Akumal Cave Project 2004 – 20th March Update

Saturday 20th March 2004

Links: Check out photos from the expedition here! | Read more on the expedition

Just another day at the office.

Or so we think.

We said goodbye to John Chatterton as we were loading the van.  He flew home today.  Karl thought he was feeling better and I was ready to go get back in the water.  Today was image day.  We decided to go capture images of Renee and Karl swimming and exploring the cave. 

When we arrived at the cenote, Karl was not as well as he had believed.  Asking our opinion, we said that his decision was already made up.  If he is questioning it, he knows it is time to hang it up.  His cold is better, but not better enough to dive yet.  Wise choice on his part.  My sinuses behaved themselves today, but were still not as smooth and effortless as usual.  It is noisy up there in those passages in my head.

So, Renee and I were on our own to make pictures and video (they should be up shortly). 

So, there is the two of us, a big cave and absolutely no light.  Renee is swimming five bottles, because one of the people who wrote into the Cambrian site asked about her flying five bottles.  I am swimming with three cylinders, three video lights, a digital still camera and video.  No free hands here.  So, off we go.  Descending into the system, equalizing not so cooperative sinuses and ears, and trying to not drop anything. 

We did several setups along the way.  Then, once we had Renee down to two cylinders, we filmed her looking at some leads.  Pretty cave all around.  We had a good two-hour dive.  Once we were back up to the cenote, we dropped off all the video and still equipment to re-enter the system to check a lead that was very close to the entrance of the cave.  It turned out to simply lead back to an opening next to Muchachos.  It is actually a part of the same cenote separated by only a few feet.  The round trip underground was interesting and made for a fun diversion. 

Shooting in a cave makes for interesting problems or I should say challenges.   It is easier to shoot close to people when it is so dark.  However, that does not allow you to show the big areas of cave.  So, you mix it up.  Some close up work and then setup the spare HIDs with video heads to light different areas of the cave.  Renee lights herself or sidewalls near her and I light her as she approaches.  Sound easy enough.  HA.  Over two hours and hundreds of images, you are lucky if you end up with a handful that you like. 

We are lucky that this cave has low silt levels and the flow is slight.  We are able to move and have clean water for some time before we loose visibility enough to impact images. 

If cave diving is a difficult thing to do, then taking images while cave diving makes for a challenging day.  You brain is on overdrive wearing ten hats at once.  All the rules of cave diving still apply, but now you have to think photographically and videographically as well.  Plus, lighting by placing lights on the cave floor while all the while minimizing any damage that may be caused.  Every touch, mark, impact and scar stays forever.  This cave has very fine and thin calcite sheeting in layers.  What appears to be mud or silt many times is actually sheeting that is more delicate than sheets of glass.  In the process of documenting the system, we do not want to love it to death.  Everything that is done has to be thought about and doubled checked against any damage it might cause. 

Anyone that would want to capture images in this environment should be totally confident in their cave diving skills.  Working with an experienced cave diver that also takes pictures is a good way to gain experience.  Begin in simple systems and use as much help as you can find.  Keep your goals simple.  Only try to meet two or three shot list items on a dive.  As you gain experience, you will be able to add more to the list.  Simpler is always better, however.

Karl was there to help us back into the van.  When we returned to Villas DeRosa, the students from Fuqua School of Farmville, VA, USA where there to greet us.  They jumped right in and began helping us with gear and filling cylinders.  It is great to see a motivated group of young people all so eager to learn and help out. 

Once we were settled back in, everyone introduced themselves.  Terrence led a discussion on safety and the schedule for the upcoming week.  We all took a group photo and had dinner together.  The students had prepared PowerPoint presentations on different subjects related to their visit to the expedition.  Topics ranged from karst to haloclines, to local wildlife, to side mount diving techniques and cenotes.  It is clear they have done their homework for this trip.  They should keep us on our toes this week.

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Links: Check out photos from the expedition here! | Read more on the expedition