Cave Diving, Cave Exploration and Cave Mapping in Yucatan, Mexico
Chico at Cian Ka'an Park Mexico

Category — Cave Survey

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 on Ek Be Rediscovered and Growing

Brain Kakuk is Making More Progress on Abaco Island.

Brian Kakuk has posted another entertaining entry in his exploration log.  The post details Brian’s progress as he approaches the 1 mile mark in Dan’s Cave.    The latest dive required 5 80 stages and two sidemount LP85s.  He is diving on Nitrox and reaching a depth in excess of 160ft.  I definitely enjoyed reading about it.   Make sure you scroll to the bottom of the page….

Right now I am in NJ paying my taxes and taking care of some other business.   I am really missing the caves and my friends in Playa!

On a seperate but related note, my web design company, Cyber X Designs, just launched Protec’s blog site at http://www.protecblog.com.   If you want to follow the characters over at Protec as they guide, instruct, explore and fun dive head over to thier blog and leave a comment!

April 11, 2009   2 Comments

Abaco Island Cave Exploration, Dreaming About Diving and Setting Depth Records

Every once in a while I read about some really cool diving that is going on that reminds me how basic the stuff I am doing is.  Brain Kakuk is continuing to make headway in the Bahamas and has blessed us with a write up about exploration at Dan’s Cave on Abaco Island.   Take five minutes are read about it, it got my juices flowing.

Cave Exploration in Dan’s Cave on Abaco Island, Bahamas.

When you are done reading about the diving, make sure to check out his photo gallery, the formations are stunning!

Now that we have that out of the way, do you ever dream about diving?  Well, I do!  And last night I had the craziest dream.  I thought you might enjoy a retelling, it is ridicules.  So, the dream started in the middle of a dive at The Pit.  Victor, Santiago and myself were working our way into the BMB passage.  (I haven’t been there yet, so I don’t know what it looks like.)  In my dream, the passage narrowed down the width of two people and angled down.  Then the passage continued through a hole in the floor.   The line was run was against the ceiling entering the passage, onto the floor and then against the ceiling through the hole and it was slack.  I was the third man.  When we got to the hole, Victor was looking in trying to figure out how to pass the restriction and kept moving the line back and forth forcing me to keep crossing under the line.  This was all taking place at like 330ft in my rebreather with bailout.  To say the least, it was a little stressful.  After sometime of watching them and getting very upset about having to repeatedly cross under the line and wasting my dive time, I hit my turn time and called my dive.

After calling the dive, the dream skipped right to the point I was out of the water and laying in bed continuing to decompress, at which time I noticed I had forgotten to wear my X1 and I never set my PO2 above .4.  Actually, I realized that I hadn’t ever looked at my PO2.  I decided that I must have followed Santiago’s open circuit schedule and I was freaking out.  (When I woke up my jaw was sore from being clenched.)  I wanted to get out of bed to check how much deco I had omitted, though I didn’t know what set points to use.  And I couldn’t figure out when laying in bed had become part of deco.  I knew I should be bent in the dream and I kept checking my right elbow.  The dream ended with me thinking to myself that it was awesome that I wasn’t bent and that I had gotten lucky.

What a wild dream!  Well, it was for me.  If you have ever had a really crazy diving dream, please post it as a comment.  If it is really long and interesting,  you can email it to me at hans@quietdiver.com and I will post it as an article.

And to tie things off, right before going to sleep last night I watched “Pod Cisnieniem” or “Under Pressure”.  It is a movie (DVD) about an open circuit depth record dive by a Polish team in the Red Sea.  I got the movie from Patrick who was teaching Jacek Szymczak this week.  Jacek is the deep diver in the movie.  Watching the movie really got me amped up and I think it inspired my dream about The Pit.  I love the idea of participating in a big project like that and supporting something extraordinary.  With any luck, I will have the opportunity one day.

Unfortunately, the trailer is in Polish.  However, the DVD is subtitled in English and well worth watching. Here is the trailer for the movie:

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In another coincidence, Leigh Cunningham, the deep support diver, was Patrick’s trimix instructor in Egypt.  It was really cool to see his instructor in action.  I hope you enjoy the movie as much as I did!

January 30, 2009   1 Comment

Smile! A Fabulous Dive at The Pit.

A solo trimix CCR cave dive to the back of the Wakulla Room.

After our dives at The Pit in October I was pretty rattled about deep diving and CCR diving.  During those three days at The Pit, I lowered my rebreather into the water with the BOV open, twice.  The first time I know I made a mistake and luckily only suffered a little water in the loop, not enough to cancel the dive.  The second time, I double checked the BOV was closed before I lowered it.  After twenty minutes, I noticed the Megalodon was floating kind of funny.  When I checked it, it was flooded bad.  The bottom of the can was full of water and the sorb was shot.  I called my dive that day due to “technical difficulties” and waited on the surface for Patrick.  When he returned in pain, I got rattled.  The combination of making a very pedestrian error, one which I was taught not to make in basic CCR, twice and then seeing Patrick injured me, just put me off CCR diving and deep diving all together.  I just wasn’t sure I was cut out to play at that level if I am going to make basic mistakes.  I spent some time considering selling the rebreather and just diving open circuit.

I didn’t dive the CCR for a couple of months and concentrated on sidemount/survey diving.  I gave myself some room to rebuild my confidence, see Patrick’s outcome and to get some distance.  Finally, with Patrick back in the water and the season for deep diving returning I thought it was time to get back in the saddle.  I had a choice, I could dive the rebreather or get rid of it.  No reason to have it sitting in the corner depreciating.  I decided to dive it with a renewed focus on checking everything twice.  I started with a couple of dives at Vaca Ha.  Both of those dives went very smoothly and I was really stoked to be back on the machine.

Then Victor & Santiago told me they would be doing a week of deep diving at The Pit and asked me if I wanted to join.  I thought, “This will be good.”  It will be a chance to get back to The Pit and concentrate on myself.  Victor & Santiago would dive as a team and I would dive solo.  Learning from our October experience, I hired a sherpa, Jorge, to do the heavy lifting.  He would be responsible for raising and lowering the tanks and moving them from the truck to the water and back, which was an excellent investment!  The three of us split the cost of the sherpa and it was the best 80 Pesos I have spent in a long time.

The two days before the dive were filled with the typical work: planning, blending, and double-checking gear.  The rebreather needed a new #3 cell so that went in and was calibrated.  The gases were mixed: 10/60 for bottom and 5 different blends for bailout.  Tuesday night was spent poolside doing bubble checks and assembling the gear.  The tanks were loaded into the 4Runner and the rebreather was assembled.   I cut my dive plans and hit the sack calm and ready for my dive.  I was in bed by 11:30.

Jorge arrived at 7AM on the dot and we loaded the remaining gear and Chico, my Black Lab.  We were on the road by 7:30AM.  It is really amazing how much smoother things go without 3 other divers involved.  Normally, it would take us and hour to get loaded and out of Playa.

We arrived at The Pit by about 8:45.  Jorge and I set to work.  In short order the tanks and rebreather were in the water.  As soon as the rebreather hit the water, I jumped in and checked it.  Everything seemed to be sealed up nice and tight.  About 9:30, I had my wetsuit on and I was in the water.  I kited up and pre-breathed the machine.  I played the dive over in my head a couple of times.  Everything was going so smoothly, I was very happy.  Once everything was on and I was comfortable, I lay back in the water and did my five minute meditation.  I cleared my mind and took nice long deep breathes and listened to my heartbeat.  I could hear it slowing to a nice rhythm.

When the five minutes were up, I waved to Jorge and calmly dropped down the deco line.  At 20ft I stopped and checked the O2 bottle, it had pressure and was off.  Then I dropped down to the 50% and checked it, though I checked it more thoroughly.  I noticed something strange, it only had 2500PSI.  The 50% should be full I thought to myself.  The 02 is the bottle that was short.  Then I looked at the MOD sticker and I realized that I was looking at the O2 bottle.  It was at the wrong depth!  I thought to myself, “Damn it!”  I unclipped the bottle and ascended to the 20ft station.  I swapped the bottles, reconfirming them and then dropped back down to deposit the 50% at the right depth.  All this was handled in the span of a couple of minutes; however the clock had started to run at that point.

I am very glad I checked the tanks before I left.  In the past, we lowered the tanks and assumed they were fine.  It would have been a nasty surprise to arrive at the “50%” and find that I was looking at a bottle of 100%.  Without in water support it would have been especially problematic, because it would have required that I break my ceiling by 50ft to retrieve the 100% while breathing the 30/30.  I know I should have enough gas to deal with the situation, but the fact is it was avoidable and in fact was avoided by double checking the gassed at the deco stations.  During stage class and deco class we are taught to check and recheck the gas we are breathing, the same lesson goes for staging gas on a deco line.  Another lesson learned.
With the gases at the correct depths, I left for my dive.  I started to make up for lost time, though I arrived at the 150ft stage depot a minute late.  By the time I got to the 220ft way point I had slowed my swimming to limit my exertion I let go of the fact that I was late.  I was still a half minute behind.  I arrived at the By-pass and felt great.  The cave is awe inspiring; the scale of it is really remarkable.  The Cardea Passage and Wakulla Room are huge, both wide and tall.

I swam through the By-pass and beyond my previous distance.  This trip I had some time to really enjoy the Wakulla room (Map of The Pit by Nick Toussaint).  I had scheduled 20 minutes for my deepest segment, so I just took my time.  At 15 minutes I arrived at the second T in Wakulla.  I thought for a second trying to remember the way to BMB, I took the left, a moment latter the line drops off towards the BMB.  I had reached my distance goal, but I still had time.  I decided to drop down and try and catch a glimpse of the BMB.  I got down to 317ft at minute 18, two minutes ahead of schedule.  I stopped and peacefully enjoyed the moment.  All of the anxious excitement of my first dive to Wakulla was absent.  By minute 19 I had turned and was heading out, by minute 24 I had exited the By-pass and started my ascent.

The ascent was super peaceful; I was really stoked about my progress and execution.  I had about 2 hours of deco ahead of me and I wasn’t dreading them.

I arrived at my 40ft stop around 11:30AM.  I could see Victor & Santiago getting into their gear.  I was really excited for them; I hoped they would have a great dive.  While I was on my 20ft stop, another team came up from the deep.  After some puzzling, I thought I recognized the diver in doubles, it was Dennis from Aquanauts.  It was nice to see him.  We exchanged glances and hand gestures to pass the time.  At minute 164 my dive was over, I was floating on the surface chatting with Dennis.  It was an awesome dive.

I floated around for 30 minutes just relaxing.  I pulled off my CCR and got it read to lift.  Jorge, with some assistance from Dennis, lifted the CCR and the tanks.  What a luxury to have help.  Jorge and I cleaned up our mess waiting for Victor’s team.  We got them out of the water and squared away.  Jorge, Chico and I headed for home around 3PM.  It was a fabulous day of deep diving.  Almost everything went right and I had a huge amount of fun.  The pay-off was huge for the effort.  With any luck, I will be back there in 4 days to give it another go.

Of course, no dive is executed by only one person.  I want to thank Jorge for his time, he was a life saver.  I want to thank Patrick Widmann from Protec for mixing up some excellent Trimix and loaning me his deep bailout.  I know I need to blend my own.  I want to thank Santiago and Victor for having me a long.  And I want to thank Chico for being the loving attentive friend that he is.

And as a closing treat, a friend forwarded me this video from YouTube.  I thought was great, though unrelated to diving.

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January 22, 2009   1 Comment

Exploration of Sweeden’s Longest Under Water Cave System

Happy Thanksgiving to all my U.S. readers.  I would like to give thanks for the 75’F weather, warm water and miles of beautiful cave we have here in Mexico.  And over course, all of the other wonderful blessings I have in my life, like my family, friends, dog and the good health of all.

This morning I was checking the relevant sources and I came upon a link to a video about the exploration of the longest under water cave system in Sweden.  That unto itself would not be that exciting, however, to execute the exploration they needed snow machines, augers and snow shovels.  Yes, that is right! They ran the expedition in the middle of the Swedish winter.

From their summary, they ran the expedition in the middle of winter because they were exploring a river that siphons under ground and springs a couple of miles later and the winter has the least flow. The cave actually traverses the border between Norway and Sweden.  Whatever their reason, they deserve a huge round of applause because being wet and being cold are very difficult to master, my hat is off to them. The diving looked challenging from the video. Tight sidemount through hard rock and under the ice.

The video is in Swedish but I think it is worth a watch.  So, I give thanks for the easy diving and warm water here on the Yucatan. I have made a couple of ice dives and though beautiful, I am not inclined to make it my primary mode of diving. Keep the videos coming Markus.

The original video can be found here: Expedition Bjurälven from Markus Nord.

November 27, 2008   3 Comments

Surveying While Cave Diving is Difficult

Alain and I spent the day developing a protocol for team tape survey.

On Friday, Alain and I spent the day working on protocols for team tape cave survey.  It was Alain’s first attempt at underwater cave survey and it was my first attempt as part of a team.  When I took my survey class, I learned solo knotted line survey (KLS).  A knotted line survey is the process of using a knotted guideline to measure the data needed for the survey.  For those of you who haven’t surveyed before, here is the simplified process:

  1. Talk to locals and dive a lot.  Eventually a good project will come to mind.  Do some test diving to make sure it is a meaningful project, get permission, and create a plan.  If you need a team to do the work, recruit them and train with them.  And before you start, check your motives.  (This one I got from Matt at Protec).  Ask yourself if the exploration is for your ego? Does it contribute to the cave community?  Are you going to follow through and give back to the community?  How much impact will it have on the cave?  Does the data exist and can I collaborate to minimize risk and impact?  Remember, exploration and survey is a high impact activity and conservation needs to be a close second only to safety.
  2. Sitting at home or in your refrigerator box, use a knotting machine to put knots ever 10ft in some guideline.  This is the really tedious part.  Spool the knotted line onto your reel.  My exploration reel holds about 600ft and my exploration spool holds about 250ft of 18guage twisted nylon line.
  3. Make some survey slates.  A survey slate has a compass and 4 columns for data:   depth, distance, azimuth and comments.  I attached my compass directly to the survey slate.  Trident makes these great slates that are 6in x 8in and have a nice slot for a pencil.  I choose to use a Suunto M3 compass  it has +-2 degrees of accuracy which is the minimum required for the grade survey I am interested in.
  4. Put all the stuff and your teammate in your vehicle and go diving.
  5. Once on site and to the area of cave you want to explore, install some guide line.  When you lay it, make sure you have nice straight level shots and the line isn’t kissing off anything.  Also make sure it isn’t a risk to other divers.  Installing the line is critical; if you do a lousy job here the rest of the job will be very difficult.  My advice is to spend a lot of time looking at existing lines and analyze their placement and their impact on the cave and the dive.  Do they look easy to swim?  Are they safe?  Can they be surveyed?  Then practice putting line into benign situations.  A tight or pristine spot isn’t the place to learn to lay line.  Be prepared!    I have heard some funny stories from Steve about him finding reels and lines that were obviously left by someone who had gotten in over their head.  And remember, take your time and enjoy yourself.  The joy is in the journey.
  6. This is where you have a choice, conditions permitting and gas permitting you can survey the line you just put in on the way out.  Or, if you don’t have the gas or conditions are too nasty, you can exit and survey the new line on another day.  Collecting the data and staying alive are critical to the success of your project.  Drowning with a slate full of survey data is stupid and will curtail any further exploration. We witnessed this recently in Ginnie Springs and it was really sad.  It impacted me and everyone else in the cave diving community, whether they realize it or not.To collect the data you need to record the depth, distance, azimuth and notes at each station.  There is a fine balance between precision and speed and as you practice you will get faster.  I am still pretty slow and I make minor mistakes pretty regularly.  Usually those mistakes are a couple of degrees one way or another, I forget to write a number down such as 16 instead of 163, or I loose count when counting the knots.  Minimize your mistakes by taking your time.  Resurveying kind of sucks and robs you of time to make real progress.And now we have come full circle, it is called a knotted line survey, because you are counting the knots between stations.  When you get to a line segment that doesn’t span two knots you use arm spanning to estimate the remaining lengths.  I know the length of my forearm, tip of finger to tip of finger and tip of finger to the middle of my chest.  Using this method I can get 95% of my data within 1ft of accuracy.
  7. At the end of the dive, immediately record the data from the slate to a notebook.  Slates have a way of loosing data by getting erased or rubbed off.  I have already lost data to this villain, you don’t need too.
  8. When diving is done for the day, I go home and enter the data into Compass.  Compass is a cave mapping program.  If I have GPS coordinates, I place the new survey into Google maps so I can see my relative progress.
  9. Rinse and repeat as necessary.

What I just described is greatly simplified and doesn’t really capture the difficulty or investment required to do a survey project.  Please do not use my instructions to go out and start a survey project.  I suggest that you seek training or mentoring from instructors who are experts in survey/mapping and actually do it themselves.  There are MANY tricks and ways to make it more efficient and I can’t really imagine learning to do it on my own.  Survey is the essence of tasking loading and perceptual narrowing.  I think it could be described as a right brain activity and it can blot out your sense of time and reprioritize things for you.

Moving right along, I learned to do KLS solo so I didn’t really have to deal with any of the complexities of communication or team logistics while surveying.  Recently, Alain and I decided to work on a project together.  The cave has existing line and the line needs to be resurveyed so we could continue our work.  The line is not knotted.  So he and I decided to do a tape measure survey and leave the existing line.  We decided to leave the line to save the impact and time of relining.  Additionally, leaving the line in maintains some of the history of the cave.  I would be sad to see my line taken out, someone placed that line with love and care and it should be respected.  I know I enjoy looking at the arrows and seeing the names and dates.  It gives me a real sense of who was there before me.

A tape survey is when you use a tape measure to measure the line segments instead of knots.  Almost everything else I described is the same.  A tape survey is much more accurate, however it is more difficult.  It requires two people or it requires one person to swim back and fourth repeatedly.  Alain and I selected a 100ft nylon tape measure.

To begin with, Alain and I practiced our survey on dry land.  I set up a circuit and we each set about surveying it solo using KLS.  I walked Alain through the process and we each took the data down.  Then we decided to attempt a tape survey with me as diver one (D1) and Alain as diver two (D2).  We decided that D1 would swim the end of the tape out and fix the guideline as he made progress.  When he reached the next survey station he would signal diver one with a BIG X.  While D1 swam away, D2 would take the depth.  Once D2 received the X, he would take the distance and the azimuth.  After completing the circuit, we switched position and tried it again.  We neglected to create any other signals.  I bet you can foresee what is going to happen. We were happy with our progress so we entered the water.

For Friday’s surveys, Alain was D1 and I was D2.  We planned to survey into the cave and we started at the beginning of the line.  The line at this location starts in 20ft of water and then drops down to 40ft and into halocline. It runs for about 300 feet at that depth and then rises out of the halocline.

Alain and I got the first 2 stations pretty easily.  Then we got into the halocline and I realized that light signals just were not going to work.  I couldn’t tell when he was giving me an X.  And I couldn’t signal to him that I needed to repeat the distance measurement.  Work really slowed down at this point, it was a real trial by fire.  Our communication protocol was short a couple of commands.

The first dive provided many excellent lessons.  I learned that we would need to develop a protocol for communicating through the tape.  I also learned that the process was going to be pretty slow and our SAC rates would be much higher as we settled into the new level of task loading.

On the first dive we collected about 500ft of survey.  It took us 54 minutes surveying and we only penetrated about 10 minutes into the cave.   At 54 minutes we both hit our thirds and had to call the dive.  Our gas consumption was through the roof while surveying.  I can tell you that I was stiff in the water and tense all over.  I could see how I was burning through the gas.  Plus, I was paying attention to surveying and not my breathing.  Luckily, surveying in adds conservatism to gas management.  I survey much slower then I swim, therefore if I use a third surveying in, I should use a 1/6 or less to swim out.

During our surface interval we worked on our protocols for communication.  We developed a system to communicate through the tape.  I also developed signals to ask him to repeat the tape measurement.

For the second dive we swam to the end of the first survey and started surveying.  At this point the cave got much smaller and the condition and placement of the line deteriorated.  The new signals worked out great.  We were a bit more efficient but covered less ground due to the conditions.  The second survey only netted about 300 feet of data.  I was still really stiff, but at least I was aware of it.

When I got home Friday night, I fired up Compass and put the data in.  The stick map started to come together.  I spent a couple of hours and learned how to put the stick map into Google Earth which was a real thrill.  The stick map super imposed on the satellite photos really pumped me up to go back and collect more data.  Overall it was an excellent day with a great dive buddy and friend.  We laughed a lot and got to improve our skills, you really can’t beat that for a Friday.

November 23, 2008   5 Comments

Looking for Remains at Cristolino and Finding 400ft of Cave

In the last two weeks I have dove at Cristalino twice; once with Etienne and once with Patrick. The dive with Etienne was a sublime traverse over to Cenote Azul. We didn’t surface there but we could see the light.  The cave from Cristolino to Azul is twisty and never tracks straight for a long distance.  You are always changing direction and orientation, plus it is pretty silty.   I know it was a challenge for Etienne and we both had fun.

Part of the dive plan was to go and check out one of the lines that is rumored to have human remains.  We found the line and started looking.  The line was in very bad shape; it was slack in the water and placed in some horrible places.  The cave is very tight for a backmounter and FULL of black soft silt.  We made it to the first T when I called the dive.  I didn’t really think it was the place for us.  However, it sowed a seed and I knew I had to return.

On Tuesday, Patrick and I wanted to do a relatively close dive and we both wanted to find the remains.  We headed to Cristalino.  The bad news is that we never found the remains.  However, we did find the end of the line on both branches of the T.  We also got out the exploration spool and reel and started to check leads.    Most of the leads were less then 200ft in length.   Patrick and I traded position as reel man, so we could both experience the join of being the first person in with clear visibility.

Finally, we found a good lead.  We ran off my whole exploration spool, about 250ft.  As luck would have it, the spool ran out in a Cenote.  Then I attached my medium exploration reel which has about 400ft of line on it and ran that down by 2/3rds.    The cave is small and full of black billowy silt.  When we got to the end of the run, I asked Patrick if I should tie it off and cut the line?  I didn’t get a reply, so I removed the line.   What a mistake!

You are now asking yourself, “Why did he remove the line?”  I will answer your query, “I am an idiot!”  That isn’t the only reason.  I knew that I had placed the line in a haphazard fashion and that it couldn’t be surveyed.  I had exploration fever.  I knew I would have to install the line again.  Patrick and I hadn’t planned on doing any exploration and didn’t agree on a protocol before the dive.

We discussed the our mistakes in the debrief and came to the following conclusions:

  • Removing the line in zero visibility was a violation of line protocol. (I didn’t know this.)  What if the lead guy came off the line? The reel man could pass him by and not know it.
  • Removing the line means we have to install it all over, creating more work and more risk.
  • Removing the line means we have to find all the leads again.
  • I suffered from perceptual narrowing as the reel man.  When we arrived at the end of my spool in the Cenote, I didn’t even realize I was in the day light zone.  I was so focused on finding a tie off that I never looked up.  Patrick pointed it out to me.  We agreed that knowing the Cenote was there could save my life one day.

Patrick and I agreed we would leave the line in place going forward, unless it is a very short lead.  If the line needs to be fixed we will do so during the survey phase.  It is safer in those conditions to cut the line off and exit.  I talked to Steve about the dive and he reminded me that when I get to a tie off or the end of a line I should stop, check my gauges, and look around.

It was a fabulous dive!  Patrick and I were super stoked to do some exploration and we plan to go back and finish that project, maybe sometime in November.

October 2, 2008   3 Comments

Angelita With Allie and Resurvey at The Pit

I am in the states for a wedding, house repairs, life maintenance and CCR Hypoxic Trimix with Andrew Driver.  Before I left I had a chance to make two more dives, one at Angelita and one at The Pit.


Angelita and Deploying Lift Bags
Allie hadn’t been to Angelita and we wanted to take some pictures.  Plus, I needed to practice some of my open water skills and try out my new Liquivision X1 dive computer in advance of Hypoxic Trimix.  So we packed up the 4Runner and headed south.  The drive from Playa Del Carmen to Angelita is about 40 miles.  As you are passing through Tulum you need to stop at Don Pablo’s shack, pay him and get the key.  This was the first time Allie had to go through this process.  I think she found it very entertaining.  She told me that Don Pablo was impossible to understand, and she is fluent in Spanish.  With my limited Spanish, I agreed that I didn’t understand anything he told us.

We arrived at Angelita and it was very hot.  We were roasting.  Note to self, go north for August and September.  We geared up and walked the gear down to the water.  Allie thanked me for recommending that she dive in a single 80.  There is really no need for more then that at Angelita.  The Cenote is about 200Ft (60M) deep, however, the water below the Hydrogen Sulfide layer is really dark and creepy.  And unless you are a depth junkie, there is no reason to go below about 105FT (32M).  Most of the beauty is between 90FT (27M) and 105FT.

I was using my rebreather.  I wanted to practice making stops in open water and shooting a couple of bags.  As you can imagine, I don’t get a lot of opportunities to deploy lift bags diving in the caves.  And I think there is definitely something more challenging about doing precise stops in open water, then in the cave.  Andrew sent an email out that instructed us to be practiced in all our emergency drills and deploying the lift bag prior to class.

We did a one hour dive, I accomplished my skills with little chaos.  The only chaos for the day was when I broke the zipper on my new wetsuit.  Putting it on, I ripped one of the teeth off the zipper.  It is was a bummer, however, we found a solution and the dive was excellent!  Allie deeply enjoyed Angelita, it really is stunning.

A Shallow Cave at The Pit Needs a Resurvey

During my survey class with Steve Bogaerts, the last day was spent resurveying a shallow sidemount cave at The Pit.  The first attempt at resurveying the cave netted about 709 uncorrected feet of knotted line.  That survey was done over the course of two dives.  The cave is relatively level.  It is tight and highly decorated in some areas.  I was unable to finish the mainline survey, because the cave became too difficult for me to collect accurate data.   Steve showed his chops as he surveyed by me with relative easy.  Fortunately, I was able to complete the survey of the two branch lines.

This left with an incomplete resurvey and it has been nagging at me.  Every opportunity to dive was plagued with indecision about whether I should go back to The Pit to complete the resurvey.  Adding to the uncertainty was the fact that I hadn’t driven the Toyota 4Runner to the water’s edge yet.  On Saturday, I finally gave in and decided to attempt to complete my mission.  I packed up the truck jumped in and headed out, it wasn’t going to be a very successful day.  The first warning was that I forgot a second depth gauge.  I realized it before I got on the federal highway.  So, I headed back to the house and got the Liquivision X1.  Problem solved.  I headed out again.  This time I got on the federal highway and got down near Puerto Aventaurus when I realized I had forgotten my wet suit.  That was the second warning!  I should have quit and gone to the beach.  Instead I drove back, got the wetsuit and decided to dive any way, though only one dive.  Problems solved.

I finally reached the road to the pit and I started the tortuous drive.  I only dragged the bottom of the truck once and the running boards twice.  When I get back to Mexico, I am removing the running boards.  I think I can solve the bottom dragging with better route selection and a sledge hammer.

I suited up and got in the water.  Everything was going great.  I started the dive and the first thing I was reminded was how small this cave is.  Since I had spent so much time on the CCR, I had forgotten about tiny spaces.  We dive pretty big cave in the rebreathers.  I was a little out of practice and my sense of scale was improperly calibrated.  I really took my time returning to my last survey station.  I was enjoying the cave and relearning it.  We had identified a lead in compass after the last survey dives, so I spent some time checking it out.  I came up empty and continued on to the last survey station.

Before reaching the last survey station, I needed to negotiate two restrictions that required me to remove a tank and superman it.  The first resurvey I was able to collect data through the first restriction.  I was unable to collect through the second.  When I reached them this time, I was reminded why I had trouble.  They are both really difficult to negotiate with a tank, slate and pencil in hand.

I passed the restrictions, unclipped my survey slate and realized I had lost the pencil.  So, I reached for my 2-Zip pouch that was supposed to be clipped to my butt ring.  It wasn’t there.  I was frustrated to say the least.  I needed to turn around a look for the pouch in a really tight passage.  I elected to continue down the line to bigger passage and then come back.  I found the pouch, got my extra pencil out and got resituated.

I was finally ready to pick up my survey work.  I took one station, which was really difficult.  I was still super manning the tank and trying to manage the slate and pencil.  My hand was getting tired and I was reaching my limit.  I was reminded why I had trouble in this segment previously.  It is really difficult for this newbie surveyor.

I started to take a second station and I lost the pencil again.  I was about to give up and go home.  It floated by my face as I grasp for it.  Of course the cave was bigger here and I needed to ascend 5-6 feet in a crack to get it.  I got the pencil and continued for another couple stations.  At that point, I looked ahead at a bedding plane depicted cave with a lot of silt on the floor.  I just couldn’t fathom surveying through there without creating a real shit storm.  I abandoned my effort.  I was defeated again.  I had collected about 40-50FT of data.  I decided to disregard the new data, I was too much of a mess for it to be useful.  So, the survey work remains incomplete!  I had forgotten how much more difficult surveying is then just diving.  I need a lot of practice, especially in challenging cave.

I exited slowly and enjoyed the cave.  I felt defeated and bummed.  I felt like my performance was crap.  And to be honest, it was labored at best.  I should have called the dive when I forgot the wet suit.  I just didn’t see it as a warning.  I saw it as being forgetful.  Later that day I was admonished by Patrick, I should have bagged it earlier in the day.  I guess exploration fever had me.  When I get back to Mexico in a couple of weeks, I look forward to giving it another shot, after I do a handful of tight sidemount dives.

On the bright side, I spent about 30 minutes swimming around the cavern zone of The Pit.  I was there all alone and I was overwhelmed with the beauty.  It is one of those places that make me feel really really small.  The space is so huge it is indescribable.  A real natural wonder and it draws me.  I think it is one of my favorite places on earth right now.  It is on par with Moab, UT or the Tetons in Wyoming.

I am going off line for a couple of days.  I have a wedding and a Hypoxic Trimix class to tend too.  Wish me luck!

September 5, 2008   4 Comments

Upstream and Downstream are So Nineties!

When we talk about cave diving, we usually refer to diving upstream or downstream. Upstream and downstream refer to the commonly accepted direction of the flow of the fresh water in the cave system. Here in Mexico, that direction is from inland to the sea traveling perpendicular to the coast. That knowledge is so ingrained locally that the government includesClick to view the slide in detail. it in its planning documentation. If you take a look at the image (Click it.) of the slide, you will notice red arrows pointing to the coast. The arrows represent the government’s official position on the flow of water around/under Tulum. It is also important to note that there are two versions of the urban planning documents issued by the local government. One issued in 2005 and one in 2007. If you look closely at the 2007 map you will notice the government has included stick maps of the local cave systems. This is a promising sign, the government is starting to incorporate cave survey data.

The problem is there is no empirical evidence to support the current common belief. There is anecdotal evidence that would support those hypothesizes, however it seems it may be incorrect.

Aaron Addison giving a talk about GIS at CEAOn Friday night, Allie and I had the opportunity to go to Akumal and watch a handful of presentations given at the Centro Ecologico Akumal. There were a number of very interesting presentations, including: one on the dry caves of the area, one on the benefits of GIS, the formation of the local caves and one on the movement of water at Car Wash.

The talk about Yucatan cave hydrology and geochemistry was given by Patricia Beddows, a Research Fellow at McMaster University in Hamilton, ON, Canada. Patricia has been traveling to Mexico to study the caves for at least 10 years. Last year she and a team of volunteers performed a dye tracing experiment at Car Wash to determine the flow of the fresh water there. I believe the results are remarkable.

Before I go any further, she has so far performed one dye trace at this particular site Car Wash. Therefore, the results she shared can only be representative of the water flow conditions in the cave at that time. She mentioned that repeat dye tracing may show somewhat different results.

The experiment consisted of deploying two markers. She deployed one dye in the Cell Block section and at Cenote Luke’s Hope (Cenote Zacil Ha). Both sections are upstream or inland. The expected result was that both dyes would be detected at Cenote Carwash. However, what actually happened was quite startling. The dye that was deployed in the Cell Block section, just stayed there. It never really passed the restriction heading downstream towards the coast. So it would seem that at the time of the experiment, the water was not flowing from upstream to downstream as we all believe it does.

The dye that was released at Luke’s Hope also did something remarkable. It moved relatively quickly down to Cenote Carwash, this was expected. It also moved into the Room of Tears section, this was not expected.

It seems that the fresh water is not moving from upstream to downstream at Carwash. The new hypothesis is the water is entering the system from a perpendicular path from the North and then moving down stream and out of the system south. It is also blowing water into the Room of Tears section.

Steve Bogaerts and Dennis Weeks enjoying the talk at CEAThis is import for a couple of reasons. The first is resource planning. If the government assumes the water is moving from inland to the sea in a straight line, they will plan things like dumps and well fields accordingly. However, if the reality is the water is moving unpredictably; then there is a chance those plans will create a public hazard, such as contaminated drinking water.

The second reason it is import is, it means you and I are using the wrong terminology. There was some discussion at dinner about changing from talking about upstream and downstream to inland and coastal sides of the system. We wouldn’t want to be inaccurate when briefing our dives, right! You know how important it is to be accurate in your briefings, don’t you? So get out of the nineties and your halogen lights and into modern times, it will be Costal and Inland from now on.

Lastly, the term upstream gives the impression that the flow will be working with you to assist you in exiting. When in reality, it may be working against you as the finding suggests. For example, when exiting Room of Tears. I bet you never considered that the Room of Tears might be a siphon. A very weak siphon, but a siphon. I can think of at least one place in Nohoch where there is a strong current against you when exiting, where common knowledge would indicate there shouldn’t be water moving against you.

Naturally, you should now ask, “Why isn’t the fresh water moving the direction of the cave?” The answer is equally interesting. In the last million and a half years or so, the sea level has dropped substantially from today’s levels at least 3 times. It was during one of these low periods that the cave system was formed. No one is really sure during which low period the caves formed. Therefore, the caves were formed during a period that had significantly different geomorphic forces at work then are at work today. When the cave was formed, the water did move in the direction of the cave. It was the eroding force that formed the cave.

Today, sea levels are much higher and the caves are full of water. The movement of water beneath the ground on the Yucatan is controlled by: the tides, the macro geologic formations and hydrostatic pressure from inland. (I consider the local caves micro when compared the to entire Yucatan.) The caves we dive are just happy accidents from the ancient past that provide us with hours of enjoyment. It is my unscientific opinion that Patricia’s findings suggest the following, “where the fresh water does flow in the direction of the cave, it is a coincidence”. It is my belief that the Yucatan is too porous and large for the relatively small cave passages to have meaningful effect on the macro movement of the water.

Patricia’s presentation was a call for further research. Every year, as more caves are mapped and more research is completed, we learn more about our favorite dive sites. Sometimes new information turns our commonly accepted knowledge on its ear and forces us to consider that our world is ever more complicated and beautiful then we expect.

May 25, 2008   2 Comments

Centro Ecologico Akumal Presents: An evening of discussion on karst and cave science and exploration in the Western Caribbean: Yucatan Peninsula, Puerto Rico & Cuba

I recieved the following invitation for a talk here in Akumal this Friday. I was instructed to pass it on. If you are in town, come and join us.

Friday May 23, 2008
Starting at 6:45 p.m. – ending by 8:45 p.m.
CEA CENTER

Recent expedition results from the Cayo Caguanes coastal area of Cuba

Pat Kambesis, Hoffman Institute, Western Kentucky University, Bowling Green, KY, USA;
Like Lace, Cave Research Foundation (both).

Recent expeditions to Cuba’s Cayo Caguanes area are contributing to the knowledge of the coastal karst system there. This is a particularly interesting area for exploration, as the processes that created the explored karst and caves have not yet been fully explained. The Cayo Caguanes karst is of great environmental interest for the extensive and sensitive coastal ecosystems with which it is associated, from reefs to mangrove swamps.

Coastal Cave Development in Puerto Rico

Mike Lace, Cave Research Foundation (CRF).
Pat Kambesis, Hoffman Institute, Western Kentucky University, Bowling Green, KY, USA, and CRF.

A detailed examination of cave resources on Puerto Rico, and nearby Isla de Mona, has revealed abundant and varied examples of coastal speleogenesis on these complex carbonate island platforms. Isla de Mona harbors some of the largest documented caves formed by saltwater/freshwater mixing zone dissolution in the world. On the Puerto Rican mainland, prominent sea cave (littoral) development was noted in all coastal areas but previously undocumented examples of flank margin speleogenesis were also identified. Using detailed cave cartography and a new image analysis method, we have been able to differentiate coastal caves by the mechanisms which formed them in this and other island settings.

What’s the Point? Why we map caves

Aaron Addison, University GIS Coordinator, Washington University in St. Louis, MO, USA, & CRF.

Why do we survey caves? It is a lot of time and work under less than ideal conditions to map a cave. In the end, there is a method to the madness and this talk will explore how all the cave mapping activity is working towards a common goal of resource protection.

Formation of Quintana Roo’s Beach Ridge Caves

Simon Richards, Cave-Exploration.com

Based on the results of several years of exploration by Jim Coke and others, clues are beginning to emerge about some aspects of how these caves formed. Simon Richards will be describing observations in the caves and how these are interpreted in terms of cave formation.

Recent discoveries about the Yucatan cave hydrology and geochemistry

Patricia Beddows, Research Fellow, McMaster University in Hamilton, ON, Canada

The regional development plans include building at least 5 medium-sized cities along the length of the Caribbean coast. The increasing urbanization requires detailed knowledge of the aquifer and underground river networks for more sustainable management of water resources, waste disposal, and general environmental issues from the jungle to the Mesoamerican Barrier Reef System. This presentation will describe some of the recent scientific findings and discoveries about the cave hydrology and chemistry in part support by the Quintana Roo Speleological Survey (QRSS) with implications to designing environmental monitoring and development.

May 23, 2008   1 Comment