It's about diving. And cats.

Me diving

Tuesday, May 31, 2011

Dos Ojos

For our last day of diving in Mexico, I suggested Dos Ojos. Actually I asked "if Dos Ojos worth doing?" I was pointing out that there are several dive sites that it seems everyone does when they first start cave diving which we have not done (I guess because we didn't train in Mexico). Dos Ojos falls into this category. Kevin said it was "definitely" worth doing. Then Rob asked Kevin if there was any cave dive in Mexico that Kevin thought was not worth doing. Kevin admitted that they are all worth doing at least once, but Dos Ojos is worth doing at least twice. So if Kevin ever tells you that a dive is worth doing, you should realize this has no signaling value whatsoever. But if he says it's worth doing twice, well, maybe that means something. We met up with Don and Kevin at the entrance at 9, and after showing our cave cards (gasp) and paying 100 pesos (which was surprisingly cheap), we headed in. It seemed a bit hotter than it had been, though that may have been because we were not in the shadiest spot. The original plan was to mix up the teams today, but somehow that fell by the wayside. I'm not sure how -- though I mentioned it to Rob and he said he didn't know how to affix his strobe to the sidemount people, so maybe that's why. Anyhoo, in the end, Rob and I dove together. Kevin and Don led us in to "make sure we found the jump" off of the cavern line, though I'm not really sure how we could have missed it. We took the Barbie line to the main (IMAX) line.

We didn't have access to a map with much detail (Kevin claims there isn't one) and as it was described, it didn't sound like there were many options for navigation off the main line, other than the "old" main line, plus a little connector back to the new main line. So as we geared up, I told Rob I was only taking two jump spools (since I knew he would have 3). I can't explain why I did this, except that I was feeling too lazy to stuff another spool into my pocket? Rob had the bright idea to walk our tanks down to one of the tables right by the entrance, then go back up to the car to get dressed. The stairs there are pretty nice, though some of them are a bit tall (or so they seem once you are in doubles) and the middle "flight" of stairs are all sort of leaning downward, which isn't too fun. But there is a handrail which is reasonably sturdy. After getting into our suits, we went for a swim to cool off, then we got into our gear and into the water. We bobbed around for a few minutes while Kevin and Don finished their gear checks, and then we headed in after them. The cavern line starts in open water, but there are (at least) two cavern loops which means (at least) four lines starting in open water on the upstream side (though either of two of them would be the correct line). I was leading the dive, and once we got to the Barbie, Kevin or Don pointed in the direction of the main line and we headed that way (they were heading to the old main line, so we parted at that point). I fished out my 150' spool because the line had been described as pretty far from the cavern line, though I think in reality either of the spools in my pocket would do. By the time we got tied into the main line, it was about 20 minutes into the dive (the cavern line is supposedly about 1500 feet, and the jump is supposedly a little more than halfway, though having not seen the other half of it, I can't be sure about that).

The cave was not that intricately decorated at first, but became quite decorated as we got further in. The passages were all pretty big, some very big. As we followed the mainline, this other parallel line appeared to our right and ran parallel to the main line for a bit. Then it disappeared and eventually appeared again. At that point, Rob suggested we jump over to it, so we did. This was about 40 minutes into the dive, just where the main line was about to take a sharp left. The line we jumped to once again disappeared from site of the mainline and went a bit shallower into a briefly narrower passage. Then it opened up again and there were some cool formations on both sides of the line. Right where it opened up again, we dropped our stages. Maybe 100 feet later, the line once again dipped down, where that room "ended". Rob wanted to take some pictures in that room, so he took the lead, so he could stop us as he found something photo-worthy. We proceeded slowly for the next 5 or 10 minutes, as Rob took pictures. Eventually we came upon another rather green cenote just ahead of us, and the line turned to the left. Two minutes later, we passed a line arrow pointing the way we were heading (the first opposing line arrow we had seen) and it said "Tak Be Ha cavern" or some such thing on it, with a jump to the left. I had never heard of Tak Be Ha before, but a quick google search reveals that it is a cenote in the Mayan Riviera :P

From there we could see another opening up ahead and to the right, which was perhaps the same cenote we had just passed, but the view of it was blocked by a wall in-between -- not sure. We continued until we got to it, and then Rob signaled to turn around (I'm not sure if he thought the line ended or what). So we turned back and took the jump at the "Tak Be Ha" arrow. This line eventually ended, after another 5 or 6 minutes, putting us on the middle of yet another line, which I made an executive decision to go left on. This line also ended after a few more minutes, and this time at the end of the line, we found Kevin and Don's cookies and a jump spool back onto the main line (or some gold line). So I guess this line was the connector from the old to the new main line, or a connector anyway. We jumped to the mainline, using our fifth and final spool :( (what was I thinking bringing only two!?!). Since we were switching order as we came to photo-worthy passages, we kept arriving at jumps and Rob would give me the "after you" signal and make me put the jump in. So lazy... Anyhoo, we headed further up the mainline and got to some really big and nicely decorated passages. Overall I would say this cave had a good mix of small (icicle-type) decorations and big impressive column-type formations. I know Rob is addicted to saltwater passages, but I think he got some of his best pictures of the trip at Dos Ojos. After about 10 minutes, I turned the dive on sore feet :) Friggin' jet fins.

Since we still had an insane amount of gas left (with the 17 foot average depth, one stage can give you a looong dive), we took our time on the exit and Rob took more pictures. On at least two of the jumps, as I was pulling the spool, Rob was hunkered down in front of our cookies, taking pictures of me pulling the spool. In my head, I was thinking the caption for the picture should be "diver pulling a spool without ANY help from buddy". Not that I need help, but it's just polite to pull ties, ya know? When we finally made it back to our stage bottles, I was totally relieved to take a swig from Rob's camelbak. I was so thirsty! Rob took a few pictures in that area right after we picked up our bottles, but pretty much from that point out, we were just heading out. My feet were killing me, so I was looking forward to popping my fins off :) I briefly considered doing it when we got to the other eye on the cavern line, but decided to suck it up!

Once we got out, we decided to break down our gear (completely, boohoo) and pack up the car before going for a swim. I guess we were pretty efficient about doing this, because we managed to go for a swim (brrr) and were waiting in the water a little while before Kevin and Don appeared. We agreed to meet up at ZG in a little bit and then headed down to Tulum for one last empanada (or in my case, three) before heading home. The guys were like kids in a candy store at ZG, because there were a bunch of new cave maps on sale there. They are such dorks.

Monday, May 30, 2011

Naharon toward Mayan Blue

Rob really wanted to dive Mayan Blue on this trip, since we didn't last time, and there were a few spots in particular that he wanted to go to. But there had been reports of car break-ins at Mayan Blue recently, so we punted it from our list. Then when we were trying to decide where to go on Monday, somehow the Naharon to Mayan Blue traverse came up. Actually the traverse had come up long ago, before the trip, when Rob kept proposing it and I kept telling him no. But in the end we decided to dive Mayan Blue from the Naharon side :) Rob wanted to go to the Battleship Room in Mayan Blue, which seemed pretty doable from Naharon with two stages. Dennis told us how to get there from Naharon at dinner on Sunday, and Chris refreshed our memory on Monday morning (margaritas and cave directions don't mix very well). The navigation actually was not too complicated, since we already knew how to get to Southern Sacbe (we hadn't actually been there, but had passed the jump), and then you are on that for a long time, go past one T and eventually get dumped into the Battleship Room. Kevin and Don were also at Naharon and were planning to do the same dive. We got in the water a bit before them though, so we weren't piled up on the way there.

Rob led the dive, since it was his turn. We dropped our bottles and Rob installed his strobe on my tanks at one of the sticks again, and then we headed to the mainline, then the Desconocido line, then SW Sacbe, and finally to Southern Sacbe in a little over 20 minutes. The Southern Sacbe line does not have as many column-type decorations as in SW Sacbe, but it is bright white with blue water, and there are many interesting formations. The walls have that crinkly look that some passages below the halocline have (like the crack we went to the previous day). There were occasional restricted areas, but overall it was pretty open, but also distinctly tunnely. We dropped our first stage bottles after one restriction that was a bit tight with the bottle, but otherwise, carrying the bottles was not a problem in this area. We were on the Southern Sacbe line for quite a while, and finally hit a T around 50 minutes in. The T had an arrow back the way we came that said "Naharon" and an arrow to the right saying "Mayan Blue". Phew, good to know we were on the right track :) A few minutes after that, we dropped our second stage bottles, and a few minutes after that, the line became gold line (also a good sign, because we'd been told it was gold line through the Battleship room). For most of this portion of the dive, the line runs just below the halocline. But the rooms are tall enough that you can swim either below or above the halocline with a perfectly good view of the line.

Not too long after the line changed to gold line, we came into a room that was clearly getting bigger. Then off to my left, I saw a formation that looked very distinctly like a gun from a tank or a ship. I'm not much of a military or weapons guru, but even I recognized it. I pointed it out to Rob, and figured that must be why this was called the battleship room. Just a bit beyond that, the room opened up more and we could tell that it was HUGE. This is why Rob wanted to go to this room -- he kept telling me how HUGE it was. To our left, the room extended beyond the glow of our lights, and it extended ahead of us as far as we could see. After we looked around a bit in awe, we decided to hang out in that room for a few minutes and then head out. I stayed on the line was Rob swam over to the wall on the left, and in his light, I could see the extent of the room. It was really neat watching his light across the room. After a few minutes taking turns doing this, we turned the dive.

About 5 minutes later, we passed Don and Kevin, and after a couple of high fives (very dorky, I know), I tried to convey to them that the room was about 5 minutes ahead and totally awesome. Not sure I did. We were sort of in the middle of the halocline at this point, so I doubt anything really got through. On the way out, Rob picked up his camera (which he had deposited somewhere between our first and second stage drops) and took some pictures in the Southern Sacbe tunnel. When we got back to the Southwest Sacbe line, we dropped all of our bottles and headed further up SW Sacbe for a few more pictures. We made it further up that line today, because we didn't start taking pictures until we got a bit further (so made more progress early).

Eventually we turned it and when we got back to our bottles, Kevin and Don's jump to Southern Sacbe had been removed. By the time we got back to the basin, they were there doing deco, and left a couple minutes later. After doing too much deco, we got out of the water and cleaned up our gear. Then we headed to Super Carne for some meat, errr lunch. Then we headed down to the gelato shoppe, since I was determined to have gelato at least once more before leaving :) Then we headed to ZG to get tanks for the next day, and then hit a beach bar in Akumal for some afternoon drinks. There we discussed the plan for the next day. We decided to go to Dos Ojos, because I complained that it was one of those sites that everyone's been to, but we hadn't been to yet. Plus it is super shallow and I was happy to not carry two stages around yet again!

Sunday, May 29, 2011

Naharon: Some Passage

On Sunday we decided to go to Naharon. Lynne, Peter, and Kevin were diving there too. Since Rob is a salt-water slut, of course the goal of the dive was to find some good salt-water passages to photograph. He had some ideas of where to go (I think based on advice from Beto), but when we got to ZG, he asked Chris about it. Chris wasn't too sure about the sections that Rob was thinking of going to. He asked us if we were stage diving, and when Rob said we were double staging he was kind of like "oooh, in that case!" and drew us a map of a place to go to. I'm not sure what the passage we went to is called -- on the map that we have, it just shows up as a dotted line passage. So I guess you could say we were off the grid ;) Chris gave us a detailed map and description of all of the landmarks on the way to the tunnel. The path included the double domes and then a jump to the left into a "crack" of sorts, which he thought we would find quite good for photography. I was leading, and a bit worried, since the jump was not marked. But as you may know, I am an extreme visualizer, so Chris's detailed description was quite helpful.

The unfortunate side to this place was that it meant schlepping two stages the whole way (well, one and a half stages the whole way, or something). I've really been failing on my mission to only double-stage dives which include a "stage depot" along the way. We were delighted to find that the steps into the water were in good repair, so we got in that way (last time we didn't for some reason, I think because they were in bad shape, and instead took the very slippery route). I remember finding the whole Naharon experience to be quite slippery and treacherous seeming last time, but this time, possibly because of the last 90 days without rain, it didn't seem like this at all. We lined up our bottles on the platform by the stairs and get geared up. I managed to not drown in the basin with 3 bottles on (we brought O2 as well). (As a complete aside, I wonder if all of the 2 80s plus 1 40 dives in Mexico will translate to Monterey... I find that in Monterey, 1 80 and 2 40s is really my "comfort" limit though this mostly has to do with deploying into the water without being crushed under the weight of my gear. That's a lot easier in MX.) Okay, maybe that wasn't such an aside... since I hate carrying two 80s up front, I decided to try a little experiment and see what happens if you leash the second stage instead of the O2 bottle. This experiment was an epic fail. Pretty much all it accomplished was a trail of silt behind me for the first 30 feet or so, because the bottle actually fell down between my legs and ended up dragging beneath me. Anyhoo, we dropped our O2 bottles at the big stick thingy that was our secondary tie, and I moved the stage back up front (where it belongs :P). While we were there, Rob affixed the slave strobe to me (we remembered the bungee today, don't think we'll forget that again!).

And then we were off. We jumped to the Desconocido line (which I have heretofore been calling the "Descondido line" because I *swear* that's what Kevin calls it... but the map and Chris seem to be in agreement otherwise). We passed the jumps as described by Chris, there are a bunch to the right which are all in some way involved in the merry-go-round circuit. Then we came to the double domes, the first of which was at about 44 feet, and the second at 25 or so feet. We dropped our stages somewhere in-between the two domes. A large portion of the travel, and I think most of the travel between the domes is right around the halocline. But the passages are plenty big to avoid any halocline-induced blurry vision. The second dome is really neat. You go WAY up to get into it and then there are some formations in that room, and then its right back down to the other side. Once we were through that, I started thinking every little turn in the line was THE turn that Chris had described. But when I finally got to the passage, it was quite clear to me that this was it. I went to check that this really was the passage (that there was a line to jump to), and after confirming that there was in fact a line in there, we dropped our stages and I installed the jump. Once we got into the crack, I told Rob to go ahead of me, since it was narrow enough that it would be annoying for him to keep stopping me and turning me around to setup shots. It was also narrow enough (and possibly unvisited enough) that the slightest wiggle of the camera caused silt to be stirred up from the walls by the strobe arms (though it wasn't really that narrow). The crack is very attractive. Not in the usual beautiful disneyland-castle-like saltwater formations. It isn't very decorated in that sense. But it is like this very blue, very symmetrical (in some sense) passage that just goes and goes. I really like the symmetric tunnel aspect of this passage -- it's like how I like the "subway" tunnel in Twin Caves (on the Mill Pond) because of the symmetry. We spent a bit of time in there taking pictures, so we really didn't make it that far up, I don't think. Chris had mentioned a T, which we did not get to before turning on gas.

On the way out, we stopped in the second (shallower) dome for a brief photo shoot. For some reason we were having a serious breakdown in communication -- I swear Rob would tell me to pose here and then that wasn't at all were he wanted me to be! From there, the exit was pretty uneventful, until we hit the Southwest Sacbe jump, and decided to head up there for a bit. For some reason, Rob installed the jump, I guess because he was in the lead on the way out. We had a bit of a delay installing the jump, because Rob swam into the wrong passage, oops. We finally found the right one though, and headed up the line. Rob took a few pictures up there, though I don't think we really made it far enough to get to the nicest sections. Rob claims that because the passage is not completely below the halocline (and thus the ceiling is black), it isn't the best passage for photography. Hmph. So after going not too far up there, we headed out, and eventually found our way back to the cavern zone. As we swam toward it, I saw someone in a swimsuit, I thought free-diving. But as I got closer, I realized he was hanging in the water continuously, and actually breathing a stage bottle. It was Kevin, and he was kind enough to take our empty stage bottles once we got onto the O2. That was kind of funny to watch since, well, he had no means of buoyancy control, and those empty bottles are pretty buoyant! After doing way too much deco (the heuristic we were using for calculating deco was WAY over-conservative in the 60 foot range, I have since determined after studying profiles in DecoPlanner), we headed up.

As we were cleaning up gear, I noticed that I was missing my knife. I am guessing it got caught on the line and popped out or something. At first I was hoping it fell out when I was getting out of my gear and I would come upon it as we packed up our gear, but that never happened :( For some reason, we went back to Don Cafeto for lunch. I'm really not sure how that happened, but I think it involved my longing for one of their limonadas. Today I got a chile relleno, which was SUPER good. I think it was the best one I have ever had. The sauce was just super good. We then headed back to ZG, swapped tanks, and then went back to our place to hang out with Kevin. We eventually ended up going to the Pub to meet Don, Elissa, and Dennis. After quite a while there, we eventually wandered to Latitude 20, which is I guess a new place in PA. Since we'd had a mondo lunch, Rob and I split the paella, which we both liked (Don and Elissa split that too, and they too liked it).

Saturday, May 28, 2011

Jailhouse: Swiss Siphon

Saturday we went to Jailhouse, along with Lynne and Peter. Rob and I went to retrieve the key on Friday after dinner, which was interesting considering our lack of Spanish. But eventually we managed to get the key after paying slightly more than we expected/remembered (but this was not atypical of this trip -- many of the sites seem to have increased their prices since our last trip). Several people had suggested Swiss Siphon to us as a nice photogenic salt-water passage, so we decided to check that out. After meeting up with Lynne and Peter, the four of us headed down to Tulum. Since Lynne and Peter were in the lead, Lynne hopped out to open the gate for us. We followed them in and eventually we got to the open area beyond the jungle, where you are essentially driving through a farm. We have seen horses (or maybe a horse) there before, but today there was a cow. It had a rope around its neck, and was tethered to a tree by the side of the road. Unfortunately, it had decided to stand on the other side of the road, so the tether was stretching across the road, blocking passage. So of course, Lynne was sent to deal with it. It turns out it was actually a bull, but a quite young one, with just little stubs of horns. Pretty cute actually. It was totally funny to watch Lynne give a tug on the rope to try to get him to move. At first he was cool with it, but then after a moment, he sort of spooked. But luckily his reaction was to run away in the direction we wanted him to go. I really regret not getting a picture of Lynne herding the bull!

After that we quickly came to the cenote. When we first went to check it out, there was a really big, pretty blue butterfly flying atop the cenote. Later we noticed a gazillion other butterflies off across the "parking lot" all congregating around a tiny little puddle to drink from. Guess they didn't realize there was a much bigger puddle just through the trees a bit. Speaking of the puddle, it was still pretty much a muddy hole, but not quite as muddy as I remember it. We set our stage bottles and cameras down by the water, and then got geared up pretty quickly. Since we lacked oxygen, we decided to do a single stage dive. However, we did want to take a quick peek at the INAH line just upstream, so the plan was to recalculate gas back at the entrance room and take a quick foray to there at the end of the dive. We also talked about possibly heading further up the mainline after Swiss Siphon. We got into the water, and as I mentioned, it didn't seem quite as muddy as I remembered it. I could see Rob descend from 3 or 4 feet away without a problem. However, I think that the viz opened up a bit later than before. I basically felt the rock at the entrance before I saw it (though perhaps that was because Silty Bob was ahead of me). When we got into the entrance room, by the T, we stopped there so that Rob could put the slave strobe on me. But we quickly realized that we forgot to put the bungee loop on the tank that is used to attach the strobe. Doh! Rob pulled a spool from his pocket and told me to hold and then for a couple of minutes I felt all sorts of pushing and pulling on my gear from various angles, including some tugging on the manifold. There was also some bolt-snap gymnastics, with a bolt-snap being clipped off to my right chest D-ring and then retrieved back from the D-ring. I wasn't entirely sure what was going on, but at the end of it all, I was wondering if I had cave line running around my manifold, and a spool dangling from my tanks. After the dive, Rob confirmed that that was precisely the case.

Once we got going, we took the bypass line which is very shortly after the entrance room, and essentially drops you back on the mainline as if you went left, right, right, but skipping two of the Ts. The jump from the bypass was closer to the entrance than I expected, but I think that's because I was thinking of the minutes from the first T, and it was described to me in terms of minutes from the start of the dive. It looks on the map like the bypass is a big win, but it really isn't. It is much smaller than the alternative passage, so you go slowly, plus there are those two pesky jumps that you have to install. Anyhoo, it took about 9 or 10 minutes to get through the bypass, and we jumped back onto the mainline right in the halocline (at just about 50 feet). We continued up the mainline (to the right), and then we started looking for the Swiss Siphon jump, which is not marked. Rob actually stopped us just before the right spot and poked around a bit before moving on and then quickly finding the right place to jump. This passage is very pretty, pretty much right away. I thought it was extremely photogenic. We had been through the mainline passage right near the jump, and thought it was very nice, but this was even better. We spent quite a lot of time there taking pictures. The passage is quite big, with nice big decorations at frequent intervals, and of course it has the usual below-the-halocline blue glow. We dropped our stages somewhere in this tunnel and then we hit a T. One of the people we had talked to about Swiss Siphon told us to go right at the T, so I told Rob to do that. Apparently he had not heard that, so he thought it was just a lucky guess that we ended up in more beautiful passage.

The plan had been to use only some of our penetration backgas in the Swiss Siphon and save the rest for further up the mainline, or the INAH line. But we agreed to conference about that when we got there. We quickly decided that we should spend as much time as possible in this passage. So after spending quite a bit of time here, we eventually turned the dive on gas. When we got back to the mainline, we agreed to head a bit further up it for just a couple hundred PSI. It was nice, and Rob took a few pics, but I think Swiss Siphon is way nicer. Then we headed out back to the entrance room. We paused at the T to discuss our plan for heading to the INAH line, and as we were discussing, we saw the glow of Lynne and Peter's lights coming from that passage. We waited for them to come out, and then we headed upstream. I dropped my stage before the room where the jump is. I swam into that room, and I was absolutely certain that this was where the jump was. I remembered it perfectly. But I couldn't find the passage. So I thought maybe I was wrong. I took a few more kicks, and then I saw that the jump was marked on the line. Okay, so this is definitely the right room. But for some reason I still failed to see the passage (and I knew exactly what it looked like!). I think when I first looked around, I was in a bad position to see it, and then I got so discouraged by that that even when I was sitting right on top of the jump arrows, I missed it. But Rob pointed it out to me, and after a moment of "oh duh", I installed the jump and we were off. Once we got into the saltwater passage, I let Rob lead so he could decide where to take pictures. We stopped for shots in three spots, and made it to that big gazebo-type formation where the line turns right before I turned it on gas. I realized at like the last spot where he was taking pictures that I had forgotten to deploy the sensor for the remote strobe on all of the previous pictures (on the INAH line). I had it clipped off to the back of my light head, on the bungee loop. Turns out, that position still allowed the sensor to fire. Phew. I was worried I was going to be fired as Rob's model!

When we got back to the entrance room, Rob removed the strobe from my tanks (which is sad, since I never got to see exactly what craziness was required to affix it to me with a spool). We did a few minutes of backgas deco at 20 feet. I basically just pinned myself to the ceiling since I was terrified of stirring up the gelatinous muck below me. That worked quite well. Coming up into the warm poop water was pretty gross. Somehow bad viz just seems way grosser when it is bath-tub hot! Lynne and Peter were already out of the water when we surfaced, and they were kind enough to help us with getting our bottles and the camera out of the water (this was a recurring theme throughout the week -- Lynne, Peter, and Kevin routinely helped us with our bottles because they were already out of the water when we came up, and I felt bad that we never had the opportunity to return the favor!). Rob got himself out of the water, and then I got myself to me knees and with one hand on a tree and one hand on Rob, I stood myself up (okay, maybe it would be more fair to say Rob and I stood me up :P).

After we packed up gear, and looked at the butterflies for a bit, we headed to Tulum for lunch. We had agreed to meet at Taqueria Diaz, since Jacob had recommended it, oh I don't know, maybe five thousand times in the past two weeks. But when we got there, we found it closed :( So we decided to go across the street to Don Cafeto instead, which is one of those places I have heard reference to many times (I think from Beto), but never been to. We all got some variety of beef tacos, which were okay but not great. But their limonada was totally awesome, and basically made it worth going there just for that. We also had some tasty guacamole, and I liked the pickled carrots in the bowl of pickled things that they brought. Since ZG closes early on Saturday, we headed back to the condo and got there pretty early. So we decided to go snorkeling out behind the condo. I brought my snorkel and everything, even though Rob snickered about it. I also brought the Hero Cam, since I figured this was the sort of thing it was actually made for, so it would be cool to actually use it for that! It was quite a successful snorkel. We found a bunch of rather small patches of "reef" but even in those small patches, there were an impressive number and variety of little tropical fish (I suck at naming tropical fish, so that's about as specific as I can be). Eventually as we got closer to the breakwater, there were bigger patches of reef, which had a lot of medium-sized fish, plus I saw at least one barracuda, and a really big triggerfish. Conditions were getting rougher as we got closer to the breakwater, plus we were swimming against the wind or current. So at some point I sent Rob to take a look, to see if there was another interesting enough to make it worth going further into the rougher water. Of course that was a mistake. He swam maybe 100 feet away and then started grunting and signaling and yelling "turtle". I guess he happened upon a turtle sleeping on the reef, but it got scared away before I could see it :( After looking around for a bit, we headed back, which was quite a bit easier since we basically just drifted back. On the way in, Rob made two good finds. First, a lettuce sea slug (which of course I got some video of, just for Clinton :P). And the best find of all (that I actually saw) was a spotted eagle ray, maybe 100 feet from the beach. That was really exciting!

Later that evening, Lynne told us they were going to Akumal to have dinner with some friends, so we tagged along to Lol-Ha. Lynne and I shared the ceviche, plus the table had guacamole and mango margaritas. I met a very skinny but well-groomed beach kitty who was not interested in being pet but was very willing to share some ceviche with me.

Friday, May 27, 2011

Pet Cemetery: Blue Abyss and Dark Side of the Moon

On Friday, we went to Pet Cemetery with Kevin, Lynne and Peter. Rob, Kevin, and I dove as a team. We met up at the Dos Ojos entrance, where you pay for Pet Cemetery too, and then we followed the others down the slightly long road to Pet Cemetery. The road is in quite good shape for a while, then gets worse (about on par with the road to White River) and then it gets better again right before you get to Pet Cemetery. The site has some nice, sturdy tables to setup gear on, and a nicely groomed trail to the water. The bathrooms are also super nice, so all in all it has really nice facilities. The staircase is very steep (Lynne has a good picture on her blog here). It was pretty freakin' scary to walk down the steps. I think Rob was nice enough to carry more than his fair share of the bottles down :) Once you get to the bottom of the stairs, there is a platform with some high benches, where you can put your doubles. So we walked them down before getting into our drysuits, and sat them on the benches. Then we got into our suits and went for a quick swim in the cenote before getting into our doubles, doing gear checks, and getting back in.

The plan was to go to Blue Abyss and then to Dark Side of the Moon. We were double staging, but the plan was to leave the full stage at the Dark Side of the Moon jump on the way in. So my kind of double stage dive :P Rob was bringing his camera on the dive, which was exciting. He just got a new slave strobe that he was using for the first time. When we first got into the water, he bungeed it to my tanks. He did not want to schlep the camera the whole way to the Blue Abyss, so the plan was to drop it on the line at some point on the way there. We took the cavern line, which seems to go on roughly forever, to the IHOP line. I think that the "cavern line" uses a very loose interpretation of what the cavern zone is :) But it is a very nice cavern line, and very long. Just a few minutes up the IHOP line we encountered a marked jump to the left, and just as described, there were two lines, one going roughly forward and to the left (toward DSotM), and one going roughly backward and to the left (toward Blue Abyss). At this point we were in a big, very tall room. We dropped our full stages there and headed down the Diaz line, toward the Blue Abyss. I thought this line was very pretty. It is relatively small passage but is quite decorated in many areas. In a few spots it gets restricty, but the tunnel is not actually very small. It is just that the stalactites are spaced so that you have to weave yourself between them. Rob dropped his camera (and I de-strobed) before we got into the really weavey area. I thought the passage was very nice, and worth diving even without the Blue Abyss as a destination.

Eventually we came to the jump to the Blue Abyss, about 55 minutes into the dive. The jump goes down a bit of a chute, which was fun to go down. Within 10 minutes, we hit the Blue Abyss. We came up a little tunnel that suddenly opens up into a big room, and you keep swimming until you hit the edge of the universe. Well, the edge of a big dropoff anyway, and the line goes shooting down into the abyss. After looking at it from above for a minute, we followed it down and once we crossed through the halocline, the water had a really deep cobalt blue. It was pretty cool. We continued down down down, and eventually settled a bit off the bottom. As Rob was looking around, I descended just a bit more, and reached my arm down below me -- just so my gauge would show a greater max depth than Rob's. Teeheheh. After playing around in there for a few minutes, I signaled to Rob to ascend. Rob returned the signal and then told me to shoot a bag. Hehehe. We slowly ascended; it was like we were moving in slow motion, especially as we crept through the halocline. When we got close to the ledge, we played around there for a few more minutes, shining our lights up at the ceiling, etc. Then we headed out. Just as we came back to the Diaz line, we crossed paths with Lynne and Peter, who were sitting there waiting for us to come out before they jumped to the Blue Abyss line.

We headed back out. When I got to my stage (the half-full one, which we dropped along the way on the Diaz line), I was so happy to be reunited with my Camelbak, and stopped the team so I could take a few sips. I haven't mastered the art of drinking on the go, but I've definitely made a lot of progress on the drinking underwater thing in general -- I was previously afraid of drowning while I tried to drink from it, but on this dive I got thirsty enough that I quickly got over that! Once we got back to the IHOP line (there were no pictures taken on this first segment of the dive), we dropped our stages and picked up the full ones, and moved the jump spool over to the Dark Side of the Moon line. I decided on this dive that the plan was a bit flawed in the sense that we didn't start taking pictures until more than 2 hours into the dive. I was getting tired and just not feeling very patient about posing for the camera :) We had been led to believe that this line was more photogenic than the path to the Blue Abyss. I am not convinced that that is so, however. There were some very nice sections of DSotM, but they were interrupted by not very beautiful sections. However, looking at the pictures, there were clearly some really nice spots! The slave strobe makes a huge difference. I thought the pictures looked great, but there were clearly a few things to tweak (like my trim, which led the slave strobe to light the floor behind me, not the wall in a few of the pics :P).

I eventually thumbed the dive because I was getting tired and my feet were a bit sore. We took a few more pics on the way out. By the time we got back to the stages we had dropped, I was totally not in the mood to swim two slightly positive stages out. That cavern line just kept going and going :) About 5 or 10 minutes from the end of the dive, my light crapped out again. This was seriously anomalous, since I was using a 10W lighthead (since I knew my 21W would not give a long enough burn time for this dive) and it lasted a bit under three and a half hours, on a battery that usually lasts 3 hours with my 21W. I guess the battery didn't get a good charge or something. After packing up, we headed to EE to get tanks for tomorrow. Then we headed down to Tulum to have some empanadas with Kevin at Buenos Aires. I was very sad that they did not have the blue cheese and chorizo empanadas :( Maybe next time.

Thursday, May 26, 2011

Gran Cenote to Bosh Chen (or is it Box Chen?)

We met up with Lynne, Peter, Kevin and Jacob at Gran Cenote on Thursday morning. Rob wanted to do the traverse to Bosh Chen (I have no idea how he came up with that as a goal). The plan was to do a two stage dive. Now, my idea of a good use of two stages is to go to a site where there are two divergent places to dive, drop a full stage at that point, go up one side, then come back, drop the empty stage, pick up the full one and go the other way. So more like 2 one-stage dives than a two-stage dive -- minimizing the amount of time actually swimming with two stage bottles clipped to me :) It quickly became clear that this would not be the case on this dive, however. Hmph. Originally we were planning to dive with Kevin and Jacob and one of them suggested doing the Lithium Sunset area on the way out. After coming up with a plan for this dive, we eventually came to the conclusion that diving in a team of 4 was dumb, so in the end we split up and I dove with Rob. Rob still did not have his camera, since yesterday had been a pretty tiring day and I guess he didn't feel like setting it up that evening.

We took the Paso de Lagarta jump, which is a lot closer to the main line than it used to be. We headed up that line for a while, and dropped our stages at between the Much's Maze and Lithium Sunset jumps. We then continued up to the Bosh Chen jump, which was just as described (a jump to the right just as the line turns 90 degrees to the left). About 10 minutes up from there, we came to a jump to the left. During the discussion before the dive, there had been some discussion about getting to Bosh Chen once we jumped onto our current line. The consensus was that you can go either right or left, but according to Jacob the left side is prettier and the right more restricted. But as it was described to us, the line continues left and the jump is to the right. So when we came upon this jump to the left, we weren't sure if this was that split. So we stayed on the line, but I dropped a cookie just in case we made it the whole way around. The path was somewhat restricted, with some interesting little twists and chutes. About 20 minutes later, we hit the cenote. We popped up quickly, Rob said he wasn't sure this was it -- he was underwhelmed by the size of the opening (the opening to sunlight, not the opening to air which is much bigger). So we continued on just in case this was not it. I hadn't heard anything at all about Bosh Chen, so I really had not idea what it was supposed to look like. We eventually came back to my cookie. I agree with the assessment that the left side is less restrictive and prettier. It is very pretty in fact, with some nice big rooms (just "before" Bosh Chen) that are nicely decorated.

After a quick wetnotes discussion, we decided to return back the way we came (to the left) to get our stages (since it was faster in that direction, both shorter and less restricty), so we installed the jump spool and headed back. We surfaced again in the cenote and had some water and goo, and chatted for a few minutes. Then we continued back to our stages, then doubled back to go the "short way" back on the left side. The original plan was to jump up to lithium sunset on the way back, but since we spent all that time going round and round the circuit, we skipped that. We got our stages and then Rob suggested Much's Maze, but I was starting to worry about the burntime on my light, so I passed. Anyway, Kevin and Jacob were up there and I could see their lights as they headed out, and didn't feel like waiting for them to pass :) We passed Don and Elissa not long after that. I didn't even know they were coming to Gran Cenote today (they arrived after we got into the water). When I first saw them, I thought it was them, but was a little confused by Don's red drysuit. I'd never seen it before, and didn't even know he had a red drysuit. Man, everyone has a red drysuit now.

When we got back to the mainline, Rob was cleaning up the spool and just as he got to the mainline, my light died. Meanwhile, Rob had apparently just bottomed out his stage bottle and was basically breath-holding back to the mainline (since his hands were busy spooling). It was a bit of a cluster fuck overall :) But after dealing with that, we headed out and we back into the cavern zone before you know it. As we were doodling around there, Don and Elissa showed up, which was a surprise -- I guess Don had a soggy drysuit.

We headed to lunch at a place in Tulum called Elemental that Lynne had discovered recently. I really liked it (the tacos de tinga are very tasty). They have a really good sesame seed sauce that they bring with the food. After that, we had some gelato and then headed to ZG to swap tanks. We had tentative plans to meet at the pub for drinks later with Lynne and Peter, but ended up just going to their condo for margaritas instead. So in honor of that, you get a picture of the beach by our condos (since there are no other pictures from the day :( ).

Wednesday, May 25, 2011

Taj Mahal: Chinese Garden and the Waterfall

We left for Mexico on Tuesday night, red-eyeing through Miami and then to Cancun. This sort of sucked, since it certainly isn't the shortest route to get there, but on the other hand, the flight to Miami is actually long enough to get a decent amount of sleep (compared to flying through Dallas or some such more direct location). And by doing the redeye, we got in at 11, so we thought we might actually be able to dive. We got through immigration and got our bags and got through customs in no time at all -- under 20 minutes I think. We got the green light at customs, phew. Then we waited for Kevin to appear on the other side of customs. He was on a flight that was scheduled to get in like 10 minutes after ours. About an hour later, Kevin finally appeared, and we headed up to PA. Kevin had asked Danny about sites that would let us leave a bit later, and he suggested a few. One of them was Taj Mahal, which we decided to go to, since it is so close and Kevin had some suggestions for nice dives there. We asked Angelica to write a note for us in Spanish asking the guy at the gate if we could stay until 7. We presented him with the note and he said it was fine.

The stairs and entry seemed a lot less scary than the last time we were there. I think that's because it hadn't rained in ages, so it wasn't slippery. We put our stages into the water, and set up our gear on the table. That wasn't as hot and uncomfortable as it sounds, since we were nicely shaded. We had decided to head upstream to the Chinese Garden line and then to the "Waterfall". I volunteered to lead the dive, but made Kevin assure me that he would stop me if I swam past the Chinese Garden dump (which is unmarked). This path goes through the cavern line, which we'd attempted to do on the last trip but hadn't quite made it the whole way due to a light failure. The Points of Light thing was much more impressive today; not sure why, maybe it had to do with the time of day/position of the sun in the sky? Kevin's description of how to find the Chinese Garden jump made a lot more sense once we were in the water, and I had no trouble finding it at all. We dropped our stages at the jump (since it was allegedly a bit restricted), which was sort of amusing, since it was right in the halocline; maybe this wasn't the best spot to drop the bottles. I also got a bit confused about the sequence of dropping a cookie, switching off of my stage, dropping my stage, and installing the reel (Kevin said it was a long way to the jump line, so we brought a reel for it).

The tunnel was very very white and holey and crumbly looking. We were right in the halocline for a bit. I found the line and tied into it sooner than I expected (I'm not convinced that a 150' spool wouldn't have worked). There were some narrow spots, which were fine with me, but probably not so fun for #3 (Rob) since it was in the halocline. Eventually one of these narrow areas pointed up and we were spit out into a bigger room. I stopped there and looked back as Kevin and Rob drifted out of the tunnel and into the room, which was pretty cool to watch. We slowly worked our way through that room, which seemed big, until we got to the next room which was HUGE -- both very tall and very wide. And very decorated. We very slowly meandered through the room, looking around with awe. Eventually we reached the end of the room, and we continued on. Rob stopped us because he was having some ear problems as he tried to descend (as usual, he was pinned to the ceiling in the big room, so he had to descend quite a bit as we exited the room). While he was working on that, I asked Kevin if there was more after this room and he said not really. So once Rob fixed his ears, I signaled to turn around.

We headed back to the main line, picked up our stages, dropped the reel, and headed further up the line. We eventually made it to the waterfall, which I wouldn't necessarily describe as a waterfall, but there was definitely a major halocline effect. Swimming under it, it looked like the surface of a lake was right above us. The "waterfall" was definitely swirling, but kind of looked like it was running up or backwards to me. Weird. After looking at it briefly, I turned us, because I was a wee bit underweighted in the saltwater, and hence kind of in a hurry to get out of there (the saltwater anyway). Once we got above the halocline again, I was relieved that I could take full breaths again :P On the way out, we passed a jump to our left just before we got back to our stages, not too far from the waterfall room, but above the halocline, and Rob asked if we wanted to check it out, and we all agreed. The line was heading shallower as we went, and we went through a could of tall but narrow restrictions separating bigger (but not really big) rooms. After not very long, the line apparently terminated, with a jump back to the mainline. I didn't actually see this since I was in the back at this point, but this is what Rob tells me. We headed back out to the mainline, picked up our stages and out we went.

We ended up getting out of the water just before 7. Which is sort of funny since when we were asking Angelica to write the note, we regarded 7 as being way later than we would possibly get out :) We headed back to PA and after a brief stop at our condo, we headed to the Pub to meet Lynne and Peter, and eventually Jacob. We all agreed to head to Gran Cenote the next day.

Rob didn't bring his camera along, since we had just gotten in. And I sort of epic failed to get many topside shots on this trip :( So instead you get some screen-caps from my hero-cam footage from our last trip. But since I was diving with the same team, you'd hardly know it wasn't from this trip :)

Saturday, May 21, 2011

Breaking the Curse

Matt had reserved Phil again for Saturday, and after our failed attempt to dive the Mt. Chamberlin SW loop two weeks earlier, we decided to give it a try again. Rob made the helpful suggestion that I bring a working regulator this time :) Unfortunately he did not remind me to bring a mask, so when I was pulling my gear out of our gear bag, I found that my mask was left in my other set of fins (which I wear with my other suit, which I wore the previously weekend). Hmph. Luckily my backup mask is now a mask that I actually like (my old primary mask), so I just used that. The weather forecast seemed eerily similar to the previous trip, with the wind forecast to get big in the afternoon. But once again it looked good when we showed up in the morning. We managed to get the trailer in the water without it falling off the ramp this time, so that was a good start. Still, I felt like this site (and possibly all of the deep diving I have done lately) was cursed. As we pulled up to the site, I told the guys that if any gear failed on this dive, I was done diving this site for good. Which in hindsight was a pretty foolish thing to say, considering how much gear was on the dive, and thus the high likelihood of *something* failing. Surface conditions were pretty good, but bouncy enough that as we got geared up, I was starting to feel pretty queasy. At some point as we were doing the gear-up shuffle, Phil asked me "how I was doing". I told him "oooooh, I think I could use a bucket". Matt concurred. In hindsight, I guess Phil was probably asking me if I was ready for him to pin some bottles to me.

There was a bit of current, so I let the guys roll in first, so Phil could give them their scooters and Rob's camera, and then I rolled in and he handed me my scooter. We stopped at 20 feet, for bubble checks and ear clearing. Unlike our last attempted dive here the water was clear and blue. Woohoo. After our pause at 20 feet, we headed down the line, and I did a pretty good job of making it down at a reasonable pace. The viz was good all the way down, but oh my was it cold on the bottom (I had 46 degrees). When we got to the reef, and started going, I confirmed what I suspected based on the circle-circle-drop anchor on the surface -- we were anchored on a different spot than we usually do. So, for instance, I did not have my bearings well enough to know where the purple sea fan was. After a minute or two on the trigger, Rob found deeper water. We ended up scootering across a sandy bottom with some rubbliness at just about 250'. And Rob scootered right over a crinoid! I was shocked, and signaled him to come back and take a look. While he was getting his camera out, I saw another one on a nearby rock, and also a basket star. Yay! I was trying to get some hero-cam footage of the first crinoid when Rob very rudely swooped in with his camera and nudged me out of the way. So it was good that there were two crinoids, since apparently this one wasn't for sharing.

We got going again and maybe a minute or two later, we hit the wall, and by the time I got there (I was in the back, I guess) the boys were gawking at something on the bottom, below them, in a sort of vertical nook. I looked down to see a very encrusted anchor of some sort. It was a weird looking anchor and it had obviously been down a long time. I could totally see how the anchor could have been stuck into that little nook that it was at the bottom of. The anchor was a bit on the deep side, so we didn't get to spend too much time looking at it. But Rob got some pics and then we headed a bit shallower and continued along the wall, which is impressively vertical in that area. The viz was so good, we could look off of the wall and see the sand just going and going. Eventually we came around the southwest corner and Rob suggested we headed out over the sand to the "south south wall". I love to go over there when the viz is good, but we usually do it when we are diving the south wall (on 18/45). So I've never been over there with deeper gas, to give us the option of checking out the deeper (west) end. Also, we usually are approaching it from the center of the south wall, so we haven't even been to the shallower parts of the west end.

For some reason I have this idea that the south south wall is even more beautiful than the usual spots on Mt. Chamberlin. I think it's because we generally only go there when the viz is really good, so nearly every memory of it involves clear, bright blue water. Today was no different. We hit the northwest end and stopped to look around. We saw a couple of juvenile yelloweyes when we first got there. Rob snapped a couple of pictures and then suggested going around the back (south) of the ridge. Strangely, we'd never thought to go to that side before :P We ended up finding this absolutely awesome wall, that was so vertical it was maybe a bit overhanging at the bottom. And it was super covered with life. While the deeper spots of Mt. Chamberlin are always full of interesting critters, I've always thought the shallower areas are a bit better covered overall. This wall is clearly an exception -- the wall runs from probably about 160 feet to 220 feet, and is absolutely covered with corynactis, and all different colored sponges. I love the picture Rob got of Matt and me hanging beside the wall. We look so tiny next to the big wall!

After that, we continued east along the wall and at some point I suggested we hop over the top of it. I totally underestimated how high the top came, though, as it took surprisingly long to get to the top and then over it. Right as we came over the top, we found a little peak with a nice school of blue rockfish, and we paused there so Rob could get some pics (and we some video footage). Then we headed back over the sand to the south wall. We were scootering probably 30 feet off of the sand and could see forever in all directions. When we got back to the reef, we switched onto our first deco bottle, and continued up the canyon to K2. On our last dive here, I was impressed with Rob's navigation to K2 in the green murky viz. But after this dive, I told him even I could have found K2 in this viz! When we got to K2, we did a GPO check in the crack, but of course there was none. We worked our way up K2, and I was thinking we could stay on the pinnacle until after we switched onto our 70' bottles. But as we came up, it became apparent there was oh, a wee bit of current. At 80' we agreed to put up the bag and start to drift, and basically as soon as we decided not to actively stay on the pinnacle, we basically flew off of it. But after a couple of stops, the current calmed down. The water also warmed up, and it was a toasty 51 degrees by the time we got to 20'. My bottle rotation went pretty smoothly for once, because I just kept telling myself not to drop my head while I was doing it. I told Rob that after the dive, and he basically gave me a big DUH for that :P

Deco was pretty uneventful. There weren't as many jelly critters in the water, but we saw some of the usuals. And also found a neat tiny shrimp floating along in the water. When we got to the surface, conditions were still fine. After I handed off two of my bottles and my scooter to Phil, I noticed that I was feeling a little heavy in the water. I reached back to feel my wing, and it was flaccid on the bottom. Hmph. Not that again. I just kept my reg in my mouth and was sort of treading water to keep my head comfortably out of the water. After a minute or so, I decided that this was not sustainable and, having drifted a little bit away from the boat, I told Phil I needed "a little help" and asked him to send Matt over. Matt came over and futzed with my OPV until it agreed to hold a seal again. Then he helped me out of my gear, in case my wing decided to vent itself in the process (it would be a bummer to lose my entire rig to the abyss -- I really love my 120s and they are hard to find these days :P). Once we got the rig back into the boat, Phil pointed out that the wing was still not holding as much gas as it should and probably had a weak spring in the OPV. But since the problem happened on the surface after the dive was complete, I'm not going to count it against my vow to never dive MC again if I had any gear failures. Loopholes :)

After getting back to Lobos and cleaning up, we headed to RG (again) for lunch.

Sunday, May 15, 2011

NAS Archaeology Class

We spent May 13 through May 15 taking an underwater archaeology class offered by the Nautical Archaeology Society. We brought in instructor Chris Underwood to teach the Introduction and Part 1 classes in underwater archaeology. The first day was spent in the classroom, parking lot, and pool at Wallins. We learned different 2-D survey techniques and practiced them both on land (in the parking lot) and in the pool. On Saturday and Sunday, we were at Lobos. On Saturday, we basically practiced the same techniques in the ocean (at 12 feet, right by the ramp :P) plus we also practiced using survey frames to sketch "artefacts". On Sunday, we did a mini-project as a team, where we did a survey of a much bigger set of artefacts over a slightly larger area, using a different survey technique. Oh and there was also lots of lecture on various archaeology topics like how to manage diving logistics and safety, and how not to run afoul of any legal regulations, etc. But the survey and sketching was definitely the most fun part (check out my sketch of three artefacts under a frame -- a roasting rack, a plate, and Gary's reel)! Actually I thought doing the data analysis was pretty fun too. Geeky, I know. Rob thought I was nuts for that.

Susan posted tons of pictures here.

Saturday, May 7, 2011

The Curse of the SW Loop

Matt had Phil on Saturday, so he asked if Rob and I wanted to join him for a dive, which of course we did. After mulling our options, we planned to do one of our usual Massively Multi-Level Dives (TM) with 15/55 and 3 deco gases. The forecast was for small swell and a bit of wind. But when we got there, there really wasn't much wind. So we decided to head for our first choice site, the southwest loop at Mount Chamberlin. I don't think Matt had ever been there before. The tide was quite low; in fact, it was so low, that when we were launching the boat, one of Phil's trailer tires went over the edge of the ramp. Everything was fine, and then I hopped out of the boat to get my Hero-cam out of the car (which I had forgotten), and when I came back, the boat was leaning at a very strange angle. I was a bit worried about the stability of the boat when I was climbing back in, but I didn't manage to put the other tire over the edge. Phil was able to get the trailer up the ramp without a problem and reported that he has always been afraid of that happening, and not that it happened and wasn't a problem, he's not so afraid of it. Once we got going, the conditions were quite nice, though it was overcast. It was a pretty good day to be gearing up in the RIB, from the swell and wind perspective, but we expected the wind to get worse later on. We rolled into the water to find just a little bit of current. We had agreed to a slightly extended stop at 20' for the usual bubble checks plus a moment for our ears. We were greeted by green chunky viz at 20', and we did bubble checks around. I looked at the line and back at the team and I saw that Rob was putting his backup gauge on his wrist. He asked Matt to help him pack some of the stuff back into his pocket, so I looked back toward the line to make sure we didn't lose it. As I looked forward, I noticed my light had died. Hmph. Two failures and we hadn't even made it past 20'.

We continued down the line, and it got darker and darker as we went. By the time we hit the reef at around 170' or so, it was nearly night-dive dark. I deployed my backup light, or perhaps it would be more fair to say that I attempted to deploy my backup light. My backup lights both lack the bezel cover thing on the part that you turn -- good ol' Halcyon manufacturing :) After falling off and having Frank glue them back on a few times, I eventually gave up. Anyhoo, I don't know if it was the cold, or my gloves or the need for a little more lube on that o-ring, but my hand just kept sliding around on the bezel and I was totally incapable of turning the light on. So I unclipped it (while it was turned off, gasp... Rob was horrified by this), tried yet again to turn it on and finally handed it off to Rob and he got it on :) Hehe. Once that was dealt with, we headed down to the deeper part of the wall. As we were scootering down into the depths, I started to feel like I was huffing and puffing and out of breath. I started to doodle with the adjustment on my second stage, but it was all the way open. I started wondering if I was stressed out by something... it was awfully dark and I was on my little scout light, but, well, the darkness really isn't usually scary to me. By the time we got to our destination, a sort of nook or vertical crack along the wall, I felt like I couldn't catch my breath. I signaled Rob (which was not terribly effective with my little scout light up against his primary light), and told him my reg was being wonky and switched to my backup. I breathed on that for a minute and felt better. This didn't seem very conclusive though, since just hanging out doing nothing for a minute may have helped. So I switched back onto my primary briefly (which momentarily caused my backup to free-flow), just long enough to realize that breathing off of it was like sucking concrete through a straw.

I went back to my backup and we agreed to head up to our first switch. We got just a bit above 190' and for one reason or another, we stopped. There was some sort of miscommunication, and I thought we were going onto our 190 bottles (since we were, after all, at 190' :P). I wanted to see how my reg breathed at this depth, to see if it would be reasonable to continue the shallower segment of the dive, so I switched back onto it. In the meantime, my backup reg started free-flowing once again, and I couldn't get it to stop. Rob came over and tried to help me with it and he couldn't either, so I went to shut down the post. Before I got it more than a few turns, Rob managed to get it to stop. I opened it back up and signaled to continue up the reef. Rob stopped me and started fiddling with my valves... I assumed he thought I hadn't re-opened my left post (and started to doubt that I had). It turns out, he thought the bubbling had stopped when I shut the post down, so he went in to "debug" it. He realized this wasn't the case when he found the valve completely open (but I didn't know this until we discussed it post-dive... I assumed -- and was rather horrified -- that I had actually forgotten to re-open the post and then sheepishly did a flow check after he finished). We continued up to about 160', and in the intervening time, I found my primary regulator to be breathable but not great. But it was definitely better than it was deeper.

At about 160', we switched onto our bottles, and after a brief discussion, we agreed to do a dive in the 150' range on the bottles. I'd say we did about 25 minutes or so on the bottles. It seemed much brighter at this depth, though I think that's mostly because my eyes had adjusted to the darkness deeper -- on the way down, 150' was super dark. The original plan had been to cut up the big canyon that runs perpendicular to the south wall and leads to K2. We more or less did that, except that we cut across the top of the mount instead of running along the south wall. We eventually hit a canyon, though I think it was the next one to the west of the "big canyon". We meandered in there for a bit. We found this little "cave" well really more of an underpass in the reef, which I saw Rob poking his head into. I am pretty sure Kevin has attempted to go through here before... I don't think it worked out that well, though I do think he made it through. Rob eventually decided not to go for it. One notable thing we saw right around there was a gigantor vermilion. Vermilion-zilla, I'd say. Rob got his camera out to take a picture, but in the time that that took, the fish swam off. So Matt and I tried to pose a bit up the reef from Rob and he took a few shots. But he declared after the dive that he "didn't get anything" (not sure he even looked at the pics) because it was too dark. Hence the lack of pictures in this post.

After a bit of time there, we continued in, and before you know it, there were the tell-tale signs of K2 -- you know those sad little kelplets on the barren side. And then we were at K2. I was quite impressed that Rob got us there, first because the viz sucked and second because we had not taken the usual path. So when we got there, I tried to tell him "good job on the navigation". After my first attempt, Rob looked really concerned like he thought something was wrong. No, I'm just flapping around excitedly that we found K2! On the second try, he got it (I think). After meandering around there for a few minutes we started the ascent. The only thing I can really report on from K2 was a bunch of Dotos, which I forced Matt to look at :P We started the ascent and once we were all on our 70 bottles, we held a conference on the deco plan. Obviously this was not the dive we had planned for. I had an idea in my mind of what the deco should be, and then Rob whipped out his very handy dandy multi-level dive table in his wetnotes. In this depth range, the table does not account for a 21/35 bottle -- it assumes backgas to 70 feet (this is something we've talked about fixing on numerous occasions, but haven't gotten around to doing that), but it still gives us an idea of the upper bound on the deco. After passing it around, we agreed to the deco profile I had in mind. Woohoo.

By that point, the stop was nearly over, so Rob rotated his bottles but Matt and I waited until 60'. My bottle rotation was unimpressive but got the job done. A moment into it, Rob started gesticulating wildly at me to come up. I looked at my gauge and it said 61 feet. I didn't see how that warranted such wild gesticulations. Much later on the deco, Rob realized his gauge was reading deeper than ours... because it was calibrated for freshwater (Rob isn't as gear savvy as me, or he would have realized that right away). But after the dive, Rob told me that my bottle rotation was "going downhill long before that". So, unimpressive I guess. When we got to 40', Rob asked me if he could test breathe my right post regulator. Setting aside the fact that donating your primary reg when you are breathing from a bottle is a bit of a tangle of hoses, I didn't really see the value since well, it was like 200' or so shallower than it had been when I couldn't breathe it. He took it, breathed a couple breaths and gave me the shrug. I read the shrug as "nothing wrong with it" which was highly annoying. Rob had some sort of convoluted explanation of how he wasn't really being a jackass, which did have some merit.

From 30' up, we were greeted by a menagerie of jelly animals. In addition to the usual assortment of jelly animals, we saw some cool new-to-me tiny jellies. There was one kind that we saw a ton of, which looked like a pea (you know, the small green vegetable) with wings. It was clear with a purple-ish tinge. There were a zillion of those, and I was quite intrigued to watch them flutter their tiny little wings to move around. There was another tiny one that I found that looked, to me, like a tiny transparent bird, but instead of a beak it had two little horns. And tiny little wings that it flapped to move. Between those two, I was quite transfixed throughout deco. But there were lots of other mysterious jelly critters too. I have to say that critter-wise, I think the deco was a lot more impressive than the dive! We surfaced to slightly snottier conditions with some whitecaps, but nothing too bad. Well, it may have been bad for Phil. But the ride home was fine.

After we got back to Lobos and de-boated, we headed to R.G. Matt gave me a ride home, since Rob was staying down until Sunday to dive again (on a boat that ended up being cancelled). Once I got back to Matt's place, I headed straight to Anywater Sports to drop my regulator off plus I had some other business to attend to. I told Frank about my regulator problem, but told him I could leave it for him to work on. But I've noticed that when I show up with a good story, Frank usually has to look it right away. I suppose it works better that way, since he asked me a variety of questions to diagnose the problem as he worked. The first question that he asked me was what was the "history" of the reg, and my answer was not the right one. Well, right in the sense that it was true, but not what Frank wanted to hear :) I told him that we had this reg, it was in the pile of stage regs, and then when my right post started going "ker-clunk ker-clunk" whenever I breathed from it, I swapped it out and used this stage reg on my right post instead. (Frank was familiar with the ker-clunk, since he had recently fixed that reg, but I had been too lazy to swap it back in.) Apparently putting a stage reg on your backgas is frowned upon. This makes sense, I suppose, since the stage regs do tend to get water in them with high frequency, but I'd always thought of all of my regs as interchangeable. So Frank thought this was insane right off the bat. He put the reg on his magic machine (which Rob tells me is called a "magnehelic") and said that if anything the reg seemed to be breathing too easily. Hmmm. By this point I was pretty convinced that I had not imagined the whole thing, so I told him this could not be so. He asked me a bit more about the problem, and I described how it was okay on the way down but just got worse as I got deeper and then was reasonably okay on the way up (at 80' and 30'). He asked me if my valve was open the whole way. Teehee. I told him yes. Then he formulated a theory about the filter being blocked in some way and not letting enough gas pass through. After popping it open, this was confirmed, as the filter was rather corroded. I must admit I was a bit relieved, since I felt like Rob doubted that there was anything wrong with my reg at all, and I just thumbed the dive because it was dark and scary (though he denies that). The entire inside of the reg was just in terrible shape, and Frank confirmed that he had not been the last person to service it (based on some things he routinely does, which had not been done).

After further thought, I realized that this reg must have been put into the stage reg rotation without ever being serviced or looked at by Frank (it was bought used, and typically the first thing we do with used regs is bring them to Frank to look at). In fact, I remember when we first got it, I never used it because I didn't think it had gone through the Frank check (it was a very crusty looking reg, so I just couldn't believe it had) but then Rob told me it was ready to use. Hmmm :) I think Frank was a bit disturbed that I was diving such a reg on my backgas on such a dive as this. There was a bit of a (well-deserved) lecture about how we need to be more on top of our gear maintenance considering the dives we are doing. Frank suggested we track our stuff on a spreadsheet (I think a relational database would be better; Rob prefers a distributed in-memory data grid). So in the end, Frank did a complete overhaul of the reg while I waited. Also while I waited, Kevin serviced the valve on my O2 bottle, and Nathan put spring straps on my jet fins. I had left my jet fins in Florida on the last trip, to be replaced with a new (used) pair that was still sporting the rubber straps (and I managed to dive with them several times without dying, if you can believe that!). So of course I had to snap a picture of the three of them all tirelessly working on my gear.

I've retold this story a number of times because, well, most people find it interesting when "interesting" things happen on dives :) Every time I tell it, I think it sounds a bit more dramatic than it really was. In fact, in the water, it didn't seem very dramatic at all. After I saw the inside of the regulator, it seemed quite a bit more dramatic. But whether it was dramatic or not, I think there are some useful lessons to be learned:
- Servicing gear is good. I think we have been a bit cavalier about servicing gear proactively in the past. We usually go with the "wait until it don't breathe good" approach to gear service. Putting a second-hand reg into use without service was just plain careless. We also frequently come back from a multi-bottle dive and after stripping all of our regs off of our bottles, we realize one was breathing badly (e.g. "the reg on my 50%"), but we have no way to identify it! So we are going to number our regs (or something) so if something is misbehaving in the water, we can remember which numbered reg it was.
- Failures do happen, but hardly ever. This is the first significant reg failure I've ever had. In fact, I think I could count on one hand the number of significant gear failures that have occurred in my team on all of my dives. (Maybe two hands if major suit floods are included.) I'm feeling a bit cursed lately with a wing failure, a team failure, and now a reg failure happening over a relatively short time period; but the truth is, failures almost never happen. Which makes it hard to know how you will actually deal with a real failure. In some sense, it's good to have a small problem every now and then, because it makes you more confident that you can deal with problems in the water -- I think this is way more useful experience than doing 100 valve drills. But considering all of the things we do to try to avoid these sorts of problems, it takes a lot of dives to gain that kind of experience. I guess that's a reason that it is good, for instance, that GUE requires a minimum number of dives between consecutive classes. Juggling regs at 240' didn't seem like that big a deal after juggling regs (e.g. on bottle switches, valve and S-drills) a few hundred or so times on other dives.
- It's never wrong to call a dive. I felt like I was being seriously judged for thumbing the dive (though I think that was in my head), and I certainly felt like after strapping all this gear on and spending all of this money on gas, etc. for the dive, I should only thumb the dive if there was really something wrong. This is silly. It would have been right to call the dive even if my reg breathing poorly had been in my head -- if you can't catch your breath, it really doesn't matter why. Someone suggested to me that if I were a guy, I wouldn't have thumbed it, and that's probably true. I like to think I bring the sanity and conservatism to the team :) (Matt's pretty sane, but with Rob and Kevin, there can definitely be a sanity void.)
- The service at Anywater Sports is awesome!