Today I decided to go diving with Phil Craiger on a 3 tank dive offered by Jupiter Dive Center. This was by far the best dive I’ve ever done out of Jupiter when it comes to wildlife spotting. Let’s see, we saw
Black Tip Reef Shark
Many bait fish
Our first dive was in about 140ft of water, but most of the diving was done in the 40-80ft range up off the bottom where the fish were. This is where we saw the Marlin and majority of the sharks. The second and third dives were in 60-80ft of water, and more reef dives. This is where we saw most of the turtles. As always, the crew at the Jupiter Dive Center was phenomenal.
Everyone knows it– the Tulum and Akumal areas of Mexico are a cave diver’s dream. I’ve wanted to go to dive in the cenotes since I first got intro certified back in 2007, but for whatever reason never managed the trip. For convenience, we stayed at Villas De Rosa, which is privately owned by Tony out of Utah, and has had a reputation for being a great place to base a cave trip out of. Villas De Rosa is located in Akumal, which is close to a lot of the caves. They also rent out doubles, side mount tanks and stage bottles for a fairly reasonable fee. While they don’t have a compressor on site, they get all their rental tanks filled nightly, and allow you to swap the tanks out during the day which is much faster than waiting for fills anyways.
Day 1 – Sistema Nohoch Nah Chich
Limited on time after landing, getting the rental car and checking in, we decided to do a cave which Phil had dove on a previous trip. Nohoch is one of the best known “tourist” caves in Mexico. It’s fairly far down a teeth grinding dirt road which will do a number on any rental car, but the road is well marked. Upon arriving, there’s diver only parking, and someone standing by to take your money for diving. The mainline is easily found, and since we were low on time, we just followed that until another small cenote. These caves were so much more decorated than anything I had ever seen before that I didn’t really mind.
Day 2 – Pet Cemetery and Gran Cenote
This morning we decided to head to Pet Cemetery, which was absolutely mind blowing. The entry fee is $250 pesos, so it’s on the expensive side, but “Oh my!” it was quite amazing! I think this is my favorite cave to date. We did the “Dark Side of the Moon” passage, and a little bit of the iHop passage. This cave is white, highly decorated, warm, and fresh water.
After the dive, we headed back to Villas De Rosa where we had the Pollo (chicken) tacos from the beach bar. These were the best tacos I’ve had, much healthier than what you have here in the US, relying heavily on cilantro for their flavor. With full tummys, we grabbed a fresh set of tanks and headed to Grand Cenote due to its close proximity and running out of time. The main line here is slightly harder to find than what you would encounter in the US, but if you look to the far left side of the cenote (from where you enter) and look out for the cave warning sign, you’ll have no issues finding it. This site supposedly has some amazing passage, but since we were on mainline because we didn’t have any specific directions, we didn’t see anything that spectacular compared to Pet Cemetery.
Day 3 – Chan Hol
John Sampson was kind enough to offer to guide us in Chan Hol, so we met up with him at 10am just south of Tulum. This cave is slightly darker than what we had been seeing, but was beautiful. The entrance fee is $150 pesos (around $15 USD at the time) and paid to the property owners. You head down a slope into a small pool, which has been dug out for easier entry. Upon entering, you head down a narrow slope which quickly opens into a large room and a T. We headed left as this was the easier passage, but the right side also connects back around we were told.
To test my new FLX Extreme, Philip and I decided to head to Ginnie Springs, so that he could play with his new camera and housing as well. I won’t say much about this one, as the photos speak for themselves.
Recently I was invited by Marc Blackwood and Chris Hersch to attend a dive on the Spectre, which was one of the best dive boats I’ve been on. JetBlue currently offers a direct flight MCO->LGB, which was about 30 minutes from Marc’s house, so things worked out and it was an easy non-rev flight for me, with several open seats. Around 7pm Friday night I arrived at LGB, a very small airport where baggage collection and deplaning are both done outside. Marc was nearby and within a few minutes we were on the road to a friends house to pickup a scooter for Saturday’s diving. After that, we went to a burger place which had nearly every imaginable topping you could put on a burger, you simply mix and match…kinda cool, we don’t have that in Florida.
Our next stop was the Spectre dive boat, which is kind enough to allow divers to load gear and spend the night on the boat the night before their dive day. This was very helpful, especially for those of us who have come from out of town and don’t want to pay for a hotel! While loading, I met Chris and the rest of our group.
After a late night drive down to Fort Lauderdale, we woke up early to stop by Brownies dive shop to get my doubles filled, then headed to the dock, where we met up with Bill Mee, George Irvine, Matt Cain and Dan Volker for some recreational scooter dives. For our first dive, we headed out to the Goodyear reef area, a place where someone thought that dumping used tires would make for an artificial reef. There really weren’t many fish here, just tires in the sand, so we scootered east towards the 3rd ledge, but along the way a gear failure caused us to have to abort the dive a bit early. After loading back up in the boat, we headed towards the 2nd ledge so the kids could swim and snorkel. We grabbed our scooters and headed to the water, enjoying almost an hour of scooter free diving before heading in due to a storm. All in all a fun day on the water with excellent company.
We decided to stay local at the Best Western the night before so that Heather and Brian could hit the road quickly, as they had a very long drive ahead of them, and it was nearly 3 hours back to Orlando for me. Up at 7am, we were able to grab snacks for breakfast from Winn-Dixie and then be at the dive site before the heat. The basin visibility wasn’t great, but once we dropped down the chute things got quite a bit better, visibility was easily 50-75ft! I had heard all the noise, but didn’t realize how amazing this system really is. Huge white walled rooms and large breakdown litter the cave.
Having resisted the temptation for several months now, I finally decided to venture beyond the old end of line at Ginnie Springs and see the new section. For those of you who have been living in the dark for the past two years (or don’t cave dive), the “New Ginnie” refers to a newly explored section of the cave. Ginnie was believed to have been walled out years ago, but Swiss cave diver Marius Frei discovered a no mount lead through clay which opened into a new, reasonably large passage. Over time, Mark Fyvie would extend this line (and survey, which Marius isn’t known for), but passed away in a diving accident in the process. Shortly after, UCLA professor Andrew Ainslie added additional line (5600ft at that time) and provided Anita Berman with an extension of the existing map that her husband produced. Agnes Milowka added some line, and also produced photos in the NSS-CDS journal. Finally, James Toland came along and as he seems to do literally everywhere he dives, he extended Ginnie’s end of line out to 7100ft, which only a few have managed to even follow his line, which is currently EOL at this time. Bob Schulte is in the process of surveying the section and will produce a map in the future.
Anyways, enough with the history of the section…Andreas and I had talked about going here for a decent amount of time, but never went due to other sites taking priority. Ginnie is pretty hard to motivate me to do a “big” dive in, due to the substantial amount of damaged cave that you have to go through to get to anything pretty. I typically consider it a training cave with a few pretty sections, but this was different. Scubaboard hosts an annual megadive event, where close to 100 divers invade the park to camp, eat, and throw one massive bonfire party.
Our plan was reasonable simple, 3 stages, using helium to make them easy to carry, sidemount gear configuration (due to the rock restriction) and DPVs. Because of the high flow, a 6 man team taking forever to exit while we held on for dear life (cave courtesy is to allow exiting teams to pass), and drag from the stages, my SAC was abnormally high and I burned through my first stage by stage bottle rock at 1800ft. The next stage got me to just beyond the Heinkle Restriction, and the final stage got me to the end of the old gold line.
Beyond the old end of the line, you’ll find somewhat pristine cave (this tunnel is no secret– and traffic shows), with a few large rooms where the rock alternates between jet black and a very unique tan color. We made it to the third T, which was right at 5000ft penetration.
Today Andreas and I headed off to Ichetucknee Springs State Park to dive Jug Hole. Since this cave has a few restrictions, we had to dive side mount. Andreas brought his camera along and got a few good photos, which I’ll try to post up here later. We were hoping to explore a few going leads that we had heard about, but found that the 50w HID battery packs were simply too large to manage going through tight restrictions and will have to save those leads for another day :(. Once beyond the lead, we had plenty of time to see the entire cave and poke around everywhere we could find on the way back, but Jug simply doesn’t have many side passages, or really even any potential leads at all. It is however, a beautiful cave with some very pretty clay banks, as well as black and white layered walls.
After a few weeks out of the water (drysuit zipper was being replaced), it was time to get some cave diving in! I had been talking with Heather about a NAUI Tech 1 course, and had both agreed to meet up for a familiarization dive with each other before class since we hadn’t dove together, and we could pick dive sites from there. One room I had heard a lot about was the “Crypt”, which is a known water source for the Peacock Springs Cave System. Since neither of us had been, we decided to attempt it. Celia and her husband Scott helped us out with directions.
Although it wasn’t necessarily required, we elected to use a stage. My first stage was dropped about 300ft shy of Olsen, and then I continued on with back gas. Because of the head start the stage gave us, we didn’t have to worry about running low on gas in the lower, more silty areas, and also had time to turn around and find a jump again if we happen to have missed it. Fortunately their directions were excellent, and we found the Crypt first attempt. Round trip was 117 minutes. The room was a disappointment for me, just a normal Peacock room with a bunch of snakes, bats, skulls, and various other man made items littering the room.
Here’s a video that someone recently posted of this dive on a diving forum.