Akumal Cave Project 2004 – 16th March Update

Tuesday 16th March 2004

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

Being sick sucks!

Woke up this morning and my left ear just would not clear.  Looks like I have come down with a cold.  Nothing sucks more than being sick while on expedition.  You come all this way and spend all this money to be able to participate.  Well, another good lesson.  I could have forced it, but this early in the expedition it is better to try to let the body heal rather than fight it and be fighting it for days.  Sometimes you have to know when to hang it up. 

Of course, I should have seen this coming.  The week prior to the expedition was a crazy over scheduled week of trying to get way too much done in half the time it should take so I can leave for two weeks kind of a week.  Leave it to me to slam myself that hard before coming here.  Funny how the body will not get sick when you can’t be and if you are still running crazy will let you have it when you can.  So, I had to make the tough call, try to dive on meds or hang it up.  Clearly, I made the correct one.

Of course, this changed the plans for today’s expedition.  Originally, we had planned to take two teams into the system to swim the opposite ends of the loop Karl and I had swam the day before to confirm the connection and get tie in data.  Well, now the two teams is one team of three.  Does not work so well for closing a loop.  So, the plan has to change. 

It is important on any expedition to have plans, but also to remain flexible.   Things happen.  People get sick, gear breaks, gas does not arrive, trucks breakdown, life happens, and so many things work against you.   The key is being able to turn adversity around on itself and make it a positive.  Task lists need to be flexible.  Things do build from one day to the next. 

You can be progressing just as you had imagined when things happen. It is not always bad.  In cave diving you might find a whole new section of cave that is promising.  Resources and time are shifted over to that new priority.  Other times it can be bad and you do what you have to work through or with it. 

In this case, the priority shifted to looking at leads Karl and I had marked the day before.  The team of three proceeded on a four-cylinder dive.  Everything went well.  They were working an area of the cave known as the Black Forest line.  They found nothing all that promising, but they did not get as far back as hoped.  Terrence had an equipment malfunction.  One of his cylinder contents gauges was reading zero even with the cylinder being full and him being able to breath off it. 

Now, if we had not had a procedure in place for logging and analyzing all cylinders prior to them being dived, Terrence might have had reason for being concerned.  But, he knew the cylinder was full.  Clearly, the problem was with the gauge itself.  Nonetheless, as his training and experience dictated, the dive was turned.  However, as Terrence likes to say, all of his chattering monkeys were in check.  Chattering monkeys are Terrence’s way of speaking to the little voices of doubt we all have in our minds that wreck havoc of our confidence and ability to perform.   The team all like to do everything we can to eliminate any doubts we might have prior to a dive in order to keep the chattering monkeys in check.  

There are so many chattering monkeys and they come in so many shapes and sizes.  There is the depth monkey.  This is the one that speaks to you when you are deeper than you might be comfortable with for that environment.  There is the distance monkey.  This is the one that pops up when you have penetrated further than you ever have before.  There is the time monkey.  He starts screaming at you when you are under time pressure or diving much longer than you ever have before.  There is the deco monkey.  This charmer likes to throw things at your head when you are obligated to more deco than you have ever done before.  There is the gas monkey.  That little one creeps up on you as you get close to your allowed gas supply.  There are oh so many more, of course.   All of which can cause big problems for us when we dive.  The worst is when they start to gang up on you.

This is a cute way of making light of a real problem.  Psychological stress is real and can have devastating results on a diver.  So, we do all that we can to keep the monkeys quiet.  If there is a number we know it, if there is a procedure we practice it, if there is a system we learn it and then we train and gain experience in low stress environments prior to adapting it to an extreme one.  All divers can learn from this.   Push limits slowly and when you hear the monkeys chatter come home.  Then, of course, figure out what it was that caused the issue and learn from it.

The team stopped in on the owners of Nohoch to arrange a snorkel study of the cavern area for the high school kids.  Nohoch is a shallow system that at one time was the world’s largest submerged cave system.  Ox Bel Ha has since replaced it.  Karl got to reunite with the family that owns Nohoch.  He had not seen them since we had the last Nohoch expeditions.  I will not get the pleasure until we take the students later next week. 

Tomorrow is a new day.  Hopefully I will be able to rejoin the team. 

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