Saturday 13th March 2004
If exploration were easy everyone would do it. So, the theory goes.
The Cambrian Team arrived on time as scheduled. Not bad for Mexico, but it is very easy to fly here. A short sixty minutes drive south from Cancun found us at our home base. We are staying at the Villas DeRosa in Adventuras Akumal. This small beach side hotel specializes in cave diving adventures and training. From time to time, they cater to explorers as well. Not a bad place to come back to after tromping through the jungle all day. Nancy DeRosa, the owner, makes you feel like you are at home. They have all of the logistical support we need in one place. They pump nitrox and have plenty of both single cylinders and isolator manifold doubles. We only need singles. We are all diving sidemount. They also have all the support needed to dive closed circuit, if you should be so inclined.
First order of business for any expedition is logistics. Oh boy, did we have a bit of that. After everything was prepared for the following day we settled in for dinner. Everyone was tired and took to their beds early. The first day of any expedition tends to be a little slow. These things tend to build over time.
Exploration makes for strange bedfellows. We are an eclectic group. Terrence Tysall is the President of the Cambrian Foundation and hails from Orlando, Florida, USA. He has been exploring this region for ages. Renee Powder is originally from Arkansas, but has relocated to Orlando to be closer to diving. She still carries her accent, however. She moonlights as a CAT Scan technologist when she is not diving. She is our Project Director. She began her cave diving life as one of Terrence’s students many years ago. Karl Shreeves, Vice President of Technical Development for DSAT, is from Orange County, California. I am from the Los Angeles area of California. Karl and I have been cave diving and exploring together since the late stages of the original Nohoch Project. The group makes for a small but capable team.
Exploration is in its purest form an exercise in personal expansion. Most people worry about being safe and minimizing risk. Explorers do too, just not in the same way as everyone else. We realize that what we do has a real risk of injuring or killing us. We fully accept that. The difference is that we do everything in our power to understand all of the risks before we enter the environment and then attempt to minimize any we cannot eliminate. Then and only then, can we make a decision that the risks that remain are reasonable and that each of us accepts them.
When we do talks about cave diving as part of the foundation’s educational outreach, people react strongly. Frankly, they think we are nuts. Well, I guess it could be said that it is not all that normal to be going thousands of meters underground through water filled passages. But, risk is relative. We minimize the risk through proper training, procedures to safely cave dive, checks and counter checks of both our gear and us, staying current with our diving skills, and by following the cave diving rules for survival.
There are five rules for cave diving that have been developed by conducting accident analysis. Accident analysis is the process of looking at each cave diving fatality and major incident to glean objective information about what went wrong. The rules are as follows. Initially, Sheck Exley developed the first three and the rest have followed over the years.
- Never dive in a cave unless properly trained to do so.
The number one cause of fatalities in cave diving has been those individuals who entered the cave environment without being trained to do so.
- Follow a gas management rule of using only one third of your gas supply to swim into the cave and reserving two-thirds for your return.
Failure to reserve two thirds of the gas supply has caused many cave diving fatalities. This gas management procedure is to ensure that enough gas remains to exit the cave if there is a catastrophic gas failure.
- Always follow a continuous guideline into the cave that will lead to the surface.
Caves can be very complex systems of tunnels and passages. Failure to have a continuous reference back to the surface has killed many people while cave diving. Running reels and laying line are an essential skill for anyone participating in cave diving, not just for expeditions.
- Never dive deeper than 130 feet/40 meters in a cave.
This rule came into being mainly because of trained cave divers dying in caves. Of course, in our modern era we might think, well, we can use mixed gasses and overcome the problems faced by divers of the past while at depth. Still the added complexity and planning necessary often lead even certified cave divers to extend themselves beyond their comfort zone and level of experience. So, even with the new technology, the rule still stands. This does not mean that cave diving does not occur beyond this depth.
- Always have at least three working lights on your kit at all times.
Light failures have caused numerous cave diving fatalities. If you think you know what dark is, you have no idea unless you have gone cave diving and turned your light off. In the cave environment, there is absolutely no light once you are away from an entrance. So, your ability to see and function well is dependent on a working light. While a trained cave diver is armed with the skills to deal with a light failure, it is certainly better to have a working light. For someone without the proper training, the loss of a light source can be and often is fatal.
Simply, those who choose to do so enter that dive with one strike against them even before they begin the dive and have to plan accordingly.
Often, several of these factors come into play when someone in unfortunate enough to die in a submerge cave. The importance of proper training cannot be over stated. Also, regular experience in the environment and staying current with your skills if you are trained is equally important. Certainly, for anyone hoping to participate in a cave diving expedition, you should make sure that you are confident in your skills and feel totally comfortable diving in caves just for fun before you attempt anything like this. Hooking up with a good ongoing expedition is your best bet for a good introduction.
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