Saturday, July 28, 2018

Finding my legs

I was determined to figure out why I sucked as much as I did the last two weekends. Did I forget how to dive a drysuit or did I just not have it down to the degree I needed in the first place? My money was on the latter. I wanted to give myself the time and freedom to figure this out on my own so I headed to the Breakwater solo. I had also switched to my more normal sized 100 doubles and ditched the Thinsulate socks.

The first hour in the water, I was making the exact same mistakes as before and almost threw in the towel right there. Almost as a last ditch effort, I decided to throw caution to the wind and force myself to not be afraid of a fast ascent (JR told me this last week but I didn't believe him). I mean, I was already doing really bad and wasn't really concerned about popping up. Maybe it was knowing that or this new approach being actually what was needed, I'm not sure but something finally clicked in my brain and I was actually able to manage a half decent stop. Another thing I did was take a cue from watching D'Or's videos from last week - a foot from the target stop, I threw myself rather violently into a sprawl and that brought me almost to a complete halt. D'Or had told me about his experience with this (I didn't believe him either). I'm sure he was doing it a lot more gracefully than I was - at this point, I'm totes OK with not being graceful. I was just happy I could manage it at all without reaching for my inflator. I did a couple more attempts of this to make sure it wasn't a fluke and breathed a huge sigh of relief when I realized it wasn't.
-> 107min, 39ft, 54F

I'll be honest, that took some doing. I might have to do another solo session to reinforce some of the new things I'm doing but I feel cautiously optimistic about where I am now.

 - U

Sunday, July 22, 2018

Tucking tail


I should probably go back to this.

I went into the second weekend with an inordinate amount of confidence that I would be able improve on the previous weekends performance. I mean, I couldn't possibly do any worse, right? Right? Why is everyone quiet all of a sudden?

JR joined us to take over video duties so Beto could focus on the total clusterfuck I had become. He made a couple of casual comments about my tank selection and my newly-beloved Thinsulate socks. I got this vague sense of deja vu because Beto had said something similar to me a while back as well but it didn't raise any red flags.

JR got amazing video on this day and I was able to see how badly I sucked. To say I regressed in all my skills would be a massive understatement. We didn't get to doing any of the Rec 3 specific tasks as I couldn't even manage one stop on the ascent up from 30ft. I was totally shattered, mentally and physically, an hour or so into trying to figure out what was going on - including Beto trying to bodily force my legs into the right position - but nothing seemed to be working. In the interest of letting D'Or move forward, I called it for myself at that point and got out of the water.
-> 44min, 33ft, 56F

Considering how terrible I did, the video debrief was actually something I was looking forward to and was able to see exactly what I was doing (or not doing). The tanks and thick socks were definitely making things harder for me but it came down to me not trusting in my ability to stop an ascent. I had gotten my butt kicked six ways from Sunday. Beto didn't need to tell me that I had a lot of work to do on my own before I could move forward to the deeper phase of the class.

Oy vey.

 - U

Monday, July 16, 2018

Slinging and ascending

"The only new thing in Rec 3 is the stage bottle."

Technically, that's an accurate statement.
But LOL.

D'Or and I started the first of what was to be back-to-back 3-day-weekends of diving - the plan was to dive at Pt Lobos the first weekend and then hop on a boat for the next, with an extra day left open in case more work was needed. I'd decided to use my Big Bertha double 120s for this class as I felt they were easier to trim out and maybe get me closer to that tech pass I was now coveting. Another piece of gear I had become a fan of was the pair of DUI Thinsulate socks that I scored from AWS during their Halloween sale last year - these are generally not recommended by most people I spoke to because they make your feet way too floaty in the drysuit but I always felt my legs were heavier than most people and the extra floatiness actually worked in my favor.

Day 1 started off much like any other GUE class - usual lecture, land drills and making sure all our gear was squared away. The plan was to basically do all the Fundies skills with the stage bottle hanging on our side to see how it affected us in the water. My initial thought was the extra weight on my left side would unbalance me enough that I would have to make physical adjustments for it but that turned out not to be the case. What I did notice was my light cord repeatedly getting tangled up in the stage bottle's valve which annoyed the fuck out of me. The solution ended up being something I should have been doing anyway - arms stretched out in front of me, not dangling. This made my trim a lot better and forced me to keep my head in the correct position.
-> 85min, 34ft, 55F

Day 2 was when we got into actually switching on and off the stage. There's a bunch of steps  in the process but everything is designed to make sure you switch to the right bottle at the right depth and have it all verified by yourself and your team. Breathing the wrong gas is one of the primary causes of accidents in technical diving and this process all but eliminates it. We went through the switches a few times at the bottom as well as at 20ft to get a feel for what it's like doing tasks in midwater. I didn't do so great with managing my ascents as I was overcompensating with my wing and kicking like a lunatic to get to the right depth in the water column. I just wasn't able to muster any confidence in my ability to control or even stop my ascent and this caused a ton of problems. Beto gave me a few suggestions - my brain understood them, my brain was trying to get my body to do certain things but that's where the connection ended.
-> 103min, 34ft, 52F

Day 3 introduced problem solving underwater. Rec 3 doesn't have the same standards as Tech 1 so these problems don't surprise you when they occur - this is one of the highly criticized aspects of Rec 3 as it doesn't reflect how real problems occur. I tend to agree with this even though it was a good introduction to the steps the team needs to follow to identify and resolve a failure. The plan was also to try and refine ascents a little more before we went into deeper water. Again, adding task loading with visual reference came pretty easily to me but the moment we started moving up, a crazy amount of anxiety kicked in and everything went to hell in a handbasket. Basically, I was struggling to manage my drysuit and the crappy ascents from the last couple of days added even more stress, compounding the problem more and more. Post dive debrief was rough - I was nowhere near being able to go deeper and perform faster/longer ascents and we decided to hold off on the boat dives until that was remedied. What sucked was it looked like D'Or was ready to move into the next part of the class and I was holding him back :/
-> 122min, 51ft, 51F

That was a humbling weekend. We got some video at the end of day 3 which makes me look a lot better than I felt. The conditions were really nice though.
 - U

Saturday, May 12, 2018


May 2 - sunny, light breeze, 76F in the water with unlimited viz.
May 12 - blustery, sand flying around everywhere, 47F in the water with about 10ft viz, pretty murky even at Lone Metridium.

D'Or and I managed a few drills before our extremities became unresponsive. It was, uh, interesting in the surge.
His wife made lemon cake which was amazeballs.
-> 69min, 72ft, 47F

It's good to be back home.

 - U

Sunday, May 6, 2018

TDI Intro to Cave

Cave diving.

Under water. Under ground. Hundreds of feet from the nearest opening to breathable air. Absolute and complete darkness outside of the lights my dive buddies and I bring in. And a length of glorified twine that I'm relying on to help me navigate in and out of a spiderweb of tunnels that go for hundreds of miles.

Begs the question - why?

It's mind-blowingly beautiful. Beyond anything words can truly describe.

It's not the easiest diving and you need to know what you're doing but it's oh-so-worth-it. I asked Natalie Gibb of Under the Jungle to teach me how.

Here's how that went.

Day 0 - The Hook
Day 1 - The Line
Day 2 - The Reel
Day 3 - The Circuit
Day 4 - The Back of the Sign
Day 5 - The Scrabble
Day 6 - The Payoff

 - U

Wednesday, May 2, 2018

The Payoff


Nohoch Nah Chich.

This was it. The cave that made me think of cave diving in the first place. There's no way I'd have had my graduation dives be anywhere else. To say that I had unrealistic fantasyland expectations for this place would be an understatement. I'm pretty sure I was bouncing up and down in my seat as we were driving there.

On top of this, Nat brought along an impressive camera rig and promised a few photo ops. I was already chomping at the bit but this just thrilled me to bits. I had not at all anticipated having a chance to get photos in a cave this early on in my cave diving career, much less with equipment as nice as this.

We kept the dives simple. We did the mainline upstream both times - the first time going past Heaven's Gate and through Disneyland before turning on time, rather than gas. The mainline is so insanely gorgeous, I can't really do it any justice trying to put it into words. It's jaw-dropping to the point that I had to consciously remember to maintain line discipline. It's also really shallow, you can easily go an hour in before turning if you were to follow the gas limits. We basically repeated the same dive the second time and turned at Heaven's Gate to start taking photos. They turned out OK :)
-> 56min and 74 min, 24ft, 76F

 - U

Tuesday, May 1, 2018

The Scrabble

"Arm up. Big loop up and around. Back down in front of me. Nope, nothing. Scootch forward a bit. Man, I can FEEL the silt I'm stirring up. Arm up. Big loop around. Ow. Did the back of my hand just hit something? Frick, those scalloped rocks are sharp. Wait, how did I hit it on the upward movement? There's no way I'm near the ceiling. Did she drop me below the shelf the line's on? She did, didn't she?"

Mayan Blue.

I was nervous for this one.
The lost line drill.

As far as things that are realistically likely to go wrong on a cave dive, this one freaks me out the most. The thought of being lost, even temporarily, in an underground-underwater labyrinth that goes for hundreds of miles gives me the chills even as I type this out.

Also, the entire area around the cenote has a whole bunch of Chechem trees. Why is this important? They're far, far more virulent than poison oak, ivy, sumac, et al. Word is that the reaction to touching any part of the tree sometimes looks like a chemical burn. This is the one site where we avoid the shade even in the sweltering heat.


The first dive was at the "A" Tunnel of Mayan Blue. This is a really good spot to do the lost line drill because it's silty and really dark. I mean all caves are dark but the formations here are actually dark even in the light. Overall, it felt completely different from any of the other lines I'd been on and, honestly, was a little creepy. The drill itself went fine both times we did it - I found the line in both attempts and had the correct exit direction but the execution had plenty of room for improvement.
I spoke to Marcelin about this dive later in the evening and he mentioned it got a lot nicer farther in. I'll take his word on that for now.
-> 61min, 58ft, 76F

At this point, we only had the lost diver drill left. For this, we went to the "B" Tunnel and Nat promptly abandoned me when I was running the reel, ignoring every light signal I was flashing at her. In the time it took for me to complete the direction referencing steps on the line, she had gotten herself neatly into a little cubby on the floor and roiled up enough silt that I could barely see her light. Good job. After that was settled, I got to see why Mayan Blue is called that. The water in it is blue. Not the kind of blue you see in the ocean but a bright cerulean blue that made the beam from my primary light look even more like a lightsaber than it usually does. The formations on this line were also super dramatic - lots of enormous boulders and slabs.
-> 36min, 68ft, 75F

Oh dear me, I think I'm certified now.

 - U

Monday, April 30, 2018

The Back of the Sign

"OK, these caves are getting prettier and prettier. And this halocline is trippy as frick. Almost feels like I lost my contacts or something. Did I lose my contacts? There's some clear water. No, I'm good."

Tajma Ha.

All the failure handling and blind skills we did yesterday were going to be repeated but this time in the cave. And when I say cave, I mean cave as cave divers define it. Stuff's starting to get real, yo.

For the first dive, I reeled to the goldline and we did a blind exit immediately after tie-in. This became our routine for all cave dives - drop in to get to the mainline and come back up to recalculate turn time and pressure and then go back in for the actual dive. This allowed us to do an extra round of skills on the exit as well as not use up a ton of time and gas for me to reel in itself. The dive in was amazing we passed the Room of Reflections and one of the strongest haloclines I've seen so far. We passed a ton of markers, looked for the jump lines (I found a few), took copious waypoint notes and turned right before the Jumna River turn. On the way out, we did some light and mask failures.
During the mask failure, all the water in Tajma Ha suddenly became super tannic. Or I had accidentally packed my for-tropical-waters red tinted mask as my backup. One of those.
-> 57min, 41ft, 75F

For the second dive, we went down the Sagrado line. The line tie-in itself is in the halocline which made things a little interesting. The beginning part of the tunnel was tighter than I was expecting but, again, I was surprised how comfortable I felt in it. One thing I did notice was how much of a buoyancy magnet the halocline is. It's super weird how it just pulls you towards it and I'm not sure I'll ever get fully used to how we work through it. More mask failures and valve shutdowns on the exit.
-> 50min, 41ft, 75F

My first day behind the Stop sign was in the books. Yeah, that was fun.

 - U

Saturday, April 28, 2018

The Circuit

"What's that? Tie-off? OK, there's the other end. Keep going. Random line marker. Not our's, ignore it. Oh, my ear's are crackling, time to vent my wing. There we go. Much better. Aaaand now I'm stuck. What's going on? Ah, my primary light hopped off my D-ring. Awesome. Oh, and it clipped itself off to the line behind something. Lovely."

Aktun Ha.

A fair bit of cave training is learning how to unscrew up a screwed up situation while in reduced or no visibility. We were at the quaintly named cenote Carwash at Aktun Ha for this and Nat started out by setting up a simple line circuit in the head pool. We went over all the different combinations of completing the circuit before we dropping in. A lot of the initial drills were done with my eyes closed but the option to open them if I needed to confirm something. I actually found it relatively straight forward to identify the tie-offs, markers and lines on my own. Adding a buddy into the mix was another matter entirely. We did a bunch of iterations around the same circuit in various configurations until she was satisfied with my performance.
-> 80min, 15ft, 77F

After lunch, I mapped out the cavern at Carwash and plotted a path I would follow while running the reel the entire time. This turned out to be really good practice for waypoint following as well as reel running since I was doing both for the entire dive. It wasn't a large cavern but I picked a circuitous enough path that I got a fair bit of time with the reel. Another thing I discovered was that if I reeled in correctly, I barely needed to kick to have just the right pace moving back in :)
-> 38min, 50ft, 76F

We'd reached a point where Nat was satisfied enough with my progress that we would now be moving into the actual cave zone from now on :O

It was time to say hello to the darkness.

 - U

Friday, April 27, 2018

The Reel

"Damn, it's weird holding the reel and light in the same hand. And that rock is slippery. I think it'll hold my primary tie. Yeah, it should be fine. That one on the right looks good for a secondary. Hey, this isn't so bad. Never mind, I take it back. I'm gonna tangle myself up pretty good here. Aaaand my secondary tie just slipped off. Yep, this is going well."

River Run.

The past 2 days, Nat had run the reel from the open water to the lines but today was my day to start. She made it look absolutely effortless but I had full confidence in my ability to make a complete cock-up of it. We did a bunch of drills going over the various types of tie-offs in Nat's air-conditioned office using some really cool rock props. I didn't appreciate this enough until I saw a few other training groups doing the same in the heat, ants, mosquitoes and dog poop at the cenote.

We headed back to Jardin del Eden and the original plan was for me to try and tie in to as many lines there as time, energy and the crowd allowed. After the usual briefing and pre-dive checks, we dropped at the entrance of the River Run line. My first attempt at running the reel was trial by fire as there were 2 other reels already in place and a lot of the prime tie-offs were already occupied. This was a lot harder than I thought - the task loading is phenomenal and that threw the rest of my diving ability completely out of whack. I needed 28 min and almost 500 psi just to get to the mainline and make the tie-in. I disconnected and reeled up immediately to the surface. It was unbelievable how much energy I used and how tired I ended up after just the first attempt.

I ended up doing a couple more reel runs to the same line because of the crowd and, honestly, I was glad as I was far more tired than I thought I would be. The subsequent efforts were much better and quicker but positioning along the line continued to be challenging. Contouring is definitely going to be a big thing moving forward.
-> 79min, 45ft, 75F

 - U

Thursday, April 26, 2018

The Line

"This passage is a lot darker than yesterday but damn these formations are pretty in my light. I'm handling this a lot better than I thought I would after a day. Position on the line is good. Light discipline is good. Decent distance beh- HOLY CRAP IS THAT LINE ARROW POINTING IN THE WRONG DIRECTION?!?! Yep, it is. We talked about this, didn't we? Did we? Crap!!! Chilling out, no biggie. Just drop a REM cancelling it out. Dammit, how do you do this one-handed?"

Chikin Ha.


Since we'd established that I could maintain reasonable control of my faculties in the overhead, the training began in earnest - theory, land drills, in-water drills, the whole shebang. In hindsight, and considering how the week progressed, this was actually a very gentle slide into training mode. The main focus for the day was on line discipline and light protocols - sounds trivial but considering that's basically my lifeline and primary method of communicating in the cave, there was a lot going on that I had to be conscious of.

We briefed the path and waypoints of both the cavern lines in cenote Chikin Ha before getting in the water. This became our m.o. for all future dives and was a good way to visualize the cave before even getting in the water. Even with my complete inability to gauge distance and scale, it was useful nonetheless.

We dove both cavern lines going towards cenote Rainbow. This used to be one loop with a T but having 2 separate lines makes it pretty well suited for cavern training. Both lines were a lot darker than Ponderosa and there were significant periods of time when I could barely see the light from the surface. I actually liked the darkness better as the effect from my light in this zone was even more pronounced. I got a mega jolt of adrenaline when I realized I had to drop my very first marker on the line - a cave diving milestone for me :) My buoyancy and positioning got a little shaky in the excitement but it ended up fine.
-> 90min, 43ft, 75F

We ended both dives with a round of valve drills which confirmed that the Deep6 fins that I thought would work with the slimmer drysuit and light insulation were waaay too floaty. Looks like I would have to borrow Jets from someone in the shop for the rest of the week.

 - U

Wednesday, April 25, 2018

The Hook

"It's not that bad. She said this line was super open and you could see the surface and sunlight the entire time. Totes fine. I just spoke to someone who did this dive and she had just finished her OW training a couple of days. OK, that bit about someone with 5 dives going into a cavern is kinda terrifying in itself but I'm fine. I'm fine. Yeah, I'm fine."


This was my first day of diving - we decided not to start with training immediately and, instead, do a fun dive in one of the caverns at Jardin del Eden so I could get used to the new setup. Also, since I'd signed up for a week of cave training without even having done a single cavern dive, Nat and I both wanted to make sure I didn't completely lose my shite in the overhead.

After a site briefing, a bit of a kerfuffle with my drysuit inflator hose and keeping a wary eye on the screaming people jumping off the trees right above the entrance to the Ponderosa line, we dropped down and headed in. She was right, it was very large and open, not to mention insanely beautiful. You'd think that wet rocks wouldn't be particularly attractive but you would be wrong - there's so many different formations, it's mind boggling. As we got closer to cenote Corral, I was treated to an amazing display of the Pillars of Light - a surreal effect of beams of sunlight streaming through submerged tree roots and sparkling in the crystal clear water. We turned the dive at the end of the cavern line after peeking down the gap that leads to the cave line. The swim back was equally nice and the halocline effect was even trippier in this direction.
-> 61min, 38ft, 76F

I knew during the swim back that this was the type of diving I definitely wanted to keep doing; the hook was well and truly in place.

 - U

Saturday, March 24, 2018

Almost and did

Almost slipped and fell with my double 120s on.
Almost slipped and fell carrying Serenity.
Almost lost my fins getting out.
Almost didn't get out at all.

Did slip and fall on my butt while staging gear; twice.
Did lose SeƱor Schneble in the murk and on trigger; twice.
Did get knocked over by the waves and rolled around on the ramp.
Did get some more dive time with the DPV.
Did get back in the water after almost 2 months of crappy weather, angry oceans and stuffed noses.

Negative low tide was a bitch. Super slippery ramp was an even bigger bitch.
Baby seals on the beach were cute as frick.

Seemed like forever since I'd been to Pt Lobos.
-> 1hr 7min, 74ft, 53F

 - U