It's about diving. And cats.

Me diving

Friday, July 26, 2019

Rob's Birthday Weekend, Part 1: Italian Ledge

Flag rockfish!
We've been trying to dive Italian Ledge since 2010.  One time (I think in the summer of 2010), we had a boat/crew arranged and I sprained my ankle a few days before the dive.  Another time much more recently (I think it was 2015), we actually made it out to the site, but it was just too rough, so we bailed.  There were several other times when we had boat and crew arranged but cancelled because of weather.  So, when Rob said he'd talked Jim into taking us out on his birthday, and that we would shoot for Italian Ledge, I was not optimistic.  But I went along with it.  We discussed gas plans and deco plans (and Rob once again proved that he doesn't know how to plan deco).  Leading up to the day, the forecast looked bizarre.  The wind didn't look too bad from a wind speed perspective (10 to 15 knots) but the wind wave forecast was bad (5 to 6 foot wind waves).  This has been happening a lot recently, to the point where I suspect something has changed in the model NOAA uses.  The swell looked good and flat though.

Greenstriped rockfish
We met at the luxuriously late time of 8:30 at K-dock, though it didn't feel as luxurious as it should since we arrived in Monterey at 10PM the night before.  Joakim was kind enough to play crew for us.  We loaded the boat and got going.  It was flat.  Not lake flat, but very comfortably flat.  We got out to the site and there was a lot of circling around.  Between Rob's and Jim's GPS units, there were multiple numbers.  But we found the right one on the depth sounder and dropped the ball.  It had a lot of line on it.  I asked if it looked like there was current on the line and it looked like there was no current.

Yelloweye rockfish
We jumped into the water and when I looked down the vis looked great but a little green. We headed down the line, which was straight up and down, since there was no current. Around 20 feet we encountered a murky layer, which persisted down to maybe 100 feet. I think it opened up a bit there, but it was hard to tell because it was dark deeper than that.  It got quite dark on the way down.  And it seemed like we were going down that line forever.  Around 190', there were suddenly fish.  A lot of fish, mostly olives.  And before you know it, we could see the top of the reef at 250'.

Mystery sponge
As far as I know, Italian Ledge is mostly known for its fish life.  So that's what we were expecting to see.  We immediately saw a few different kinds of interesting deep fish, like some big yelloweyes and several starries.  We saw a lot of starries throughout the dive.  The reef was more interesting than I expected (since I expected it to be not at all interesting).  It was like a dive in the bay (Corynactis, metridium in some spots) but with more relief, since the site goes from about 250' to about 300'.  There were also a bunch of vase sponges, and some yellow sponges that kind of reminded me of vase sponges, but they were shaped like more shapely vases, that flair out at the top.  There was a small school of fish hanging around near the top of the structure, which included several bocaccio.

Basket stars
We started to head down deeper, but before we did, we passed a little ledge right before the reef dropped off that had eight or so basket stars in a 10 square foot area.  It was the most basket stars I've ever seen on one dive in the Monterey area before.  But we saw lots more basket stars throughout the dive, I'd guess at least 20 basket stars over the whole dive.  As we headed down to the sand, we stopped to look at a spot with a couple more basket stars and some crinoids.  And while Rob was looking at this, I noticed that right next to us was a purple sea fan!  It was kind of bent over and looked like it wasn't feeling super awesome.  Not sure if something was actually wrong with it or if it was just growing at a strange angle.

Purple sea fan (and greenspotted rockfish)
We continued out over the sand where we saw lots more crinoids (and basket stars) and we came across our first flag rockfish.  Yay!  If you've read much of my blog, you probably know that I'm somewhat obsessed with flag rockfish.  I wasn't necessarily expecting to see them here, but I wasn't surprised either.  Once we swam around that area a bit, we came across a few more flag rockfish, probably a total of four, ranging in size from pretty small to what I think of as normal full-sized flaggy (based on the ones we've seen at Birthday Wall and Consolation Prize). 

From there, we headed back up the slope a bit shallower and looked at the other fish that were around.  There were a lot of really big lingcod.  In fact I think all of the lingcod that we saw on the dive could be described as really big.  There were also quite a few more starries and a variety of young of year, including yelloweyes, pygmies, and squarespots.  We saw one rockfish that looked unlike any others, and I had no idea what it was -- which was apparently a greenstriped rockfish (thanks to Milton Love and Tom Laidig for helping us to ID some fish).  One other cool find (after the fact) was that the little rosy-looking rockfish (there were a lot of rosies too, or fish that looked like rosies anyway) next to the purple sea fan was a young greenspotted rockfish.  That is a new one for me.  Or maybe not... maybe I've seen them before and thought they were all rosies.  Apparently there are a bunch of rosy lookalike species.

Juvenile yelloweye rockfish
By this point, it was time to get a bit shallower, so we headed up the structure and over to a patch of metridium, and watched some bocaccio and some more BIG lingcod.  As it was just about time to go, a bocaccio swam by, but there was something odd about it.  It had some big black splotches on its side near the back of its body.  I didn't know what that was, but the fish was not cooperative for a photo, and we were out of time.  I described this to Milton Love who said it is melanism, a form of non-fatal skin cancer (Figure 1 of this document has a pretty good picture of it).  So I thumbed the dive to Rob and we started our ascent while he got out his bag and worked on attaching that to the reel.  We paused at 230' so he could put up the bag and then continued up to 190' for our first deep stop.

Starry rockfish
The deco was pretty uneventful, though I would call it "arduous" because it was just so long.  When we got to 70', I realized we'd left the bottom over 25 minutes ago and yet it felt like we were just about to start our deco.  Luckily when we got to the murky layer, the water warmed up, and then at 20 or 30', it really warmed up.  Before we got into the water, there was a lot of bird activity near where we dropped, and there were whale watching boats not that far away.  So I was half expecting to see a whale swim by on deco.  That didn't happen, but while we were at 20', a squid swam by just below us.  Then a few minutes later, he swam by again.  And then again.  So he kept us somewhat entertained during our long (35 minute) 20' stop.  Even though it was substantially warmer at 20 feet (my gauge had 55 degrees, so it was probably 56 or 57), by the end of the stop, I was starting to get cold again.

When we surfaced, the water was lake flat.  On the way back to the harbor, I made Rob a cup-o-noodles for his birthday :P After we got back to K-dock and packed things up (but not really, since we left most of our gear on the boat for tomorrow's charter), we went to lunch at Little Chicken House 🤮

I managed to smoosh a lot of Rob's pictures from the dive in here, but there are a few more on the BAUE gallery.

Saturday, July 6, 2019

Mexico 2019

After over six years without a cave diving trip to Mexico, we finally managed to get back there.  I guess we have Bobby to thank for that, since he seemed determined to go there.  He setup a trip (with Karl and Kevin) around July 4, when he was off from school.  Rob and I initially didn't want to go to Mexico in the dead of summer, but eventually we gave in a decided to join them.  The heat was not as bad as I expected.  Actually the heat was exactly as bad as I was expecting when we were just out and about.  But when we were getting ready to get into the water (which was what I was really really not looking forward to -- getting into my drysuit in that heat), and we were in the shady jungle, it was really no worse than our previous trips to Mexico (in September, May, and April).  For an undergarment, I wore the fourth element base layer top (that I stole from Ted) that I normally wear under my undergarment and fleece pants.  I am so glad I didn't bring a real undergarment.  This was plenty warm, in fact there were several times when we were in the salt water when I was feeling a little toasty; when we'd pop back up into the fresh water, the one degree cooler water would feel so refreshing.

Trendy Tulum cocktail
Tulum has changed a bit since we were last there.  Back when we used to go there, it seemed like no one (outside of dive buddies) had heard of Tulum.  Now it is apparently a trendy beach vacation spot!  There seems to be a ton of construction going on there; all along the highway, there are billboards for vacation properties and condo developments that are being constructed.  There is even a project underway that will have a private airstrip just across the highway from Puerto Aventuras.

Trusty old Pub cocktail
Zero Gravity has moved since we were last there, to just outside of the PA gate.  They have apartments available to rent above the shop (which is where we stayed) and there's also a cafe in the same building, which is a good place to hang out with air conditioning and wifi.  I found the apartments to be extremely convenient and nice enough to stay in.  We've stayed in some really swanky places in PA before, and this was much more basic.  But the convenience probably outweighs the desire to stay someplace fancier.  Even though we were staying outside of the PA gate, we walked into PA on about half of the nights we were there, to eat at The Pub.

Enjoying the fruits of Rob's business travel
There are also new options for flying to Cancun on American Airlines.  United is a much more sensible airline to fly from SFO, but Rob has status and a zillion miles on AA (some of which we used for our tickets for this trip), so the option to fly through Phoenix (which we did on the way there) instead of DFW is nice.  This option seems even nicer since our flight home, through DFW, got diverted to Houston due to thunderstorms in Dallas.  But at least we had cushy lie-flat business class seats to wait out the thunderstorm in :)

Alright, without further ado, the daily reports:
Mexico 2019: Tortuga
Mexico 2019: Jailhouse Downstream
Mexico 2019: Mayan Blue
Mexico 2019: The Crack (and Beyond) at Naharon
Mexico 2019: Naharon to the Battleship Room

It only looks like Oreo is trying to strangle Pepper
We got back on a Saturday, which gave us a day to recover and play with the kitties before going back to work.  The kitties were in super cuddly moods after a week away.  (Apparently Ted didn't adequately cuddle the kitties.)  Here they are taking a break from the cuddling to groom each other.

Friday, July 5, 2019

Mexico 2019: Naharon to the Battleship Room

For our final dive of the trip, I decided we would go back to Naharon and do the dive to the Battleship Room.  We did this dive in 2011, and when I was coming up with proposals for the last dive for Kevin, Karl, and Bobby, I stumbled across the report from that dive.  And I thought it would be fun to do it again.  Also, on Thursday we didn't get to spend quite as much time in Southwest Sacbe, so I figured we'd get another chance today.

We were extra efficient getting going this morning and getting out of Zero Gravity, and made it down to Naharon at like 8:50.  All of the signs there say that they open at 8, but they weren't open yet.  I suddenly remembered Danny talking about how they had been waiting at the gate from 8 to 9 when we were at Mayan Blue, and figured they'd open at 9.  We just happened to arrive at 9 on Thursday, so I didn't even think about it.  A few minutes before 9, someone showed up and we paid and drove in.  We were also super efficient about staging our gear in the water and getting geared up and I think we started the dive around 9:30. 🙀

The directions for how to get to the Battleship Room in my previous report were spot on, though the times were a little vague, so I'll include more detail this time :)  The whole swim between the South Sacbe jump and the T, I was counting minutes, worried I wouldn't have the gas to get the whole way there.  I'm pretty sure I had the same feeling the last time we went there.  Anyhoo, Rob took an interesting route on the way to the mainline, we'll just call it "experimental", which I suspect put us a couple minutes behind the times I reported on the last dive.  So we got to South Sacbe jump at 22 minutes.  Very shortly after that, there was a slightly annoying restriction.  It wasn't that resticted, but there are lots of craggly rocks that you are working your way through, which things can get caught on.  Like your light cord.  Or the remote strobe cord wound around your light cord.  That got seriously entangled around a pointy little piece of rock below me, and after I managed to get it uncaught, I looked down and saw the cover for the strobe sensor on the bottom.  Doh!  I didn't notice it come off at all.

The South Sacbe tunnel is very pretty -- bright blue water, bright white walls.  But for the most part the walls are the craggy cheesy texture like in the crack.  It's not very decorated, which I misremembered.  I thought that this line looked more like Southwest Sacbe.  Oh well, it was still a nice swim.  I dropped my first stage at 34 minutes, and between there and the T, there were some more restrictions that I would not have wanted to carry two stages through.  I especially thought this while watching Rob squeak through with his stage and camera :)

We hit the T at 47 minutes.  So either we were swimming faster than last time, or my numbers in that post were approximate.  Just like last time, at the T, there was an arrow pointing back the way we came which said "Cristal" and one pointing to the right said "Mayan Blue".  From here, there's a lot of time spent right around the halocline, and the rooms get taller and a little wider, and "dirtier" looking.  I guess that's just because of the part above the halocline :)  I wasn't sure how much longer until the Battleship Room, though my wishy washy description led me to think it would be around 10 minutes.  After about 10 minutes we were in a pretty big and long room, right in the halocline, when I dropped my second stage bottle.  Somewhere right around there, the line changed to gold line.  I missed the change, but it happened just before I dropped my stage.  I was thinking that on the way out I wanted to find the exact point where it changed.

At the end of that room, there was a dip down and a pinch point and when we came back out that, I think we were probably technically in the Battleship Room.  It took another minute before I realized this, though, When I saw a nice big stalagmite pointing at an angle like a gun.  The room got wider as we went, before eventually starting to get narrower.  We swam slowly through it.  The room wasn't as big as I remember it.  I think this is most likely because the last time I went there, I had never been to Eagle's Nest.  But after going to Eagle's Nest, this room was not comparatively that huge :)  We continued swimming for about 15 minutes.  I'm not sure where the end of the Battleship Room technically is, but I suspect that we made it past the pinch point that shows 1550' from Mayan Blue on the Mayan Blue map.  We continued until the line was about to dip down through another pinch point and we turned it there.  We meandered back through the room at a leisurely pace, and ended up back at the start at 1:28.

When we got out of the room, I picked up my stage bottle and after I got onto it, I noticed that we were back on white line.  So I missed the switch again!  I think it must have been right before the stage drop, so I was busy doinking with my bottle both on the way in and out.  I shot a bit of video on the way out, after we passed the T and we had some gas to burn.  Rob took pictures too.  I would shoot a bit of video, then hand the video light head off to Rob (because I think it looks dumb in pictures) so he could shoot pictures.

When we got back to the Southwest Sacbe line, we dropped our stages and continued up that line.  We decided Rob would take pictures on the way in and I would shoot video on the way out.  I think I got the better deal on this, since I could use the swim in to find spots I wanted to video on the way out.  I took a few sequences where I swam ahead of Rob, signaled him to start swimming and then video'd him coming through a decorated area.  We had a good time with that for a while, and then we headed out.  My light never died through all of my switching light heads (phew!) because I was diving Kevin's light battery (which he'd left for Rob to use) and Rob was diving mine.  Both Rob and I have pretty new light batteries (Rob's is *really* new since he uses his EOS a lot for local diving) so their behavior on this trip is pretty disappointing.

Once we finished up there, we headed straight out to the cavern for some deco.  The dive to the Battleship Room is relatively shallow (55 feet-ish) compared to yesterday's dive, so only had 12 minutes of deco.  Woot!  My heels were killing me from my tight spring straps and I was dying to get them off!  Since this was the end of diving for the week, we took apart our gear in the parking lot :(

After packing up, we headed to Don Cafeto's for lunch.  I was determined to get the arrachera, which I've decided is the closest thing to Super Carne now that it's closed :)

Last ice cream cone of the trip :(
After that, we headed to the gelato place for one last cone.  I got Bailey's :)  I think this makes it 5 out of 7 days that I managed to have gelato during the trip, which is probably a personal record.

Arca, swanky Tulum restaurant
After we got back and laid out our gear to dry, we pondered how to spend the afternoon.  Since we didn't have to get up early the next morning, I was pretty determined to do something more exciting than nap the afternoon away and eat at the pub for dinner :P  Rob's hairdresser (who he refers to his "stylist") had recommended a couple of shi-shi restaurants in Tulum, so we decided to check out one of those, Arca.  We stopped at the beach bar in Akumal for a drink on the way to Tulum, and then undertook the long drive through the Tulum beach scene to get to the restaurant.

We didn't have a reservation, so we ate in the lounge area, which was equally as shi-shi as the main restaurant, but with possibly more comfortable seating.  Everything that we got was super tasty -- we had the roasted red peppers, bone marrow, suckling pig roulade, and something else that I can't remember.  I liked the hipster music playing in the background.  The only downside was that nothing on the dessert menu sounded tasty enough to get, though to be fair, I am not sure I really understood what at least some of the items were.  I would definitely recommend it if you are looking for a nice place to eat in Tulum.  It was way more expensive than all of the other places that we went during the week, but not very expensive by Bay Area standards.

Thursday, July 4, 2019

Mexico 2019: The Crack (and Beyond) at Naharon

Kevin, Karl, and Bobby dived Naharon the day before we arrived, so we had to save it for after they left.  It is one of my favorite caves in Mexico.  I like pretty much all of the sections that I've dived that are below the halocline.  Today we rented scooters so that we could make it to the crack and still have time to get some pictures and video in the crack.  We've done the dive as a kick dive, but that doesn't leave you a ton of time in the crack for photos and videos.

Since it was just the two of us, we were a bit speedier getting ready and out of ZG in the morning, and made it down to Naharon at 9.  We were the first divers to get there, but another car with divers (who we'd seen at Mayan Blue yesterday) showed up while we were getting ready.  After looking at the various sets of stairs and platforms, we decided to go with the obvious and easy set of stairs right by where you park, even though the stairs in the water were a bit broken.  We got into our drysuits and then got in to put gear in the water (and cool off).  The ropes that run across the cenote for "swimmers" to hold onto are also convenient for clipping off gear :)

The plan was to scooter to just before the second dome, and drop our scooters there.  We'd go to the crack, right at the T and turn whenever gas or something else called for it.  Then on the way back out, we'd take the jump to Southwest Sacbe and spend whatever time we had left/felt like down there.  We hadn't really decided whether we'd stay on Southwest Sacbe or go to South Sacbe.  So that was the plan.  Once we got going, Rob installed the reel.  That took approximately forever :)  By the time we had installed the reel, dropped O2 bottles, and Rob had mounted the strobe on my tank, my gauge read 12 minutes.  We finally got going and then a minute or two later, got to the Desconocido jump.  Once that was installed we really got going.

The cave was even darker than I remember.  I thought at first that the viz might be worse than usual, but it was probably just dark.  I also didn't remember how much time you spend in the halocline!  I felt like Rob wasn't doing an awesome job managing his position and the halocline and the line, but I think on the way out I wasn't doing any better, so I can't really blame him.  There were a bunch of passages where you could be either above the halocline or below the halocline or, if you wanted to be on the same horizontal plane as the line, then you are righ in the halocline.  I found that a little annoying!  Anyhoo, I didn't have any memory of how long it took to make it to various waypoints, so I'll mention those here for future reference :)  From the Desconocido jump, it took 10 minutes to get to the first dome (which comes up to 45-ish feet) and then 5 more minutes to the second dome (which comes up to 30-ish feet; in a previous blog post I said 25 feet, but I did not see it get that shallow today).  Also in a previous post I said that the second dome is "cozier" than I'd remembered, so with that thought it my mind, I was expecting it to be a squeeze.  There's really only one section that is small, and it's at the very top, when you swim through a low wide slot that's maybe two body lengths long.

From there, we kicked for a while.  I dropped my stage 9 minutes past the second dome.  I was in and out of the halocline for a long time, and actually I was spending as much time above the halocline as I could, since that was easiest to see the line without disturbing it.  I remembered the jump being after we were definitely below the halocline (not in it).  We kept going a few minutes longer and the tunnel got a bit narrower with cheesy-textured walls once we got below the halocline.  Rob started to suspect that we'd missed the jump.  I couldn't imagine that we'd missed it, but I also didn't remember the passage looking like this.  I suggested that we go another 5 minutes and then turn it if we didn't find the jump.  Then like 2 minutes later, the passage got quite a bit narrowed and headed up a slope as it turned to the right.  At this point Rob stopped again, and asked if we should keep going.  I told him to keep going 3 more minutes (hey, we agreed on 5!).  He headed up the slope and junk started raining down on me.  I grabbed the line and thought it was still not so bad that I couldn't follow him.  I took one or two fin kicks and got wedged into a spot right on the line.  I think I needed to be further to the left of the line and holding my arm out to hold the line.  At this point the viz was getting worse and worse and I decided to give up, and wait for Rob to turn around.  I waited for what felt like forever.  First I went to the bottom of the slope and waited there for a minute or two.  But the viz was getting worse and worse so then I moved a few fin kicks further back and waited there for a couple minutes.  Finally I saw Rob's light, and we headed back out.

We swam back a bit more than 5 minutes before finding the tunnel we were meant to jump to.  When we got to the tunnel, we were in a passage where I'd be swimming above the halocline, so not really even looking for the tunnel because I was sure it was after we were below the halocline :(  Anyhoo, for future reference, the tunnel is about a 10 minute swim past the second dome.  Once we found the tunnel, Rob put the jump in and I did some mental math to figure out our turn pressure and when to drop my stage.  Once we got going, Rob was stopping, turning around, and taking pictures, pretty frequently.  So we were moving pretty slowly through there.  We eventually made it to the T (where I dropped my stage), and went right.  After about 5 minutes, the passage started getting a bit smaller, and you had to put some thought into where to swim.  The passage itself wasn't really smaller, but the decorations were jutting out in odd ways so you had to swim around them.  Then there was a section where the tunnel became a bit less decorated, and this seemed like a good place to turn around, so I signaled Rob.  When we turned around, I switched lightheads to the video lighthead and got my GoPro out, so I could get some video of the passage.  I took a few minutes of video, and then put the camera away and switched back to my regular light head.

When we got back to the spool, Rob asked me to clean it up (not sure why) so I did.  I was spooling up and realized that my stage was getting pretty low, so after I had half cleaned up the spool, I handed it off to Rob, so I could switch off my stage while he cleaned up.  I didn't want to get back to the line, finish cleaning up the spool, and *then* have to switch off of my stage while Rob stared at me impatiently.  My other stage was just around the corner, so I picked that up and we were off.  The swim and scooter out was pretty uneventful.  When I came up the second dome and entered the cozy "slot" section, *both* of my feet got caught up on the ceiling which scraped both of my fin straps halfway off.  So when I got out of the small section I had to flap around a bit to pull my fin straps back on.  We got out of the dome, picked up our scooters, and headed out.  We caught up to a team of three divers (I think the ones from Mayan Blue yesterday) on the way out, and they were kind enough to scoot aside and let us pass.

When we got to the Southwest Sacbe jump, another team had installed the jump.  We ditched bottles and scooters and Rob put the jump in.  Such a long jump.  So long that the other team which had installed the jump had run out of spool (I would never do that :P) like 4 feet before the line and had to attach another spool to make it work.  (Random aside, the spool that ran out line was a mighty fine-looking pink spool.  I need some pink spools.  Or even better some purple spools.)  When we came to the South Sacbe jump, Rob asked which way I wanted to go and I said to stay on the SW line.  We probably went up the line maybe 10 or 12 minutes before I called it on gas.  When I called turn, I told Rob I wanted to video on the way out, so he handed me the video lighthead (which he was wearing since it looks dumb in pictures to have a spare lighthead clipped to your chest D-ring).  I turned off my light, swapped lightheads, then turned it back on.  It came on briefly and then went out.  I thought maybe it was a bad connection, so I tried disconnecting the EO and then reconnecting and still it wouldn't come on.  Then I switched back to my regular lighthead and it wouldn't come on again either.  Sad kitty 😿 I thought maybe something was wrong with the cord, but Rob told me afterward that striking the light takes more power than running the light, so the battery may have been low enough to not strike but not so low that it wasn't working continuously before.  So I guess I should turn off my light late in the dive if I don't need to :)

So I had to swim out on a Scout light.  Boohoo.  3 out of 4 dives have ended with one of us exiting on a Scout light so far this trip!  The swim and scooter out from this point were uneventful.  When I got back to the Desconocido line, another team was approaching and I think they were waiting to take the Sacbe jump (they belonged to the spool that was already installed, I think).  When we got back to the reel and Rob started to pull it, I was just glad I didn't have to reel up all that way on a scooter!  It seemed to take forever (though Rob was being very efficient).  When we got to 20 feet, I figured out the deco, which was 24 minutes.  Okay actually I figured it out way back on the swim out from SW Sacbe, because I had a pretty good idea of how long it would be to get out.  I tried to pin myself to the ceiling for the duration, but the slope of the ceiling isn't really friendly to that.  I did it anyway for maybe half of the deco and then got annoyed by how uncomfortable it was, so then I just hung by the line.  Before you know it, it was time to surface.

We surfaced to way more people (swimmers and divers) than there had been when we got in.  I managed to extract myself from the water pretty gracefully even though some of the stairs were broken.  There was a group of 4 or so divers getting setup to get in, who very nicely helped us pull all of our bottles and scooters.  So that took no time at all.  It turns out they are from the bay area too!

Once we were all packed up, we headed to Tulum for lunch.  We decided to try someplace new, so we went to Burrito Amor.  I would definitely not recommend this as a post-dive spot.  The burritos were kind of small (a fine size for a normal meal, but not for a post-dive meal) and they did not have chips and salsa!  We managed to get some chips (which I think they will serve with guacamole), but they don't have salsa.  Also the "smoked pork" is really just ham.  Maybe it should have been obvious that I was ordering a ham burrito, but it wasn't to me.  But the mojito I got there was excellent -- the best mojito I've had on the trip.  The good thing about not being stuffed with chips as lunch was we had plenty of room for gelato!  I got key lime pie and Rob got a double scoop (!) of mango and coconut.

Swarm of baby sea turtles
Later in the afternoon, we decided to go to the Akumal beach bar for a drink and snack.  I don't know how this plan came about... if it was supposed to be a pre-dinner thing or an in lieu of dinner thing, but it ended up being in lieu of dinner.  While we were there, we noticed something going on on the beach.  There was a woman there that seemed to be doing something science-y.  So we went to check it out, and she was standing next to a pile of baby turtles.  I'm not sure if that's the technical term, but that's what it was.  They were tiny and so cute!  They weren't really moving and then all of a sudden they all started trying to crawl out of the pile.  So cute!  She was capturing them and putting them into buckets.  The beach in Akumal is completely covered with sargassum seaweed, which smells pretty gross (part of the Great Atlantic Sargassum Belt, which I hadn't heard about but randomly happened upon an article on CNN right after we got back).  Apparently the seaweed on the beach prevents the baby turtles from making it to the water.  So I assume that's why they were being packed into buckets.

Wednesday, July 3, 2019

Mexico 2019: Mayan Blue

Today was the last day of diving for Kevin, Karl, and Bobby.  So we told them they had to pick where to go.  And Karl and Bobby deferred to Kevin.  Kevin wanted to go back to Tortuga to find the tortoise shell.  But after showing some pictures of a few other options, including Pet Cemetery, we started talking about going there.  We eventually "decided" to go there (though there was a huge amount of waffling so the decision never felt too final).  We had heard that the price to get in there was much higher than in the past, either $60 or $80 for a double stage dive (yes, they apparently charge by the tank) and that they might require a guide to get in there.  We decided we were willing to pay a bunch of money to get in, but definitely not willing to hire a guide. Anyway, we drove out there and the guys who were tending the site told us very politely that we could only dive if we had a waiver that we needed to get all the way back at the highway entrance (15 minutes or so back over the bumpy dirt road).  We asked if we could see the site, and they wouldn't let us.  They also told us it would be $40 for doubles and $20 per extra tank.  I was pretty unexcited to pay $80 when they wouldn't even let us look at the site beforehand.

We drove back out to the shop at the highway entrance, and by that point we had all independently come to the conclusion that we didn't want to dive there.  So there was a bunch of discussion of Tortuga or this or that and then Kevin threw Mayan Blue into the mix.  I'd been making noise about going to Mayan Blue earlier in the trip (I've never dived it) but that was somehow dismissed.  So I voted for that, and somehow we ended up deciding to go there.  We drove to the Naharon entrance and paid 250 pesos to go to Mayan Blue, and then drove across the street.  When we got to the parking lot, it was pretty full.  We walked down to the water and found Danny setting with some students laying some bottles on the platform.  He was teaching a Cave 2 class.  There was at least one other team gearing up to go for a dive at that point.

Kevin had a scan of the Mayan Blue map on his phone so we could look at the map and come up with a plan.  We were originally planning to go up the A tunnel and then maybe take the connector over to the B tunnel.  Rob was watching Danny's briefing and looking at his little hand-drawn map of the relevant portions of the cave.  When Danny finished briefing, Rob asked him about the distances to various parts of the cave.  Then Danny started to recommend going up A tunnel and to the little loop about 4 minutes into the cave, and then take a jump off of that, and ...  Then somehow the topic of stages came up and when we told Danny we were planning on taking two stages, he suggested a different dive entirely, which was pretty similar to the dive that Kevin was planning -- B tunnel to E tunnel to F tunnel.  Danny promised that there would be lots of nice photo opportunities there.  We decided to do that, and then when we got back to the basin, we could head over to A tunnel and just go up to the little loop and check that out.

It was horrendously hot and humid today.  In the morning, when we were getting gear together at ZG (probably around 8:30), Bobby told me that his phone said it was 84 degrees but "feels like 99".  Bleh.  So I tried to be as efficient about getting dressed/geared up as possible.  Since we had originally been planning to dive at Pet Cemetery, we didn't bring O2.  That was a bit of a fail, but meant that bottles could be carried to the water in one trip.  Rob had managed to park in the one spot without any shade, so I found a shady spot to get into my drysuit and once I was ready, I walked to the water and waited for Rob.  The entry into the water is very civilized; for once, a set of wooden steps that aren't half broken or completely covered in slipper algae!  Since we were going into the same tunnel as Kevin, Karl, and Bobby, we decided to share a reel.  We each dropped cookies on the reel so it would be very clear when it could be pulled.  Not each team, but each diver.  So by the time I got down there (following Rob) there was a nice little line of cookies.  I was carrying a reel, to be used when we went to A tunnel afterward, so I dropped that as my cookie.  Then I realized it was marked with Rob's initials, so I dropped my own cookie for good measure :)

The tunnel drops below the halocline pretty quickly, which is nice (especially for Rob, who is most interested in photographing the saltwater passages), though it seemed like we were right in the halocline for a while.  Eventually we settled below the halocline, and from there, it was bright white tunnels and blue water.  The tunnels weren't consistently super decorated, but there were periodically spots that were very decorated.  So we stopped for pictures in those spots.  Danny told us that the line would turn 90 degrees to the left around 800' and then like 50 feet later would be the jump to the E tunnel.  So when I saw a hard left turn, I was looking closely for the jump and then of course since the other team took the jump, it was impossible to miss.  Rob asked me to install the jump.  I looked at the line we were on and the line we were going to and decided it was very close.  So I pulled out my baby spool (which has, I don't know, like 20 feet of line on it) and started to install it.  Then I decided that to be polite, I should give Kevin's line a wide berth.  So I went out to the right and around a big rock, and put in a tie and then turned back toward the jump line and started to swim toward it, and then I ran out of line :(  I looked backed to figure out if I could make it with this spool if I took a different path.  I was not spooling up and getting another spool out!  Eventually Rob and I moved the placements and ties and I managed to get the spool *just* to the jump.  Phew.

By the time we were finished with that, I was close enough to needing to switch off of my stage that I figured I should just do it there.  The line was very tight so I didn't dare to do a double wrap of my bolt snap, after breaking the line at Tortuga.  So I dropped a cookie next to the bolt snap to ensure it didn't drift off along the line :)  After a couple of minutes, we passed through a very decorated little area that the line went through, which was kind of perfect for setting up shots where I was swimming through a "doorway" with speleothems all around me.  Just past that, I could see the other team had dropped their bottles.  As I swam out from the decorated area, the line was suddenly snaking limply along the bottom.  And it ended.  The line had broken.  Rob pulled out a spool and asked me to make a loop on the close end, while he worked on the far end.  He had connected the two lines and then one of them was a little caught on his strobe arm, so he gave it a tug to free it and the line broke again, further out from where we were!  So at that point Rob just re-ran all of the line in the room back to the next sturdy tie-off.  I noticed that there were a lot of other spots where the line was repaired during our dive.

After all of the fun was finished with that, we continued on, stopping for pictures here and there, until we got to a T, where the other team's bottles were piled up on the near side.  (We had dropped our bottles a few minutes earlier, which I'll blame on the line repair shenanigans, but Rob would probably blame on my hooverliness).  We went to the right, and continued on for another 5 or 10 minutes.  We got to this jump to the left that was like 18 inches from the line and was super decorated right where the jump was.  The jump line immediately ran through a nice stalactite doorway.  I was about 100psi from turning it, so I suggested to Rob that we go up there and get some pictures in the area right there and then turn it.  Instead of installing a spool to cover the 18 inches, Rob used a long double ender to turn the jump into a T :)  We went up there for some pictures and it pretty quickly started raining down percolation :(  But I think Rob got some nice pictures before that happened.

As we were heading out, we passed the other team.  Apparently they'd gone the other way at the T, and were now heading up our way on a re-calc.  We did the same thing when we got back to the T.  In the other direction, we pretty quickly headed up a slope that took us back into the freshwater, and where the arrows were pointing the other way -- because this was a connector to A tunnel, which was now the closest exit.  We quickly came back down the slope back into the saltwater, and a minute or two later, I thumbed the dive.  Nothing too eventful happened on the way out.  When we were very close to the beginning, we passed the other team again, installing a jump to the right, which went kind of down a chute.  Bobby was waiting to go down the chute.  Rob asked if I wanted to check it out, but since there looked to be a line to get in there, I decided to pass.  Very shortly after that, we made it back to the reel, pulled our cookies and dropped reel, and headed up slowly to 20 feet.

At this point I magically came up with a deco time (using my usual rules for 60 feet and 80 feet, and averaging that, then doubling it to come up with a backgas deco time) and then tried to figure out how much of that deco we needed to do at 20 feet before we came up to 10 feet in the basin and swam over to the A tunnel.  I somewhat arbitrarily decided 15 minutes should be good.  We never do deco at 10 feet, but I think that deco schedules that use the 10 foot stop spend more time at 10 feet than 20 feet.  We then swam over to the A tunnel, and Rob installed the reef.  After he made his primary tie I gave him a super unclear hand signal that was meant to ask him to make a tie at the next tree branch over so I had somewhere to drop my stages.  Apparently he thought I was critiquing his primary tie and telling him to make more wraps.  So he made more wraps, which did the job, because I used those to clip my bottles to :)

It was a sort of long but not at all tricky path to run the reel to the mainline.  From there, Danny told us it would be 4 minutes to the jump that we should take.  We made it in more like 3 minutes and Rob put the jump in.  I'm pretty sure he ran the jump line down through a path that it was not meant to be run, so we ended up tying into the jump line not at the end.  Rob started swimming in a direction that I was pretty sure would take us to the end, so I told him to go the other way, since I could see the line running for a while in that direction.  It also seemed like the right direction based on the map.  So he did that, and that was the right way to go.  We were now in the saltwater, and this area was pretty immediately decorated and pretty.  So in terms of very quickly getting to a pretty, decorated passage at Mayan Blue, I can see why Danny recommended this to us.  We swam for about 7 minutes and then I thumbed it on gas.  We headed back out and as I was picking up my bottles at the primary tie and doodling with some other gear, I saw several divers just up the slope from me.  I thought that they were waiting to enter and thought it was very rude of me to be doodling with my gear while they waited.  So I tried to move out of their way and then realized it was Kevin, Karl, and Bobby, and Kevin was videoing us cleaning up our gear :P

We found a spot in 20' and did 8 minutes more deco there before slowly ascending.  Kevin had taken our empty bottles when they left, so I didn't even have bottles to clean up.  By this point, my spring straps would digging into both of my heels and I was so happy to get those puppies off of my feet.  Ahhhh.  After resting on the surface for a bit, I headed up the stairs and to the parking lot.  After a bit of waffling on the best (coolest) way to collect my gear, I decided to stay in my suit and go for a swim before pulling bottles.  That worked out well, as I got all of my gear back to the car before I started to melt too much in my suit!

After cleaning everything up, we headed to Tulum for some lunch at Don Cafeto's followed by gelato!

Monday, July 1, 2019

Mexico 2019: Jailhouse Downstream

On Monday we went to Jailhouse.  Kevin and crew needed to stop for gas, so we went into Tulum to get the key and decided to all meet at the gate. We found the house with the key without too much trouble and Rob impressed me with his Spanish by telling the lady 5 people and dispensing cash based on her response. There was a cute little wiener dog on the roof, looking down barking at us. Next we headed to the site. We had directions is that we knew approximately where it was. We found the gate to Cenote Escondido (which sounded familiar and I soon found out is the name for Mayan Blue). The gate really didn’t look familiar. It was unlocked and our key did not fit the lock. So we went back a little bit and found a dirt road with a sign for a hotel and decided it could only possibly be this turn off or the gate we were just at. While pondering that, we saw Kevin go by and pull off at the Escondido gate.  So we went back over there and convinced ourselves there was another gate further in where we use the key.  We headed down the bumpy road and passed the parking lot for Mayan Blue. On the other side where the road continued, the road was blocked with a big pile of dirt and rubble. Grumble.

So we headed back out and decided to try the dirt road after all. We saw on the google maps satellite picture a farm of some sort in that direction, and we knew we needed to drive through a farm. We drove down that road for a while and came to a T. I was suddenly reminded of a time when we went to Eagle’s Nest and got a little lost on the way. Bobby said to go right based on the satellite. Then we came to a spot where the road seemed to turn left but you could also go straight or right. So a four way intersection but it seemed like left was the main road. Kevin had the mark in his GPS but the batteries were dead. We borrowed some batteries from Rob’s strobe to wake it up and decided to go left. From there we had no more directional decisions to make before coming to the gate, which we recognized. And the key worked.  Phew. Right through the gate was a big pool of water which was previously not there, I guess they depressed out a small cenote?  It was big and surrounded by a little concrete ledge and big concrete stairs into the water. It seemed to be a work in progress.  From there, it was a short drive to Jailhouse. Phew.

Doesn't that make you want to go for a swim?
Jailhouse is also apparently undergoing some changes. The basin is much bigger and the water is higher.  There were dredging hoses laying around and one of the other guys there (another team was gearing up when we arrived) reported that someone was there 5 days earlier when they were dredging and the viz was blitzed.  The basin also had stairs into it, which we were warned were very slippery.  The have ropes running down each side, and the best technique that I could could up with was to hold the ropes and walk backwards down the stairs.  There are also bathrooms there now, which were surprisingly nice and functional, except for missing toilet seats :P

Given the report of possible bad viz fair into the cave, we debated whether to bring O2, since we wouldn’t want to deco in zero viz. In the end, Kevin, Karl, and Bobby decided not to bring them but Rob and I did. We were doing slightly different dives — we were taking the first jump down to the saltwater passage while they were taking the long way via a couple Ts.  We got in the water first, maybe 10 minutes after that other team got in (which was good, because they found the line for us). The viz was bad but not the worst I have seen on top in the basin. Rob was leading. When I first descended (on the line) the viz very briefly got better and then it went black. This isn’t unusual at Jailhouse, but every time I’ve been there, it clears up right before or as you enter the cave. Not today. Today it was zero viz past entering the cave (I could feel the big rock right as I entered and then the water got colder like it usually does when you enter the cave. But it was still black.). I negotiated a couple of tie offs to sticks in the mud; I was very paranoid about accidentally passing the T without realizing there were two ways to go. Then all of a sudden the water was clear and I was staring at Rob’s O2 bottle on the line. The water cleared up just before the T, right where the slope got steeper.  I dropped my O2 bottle on the line and we headed to the left. As I looked up the slope, I could see a mass of brown hanging in the water right above the line. But further to the side, the water was clearer.   This gave me some hope that viz would clear by the time we came back.

After a couple minutes of swimming, we came to an arrow and there were two jumps to the right. Rob had warned me of this and said we’d take the rightmost of the two. But we got there and the team ahead had installed the jump to the other line. So I was momentarily confused when Rob started running the line in a different direction but then I got it. That tunnel has like one or one and a half spots where it’s a pain to go through with two stages, but I had the benefit of watching Rob go through first so it was not too bad for me.  Of course I also had the benefit of swimming in Robs cloud of silt through that passage. When we got to the jump down through the halocline, we dropped our unused bottles, and Rob installed the slave strobe on my tanks and did some test fires. It worked today.  Then we headed to the right. Our pace was more leisurely here, since Rob was taking pictures.  I like this part of Jailhouse. There are some pretty decorated areas but even where the tunnel isn’t super decorated, it’s very pretty with the clear blue water and bright white walls.

We eventually came back up through the halocline into the freshwater, which was refreshingly cool. I was a bit toasty in the saltwater.  At some point I saw Rob turn around and thought he was going to take a picture as I came over and through a little slot into the room he was in, so I readied the strobe sensor and made sure my trim was good and then as soon as I came over the rock, he gave me the turn signal. Doh. I thought this may have been the last room downstream, but Rob said it wasn't, but since it was in the freshwater, he didn't think it was interesting to keep going.  After turning and swimming a few fin kicks, Rob signaled and asked to reposition so he could get pictures. We did this pretty much every time it was my turn to lead :(.

We came back to the jump and swapped out stages and continued on to the Swiss Syphon jump.  Kevin et al had installed a jump there.  Rob signaled for me to lay the jump (yay) but then he took over leading again. Swiss Syphon is my favorite part of Jailhouse, especially after you get to the T and go right. We stopped for lots of pics along the way. We passed the other team pretty close to the end of the line and Rob took a few pictures of them. Then a few minutes later, Rob called turn, either because we hit the end of the line or it got small.  There was no need to turn on gas so I assumed it was one or the other (according to Rob, it got small).  We repositioned again so he could turn around and get pictures, and meandered back to the T.  We debated whether to check out the other side, and I said let's just go a little bit.  So we went like 3 minutes and then turned back.  I don't think it was quite as nice as the right side, but we only gave it 3 minutes :)

Once we turned there, we headed back out without much in the way of stops.  Except to pick up stages and spools and the like :)  When we finally made it back to the jump back out of the saltwater passage, we had to pickup stages and switch onto those stages, and while we were in the middle of that, it got dark.  Sigh.  Rob's light went out again.  He pulled out a Scout light and turned it on.  He then gave me a signal which I read to be something about giving him a light.  So I pulled out one of my Scout lights (while mentally and maybe physically rolling my eyes) and went to hand it to him.  Then I realized that the "light flashing" signal had been meant to say that he was going to take the remote strobe off the back of my tanks.  Doh!  So I put my Scout light away while he was doing that.  After he took that back, he was fiddling with his Scout light, which kept flickering on and off.  Seriously?  So I had to whip mine out again and hand it to him.  Then we *finally* got going, with him in the lead (again).  This was the point where I finally thought I'd get to lead, since he wasn't taking pictures anymore.  Sigh.

When we got back to the main line, the viz was somewhat deteriorated.  I wasn't sure if it was worse than when we came in, or if it just seemed worse because when we came in, after emerging from the silt, it seemed really clear, relatively speaking.  Anyway, when we got back to the T, the viz in the room was okay by the T and relatively okay just up the slope from the T, but rapidly deteriorating from there.  There was no way we were going to be able to deco at 20', though.  I looked up to see if deco'ing on the ceiling above the T was an option, and while I think it might be an option in general, the viz above us was pretty deteriorated too.  And I really didn't want to be anywhere that wasn't within arm's reach of the line.  So we discussed and decided to double the deco and deco on backgas at 30'.  About 3/4 of the way into the deco, I started to wonder if we were actually shallow enough to be offgassing, but it still seemed like the most feasible option.

Even though Rob should technically lead out, since he was on a backup light, I was feeling like a big wimp and wanted to go out first.  I figured in zero viz, who has the more powerful light is not really relevant.  So I told Rob I would be leading out, and he said he was going to give me a 2 minute head start, so that he wouldn't pile up on me if I got hung up somewhere.  So I started up the slope, and was relieved to find that I had maybe 18 inches of viz.  There was enough viz that with my light on my left hand and the line in my right hand, the light was lighting the line ahead of me.  Until it wasn't.

It seemed to go from 18" of viz to 0 viz instantaneously.  I wondered if my light had died.  Then I turned it up to point it at my eyes and I saw a dull yellow glow.  So that was fun.  I got "stuck" twice on the way out.  The first time, I thought I was in the entrance to the cave, where there is a big rock on the bottom on the right side (as you exit).  So after I got through there, I thought I was probably in open water, but wasn't going to let go of the line until I was on the surface or could see the surface.  Then I got jammed between two rocks again, this time I was wedged in there pretty good, but I shimmied to my right and managed to get through.  I think this was actually the big entrance rock.  Because immediately after that, the water got VERY warm and brighter, more like a red-yellow than black.  I kept following the line up and it was soon very bright and more yellow white and I thought I heard voices.  Then I hit the surface and found Kevin, Karl, and Bobby hanging out in the basin, without their gear.  I guess they'd come out about 20 minutes earlier, but came back to the basin to wait for us.  Apparently as they were exiting the team that went in before us was going back in for a second dive.  So I thought maybe that was what stirred things up, but apparently it was like that before Kevin, Karl and Bobby had left the cave, so I guess it never settled.

A minute later, Rob's bubbles appeared and then he surfaced pretty quickly.  It was freaking hot in the basin, so we were pretty motivated to get out of there.  We cleaned everything up and headed to Don Cafeto's for lunch.  The super limonada was just as awesome as I remembered.  But I had forgotten about the pickled vegetables that they serve with chips when you sit down.   Mmmm.  After lunch we headed to the gelato place for dessert.