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

Tennessee…..

The last two days have involved a lot of driving…..  Made it too Austin last night, which was a monster drive.   We got to the border at 3:11PM and it took 1:42 to cross the border.  We got pulled for a secondary search which resulted in nothing but the bottom of the car getting tapped with a flash light.  It ends up that they checked and found we didn’t have records, so they sent us on.  The weirdest part was that they didn’t ask about the dog or want to see his papers.  So the effort to get new papers in Acayun was in vain, no one wanted to see them.

Today, I got started on the road around 11AM.  Driving was smooth and boring.  I decided to stop early here in Tennessee.  I am glad I don’t have more to report.

May 3, 2009   Comments Off on Tennessee…..

A Guitar and A Soldier

Jesus Mary & Joseph! A guitar? Isn’t that where this story began? Is it your mission to subject people to cross country trips with guitars, that you don’t play? – Mom

Well….. As luck would have it the guitar played an instrumental role in our entertainment! We got pulled over for one military check point yesterday. It was after dark and I was a bit nervous because I wouldn’t be able to watch them as closely in the dark.

The soldier was interviewing me trying to decide if he should search the car. He turned on his flash light and peered in. Then he started to asked about “cantar”… Jeff and I both looked at each other and tried to figure out what he was talking about. All that kept coming to mind was “enchante me”. But I knew that was wrong. Jeff and I pulled out our dictionaries at the same time and looked up the word. We found it meant “sing”. Now we were profoundly confused. Why was the soldier asking us to sing!!?? We just kept looking at each other and the soldier. I told the soldier that I didn’t sing.  He looked at me suspect like it was almost time to search the car.

After another moment, I realized he was asking about the guitar which is on top of the pile. I explained it belongs to my wife.  I think we were both relieved.   I was very relieved to know I didn’t need to sing to the soldier to continue on. I asked him, “Qiueres checkar?” He said, “No.” and waved us on with a smile. I think it was the most stressful of the stops because of the confusion.

My poor black toe....

My poor black toe....

May 2, 2009   2 Comments

Day ??? – Pandemic 2009 and the broken toe.

This morning started out like any other day that includes a global pandemic, a SUV loaded with all your stuff, and trying to sort out how to get new vet papers for your dog in a country that you only speak part of the language.

I got up walked down stairs to the truck, laptop in hand, and stepped off a curb and fell down really hard, slamming my laptop down on the ground and my body.  Damn did it hurt.  The end result is one very very black toe and a scraped up laptop.  Luckily, both my foot and my laptop still work.

Jeff and I ate some breakfast and then set out for the vet.  And believe it or not, we found not one but two.  Of course this was after asking 1 cop and 1 taxi driver.  Unfortunately, the first one had no doctor on site.  However, they directed us to another place.   The second vet was at a feed store.  After about 20 minutes of me trying to explain to him what I needed in Spanish, he finally started to understand.  An hour later, I had updated documents.  I will tell you tomorrow if they work.

Other then that, we tresspassed on some federal lands and drove all the way to Tampico.  Tomorrow, we make for the border and then a doctor to look at my black toe.

Yesterday, I promised you photos of the truck and all the stuff.  As you can imagine, every time we are stopped for a search, they really have to consider the amount of work they are getting into!

The 4Runner with just enough room for the dog and to see out of the back seat!  Oh what fun... if you look closely you can see a Power Book and a Rebreather...

The 4Runner riding on the stops!  The carrier has like 300lbs worth of stuff in it!

If you look closely, you can see a Apple Power Book, scuba tanks, a rebreather, guitar, camera back, and cans of tuna! No road trip is complete without cans of Tuna as emergency food. Especially, when you are at the epicenter of the pandemic!

May 1, 2009   1 Comment

Day 2 – Searched 4 Times and Passed 3 Times

Todays big news is that we made it to a cross roads town called Acayucan.  It is a sleepy town of 50,000.  Actually, there are people everywhere.  It is in Veracruz state.  The drive from Merida took all day.  We stoped in Campeche to take some pictures and in a beach town before Ciudade del Carmen.  We drove about 400 miles.  We were searched by the military 4 times and allowed to pass 3 times.  The searches went smoothly with lots of smiles and discussion about the dog and where we are going.  It ends up that I speak a lot more spanish then my driving mate, which is scary becuase I don’t speak that much.  Luckily, we haven’t encounted any impossible hurtles and things are progressing.  Tomorrow morning I am going to find a vet to renew my dog’s papers.  They will expire and we are still two days from crossing the border

April 30, 2009   3 Comments

Pandemic 2009 – The Mad Dash for the Border!

Charging headlong into the Pandemic of 2009, I am driving across Mexico heading for the United States of Disease and Debt!

On Monday, Allie and I decided to push our move up by about 1 month. In support of that decision, we flew her to North Carolina to spend some time with her family. That left me and Chico stranded in Mexico, a country that is spiraling into chaos and pandemonium. Actually, it isn’t! Most everyone is going about their business like they do everyday. The difference is there are less tourist around, which is nice.

Since, I didn’t want to drive across country alone, I invited my friend Jeff Knight down to witness the apocalypse first hand. With just a couple of hours notice, he boarded a plane against the recommendations of his trusted gubberment.

I picked him up. We packed all my crap into the 4 Runner and the three of us left Playa yesterday afternoon. You wouldn’t believe it, but all the crap fit, that is everything I wanted to take. However, the truck is riding on the stops. It isn’t the most comfortable ride, but it works.

Last night we spent a lovely evening in Merida at Luz en Yucatan, an AWESOME hotel.  We also ate dinner on the Plaza Mayor and saw some sites.  Today we are heading for Veracruz.  I need to make the border in less then 5 days because of Chico’s papers.

I am sure you are wondering two things. What will happen to Quiet Diver?  Why are you moving?  Well, the blog will continue on!  Patrick will continue to write for it and I will be writing about my wreck diving exploits and learnings from NJ.  As well, we still have open projects in Mexico to write about.  When I left, I had just buttoned up about 5500ft of resurvey and exploration at my project site and I am starting the drawing process.  So, that will be fodder for the publishing beast.  Patrick is working on several cool projects.  And believe it or not, the Pit project continues.  Just a couple of days ago, I retrieved some of our deep bailout and bailed out at 300ft.  So there is plenty of material.

Now, you ask why are you moving!?  Well, Allie is pregnant with our first child, a boy.  We want to be near our family for the first year and milk them for all they are worth.  You know, baby sitting, money, and stuff!  The reality is that living in Mexico is really nice but we are isolated from our families.  So, we are heading home for now to work on our newest project, Project Mini-Me!

On a final note, if you have dug into this site you would know that Allie and I make our living by building web sites and web applications.  One of our most recent projects was a new blog for Protec Advanced Training facility.  Matt, Nando and Patrick are now publishing regular updates to thier blog.  So, if I am not keeping you filled up on news and factoids, head over to Protec’s Blog and read up a little.  And if you need a blog or a web site for your business, email me at hans@quietdiver.com.  We are very competitive!

Keep reading!

April 30, 2009   5 Comments

When should I get a rebreather?

When should I get a rebreather?

Is it best to get some good caving experience before I go rebreather or is it preferred to get on RB as soon as you can? I know that I will definitely go RB one day, but I want to make sure I am not going too fast down that path.

I am Intro to Cave right now with 20 cave dives/ 250 total dives. — khacken, Cave Divers Forum

I saw this question on Cave Divers Forum today and started to write a short response that turned into a long response ad now it is a Blog post.

This is a pretty interesting question.  I learned to cave dive on OC back mount.  Then I learned how to dive CCR and did a bunch of CCR wreck dives.  Then I moved to Mexico and started CCR Cave diving.  Then I learned sidemount and found myself doing 80% of my dives, even in big cave in sidemount.  I have a couple of observations I would like to offer:

1. It is very easy to go beyond your limits with a CCR and not know it.  If you are only CCR diving, you have to calculate/guesstimate how long your bailout will last you in a very dynamic situation.  If you underestimate, you drown.  I think it is worth while to have dived many of those situations open circuit to see how the environment and situation will change your gas consumption.  This is in the same vein as swimming before scootering discussion.

2. Many many many situations in cave diving are not optimally handled on CCR.  Therefore, it is beneficial to have a broad set of options to solve your problem.  Is the cave small?  Go sidemount.  Is it unexplored?  Go with some 40’s to check it out.  Are tanks and sorb available?  Use double 80’s or go sidemount.  Is your CCR broken or too expensive for the dive?  Use OC.  Do you really want to spend your time setting up/breaking down your CCR for every dive?  NO!  Is the cave deep? Use CCR.There is one big caveat to this point, you need to analyze your diving and determine if you dive frequently enough to switch between OC and CCR and maintain two skill sets.  OC and CCR are different beasts and require different muscle memory.  If you dive sporadically, I suggest you dive only one system and you dive it in forgiving environments.  If you dive often, then you might be able to practice both often enough to be good at both, but this is very tough.  Sometimes when I am off the CCR for a month or more, I find it challenging for a dive or two.

3. Lets look at a side-by-side comparison of cost for diving.Typical shallow 3 hour cave dive cost the following for consumables.  The figures are USD.

Typical OC Cave Dive
Entrance: $10.00
Fuel: $10.00
Fills: $12.00 (3 Single 80’s with Fill)
Total: $32.00

Typical CCR Cave Dive
Entrance: $10.00
Fuel: $10.00
B/O Fills: $8.00 (2 Single 80’s with Fill)
O2: $12.00 (12cuft)
Dil: $3.00 (19cuft)
Sorb: $30.00
Total: $73.00

Add to the financial cost there is a time cost. First it takes me 30-40 minutes to setup the CCR and then it takes 20-40 minutes to break down the CCR. When I am on site, I need to check the unit and pre-breath it on top of my normal S drill. This doesn’t include the costs for O2 sensors or flying the CCR around or fixing it when you drop it. I also didn’t include the cost of servicing the regulators, because you need the same number or more with CCR. Remember with CCR, you need Dil, O2 and B/O regulators.

I am sure there are more reasons to choose one approach or another.  I can tell you that Patrick and I both own Megalodons and only dive them deep (>60ft).  Therefore, 80% of our diving is open circuit.

I think it is prudent to really consider where you are going to dive and the specific situations you will find yourself in.  If you cannot do that because of lack of experience, you need to seek the best possible training and gain the broadest experience possible.  Because you are already an Intro to Cave Diver, become a Cave Diver and make some dives.  Gain some experience.  Then start to layer on more technology, such as rebreather, scooter and stages.

So much of technical diving is about planning and choosing the right equipment and procedures.  Whether to dive OC or CCR, is one of those choices.

A great example is a dive I did with Santiago last week.  We dove the Lins/Walton line at The Pit.  I was diving CCR and Santi was diving OC.  We planned to make a 20 minute dive to 245ft.  When we got to 210ft at 6 minutes we found the end of the line.  I signaled to Santi asking him if I should tie in my reel?  He said yes and we went on.  We immediately found going cave and added 100+ft of line to the system and brought the end of the line to 238ft.  We tied off the newly laid line, installed our arrow and head up.  At 220ft, I found another lead with a nasty silty bottom pinching down.  After some inspection, I decided it was too nasty to attempt in CCR and I made the decision to return in sidemount to check out the lead.   I haven’t returned because I haven’t had the time.  However, because I know both systems, I have the option.

CCR was the perfect choice for the initial dive.  I used about $6 HE, $6 O2, $30 Sorb.  Santi used about $100 HE, $40 O2.  I did my initial exploration on the cheap.  Next time, I will go in sidemount and check out the lead.  It will cost more, but I will have a clear objective and the right tool for the job.  Fortunately, because I have a broad base of experience and more then just a hammer in my tool box, I don’t have to use a hammer on that screw.

I love my rebreather, I think it is an awesome tool that has enabled me to dive many places that few people will.  However, it is not always the right tool for the job and is not a panacea of safety.  Rebreathers fail and so you have to carry bailout.  If you bailout, you had better be sure of how much gas you need, because if you are not, fear will creep into your lizard brain and things will go to shit.  Therefore, if you are technical diving a rebreather and until we have truly fault-tolerate rebreathers or bailout rebreathers are standard issue, you need to have a foundation in open circuit.  The best way to develop that foundation is by diving open circuit.

April 1, 2009   3 Comments

Remarkable Progress at The Pit!

Patrick and I are happy to announce a HUGE success at The Pit.  After a lot of deliberation yesterday morning and discussions with our partners, we decided to make a single alpine attempt at pushing the end of the line at The Pit.  We came to the conclusion that using the habitat and support was too much of a burden and elected to go to the end of the line with one scooter each, no support, zero VPM-B conservatism and limited bailout.  We decided to not use bailout after we realized that loading 35 tanks into the jungle was more of a risk then the possibility of bailing out.  Additionally, we recently perfected the team skill of CCR buddy breathing.

On Tuesday morning, we packed up our gear and headed to the dive site about noon and were in the water at 1PM.   The decision netted a significant addition to the end of the line.  We are still tabulating our survey data but it looks like we added more then 1500ft of line.  The dive took us about 7.5 hours using 7/70 for diluent.

I want to thank our significant others for supporting our effort and the rest of the team for not standing in the way.  The dive was a huge success and will serve as a model for future dives at The Pit.

If you are interested in learning CCR Buddy Breathing, I can make a video of it available to you directly for $4USD per copy.  In a couple of weeks, we will write a full article on our recent success and we will be posting our raw survey data on line in the name of safety and future dive planning.  We expect Jill’s Chamber and Next Generation Tunnel to be a popular dive site with the launch of the new Mark 6 Technical CCR.

Note: This was an April Fools Day post…..  Your milage may vary.

April 1, 2009   11 Comments

The Grass is Always Greener…

Uncompahgre National Forrest looking at San Juan Mountains Today, I followed a link from Cave Divers Forum to a Kayaker’s website to watch his video of hucking a 50ft waterfall.  It was super cool.  From that site, I visited his photographer’s site, Tyler Roemer Photography Blog and spent some time gazing at his photos.  Holy crap they are amazing. Tyler’s photos are of the mountains and young people doing the things you do in the mountains: hiking snowboarding, cycling and climbing.  It really got my heart to go pitter pater.  There is something missing here on the Yucatan, green rolling hills and mountains.   Granted the scrub jungle, the beaches and the caves are beautiful, however they are not lush green mountains and snow.  Lately, I have been thinking about moving to the mountains again.  13 years ago, I lived in Keystone, Colorado.  That is where I met Allie, my wife.  We were snowboard bums working at the resort loading skis onto the gondola.  I hiked in the back country a couple of days a week, in the winter.  And in the summer I mountain biked and fly fished.  It was really a beautiful place.  I left Colorado for two reasons. First, Allie left to go to school and I was lonely.  Second, I didn’t want to snowboard anymore.  I had been skiing every weekend since I was seven years old and I didn’t want to be cold anymore.  I get really nasty headaches when my head is cold.  So one day in the spring I hung my snowboard up and bought a mountain bike.  I have only been snowboarding a handful of times since.  Well, the short of the story is that I have been thinking about the mountains a lot lately.  I am not going anywhere anytime soon I still have work to be done here on the Yucatan.  I guess the grass is always greener on the other side.

On a releated note, recently I have been captured by the awesome beauty we have all around us.  Brain Kakuk has been turning in some amazing photos of the Helictities in Dan’s Cave in Abaco, Bahamas.  You can see some of the photos of the formations here and here.  I am filled with amazement to get to see this stuff, it really enriches my life.  Thank god for the internet!

In a week I am flying to Florida for almost two weeks of diving.  The first week will be deep wrecks out of Ft. Lauderdale with Blue Foot Diving and the second week will be cave diving in north Florida to do my Cave CCR Crossover with Ted McCoy.  As you can imagine, the mad rush is on to get all my work buttoned up and to do some dives in my dry suit.   The wackiest thing is to realize that I am taking vacactions from Playa del Carmen, Mexico.  It has become home and I am ready to travel away from paradise already.

Some of my photos from a mountain bike ride from Teluride, Colorado to Moab, Utah.  It tooks us 7 days.  Awesome ride!

February 6, 2009   2 Comments

Getting Bent, How could this happen?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Safe Diving,
Patrick

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

December 30, 2008   9 Comments

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