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Intro-to-Cave Class Report

reposting our intro-to-cave / basic cave class report from 2006

We’re back from another great trip from Mexico. It just keeps getting better and better. Well, except for the multitude of mosquitos this time of year.

Day 1: Cenote Car Wash
Spent the first day getting sorted out, and are we glad we did. 7mm wetsuit with 7mm boots and double AL80s made for some extremely floaty feet.

First couple of dives, we work on trim, do our drills and practice some line skills. 3rd dive of the day we go on a very nice cavern dive. Algae bloom at Carwash, so the top 10′ is a brilliant green. Looking back at the entrance from inside the cenote produces a cool green affect.

Because of the floaty feet, I am exhausted at the end of the day. Elissa ribs me for sculling when we use the rest of our air for more practice. I am sculling with my feet for much of the day, but at the end of dive 3, I periodically scull with my hands to give my feet a rest.

Next day, both Elissa and plan on putting 2#s in each of our thigh pockets. Actually 1# each pocket would have been better for Elissa, but the smallest weight increment was 2#s.

Day 2: Cenote Ponderosa
Cenote Ponderosa
First day with Intro-to-Cave (now called Basic Cave) with Steve Bogaerts and Dennis Weeks.

Start the day with a review of our gear. Steve has us go over every component and explain why we set-up the rig the way we did. It wasn’t a quick once over check, we spend some serious time. For example, Steve makes some recommendations on ports usage on our first stages, and this cleans up our routing significantly. Our routing looked okay before, so I am surprised how much things improved.

Then on to land line drills. We review the material from Cavern and add additional skills such as no viz OOA. Most of the new skills focuses on no viz situations – a sign of things to come.

First dive starts with trim, buoyancy and s-drills. The 2#s in the thigh pockets and Steve’s recommendation of putting the wing as high up as possible made a world of a difference.

We then proceed to work the line, simulated no viz conditions. After a calm first circuit around the course, Steve turns up the heat on the next few runs. We start getting engangled, lose buoyancy (auto inflate and dump failures), multiple OOAs, etc.

Oversights on our part become obvious mistakes. During the no viz OOA, Elissa doesn’t clip off her primary reg, and Steve automatically engangles it. I later find out that I narrow escape the same fate when I remember to clip my reg off.

During my no viz OOA, I almost yank off Elissa’s mask. We were no viz anyways, so she wouldn’t have needed it right? 😛

My favorite part of the first dive was while Elissa was cleaning up, reeling the primary reel, I turn around just in time to see Steve swoop in and shut down Elissa’s right post. Elissa casually reaches back, turns it on, and continues swimming like nothing happened.

Steve Bogaerts and Dennis Weeks
Second dive of the day is our first cave. Steve’s dive briefing is incredibly detailed – in x minutes at y depth, you will see z, and head q. The entire dive is easily visualized.

We have been to Ponderosa for Cavern, so I am familiar with the cavern zone and am looking forward to revisiting. But to my surprise, we enter the cave through a different entrance, and it feels like it’s only 20′ before the warning sign. We descend from a primary tie at 4′, tie secondary at 20′, turn left and (Bam!) enter the cave.

The dive itself is amazing, though obviously much darker than the cavern. After the dive, Steve provides tips on more efficient reel work, more efficient buddy checks, and reminds me of proper halocline swimming position.

The third dive of the day, Elissa leads. Since the primary tie is on 4′ of water, Elissa and I swim away from the cave entrance to do our s-drills in 10′. Steve teases us about it, since we should be able to do everything at 4′.

After we call the dive on time, we do lights out, simulated no-viz, touch contact exit. It’s freaking dark. Pitch black. It’s downright eery how black it is.

Elissa gets vertigo and flips on her light, and the vertigo immediately stop. Steve later recommends some techniques to stop vertigo in the dark.

On the ascent, we practically bump our way up. We are reminded that we need to be horizontal to the cave floor and not just horizontal in the water.

Day 3: Cenote Xta Bay
Intro-to-Cave Day 2.

Chikin Ha Cenote
Start the day talking about manifolds and failures. Dennis leads us through failures and procedures, and Steve talks about the different schools of thought of isolator first or right post first or both at the same time. We then play “what if,” and do dry runs of valve shut-off situations.

We are then directed to a line course and told to walk it. On the line, Elissa notices a directional arrow pointing in the opposite direction of our exit. The talk turns to non-direction markers and usage.

Next is gas matching calculations. Dennis leads off off with psi/volume calculations, but when Elissa mentions using tank factor, Steve switches the conversation without missing a beat. It was so seamless and effortless, it seemed like it is second nature to him.

First dive of the day and I lead. Wizard’s Den has some nice decorations and we take our time admiring the room. Shortly afterwards, before an arrow pointing in the wrong direction, I turn the dive on pressure and we head towards the exit. Writing in your wetnotes, swimming back along the guideline, with percolation coming down is kind of a surreal experience.

Of course, being a training dive, I find myself OOA. Donation is clean and Elissa unclips her SPG to show me her remaining gas and we make our exit. Elissa didn’t successful reclip her guage so we get punished by having it wrapped in the line.

We then go lights out/no viz exit. This time, it’s my turn to get vertigo, but before it gets worse, I drop to the floor and ground myself on some rocks.

Our exit is a little too hasty and not as efficient as it could have been. We end the dive with wetnotes logging the dive and valve drills

Second dive of the day and Elissa is numero uno. Her reel work is much cleaner and more efficient today.

Another group was training at Xta Bay as well, so Elissa passed her line underneath theirs. During the dive in the halocline, Elissa positions herself well, giving me plenty of space and visibility.

We enter the Wizard’s Room and she calls the dive on time immediately after the left turn in the line. On the exit, Elissa becomes OOA so we do touch contact airshare exit. We cruise for a few minutes and once we settle into a rhythm, we go no lights/no viz.

The exit is quite speedy, perhaps a little too speedy. I am accused of using Elissa as a human plow, which I can’t deny. There are times that we hit the ties a little too intensely.

Back at the primary reel, we end the drill and write our notes and work the tables. Elissa does some self rodeo action as she tries to stow the primary reel on her butt D-ring. Mental note to lower butt D-ring.

After valve drills, we practice breathing from the power inflator. Let’s just say that I’m glad that it’s a last resort thing, I wouldn’t last long breathing this way. In theory it’s easy, but in practice, oh not so good. Maybe I need a longer inflator hose 😉

Day 4: Cenote Taj Mahal
Intro-to-Cave Day 3.

Cenote Taj Mahal was our first cenote dive. I remember being transfixed on the beams of light cutting down through the water. Brilliant pillars of pure white. But in the cave, there is no light…

The first few days in Mexico, there are mosquitos, but at Taj Mahal they are out in force. We spray, but if we miss any area we receive bites. I get bitten on the sole of my foot and Elissa on her back between her shirt and pants.

We start the day talking about safety reels and spools, the pros/cons, and most likely failures of each and correction techniques. This leads to lost diver – when and why it happens and appropriate procedure. After dry runs of Elissa and I getting lost, we then discuss lost line. Similiar to all skills, a generous amount of time is spent on most likely scenarios and what ifs. In the dry run of lost line, I have trouble with my primary tie but fortunately find the mainline and correctly identify the exit.

First dive of the day and Elissa leads. Third day of training, and I’m a mess. Jump in and my fin slips off. In the water, my back-up second stage is routed wrong. I ask Elissa to fix, but change my mind and do it myself. Not surprisingly, I didn’t do it correctly, and the s-drill shows that my long hose is trapped.

After putzing around, we finally get underway and Elissa ties in at 6′ and a secondary tie at the bottom of the decline. The ties today are slower.

By the time Elissa ties into the mainline, I have 15 minutes of bottom time. We swim for 5 more minutes and I call the dive on time. I then proceed to crowd Elissa on her line clean up.

At the valve drill, I forget to turn on my right post (first time ever). After the dive, Elissa notes that it was my fin retrieval that caused my clock to start sooner. Ugh, what a cluster dive.

On the surface, I try to shake it off, and refocus. Elissa slaps me around a little to wake me up.

Second dive and it’s now my turn to run the primary. Taj Mahal surprised me in that I was mesmerized by the light in the cavern. But in the cave, I still found the system quite interesting. At the point I am enjoying the dive, I notice Elissa’s beam lose intensity and within a blink, her light is out. Turn around and see that Elissa is indeed lost.

I go through the steps for lost diver but know that I should really look into the smallest, darkest hole possible, and I will find her. If Elissa was to be lost, she’d be there. About 20′ back, I see Elissa’s bubble trail so I tie off and go retrieve her.

Signal attention, Elissa looks up and in her eyes I see that she’s thinking, “the Intro limits include single line penetration, but I wanted to check out this area, so here I am.”

We make our exit and my primary light fails. Elissa immediately helicopters around and checks on me. I signal ok with my back-up and we switch places. Then Elissa’s primary light fails. Then almost immediately, Elissa goes OOA. You would think that someone with that good of a SAC rate, she wouldn’t go out of air so often.

The ceiling is low at spots so we press ourselves as flat as possible and exit.

Finish with dive with notes, tables, and valve drills.

Third dive and Elissa runs the line. The secondary tie isn’t fully locked, so I flip it forward, and cause the line to slack. Whoops.

During the dive, I’m supposed to become lost, but Elissa won’t let it happen. When my light fades, she slows. When my light is not clearly in front, she covers her light to check for my existence.

The dive is turned on time, and shortly after it’s lights out for no viz exit. Like all dive ends – it’s notes, tables, and then valve drills.

Day 5: Cenote Chac Mool
Intro-to-Cave Day 4.

Chac Mool Cenote
First dive and it’s my turn with the primary. Tie in 6′, drop over the edge and quickly drop to 20′, wait for Elissa to mark the line, and then proceed to the bottom. In the debrief, I learn that I can just descend all the way to the bottom and let Elissa place the cookie when the line is taut.

The entire dive feels like we’re in a halocline, but being the primary diver, I get a clean view.

After turning the dive, both Elissa and I have primary light failures. Then I’m OOA and we touch contact swim back in simulated no viz.

Back at the primary reel, we are individually taken down the line and then off it to do no viz lost line. It takes a little bit to find a suitable primary tie. After a couple attempts at a secondary, I’m off to find the line. After the third pattern, I hit the gold line and navigate back past an arrow marking the exit and to my primary reel.

Elissa finds success sooner, and I clean up the line, we check our tables and finish with valve drills.

Chac Mool Cenote, water
Second dive and Elissa runs the line. By now, Elissa is doing one handed ties and zipping along. What a showoff.

I know that I will become a lost diver so I’m checking for nooks or corners or boulders that I may be swept off to, but I see nothing for most of the dive.

We then enter the large room with the mound, and I feel Steve grab my arm. For the entire length of the room, Steve swims me along the line, holding my light.

At the top of the mound, Elissa looks between her legs and I clearly see her eyes staring back at us. Don’t know if she actually sees Steve or only the brightness of my light.

When Elissa crosses the mound, I am squirreled away. While hiding, I see Elissa approaching. In my excitement I do a wee backwards kick and am slowly enveloped in silt. My visibility disappears by the inch. This is when I’m glad that I learned to dive in Lake Austin, where silt is so common.

Fortunately, I don’t wait long as Elissa finds me and we head back to the line.

After do a couple of kicks down the line, Elissa is OOA. Then primary lights failure. Finally, it’s lights out. The more OOA/no viz drills, the more comfortable and efficient Elissa and I become. We are moving quickly and easily to the exit.

At the primary reel, we do blind lost diver again. This time, Elissa again finds the line quickly. Unfortunately for me, I had many close calls, but no success. I learn that I swim straight for 10′ and then start to turn right. I would like to blame me busted boot, but it’s most likely only me. Another thing to practice when I get home.


6:00 am – Depart SFO for DFW

12:35 pm – Depart DFW to CUN

3:20 pm – Arrive in CUN

3:27 pm – Start immigration line. Usually, if you’re in the front of the plane, the line is minimal. Not the case today.

All four lines are open, each are 10 rows deep, and each row containing approximately 25 people. Yes, 1000 people all trying to get into Cancun. To service these 1000 tourist, there are 5 immigration officers.

4:25 pm – Get through immigration, and passport is stamped. Almost a full hour in line. Next time, carry-on will have wheels. No heavy shoulder bag filled with regulators and lights.

4:34 pm – Retrieve bags and pass customs. The back-up in immigration leaves bags sitting idle without owners on the conveyor belt. After a couple of minutes, the 50# bag appears. The bag is ominously tagged “suspect” by the automatic scan machine. Shortly after, the 49.5# sibling appears.

5:10 pm – Leave Hertz after another confidence crumbling experience. Wait over 15 minutes for the shuttle (not rare) and then have to check the pricing 3 times (first couple were actually the wrong reservation).

6:19 pm – In grinding traffic in front of PA. Construction of a new raised highway has reduced traffic to one lane – causing a stranglehold on rush hour traffic. Between 4pm and 7:30pm, driving northbound past Puerto Aventuras is slow goings. It’ll add at least 15 minutes to the commute.

6:34 pm – Check into the condo. Almost 12 hours of traveling, door-to-door, adjusted for timezone.