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