Cave Diving, Cave Exploration and Cave Mapping in Yucatan, Mexico
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Category — Minotauro

Minotauro Down Stream and Nohoch Na Chich

This weekend brought two more days of wonderful diving.  On Saturday, I dropped Allie off at Xpu Ha Beach and got an opportunity to explore the down stream section of Minotauro.

To access the down stream section, you swim to the back of the Cenote to the duck under.  At the T you make a right.  This section of cave is definitely sidemount.  There are lines everywhere.  If you make the first jump to the right, you have to pass a fun restriction.  After a couple of minutes you will reach a T.  If you go right, you go through a sidemount restriction and end up under the steps in the cenote.  If you go left, the line ends and you can jump back onto the main down stream line.

If you skip the first jump, you will pass serveral others.  At 30 minutes or less, depending on how much jumping you do, you will reach a 4 way T.  I decided to continue straight ahead.  The cave pinches down and starts to turn back on it self and really snakes around.  It is low and silty.  After another 10 minutes, I could feel the distance pressure building and I turned around.  I had plenty of gas, I just felt like I had gone far enough.  Plus, down stream is a noticeable siphon and when the cave gets smaller the water velocity climbs, making the return trip slower and labor intensive.

When I reached the 4 way again, I had plenty of gas so I decided to check out the branch to the right as you are exiting.  The first thing you come to is a very entertaining restriction.  I decided to remove one tank and was rewarded by passing it cleanly.  The branch was a lot of fun.  The passage was never straight for more than a  couple of meters and really twisted and turned.  There were plenty of minor challenges along the way.  I reached the end of that line in less then 10 minutes.  There are some jumps back there that need to be checked out. I turned and decided to check out the other branch.

The left branch, as you are exiting, was much of the same.  Just great sidemount sized cave passage, beautiful tannic stained decorations and plenty of opportunities to hone my skills.

Total run time was 122 minutes and  my max depth was 20feet. This is really one of those caves you can loose an entire afternoon in.   After I cleaned up, I jumped in the Toyota and crossed the highway to Xpu Ha beach.  I met Allie and Sophia and we had a nice dinner on the beach.  I did some swimming and headed home.   What a great Saturday!

Patrick Widdmann sitting with Sonny on the surface interval at Nohoch Na Chich

Sunday delivered another excellent dive.  I headed down to Nohoch Na Chich with Patrick, Katy, Alain, Alian’s friend and Sonny. Sonny is diving with Protec for the week and is an excellent diver.

Until today, I thought there were only two ways up to Heaven’s Gate.   I discovered is there is a third line up there.   It never ceases to amaze me how much line has been laid in Nohoch.   The third line is just to the right of the main line.   The swim from Nohoch to Heaven’s Gate took about 30minutes.  When we reached Heaven’s Gate we T into another line, made a right and swam for another 30 minutes.  As we approached our turn time of 60 minutes, I could see a small very strong green light in the distance.  I couldn’t tell if it was a dive computer or a cenote.  I was really drawn to it, it seemed so out of place.  We reached it at the 59 minute mark, just shy of our turn time.  It turned out to be a very thin shaft of light from either a solution tube or a very small cenote.  I didn’t have time to really investigate it.  The swim back was uneventful but fast.  We covered the same distance in 13 minutes less.  We were really huffing it.  Our total run time was 114 minutes and max depth was about 30feet.

Alain hoisting a tank up on his surface interval at Nohoch Na Chich.

When we got back to PlayaDel Carmen, we decided to go to dinner together.  Hannah,  Sonny, John, Patrick, Katy, Allie and I went to Pummarola restaurant on 1st avenue and 40th street.  We had an excellent Italian meal and shared some of our war stories.  There was plenty of laughter and we really had a wonderful time!  If you are interested in the food in Playa Del Carmen, you should check out  It is a restaurant and food review website.

Playa Del Carmen Itlian Fried Cheese Pummarola Restraurant

And a fitness update, for those of you following my weight.  I was down to 234lbs this morning.  I have been bouncing between 235 and 239 for a while.  It has been frustrating.  However, I am starting to spend more time around 234 instead of 239.

Allie, Sol and I committed to a Jeff Galloway running program for a half marathon.   This past week I ran 3.5 miles twice and 4 miles once.  I think this is good progress!  Just a couple of months ago a mile was a challenge.  We are targeting the half marathon distance for December 2008.  I will keep you posted.

August 10, 2008   2 Comments

Minotauro: The other upstream. And video of the Nomad and Razor Sidemount Harnesses

Thursday brought the return to more normal diving for me.  I met up with Alain, a swiss tech instructor, helped him through some issues with his Nomad Sidemount rig and drove down to Minotauro for a leisurely cave dive.  Minotauro is nestled in the jungle near the Zero Gravity Dive shop.  The landowners are super nice people and there is always a laugh when we meet with them.

Alain getting ready for sidemount cave dive at minotauro

Which brings me to another related topic.  There is a rumored connection between Minotauro and Taj Ma Hal.  I haven’t found it if there is.  Maybe it is like the swimming pool at my grammar school.  You know, the one in the basement.   Every once in a while we get the feeling like we should go looking for it.  The entrance to Taj Ma Hal and Minotauro are less then 2000 apart.  I need to make a general survey of each system and see if they trend toward each other and how far apart they might be.  Could be an interesting project if I were bored.  If you have any information on this rumor, let me know?  Might save me some heartache.

Back to the dive!  Alain and I suited up in our side mount rigs and got in the water.  Alian asked me to look at his rig and check it out.  It looked pretty good, there are some danglely issues like his pressure gauge, his crotch ring and his regulator.

If you are wondering what sidemounting looks like, here is a little video.  The first part of the video is Alian in his Nomad Side Mount rig.  The second part of the video is me in my Steve Bogaerts’ Razor Sidemount Harness.

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The primary complaint with the Nomad is that it is a recreational side mount harness.  It is very general purpose.  It takes a lot of work to get the configuration correct and in the end you may not ever get it.   This complaint is handled completely with the Razor.  The Razor harness is a custom side mount/no mount harness worn under an open water bcd.  I was fitted for my harness when I took my basic side mount class with Steve Bogearts.

Taking the class and getting a custom harness provides two huge benefits.  First, the harness and the bcd fit me perfectly and put me in very good trim and my gear in the right places.   I made two adjustments after I left class.  The first was to add more give in the bcd for more lift.  The second was to add more weight when I got a 9MM suite.

Second, Steve very closely analyzed my configuration and diving for a couple of days providing constant feed back including video.  This feedback accelerated my adjustment to sidemount by 10-15x.  In 5 dives, I was more comfortable then many people I know with 50-100 sidemount dives.  Side mounting just takes a lot of tweaking, and people would rather dive then spend time in open water analyzing and tweaking.  Taking the class enforces a little discipline and starts you off on the right vector.

Ok, back to the dive now.   The entrance to the ‘other upstream’ is at the back of the cenote under a duck under.  I have dove about 60% of this section in backmount, however, it is tight and hard to not have some impact in that configuration. In sidemount it is much more enjoyable.  This dive includes a very cool carousel formation.  The line passes around the carousel and up into a highly decorated air dome.  After the carousel, it is easy diving until you pass the second T.  The two T’s are actually of two circuits of the main line, sort of.  If you go left at each T and then swim to the end of the line, you end up a the second T.  Just prior to getting back to the main line there is a jump to the left.  That is the end of the line from the first T.  it all sounds very confusing and the first time I was up there it was a little confusing.  But now I have a pretty good mental picture of the area.

I should warn you that after the second T it becomes sidemount sized passage and the chance for zero or no visibility, if you are careless, is pretty high.  Please tread lightly and stop when you hit your limit.

I do have one question, there is a mystery arrow at the back of the loop of the main line.  Alian and I searched for the jump for a couple of minutes and couldn’t find it.  If you know where to look, email me at:

When we reached the cenote again, we had plenty of gas remaining.  This dive has a max depth of 20feet (6 meters).  So, we decided to recalculate and extend the dive again.  Near the duck under there is a line arrow, the jump is 50-60feet and hidden.  That line leads to a very silty side mount section.  This isn’t the down stream section.   The line and its branches are pretty short but a lot of fun.  When we arrived the line was in bad shape.  It was loose and the rock it was tied to was broken in lots of places.  Someone trashed the line and left it.  I guess they were a little freaked out.  It goes to zero visibility pretty fast.  In any event, we took some time and restored the line.  It was a good exercise to work on the line in reduced visibility.

The dive was 110 minutes long and we had a great time.  Minotauro is still one of my favorite places to dive!

August 3, 2008   3 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

Dive 366 – Cenote Minotauro

I was supposed to go diving yesterday afternoon. However, I had to abondon that idea becuase I was having a bad day and I didn’t want to take that in the water. Instead I watched 8 hours of the TV series 24. I serviced some of my spools, fixed clips to 2 of my new LED SL4 lights and put my new yellow SL4 lights on my purple side mount helmet. I am happy to report that I look stunning with the helmet on. Skipping diving provided me a mindless break. And I wanted to get some more work done.

Today, I made up for the postponement. I decided to go back to Cenote Minotauro for a nice cave dive upstream. However, this time I went up stream on the downstream line. I am sure there is a name for this line, but I don’t know it. If you do, let me know?

It is a very beautiful dive. It is tight. I was up there once in backmount with a buddy bottle and in retrospect that was a bad idea. After that dive, I pledged to not go back until I was in side mount. This time I went side mount and it was a pleasure. I can’t imagine diving there with anymore then 1 buddy. There are tons of lines and jumps everywhere you look and lots of fragile stuff that can be broken.

This dive I decided to practice taking notes and doing a rough stick map of the cave. Wetnotes and digital compass in hand, I set to work. It ends up, I am a terrible judge of scale and it is easy to get lazy. Looking at the map, I should have really started much smaller and skipped the whole compass bit. I ended up going off the page and having to come back on the other side. I remember doing this as a little kid when I drew mazes. I think a first pass at a simpler stick map would have been sufficient. Or maybe just an accurate log of the line directional tendency, jumps and T’s.

The wetnotes and digital compass suck together. The compass is part of my Sunnto D6. To take a heading, I have to hold the button down and wait for it to switch modes. Then after short period it switches back to computer mode. There is no quick way to record the information I want. Every time I have to stop and wait for the equipment. I really makes taking detailed notes no fun. So between the wetnotes and the Sunnto, my work was much harder then it needed to be. I think I am going to give it another try with a standard compass and a slate.

All that aside, I think the map I created will be useful in deciding on future plans and places to check out. I made it about 30 minutes back when my primary light died. This is the second time in 2 dives it died in less then an hour. Note to self, “Once is fine, twice is something worth paying attention to. Do use that battery again without getting it fixed.” This is a huge bummer. One light is flooded with a broken cord. Two batteries were flooded in the process and now the third battery is on the fritz. I am glad I got a backup primary light but jezz, I don’t want to have to buy two backup primary lights. I hope that made someone laugh.

I noticed my primary flickering a little, then I thought, “Hmmmm… that seems a little dim.” I turned on my helmet mounted LED SL4 and BAM! It was brighter then my 10watt HID. Now, I believe the HID is dying.  I turned it off and turned the dive.

I have to say that I am VERY happy with the LED lights. I have two of them mounted to my side mount helmet and they are stellar. Beam is brighter and whiter then my Photon Torpedoes. Reportedly they should burn for a much longer time then the traditional bulbs. Of course, this remains to be seen. In a cave as small as this, the 1 LED light was plenty. It doesn’t have the reach, but in good vis it is good for 15-20 feet. If I wanted more light, I turned on the other light for a moment, then killed it.

On the return trip I checked out some of the other arms of the T’s. There is definitely more cave to explore up there. I also made the jump that leads to the main up stream line. This was a very very cool little extension to my dive. You have to descend head first through a Z shaped passage. I know people do it in backmount, but it just seemed too small to do in good conscience. It was very very cool and I feel very lucky to dive this stuff every other day. I followed it to the main upstream line. About 2/3 way there, I realize I had been on this section of line before. I had aborted my attempt from the other direction because I was on my rebreather and it was getting too tight and I didn’t want to damage the cave. After I finished this section, I headed to another jump I had started to check once before, this time I was successful. I found the end of that line and a fork. At this point, I had been swimming for 102 minutes and it was time to go. I promised Allie I would call at 6PM and it was now 5:50pm. So I cleaned up my stuff and headed home. I am very satisfied that I made a beautiful dive and my mind was in the right place.

Max Depth: 32ffw
Run Time: 113 minutes

March 22, 2008   Comments Off on Dive 366 – Cenote Minotauro

Dive: 365 – Minotauro Cave Dive

Left the house around 3:30PM and made good time to the cenote. The plan was for a side mount dive upstream and take the first marked jump to the left. Then jump onto the main loop and confirm that I can do the circuit. The first thing I discovered was that my new spools were not setup properly, the loops were too small. And they got tangled together on my butt ring. So, when I went to pull a spool it was a mess and when I went to install it, I got a nasty surprise. After sorting out the web hanging from my butt ring, I fished for an older spool made the jump and continued up through the restriction. It is much easier in side mount then back mount. The last time I passed that restriction, I had to remove my buddy bottle and really make and effort to get through. This time, I just twisted a little and I was through. Then I jumped on to the main loop line, turned left and discovered the gold kermantel line had been replaced by white exploration line. I kindly liked the yellow line, I am going to miss it..

Note to self, always check new spools in detail.

I made it to my confirmation point, the directional change in the arrows. I had time to spare, so I made the marked jump and went to the end of the line. On my way back I decided to check out the cross over in the loop, I could see from the main line that the guideline looked like a complete mess with a ball of line tied together. Also, the placement of the line on the ceiling is awful. I didn’t have time to stop and fix the line. I might go back on Thursday and fix it or let one of the more experienced divers know.

The end of the dive was buttoned up with more practice in open water with some new methods of laying down line. Steve taught me how to make locking ramps at speed. I haven’t quiet got it. Figuring out when to put your hand in the line and twist is challenging. I also spent 10-15 minutes practicing swimming backwards. I am happy to report that compared to last Tuesday, I am making good progress going backwards. I started to really get it today and I have learned how to not always rise. This is going to take more practice. As far as I am concerned, those were my two weakest skills from side mount class. I am sure there are others.

This was my 5th visit to Minotauro. I really dig this place. I am looking forward to going down stream again. Last time I went downstream I was in back mount with a buddy bottle. Those who know the place, know it is tight and dark down there. Not really optimal for back mount. Now that I have another option, I don’t think I would do it again in back mount. I have about 7.5 hours run time inside the cave to date.

The only thing that is really plauging me about Minotauro is the location of Escondido. I have been kind of looking for it, but I am not sure the map is accurate or if there is still a path to it. If you know how to find it, please chime in?

Max Depth: 49ffw
Run Time: 88 minutes

March 19, 2008   2 Comments