swimming in the cavern of Ek Be.

In the next days we intend to go back to the cave and start a resurvey of the existing lines and possibly to do new cave exploration.

We will keep you posted!! Quiet Diver Exploration Team.

P.s.: Jim Coke from QRSS collected the survey he received from the explorers of the Ek Be system. They were taken in 1993 and 1994  by Buddy Quattlebaum, Gary Walten, Kay Walten, Steve Gerrard, Tom Flynn, Hilaire Hiler, Frans Vandermolen.

Thanks to Jim and the first explorers, we hope we can keep up with your efforts back in that great era of Cave Exploration.

April 18, 2011   Comments Off

Sidemout Diving at Cenote Regina – Tulum, Mexico

I am back in Mexico for a short trip and I gotta tell you I miss living here.  Living in New Jersey and raising a family is pretty damn fulfilling, especially when you have the coolest wife, son, family and business in the world.  But I still miss it.  It is easy to fanaticize about how much easier life was when we were living here with very little responsibility beyond getting coffee, diving and working enough to get by.  I know the reality is that it would be radically different with family in tow and the long term commitments and responsibilities that come with them.  But I know that you are not reading to get insight into the life of a repatriated cave diver.  You want to know where I have been diving, how cool it was and if, by any chance, I learned anything at all?

Well, today I woke up on Patrick Widmann’s floor (I got to travel cheap with a growing family), tossed all my stuff in his truck and we made our best time for Akumal, where I was to meet with Mauro Bordignon so we could do some sidemount diving.  Unfortunately, Patrick had a Stage Multi-stage course to complete today for two fine Swedish students, so he couldn’t manage my checkout dive.  Luckily, Mauro, one of our cave exploration partners and an instructor himself, was free to dive.

Mauro and I elected to try out a new cave for my checkout dive.  After debating Mayan Blue and Naharon, we settled on Cenote Regina.  Cenote Regina is just past Naharon south of Tulum.  It is a pretty cenote with a resident duck.  Access to the water is very convenient; however the water was a nasty green color, which I suspect the duck contributed too.

I broke out my gear which had been in storage and discovered that I didn’t have my booties with me.  I guess this is why we inspect our gear and do checkout dives.  We did some critical thinking and problem solving; arriving at the idea of wearing socks and flip flops in my ‘flippers’.   Truth be told, I had done this once before on a recreational boat.  Well, it worked out.  As long as I didn’t drag my heals on the cave, the fin straps stayed on.  I did get a little blister on the end of my right big toe, but it was well worth it.

Regina is a relatively deep cave.  Our dive averaged 49ft and maxed out at 79ft.  We dove for about 85 minutes on a set of side mount 80cuft tanks.  It is very nicely decorated and provides plenty of entertainment because it undulates and changes direction often.  The section of cave we dove is backmount sized passage.   There are many marked jumps.  However, on the way in we elected to stay on the main line.  When we returned to the entrance we decided to re-entered the cave becuase  we had sufficient gas reserves.  Mauro and I checked the second jump and found a very beautiful passage, cause both of us to ‘give the horns’ in celebration when we saw the passage.  The cave dropped down and turned into what looked like a perfectly half round passage with a brown clay floor at about 60ft.  When we exhausted out gas reserves we turned the dive and exited.

Overall it was an excellent checkout dive.  We had about 4 minutes of decompression on my LiquiVision  X1, which was no problem and gave me some time to chill out and enjoy the serenity that diving provides.

Tomorrow, Patrick, Mauro and I are supposed to check some ‘new’ in the Tulum area.  I will be sure to check in and update you.

April 8, 2011   Comments Off

Base Jumping in a Blue Hole: Uber Cool

Sometimes I see something so cool, that I have to share it with everyone! This is one of those things.

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I want to be like this guy! This is awesome.

Since we are on Freediving, this is pretty cool as well. Though it just doesn’t have the same feel as the Blue Hole.

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August 10, 2010   1 Comment

1000 Islands Water Temperatures

As many of you know the NOAA buoys have be been removed from the Saint Lawrence Sea Way.  This decision by the government to save money has left an information vacuum around the river’s status.  Well, a friend of the river and the technical diving community, Andrew Driver, has stepped in to record and publish the water temperature along with river conditions.  He is making Saint Lawrence River water temperature data available through his web site http://www.bluefootdiving.com.

Blue Foot Diving offers technical dive training and guided diving through the summer and into the fall from Alexandria Bay.  Andrew Driver is one of the most experienced instructors in the area and has the resources to manage the logistics for almost any group.  Blue Foot Diving offers shore diving, wreck diving, trimix diving and instruction from Alexandria Bay.

I did my training with Andrew and dive with him at least once a month in the spring, summer and fall.   One of my favorite aspects of diving with him is the speed of the dive boat.  We are able to get on station quickly and back for lunch quickly.  The groups are always very small and the diving is customized for the group.  He is committed to having fun while maintaining the safety of the group.

Hopefully, I will see you up there and we can do some diving together.

June 24, 2010   Comments Off

Cenote Chemuyil Sur

I am back in Mexico again!  Allie, Griffin and I came down for a wedding and some much needed relaxation.  Luckily, I have the best wife in the world and I am going to get to do some diving as well!

For the first dive of the trip, Mauro Bordignon and I decided to check out Cenote Chemuyil Sur.  This is a beautiful cenote to the south east of Xunaan Ha.  It is also the cenote that spurred Alessandro Reato and Mauro to join me in surveying the exploring the 5th longest cave system in the world (more on this later).  I was resurveying the downstream section of Xunaan Ha to join up with some dry cave survey Jim Coke was doing.  When I reached the end of my lines, we determined that Chemuyil Sur was only 1000ft away and after discussing it with Alessandro, he decided to start trying to connect the two.  After a couple of months of work, Mauro and Alessandro connected the two systems!  This connection ended up being fairly significant because it is one of the few known connections that traverse the Plasticine Ridge.  Mauro and I wanted to visit the connection.

Mauro and I met at his place, got our kit together and headed to the cenote.  The dive started out uneventful.  The cave is manageable in side-mount.  However, as we progressed I started to get an uneasy feeling.  I was anticipating a restriction that we would soon reach and was feeling fearful.  Well, by the time we reached the restriction I wasn’t feeling super comfortable.  I wiggled into the chimney and determined I could most likely pass it.  However, I just didn’t want to do it today.  I stayed in the restriction for 3-5 minutes just meditating and trying to get to a “mind like water” place.  I was unable to get there, so I backed out.  I let Mauro pass the restriction and then he returned.

Mauro and I used the remaining gas to check a bunch of jumps and just have some fun.  The return trip for this dive was in reduced visibility or no visibility because of percolation and halocline mixing.

I am glad to be back in Mexico doing some cave diving.  A couple of things have changed since I left.

  1. I have decided to add a z-knife on my right shoulder where both hands can reach it.  Previously, I wore one just on my wrist and in my pocket.  I am now carrying three.  This change was the result of watching Patrick and Mauro dive and setup their kit.
  2. My level of confidence is way down from when I left.  And my skills/reflexes are off as well.  I am definitely a tourist again.  I am kind of bummed about this change, but to recognize it and obey it is satisfying.  Mauro, Alessandro and Patrick are all one percent-ers and I am glad they take the time to dive with me.  The work they are doing here is amazing and I am glad to call them my friends.

Beyond that, I am having fun diving again.  When I left Mexico, diving had lost some of the ‘fun’ factor for me.  Diving in NJ was a lot more work and I was overwhelmed by the rest of my life.  Now that Griffin is 6 months old and we seem to have things under control a little, diving has returned to being fun.  I am looking forward to a summer of diving in NJ!

May 3, 2010   4 Comments

Beneath the Sea!

Good day trusty readers, I will be helping Matt from Protec at the Beneath the Sea show.  You can find us in booth 612!

About Protec

Protec is a technical training facility and dive shop in Playa del Carmen.  It was also my hang out when I lived in Playa.  The Protec crew was instrumental in my growth a diver and became really close friends.   Protec sponsored our dive expiditions at The Pit and elsewhere.  I will be working the booth with Matt, so stop by and say, ‘Hi!’.

Protec will be giving away a Cavern Training course on Sunday at 3PM.  So visit the booth and pickup your raffle ticket!  Protec also holds an annual photo contest in December, visit the booth to learn more.

About Beneath the Sea

Beneath the Sea is the Largest Consumer Scuba & Dive Travel Show in America and is held at the  Meadowlands Exposition Center,   Secaucus, NJ

BTS is an award-winning organization not-for-profit corporation dedicated to increasing awareness of the earth’s oceans and the sport of scuba diving.

Beneath The Sea’s annual exposition will be held this weekend and will feature seminars and workshops, lots of great door prizes, a film festival showcasing the work of world-renowned underwater videographers, great parties, and exhibits and demonstrations by hundreds of manufacturers, dive clubs, dive shops, resorts, and much more!

March 26, 2010   Comments Off

Checking Unchecked Leads. Cenote Azul.

Well… the last nine months have been pretty exciting!  My wife and I moved back to the US from Mexico during the height of Swine Flu scare.  We jump started our web design business, and had our son Hans Griffin.  As one might imagine all of the associated chaos put a pretty big crimp on my diving, however I was still able to get a bit of diving done. I made a couple of trips up to Thousand Islands and I did my first deep dive in the Mud Hole off of New Jersey.  But that is not why I am writing, I am writing because I am back in Mexico for a short trip to do some cave diving.

On Thursday I arrived full of anticipation and some anxiety.  Sol picked me up from the airport.  I had in tow a Silent Submersion DPV conversion kit, my side-mount gear and some other assorted dive goodies.  I was very glad to not have to ride the bus.   Sol dropped me off at Patrick´s apartment and I kicked back and started my wait.    As luck would have it, I came down with a cold two days before my flight.  The first two days here were spent waiting for my cold to pass and my sinuses to clear.  On Saturday, it finally cleared enough for me to dive.  I prepped my gear for a check out dive. 

Sunday dawned and Patrick of Protec blog fame and I decided to go diving.  We debated where to go for a while and decided to head to Cenote Azul.  I was told when I moved here that divers were not allowed to enter at Cenote Azul, so I never tried to get in there.  I said that to Patrick and he challenged me.  We decided to check it out and see if that was true. 

We pulled into the parking lot and spoke to the manager.  She was apprehensive but decided to allow us in, to my surprise.  She charged us each 100 Pesos.  She explained we could drive to the water, which was behind the shack.  Cenote Azul´s grounds are very nice and well maintained.  The walkways are manageable and the Cenote is gorgeous.  The water is about a 3 minute walk from the car.  The water is about 10-15 feet below the parking lot. 

You want to enter the water in the main cenote which is right in front of the wooden deck.  There are two lines at Cenote Azul.  One line runs to Kantun Ki and the other runs over to Cristolino.  You can swim to Ponderosa (Garden of Eden) by swimming towards Kantun Ki and taking a left. 

The main line to Kantun Chi is about 150ft from open water.  There are at least three viable options once you are in the cavern zone, however only the left one will lead you to the main line.  If you are looking for the line to Cristolino, you have to continue past the line to Kantun Chi.   The end of both lines are in the same general vicinity.

It took us about 4 minutes to get tied in.  We started up the line and stopped a number of times to make repairs.  One repair took the two of us to lift a 4 foot slab of collapsed lime stone  off the line to free it.  Another repair required us to cut a ball of line off the main line.  Lastly, we re-secured the line a number of times.  Every time I dive this area of the system I find numerous problems with the line.  In the past I have found the line slack numerous times and I find small collapses regularly here.   If you decide to dive here, make sure you pay attention to the line.  It is in the halocline and it isn´t in great condition, this is a relatively out of the way part of the system and the lack of traffic shows.

After about 45 minutes we reached Kantun Chi.   We turned the dive and headed back.  The swim home was uneventful and relaxing.  We surfaced at 100 minutes.  Overall it was an awesome dive.  I am really glad to be back here.   Diving in Mexico is much more relaxing then diving in New Jersey, there is no drive to the boat, no boat, and warm water.

The lesson this trip is to check out those old possibilities.  There are management changes, line changes and changes in perspective.

January 31, 2010   8 Comments

Dive Report: Wreck of the Carolina

On Tuesday morning, 3:00 AM, August 11, 2009 the dive boat Gypsy Blood , skippered by Capt. Jim Wilson, left the Brielle Boat Basin in Brielle, NJ, for the 4 ½ hour run to the final resting place of the steamship S.S. Carolina. The S.S. Carolina was the last of 6 ships all sunk on Sunday, June 2, 1918, by the German U-boat U-151. The date has come to be known as “Black Sunday” and claimed the American ships:

  1. schooner Isabel B. Wiley, 776 tons – bombed, 7:50 AM
  2. freighter Winneconne, 1869 tons – bombed, 9:12 AM
  3. schooner Jacob M. Haskell, 1798 tons – bombed, 12:00 AM
  4. schooner Edward H. Cole, 1791 tons – bombed, 4:00 PM
  5. freighter Texel, 3220 tons – bombed, 5:20 PM
  6. passenger liner Carolina, 5017 tons – shelled, 7:20 PM

All 6 of these wrecks have been located over the years and they all lie within 6 to 10 miles of each other.

We left the dock on a sweltering evening following a very hot day that saw temperatures in the low 90’s with high humidity. As we left Manasquan Inlet we were greeted by a light south westerly breeze and 2 to 3 foot seas. The 6 divers aboard settled into their bunks to get some sleep. This would be the first dive on this particular wreck for all 6 of them. By 7:30 AM we were over the wreck site approximately 80 miles south east of the inlet and 65 miles off of Atlantic City, NJ, in 240 feet of water. The crew quickly located and tied into the wreck and we were ready to dive by 8:30 AM.

The first divers in the water were 3 men who made the trip from Mesa, Arizona for a week of diving “Wreck Valley”. Two were using Megalodon rebreathers and the 3rd was employing a Kiss. I was diving open circuit trimix. I had Tmx 17/45 as my bottom gas in a set of double steel 120 cu.ft tanks. I was using EAN 28 and 70 as my deco gases in steel 45 cu ft tanks slung from my chest. I splashed at 8:36 AM and began my decent down the anchor line. The visibility was excellent all the way down, being that we were in the deep blue waters of the open ocean. The temperature however began to decline from a pleasant 70 degrees at the surface to a chilly 46 degrees at the bottom 240 feet below. At about 200 feet the wreck started to come into view and I quickly realized that we were tied in right in the middle of the ship’s 4 massive boilers, which are the most prominent remains of the vessel. This was good news as it would make navigating the wreck that much easier. The rest of the wreck is a collapsed debris field, although the stern is still recognizable. I cruised in between the massive boilers at 230 feet and then moved toward the stern where I had been told there was still a good chance of finding recoverable artifacts. The vis was excellent at 35 to 40 feet. I could see the glow of the dive lights of the other divers all around me giving the scene a surreal quality. This was my first deep dive of the season and that, combined with the excitement of making my first dive on this wreck, was negatively affecting my gas consumption rate. I needed to relax. Also, there was a bit of a current if you allowed yourself to come up off the wreck. I saw several very large lobsters but I’ve never been much of a bug hunter so I passed them by. I found a spot towards the stern and began digging in the silt and sand. I quickly started to find pieces of brass piping and shards of broken pottery. I was hoping to find some intact pieces of china with the ship’s distinctive “New York to Porto Rico” logo on it. Unfortunately, this was not to be the case.

I made another pass through the 4 massive boilers and easily located the anchor line, right on schedule for my planned 20 minutes of bottom time. I began my ascent and upon reaching 150 feet I made the switch to my EAN 28 deco gas. I settled in to the task of completing the 47 minutes of decompression I had ahead of me. All went smoothly except for a bit of a bounce on the anchorline as the Gypsy Blood above us danced on the waves. I deployed my Jon-line to make my hang a bit more comfortable and efficient. I completed an uneventful deco and climbed back aboard perfectly on my 67th minute of runtime, as planned. Once all divers were back on board we saw that one of us had struck the mother lode and returned with a goodie bag full of china plates, saucers, and even a delicate tea cup, all intact. Ironically, it turned out that I had been searching only about 20 feet away from where these pieces were found. Oh well, better luck next time.

At this point Capt Jim fired up the barbecue and we chowed down on sausages and hamburgers as we watched a pod of Mahi-mahi swimming under the boat. I had only planned one dive for the day, so my diving was over. I spent the rest of the afternoon relaxing as the 3 divers from Mesa completed a 2nd dive. The day just got better as the wind calmed and the seas dropped to 1 foot or below. At 3:00 PM we cut loose from the wreck and began the 4 ½ hour run back home. We had a great smooth ride back and reflected on the satisfaction of making our first dives on this historic wreck, The Gypsy is planning another trip to this wreck in 1 month. I think I just might have to be on it.

August 13, 2009   4 Comments