Cave Diving, Cave Exploration and Cave Mapping in Yucatan, Mexico
The Salt Lick in Austin, Texas. All you can eat BBQ

Category — Grand Cenote

Back on the loop

The advantages of a closed circuit rebreather in a shallow cave.

I have to admit that I recently neglected rebreather diving and instead spend most of my time off sidemounting. I pretty much used my rebreather for deep diving only. But recently that changed, I finished crossover training on the Poseidon Cis Luna Mk6 and right after that was with Howard, aka Scubadadmiami for a week of CCR Cave diving. And I am hooked on CCRs again.

Patrick Widdman on DPV and CCR

The Mk6 exceeded my expectations but this is not what this article is about. What I want to share here is my recent experience diving Ponderosa, Taj Maha, Nohoch Nah Chich, Grand Cenote, Carwash and Naharon. Generally all the dive sites have an average depth of about 30ft and Nohoch even being shallower with Naharon being the exception at 60ft.

In many posts on CCR forums, the Mexican caves are described as CCR “unfriendly” and honestly I do not understand why? Our recent experience illustrated that CCRs can be used effectively in these caves and enabled us to get to know whole sections of systems in only one dive.

Normally when I guide people open circuit I choose a cenote and then guide two dives to the most famous or pretty parts of the system. The dives are usually turned either on time or gas which results in returning to open water. The option to recalculate thirds does exist, however, my opinion is that it should be reserved for experienced divers with experience in the particular system. When divers elect to recalculate thirds, eventually the gas reserve becomes to small to be safe.

The advantage of the CCR is that you have a bail out radius which enables you to spend as much time as the scrubber will allow, normally about 3 hours which is a huge opportunity here in the Riviera Maya.

The cave systems here are like Swiss cheese with many different side tunnels and passages. They are also very shallow. These two characteristics combine to create a situation where divers have a very long range on an 80cuft cylinder. Depending on you gas consumption while bailing out and conservatism factor you want to build in you will have a radius of at least 40min in most places. There are other benefits worth mentioning:

  1. Once you come of the frequent traveled passages you will often encounter quiet significant amount of percolation that can seriously affect the visibility.
  2. Thinking about the lost line or lost diver scenario, imagine how your chance of survival or the chance of finding your dive partner will increase with an hours long supply of breathing gas.
  3. How many accident reports have we seen that speak about people drowning only minutes away from an exit, what would have happened if they would have been on a rebreather.
  4. Taking pictures on the way, on a CCR you penetration distance is not going to change because you stop at a place to take some pictures or simply take a brake.
  5. Think about a reverse block way back in a cave, how much more relaxed are you going to be, knowing you can stay there fro hours.
  6. No time or gas pressure to go to a certain part in the cave and therefore reduced chance of pushing limits due to being goal oriented.
  7. And many more

Of course this is a double edged sword and there are as well some negative aspects:

  1. Buoyancy is definitely more difficult.
  2. It is the perfect tool to bring people that where before limited by their air consumption far into the overhead environment and by that outside of their comfort and experience zone.
  3. With most units together with the bail out your overall size in the water column is bigger and therefore you need more effort to travel.
  4. Many ups and downs consume Oxygen and Diluent volume.
  5. Getting overconfident due to the feeling of having unlimited gas supply.
  6. Proper bail out gas and volume is never an issue until it becomes an issue.
  7. And many more

To have a real advantage with the CCR we have to change the way we dive in the cave. Instead of using it to go for that record braking long distance penetration why not stay closer to the entrance but get to know all the lines that are in that area.

For example, at Naharon we dove up the main line and did the Jump towards the double domes. We swam up that line until we reached 40min, or bail out distance. On the way we stopped several times to take pictures and simply stopped the timer while we did not go further in the cave. On the way we marked the double set of line arrows that mark the jump towards south western sac be. On our return we arrived back at the arrows and new that from this point on we had 30min for further penetration so now we did the jump and enjoyed the really unreal beautiful sac be section.

On the way there we pass yet another set of double arrows marking the jump that lead down towards Cenote Mayan Blue and again marked it. We continued in the sac be tunnel until we had reached 30min from the jump and turned our dive. On the way back we stopped again a couple of times to take pictures. We didn’t even have to take care about the time since we were well inside our bail out range.

Howard pushing a tank through....

As we arrived back at the Arrows we decided to make yet another jump and check out the line that leads towards Mayan Blue. After some time we turned from there and now did the entire return trip back to Cenote Naharon.

As you can see, we did in one dive what, in conventional OC cave diving style would need three dives. We had an average depth of close to 60ft with a 180min runtime, me carrying an 80cuf and Howard 2 40cuf bail out tanks.

Another example would be Carwash where we could use Lukes Hope to restart the 40min bail out range and therefore had plenty of time to visit the room of tears and all the different Ts in the back. On the way out we did the jump that leads to the back of the room and stayed there for like 30min just doing pictures and enjoying the decorations.

In Grand cenote we went down to the Cuza Nah Loop and could restart the 40 min each time we past a cenote which was awesome since this gave us the possibility to do the jump at the mid way of the loop and take our time while swimming down that line again taking pictures and having a great time. On the way back we continued the loop on the other way since we were still easy inside our bail out range.
And the same was done in all the other places.

All in all I really enjoyed this week especially the possibility to visit lines I have not been too in a long time. I really love to do complex navigation, see different lines and go back and forth and all around.

Another bonus, so to speak, was to get more experience on the Kiss Classic which I really start to like more and more for its simplicity, the 20min prep in the morning and the 5min tear down in the evening, the free chest, constant O2 flow which facilitates buoyancy and the general possibility to keep the same configuration than with a set of doubles.

For Howard it was great too because he really got to know quiet a bit of each system we dove at, although he only did ONE dive there.

Considering all of the above, I would call the caves here perfectly suited for CCR diving if you bring the right set of skills, a good attitude and some creativity to the table.

Of course there are always people that say OC backmount is the only way to go and others believe that OC sidemount is the best, then there are some that believe in multiple stages or scooters or I don’t know what else; Me, I think it all has its use and its just what you do with it that makes it valuable. Try to get the most advantages out of whatever equipment you use and try to work with the right tool for the job!

Keep the loop closed but your mind open!!!

Patrick

July 25, 2009   4 Comments

The Happy Accident – Seeking Cenote Pabilany from Grand Cenote

Patrick and I decided that we needed to go for a nice easy dive, one that wouldn’t include a huge pile of tanks or the mixing of exotic gases.  The answer seemed clear, go looking for Cenote Pabilany in Sistema Sac Actun (Grand Cenote).

The journey to this decision started last year or the year before. Patrick was diving his Megalodon in the western end of the Sistema Sac Actun.  He was near the Pabilany section but he was on the Paso de Los Pozos side.  He wanted to continue but found the restrictions a bit tight in the rebreather.  He finally retreated and decided to return in sidemount.  As time passed, the idea of diving this section of cave stayed with him, I moved into town and then we both got scooters.

With all the requisite gear and skills, we decided to scooter up there in sidemount with a single stage to check things out.  We sat down on Tuesday night and spent a couple of hours debating the best gas management rules for a scooter dive of this nature, finally settling on what we believe to be an innovative approach.  Secure in our planning we decided to dive on Thursday.

The dive plan was as follows: scooter up the main line jumping to the Paso de Lagarto. Continue scootering eventually jumping to the line to Lithium Sunset. When we reached our stage pressure or the T at Lithium Sunset we would stage the scooters and the tanks.  We would swim north on the Lithium Sunset line looking for the jump into Pabilany.  Once we found it, we would make the jump and a short foray into that section of cave.

The dive went almost according to plan.  The first obstacle was planning the dive.  Looking at the cave map and estimating the depths it looked like we might get into some deco with air.  Therefore, we decided to take O2, luckily the average depth was much shallower then we anticipated and the O2 was unneeded, which brings us to the irony of this dive.  Patrick and I wanted to make a simple relaxed dive.  Instead we ended up needing 4 tanks and a scooter each.  I guess when you compare that to needing 6 people and 35 tanks, this was a relatively simple and easy dive, but it was still not a no-brainer.

The second small obstacle was an exiting team.  When we got to the jump off the main line, there was a team of three exiting in backmount swimming with double stages.  We gave them the courtesy of waiting for them to completely exit the area before installing our jump.  This ended up taking 4-5 minutes as they lumbered through.  Not a huge deal, but hanging out and waiting, cuts into your stage and scooter time.

When Patrick and I scootered up to the T, our run time was about 23 minutes and we were both nearing our stage drop pressure.  It was serendipity.  We dropped our scooters and then our stage tanks.  In those 23 minutes, we coved about 2300ft, installed two jumps and a primary reel.  It was awesome.  The last time I swam to this spot it took us about 55-60 minutes to reach it.  I felt like we made pretty good time!

We started heading north looking for the jump.  We came to an arrow and decided to make the jump left.  We swam past a T, taking it to the left.  At this point the cave got tight with an aggressive saw tooth shape.  Then the line doubled back on itself and disappeared into a no-mount restriction.  Well, the truth is Patrick made it through with both tanks on and I had to remove one tank to pass.  The line through the restriction was on the ceiling in an awkward position.  Patrick squeezed through first with a lot of silting.  I followed him using the brail method.  The restriction required angling the body and ascending.  It was challenging and doing it in zero visibility made me nervous.

On the other side the cave opens up a bit and then pinches down.  I started to follow Patrick up, but the silting was just too much and my nerves were starting to fray.  Add to that the line was slack when we first entered the room and Patrick was actively fixing it as I followed.  Finally, I ran into his fins and decided I had enough.  I backed out and into the bigger room.  I decided to wait for him and meditate a bit.  When he returned a couple of minutes later I gave him the “Turn the Dive” sign.  By this time I had calmed down however he could tell I was a bit scared by the look on my face.  I hovered for a minute more and meditated.  I wanted to relax and prepare myself for passing the restriction a second time in zero visibility.

I descended back into the restriction and got a little stuck.  After a couple of seconds of fidgeting I popped out the other side and a wave of relief washed over me.

There is something exponentially more terrifying about following someone in extremely restricted silty cave then leading into that same environment.  All I could see was waves of silt coming down the slope, I had no idea where we were heading.  It ends up that Patrick surfaced just ahead of me in Cenote Azteca.  The last jump we made wasn’t to Pabilany at all.  We had missed the jump to Pabilany.

Once Patrick came through the restriction we gave each other the fist and started our return swim.  Our short stint up to Cenote Azteca didn’t use much gas, maybe a couple hundred PSI out of each tank.  So when we arrived at the T, we decided to check it out.  We swam north at a leisurely pass.  The cave was bigger and relaxing.  We passed over at least one jump and finally turned the dive at a single tank no-mount restriction.  We were nearing our turn pressures so we didn’t attempt the restriction.  When we reviewed the map we discovered we were in First Hope.

The trip home was flawless and we used less gas then on the trip in.  When we reached the O2 we had 90min of NDL, which was a comforting discovery.  Patrick and I both found the dive very satisfying.  It included sidemount cave, scootering, no-mount restrictions, and some very beautiful cave.  Our gas planning worked like a charm and gave us additional flexibility in the execution of the dive.  The only shortcoming was that we didn’t find Pabilany, though it did result in the happy accident of finding Azteca.

April 2, 2009   1 Comment

Don Pablo and the Nota de Permiso: Dive 426

I wanted to dive Cenote Angelita since I learned about it a couple of years ago.  Each time I would visit Mexico, I would get talked out of going by the people I was with.  The logistics of going to Cenote Angelita are comparatively challenging.  And I know the locals/guides, have gone a million times and find it a bore.  So, when I found a poor sot that was willing and wanted to go, I was super stoked.  Olly is a buddy of mine who was a local open water instructor and has now gone back to England.  He had Cenote Angelita and Gran Cenote on his bucket list.  So we scheduled them for a sunny Sunday.

As soon as I knew I was going, I had to tap into the network and find out the details.  I learned from a good friend, Pietro of Karst Diving, that Cenote Angelita is 17KM out of Tulum and you have to visit Don Pablo in Tulum to pay your respects and fees, collect the key and get a Nota de Permiso.  Now I was starting to see why the logistics might be challenging.  As you may know, I don’t speak much Spanish and I didn’t know where the Don lives.  To find Don Pablo, Pietro drew me a map of the south end of Tulum.  I was looking for a Mayan style house across the street from a furniture store and around the corner from a church.  The map was beautifully illustrated in a Word document.  Pietro gave me rough verbal directions to the Cenote.  Luckily, they only included one road and two sweeping turns to the left.  With the directions firmly in hand, I figured things would go somewhat smoothly, Olly speaks Spanish.  He passed the test to get his FM3 visa, right?

Sunday morning dawned and as a precaution, I asked Allie to translate a couple of phrases for me:

  • Querria la llave para Angelito?
  • Puedo tener una nota de permiso para entra?

I wanted to make sure I could communicate to the Don what I wanted.  I figured those two questions would get me as far as I needed to go.  The only problem would be if the Don decided to answer with anything other then, “Si!”.

Olly and I drove all over Playa to pick up his assorted pieces of gear.  Just as I was about to pull out of Playacar to head south, I realized the map, my tables and translations were missing.  We looked in the car for a couple of minutes then went back to my place to get them.  They were on my desk in the last place I looked for them.

Security at Angelita is questionable at best.  I was instructed to remove EVERYTHING from the car and just leave it open.  If I didn’t leave it open, it would be opened by force.  When we arrived in Tulum, we stopped by Xibalba, and left the last couple of extra items like our tool box, cell phones and wallets.  Thanks Robbie and crew!  We drove through Tulum looking for the Don.  When we were on the prescribed block, the directions turned out to not be as precise as I hoped.   Olly asked some locals where the Don lived.

When we found him, he was sitting at his table with a compadre and two 40oz bottles Sol beer.  It turns out there was a mob of OW divers at Angelita the day before, and the Don was kicking back celebrating.  The Don was sufficiently drunk and almost unintelligible.  We asked for the key and he tried to tell us, “Tienen llave”.  Of course, neither Olly nor I could make out what he was saying for the first 15 tries.  He then asked who the Guia was, and I responded in the affirmative.  He put his hand out and I handed him some money.  He took the money and never offered us the proper change.  He just pocketed it and then took 15 minutes to write a very deliberate 7 word Nota de Permiso.  Olly and I just stared at each other patiently, trying to not laugh.  Neither of us were brave enough to challenge the Don with our Spanish.  Once we had the note in hand, we bid farewell and abandoned any hope of recovering change.  We were just excited to have the sliver of white paper with his signature.

The Cenote entrance was exactly where it was supposed to be.  We handed the note through the gate to the land manager.  He stared at us for a minute and then opened the gates.  We were finally there!

Cenote Angelita is a 5-10 minute walk into the jungle.  Once you are at the water’s edge, you need to scramble down a muddy root covered slope to the water.  This can be a challenge with a couple of bottles.  You can giant stride into the water.  Exiting you have to use a rope that has been there for the last 10 years and pull yourself out.  No easy feat after spending a bunch of time at the bottom. Remember, DON’T DROP ANYTHING!  It will go to the bottom, some 180 plus feet below.

Olly and I geared up and in the process ran into Marcia, he was teaching Advanced Nitrox and Deco Procedures, he pointed out the four foot crocodile sitting on the broken surfboard sunning itself.  We entered the water and did a lovely 181ffw dive.  The Hydrogen Sulfide cloud is very cool!  It was a little broken up because of all the divers in the water earlier in the day but a thrill none-the-less.  The dive went according to plan and during deco we toured the entire Cenote.  Angelita was worth all the work.  However, when I go back, I am going to go earlier in the day.  I would like to get to the cloud before it is disturbed by divers.

With Angelita in the bag we returned to the car to find everything safely intact.  The couple of Pesos I left in the console as an offering were still there.  On our way out, the gatekeeper requested a ride back to Tulum, which we obliged.  The rest of the day was filled with eating half a chicken each at Pollo Bronco and then a very nice cavern tour at Gran Cenote.

All and all, it was a lovely day with a very good friend.  We will all miss you Olly.  Hopefully, you will come back soon.

June 3, 2008   2 Comments

“Never Give Up, Don’t Waste Time Scribing Notes!” Advanced Side-Mount Cave Diving.

Putting regulators on the tanks, carrying them to the water’s edge, and slipping them into the water is almost a meditative experience. Every time I get the opportunity, it is another awaking.

In April, I spent three days working with Steve Bogaerts on the basic side-mount class. The class included: lecture, building a custom side-mount harness, and skills & drills. He focused on gear configuration, safety procedures, tank handling and diving in side-mount configuration. I am convinced that those three days evolved my gear configuration by at least 50+ dives of tuning and experimenting. He condensed years of practical experience exploring into a well thought out task specific system. At the end of class, I was tasked with learning to reverse frog kick, improve my line laying, and diving in side-mount. We agreed to meet in a month for Advanced Side-Mount Cave Diving Class.

My Advanced Side-Mount class was scheduled for May. By this time, I had executed 29 side-mount dives, nailed the reverse frog kick and improved my line throwing skills. I felt very comfortable in side-mount; I was ready to continue.

Class started with a lecture at Steve’s place. He covered:

  • Revised equipment list, tailored for diving in small passage.
  • The need to be able to remove and replace every piece of kit.
  • The recent fatality at Genie Springs, Steve is a local Safety Officer.
  • More conservative gas planning rules.
  • And discussion around knowing one’s limits, mental toughness and the things he has seen deep in the cave, such as abandoned equipment and erratically laid line. All evidence of people reaching their limit.

The revised equipment list included two new items for my Dive Rite Double Zip Pocket. He suggested that I carry a spare bungee to hang my tanks from in the event that I have to cut my normal side-mount bungee and a lanyard with a clip for no-mounting.

Steve is a hawk with regard to gas planning and management, which I suspect is why he is still alive and pushing. In previous training we talked about why the rule of thirds is not conservative enough here in Mexico. Locally, we have low flow caves that do not provide the benefit spitting you out. This was clearly demonstrated when Allie and I almost sucked my tanks dry during a drill in her full cave class. I surfaced with the gauge reading nearly zero after my safety stop.

For pushing challenging cave, the rule of thirds is not conservative. He suggests the rule of sixths or quarters. We discussed the actual usable volume in the tank, which I had never taken into account, and that we should factor that into our gas calculations. The point being, you can never finish a dive with too much gas. The conditions we will encounter include: zero visibility for extended periods, passing major restrictions in zero visibility, entanglements in zero visibility and equipment failures in zero visibility. Any one of these will delay your exit, take two and you’re going to be very glad you have plenty of gas. The extra volume will be a determining factor in your ability to stay calm, cool and collected. As you will read, I learned this lesson. We closed the lecture with an equipment workshop that lead to additional tweaks.

The first day’s diving was confined water skills at Ponderosa. I had the option to go to other sites, but Ponderosa is convenient to both of us. Be forewarned, I am not going to spoil the plot and reveal everything, just the highlights. To begin, every skill I performed I had to perform with visibility and without visibility. So, if I describe a skill, understand I did it at least twice.

The skills started off easy. I demonstrated my ability to swim with tanks on, one tank on and no tanks on. I needed to do this through restrictions. This culminated in having to pass a no-mount restriction in one direction with visibility and then pass it in reverse with no visibility. This was by far the tightest restriction I had ever negotiated. I had to breathe out to get through it. This is where the day got really interesting. I arrived at the restriction in zero visibility. I identified it and then backed up a couple of feet to prepare my gear. This included removing my right tank and butt-mounting it. As I did this, I forgot to clip the lower clip to off on the tank, so it “grabbed” the guideline. I figured this out quickly. I got the tanks into position while maintaining contact with the guideline. As I proceeded through the restriction, I was nervous because the first pass was really tight and I had to push myself through with my feet. It was a mental challenge. I made it through the restriction. I audibly celebrated and Steve heard me. My celebration was short lived.

Surprisingly, the line “came off” a large placement. I was left with ample slack line in the water. I didn’t realize there was slack line, so I started to replace my tanks. Almost immediately, I was entangled. Steve says he did nothing besides remove the placement. The entanglement was natural. As I swung my left tank back into place, I heard gas leaking. I thought, damn he is piling it on. Zero visibility, entangled and a leak.

My first stage was leaking from one of the LP hoses. This was a real equipment failure, must have been Murphy and his love of cave divers. I turned off the left tank and went on the right tank. I decided deal with one problem at a time, the entanglement. I couldn’t see working an entanglement and feathering the valve. This is where practice and a methodical approach really count.

I started to work out how I was entangled. I tried to untangle myself but it seemed hopeless. In retrospect, I should have spent another four or five minutes working the tangle and the slack line. If I were patient and removed some of my gear, I could have gotten through it. But at the time, the only option was to cut the line. When I was sure I was on the exit side with the line wrapped around my hand, I removed my Z-knife and cut the line. Ping! The other end was gone. I put a loop in the line and looked for a spot to secure it. I couldn’t find one immediately, so I move with the line and finned. Later, I found out that the fining blew the other end of the line away from me. I my search for a spot to secure the line, I realized I was on the cave side of the line. I smacked my head and grumbled to myself. Steve later told me that I had rotated through 180 degrees prior to cutting the line. I was disoriented and didn’t realize it.

Steve hovered watching with amazement. He told me that he really enjoyed watching; he couldn’t have planned it any better. It was the real deal, all natural in the course of a dive. It was a lesson I could never have planned.

I am on the cave side of the severed guideline with a leaky regulator. I thought, “This really sucks.” I collected myself, deployed my safety spool and attached it to the guide line. I started my search for the guide line, making another mistake; I neglected securing prior initiating my search. So after a minute or two, I returned and secured the line properly near the exit of the restriction. I knew approximately which direction the next tie off was from the exit of the restriction. I did a very methodical search and after 25 minutes, I found the errant end of the line. If you have spent anytime at Ponderosa, you can image how difficult this task is with the pond weed and the rocks. The restriction and the tie off are about 15 feet apart and I was looking for the loose end of a cave line in pond weed.

At one point in the drill, I briefly considered quitting. Twenty five minutes is a long time and I started to feel hopeless. However, I remembered something I had read, “Never giving up and don’t waste time scribing notes, just keep going till it is over.” I knew for a second why people surrender and are found lifeless with gas in their tanks.

With the line in hand, I had to connect my safety spool to close the gap. This is when I discovered that I had too much line on the spool for it to be useful. I was already under a lot stress, and then I had to fight with my spool to get it clipped off. Once it was clipped off, I chose to leave the spool inline, instead of making a proper repair. I wasn’t sure how long it had been or how much gas I had left. My tank was getting very light. Later I learned this was a mistake. If I had another entanglement, broken guideline or missing jump spool, I would have been without the piece of gear I needed most. Steve suggested that I make every reasonable effort to take my safety spool.

After I passed the next restriction, I switched to the leaky tank and feathered it all the way home. The drill was a HUGE success. I learned some huge lessons:

  • Be on the right side of the guideline when you cut it. Seems obvious, right?
  • If you can, hold onto both ends of the line.
  • Have plenty of gas. You may have to do a lost line drill with only one cylinder available.
  • Failures never come alone. Gotta love Murphy.
  • The only option at this level is calm cool persistence. If you don’t have it, do not proceed.

The most difficult skill I had to master was to swap regulators between tanks underwater. This is a three part drill: breath from a free flowing regulator while feathering it, breath from a tank valve underwater and perform the regulator swap.

This was a very difficult set of skills for me to master. My breath holding ability is weak, less then one minute. And this decreases as the CO2 builds up. This skill took me 5 attempts over two days before I was able to get through it in zero visibility. One attempt I had to ask for a regulator from another tank. One attempt I ended up bolting to the surface because I panicked a little, which is exactly what we are trying to train out.

I have been tasked with practicing this set of skills till I have it nailed. Steve also suggested I seek some apnea training to increase my breath holding skills. We agreed 2-3 minutes is a reasonable goal and will provide ample time.

The class included two cave dives. The skill was to complete the dives. We did two dives down stream at Grand Cenote. This was a pleasure. The benefit of going downstream is you are the only team in that part of the system. There wasn’t a single hand print or fin slash. The system is in great shape. The two dives included a handful of major restrictions that required passing with a single tank and a high flow major restriction. We turned the second dive when we got to a silty no-mount restriction. We were nearing our turn pressure. I have to admit, the cave diving was a relief compared to the skills in confined water.

Steve video taped me during the dives. We reviewed the video and talked about: my strengths, my blunders and bad habits.

My homework for stage/multi-stage side-mount class next month is:

  • Become more aware of my tank position. I am letting them get too high on my body.
  • Work on my frog kick. I am doing half a frog kick with just my ankles. I am wasting a lot of energy.
  • Work on my kick selection. I am capable of doing all the kicks, I just don’t always chose the best one. I frog kick when I shouldn’t.
  • Work on my apnea skills.
  • Work on my ability to breath from the tank and swap regulators.

After reflecting on class and the skills practiced, I am convinced that training at this level is as much about mental toughness and learning personal limits and capacity as it is about learning specific skills. By this time, one must possess excellent watermanship, commitment, confidence and dexterity as a prerequisite. You shouldn’t be learning these at this level; they need to be in muscle memory. The drills we executed and the dives we performed provided the grounds for me to hone my mental toughness, assess my limits, and determine my ability to function effectively as the failures pile up.

May 19, 2008   16 Comments

Dive Number 400! Rebreather Cave Dive at Grand Cenote with John.

John at the trusty dive truckToday was my 400th logged dive. John took the early ferry over from Cozumel. I picked him up and we left for the fill station. At the fill station I asked John to review all of his gear and let me know if he had everything he needed. I told him I didn’t want to get to Tulum and find out we were missing something. He assured me everything was there and we were ready to go.

John getting ready.As luck would have it, once we arrived at Grand Cenote and started to assemble our rigs, I realized I forgot John’s bailout regulator. I was supposed to loan him one of mine, and since it wasn’t part of my kit, I totally spaced on it. I jumped in the car and headed over to Xibalba Dive Center in town and Robbie kindly assembled a regulator and rented it to us. I was back at the Cenote in 10 minutes. Problem solved and we were back in business.
My perfered bailout package.John and I decided to do one long dive. The plan was to head down to Lithium Sunrise and then return to the first arrow and make the shortcut jump down to Cenote Ho Tul and Cuzan Ha. The dive went very well, except that when we got to the second jump on the way to Lithium, there was another team with gear. I started to install our gear and realized I was in the wrong position. So I picked it all back up and re-laid the gear in. I really like nicely placed lines. Messy lines will make for a messy exit and they look hideous. This debacle wasted about 6-7 minutes. I hate to be robbed of the time, but I could just hear Patrick correcting me about my line placement.

Grand CenoteTotal run time for the dive was 2:32 minutes. John seemed really happy with the dive. He pointed out all the hand and body prints and I told him it is the result of being on the top ten list of places to dive. You really have to get off the beaten path and away from the typically guided locations to find pristine cave.

Cooling off in the refreshing cenote water.Diving the Megalodon has been great! In the last 21 days I put in 15 hours on the unit over 10 dives. I finally felt comfortable again, the last couple of weeks have been full of setup changes and discomfort. The only thing that remains is to move the clips up the 40cuft cylinders so they pull a little tighter into the body. I hate the feeling of bottles swinging forward and aft with each stroke. Just feels like it is robbing energy.

The result of a great day of diving.It was a pleasure to dive with John and I look forward to diving with him again. Just take a look at the picture of the scrubber. That is the evidence of two days of great diving. I love the satisfaction of pulling a hot scrubber out and checking to see how much I have burned through.

April 26, 2008   2 Comments

The Monster, Cuzan Ha, The Halocline Room and more: Dives 386 – 394

On Friday morning our friend Paul flew into town to do some cave diving! It was his first trip after finishing full cave with Protech in November. We planned to do 2 dives a day Friday through Monday. However, the airlines had other plans and his flight was late on Friday, so we were limited to a warm up dive on Friday. First thing we did was to go over to Chac Mool and do a quick gear review. Paul had just gotten a beautiful new Halcyon harness and donut wing. We revised his hose routing a little and tweaked some other minor things. Those minor improvements really made a difference.

The crew was Allie, Paul and myself. Paul and Allie were in backmount and I was in side mount. We got in the water, did our S drill and dropped down. The dive was called immediately on account of Allie not being able to equalize. Unfortunately, she had been suffering a minor cold. There were tears all around and then Paul and I elected to continue the dive. We did a quick S drill and started the dive. Paul did a nice job of running the reel. We made the 30 minute swim down to The Monster. The Monster is the world’s largest underwater stalagetite. It measures 45feet tall and it hangs into a pit that is 90feet deep. It is really stunning the first time you see it. I always want to swim over to it and put my arms around it. We chose to dive Chac Mool becuase it is a realatively easy dive and there is only one T to contend with and that leads to a air doom that is breathable. Most of this dive is pretty ho hum, as you get to The Monster the rooms become more decorated and enjoyable. The return trip was uneventful. When we got back to Playa we decided to go to one of our favorite restaurants, La Cueva Del Chango.

Saturday brought fabulous weather and we headed down to Tulum for some diving. Allie wanted to give her head another day to clear, so Paul and I were on our own. We decided to go to Grand Cenote and do two dives. The first dive was down to the Cuzan Ha Loop. We elected to make this dive a little more complex, so we took the short cut jumping to the left on the first arrow. At the end of the line we jumped back onto the main line and turned left. We gapped at Cenote Ho Tul. The dive was going fantastic. We were making good time and I could tell Paul was in complete sensory overload. When we got to to the jump for the circuit a little miscommunication/confusion occurred. I went to set the spool to close the loop and Paul followed me. When I realized he was behind me, I sent him back and then finished up. We I returned to the main line, we continued the dive. We made it about 3/4 of the way around the circuit and had to turn on thirds. As we exited we cleaned up our gear and took our time. This is a beautiful dive and it is fun. The restriction after Cenote Ho Tul is good fun and I particularly enjoy it.

The second dive was towards Lithium Sunset. Last time I tried to find the jump off the mainline, I just couldn’t figure out where it was. I guess I wasn’t persistent enough. The picture I had in my mind’s eye was short jump, the reality was it is about 50 feet or so. Maybe less if you make it a straight shot. So we made the jump, went to the second arrow and made the short jump to the left. This is another beautiful dive although it is a little less challenging. If there is a no brainer, this is one of them. Just set the cruise control and enjoy the scenery. Some dives are just easier/less engaging then others. Paul was over joyed at the end of the dive. I was super relaxed and really enjoyed the dive. Grand Cenote is really a wonderful place to dive. The cave is bright white almost blue-ish and is highly decorated.

Sunday Allie decided to join us. We planned to go down past Tulum to Cenote Cristal aka Naharon. I wanted to give Paul the experience of the caves north of Tulum, in Tulum and south of Tulum. My experience is that they offer very distinct dives. And let me tell you, Naharon is no slouch! Naharon is feed by swampy lands to the north and west. Therefore the water in the system is tanic and stains everything. Naharon is about the darkest place I have ever dived and Allie and I find it to be a very psychologically challenging. It literally eats HID light. The darkness makes it very tight and unforgiving. This challenge makes the dive some much more rewarding! Once your field of view starts to open up, you discover the the black silk floors and the black stained formations are amazing. It is really like diving into the belly of a beast. On the main line there is a portal in the rock that looks like the jaws of a shark. As I pass through the formation, I imagine being swallowed by the beast. I guess the Halocline room is the belly.

Naharon is a little deeper then most of the other caves we dive. We plan for a depth of about 70feet and to stay out of deco we use 32% EAN. The plan was to head up to the Halocline Room; which is about a 25 minute swim up the main line. The most striking feature of the Halocline Room is the demarcation on the walls between the fresh water and salter water. The wall below the saltwater is perfectly white. The wall above is tanic stained black. My understanding is that the saltwater eats the black stain. It is really stunning and a worthwhile dive. I really want to get down to Naharon with my CCR or a couple of stages. I can only imagine what treasures hide in the inky blackness.

Dive over, it was time for food! We headed into Tulum for some Chicken! I love the chicken in Tulum. Our favorite place to eat is Pollo Bronco. It is an orange building on a corner on the north bound side of the road. Chicken can be had in the following sizes: quarter, half and whole. There are not really any other options. I think you can get pasta instead of rice. But, I never do.

Lunch over, it was time for diving. We drove over to Car Wash for a little dive. Car Wash is a cenote where the taxi drivers used to wash their cars. The land owner has really made some improvements to this site since that time. There are rest rooms, changing rooms and tables to setup on. They have built a reception area at the Luke’s Hope cenote. It is really nice.

This time of year there is a cloudy layer for the first 10 feet in the cenote then visibility opens up. It is really awesome to drop down through the cloud into clear water and to watch a friend do the same. The visibility reminds me of wreck diving in NJ.

This time it was Paul’s job to run the primary. We setup our primary tie in on a tree a couple of feet from another team’s, then we proceeded in. What we found was an unbelievable spider web of line. The team ahead of us had literally criss crossed the cave at different depths at least three times. Paul was confused and I was livid! Message to all you Muppets out there, “CAVE DOESN’T BELONG TO YOU!” There are other teams in the world, have some common decency. We spent an unreasonable amount of time negotiating the other team’s line. In the end we had two choices: call the dive or install our gear woven through theirs. We choose to install our gear. I helped Paul to take the most respectful path possible. Then we hit another snag, Paul’s primary reel was too short. I loaned him a spare Spool and we gapped to the main line. The lesson here is; confirm how much line you have on your primary reel. Don’t take the manufactures word for it. Unfortunately, the cavern debacle cut our penetration short. I think we made it 15 minutes past Luke’s Hope and Paul turned us on thirds.

When we got back to open water, we recalculated thirds and went for a little exploratory dive down stream. Again we ran into the other team. Again they had taken the entire cave to themselves with their handy reel work. What a headache. Please learn to use your reel!

Monday was going to be a short day for Paul and I. Since he hadn’t been to Minotauro, we went over and did the circuit in two dives. I blundered in my briefing, but nothing severe enough to call the dive. I actually realized it as soon as we submerged on the first dive. We setup the circiut and returned. The second dive we completed the circuit. The only thing notable was that I did the in about 1000PSI. I guess all this working out and concentrating on finning technique is paying off.

Paul’s trip was fantastic and we had a great time. Hopefully he will come back soon and we can do some more diving. There are just too many beautiful places to see!

April 17, 2008   4 Comments