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Cave Course Review – Cave Heaven, Dec. 22-29, 2009
I’ll start by saying that this was without a doubt the most enjoyable course I’ve taken to date. I’m sure this was in no small part due to Adam Korytko’s calm manner in addressing my deficits but I also completely enjoyed the cave environment and believe that the amount of diving I did in 2009 and previous courses, particularly GUE Fundamentals greatly assisted by building good basic skills.
In February 2009, our family booked a 10 day vacation in Mexico for the end of the year and once that was done, I began to investigate what I could do. It seemed a waste to be in Puerto Aventuras and not take advantage of some of the opportunities for diving that were available. Everyone in my family dives, but I was the only one with an interest in a cave course.
Forums and emails/pms to people I knew in real life or on the net assisted in finding some prospective instructors. I searched on the net, narrowed it down and began emailing instructors. From email responses, I narrowed things further and began calling instructors.
I was impressed from the start with Cave Heaven. They responded quickly to emails and answered questions readily. It was clear that they were not giving a generic response and in turn had questions of my diving experiences etc. While the training was to take place in Mexico, they also had experience in Florida and I thought this would provide insight into the differences in both types of caves. Within a few of weeks of starting my search, a deposit was on the way and I was booked for the cavern to cave course (minimum of 7 days) starting on December 22. We kept in touch during the long wait to travel and finally, we were on our way to Mexico.
After arrival, I called Adam and made arrangements to begin the next day. He picked me up at our condo and we were off to fill out forms, personalize arrows and markers, check equipment and get the preliminary routine stuff out of the way. This first day was filled with skills and drills (air shares, valve drills, propulsion techniques, line drills, no vis drills including air shares and following the line) in the Ponderosa System, Garden of Eden. What a beautiful cenote! Everything was in open water the first day and I could only wonder what awaited me the next day. I was diving dry for the course and it was a pleasure to be in such light undergarments – water temp was consistently 77F. Adam’s valve drill was different from the one I had learned and this did cause me some difficulty later.
Next day (Dec. 23) was my first cavern dive at Garden of Eden. I think this was the day that I realized that I had punctured my wing when I packed it in the crate the day before. Adam had another one and we dropped mine off at Zero Gravity for repair in the afternoon. Zero Gravity provided another wing until mine was repaired. Every dive started with bubble check, equipment matching, dive planning and S drills. I know I was slow at this at first (it felt like it took forever, but this did go quicker as the course continued). Adam led and I was quickly hooked! I found it relaxing and beautiful. Adam simulated primary failure on the exit and we re-ordered. Note taking and valve drill completed every dive while at our stop. I thought the view when you see the daylight as you exit was spectacular.
The next dive (my 100th of 2009) was to be my first cave dive! I led, we were diving 1/6s and not surprisingly, I turned the dive on gas! This was a common theme, I need to get my air consumption rate down… Failures on the exit were my primary light and an out of air drill. I noted that I had some issues with buoyancy at the end of the dive. My first experience with a reel was less than successful. I managed to jam it up fairly well. I noted that the halocline was really nice to look at but was quite effective at making the line difficult to see. Another dive followed in the same cave. More failures on the exit and I noted that I mucked up the valve drill as well as jammed the reel again (but not as bad). Hmmm. Some work was needed!
Next day, we were off to Taj Mahal. Three dives there, first two upstream and last one downstream. Diving 1/6s. I led the first and last dive. Usual sets of failures on the first dive. I left my isolator closed and did not recognize it in the equipment check for the second dive. I realized it when my SPG had only moved slightly (from inflating the wing) as I was questioning my sudden dramatic improvement in air consumption. Opening the isolator made things right again and the flow between tanks was audible. Now my pressure was where it should have been. While I was not pleased that I missed it in the pre-dive check, I was glad that I realized what happened and rectified it in the dive. Various failures on the way out and a debrief with lots of discussion about the isolator. After pre-dive planning etc. for the third dive, we dropped down and I started to tie in the reel. Adam called the dive and puzzled, I followed him up. I had forgotten to do the S drill, even though every dive started the same and I had just finished visualizing and talking about the dive on the surface including the drill. Back down, started the dive properly and continued. Always failures or drills continued on the exit. On this exit, while I was out of air in the drill and following the line in zero vis, I managed to break off a piece of rock the line was tied to. Lots of slack all of a sudden! I cut the drill and we fixed the line then continued the exit. Adam told me I did the right thing to cut the drill and we talked about what we would have done if it had not been a drill.
This ended the day. There had been the possibility of one more dive but while I didn’t recognize it, I think I had reached my limit and needed a break. I remember feeling disappointed at the time that we weren’t doing one more dive. I’m sure Adam recognized this and felt pushing for another dive would result in diminishing returns. I didn’t feel stressed but I know after the next day off (Christmas Day), I returned to training realizing that I had been mentally exhausted and the break was good.
December 26. Refreshed and back at it in Chac Mool for three dives. New drills were no vis lost line and lost buddy drills. What an eye opener! I didn’t find the line in the first drill. Talk about a lump in your stomach… I had let myself get disoriented direction wise and started my search almost 180 degrees from the line. The floor of the cave was filled with snags where we did the drill and Adam cut the drill when it became evident I was not making progress. In hindsight, rather than continuing up the wall, I should have realized I had gone too far and reeled in to start over in a different direction. Next dive was the same drill and I was very careful to focus on my initial tie offs with the safety spool. I found line just about the time that I was beginning to think I had gone too far. These drills reinforced why you never want to lose the line! The last dive of the day introduced the lost buddy drill. I thought this went reasonably well, although it seems like forever when you are recalculating gas for the search. I didn’t think I was stressed, but Adam said he could clearly see me chugging air as I was rising and sinking while calculating gas and writing in my wet notes.
Gran Cenote on Dec. 27 was my first dive on 1/4s. We were only a two man team and there is little flow to assist with exits so this was as much gas as we would ever plan to use in the dive plan. We needed to remain conservative! We started with a lecture on navigation and did land drills. Following this a dive was planned including up to 3 jumps although we didn’t get that far. I led the first dive. Adam led the second dive and we did a different jump. We changed position at the exit so that I could do the reel work as I needed all the practice I could get with this.
On Dec 28, we dove at Minotauro. Another lecture on navigation, this time circuits. I led. This was a very tight cave (I thought) for the first 10 minutes. We had planned a circuit and I installed a jump line for this, then we backtracked to the mainline leaving the jump line in. We continued on the mainline until I turned on gas and left an arrow for the circuit. I thought I handled a failure in my alternate well and then in the open water we practiced inflator malfunctions – these were not as smooth. I led the second dive and this time we took the jump line that I installed on the previous dive. Unfortunately, we turned on gas prior to completing the circuit. At an inopportune time during the exit (in the middle of pulling the jump line) my primary failed. I responded to that well but bobbled the spool.
Dec 29. Last day of training. We planned one dive at Naharon as a deco dive. I found this to be an extremely dark cave as well as deeper than the previous caves. It was an uneventful dive, although it was interesting to plan for deco – another layer to add to the dive planning! I silted things up a bit on the entry due to the steep silty incline. Following the dive we practiced rescuing an unconscious diver and my training was over for now. Adam congratulated me for completing the course and I have to say that for the first time after completing a course, it really feels like this is just the beginning of the learning process.
This is the first course I’ve completed where I believe that I have a real significant opportunity to get myself in trouble during the dives. It is a sobering thought and I had it a few times during the training. I think that is why at times I found the diving mentally exhausting. At the same time, the dives were spectacular and I can’t wait until I have the opportunity to go back and continue to cave dive.
I wish Ela and Adam all the best in their future plans and look forward to seeing their new place in Tulum once the construction is completed.
Nice report John. Glad you got to Mexico and congratulations on passing your course. Your comments at the end are interesting. I think cave diving is one of those things that should make anyone a slightly humbler diver.
enjoy the caves,
Great report John, and congrats!
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