Cave Diving, Cave Exploration and Cave Mapping in Yucatan, Mexico
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Category — Dos Ojos

Last Dive at The Pit – Bailing Out at Depth

If you have been following Quiet Diver, you know that I left Mexico a couple of days ago.  And while I was in transit, I was torturing you with stories that were unrelated to diving.  Well, this story gets us back to writing about diving!

A month or so ago Santiago and I made a dive at The Pit down the Lins/Walten tunnel.  It was a nice dive to 238ft (73m).   Santiago was diving OC and I was on the Megalodon.   After the dive we had some helium left over and we enjoyed diving together so much we decided it would be cool to do a dive to the back of Wakulla Room as a team.  Additionally,  we needed to pick up some tanks that were staged from the last project and I still needed to do my at depth bailout.   So, we got another tank of helium and decided to do the dive in a couple of days.  Well, as the date approached I was too overwhelmed with work and had to call the dive.  These dives require a lot of preparation and mental focus and if my mind is on other issues, then I can’t do the dive.

Well, it took me more then a month to reschedule the dive between work and social engagements.  But once we got the dive scheduled everything fell into place.  All the gases were blended, regulators prepared and dive plans cut.

The plan was to stage gas at 20ft (6m) and 70ft (21m) on a down line.  Then set the primary reel and stage gas at 150ft.  For bottom gas Santiago took double 80’s and a deep stage.  I took two 80’s of deep bailout and the CCR.  Normally, I would carry one deep bailout for this dive, however since I was going to purposefully bail out, I thought it would be wise to carry extra gas.  As well, I was diving with an OC buddy and I wanted to be able to donate gas in the event of a lost gas situation.  After staging all the gas, we planned to swim to Paul’s Rock, which takes about 16 minutes.  Paul’s rock is about 800-900 (274 – 278) linear feet (meters) from the surface at a depth of 280ft (86m).  Upon reaching Paul’s Rock, I would signal Santiago that I was bailing out.  We would spend one minute sorting out the situation and then make for the exit with haste.  After exiting the Bypass, I planned to switch back onto the loop to conserve gas and do a normal CCR decompression schedule.

I had a several reasons for bailing out at depth:

  1. Switch from a rich HE mix to a lighter mix and experience a change in END and confirm our choice of deep bailout.
  2. Go through all the steps of bailing out under the effects of depth.
  3. Confirm my SAC rate in that configuration and under the environment stresses.
  4. Practice bailing out under the supervision of a trusted dive buddy at depth and get critical feedback.
  5. Complete the drill because I made Patrick complete the drill and he was riding me about it.
  6. Feel the tanks as they get really light with HE in them.
  7. Breath open circuit gas at depth while hustling.  (I never dove Trimix OC.)
  8. Practice, practice, practice!

The dive went nearly as planned.  We reached our way point at 150ft (46m) a little late, through a little effort we were able to make up the time and we reached Paul’s Rock on time.  I turned to Santiago and gave him an okay.  He replied.  I then gave him the bailout signal.  I reached up and turned the knob on my BOV.  I breathed out a little to clear the regulator of water and took a breath.  As I completed the breath I was immediately hit with a case of nerves.  I felt a shot of anxiety and adrenaline wash over me.  It was totally unexpected because I had mentally rehearsed the drill a pile of times and had executed it in shallower water many times.  My brain went a little mushy.  I reached around and opened the bailout tank valve.  For reference, I have my bailout tank and diluent tank plumbed into a manifold, so I now had access to both.  I had switched from an END of 67ft (20m) to an END of 92ft (29m).  Plus I went from an “unlimited” gas supply to a very limited gas supply.

After opening the bailout tank, I pulled my regulator out to replace my BOV.  As I pulled the regulator to my face, I reached up and pulled the BOV out of my mouth and thought to myself, “Don’t flood your unit – close the BOV.”  I reached around and switched the knob, opening the loop!  Dur! I heard the bubbles and quickly stuck the loop in my mouth.  I switched the loop closed and cleared the regulator.  I thought to myself, “You idiot!  That is exactly what you needed to not do.”  I took the BOV out of my mouth put the regulator in my mouth.  Confirmed I was breathing the right gas and looked at my set point controller.  I needed to set the set point down to manual.  It took my four tries to get it right.  I kept setting it to 1.4 instead of manual.   Finally, I got it set and then switched my X1 over to bailout, which I achieved on the first try.  I opened the OPV and started to swim.  The whole switch over took about 1 minute.  However, it really felt like a life time.  We swam for 5 minutes exiting the Bypass.  I switched back to CCR and made all the appropriate adjustments.

As we ascended, I picked up the staged tank at 220ft (68m).  The tank had been there for almost two months.  It was covered in billowing clouds of bacteria.  All the hoses were slimy and I was very glad I didn’t have to breathe from it.

The rest of deco went smoothly and was without incident.  Santiago and I had very similar schedules and exited the water pain-free.

As I hovered in deco, I had a lot of time to reflect about the dive.  The first thing that came to mind was how glad I was that I took the time to do the drill!  I wish I had done the drill last fall, when we first agreed that we would do it.  There is no harm in practicing this stuff, except to your wallet!  There is only benefit and experience.  Because my Meg is so reliable, I do not often get the opportunity to bail in a stressful situation.

Bailing out at depth in the back of a cave is different then bailing out in the first 1000ft (309m) of Ginnie, any shallow cave in Mexico or on the Jodrey.  I had bailed out repeatedly in those environments and never felt the anxiety or lack of coordination that doing it in The Pit caused.  I was definitely noticeably more impaired at that depth, even with a 96ft (29m) END.  I was glad to learn that my SAC rate held even at depth with a shot of adrenaline and a hasty exit.  I was also glad that I was able to get all the required tasks completed.  After the dive, I checked my loop for water and there was very little.  The towels in the bottom of the can were just a little wet.  So the open look fiasco wasn’t too detrimental.  I was glad that I identified that problem quickly and resolved it.

Santiago was concerned with how long it took me to bailout.  As he was on OC and run time tables the whole dive, he really needed to stay on schedule.  He suggested that I might have been better off starting to swim earlier.  I don’t know that I agree.  I think it is critical, even if I waste 1 minute, to get everything set and then start to swim.  I can only do one thing at a time in a situation like that, especially if my lizard brain starts to emerge.  In past situations, I really fumbled things by trying to do more then one thing at a time.  I have learned I need to complete one task then move on.

In response to his remarks and my performance, I would like to go through the drill again at depth a couple of times and maybe a couple more times in mid-range water.  I think when I get back to Q. Roo, I will schedule another bailout before I start deep diving activities at The Pit.  I may have the opportunity to give it a try this summer here in NJ.

Santiago said I looked somewhat impaired as I tried to set the handset.  I agree with his observation, I was.  Either it was anxiety or being narced.  I think it was an insidious mixture of both.  I know that when I get scared or nervous, even in shallow water, my cognitive abilities diminish.  Mix that with some depth and you have a nice cocktail.

Lastly, he was unhappy with how long it took me to get back on the loop and the distance I swam off the line when I switched back to the loop.  Both are valid concerns.  I swam off the line to avoid getting entangled.  As the line exits the By-pass it splits in two and ends up above you and below you in ugly spots.  So, I swam away from it.  As for taking too long, he was right.  I had a lot of trouble stuffing the hose back on the tank and as I was about to pick up another tank I needed to sort the bailout first. I think I need to get looser hose retainers and practice with them a bit.  I have a similar problem when I am dealing with my OC stages.

I am very happy with the dive.  It didn’t go perfectly, but I learned a lot and we had a ton of fun.  I am grateful to for my friend’s observations.  When you are in the moment, you miss things sometimes and a neutral observer can add a lot of depth to the discussion.  Santiago is an excellent diver and I look forward to my next opportunity to spend time with him.  I am sad because that was my last dive at The Pit for a while!  I really enjoyed diving at The Pit, especially the deep dives.  The Pit is a spiritual place for me.  I see it as a cathedral of diving.  The spaces are so big and beyond normal scale that it inspires me.  Until next time, I will dream of diving at The Pit.  To be honest, I am going to miss all my friends: Patrick, Solomon, Alain, Steve, Etienne, Ross, Katie and Santiago just to name a few.  The last year and a half of diving has been amazing and I have many fond memories.  Thanks to all of you, my life is forever enriched!

May 6, 2009   8 Comments

Wreck Diving and The Pit

Hello trusty readers!  This week I find myself in South Florida with Andrew Driver of Blue Foot Diving.  I am here for 5 days of wreck diving.   In about 20 minutes we will be leaving for the Lowarance.  It is in about 170ft of water.   The plan is to do a hot drop, swim around the wreck for 40 minutes and then deco out in the drift.  I think it is going to be a very cool dive.  I will write more about it later today.

In the mean time, while you are at work slaving away, enjoy this video by Pietro.  Pietro is a fabulous videographer and photographer in Playa del Carmen.  He is also a super nice guy!  The video is of a dive upstream from The Pit at Dos Ojos.  I think you might find the shots of the road and the gear setup interesting.  It think it provides a little perspective on the logistical challenges of diving at The Pit.  In any event, enjoy it is worth while!

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February 16, 2009   1 Comment

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 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

Sometimes You Get the Bull, Sometimes the Bull Gets You.

Last week I wrote about an awesome cave dive to The Wakulla Room at The Pit.  Well, three days later, Saturday, I returned to make another try.

Over the last two weeks, I also wrote about some oxygen sensor trouble, trouble might be overstating the issue.  My 02 sensors had come to the end of their lives and needed replacement.  Unfortunately, after many hours of preparation for my dive on Saturday including staging all my gear in the water and starting my dive, I experienced another sensor failure, or sensor abnormality.

To recount the chain of events, on Saturday, 1/17/09, I went to Vaca Ha to do some cave diving on the unit.  The night before as I prepared my Megalodon, I discovered the number 2 sensor was dead, no voltage.  I didn’t think anything of it, the sensor was old and I hadn’t fired up the unit in three months.  I replaced the sensor with a new one dated July 2008, calibrated the unit and dived it.  During the dive at Vaca Ha, the number three sensor became current limited.  It wasn’t a big problem; I took the appropriate steps and exited the cave.  In preparation for my Pit dive on Wednesday, 1/21/09, I replaced the number three sensor with a new one dated March 2007.  That sensor was pretty old, but I wanted to give it a go.  Maybe it only lasts 6 months, maybe it lasts a year.  It was vacuum packed from the factory.  I calibrated the unit and went for a dive at The Pit.

During my 2 plus hours of deco I noticed the number 2 cell started to read a little lower than the other two sensors.  I checked to see if was current limited and I flushed, both checked out.  I didn’t think much of it. I assumed that the cell had come out of calibration as it baked in during the dive.  I figured, I could recalibrate the unit and all would be well.  The number one and number three sensors agreed.  Since I calibrate before every dive, it would be taken care of in my next pre-dive.

And that brings us to Saturday, 1/24/09.  I had another dive scheduled at The Pit.  Again, the setup and gearing up process went very smoothly.  I was super relaxed and ready for an awesome dive.  I finished my in water meditation and dropped down the deco line to check my staged tanks.  At the surface I had a PO2 of .4.  At the 20ft station I stopped and gave my gear the “In Water Two’s Check.”  My PO2 looked fine.  But for some reason, I decided to watch my primary handset as I descended.  This is not something I normally do, usually I check the handset and my HUD periodically to confirm the PO2, but I don’t watch it.

As I approached the 70ft station to check on my 50%, my number two sensor spiked to 1.97.  The other two sensors were in range at 1.0.  I had been adding diluent (7/71) on the way down.  I stopped and hovered staring at the handset trying to figure out what I was looking at.  I watched the PO2 fall on the number two cell from 1.97 to .8, while the other two sensors held steady at 1.0.

At this point I made a mistake; I didn’t flush the unit and put a known gas in the loop.  I just stared at the numbers trying to figure out if I should go for a dive.  Luckily on at least two separate occasions in the past week, I flushed the loop instinctually.  This time due to some mental twist, it never even crossed my mind. I think because it was so near the beginning of the dive and I thought I knew what should be in the loop.  The truth is I had no idea what was in the loop!  I wrongly assumed that I started the dive at .4, maybe I started the dive closer to 1.0.  I really didn’t know at that point, and what is worse is I didn’t know that I didn’t know.  I thought I knew.

After less then 1 minute, I decided to call the dive.  I couldn’t see going for a 4 hour 350ft cave dive with a unit that may or may not be broken.  I decided that when I surfaced, I would replace the number two cell again and try and go for another dive.

When I surfaced four minutes later, I hoisted the unit out of the water and changed the number two sensor with a brand new one.  I fired the unit up to calibrate it and the brand new sensor read 9.4mv.  I stared at it for a minute and realized, I couldn’t remember the proper range for an oxygen sensor.  My sensors had always started above 10mv, and that was my mental low limit.  I asked another CCR diver, Victor an Evolution diver, and he told me 8-13mv was the acceptable range, though I wasn’t sure if that same range applied to the R-22D sensors.  Later, I found out that the sensor was in range.

I decided against diving that day.  It was unfortunate that I couldn’t remember the proper range because I would have been able to continue my diving.  It amazes me how the smallest issue can sometimes put a dead stop to something that took hours and hours to prepare for.  It was a case of not being sure of a fundamental piece of information and paying the price.  In any event, I had hit my limit for the day.  Jorge and I packed up the gear, waved to Santiago and Victor and headed back to Playa for an afternoon on the beach.

The next day I called Patrick Widmann and Andrew Driver to discuss the sensor issue.  The very first thing they both did was give me a good flubbing for not flushing the unit.  The lesson is, know what you are breathing and don’t assume.  It was a good reminder that at any point in the dive, I may need to flush the unit to determine what gas is in it.  It may save my life.  As a result of my discussions, the sensor that spiked has been pulled from service. I am going to take it with me to Florida and put it on a cell checker.   The 9.4mv sensor is going to stay for now; however, I am going to watch it closely.  The bull got me.

January 28, 2009   4 Comments

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

Getting Bent, How could this happen?

Mhhh…I wish I could entitle this one: “How Not to Get Bent” but unfortunately, that is not what this article is about. I did get bent and this article is just one way for me to analyze what happened and try to find some clues on what I can do different next time.

Most of my personal deep diving experience comes from mixed gas diving in the Egyptian Red Sea. The workload before the dive was minimal since we used a boat to reach the dive site. I usually sat down at the end of the platform with all my stage tanks at arms length. The dive itself was mostly cruising a long a reef wall or wreck at depth, sometimes for pleasure and sometimes for collecting data. Most of the dives were easy swimming since elevating your breathing at depth using Open Circuit Scuba is not really something you want to do. Occasionally, heavy currents made it difficult to hold precise deco stops or forced me to hang on a shot line like a flag in a heavy wind.  Profiles were square shaped sometimes with a single bottom depth and ascent, sometimes a multilevel dive going from deck to deck of a shipwreck for example. Bottom times where typically limited by gas volume and my RMV. Since my resources were very limited in Egypt (80cf tanks only) and I had decided to never make a dive with less then 10min bottom time my depth was automatically limited to about 120m (400ft).

At first I used GAP and later Z-Planner for my custom cut tables.  When I look back on those dives them seem somewhat aggressive, not by choice but by lack of experience and knowledge.  However, I can’t really recall a single time when I felt different after a dive then at the beginning of the dive. Usually, I felt even better because I had spent some time breathing O2.

Doing deep cave dives with extended bottom times requiring long horizontal distances turned out to be way different from doing them in the ocean. These circumstances often force us to do things which can have a very negative impact on our decompression, such as:

  1. Strenuous work before the dive, which includes getting to the site, setting up etc
  2. Strenuous work during the dive, meaning traveling with bigger amounts of equipment long horizontal distances as fast/efficient as possible.
  3. Possible ups and downs as our profile is dictated by the cave which can lead to bounce dives and therefore a higher risk of DCS.
  4. Extended bottom times leading to hours of in water decompression.
  5. Strenuous work post dive, which includes getting all your gear back together and leaving the dive site.

As I reported in the article Three More Trips to The Pit, I believe that our three days at The Pit and my inability to listen to myself, contributed to my accident. Our analysis of the execution of the dive didn’t reveal any of the standard causes, there was no: rapid ascent, dehydration, violation of decompression profile, or ceiling violations.   From an execution perspective, the dive went very smoothly and according plan until the first symptom manifested itself.

Therefore, I have to look for other possibilities to understand the possible cause (if there is such a thing) for my accident or at least identify the contributing factors. Looking at the three days, I believe that I have found a pattern that gradually resulted in me lying in a recompression chamber.  The pattern was driven by the 5 aforementioned points as well as by ego and commercial interests.

Our objectives for the first day were to install a system for evacuating an unconscious diver and execute a dive to Wakulla Room.  During the dive I would fine tune new equipment and bailout at depth to check RMV under realistic circumstances. It took us more time, effort, concentration, work, etc. to install the system then anticipated, therefore we called the dive. For some unexplainable reason, I felt that I lost an opportunity and was behind schedule.  I felt slightly defeated when I left The Pit.

Three days later, we returned with the goal of perfecting the system and executing the first dive of the project. AGAIN, it took way more time, effort, etc. then planned to rig the lift system, however this time I didn’t call the dive. Why? I even thought about it.

I usually tell my students during their training that if they think about calling a dive, the dive is already called and they simply have to inform their team. I didn’t call the dive because I wanted to dive, because of all the effort I had put in, because I had already “lost” one day there, because other people were there to support my dive, because I wanted to know if everything works so I could make further plans, because I have to get this done, because I need to know if my configuration is better, because, because, because a thousand different reasons of which not one has any value compared to the outcome.

Looking back it is all so obvious and clear.  However, it wasn’t back then, I thought I would be just fine. My Ego needed adjustment and it got it!

We entered the water super late; this threw my focus off target, instead of relaxing and visualizing the dive, I focused on the late start.  I did my bailout exercise and finished my dive running a VPM B algorithm which I padded by about 20 minutes divided on the last stops to account for the pre-dive work as well as the workload and higher breathing rate during my fast exit. When I surfaced felt a slight pain in my left shoulder and the right ankle which I explained by the pre-dive work (lowering the tanks with my left arm), heavy kicking on the way out swimming at 60ft a minute in full gear with bailout tanks and the probability of a very minor Type 1 DCS hit. The pain disappeared in less then 10 minutes and I had no other symptoms.

Usually at the end of the dive we rest and eat on the platform, close to the water, for at least 2 hours to give our bodies time to recover before climbing up and evacuating the gear.  However, this time we omitted the rest period because it was getting dark which would have made the drive out more difficult and increased the risk to the vehicles. So, I climbed up and helped the support diver hoist the equipment out as fast as possible.

On the way back to Playa del Carmen, I got a phone call from Alain who happily announced that he had taken the next day off to support us. “Great!” I thought.  Since we had agreed to only dive there with support, every member of our support team is a working dive instructor with very limited time, and with the high season coming in fast, I feared it would be impossible to get enough people together. Maybe that is the reason I felt so pressured to dive.

Back in Playa, we went to Protec to blend for the next day and after a lot of work I finally arrived home at 22:00h. When I cut tables for the following day, I decide to go with the more conservative VPM B/E algorithm.  I took this step to add conservatism in consideration of the pain, all the work and two days of back to back deep diving.  The change to VPM B/E gave me 40 minutes more decompression then the previous dive, Pit Revisited, which had the same profile and longer bottom time.  I considered this more then an ample amount of decompression time.

The next morning, we got out of Playa a little late.  And as Hans was setting up his gear he had an equipment failure and called his dive.  I started my dive alone and felt great.  I found the alternate line into Jills Chamber and was super excited.  The dive was going really smoothly until I experienced a strong pain in my left shoulder on the 12m (40ft) stop while moving my arms. (The hyperbaric physician stated later that excess motion could have triggered bubble formation). Within minutes, the pain pretty much disappeared and so I went through the rest of my decompression padding my stops further due to the unexplained pain.

As I ascended through the last 3m (9ft) the pain in my left shoulder returned and I got a new pain in my both my ankles, the pain was significant. As I contemplated what to do I stayed on O2 breathing from the loop.  After 10-15 minutes, I hauled myself up on the platform doffed my gear and started breathing Open Circuit O2.  I stayed on the O2 until I decided that it wasn’t changing any of my symptoms.  Once off the O2 I started to feel better and better and after 30minutes I was free of pain or any other sign or symptom of DCS.  At this point, I was a bit confused and I scanned my body rigorously for any remote signs. We left the jungle and I felt great! First, my dive was awesome.  Second, I thought I had very closely escaped a chamber ride…Boy was I wrong.

After dropping people and gear I came home and since it was late I ate something and went to bed, still without pain or any other symptom.   The next day I woke up with sore muscles in my left shoulder. Nothing unusual after challenging day in the jungle, however, given the episode I was worried and cautious. As the day passed the pain didn’t change but I had no other symptoms which drove me mad. Here is what I thought,

“If I go to the chamber and tell them the kind of diving I did, they will put me in no matter what and I will not be allowed to dive for at least 6 weeks. Given that diving is my only income and that in the past 6 years the longest brake I took was about 3 weeks that thought was unbearable. It did not help that my work calendar was filled with bookings.”

So, I decided to breathe oxygen to see if that would make any difference, which it didn’t.  Next, a friend came over, who is working a hyperbaric chamber operator, to give me a neurological exam, which came out totally ok. However, I was still very unsure what to do. After some talking, I decided to go to the chamber and see the physician. He gave me the same exam which came out clean, again.  However, as anticipated he sent me to the chamber for a table 6 treatment.

My shoulder pain didn’t change during the treatment, however my right ankle started to hurt on decent and then stopped. Five hours later I exited the chamber in the same condition I entered, except I was more tired and my lungs were burned. The next day I returned with the same issues and so I went back in for a table 5 treatment which I exited unchanged again.  After 5 treatments and no changes they switched the plan to table 9 and I did two more treatments to a total of 7. The last two days I had some relief in the shoulder in the evenings but the pain pretty much came and went and alternated between my ankle and the shoulder.

It was a very difficult time with a lot of emotional episodes. Blaming God and the world for what happened to me and questioning what went wrong over and over again with endless discussions and the opinions of every diver that crossed my path. (Some of which where helpful).

After that my treatment was suspended due to the fact that it seemed not to change anything. I was prescribed anti-inflammatory medication for two weeks and another doctor visit in two weeks. After 5 Days on medication the pain started to fade and now it is sometimes on, sometimes off, sometimes strong, sometimes week. But generally it seems to fade.

I asked the question, “When can I return to diving?” And no one knows. Five different doctors give me 6 different answers ranging from 5 days after pain dissolved up to 3 months. It continues to be a difficult time, I have many questions and there is nobody there to answers them.

Summing up, I think my accident (if you can call it that way) was an accumulation of many things. I believe that the mix of hard work, repetitive long deep dives,  pre-existing injuries caused by the dive the day before and all the other stuff contributed to situation I find myself right now.  Do I regret it? Yes, of course. Will I stop this kind of diving? Of course not! But I definitely learned a lesson or 7.

Safe Diving,

I want to thank DAN and the local chamber for doing an excellent job, Hans, Alain, Matt, Steve, Nando, Etienne, Alex, Santiago, Maura, Victor, Allie, and many more for their moral support. I also want to apologize to my family and my girlfriend for putting them through this.

December 30, 2008   9 Comments

A Tattoo, A DPV and Another Way to Waste Your Employeer’s Time.

It is good to be back in Mexico!  I went back to the states for a week and let me tell you, it was cold cold cold.  I was wearing a hat and a winter jacket; My friends thought I was crazy.  I have to admit, my blood has gotten very thin living in Paradise.  Unfortunately, I didn’t do any diving while I was in the states, however, I did bring back some gear which was sorely needed for us to continue our deep work.   The list of new gear includes new climbing pulleys from Petzl for the lift system, a bunch of caribeaners, tank bands, regulators, hose retainers, mouth pieces and some valves.  I am feeling well stocked now.  I also finished my back tattoo. hans-back-tattoo.jpg

On Friday, I visited my friend Jay at Electric Lotus Tattoo in Boonton, New Jersey and sat for two hours.  This was the easiest sitting yet.  The first two sittings were absolute torture.   Both sittings I was in a terrible spiritual place and exhausted when I arrived.  This time, I was spiritually centered, well feed and relaxed.  I was ready. I only got out of the chair once, about 20 minutes in to look at the first new color in more then a year. From that point on, I just sat there, ate Good & Plenty candy and drank a Coke.  I am super stoked about the art and I am glad I kept my head in the game and finished it.  There were times when I was sure I wasn’t ever going to go back and finish it.

Now on to the DPV portion of the story. After many discussions with Steve Bogaerts and Patrick, I elected to purchase a Silent Submersion N19 DPV. In the end I selected it because it was near my price range, though very expensive, and it was a known quantity. Plus, I hadn’t seen the Tahoe DPV (Scooter) Benchmarks which placed the Cuda as the pack leader for a small technical scooter.  I am still happy with my purchase, although it hasn’t been in the water.  I will have to wait a week for my back to heal before I can get wet.  The suspense is killing me. n19-closed.jpg

And now for a good way to waste some of your Employeer’s time, not that you aren’t right now.  David from Cancun turned me on to the Ejido Jacinto Pat Documentation web site this morning.  He wrote,

If want to see more photos and videos of Nicolai and Gang check this “old site”

There are some interesting dive reports about Nahoch Na Chich and Dos Ojos check it out and let me know what you think!

I hope to get back to diving the first part of next week.    In the mean time, we have an article coming from Patrick about his DCS and another article about me not passing my multi-stage course.

November 12, 2008   1 Comment

Three More Trips to The Pit

Learning to lift an unconscious diver, confirming an alternate route to Jill’s Chamber and a DCS incident.

After a long brake it was time to go back.  This time we started different; with the success of the previous dives in mind we decided to go full scale this time. The main idea was to make the whole project as safe as possible. We quickly understood that being just the two of us would not cut it anymore. Analyzing scenarios including an unconscious diver, a growing number of tanks, and increasingly complex logistics led us to the fact that we would need more support, at least two more divers.

The search was difficult because we were looking for people who like to spend their days off carrying numerous tanks, being eaten by mosquito’s, spending hours out of the water just waiting to later jump in and shuttle tanks around. They also need to understand their role in the team and why we can’t have them fun dive or risk anything even remotely dangerous.  Plus, the idea of trusting your life with somebody else is quiet disturbing. With Hans continually supporting deeper and deeper we needed somebody to fill his spot and somebody out of the water. After many discussions, Hans and I finally called Alain Pocobelli and Etienne Rousseau.  After we explained the criteria for participation they were super stoked and happy to join…awesome.

We all met at Pro Tec for our first meeting.  We discussed protocols, procedures, and set some goals. Specifically, we developed an idea to build a system to lift an unconscious diver from the water up to the trucks, an emergency and evacuation plan, and the parameters for 5 progressive dives the last of which would be a push dive to the end of the line in the Next Generation Tunnel.  We also agreed to document our experiences, procedures and protocols in a manual.  The manual would be used to educate new team members, in the event of an emergency as well as guide our decisions.

The plan for the first day was to setup the unconscious diver system and dive to the Wakulla Room supported by Alain and Etienne. For the support divers, it would be their first opportunity to learn the descent lines and the start of the main line.  For Hans, it would be his first deep mixed gas cave dive.  I would use the opportunity to execute a practice bailout at 300ft while swimming a horizontal distance through the bypass; the primary objective was to confirm my numbers.

As with all complex plans it was bound to change. Constructing a system for lifting a 235lbs (106kilo) diver with equipment 20ft (6m) from the surface of the water and then swinging him on to a platform was more difficult then anticipated. We wanted the system to be simple enough that a single person could operate it in high stress conditions. With limited climbing gear and other resources it seemed almost impossible. Through trial and error it took us some 5 hours to construct and test a nearly working system.  I write, “Nearly” because it still required two people to operate.

After the enormous effort, Hans and I called our dive.  We were exhausted, stressed and it was late in the afternoon.   With the roles reversed, Hans and I played support and cleaned up while Alain and Etienne made a reconnaissance dive.

That evening, I left with a slight feeling of defeat.   It was the first time I went through the effort of blending, putting everything together, waking up early, paying the entrance fee and then not diving.

Three days later I was back at The Pit with a similar plan, this time with Hans and Chris.  Chris is a professional Cave Rescue Expert from Poland. He and I had been diving the week before and when I heard of his profession, I knew I had to get him out there and learn from him.  He quickly came up with 3 different lift systems. Unbelievable!  To our relief, he thought our system wasn’t bad at all; we were just missing one critical improvement that would facilitate single person operation and swinging the body onto the platform.

Unfortunately, rigging and testing took a lot of time and required considerable heavy lifting.  Just like the day before, we finished setting up late.  As I prepared for our dive, I contemplated calling the dive; however I wasn’t able to leave The Pit again without trying my suit inflation system, my new helmet and the bailout plan. Mistake #1.

It is funny how we can feel pressure where there is none. As we prepared for the dive we were feeling time pressure; therefore we decided to shorten the bottom time. Without my normal pre-dive meditation we hurried into the dive. I laid line and Hans staged his intermediate mix.

Cruising through the bacteria cloud at 190ft (57m) I was super happy to finally be back. At the T before the Bypass Hans and I split, he swam through the Bypass at 281ft (85m) and I took the deeper “Main Tunnel” at 305ft (93m). Surprisingly, it is quiet narrow and more difficult to pass.  Two minutes later we met at the second T where the lines join again; it was time to turn the dive and start the bailout drill.

I signaled Hans and bailed out. I chose a bailout gas with a deeper END than I normally use to make it more difficult and more realistic.  To add to the realism, we planned to exit the cave with haste to simulate the highest possible gas consumption due to stress or CO2 poisoning.  For precaution, Hans closely monitored me ready to donate a shallower END bailout gas or I could go back on the loop in the event the Inert Gas Narcosis was too strong.

The first three breathes brought on the strong narcotic effect and it became difficult to focus on my objectives. Complicating the situation was the fact that my weighting in saltwater was neutral with my wing totally deflated. So being off the loop with gas remaining in the counter lungs made buoyancy management more challenging.

Imagine me swimming at full speed while squeezing through the Bypass, switching the set point down to avoid O2 injection, opening the OPV and rolling to get as much gas out of the loop as possible and I was becoming positive, all under the effect of Inert Gas Narcosis…what a blast. I am happy I couldn’t see myself.

By the time I arrived at the turn at 213ft (65m) I had regained composure and everything went “pretty” smoothly from there.

The main goal of simulating a realistic bailout scenario at depth was absolutely accomplished, I learned A LOT.  The old saying: “Slow is smooth and smooth is fast” confirmed itself once more, thanks Steve. I use this line like a thousand times per course, maybe I should listen to myself once in a while.

After the dive, we truncated our normal 2 hour break because it was getting dark. As I climbed out to hoist and load the tanks, I felt a slight pain in my left shoulder and right ankle; it subsided quickly.  However, it was definitely an indication we worked too hard before and during the dive and that we needed more conservatism.

As we loaded the truck, I got a phone call from Alain who had taken off the next day to join us at The Pit. Since support was available and we agreed to not do anymore push dives without support, we felt obliged to dive.  We agreed to dive the next day, mistake #2.

Again, it is funny how we feel pressure where there is none.
We didn’t anticipate that our desire to increase safety by having more support onsite would pressure us into something we knew from the beginning was a bad idea?!?

After blending and prepping the rebreathers, I arrived home at about 2200h. I ate, hydrated and went to bed. The next day we started even earlier to hedge against time pressure. However, we left Playa late because we had to reassemble the CCRs, analyze gases and leak check everything in the pool. Once on site we reinstalled the evacuation system and instructed Alain on the improved version.

For a second day in a row, I was late into the water due to Hans calling his dive because of technical difficulties with his Meg and Alain bruising his leg when he slipped and trapped it between the platform and the rock wall.  Calling the dive crossed my mind, however everything was in place and I felt confident it was safe.  Once the dive started, I was slower then normal as I had to swim all my tanks and stage them.  Mistake #3.

My goal was to explore the other passage into Jill’s Chamber and see if it would be easier to navigate with a scooter then the horrible chimney I passed last time. I hoped to find the origin of the line that was paralleling the main line through Jill’s Chamber into the Next Generation Tunnel. To add conservatism, I selected the VPM B/E algorithm.  I wanted to accommodate for the back-to-back days of deep diving, the strenuous pre-dive work and as a response to the way I felt the day before.

I arrived at the end of Wakulla Room only a minute slower then planned, even though I had to stage all my tanks.  As I swam through the BMB, I started to get a little nervous again, anxious to see the size of the restriction.  Before the T, I crossed sides to get a peak up the restriction. Fortunately, it was a little bigger and did not ascend vertically like the chimney.  It’s slope was more manageable as it ascended to 328ft (100m), instead of 314ft (96m).  There it led to a canyon depicted cave, which headed towards Jill’s Chamber.

After a short distance there is another T. Well actually it is a Jump that is “T”ed into the main line. The main line ends about two body lengths after. So I took the T to the left and further ascended into an even narrower canyon, which further ascends towards Jill’s Chamber.

I was stoked because I was nearly 100% sure that I had found the origin of the paralleling line and passed the chimney. About 1 minute later I was in Jill’s chamber and it was confirmed. It is pretty hard for me to explain my emotions; I felt unbelievably awesome! I think it took me like 30sec to gain control over my euphoria. I was 20min into the dive and I had fulfilled my objectives; it was time to turn.

The way out was relaxed since I did not have to pass upside down through a tight restriction. My decompression obligation was substantial due to the more conservative VPM B/E algorithm. I stopped at every waypoint to keep track of exit times, picked up the tanks and did a couple of short deco stops in between the levels.  Forty-five minutes into the dive I could see the open water in the distance and my Time to Surface was about 160min.

At 131ft (40m) Alain greeted me, took my tanks and left me with one 80cf.  I swam around the huge dome to stay warm and to help the time pass a little bit faster. Even though I was warmer then past dives, I decided that this would be my last long dive at The Pit without a habitat.

When I arrived at 40ft (12m) the dive had been going perfectly and I was very happy.  I swam around and moved my upper body a little bit to warm up and increase blood flow. Suddenly, I felt an unbelievably sharp pain in my left shoulder. At first I was shocked but I was hopeful because I still had almost 2 hours of deco ahead. The pain faded about 15 minutes later; however, I decided to extend all the remaining stops.

When I arrived at 20ft (6m) I extend my 65min stop to 75min. The pain was almost completely gone and I started to surface. At 10ft (3m) I added a stop even though the urge to surface after 4h almost drove me crazy. After 5 min I started a super slow final ascent. Almost immediately upon surfacing the pain in my shoulder returned at full intensity accompanied by pain in both ankles.

I stayed in the water on the loop breathing O2 for 20min contemplating what I should do.  Should I get out of the water or go back down?  Eventually, I decided against going back down because of my body temperature, general physical state and a 100%+ CNS clock.

As soon as I surfaced and didn’t come off the loop, Hans was nearby with an 80cf of O2.  When I decided to exit the water, he helped me strip my gear and I pulled myself up onto the wooden platform. I lay there breathing open circuit O2, hydrating and scanning my body for neurological symptoms. After 30min the intensity of the pain hadn’t changed. I decided it was time to evacuate. I climbed up to the trucks and sat down for a moment.   The pain disappeared and the general fatigue vanished.  Coming off the long period of high PO2 it seemed plausible, but I didn’t trust the situation since something felt strange.

As we left The Pit, I continued to scan myself for pain or neurological symptoms related to DCS. I felt great and honestly a bit relieved. The entire drive back I tried to figure out what happened.  I wanted an explanation for the weird sensations I had at 40ft (12m), on my final ascent and shortly after the dive. Why did I feel that way and what can I do different next time?  Arriving home I felt unchanged: no pain, no extreme fatigue, and no other symptoms. A long day had passed and I was happy to be home and ready for dinner and bed.

I am really happy about our progress and our understanding of the cave.  I am also happy that our team is growing and we are taking a more conservative approach to diving and the project’s logistics.  The project is remains very exciting and we are learning so much from each dive.

Looking back it is easy to identify many of the mistakes.  Many of you will ask why I made them? I can only answer that I am human, this is a learning experience and mistakes are inevitable.  Sometimes the cost for a mistake is small, sometimes it is huge.  Life it seems is a hard teacher, many times you get the test first and the lesson later. There was a time when I read articles like this and said: “Ha, I would never make mistakes like that.” But this was also a time when I didn’t do dives like this.

I want to thank Chris for his invaluable input on our rescue system, Alain and Etienne for supporting us and joining the team and Hans for letting me post on his blog.

Unfortunately, as you may have guessed, I suffered a DCS incident.  I am going to follow this story up with another about the DCS.

This is my story about the Pit and it is to be continued.

Edited By Hans

November 5, 2008   7 Comments

Quick Update: The Pit, Bailing Out and Unconscious Diver Lift

I wanted to give you a quick update on current events.  First, I didn’t pass my multi-stage course last week.  I completely blundered the last dive.  I was diving sidemount with two stages and a scooter.  Each tank had a different starting pressure and I was exhausted.  I was in over my head and it really showed.  Steve told me to go and practice and come back for one more day.  I am writing a detailed article, however, we have been working on our Pit Project and I just haven’t had the time or the energy to complete it.  It should be a good laugh for you.

Now about our Pit Project, Patrick and I have started to assemble a deep diving team.  We recruited two divers for intermediate and surface support, Etienne Rousseau and Alain Pocobelli.  We had our first team meeting on Saturday night.  Patrick and I laid out our plans, the rules/expectations, and roles.  They both agreed.  So now we have the makings of a team.

On Sunday, the four of us went to The Pit.  The first task was to setup and test a method to lift an unconscious diver from the water.  We spent six hours rigging and testing.  I was lifted twice and Alain once.  It was a painful experience and we learned a lot.  By the time we got through rigging, Patrick and I called our dive.  Alain and Etienne went for a dive to 155ft to check out the site and find the start of the main deep line.  Both were diving air and were seriously narked.  It was kind of funny.  After finding the line they returned on schedule.  We cleaned up and left a little disappointed but overall satisfied.  We really wanted to make our dives.  However, the day was a success; now we know how to lift someone.

Today, Patrick, Chris and I went back to The Pit.  Chris is a Polish cave rescue expert.  He came out to help us rig our diver lift system.  His advice was invaluable!  We were about 80% there with our system.  Chris landed us a home run.  It isn’t perfect, but it is better.  We need to collect additional climbing gear to perfect the system.

When we were done, Patrick and I staged our tanks on the down line and we left for my first dive into the Wakulla Room.  We had two objectives for the dive:

  1. It was my deepest dive and I wanted to reach Wakulla and check all my swim times.  At this level I need to know how much time it will take to transit and how much gas to plan for.  What I discovered is that I am slower then Patrick, no surprise there.  We planned 7 minutes to the turn at 220ft and 7 minutes swimming in at 280ft.  It took me 9 minutes to reach the turn and I will need another 5 or 10 minutes in the Wakulla Room to traverse it.
  2. Patrick and I both agreed we should bailout from the Wakulla Room to confirm gas consumption and for practice.  Today was his chance.  We were just a couple of minutes from the By-Pass and Patrick gave me the bailout sign.  He switched over to open circuit and started to exit.  This experiment confirmed our estimates for his gas consumption and provided some good lessons for the both of us.  Two hundred eighty feet is really deep.  And in a cave, it is deeper.  As a side note, I bailed to my BOV a couple of times and watched the SPG.  It dropped with each breadth, wild!  19cuft tanks are pretty small.

Tomorrow, we are going to The Pit with Alain and it will be my turn to bailout.  I am looking forward to the exercise!  I think it is going to be a lot of fun and educational.   Patrick’s objective is to check the alternate restriction into Jill’s Chamber.  We are looking for an easier route for passing a scooter through.

Again, there is no need to fear.  When we are done with this series of dives, we will write detailed articles and share what we learned!

October 15, 2008   Comments Off on Quick Update: The Pit, Bailing Out and Unconscious Diver Lift

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