Cave Diving, Cave Exploration and Cave Mapping in Yucatan, Mexico
Trawler wreck off the beach in Bonaire

Category — Dive Training

1000 Islands Water Temperatures

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

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

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

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

June 24, 2010   Comments Off on 1000 Islands Water Temperatures

Beneath the Sea!

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

About Protec

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

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

About Beneath the Sea

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

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

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

March 26, 2010   Comments Off on Beneath the Sea!

Protec Blog: Instructor Selection

Note: Fixed the link to the Protec Blog on 7/5/2009. Try it now. Sorry!

Matt has written an excellent essay on scuba instructor selection.  From his post,

Another important point is in how many different environments did the instructor conducted his dives activities in, is he or she experienced in warm water only or does the instructor have experience in cold water, black water, currents, wrecks or caves to relate within the training program to potential hazards or unique circumstances in various environments. There is nothing wrong getting in touch with a potential instructor and ask for a diving history report in various environments, experience in personal and teaching various levels of diving or a diving resume. This contact can be used as well to talk about course content and scheduling issues.

I would love to write a response, but I have to go and get a Trimix fill for my dive this weekend.  I hope you enjoy the essay.

July 31, 2009   3 Comments

Interview with Steve Bogaerts: Part 3 of 3

In February of 2009 my wife and I got pregnant with our first child, which is a wonderful joy as we were trying.  The pregnancy set off a chain of events which resulted in us moving back to the United States.  Well, that move created mass chaos in my life and the fact of the matter is I just didn’t have the bandwidth to maintain the blog.  I was busy moving, buying furniture, going to the doctors and getting my life restarted.  Luckily, some of the insanity is dying down and I can get back to some of my recreational activities like blogging.

Before we get to the third part, I want to thank Steve for being a wonderful instructor and for taking the time to participate in this interview.  His responses were well thought-out and I think will help people when they are considering instructors.  You can find Steve’s new web site at: http://www.gosidemount.com.  So, without further adue….

I asked, “You have a new harness on the market called the Razor, what can you tell us about its development?”

Steve answered, “Well as they say “necessity is the mother of invention”.

I originally designed the Razor Harness for use on Side-mount / No-mount exploration dives in very restricted cave where every piece of extra equipment tries to kill you.

The problem was that in many cases to get to the part of the caves where I was exploring required long penetrations using DPV’s and multiple stages thus increasing my equipment load considerably. But when I got to the area I wanted to explore I needed to be as small and streamlined as possible. I wanted some way to integrate these disparate requirements in one system.

Over the years I have dived just about every Side Mount rig on the market as well as various homemade versions.

All of them worked to a degree but none were ideal.  Like most Side Mount divers I spent a lot of time making modifications to improve the various rigs but was always constrained to a certain extent by the original design and never had a Side Mount harness that I was 100% happy with.

As my exploration dives became more and more challenging, particularly over the last few years, I started to run into the limits of both the equipment and the equipment configuration I was using.

Trying to squeeze myself into ever smaller places was pretty rough on all my gear. I was getting hung up and stuck quite often and in fact in the year of exploration leading up to the connection between Sistema Sac Actun and Sistema Nohoch Nah Chich I managed to destroy 3 different Side Mount rigs. I was running out of equipment to dive in.

I ended up making a simple No Mount harness to go under my Side Mount harness so that when the cave really started to get small I could ditch the comparatively bulky Side Mount rig and carry on No Mount.

The problem was managing all this equipment a long way back in very small cave usually in zero visibility while trying to run a line or survey.  I was spending too much time dressing and undressing while underwater a long way back in the cave and not enough exploring.

Also trying to make sure that I had all the stuff I needed on the right harness at any given moment was a problem and at various times I forgot line arrows or survey slates for example because they were attached to the Side Mount rig I had left behind me in the cave and not my No Mount harness.

Additionally having passed through a section of No Mount cave sometimes it would open back up again and then having a Side Mount harness again would have been an advantage so that I could swim more efficiently.

As well during this period I started exploring from a tiny Cenote called Por One which lay between the Sac and Nohoch systems.

Por One has a nasty no mount entrance where you have to descend down a very tight chimney in the shape of an S.

There was absolutely no way to enter wearing my Side Mount harness, even with both tanks off, so I would begin my dives just in my simple No Mount harness.

Once through the entrance the cave continued in no mount sized passage for quite a distance and often I had to crawl, wriggle and dig my way through to make progress.

Eventually the cave opened up a bit and again a Side Mount harness would have been good to have but there was no way to get my existing Side Mount rig through the entrance and beginning section of the cave.

I needed a simpler more flexible system that fitted my current, more demanding needs.  I decided to start from scratch and design a completely new harness for myself.   It had to function as both a No Mount harness and a Side Mount harness. It had to work with multiple stages and with DPV’s.   The harness also needed to accommodate a totally separate and removable modular buoyancy system.

Ideally the harness also had to meet the following criteria on my rather extensive wish list as well:

  • Small and light so as to be easy to carry on long treks through the jungle.
  • Comfortable to wear and easy to get on and off on the surface.
  • A simple design with no stitching or fancy hardware.
  • Rugged to stand up to the most challenging dives in the most challenging environments where it was going to take a beating.
  • Safe and reliable because my life depended upon its performance.
  • As low profile and streamlined as possible to allow me to fit in the smallest areas possible.
  • Easy to use in very challenging conditions.
  • Easy to adjust.
  • Easy to repair if and when it does get damaged.

Over many hours of brainstorming, lots of test diving and various “Eureka” moments in the middle of the night the Razor Harness finally evolved into what you see today.

There were several prototypes along the way but the final version that I am currently using meets all of my requirements and is by far the best and most flexible Side Mount / No Mount harness I have ever used and has made my exploration dives far more efficient and productive and safer too.

I finally have a harness I am totally 100% happy with and that level of comfort is directly translated into the difficulty level of the dives I can now undertake that I would have hesitated to do before.

After years of experience diving in Side Mount I really thought I knew what I was doing but the last  few years spent experimenting with the Razor Harness have completely redefined my approach to, and philosophy of, Side Mount diving.

It has been like an evolution for me and I feel like I have learned so much and become a much better Side Mount diver along the way and that has been a really enjoyable experience.

I soon realized that if it worked so well for me then the Razor Harness would work just as well for other divers as well.

I started teaching all my Side Mount students in the Razor Harness and noticed a dramatic improvement in their skills, abilities and comfort as well.   Their pace of learning accelerated considerably.

One of the best ways to really understand something is to teach it to someone else.

Teaching other divers to use the Razor Harness really forced me to think deeply about, and refine, all the skills sets and procedures and this has been a really helpful process for me personally as well as a lot of fun.

The current system I teach is the distillation of all that trial and error. That experience refined and streamlined equipment, skill sets and procedures.

Each of the components in the system is designed to fit together seamlessly and work as part of an integrated whole.  The Razor Harness is at the heart of this system and is the foundation of all my “Bogarthian” Side-Mount procedures.

My philosophy is holistic in approach and is designed from the inside out so that as additional layers of equipment are added there is no change in the core equipment, equipment placement, procedures or skill sets.

“Less is More”

The Razor Harness itself is simplicity and elegance personified with only 2 continuous pieces of webbing and 1 closure point.  It is simple, strong, rugged, reliable, low profile and extremely minimalist in design. It fits like a glove and is very comfortable to wear.  The Razor will fit anyone no matter what their physical size or shape and is quick and easy to set up and adjust so that each individual diver gets a custom fit using standardized hardware.  It can be adjusted at several points to ensure the optimal fit for each individual.  All the attachment points such as D rings on the Razor Harness can be adjusted quickly and easily to allow personalized positioning of equipment placement.  Extra attachment points can be added easily if required.  Weight can be added to exactly where you need it on the Razor Harness to optimize trim.

You can easily use any BCD you want with the Razor Harness either wing or jacket style or no BCD at all if using a Drysuit or light tanks and lung volume.

The beauty of not having an integrated BCD is that you can add whatever level of buoyancy is required according to tank size & material, total equipment load, environmental factors, exposure suit type etc.”

I asked, “Are there any other related developments on the way?”

Steve answered, “Yes I am currently working on a modular buoyancy control system specifically to go with the Razor Harness.

When I first started using the Razor Harness I was diving it without any kind of BCD, controlling my buoyancy with just lung volume.

That worked out okay just diving with 2 AL80 Side Mount tanks although at the start of the dive, when the tanks were full, I had to dive at the top of my lung volume and it did not really become comfortable until the tank pressures dropped 500psi and the tanks became a bit lighter.

I really needed a small amount of lift to compensate for the weight of the gas in the tanks at the start of the dive but did not want to add a large and bulky BCD.

In one of my “Eureka” moments I decided to try out a 2l Camelbak hydration bag that I had lying around as a BCD. The 2l volume gave me 4.5lbs of additional lift.

I wrapped the Camelbak horizontally around my lower back over my Razor Harness and held it in place by attaching a bungee cord to one side, running that around my waist and through the front loop of my crotch strap and clipping it off to the other side of the Camelbak with a small snap bolt.

I inflated it orally through the bite on mouthpiece of the drinking tube and dumped air out of it by pinching the mouthpiece between my thumb and forefinger while holding the drinking tube up.  You can also suck the air out of it if you want to really empty it or are in an orientation where dumping will not work.
This is a real advantage when I find myself head down twisted like a pretzel in a restriction!

The concept was so simple and yet it worked fantastically well.  I called it the “BAT Wing” which stands for Buoyancy And Trim Wing.

The BAT Wing is designed to be worn over the Razor Harness. In my opinion sandwiching the BCD between the harness and the body is not ideal for the following reasons:

  • You cannot remove the BCD underwater.
  • The harness restricts the BCD.
  • You need to use a bigger BCD to cope with the reduction of usable volume.
  • The harness may cause air trapping in the BCD making control of buoyancy, trim, gas dumping etc more difficult.
  • Inflating the BCD restricts the harness.
  • When the BCD is inflated it can make the harness uncomfortably tight.
  • If you leave the harness loose enough to allow comfortable BCD inflation the harness will not be as snug and streamlined as it would otherwise.
  • Layering BCD’s for redundancy is more difficult and compounds all of the other issues above.

The most important reason for me to have my BAT Wing over my harness is the ability to easily and quickly remove/replace it underwater while diving if necessary.

Having the buoyancy so low down on my body was the ideal position to help maintain horizontal trim and the fact that it is so close to my center of gravity helped to optimize control when changing orientation in the water.

The BAT Wing is positioned in the small of my lower back and the super low profile meant that I could enter very small areas of the cave with no problem at all.  If needed it was very simple to remove the BAT Wing underwater as it was worn over the Razor Harness just being held in place by a single small bolt snap.

When I got to No Mount areas I could either take it off altogether and leave it behind or wrap it around my butt mounted tank to get it neutral and make towing the tank easier.

When I get to No Mount areas I have 3 options; leave the BAT in place but suck all the air out of it to minimize the profile, take it off altogether and leave it behind or wrap it around my butt mounted tank to get it neutral and make towing the tank easier.

I quickly upgraded to a 3l version that gave me just enough lift (6.6lbs) to dive with a single AL80 stage in addition to the AL80 Side Mount tanks.

I have recently upgraded again to using the MSR Dromedary Hydration Bags instead of the Camelbak’s as they are better made, more rugged and durable and come in a larger range of sizes 2L, 4L, 6L and 10L.

The beauty of not having an integrated BCD is that you can add whatever level of buoyancy is required according to tank size & material, total equipment load, environmental factors, exposure suit type etc.

I am currently using a 2l for No Mount dives, a 4L for Side Mount single stage dives and a 6L for Side Mount multi stage dives.

In addition it is very easy to layer the bags one on top of another for redundancy.

While this system is very, very good I have a few ideas that I hope will improve it further.

At the moment I am in the process of developing a commercially viable modular BC system along the same principles specifically for the Razor Harness and hope to have something available very soon.”

July 15, 2009   3 Comments

Interview with Steve Bogaerts: Part 1 of 3

Steve Bogaerts fitting a Razor prototype to Hans Kaspersetz

In the past two years I have trained under three different instructors.  Each had their own specialty and really expanded the breadth of my knowledge and depth of my skills.  I have been fortunate to develop strong relationships with these men and continue my learning through regular contact and diving with them.  I sought these instructors because of positive referrals from other divers and reputation.  Therefore, I decided to interview instructors here on QuietDiver.com so you can decide for yourself who you want to train under.

Steve Bogaerts, my sidemount and specialty cave diving instructor, has agreed to participate in our first interview.  Following is the first part of a three part series in which he explains his unique approach to teaching side mount diving.  I will be publishing the next two parts over the next week and a half.

I asked Steve, “You teach Side Mount and have an innovative approach which is breaking the course into three segments.  Can you tell us about each of the segments?  Why did you choose this approach?  What should a student expect to learn in each segment?”

Here is Steve Bogaerts’ answer.

Actually there are 4 levels.
Intro to Side Mount
Level 1 Basic Side Mount Diver
Level 2 Advanced Side Mount Diver
Level 3 Exploration / No Mount Diver

The Intro course is a 2 day program and Levels 1, 2 & 3 are all 4 days in duration.

Traditionally the Side Mount Cave specialty course has always been a 2 or 3 day program but I found that I just cannot do it justice in that short a time frame.

Steve Bogaerts building a custom Razor side mount harness.

I have many years and thousands of dives in Side Mount/No Mount configuration and it is just not possible for me to fit all that knowledge and experience into a single 2 day course.

In addition most divers are not really ready to be in true Side Mount cave after just a day or 2 in a brand new equipment configuration.

In my opinion that is unsafe for both the diver and the cave.

Nearly all of my students come to me via word of mouth recommendation.

The reason divers come to me specifically to take a Side Mount Course is because of my experience and expertise in this particular area.

I really want my students to be able to benefit from my experience and knowledge in the best way possible so that they get the very best training I can offer that is challenging, detailed and complete but at the same time enjoyable.

To achieve this over the last few years I have completely changed the way in which I teach Side Mount.

It is not just the course structure that is new but pretty much my whole philosophy of Side Mount diving, the skills sets and procedures, and the way in which I teach the courses.

When you completely change your equipment configuration from Back Mount to Side Mount a lot of other things are going to change as well and a whole new skill set is going to have to be learned and practiced.

Being a good Side Mount diver requires a great deal more thought and attention than just hanging 2 tanks off of the side of your body.

Before more advanced Side Mount skills can be learned basic ones have to be mastered and before we enter a more challenging environment we need to make sure our skills and comfort level is matched to it.

The course levels are all natural stopping points and divers can choose to remain at each level either permanently, as they have no desire to go further, or temporarily to get more experience before moving up to the next level.

Put very simply the Intro to Side Mount Course is a short open water only introduction to diving in Side Mount configuration for someone who has never tried it before.

This is not a certification level and represents the first 2 days of the Basic Side Mount Course.

The Level 1 Basic Side Mount Course teaches you the skills and procedures necessary to cave dive in Side Mount configuration but still in larger cave until further training and experience is gained.

Any new equipment configuration takes some time to master and this should be done in a low stress safe environment so the intent here is not to dive in very small cave.

The Level 2 Advanced Side Mount Course builds on the skills and procedures learned in the Level 1 course as well as adding additional skills with the intent to train divers to be comfortable and safe diving in true SM cave which increases the environmental hazards and psychological stress levels considerably.

The Level 3 Exploration Side Mount/No Mount Course gives you the tools to be able to explore effectively and safely in the most extreme environments one will encounter in cave diving.

Some people want to dive Side Mount but have no desire to go in small cave so the level 1 course is the perfect choice and a natural stopping point for them.

For those wishing to actually dive smaller cave then first they have to master the basic skills and procedures of diving Side Mount in large cave in Level 1 before entering the far more challenging environment of true Side Mount cave that is introduced at Level 2.

Levels 1 and 2 can be taken concurrently or with a break in between.

On completion of Level 2 at this point it is time to go diving and build up some experience in Side Mount configuration in all types of cave including the small stuff before moving on to the Level 3 course which is very intensive and demands an extremely high comfort level in very challenging cave while dealing with potentially very stressful situations.

A minimum of 50 dives in Side Mount are required before taking the Level 3 Course.

There are also a number of complimentary specialty courses that can be taken in Side Mount after either Level 1 or Level 2; Stage/Multi Stage, DPV and Survey.

These course all introduce different aspects of cave diving and give a diver the knowledge and skills to plan more complex and demanding cave dives while learning more about the cave environment.

Additionally they are all tools that anyone wishing to explore at some point will need as well.

Hence all 3 of these specialty courses are also prerequisites for the Level 3 course.

The Level 3 course is really aimed at divers wishing to do the most challenging and demanding cave diving possible with a view to exploration.

This course puts in to practice all the skills learned and experience gained to this point as well as introducing No Mount techniques and exploration methodology.

To a large extent the courses have evolved around the Razor Harness and are designed to compliment it and to get the most from it.

The Razor Harness is at the heart of my “Bogarthian” Side Mount Philosophy.

I want to thank Steve for participating.  If you have any questions for Steve, please do not hesitate to leave a comment here on the blog.  I will make sure we get answers for you!

May 30, 2009   10 Comments

Response to zzzzzzzz from Rebreather World

I posted a link to my article Last Dive at The Pit – Bailing Out at Depth over on Rebreatherworld.com.  One of the users, zzzzzzzz, commented on it and I thought his comment was worthwhile reposting here with my response.  The indented copy is zzzzzzzz’s comment.

Good article.

WRT keeping on schedule, OC trimix should be running a set of schedules, allowing for aborted dive, short, long and maximum schedules. This provides all the needed flexibility in an emergency. Running a single schedule is not great.

Thank you! I write the articles for people to learn from and enjoy as entertainment.

The diver had the appropriate schedules. I am not sure where you read that we didn’t have the schedules. Seems like you made a bit of an assumption to the negative. Our desire was to stay on the nominal schedule. As you might imagine, the switch to the next schedule at depth can add an unnecessary amount of decompression and gas usage. Every minute at that depth translates into about 5 minutes of deco. A switch to the next schedule brings a 30 minute penalty, something neither of us wanted to be obliged too. A close reading of the article reveals that my one minute to make the switch was built in to our nominal schedules. We left the switch on schedule.

This is to distinguish the need for time to solve problems versus making an expeditious exit. Since you experienced issues, it is astounding that the OC diver’s schedules did not allow flexibility in running schedules. Certainly, a diver targets a nominal run time for a dive, however, not carrying contingency schedules is a fundamental training issue. Recommending that someone executes faster when encountering problems is not constructive since one cannot predict how long problem solving can take, especially in an emergency.

See above.

It is also quite okay to encourage better skills integration for enhanced performance, however, not because it is an inconvenience for the OC diver.

I see his recommendation in a different light. Optimally, I would like to be able to be swimming towards the exit while making the switch. That ability would cut at least 1 minute at depth and 5 minutes off of deco saving a little less then 18cuft of gas. Additionally, it would put me closer to the exit if there were another emergency, which out of respect to Murphy isn’t completely unlikely. I can’t remember a time when only one thing went wrong when things started to go really wrong. I think Santiago’s critic is correct in that I need to work towards the ability to swim and make this switch at depth. I can do it in 100ft, why not in 280ft? That is a valid question and needs to be figured into bail out planning and needs to be trained further to develop better muscle memory. I don’t think either of my CCR instructors would have let me walk without being able to do that skill while making an exit. I shouldn’t accept it either.

On deploying and stowing regulators, especially on the fly, an added option is to set hose lengths such that the regs drape around the neck to staggered positions. This can allow maintaining several regulators in a deployed condition, allowing more time and options for stowage.

This is not a bad recommendation though going back onto the loop and doing 2.5 hours of deco this way wouldn’t have been very comfortable. Again, this is a training and equipment issue and was only identified because I took the time to actually try it out.  I wrote that I have a similar problem when I dive OC with stages.  That should have been a warning to me that it would manifest itself when I dive CCR.  It is interesting that the problems we have in the shallows are magnified under the time pressure that comes with depth.

Thanks for taking the time to read my article and provide feedback! Your ideas help me to better flush out my ideas. Keep them coming

May 7, 2009   Comments Off on Response to zzzzzzzz from Rebreather World

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

Hitting the Wall.

Advanced Cave – Stage / Multi-Stage Course with Steve Bogaerts

In October, I wrote a story about the DPV course I completed; I brazenly stated that the course was less stressful and difficult then previous courses. I felt great when I wrote that story, all that was going to change in the next two days. I had elected to do the DPV and Stage courses back to back in 5 consecutive days.

In the past, I had never made it past three days of training with Steve. By the third day I was exhausted and had absorbed all my body and brain could. On two occasions we had 4 or 5 days scheduled, and I bagged the extra days. Since I live in Mexico it was never a big deal. We would just reschedule those days in the future and Steve would enjoy his time off. Each time we ended training, I was at a natural stopping point. Any further and I would reach the point of diminishing returns.

The Stage Course was surprisingly challenging. I had done a pretty good job handling the scooter and integrating it with my diving. On Thursday, we headed to Ponderosa for some open water skills with a single stage and then the stage and the scooter. I did pretty well and executed all the required skills. I did discover that my regulators were not optimally setup and that I must have a long torso. We drilled on attaching the stage to the crotch d-ring and towing it with the scooter behind us. My 40 inch hose just wasn’t long enough. We also performed a cavern dive and drilled staging the scooter and a single bottle. I had a little trouble remembering to stop breathing the stage when we hit the scooter 1/3rds. That definitely should have been a warning. The day ended early because I was worn out.

Thursday night I had spent some time re-arranging regulators and filching my wife’s Scuba Pro MK25/S600, I needed one more turret first stage. In return she got an Apeks ATX 200. I think it was a fair trade. A little more wrangling and I ended up with two sets of left and right delivery regulators on turret first stages. I was happy with the outcome. I had wanted to find this combination for a while.

Friday dawned and I met Steve at his place. We got the DPV’s together and headed to Chac Mool. I rigged my sidemount tanks and my two stage tanks. As I started walking all this gear to the water’s edge I felt apprehensive. When I was nearly done ferrying gear to the water, I said to myself, “I can’t believe this is a two day course, I can’t imagine how anyone could do this in two days.” I was subconsciously aware that I was emotionally, physically and intellectually fatigued. In retrospect it is clear that was my gut talking and I wasn’t really listening, if I were I would have been able to prevent the coming mistakes.

The plan for Friday was to make two cavern dives and a long cave dive. The first cavern dive would drill handling one stage and the scooter. I needed to stage both and continue on. Then turn the dive and return in zero visibility and pick up them up. The drill started with us scootering. He signaled that I should drop my scooter. I staged the scooter and swam on. I believe I was still breathing the stage which was a protocol violation, however, I corrected quickly. I prepared to drop the stage. I decided to drop it at a 90degree turn in the line. I thought it would be easy to maintain orientation on my return. I dropped the stage on the wrong side of the line and continued. Steve called the dive and started the zero visibility drill. I reached the stage and immediately picked it up. I had to lift it over the line to the correct side of my body. While doing this, I actually got my body over the 90 bend and I had the line between me and the tank and in both arms. Right before I clipped the tank in, I realized the issue and corrected it. However, it wasn’t pretty and could have made things difficult if I hadn’t recognized the issue. I referenced the tie off twice more to confirm and then proceeded on. I picked up the DPV and called the drill.

In the debrief Steve pointed out some of my mistakes and how I could improve:

  1. I should have dropped the bottle on the right side of the line as I was entering. This way when I returned, I could immediately mount it on the left. I wouldn’t have to cross the line with it.
  2. When I reached the bottle, I should have picked it up and swam down the line a body length or so. This is for two reasons: A. so I wouldn’t be over the tie off and interfere with it or risk getting entangled in it like I did. B. By hovering over the tie off, I was preventing my dive buddy behind me from referencing it while I mounted the stage bottle.
  3. I need to stop breathing the stage as soon as I decided it is time to drop it or the DPV.

The second dive went better. This was my first dive with two stages and the DPV. My job was to scooter the line until I was instructed to stage. At that point I staged the scooter, and the two tanks. The drill went pretty well. We turned the dive and I picked up all my gear with visibility and we surfaced. The debrief wasn’t remarkable.

I was completely exhausted emotionally and intellectually by this time. However, I decided to go on and didn’t say anything to Steve. We ate some lunch and returned to the water. I started to put on all my tanks and I was really struggling with them. Steve could see I was stressed. I went though my pre-dive check and only gave Steve my stage turn pressures. Actually, I gave Steve the amount of gas I could use out of each stage. When I told him I was done, he asked me what my turn pressures were for my sidemount tanks. I looked the gauges and rattled off 700psi each. And this is where things really went down hill. I was over tired and worn out. I had 4 tanks with 4 different starting pressures. And I was using 2 different amounts out of each set of tanks. I only said and processed how much I could use out of each tank. I decided I could remember the starting pressures. I never processed the turn pressure. I didn’t write anything down and Steve allowed me to start the dive. I was already a train wreck. Some lessons are best taught by a big blunder.

We started to scooter up stream. I was only supposed to breathe 1/6 from of my stages and burn the scooter for 20 minutes. Within 15 minutes I had already over breathed my first stage by a couple of hundred PSI, to be honest I am not sure how much I over breathed it. Steve knew there was a problem, he knows my SAC rate and he knew how much gas I had. He let me continue the dive. When I realized I had overshot the mark, I switched to my second stage. I figured I could recover by breathing the second stage short. However, I wasn’t sure how much I should short it and a seed of uncertainty and doubt started to creep in. I wasn’t sure of my gas situation. I knew I had plenty of gas with nearly full sidemount tanks. But I wasn’t rock solid sure. I staged my tank and continued scootering.

Within 5-6 minutes, I hit 20 minutes on the scooter. It was time to stage the scooter and then the second stage tank. I dropped both and placed a cookie on the line at an arrow pointing into the cave confirming my exit. We started to swim up stream on the sidemount tanks. Like a complete moron, I didn’t check my starting pressures for the sidemount tanks and so I had no idea when to turn! The further I swam, the more intense the sense of impending doom grew! Finally, after 20 minutes I had had enough and I called the dive. I was sufficiently freaked out about my uncertainty around my gas volumes. I was in 50ft of water and 2800ft from the entrance. We swam for 5 minutes or less and Steve called lights out. I got on the line and extinguished my light.

At this point the anxiety grew big ugly horns and was breathing fire! I felt doomed. I know the reality is that I had enough gas in my cylinders to get back, however we had departed from reality and had entered the realm of guessing and uncertainty. The longer we swam in the dark the worse the feeling got. I started to slowly unwind in the dark, but I still made good progress.

When I finally reached my stage bottle an overwhelming sense of relief flooded me. It is like popping out of a nasty silty restriction back into clear water, I felt like I could make it home. I struggled to clip the stage on in the dark on the line. I had chosen a really ugly spot to drop the bottle. I finally got it on and we proceed. I decided to breathe from the stage. I reckoned that I could breathe the tank dry and ditch it if I needed. That would provide some reference as to how far I had traveled and give me some definitely information about my gas volumes.

Five minutes later, I think, we came to the scooter, mind you this is all in the dark, and I clipped the scooter to my crotch D-ring and started to make headway. I held the scooter out in front of me and dropped in to a nice steady pace. I came upon my cookie and started to remove it from the line. Half way through the process, I decided to leave it. I thought, if I get turned around in the dark, this cookie will point me to the right way out.

After what seemed like an interminably long time, we reached my first dropped stage. I really struggled putting it back on. Two stages and a scooter in the dark on the line were tremendously difficult for me. I am not sure if it was the rigging or all the gear. I nearly lost the line a couple of times and I definitely stressed the line. Finally, I got sorted and started swimming.

I think this a good time to talk about the dark, real dark. The kind you find 2000 feet back in a cave. It is the loneliest and most baffling experience I have ever been through. In the dark time seems to follow a completely different pace. If you eyes are open your brain starts filling in the gaps to try and stay sane. It is hard to keep it focused, there is no reference. To be honest, I have no idea how long any of the stuff I am describing took. All I knew was that I had to keep hacking at it and make progress. This dive was the longest I had been in the dark to date and it seemed like a long time.

Imagine me lumbering down the line with all this gear. I didn’t know the cave very well and I had no idea where I was or how far I had traveled. After some time, my scooter got stuck in the wall. I thought it was strange. I could feel the wall on my right shoulder. I was holding the line with my left hand. I pulled the scooter back towards me and away from the way. It was pretty stuck. The line was in my palm with no real pressure. I started to struggle with the scooter. I finally yanked on it and it came free. I decided to change the line from left to right hand and swap the scooter. I put my right hand under my left and I cupped the line. The scooter was floating free. I left go of the line with my left and the line pulled through my right hand and disappeared. I gasp deeply. Fuck! I am off the line, in the dark, with 2 stages and a scooter in a cave I don’t really know. This is really bad!

Steve had felt the line being pulled up behind him and turned around. He saw my gauges on the ceiling of the cave. He told me he knew something bad was about to happen. He heard my gasp and then the line went slack in his hand returning to its normal position. He saw I was off the line and could hear my breathing had quickened. He thought about the fact that I was in a large bore cave with a DPV, lots of gear, 2000ft from the entrance, in 50ft of water and lost off the line. He feared I might trigger the scooter in my struggle and really make things worse. This had the makings of a bad situation. He expected me to turn on my lights and call the drill.

I quickly thought about the situation and blindly swept my arms below me looking for the line. I didn’t find it. I considered turning on my lights and then decided that in real life I wouldn’t have that option. I had to stay with it. I was momentarily overcome with fear.

I regained a little composure, thought again and decided the line had to be below me. I hadn’t felt any tension before it snapped free. I put my right hand on the wall, stretched my arms out and descended. I figured I would land on the line. A few moments later, I found the line. I hovered motionless with it in my hand feeling relieved. I spent some time breathing. I needed to get that under control. I regained composure and I was relieved I had found the line. The thought of a lost line search with a DPV was no fun.

I swam up the line and met Steve. We continued in the dark for a short time and then turned the lighting on. He signaled his DPV was broken and I towed him to the entrance.

On the surface we debriefed the dive. It was an intense experience. I had hit the wall in so many ways. I discovered that I can’t track 4 different tank volumes and turn pressures in my head. I also learned that I need to call dives earlier, especially on the surface if I am in over my head, which I was. In the end, I didn’t pass the course. I was sent away with instructions to practice with one stage and a scooter or two stages and no scooter. I was unable to safely conduct a multi-stage DPV cave dive. Whether it was because I was over tired or too task loaded, I made some bad decisions on the surface and really suffered during the dive.

I don’t believe I was ever in mortal danger on the dive. I do believe that I learned a huge amount about myself and my capabilities. Since the DPV course I have gotten an N-19. I have been hesitating to use it. The multi-stage portion of the course really made me trigger shy. I had sunk into some sort of compliancy around gas management and the course really rattled me. I have been much more diligent with my gas management, including writing down my turn pressures. Lately, I have been using a single stage regularly and I find it useful to process the turn pressures by writing them down and saying them. I have also incorporated a 5 minute meditation on the surface before starting the dive. I completely kit up including pre-dive check. Then I float on the surface for 5 minutes taking deep breathes. The idea is to center myself and visualize the dive. I want to lower my heart rate and dissipate the anxiety that is built up as I struggle to kit up.

I think I am going to schedule another day with Steve in January or February 2009 to finish the course. Hopefully, by then I will have a handful of single stage DPV cave dives under my belt. I already have a handful of single stage cave dives and they are becoming easier to execute.

December 23, 2008   6 Comments

Surveying While Cave Diving is Difficult

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

November 23, 2008   5 Comments

Circuit at Mayan Blue

Learning to not waste gas setting the primary reel.

A couple of weeks ago, I did an awesome single stage dive down Tunnel A and out to the end of the line past Maya’s Two Cenote and Lost Cenote.  In the weeks leading up to the dive I was feeling flat and burned out.   Probably from doing too many dives that required too much preparation, work and stress.  That dive really turned things around and refreshed me.  The highlight of the dive was the blue water in Hostage Hall.   I don’t know; I just had a ton of fun.  When Alain and I decided to dive today, I knew just where to go, Mayan Blue.

It was Alain’s first trip to Mayan Blue and I had an excellent dive in mind.  Patrick had been bugging me to do the do the circuit that passes through The Tubes and then up through The Dead Zone.  I thought I would finally oblige him.  Luckily, on the aforementioned dive I had done about fifty percent of the circuit so I sort of knew what to look for to connect the loop.  I remembered a red arrow that said Sun Cenote on the line coming down from the Dead Zone.  That was my mental clue for knowing where to connect the lines.

It has rained for the last 35 consecutive days.  This has flooded some of the cenotes. When we arrived at Mayan Blue the water was 1ft over the deck and the water was tannic down to about 10ft (3m).  I really hate jumping into tannic water, I always feel like there is going to be a scary monster in the water that is going to reach up and bite me.  I am sure you know exactly what I am talking about.  I overcame my fear and we started the dive from The Dead Zone entrance.

I lead and Alain staged a bottle of 02.   I had been in that section before so finding the main line was pretty easy.    We estimated it would take us 7-8 minutes to get to our first way point, the sharp right hand turn where the tunnel turns south and drops down to 60ft (18m).  We reached it in 9 minutes.  We were close to schedule but I still wasn’t sure if we would make it to our objective, the jump to line leading to Maya’s Two Cenote.

I am going to digress for a minute, but I suffer from a terrible waste of gas when setting the guideline to open water.  For some reason, I always seem to burn 500psi out of one tank for that small task, even when the main line isn’t that far from open water.  Setting the reel drove my SAC through the roof and would blow out my estimates for the entire dive.  It was really frustrating!

For a brief moment I considered carrying a small stage just for setting the reel.  I know it is ridicules, but it was awful and embarrassing to waste that much gas at the beginning of the dive.  I knew it wouldn’t fix the problem only the symptom.  So, I decided to talk to Steve about it during dpv/stage class.  I explained to him what was happening and how frustrated I was.

He suggested that after prepping for the dive and getting all worked up entering the water I was a little stressed.  He asked me how I felt when I started most dives and I told him stressed and anxious.  His guess correlated nicely to my experience.  He suggested that after everything is ready to go, I take 5 minutes, float on the surface, and focus on relaxing and breathing.  Take some time and just chill out.

He also suggested that setting the reel added to my stress level and I was forgetting about my breathing.  The cumulative effect was why I was wasting so much gas.  I agreed with him.

With that knowledge I decided to put his recommendations into use today.  Once Alain and I were completely ready to dive, pre-dive checks and all were complete, we took five minutes and just floated there.  I took some time to meditate and relax each muscle group on each exhale.  It felt great.  The stress and anxiety of the coming dive melted away.  I cooled off a bit and started to breath with a nice rhythm.  I just felt so much better.  Thank you Steve!

Setting the reel went really smoothly and I used about 50% of the gas that I would have normally used for a run that long, I think about 250PSI.  I made my breathing the first priority, buoyancy with the BC next and setting the reel number three.  I was really satisfied with the change.  Everything just came together.

The swim down from the turn is really beautiful!  There is big cave, small cave, restrictions, and silt.  It is perfect cave for sidemount.  I can only think of two places I needed to turn 90degrees to fit through a restriction, the rest of them would have been tight in backmount.  When we reached the first potential connection point, it was 19 minutes.  We found a green arrow and a pretty big jump. I swam across and put a cookie on the end of that line and returned.  I was pretty sure we weren’t in the right place yet.  The arrow on our line was pointing wrong direction and it was the wrong color.  Unfortunately, those two indicators can’t be trusted here.  Lines and arrows change in Mexico ALL the time.  I wrote some notes on my survey slate and we continued.

We passed a couple of more arrows and a change in direction.  None of those were candidates because they were jumps in the wrong direction.  Were having a fabulous dive!  We finally came to two red arrows that said Sun Cenote.  I looked right and the jump was about 2ft.  I felt like we were in the right place and the time reflected it at 36minutes.  I signaled Alain and asked if he wanted to make the jump.  He said yes and told me he has about 200psi to burn between his tanks.  I signaled him I had about the same amount of gas and I just wanted to go a little ways, he affirmed, I installed a small spool and we crossed.  We swam a couple of minutes and I started to recognize the cave, I felt confident.  At 40 minutes it was time to turn the dive and I placed my cookie.  We agreed to use 900psi and we hit the mark about the same time.  I was stoked knowing that we had jumped onto the correct line.  We exited leaving our markers and reel in place.  The exit only took 31 minutes, Alain picked up the pace after accusing me of being slow.  We used even less gas on the exit.

During the 2 hour surface interval we tried to figure out where on the map we made the connecting jump.  We never really did.  Either the distances are wrong or I am just confused.  Alain and I decided we were going to try and complete the circuit.  We agreed that when we reached my cookie, we needed to have 2000psi left.  This added 200PSI of conservatism.

We entered the water and we repeated the relaxation routine.  It was awesome, I felt great.  We put the primary reel in A Tunnel wasting little gas and made the first marked jump to the left.  We passed Maya’s Two Cenote at about 10 minutes and dropped down into The Tubes.  The dive was going great.  In fact, this dive was better then my first dive to the tubes.  The first time I was in very limited visibility the entire time. Don’t accuse me, I found it that way.  This time visibility was great and now that I could see the floor, I was amazed how bad the floor in The Tubes is damaged.  It looks like there was a bar room brawl down there!  People, please be more considerate and practice some cave conservation.  If it is too small and you can’t stay off the floor, stay the fuck out.  This is equally true of Minotauro.  It is going to take centuries or more to repair your damage.  There is plenty of cave that doesn’t require you to be that close to the mud.

We made it to the T at Lost Cenotes in about 25 minutes.  I wasn’t sure how much further it was to the marker.  The first time I came this route I had checked all the jumps and really wasted a lot of time.  I was surprised when we hit my cookie at about 30 minutes.  I had used 600psi out of each tank, so we had plenty of gas.  Alain and I did all the appropriate confirmations and decided to finish the circuit.  We gave each other a high five.  I have to admit that it is comforting to come up on your own gear and confirm you are going the right way.  We finished the circuit at 60 minutes and with 1500psi remaining in each tank.

We did a short stop and swam over to A Tunnel.  We dropped down and went to pick up our gear.  I had placed a cookie at the T in Maya’s Two and didn’t want to leave it.  When we reached the end of the clean up we were at 94 minutes and I had 10 minutes of deco on my Suunto D6, Alain had no deco on his computer.   He did a safety stop plus two minutes and surfaced. When he got to the deck there was a 5ft black and white snake sunning itself.  Alain was trapped in the water.

When my computer finally cleared it was 109 minutes.  I love deco minutes on dive computers, talk about bending space time.  I swam to the wrong end of the cenote while decoing, so I had to surface swim back.  By the time I arrived the scary monster had slithered into the water and disappeared.  We celebrated the dive, cleaned up and headed to Tulum for some chicken at Pollo Bronco.  It was another excellent day with a great friend and dive buddy.

This is a fantastic circuit, but it takes all day to setup, complete and clean up.  If you want to dive it, I recommend getting some Nitrox 32.  That would keep you squarely in the NDL limits.  Also, care has to be taken if you are diving in backmount or with a stage.  There are some tight areas that can easily be damaged.  Lastly, a big percentage of this dive is in the halocline, so be considerate of your dive buddies.  I would really limit the team size to two.

October 26, 2008   3 Comments