Cave Diving, Cave Exploration and Cave Mapping in Yucatan, Mexico
Casa Cenote Mexico with Patrick Widmann, Allie Kaspersetz and Katie

Category — Uncategorized

Rediscovering Sistema Ek Be

Ek Be (Star Road in Maya) is a name that we heard many times. In a mail we exchanged, Jim Coke called it a “Lost Cave” and explained to us that it had been explored in the early nineties but that the data in his possession was not complete and he was unaware of the cave exact location.

cenote-sistema-ek-be.jpg

The idea of finding it and bringing it back to light was obviously fascinating.  We knew that Ek Be was in the area between Dos Ojos and Xunaan Ha, between these huge systems there is a vast unknown area that calls for exploration. We could not resist and a couple of weeks ago we decided to go scouting in the jungle looking for it.

Our only reference was a GPS way point Jim had passed us, it was the location of Cenote Zotz, and not far from it we should find our cave. After a three hour long jungle walk we found ourselves at the edge of a big collapse filled with vegetation, we descended into it and promptly found what we were looking for: cavern and water!
Unfortunately it was already dusk and we had to head back without checking for cave. A few days ago, April 1st, we went back to the spot to open up a small path and search for existing line or virgin cave.

Jumping in the water after fighting the jungle was already a pleasure but it was nothing compared to what the cave offered us: free diving from our entrance it was just a short swim before we could see light coming from the other side, a small dive and we reemerged into another and equally beautiful cenote! We were so fascinated and excited that at first we did not notice the blackened old line running a few feet deeper: that was it! We were definitely swimming in the cavern of Ek Be.

In the next days we intend to go back to the cave and start a resurvey of the existing lines and possibly to do new cave exploration.

We will keep you posted!! Quiet Diver Exploration Team.

P.s.: Jim Coke from QRSS collected the survey he received from the explorers of the Ek Be system. They were taken in 1993 and 1994  by Buddy Quattlebaum, Gary Walten, Kay Walten, Steve Gerrard, Tom Flynn, Hilaire Hiler, Frans Vandermolen.

Thanks to Jim and the first explorers, we hope we can keep up with your efforts back in that great era of Cave Exploration.

April 18, 2011   Comments Off on Rediscovering Sistema Ek Be

Interview with Steve Bogaerts: Part 2 of 3

In the second part of this three part series, Steve Bogaerts answers my questions and one of QuietDiver.com’s reader’s questions about preparing for training and Steve’s philosophy on sharing the

course’s skill sets ahead of time.

As a bonus feature, I have included two videos that Steve took of me while I was taking my Advanced Side Mount course with him.  When this video was shot, I had about 30 sidemount dives and we were on day two of the course.  These videos were particularly useful in helping me developed a complete mental picture of what I looked like in the water and how some of my bad/non-existent habits needed to be modified or developed.   During the  course  Steve shot an entire disc worth of video that we reviewed each evening during the debrief.   We discussed each item that needed to be improved whether it was gear or skill.  We also shared some laughs and some good memories of the cave we dove earlier in the day.

Today, I review that video occasionally and have had other people shot video of me to tune up my skills and gear.  Video can be an integral tool at any level of training to help the student visualize his mistakes and his successes.  Now lets get to the interview!

Anonymous reader asked, “Thanks for the interview with Steve, I have a question or 2 though if you are  interested. I would like to know specifically what skills he covers in the various classes?

Steve answered, “I do, of course, have skill sets for each level of training however I am slightly reluctant to list them for several reasons:

Training to do skills that you are going to learn in a class does not make a lot of sense since that is what the class is for.

The most important thing to do is go diving, practice the basics and come to class with a open mind ready to learn new skills.

Practicing skills incorrectly reinforces errors and bad habits that are harder for me to break later if/when a student does come for formal training.

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The reason to get training is to learn new skills in a supervised, structured, safe environment under the

expert and experienced eye of an Instructor who can make corrections and knows exactly what he/she is looking at.

I would far rather my students waited until class so that I can show them exactly how to perform each skill the right way and then they practice that.

“Practice makes permanent, only perfect practice makes perfect”

You don’t know what you don’t know.

Some people will assume that once they have a list of skills that they can teach themselves and have no need of structured, formal training.

At best they will be missing out on a great deal and at worst making serious mistakes and potentially endangering themselves through lack of knowledge.

Worse, they may try to teach other people; which is like the partially sighted leading the blind.”

Hans:  What would you like to see perspective students do to prepare for your courses?

Steve answered, “Go diving; time spent in the water is invaluable.  You cannot learn to dive from a book or on the internet you need to put the theory into practice and get wet. Also work on general all round fitness and watermanship abilities.

Work on the essential skills: buoyancy, trim, propulsion techniques and all round awareness. You cannot add more complex skills until the basics have been mastered.

If you can comfortably hold your position neutrally buoyant, trimmed horizontally, at any depth in the water column and can fine tune your position with precise fin movements and buoyancy control using lung volume then that will make everything else much easier…………including my job as your Instructor!

Q. What do you suggest divers who do not have regular access to caves do to remain prepared for cave diving?

Steve answered, “If you don’t have access to cave diving where you are then go open water diving. If you can’t dive in the open water due to the weather then dive in a pool. There is no substitute for time spent in the water. The most important thing is to get wet and practice the basics.

In fact as the cave environment is both unforgiving and fragile it is not really the best place to be learning and practicing new skills. New skills should be practiced and perfected in the open water before entering the cave environment to protect both the diver and the cave.   When learning or practicing skills keep it simple, just do one thing at a time.  Make sure you understand exactly what you are trying to achieve and break complex skills down into their component parts.  Mentally visualize what you want to do and all the steps required for completing each skill.  Make sure you have a clearly defined sequence or structure to work through and follow that each time you perform a skill in order to build up and reinforce muscle memory.

Do not try and rush your skill execution “slow is smooth and smooth is fast”. As you practice your execution will become smoother and more efficient, you will build up muscle memory and the speed will come.
Core skills must be mastered before more advanced skills can be.

When adding more advanced skills they should build on solid core skills in a logical, systematic fashion.
One important point to remember is that practice only makes permanent. Only perfect practice makes perfect!  Make sure that you are practicing the skills correctly otherwise you are reinforcing errors.
This is the main reason for getting instruction from a qualified, experienced Instructor so that you learn the skills correctly in the first place.  Once you have that basic grounding then feedback while you practice independently is very valuable.

One of the best feedback tools is video. Get a buddy to video tape you while you dive then review and critique the video.

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In a couple of days, I will post the 3 and final portion of this interview.  I am glad I have had the opprotunity to bring this information to you.  I know my heart got pumping as I edited tonights videos.  I look forward to your comments and questions.

If you want any clarifications, please do not hesitate to contact me!  I will get you the inforamation you are looking for.

June 7, 2009   11 Comments

Update to My Cave Diving Helmet

About a year ago I wrote my original Cave Diving Helmet article.  Since then my diving has rapidly evolved calling for ever more refinement in my helmet.  Following are some photos of two revisions of my helmet.  The photos with the yellow backup lights is what I call revision two.  It was sufficient for sidemount diving.  I used it to do a bunch of survey and 100 sidemount dives.  It was still a little too bulky and presented a lot of drag.

The photos with the single light head holder is revision three.  This came about when I started to scooter deep cave with my CCR and realized I needed the minimum amount of drag and tightest fit to stop the helmet from moving when I was zipping along.  Additionally, I learned that my backup lights interfered with my T pieces on my over the shoulder counter lungs.

The things to notice are:

  1. I changed the shape of the helmet by slicing it down the middle and clamshelling it.  It sits very tight to my head now and doesn’t move at all.
  2. I got rid of the flimsy black PVC and created a nice new holder out of white pvc.  I also created some wedges for adjusting the focus of the light for scootering.  Also, I rounded the edges of the PVC to allow easier insertion of the light head.
  3. The teal helmet is the original helmet, I have a backup encase I blunder when cutting.  You can see the difference in fit and shape.  And a serious lack of holes.
  4. Like all things in cave diving, my helmet and my needs have gotten very specific.  For CCR, I need one light configuration.  For sidemount/survey/exploration I need a different configuration.  I have not reconciled how I am going to switch back and fourth.  Maybe the teal helmet will fill one role and the purple one the other role.
  5. I am migrating away from the SL4 LED lights to the Intova light.  Having 8 C-Cell batteries on your head is heavy.

I think that is all, just wanted to write a quick article.  Enjoy and I look forward to you comments!

March 24, 2009   3 Comments

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

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

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

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

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

If want to see more photos and videos of Nicolai and Gang check this “old site”
http://www.divesitevideos.com/EJPP/
David

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

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

November 12, 2008   1 Comment

Three More Trips to The Pit

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Edited By Hans

November 5, 2008   7 Comments

Why vote?

Warning: This post is not about diving.

Recently, I got  a great comment from one of my readers in Washington.

“Respect your views, but you might also consider the value of a “no confidence” vote, which can be a no show at the polls. Imagine if less than 10% of the voters actually voted. Would the winner be able to claim authority? Claim a “mandate”? Or would the populace have demonstrated a complete lack of faith in the system said to be representative?

If the two party system gets much more staged and obscene than it is now, a no-vote may be the only useful action available to the American voter.” —Nephew of Uncle Sam

Thank you for sharing your ideas.  I think I understand your objective, which is to demonstrate your dissatisfaction with the leadership.  I agree that a no confidence vote would be affective at achieving that objective.  However, I have to disagree that abstaining achieves the same thing.

The first question that comes to mind is; are you unhappy with democracy or the parties and their candidates?  I think it is critical to accurately focus on what is broken.

The last couple of hundred years demonstrate that the democratic experiment seems to work.  We elect good leaders and bad ones.  Recently, we haven’t gotten very good ones.  Congress and the Executive Branch are beholden to a system that is out of balance.  The current system requires huge sums of money to get elected and in order to collect that money, the candidates need to pander, spend huge amounts of time fund raising and be flexible in their principles.  The electoral system is broken right now.

However, I believe it will heal itself.  Eventually, the pain for the voting public will become great enough that they will develop the courage to vote for candidates that actually protect their interests.  I think a lot of our trouble right now is that the voting public is generally disconnected, under-informed and unengaged.  Eventually they will engage.  The current economic crisis may be the catalyst we need.  Fortunately, every so often there are great upheavals in the system and it readjusts itself.  I think we are in the midst of one today.

Therefore, I believe to further disengage on a massive scale would be counter productive and eventually catastrophic.  If only 10% were to vote, you are correct that we would be left with a elected official without a clear mandate from the populous.   We would guarantee another four years of grid lock and trouble.

Or worse, only the most fanatical would vote and elect an extreme right or left candidate.  The elected official that wouldn’t represent the interests of the silent majority; he would represent the interests of the fanatical minority.

You could say that is what we have in office today, someone who represents only the interests of the biggest donors, and you might be right.  However, those donors don’t normally represent the extreme fringe; it isn’t in their interests to do so.

If you look at emerging democracies this is exactly how despots get elected.  The majority decides or is intimidated not to vote and the fanatical minority elects their candidate.  Before you know it, civil liberties are further eroded, terms limits are over turned and the democracy is crushed.

Our leaders need a mandate to lead.  Just squeaking in doesn’t provide it.  It creates more problems then it solves.  I suggest, rather than not vote, we should further engage and work to change the system.  There are a couple of options.

  1. You can vote for a third party candidate who represents your interests.  If enough people do, we will get real change.
  2. Talk about politics and how the country is governed with friends and strangers.  Engage in civil discourse and engage them in the system.  I think it is ridiculous that we say you shouldn’t talk about politics at parties.  Where should we talk about it?  A plurality of ideas is powerful and life changing.  If we engage on a basic level, we can engage at the voting booth and with our representatives.
  3. Gather your news from multiple sources.  Read the New York Times, Wall Street Journal, Economist, biographies and history texts.  Educate yourself and empower yourself to choose appropriate candidates.  Taking your news from one source, especially TV, is corrosive and doesn’t engage people in the system.  It is completely passive and wasteful.
  4. Get involved in the system. Run for office, run for school board, and implement changes yourself.
  5. Organize voter registration of your disgruntled friends and organize them around candidates that represent your interest.  Start local and go national.
  6. Take advantage of the ability to make micro donations to candidates that represent you.  The internet provides a game changing approach to campaign finance.  If millions of voters give a little, they can overcome the limited the dominance  of big donors.  Donate to candidates that will change the political  discourse and raise issues that you believe in.

These are just a few of the things we can all do to engage and change things.  The most powerful force on earth is a well educated, informed, engaged citizenry.  Look to history for some prime examples: The Renaissance, French Revolution, American Revolution, Industrial Revolution, Civil Rights Movement and the recent Technology Revolution.  All of those radical upheavals were driven by engaged, educated citizens, not governments.

“The vote is the most powerful instrument ever devised by man for breaking down injustice and destroying the terrible walls which imprison men because they are different from other men.” —Lyndon B. Johnson, Washington D.C. 6th August 1965

Go out and start the process of change.  Decisions are made by those who show up. Thanks for writing and I look forward to your response.

October 12, 2008   3 Comments

The Pit Revisited

A CCR DPV cave dive to the back of Jill’s Chamber by Patrick and Hans.

Since the last dive, there was nothing on my mind then that bloody restriction at the end of BMB. If you don’t believe me, then talk to anybody who spent time with me. One thing was clear, I had to go back there again, with more time to really look at it and make sure that it is too small to fit with my Meg and two stages. Hans came up with the idea to sidemount our two Megalodons, which I really like, but it will take a lot of time and effort to make that rig work and giving my work schedule at the moment, well that will have to wait a little.

With me working every day and Hans going on several trips to the states we had exactly one day to do the dive. The night before the dive, I managed to be back at the shop at about 6PM which gave us 2-3 hours to blend and rig stuff.  We got to work and finished around 8:30PM, mainly due to Hans’ effort.  He put all the stages together and bubble checked them at the pool while I assembled my Meg; going through all of the points in my checklist.

Back home it was time to run the different scenarios that we had discussed earlier through V-Planner and see what was possible. The major difference for this dive was that we added a DPV to the equation.  This enabled me to take a third stage with bottom mix.  The main idea was to have as much time as possible to check out the two chimneys in the BMB that ascend into Jill’s Chamber. I wanted to get a good picture of the two restrictions so I could make a decision on which one and how I was going to pass.

Since our last dive, I had learned that there is still a 1000ft of line waiting on the other side before I would reach virgin cave. So the keyword is contingency. I created these plans:

  • X1 fails
  • Bailout
  • DPV fail with CCR ok
  • DPV fail CCR fail
  • Entanglement
  • Etc etc etc…

After what-if-ing many scenarios and running them through V-Planner, I hit the bed at like 1:00AM.

The alarm rang at 6:00 AM, but I was already awake. After loading the truck and getting stuff to eat and drink, we were headed to Tulum. At Dos Ojos Hans helped me maneuver my truck on the primitive road towards The Pit.  We got there without once scraping the bottom of the truck, how cool is that! The day started awesome.

After we lowered the 7 80cf tanks, the 3 40cf tanks, the DPV and the two Megalodon CCRs we climbed down at the platform to get ready. Hans prepared for his first of two deep dives that day. On the first dive he placed the bailout tanks and connected the descent line to the permanent cave line.  On the second dive he will picked up my deep tanks and fetch the reel. 30 minutes after he left, I was submerged.

I put the dpv in third gear and made my way down towards the start of the line.  I was carrying 3 80cf tanks with deep bail out and a 19cf with air for suit inflation. Arriving at the start of the cave line I dropped the 19cf tank and plugged one of the bail out tanks in my suit. I used this short brake to put the scooter in 5th gear and switch set point on the Meg. After that I made my way down the Cardea passage, visibility was even worse than last time so I Ok’ed the line while driving.  The whole time I was in the milky fog, I was worrying a bit about crashing into some rock. It felt like driving very fast in dense fog with the headlights on.

As I arrive at 65M (213FT) I turned down towards the bypass at 85M (278FT). Who would have thought that the Po2 could spike that fast when you scooter at depth . I quickly stopped and did a dil flush to get the Po2 back under control and checked my gauges.

I realized that I was really kind of late, so I decided to drive through the Bypass. Maybe it sounds a bit irresponsible but in 5th gear (of 9) you are really not moving so fast.  My head was ducked behind the propeller and I was cannonballing through the bedding plane at 85M (278FT).  I was loving it!  I got the feeling it was getting too tight, so I let go of the trigger.  Five seconds later the handle of my Meg hit the ceiling!  Luckily, I had slowed down enough to minimize the impact.  I smiled and took a mental note to not do that again.

Out of the bypass, now I was driving to the end of the Wakulla Room. I arrived there at minute 8 which was really super slow. Call me a coward, but it was the first time I scootered at this depth and didn’t want to go full speed.

I hooked the scooter to the line and let go. Hey, who would have thought, going with a perfectly neutral scooter to 90M (295FT) and it is positive like hell. I didn’t consider the density of the saltwater down there. It was kind of funny, I clipped the scooter off and started to remove one of my stages to leave it there with the scooter.  When I looked towards the line, the line and scooter were gone. I look up and there they are, the DPV pulling the line towards the ceiling. I attached the tank to the line and this pulled everything back in place.

Swimming down towards BMB felt different, I was way more relaxed than last time, maybe because I had more Helium in my diluent or just because I had been there before. I came to the T again where the line is touching the ceiling, this time I stopped and pulled the line down to the floor to pin it under a tiny rock which turned out to be a bad idea.  The line cut through the rock like a hot knife through butter and a nice cloud of zero visibility covered my hands. Second try with a bigger rock was more successful.

I can’t say why but again I ignored the chimney to the left thinking that I will check it out on the way back, after I had looked at the other one. Swimming back towards the other restriction I felt really confident, the dive went very well and I still had a lot of the 20 minutes I had planned at 105M (344FT). Also, I started to look around more to get a feeling for the cave and its flow rather then just following a line.

As I arrive at the restriction, where I had turned my last dive, I looked up through the chimney and thought well it looks tight but if I would be in 15M (49FT) I wouldn’t hesitate a second. I can do it. So I did. It actually went way smoother and I had less contact than anticipated but still quite a lot. The chimney ascents from 105M (344FT) to 96M (301FT) where the tight hole spits you out in yet another gigantic borehole style tunnel, Jill’s Chamber.

Huge boulders split the room in half and oh my god it felt so good to be there and see it. I forced myself not to look down where I was sure the restriction was silted out completely and that was a pretty scary thought. So I just started to swim forward into the room, first slowly looking around then a bit more confident. Coming out of the restriction, I saw another line paralleling the one I was on coming from behind me. The lines stay side by side until the moment I turned some 5 minutes after the restriction. I found the end of a line with a new line tied on to, so somebody furthered exploration from that point. I figure that it is the end of Jill’s Chamber and the beginning of the Next Generation Tunnel also due to the fact that the room starts to pinch back down into a smaller tunnel.

On the way back I was super stocked and happy enjoying every second of looking around in this marvelous place. Coming back to the restriction I noticed two things: one the tunnel actually continues and is the source of the line that is parallel and two a zero visibility cloud comes out of the restriction making it look like a volcano that blows out tons of smoke.

Just on top of the restriction I invert one hand on the line, one hand in front of my head for protection. Basically I look like a Padi Instructor demonstrating a proper 5 point ascent just instead of swimming up I swim down. Squeezing through the restriction I arrive at its bottom, now I just need to arch my back to get under the ceiling. As I read the tie off at the start of the restriction I am relieved, I made it, I am on the other side.

Swimming back I passed the T that I had put back where it belongs down on the floor and I am heading out of the BMB. Because of the tension I had created placing the line some parts of it now had disappeared in the rock. It is unbelievable how soft the rock is there.

Ascending along the line back to the scooter and my stage, I have to admit it felt good when I pulled the trigger and the thing worked. On the way back to the bypass my X1 lets me know that time to surface now is 2h20min, not so bad, thank god Jill’s chamber is shallower then the BMB.

At the bypass I thought that maybe it is smarter to push it through rather then driving which worked just fine. From the bypass coming back was easy and the very first time I ever decompressed while driving a DPV. My first stop was at 71M (232FT) driving through that white cloud back towards the ascent line.

After a couple of short stops I arrived at the start of the permanent line and the reel Hans had installed. I dropped two of the deep bailout and took the Triox that was staged prior to the dive.  I also took the 19cf air tank and hooked it to my suit. After a couple of flushes my suit was filled with nice warm air rather then cold damn Trimix which felt fantastic. (I will get a smaller suit inflation bottle when Hans comes back from his next trip to the states).

Being bored during deco I took the scooter and was driving around a bit in the huge dome admiring the intense and spiritual beauty of this place.  Finally up at the 12M (40FT) stop, I got rid of all tanks except a 40cf bailout with Nitrox. Hans came back to bring me something to drink and a second hood because my head started to get cold. When he looked at me he could read it in my eyes and immediately mimicked the: did you go through the restriction? When I nodded it was big smiles and hand shaking. What a great day.

Only some 50min of deco left which I spent swimming around to warm up, thinking about future dives, drinking and waiting for Hans who dropped back down to retrieve the tanks and the reel.

Let me say something loud and clear, there is NO WAY I would have been able to do these dives without the constant support of my friend and dive partner Hans. Thank you!  We are a true team and I am looking forward to the day where I will support his first dive to the Wakulla Room and beyond.

I also would like to thank Pro Tec Advanced Training Facility for providing us with tanks and the scooter as well as Margaret at Liquivision for some of the best customer support and a great product.

If you are waiting for the next story you need to be patient, Hans is gone and I am loaded with work but starting from mid September we should be back in business.  Next plan being two more tanks and a scooter through the restriction starting to depo gas in Jill’s chamber and maybe finding the end of the line!?!

This is my story of The Pit and it is to be continued…

Here is an awesome video that karin pointner put together of our project:

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August 26, 2008   6 Comments

The Pit: A Personal Quest.

The story of my odyssey to making my first 350ffw cave dive.

In September 2005, I arrived on the peninsula to do my Cave Course with Matt at Protec. I will never forget the first time I entered the classroom and saw the map of The Pit. Part of Sistema Dos Ojos, The Pit is almost 400ft deep and has 1300ft of horizontal distance ending in the Next Generation Tunnel. How cool does that sound?

From that day on, I spent about 15 minutes everyday just staring at the map and planning; getting upset about how far I was from even attempting a dive like that. I did have experience doing deep, mixed gas, ocean dives in the Egyptian Red Sea, including Wreck Penetration. However, travelling this kind of distance, at such a depth, inside a cave, was an entirely different ball game.

In September 2006, I returned to the Yucatan to do a crossover course from the Inspiration CCR to the Megalodon CCR, which I just had bought, and to get certified in CCR Normoxic Trimix and CCR Cave diving. Yet again, I was fixated on the same map, planning and dreaming about how to do such a dive.

In March 2007, I finally decided that my love and passion for cave diving left me no other choice than to move to Playa del Carmen. Another five months past and it wasn’t until July that I finally saw the beauty that is The Pit. I was part of the support team for two divers who planed to dive to the end of the Wakulla Room. Being only certified as a Normoxic CCR Trimix Diver, and not having enough money to do the dive OC, I limited my dive to 50M (165ft) and immediately fell in love with the place. When you see the sun beams hitting the water surface at the small opening and firing down to the hydrogen sulfide layer at 40m (120ft) your jaw drops.

A couple of days later, I went there to join Steve Bogaerts on an exploration dive in the shallow cave passage. There is an upstream and downstream cave at about 12m (40ft). I was there to see his surveying technique and learn from one of the best. This was the last time we parked the cars about 300m (1000ft) away and carried the equipment. Now, with a lot of patience and carelessness towards our vehicles, we can actually park so close to the opening, that we could back roll from the side of the truck.

To get our rebreathers and tanks into the water, we use a rope and pulley to lower the equipment down a 4m (15ft) deep rock face to the water’s surface. Once everything is staged, we JUMP!

July 2008, the day finally arrived when I headed off to do my first deep dive in The Pit. Having passed a CCR Hypoxic Trimix class, executed some deeper CCR dives, and completed long CCR cave dives requiring multiple bailout tanks, I considered myself ready and prepared. I had also just received a Liquivision X1 computer and after test dives, I was ready to use it for its purpose! Last but not least, Hans, a driven guy who is up for everything no matter what, didn’t mind coming along and helping with the equipment load. Without him, what would I do?

Since I had very little, to no, knowledge about the lines, depths or times between levels, the first dive was to get a general idea about the place. I had one AL80 tank on either side with deep bailout and trailed a third AL80 with Triox that was staged along the way. Another AL80 was staged prior to the dive at 12m (40ft). I traversed the cavern zone, which is a huge dome, then descended the yellow polypropylene line to 34M (112ft) and deployed my primary reel to look for the main cave line. Passing by 40m (120ft), I staged the Triox and proceeded to connect the reel with the main line. After switching my set point on the Megalodon and the X1, it was cruising time. Visibility was quite limited due to what I think is bacteria. The line slowly descents from 46M (152ft) to 65M (215ft) leading through a huge tunnel called the Cardea Passage. At the end, it turns left and descends to a T at about 80M (264ft), where you can decide to either dive the shallower Bypass Tunnel (85M / 280ft) or the deeper section, which I still haven’t seen.

The Bypass Tunnel is a pretty cool place because the cave goes from a gigantic power passage to a 1M (3ft) tall & 8M (24ft) wide bedding plane. On the other side, the cave opens up again into a huge room known as the Wakulla room. There you find a second T that reconnects the two lines that had split before the Bypass, and an additional line that runs to Alpha and Skid Row at almost 400ft, the deep sections of the Wakulla Room. Swimming along the line at 85M (264ft), through the intensely huge room, my 10W HID barely managed to light up the far walls. I had already passed 2 Haloclines and due to the salinity the water had this beautiful blue reflection.

Sixteen minutes into the dive I arrived at another T at the end of the Wakulla Room. Thinking that the T to the right would lead me to the BMB passage, I didn’t hesitate to turn right. I found out that the line ends in a dead end at 92M (303ft). Feeling happy about my accomplishment and wondering what waits at the other side of that T, I decided to turn the dive after 18 minutes. I met Hans at the ascent line in 33M (100ft). We celebrated the dive during our uneventful deco. I couldn’t wait to tell him about it.

Four days later, we returned with a better plan, more tanks, and another diver, Victor. This time Hans took the role of support diver, staging the tanks and connecting the lines so I could go full throttle from the start.

Hans and Victor kicked off the dive and I impatiently waited 30 minutes for my planned departure time. When my start time arrived, I swam with a constant kick pretty much till the end of the Wakulla Room, where I stopped for a minute to calm my breathing and chill out a bit before heading further down into the BMB passage (100M/330ft). I met Victor in the Bypass as he made his way out, returning from his dive to 100M/330ft at the back of the Wakulla Room.

The BMB Passage is way smaller than the rooms before it and has quite a low ceiling and slopes slightly deeper. The stone in the BMB is really soft and the slightest contact immediately results in silting. After about 50m (150ft) there is yet another T. The line there is on the ceiling and is pretty hard to follow. The T to the left immediately ascends through a crack in the ceiling that looked really narrow, so I decided to take the T to the right. The tunnel got smaller and smaller and I was feeling confident I would soon reach the end of the line. As minute 21 arrived, I had to hurry. I thought I could see the end of the line, and I started smiling and a felt super happy about another accomplishment.

Just before I turned, I realized that the line didn’t end. Instead, it ascends through a restriction, a super narrow chimney that gave me the shivers just looking at it. I examined the restriction for a moment and turned the dive at minute 22. I was at 105M (346ft) wondering how in the world somebody managed to lay a line through there. It is really a credit to the original explorers.

The whole BMB passage was quite silty, even though I had almost no direct contact to the cave. On the way back I tried to focus, but could only think about this restriction and how horrible it will be to try and negotiate it. The swim back was uneventful. The 2.5 hour deco obligation is a small price to pay for a beautiful dive like that. I met Hans in 12M (40ft) of water where he took all my unneeded tanks and provided me with Gatorade and a Milky Way to re-hydrate and eat a little.

After the dive the three of us hung out on the platform eating lunch and talking about our experiences on the dive and the diving industry. Two hours later it was time to hoist all the equipment back up and load the trucks. The last adventure of the day was getting the Ford Rangers back to the Highway without getting stuck or scratching the bottom.

That’s my story of The Pit and it is to be continued…

August 16, 2008   8 Comments

The old crew is out diving deep wrecks in NJ!

I love it when people go out, push the bounds and do big dives.  Especially, when I know the characters and they are successful!  The Independence II went looking for new wrecks in the 350fsw – 400fsw range off of NJ this week and Brandon wrote a nice blog post with some great photos.

Go and give Brandon and the crew some love! So you want to be a deep sea diver?

If you are wondering why I am interested in the Independence II and Brandon, it is because that is the boat I cut my teeth on diving my Megalodon.  Capt. Dan, Bill, Brandon, Louis, Rob Infante, and some of the other characters watched me work through my first season diving the CCR in the cold murky waters of NJ.

August 14, 2008   Comments Off on The old crew is out diving deep wrecks in NJ!

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 http://www.PlayaEats.com.  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