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Saturday, June 26, 2010

CENOTE YAX CHEN - SISTEMA OX BEL HA



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These groups of cenotes were first explored by Gary and Kay Walten during the late 1990's. It was connected into the Ox Bel Ha cave system five years ago. Yax Chen means the blue or (green) well system. If you wish to observe big tarpon swim or DPV dive this section of cave. You can DPV dive to the limits of your machine and gas/air that you carry and not run out of cave. Mostly huge power cave passage. It is known locally as CENOTE EL ENCANTO.



Location: Located 6.8 kilometers south on the Tulum Beach Road from the Coba Road intersection.

Friday, June 25, 2010

CENOTE PET CEMETERY - SISTEMA SAC AKTUN

DIRECTIONS TO THE BLUE ABYSS FROM CENOTE PET CEMETERY



Drive to the entrance road to CENOTE DOS OJOS (The Ejido Jacinto Pat).

Stop at the Dos Ojos Dive Store on the right of area. Pay 250 pesos and receive ticket to give to personnel on the Mystic River (Misterio Rio) Eco Park or known as Cenote Pet Cemetery.

 
Drive west on the Ejido Pet Cemetery sascab road. Follow road past Cenote Dos Ojos and continue for three more kilometers. When the road turns left follow it south. Continue following this road. Eventually you will pass a white metal swing gate. It should be open. Continue on road until the very end. You will find a parking area marked by a cave diver sign and a beautiful long wooden bench for setting up equipment. Park your vehicle.

 
Behind this area is a short sandy path leading to a large cenote that is naturally impossible to enter. The land owner has constructed a quality set of wooden stairs leading down to the water. There is an area with benches to place tanks.


It is HIGHLY recommended to do this dive to the BLUE ABYSS ROOM with a stage bottle. Why? For most folks, when you reach the BLUE ABYSS you will be close if not at THIRDS with your air or gas supply. The stage bottle insures that you have plenty of air or gas to ENJOY the BLUE ABYSS Room, particularly if you plan to swim deep into the bottom of the room.


Enter water, perform pre-dive rituals. Face the cave and swim into underwater into the cave. You will need to swim about 80 feet straight into the cave. You are looking for a GOLD BRAIDED NYLON LINE. This line is set up as an irregular circular path that winds around a huge cavern and snorkeling area. There is a huge air space with two wooden decks, ladder leading to the surface through a small shaft. Electrical lights have been installed for snorkeling groups.


You can follow the GOLD BRAIDED NYLON GOLD LINE clockwise or counter clockwise (left or right). Either way you will be swimming and following the GOLD LINE for about 7 or 8 minutes. You are looking for TWO large quality directional arrows. One is YELLOW, the other is LIGHT BLUE. There is a stalagmite nearby where the GOLD LINE is placed. From this point you will tie off a reel or spool and swim into a huge cave passage. The permanent line is about twenty five feet away tied to a stalagmite. Currently, this string is a twisted #18 string. Follow this string for 150 feet and your find TWO DIRECTIONAL ARROWS pointing back to the CENOTE PET CEMETERY. There will be a slate tied to the permanent line pointing to CENOTE I-HOP, which is 400 feet. There will be another string ONE FOOT away. This line leads into the DARK SIDE OF THE MOON area. To your left, 40 feet away is another string. This is the line to the BLUE ABYSS. Tie off a reel or spool and connect into this guideline. Nineteen or twenty minutes into this dive you will encounter the KING PONG restriction. It zig zags through a forest of little columns. YES, you can swim through this minor restriction with your stage bottle. There is NO silt! Continue swimming and eventually you will drop off your stage bottle when appropriate for you. When you reach a 90 degree turn of the permanent guideline to the left you are now at the jump for the final 300 feet to the BLUE ABYSS. It is a 15 foot distance, down to the right. There should TWO large quality directional arrows pointing back to CENOTE PET CEMETERY. Tie in the connection with a spool or reel. This passage is highly decorated. Halfway to the BLUE ABYSS you encounter one more minor restriction. It is crack that slopes downward. Be gentle. You should reach the BLUE ABYSS in 45 minutes or less. Maximum depth is 225 feet in depth.


ENJOY THIS SPECIAL DIVE!



CENOTE DEL MAR

CENOTE DEL MAR represents the eastern most cenote of the giant Ox Bel Ha cave system. It allows you swim or DPV upstream to the huge "Ball Park" area on its way to the huge CENOTE CANALES. You can swim downstream and actually exit into the Caribbean Sea via four vents. One is impassable, two require side mount and one can be done with doubles. Expect strong flow near the exists. The cenote is surrounded by mangroves and large areas of saw grass. This cave is stained dark brown by tannic acid. The are eleven cenotes within the vicinity.



This cenote has become accessible (again) via a new cement path, parking area, palapa cabana and wooden ladders. It is now a popular swimming hole for local people and tourists.


The dive site fee is 50 pesos.


Location: Drive south 3.9 KM on the Tulum Beach Road from the Coba Road Intersection. Soon as you see the Ana Y JOSE, plan on 100 meters to your right.

Sunday, June 20, 2010

DRAWING THE LINE ON SAFETY

Last year (April, 2009), I wrote an article titled “SAFETY IS ALWAYS FIRST” that outlined some of the safety issues surrounding cave diving in the Riviera Maya. One of the problems is that the cave diving sites that were once impossible or difficult to visit are now easily accessible to everyone. A second problem is the resistance to change on part of some of the local cave diving community. Explorers who put in the time and effort to explore and survey these caves are, in some cases, finding it hard to let go, and accept the changes necessary so that these caves can accommodate more divers. I am speaking specifically about the need for improved guidelines for navigation, which are critical for diver safety, particularly in the light of increased traffic.


Though improvements to the existing line system have been agreed to, and implemented by the Riveria Maya Safety Officer Committee, which consists of officers from the NACD, NSS-CDS, GUE, and IANTD and TDI, over the last eight months, I believe there are further improvements to guidelines that need to be made, in addition to a change of attitude on the part of the apparent disgruntled minority. I would like to discuss both of these issues in this article.


As several of my cave diving friends have pointed out to me in recent years, I am “old school." What I've learned and practiced during 35 years of cave diving is that improving potentially hazardous guidelines is a matter of common sense and good judgment on the part of individual divers. My sincere belief that every cave diver has the responsibility to correct, improve or remove a potential guideline danger when we find or encounter it.

If you find a broken line, you fix it. If a guideline has been placed in a fragile part of the cave passage or hazardous location such as a line trap, hidden intersection or very silty area, you change the location. If the guideline is worn, frayed or difficult to follow visually because of size or discolored, you make it better, make it safer. Fortunately this philosophy has been practiced by the majority of cave divers for the last forty years and has gone a long way to make cave diving safer and better for everyone too. It should be a very simple process!


Over the years the sport of caving diving has grown, changing the dynamics of maintaining the caves from an individual’s responsibility to as is the case in both Florida and Riveria Maya committees established to deal with issues not only of safely but also conservation and access. The hope is that a committee will decide what will best serve the community as a whole and to implement the best procedures for diver safety. With committees comes the opportunity to discuss the issues and come to a general consensus, but as we all know this process is inherently more involved and it is a rare committee that is not swayed by personal agendas.


The situation has become critical in Riveria Maya, which is one of the reasons I wrote the "Safety if Always First," article and also made specific recommendations to the local Safety Officer Committee in April, 2009. Though myself and other concerned individuals have made improvements to guidelines when we have encountered potential dangers, our actions have been met with strong emotions, and some bizarre acts by disgruntled cave divers. During the past eight months, for example, one or more individuals have begun cutting the tips off safety arrows in various systems in an apparent act of displeasure. It is hard to argue that this kind of action serves our sport and the community well.

This past November, 2009 NACD Safety Office Dennis Weeks came to my house to review and discuss the notes from the Riviera Maya Safety Committee meeting and the actions that they agreed to take to improve the guideline situation (see Appendix)



1). Overall, I am very happy with the response to my recommendations as many were accepted and agreed upon.


Respectively however, there are still a few more items that I think can be improved. The following are my additional recommendations that I believe will help make cave diving SAFER in Riviera Maya.



The Safety Officer Committee felt that the larger #45 braided nylon line is inappropriate in the caves. The argument is that there is no stretch or “give” when placing directional line arrows or making repairs or changes with this size of guideline. I always thought bigger meant it was safer to follow visually and or physically. However, I cannot dispute that there is no stretch of the chosen braided #45 nylon guideline. The solution is use a different type of braid and not a diamond braid. Another choice is use a smaller braided size line such as #36.

I do not agree that twisted lines are a safe alternative in popular and/or small passages, though the twisted #18 line is popular among cave explorers because it is in expensive and readily available.


Two months ago I wrote a letter to John Haugen who represents the E. L. Elwood Company of Stoney Brook, New York which manufactures and distributes a wide range or cords and ropes. The National Association for Cave Diving and the Riviera Maya GOLD LINE working group buys “gold line” from this company. I asked John for his professional input on twisted versus braided cords. This is what he had to say:

FACT: Twisted rope of like materials will be stronger than a braided cord. To what percentage depends on the braid configuration. Some braid constructions are stronger than others. Twisted rope has a tendency to "hockle" or kink in some applications and a braided cord is then desired as those properties are lesser. Twisted rope may also spin it's suspended material unlike a braided cord. If you are using "travelers" or clipping on to the line, braided cord is usually desired as well.


Twisted rope is typically the inexpensive workhorse and is seen of a kind of "throw away" item, where braids are more application specific. Abrasion resistance...Twisted rope is typically three (3) strand. Once a (1) strand is compromised, it puts an uneven load on the other two, lessening the strength and can lead to rapid failure. All nylon fiber hates being rubbed on sharp edges, rocks etc. whether it's twisted or braided. Braided cord deploys better and with a smoother profile, will typically resist snagging and abrasion tendencies better.


Virtually every cave diving manual and text states that braided nylon is the preferred and safer type of guidelines used for cave diving. Once a twisted string is nicked or cut, it becomes UNSAFE. That's why I don't understand why the Riveria Maya committee believes this kind of line is appropriate. I must add that Dennis Weeks supports braided cords 100%, however, the majority of this committee decided on recommending twisted string. Go figure. It has been said from a few members of our local cave diving community have stated that the original twisted exploration guidelines have a historical value (at least to the divers that laid them). That may be the case, but does this value exceed the value of a cave divers life? Perhaps they can be placed in a museum or put on eBay where at least they won't put a fellow cave diver in harms way.


I am very pleased that the committee agreed that a braided #24 nylon line color line be used for the upstream waterfall line at Cenote Taj Mahal. In addition, they installed a braided #24 line downstream to the Room of Cheers.


I do NOT, however, understand why GOLD LINE is considered inappropriate for upstream CENOTE NOHOCH NAH CHICH. During November, 2006 the landowner – Don Pedro Rodriquez – gave permission for gold line to be installed to designate the main line in the huge delta area. The gold line was donated by the NACD for that purpose. In December, 2006 Daniel Riordan ripped it out convincing the eldest son it was inappropriate. Dennis Weeks fully supports gold line for NOHOCH, however the majority of this committee was against it. In my opinion it is the superior alternative for diver safety. Isn't that the most important thing?


This concludes my report. I have one request please. I ask for comments, input and/or suggestions debating the twisted versus braided guideline issues and your “thoughts” for GOLD LINE designating main lines for popular caves in the RIVIERA MAYA.



THANK YOU.

BE SAFE!



stevegerrard@cavediver.com




Appendix 1: A BRIEF HISTORY OF THE GOLD LINE.



During the Labor Day holiday first weekend of September, 1988 a young 21 year old woman certified as a Basic Cave diver was diving with her boyfriend upstream Orange Grove Sink – Peacock Springs Cave System, Suwannee County, Florida. After swimming pass a hairpin curve in the cave passageway they called the dive on Thirds and turned around to exit. Just as they swimming through the hairpin curve her primary light became dimmed (failed). They stopped and corrected the situation with a back-up primary light clipped to a “D” ring on her tanks. Because they were visually distracted with the task they had no visual contact with the permanent line. Located a short distance on the north side of the hairpin curve was an identical nylon string heading upstream an offshoot passage. When the couple completed their task and began to look for the permanent guideline, their eyes found the offshoot guideline not realizing it was the wrong line and began following it. Approximately, 300 feet into the passage the boyfriend realized they were NOT on the “main line” exiting the cave. He wrote a note on a slate informing the woman of the problem. They turnaround and began swimming back. As they passed another offshoot passage with clear water, the young lady bolted into it in total fear and anxiety. The boyfriend tried to catch her but failed and finally exited the cave. Her body was recovered the next day.


It was the first fatality of a “Basic Cave” trained cave diver with the NSS-CDS training program. This accident initiated the beginning a tremendously very successful and popular SAFETY program by installing large diameter GOLD NYLON BRAIDED lines in popular caves of North Florida. The intent was for this distinguishable and larger color line to designate the “main line” from all other guidelines for inexperienced cave divers or cave divers NOT familiar with the cave system. It was so popular that the NACD followed suit with their Gold Line program several years later. Today there are underwater caves all over the world with donated gold lines. The following cenote cave and caverns of the Riviera Maya have gold lines installed.




1. Cenote Aktun Koh. The main line completing the circuit through the Cenote Bear’s Den. This cave is no longer available for cave diving.


2. Cenote Calavera (Temple of Doom) –The Madonna Passage, the Coliseum Room and through the Hall of Giants Room.


3. Cenote Caracol (Labna Ha Eco Park) – the main line.


4. Cenote Carwash – upstream to Adrianna’s Room.


5. Cenote Chac Mool – upstream mainline 1500 feet/454 meters. Down stream to the Monster Room and past 150 feet/45 meters.


6. Cenote Dos Ojos – The downstream traverse to Cenote Dos Palmas to Cenote High Voltage to Cenote Tapir’s End to Cenote Monolito.


7. Cenote Eden. The River Run Circuit back through Cenote Zacil and Cenote Little Joe. The downstream passage to the Chapel Room air dome.


8. Cenote Mayan Blue - The “A’ tunnel 400 feet/121 meters past the Battleship Room. The entire “B” tunnel.


9. Cenote Taj Mahal – The Jumna River passage and towards Cenote Buena Vista.




The following cavern zones have gold lines installed:


1. Cenote Chac Mool.


2. Cenote Dos Ojos including the Bat Cave.


3. Cenote Eden.


4. Grand Cenote.


5. Cenote Taj Mahal.


6. Cenote Dreamland.*


7. Cenote Pet Cemetary*

8.  Cenote Calavera - Temple of Doom


*Installed November, 2009




THE RIVIERA MAYA GOLD LINE WORKING GROUP


There is a continuous difficulty in acquiring GOLD LINE for the caves of the RIVIERA MAYA. In the past the NSS-CDS and the NACD have generously donated GOLD LINE. The challenge in recent times is getting the GOLD LINE here to the RIVIERA MAYA. In addition, the COSTS of the BRAIDED NYLON GOLD LINE is now $79.00 per 1000 feet. This past summer I organized the RIVIERA MAYA GOLD LINE WORKING GROUP. The intent is to acquire the necessary funds to purchase and ship the GOLD LINE to the RIVIERA MAYA.


The following people have graciously donated money to this SAFETY cause:


Danny Allen $200.00


Ron Carmichael $ 50.00


Steve Clabuesch $50.00


Charles Cleland $100.00


Steve Gerrard $500.00


Darryl Harris $ 50.00


Dan Hartman $200.00


Jim Horvaka $ 50.00


Dr. Harry Mariniskis $100.00


Michael Munduno $ 50.00


Dan Orr $ 50.00


Richard Yost $100.00



Total so far: $1500.00


I would have at least another $1000.00 in donations, but several folks were very leery that the GOLD LINES would be ripped out of the caves by the few.


$750.00 was spent for the first 9,000 feet GOLD LINE as it was delivered on Friday, October 23rd. The GOLD LINE was installed by LUIS LEAL for the cavern areas of CENOTE DREAMLAND and the cavern area for CENOTE PET CEMETERY.






DENNIS WEEKS has suggested with their committee approval that the upstream CENOTE CARWASH GOLD LINE be replaced and there are several sections of the CENOTE DOS OJOS downstream traverse to be replaced.



The first week of February, 2010 another 9,000 feet of BRAIDED NYLON GOLD LINE arrived in the RIVIERA MAYA.






We are still seeking more funds to acquire more GOLD LINE in making the underwater caves SAFER. As long as good communication is maintained with the various personalities, there will be NO ripping GOLD LINES out of approved caves or caverns.






If you wish to contribute money to this cause for SAFETY please send your donation to:






STEVE GERRARD


2828 South McCall Road


SUITE 32


ENGLEWOOD, FLORIDA 34224



Appendix 2: Notes Safety Officers Committee Meeting at the ProTec Dive Center in Playa Del Carmen Fall, 2009



Hello All,



Sorry for my dropping the ball with producing the notes from our meeting at Protec many moons ago. I am sure everyone understands that sometimes life and business get in the way of our volunteer past times.



Attached is a word document summarizing our meeting we held to discuss Steve Gerrards’ suggestions for changes in the area.



I have spoken to Steve Gerrard about his suggestions and told him that I am responsible for the delay in a response to these suggestions. If everyone can review my notes and make changes/suggestions where needed I will change the meeting minutes and then forward an official copy to everyone.



I look forward to your comments,



Dennis Weeks



Cenote Calimba



Concern that the current line is worn and requires replacement with a new thicker line: The RSO agreed that the line should be replaced and that the line would be a twisted knotted #24. The replacement of the line took place from the entrance to the tee junction. All arrows and markers remained in place.

A thick white line (#45) was removed from Calimba as inappropriate as the line has no stretch to it. A twisted and knotted #24 (approx) was installed to the T intersection.



Cenote Carwash.



Concern that the permanent line upstream starts too far back was discussed. Keeping in mind that many cavern courses are conducted at this site and that many open water divers continue to frequently dive the area, the following was agreed, that the permanent line going upstream towards Lukes Hope would be extended closer the entrance reducing the length of line required to make the connection from open water. The line would be extended with #24 twisted line out to the an area behind the stop sign just before the descent through the narrow area and approximately at the same depth as the sign.

The line was extended toward the entrance and tied off well beyond the stop sign and at the same depth of the stop sign.



Cenote Cristal /Naharon



Concern that that the #45 line was taken out from the upstream area leading to Chacs Room: The line was taken out because the line was unsafe; it floated towards the ceiling when the line came loose. There was concern that the line leading to Chac’s Room is stained and hard to see and that and the line be one continuous line to Chac’s Room:

It was agreed that the line should be replaced (and may need to be replaced on a more regular schedule due to tannin staining) with a #24 braided line. It was discussed that the configuration of the line be such that line running in the Halocline passage is configured with a gap on both ends and that the mainline be configured as a continuous line into and beyond Chac’s Room.



Cenote Dos Ojos



Concern that the upstream line “Imax” be changed to a continuous Goldline to the Air Dome. Replace the goldline running downstream on the River run to Cenote Monolito

Agreement that Dennis Weeks apply to the NACD for 6000’ of gold line to replace this upstream line.





Cenote Eden



There is concern that the line past Cenote Zacil to Cenote Repair shop is worn and damaged. It was agreed that the line should be replaced with a #24 line.



Sistema Dos Pisos



There is concern that the line in the entrance series is worn and damaged.

Agreed that the line should be replaced with a #36 braided line



Grand Cenote



Concern that the gap from the Grand Cenote/Cenote Ho Tul traverse line to the line leading into Paso de Lagarto is too much distance and should be shorter making the jump easier. It was agreed that the line leading to Paso de Lagarto should be extended bringing it closer the Grand Cenote/Cenote Ho Tul line.



Cenote Jailhouse



There is concern that the guide line is stained brown/black making it difficult to maintain visual contact with the line. Replacement of the line to the T with a #36 line and all other lines is replaced with a #24 line as required.



Cenote Nohoch Nah Chich



There was concern that a goldline should be used as the mainline in the upstream passageway of Nohoch:

There was a discussion was held to the merit of a goldline as the mainline in Nohoch. It was the consensus of the group of RSO that a goldline is not required due to the excellent visibility and the passage configuration.

Further discussion was held as to the distance of jumps and gaps in the Nohoch system. After discussion, it is recommended that all jumps and gaps in the Nohoch system be a minimum of 2 meters and when possible located 3m apart.



Cenote Minotauro



There was concern that the line was worn and damaged.

It is recommended that the line be replaced with #24 twisted and knotted line.



Cenote Pet Cemetery.



There was concern that #18 line is unsafe and that the recently installed #45 line will be removed. It is recommended that the #45 line be removed from the passage leading to the Blue Abyss as the line is unsuitable for a cave environment – it has no stretch and is virtually impossible to install markers or to repair tie off points that have come off. The line should be replaced with a #24 twisted line.



Cenote Regina



There was concern that the line is that the current line is too small to adequately provide a visual reference while exiting in silty conditions. It was recommended that the line be changed to #36 for the first 200 feet of passageway.



Cenote Taj Mahal



There was concern that the line to the waterfall room be changed to a line that is more easily referenced in the halocline. It was recommended that a braided #24 line be placed in this area of the cave. There was concern that the line downstream is worn and damaged and should be changed. It was recommended that the line be replaced with a #24 braided line.

Additional notes: The line before the first restriction past the Chinese Gardens has been cut back. The passage way is very unstable and diving is not recommended in this area.



Cenote Xunaan Ha



There was concern that the line be changed to #45 because the passage is smaller. It was recommended that the lines stay the same. There is current survey and exploration work taking place and any concern can be revisited in the future. In addition to Steve Gerrard’s suggestions for changes the following items were discussed.



Sistema Chac Mool



The line leading past Cenote Pakal will be cut back creating a gap. The reason for this is the passageway is very unstable providing a very unsafe environment.



Additional Notes:



Dennis Weeks will apply to the NACD for the NACD “Stop” sign for installation in numerous systems where the signs need replacing. He will also check with the NACD to see if there is any problem to print the NACD “Stop” sign here in Mexico, saving shipping costs.



No permanent line arrows in the cave systems should be removed, replaced, defaced or damaged in any way. Doing so adversely affects the safety of all cave divers. Please strongly discourage this practice if seen or heard of. Damaged or vandalized arrows may be replaced as required.



There is a Safety Officer Committee in the Riviera Maya. They consist of the following individuals:



Steve Bogearts - National Speleological Society – Cave Diving Section

Fernando del Valle Prieto - International Association for Nitrox & Technical Diving

Daniel Riordan - Global Underwater Explorers

Chuck Stevens – National Association for Cave Diving

Dennis Weeks - National Association for Cave Diving



Harry Gust - Technical Diving International. Harry “politely bowed out” of the committee as did not agree with some of their actions.





The following are a few responses to these reports:



“I re-read your essay on "Is Safety Always First" - it just does not make sense that intelligent people just cannot get over their biases and do the right thing. They are living in the past and not looking at what is best for the community. Even a moron would realize that a gold main line as a standard would be the safest thing the cave community could do to safeguard everyone. And anyone who has worked around lines would choose braided over twisted for 99% of all applications. Some safety committee. You should be commended for fighting the good fight, we can only hope eventually you will win!”



Steve Clabuesh – Diving Officer for the University of California – Santa Cruz.





“It is both amazing and with alarm that I read about your gold line project and the personalities that continue to pepper the good sense of the cave diving community. Keeping worn unsafe lines in a system for sentimental reasons is near goofy if not downright dangerous. I recall being taught that braided nylon was the only way to go in a cave. Durable and yes, expensive. But cutting costs is the beginning of trimming safe practices and ultimately an unwanted or catastrophic result. If you can't afford to do it right, don't do it!! Keeping old line because some dinosaur laid the line is really an excuse for being stupid. If you're that attached to the line, reel it up and make a shrine out of it, just keep it out of the way”!



Mike Poskey - Tallahassee, Florida.



“I really wonder about the hick-hack at the Riviera Maya.

I mean, safety is paramount for cave diving, regardless of the political or „religious“ diving community you belong to. Here in Europe, we get the impression that some people just try to bolster their ego. Obviously, we are very far from Mexico and have only small pieces of information.

As Europeans we always appreciated very much the almost perfect laid gold lines. We are trying to do the same in European caves. So we cannot understand the behavior of some people at your place or panels taking somewhat strange decisions……..

Keep in mind that above all, the safety should be the primary concern!

Best regards and safe diving all the way....along a secure gold line. Hope you get strong support.”

Beat Müller - Swiss Cave Diving

“I was sorry to hear of the people working against your cause to make cave diving safer! There seems to be no way to argue with your well founded points! As a lifelong boater, I have always used twisted nylon rope for anchor rode, due to its higher breaking strength. I have always used braided rope for docking and mooring due to the higher abrasion resistance. The large gold line does inspire confidence when returning to the exit after a long dive. I sure hope this can be worked out before you donate more of your valuable time and expense to make this happen! The gold line has been placed in many popular cave diving sites in N. Florida with no problems, I am aware of! It just seems malicious to take out the line. I don’t think there would even be enough value, if you could sell it on e-bay to even recover the cost of an air fill, much less the amount of crack cocaine you would have to smoke to come up with such a plan.”

Safe Diving! Doug Hand- Destin, Florida

“I was shocked by several cave diving friends who informed me that Cave Diving Instructor Bil Philips was fully admitting he was cutting off the tips to many of the safety arrows and removing many of the safer guidelines and putting twisted #18 line in place of it. How immature and irresponsible!

Teri Orr – Illinois - USA



“My reflections on your article:



Very interesting read. It's good to hear that the region is developing and that those great cave diving sites gets more accessible. On the other hand more divers, many inexperienced with overhead diving, means higher likelihood for accidents and more stress on the environment. I really hope you keep your ground on these matters. I find it quite a bit ironic that you are the most senior or "old school" active cave diving instructor in Yucatan, and still you are the most open and constructive on the fact that cave diving in Mexico is changing and that the community needs to adapt. The world gets more crowded and exploited regardless of what we think. Deal with it.



I think a good overall guiding philosophy regarding permanently installed cave line and markers is that it should be intimidating and hard to find your way in (by use of warning signs and cut back main lines), but once you are in the cave zone it must be easy to navigate and find the nearest exit regardless of training and experience.



Navigational errors are the contributing factor or main cause in the vast majority of cave diving accidents. So to promote safer navigation by replacing old lines with new ones that are more visible and durable seems obvious to me. To say that the lines have historical value and should be untouched is like saying the same thing regarding dangerous roads. Safety is always first.



The thicker and more visible colored lines in high traffic areas are common sense. There are also braided lines with reflective material in them that might be used. Reflective markers in junctions and/or "road signs" could also be a good idea.



To continue the road analogy, if you drive on an outback road and there are branches on it or a road sign is hidden by vegetation, then stopping and fixing the problem is the right thing to do. If you have to write an application about it, present it to a community and have the changes approved, and then drive back out there the next day. Most of us won’t bother, and that does not promote safety.”



Maintain and be safe Steve!



All the best from Patrik and Karin Holmquist - Sweden



“About 2 yrs ago or so, you dived the Cenotes with a gentleman named Larry Babcock & a small group he took down (Michael Nichols & Stan Brown) from the Evansville, IN area. I am currently a cave diving student of Larry's. I just read your article on guideline safety down there & what you had to say makes complete sense to me. Under No circumstances should the guidelines or marker be removed, replaced or defaced by individuals just because they don't like it, like the change or ego issues. These guidelines are potentially someone's life. They should only be replaced when & as needed due to damage. I am currently only at the Introductory to Cave Diving level, but Larry has drummed into me the importance of the guideline & how to take care of it, why the different diameter sizes of the lines. In fact he recently had me to do a lost guideline drill in which I would come across a smaller sized line (side tunnel) before reaching the main guideline. I was successfully able to ascertain that the smaller line was not the correct line. It drove home the point of how things can easily get confusing, if one is not properly trained in them. Being that all cave divers I know are human, mistakes can be made. Confusion &/or the possibility of confusion should be kept to a minimum as much as possible. Thank you for such an enlightening article. Once I reach Full Cave certification, my hope is to some day come down to Mexico & to see these wonders of the underwater/ ground”.



Tammy Storm – Indiana - USA



“All I can say is go figure. Egos, egos. I myself prefer braided line because of the abrasion factor. It has been my experience that it holds up much better than twisted. Is cheaper twisted line worth a life? I too think Gold Line marking main passages is a very helpful and life saving idea. Too bad so many people let their egos get in the way of rational thought.



Keep trying diplomatically. Looks like you are making progress. I suspect as the cave diving community over times puts pressure on this committee to standardize with the rest of the world that it will eventually occur. It seems to be this way in all things as a population works towards a standard.”



Guy Bryant – Valdosta, Georgia- USA



“Cave lines are a very serious matter and our lives depend on them. I personally am very comfortable with you maintaining and improving the lines, because I know you and feel that you are one of the most, if not the most qualified to do so. The idea, however, that just ANYBODY can change the lines is really SCARY!!! I believe it is a fact that there are well-meaning individuals who THINK they are qualified to change the lines, but it is possible that some of these individuals are not as qualified as they think they are. If too many people start changing lines, even with the best intents, then we have a very serious, potentially deadly mess. I hate to involve government in anything (especially the Mexican government), but I can see where it may be necessary in this case. Perhaps it should be a crime for unauthorized individuals to interfere with the lines. Maybe there should be a government appointed safety officer to oversee this and only the most qualified, government appointed divers should be allowed to control the lines. I know this is an extreme viewpoint and maybe is not even do-able with local politics being what they are, but when I am in a cave, I want to KNOW that the lines are correct and are properly marked and maintained. I would be happy to pay a park fee to support this. I am very much aware of the argument that a cave diver should always be aware of where he is and should not be relying on the lines. Frankly, I wish I were good enough that this would always be the case. I am sure you are-I am not. More than once, I have gotten so turned around and confused that I have had to rely on my buddy to find the way out. That is a very uncomfortable feeling , but it happens., especially to those of us who don't get to go cave diving as often as we would like. For what it is worth, that is my input”



Tim Corwin – South Hampton, New York - USA



“Diplomacy is a delicate art that few possess. You have the bruises to prove the countless times you have bashed your head against this stubborn wall of resistance. Therefore my cautioning voice of saying much the same intent with a little less bitterness is hard to do. I know for I am a strong personality, who likes to roll up my sleeves and get things done too. I feel that you should have celebrated your victories in the beginning. And then went on with there is still more to do. The rest lays on the editing floor.



In your reports you have not mentioned how the committee is formed? Is there a governing body? Is there a vote on members? Therefore who grants these individuals the authority they are wielding? I ask this for as in all committees the best place for change is from within the committee.



Another note can you set up a pay pal account for donations?



And you can set up a Facebook page for Cave Diving Gold line.

It is not just in your area but an international issue and it could unite a few different cave groups and draw a spot light onto the issue.



Just a few thoughts. Good luck.



Bonnie Cotier – United Kingdom





“ONLY POSITIVE! A major written improvement in the ongoing attempt to encourage Mexico locals to improve the safety of these wonderful cave systems.



Before I forget, I'll donate $100 to the fund and have it delivered next month to your address in Mexico.



Not to many years ago, it was the responsibility of EVERY cave diver to maintain lines and keep the caves marked and safe. Somehow, in the complacency of a few, the fundamental training application has been lost. It's sad really that we can't have GOLD lines in all major sections. Debating this seems to be a total waste of time.



Your attempt to solicit support is well timed and very well written. Safety must be of highest priority”!



Safely Maintained,



Gary Gressett - Texas

SAFETY IS ALWAYS #1

The definition for safety is to free or minimize something from danger or risk. It is a natural act that we all do each day. When you drive a car safely you follow the proper speeds, wear a safety belt and perform the necessary maintenance in order for the vehicle to operate in a safe manner such as tires, brakes and basic mechanical functions. The same thing is true with cave diving. To minimize the risk or danger we acquire training, follow a set of basic rules, learn to properly use and take care of the equipment necessary to execute the dive to see and enjoy the cave and use a few tools for the most important aspect of safe cave diving – navigation. That means always be sure of your exit out of the cave. That makes the guideline the highest priority for safety. It is used as a visual aid and only in emergencies – lack of visibility – necessary to become a physical tool to find your way out of a cave.


During the past ten years Mexico’s Riviera Maya has dramatically changed from a very remote and secluded jungle area into a modern and bustling international tourist destination with a rapidly growing population. The cave dive sites that were once impossible or difficult to visit are now becoming easily accessible. One of the problems is a cave that was once only a few have visited or explored are now available for everyone. Another problem is change. The few explorer cave divers who made the time and effort to explore and survey a cave are seeing their little world change. It is tough to let go of something you possessed and now have to share with the many. The act of tradition and the excuse of a string having some type of historical value have no place for the benefit for safety. It happened in Florida and the transition is happening in the Riviera Maya.


The following are suggestions whose aim is to make unsafe situations safer and better for cave diving. There is no right or wrong, only ideas to put forward for consideration. Because is it not every cave diver’s responsibility to make cave diving safer?


CENOTE CALIMBA


This very popular cave dive site is a small, windy passage that has a few minor restrictions along the route to the Paso De Lagarto line of the Grand Cenote. The line is frayed and beat up in many places, broken and repaired in one particular location. If any line needs to be replaced, this cave passage should be a high priority.



CENOTE CARWASH


Why does the permanent gold line upstream begin over 350 feet/ meters from outside the cave? During the past twenty years there has been countless number of complaints and frustrations from visiting cave divers trying to find the permanent upstream guideline. There are arguments such as tradition and a few local cave Instructors desiring the need for students practicing running the primary reel. So when does the needs of a few outweigh the needs of the many? Why can’t the permanent guideline begin closer?


The offshoot guideline known as the Madden/Turner passage leading to the Room of Tears was replaced in 2003 with a knotted #36 braided white nylon guideline.




CENOTE CRISTAL – NAHARON


During 1995, Jim Coke (before moving back to Texas) replaced the stained #18 twisted upstream main line with a larger braided white line all the way to Chac’s Room. He did this because the guideline had become dangerously stained dark brown and very difficult to visually follow. You can say that Jim really cared for safety. During the next eight years that guideline gradually became stained dark brown again. During 2003 the dark stained guideline to Chac’s Room was replaced again and another 800 feet/ meters added further. Two years ago the #45 guideline was ripped out and replaced with a #18 twisted line. Why?




It is recommended that the #18 twisted line be replaced (again) with a safer #45 guideline. It is also suggested that the jump from the main line to the Halocline Room line be eliminated and that the main line be one continuous guideline into Chac’s Room. There is no need for a jump at this location as it regarded as the main line.




CENOTE DOS OJOS


The upstream passage beyond the cavern zone is known as the IMAX passage. It passes by Cenote Tak Be Ha and reaches a very shallow water air dome before continuing further to several other outstanding areas of this cave system. The line is a #18 twisted string. This cave passage is a very popular dive for cave divers. A #45 gold or white guideline installed all the way to the air dome would be the proper solution in making this dive safer.




CENOTE EDEN


The upstream passage past Cenote Zacil on its way to Cenote Repair Shop is a section of cave that is small and consists of worn & damaged #18 twisted string. It is a popular route to traverse to Cenote Chickin Ha or reverse. This line should be replaced with safer and more dependable guideline.




SISTEMA DOS PISOS at CENOTE PIG




This cave is located 7 kilometers south of Tulum on Highway 307 on Rancho Campesino. The land owner is Roberto Canche Camara. A year ago a road was constructed all the way to this cenote making the accessibility much easier and convenient.




The beginning 300 feet/90 meters is a very low and silty (clay) passage that is #18 twisted line. It is frayed and worn in several places and repaired in one location. The configuration of the cave passage forces cave divers to have physical contact. As this cave continues to become popular, it is recommended that this unsafe line be replaced with a safer and more dependable #45 braided white or gold nylon guideline.




THE GRAND CENOTE


The upstream main line from the Grand Cenote to Cenote Ho Tul ends. There is a 60 foot/18 meter gap to the next line, which goes to the Cuzan Nah area. In the past, Cenote Ho Tul was accessible and a viable entry point into the cave system. During early 2008 an 8 foot/2.7 meter high green chain link fence was installed blocking all access to the cenote. Therefore, why is there need for a long gap? It is recommended that a continuous guideline be established eliminating the need for using a reel or spool to fill in the gap.




The jump from the main line to the Paso de Lagarto passage has been a long 70 feet/21 meter distance since 1990. Why is there such a need for a long distance in a big and wide-open area? This junction area has been the center for controversy for many years. Because of the tremendous popularity of this underwater cave, why have a long distance jump?




It is recommended that a short distance of 21 feet/7meters or less be established for a jump or better yet, make this junction area into a permanent intersection properly marked with directional arrows making this area safer and easier for all visiting cave divers.




During early November, 1990 Jim Coke replaced the exploration #18 line with a white braided #45 guideline between the Grand Cenote and the Cenote Ho Tul. In addition, he eliminated the jump between the two cenotes and made it into a jump to the Paso De Lagarto passage.




CENOTE JAILHOUSE “The Muknal Siphon Area”




This cenote was once very difficult to reach requiring a 6 – 8 minute hike to carry your equipment to the water. Not many cave divers had dive this site as it was not very well known, challenging and hard to find. Today, the land owner has made the cenote easily accessible with a very short distance to walk to the water and plenty of parking for vehicles and now very popular for cave diving.




The downstream passage leads the cave diver to some of the most gorgeous power saltwater cave passages in the Riviera Maya. To swim to these areas the cave passages are located in the shallow fresh water zone. The entire Naranjal cave system is fed by a huge swamp drainage area located ten kilometers further inland, thus a continuous feed of tannic acid. After so many years, the once white guidelines become permanently stained dark brown. Because the fresh water cave passages are also stained a dark brown to black colors, this makes following the guidelines visually very difficult. It is suggested that periodically the stained #18 twisted lines be replaced with fresh white #45 or #36 guidelines in making the navigation safer.






CENOTE NOHOCH NAH CHICH


From 1988 – 2004 this cenote was only accessible by hiking 40 minutes from Highway 307 with all equipment carried by horse or burro for cave divers to enjoy the cave. It was established as a business for the benefit of the Don Pedro Rodriquez Maya family and a dive store business in Puerto Aventuras. All cave divers who chose to dive Cenote Nohoch Nan Chich were always under a guide system program provided by the dive store business. The dive store business was sold and a huge Outdoor Adventure company based in Playa Del Carmen obtained the concession to Cenote Nohoch Nah Chich to organize and conduct snorkel group tours for tourists from a long list of hotel resorts under contract. Because of the volume of people to use the cenote an agreement was made with the Rodriquez family and the Ejido Jacinto Pat to make the trail into a drivable road financed by the Outdoor Adventure Company. Once that road was completed, Cenote Nohoch Nah Chich was easily available for all cave divers to dive and enjoy.


The physical characteristics of the cave system are similar to a huge river only underground. As the water drainage approaches Cenote Nohoch Nah Chich the cave passages spread into a huge delta area, thus a vast network of exploration lines. There have been a countless number of comments of frustration and confusion from cave divers in trying to determine where was the main line.




During the summer of 2006 the National Association for Cave Diving graciously donated $500.00 worth of braided #45 gold guideline to be installed into Cenote Nohoch Nah Chich as has been previously done is several other cave systems in the Riviera Maya. Due to a few logistical problems with delivery the gold line was finally installed with the blessing of the land owner Don Pedro Rodriquez in early November, 2006. A month later the gold guideline was ripped out by a local dive store business and replaced with #18 twisted strings.




The cenote continues to one of the more popular cave dives in the Riviera Maya and establishing a safe guideline designating it is the main line would be the right thing to do for safety.


CENOTE MINOTAURO


The upstream cave section begins as a very shallow and small passage with a few minor restrictions and was consisting of a worn and frayed #18 twisted line. Twice during the past two years the unsafe line was replaced with a #45 braided guide line with approval of the land owner. As of March, 2008 the second generation #45 braided white guideline was still in place.


CENOTE PET CEMETERY


This cenote was entirely inaccessible since being first explored during 1993 and 1994. During the past three years, the land owner has invested thousands of dollars in making this cenote accessible. His goal is to develop the site into a popular snorkeling and outdoor eco area for tourists and locals to use and enjoy at a modest admission fee. The plus side for cave diving is gaining access to more beautiful underwater cave. What is quickly developing and will become one of the premier cave dives in the Riviera Maya swimming to the incredible Blue Abyss Room. This dive is a 45+ minute swim that requires negotiating three jumps and two minor restrictions from Cenote Pet Cemetery.


The permanent line to the Blue Abyss Room was a cheap #18 twisted string. It has been broken and repaired in several places. As of May 2008 the entire route to the Blue Abyss Room was replaced with a #45 braided white nylon guideline. Their have been threats to rip out the safer guideline and put back in place a twisted #18 line.


Luis Leal – co-owner and operator of the Aqua Caves Dive Center located at the Dos Ojos road entrance has been put in charge of the cave management of Cenote Pet Cemetery and many other cenote cave dive sites. He fully supports safer guidelines for the popular cave passages.


CENOTE REGINA


This cenote is located 4.5 kilometers south of Tulum at Rancho La Herrencia. The basin to this cenote is a nasty algae and extremely silty area. The permanent guideline begins at the surface tied to a tree stump. It leads vertically down to a ledge and mid-size opening at 15 feet/4.5 meters depth. The silt conditions are horrible while exiting. It is recommended that a #45 braided guideline be installed the first 200 feet/60 meters to make entries and exits for cave divers safer.


CENOTE TAJ MAHAL


The cave passage beyond the cavern zone leading to the jump to the Chinese Garden room areas was a worn and frayed #18 twisted exploration string. This passage meanders all the way to a feature known as the “water fall”. The passage is very white and in the middle of a halocline in some areas. The passage leading into the two rooms known as the Chinese Garden area begins with a minor restriction, craggily limestone and some halocline. Twice safer #45 guidelines replaced the old #18 twisted lines; these two locations are now returned back to #18 twisted strings. A safer and more dependable guideline would be the safe solution.


The downstream passage to the Room of Cheers is used by many Cave Instructors for many training drills and the line is a worn and frayed #18 string. This cave passage could benefit with a safer and dependable guideline.


CENOTE XUNAAN HA


This cave dive site is located behind the village of Chemuyil near the power lines. This cenote offers easy accessibility and is a great site for cave diving training. The upstream line consists of a #18 twisted line. Beyond 700 feet/225 meters the passage becomes very small. It is recommended that this unsafe line be replaced with a safer #45 white or gold guideline.


THE GOLD LINES PROGRAM


The gold line program was initiated by the National Speleological Society – Cave Diving Section during the fall of 1988 after the drowning accident of a certified Basic Cave Diver on September 6, 1988 at Orange Grove Sink part of the Peacock Springs Cave System. The purpose of the gold Kerman tile guidelines and years later changed to a braided #45 gold guideline is to designate the main line of the cave system that leads straight out of the cave with a larger size and/or different color. The intent of this program is to help navigate inexperience cave divers or cave divers not familiar with the cave to better understand what is considered the direct way in and out of the cave system. Within a few years all the popular underwater caves of North Florida had gold lines installed. Years later the demand for gold guidelines for caves in the Bahamas, Missouri and Mexico followed. During the late 1990’s the National Association for Cave Diving jumped on the band wagon with their Safety Officer program supplying requests from cave divers who desired gold lines for underwater caves.


The following caves of the Riviera Maya have gold lines installed designating the main line of the cave system.


1. Cenote Aktun Koh. The main line completing the circuit through the Cenote


Bear’s Den. This cave is no longer available for cave diving.


2. Cenote Calavera (Temple of Doom) –The Madonna Passage, the Coliseum


Room and through the Hall of Giants Room.


3. Cenote Caracol (Labna Ha Eco Park) – the main line.


4. Cenote Carwash – upstream to Adrianna’s Room.


5. Cenote Chac Mool – upstream mainline all the way to Cenote Pascal.  Down stream to the Monster Room and past 150 feet/45 meters.


6. Cenote Dos Ojos – The downstream traverse to Cenote Dos Palmas to Cenote


High Voltage to Cenote Tapir’s End to Cenote Monolito.


7. Cenote Eden. The River Run Circuit back through Cenote Zacil and Cenote


Little Joe. The downstream passage to the Chapel Room air dome.


8. Cenote Mayan Blue - The “A’ tunnel 400 feet/121 meters past the Battleship


Room. The entire “B” tunnel.


9. Cenote Taj Mahal – The Jumna River passage and towards Cenote Buena


Vista.


The following cavern zones have gold lines installed:


1. Cenote Chac Mool.


2. Cenote Dos Ojos including the Bat Cave.


3. Cenote Eden.


4. Grand Cenote.


5. Cenote Taj Mahal.


6.  Cenote Calavera - Temple of Doom

7.  Cenote Pet Cemetery.

8.  Cenote Dreamgate.


This is a great program that has proven itself in making cavern and cave diving safer and better for everyone. The NSS-CDS performed a magnificent job of initiating this safety program and establishing safe guidelines in the underwater cave systems. The NACD followed up with their contributions. However, both organizations have become weary and frustrated with the bickering and fighting in Mexico along with their own problems in the State of Florida, USA. Several members of both organizations have stated why Mexico cannot take care of its own problems. I totally agree.


THE MONEY TO OBTAIN SAFE GUIDE LINES


I will recruit the necessary money. I can pledge a minimum $5,000.00 as many friends and supporters have informed me they are willing to donate to the worthy cause of making the underwater caves of the Riviera Maya safer. I personally pledge $500.00 to start this fund. As my friend Dan Orr - CEO and President of DIVERS ALERT NETWORK wrote me stating he would be very willing to donate money in the cause for safe cave diving. Because the majority of cave divers are from out-of-country, it would be appropriate if cave divers help make the cave safer. If you wish to help fund this worthy cause contact me at:






stevegerrard@cavediver.com






If you already know that you wish to donate$10.00, $25.00 or $50.00 to this GOLD SAFETY LINE for making cave diving safer in the Riviera Maya please send a check to:




STEVE GERRARD


2828 South McCall Road Suite 32


PMB 33


Englewood, Florida 34224



Because is it not every cave diver’s responsibility to make cave diving safer?