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Saturday, August 30, 2014

SISTEMA K’OOX BAAL        “Wild Thing”

The land owners are numerous.  The primary land owner is Don Copertino Mass who lives in Tulum. The total distance explored and surveyed is 241,470 feet/73,600 meters. The maximum depth is 86 feet/ 26.2 meters.  There are 42 cenotes located within this cave system which ranks #4 in the world.  These are some of the cenotes named such as Cenote Balam Ts’al (Jaquar Track), Cenote Cab (Bee), Cenote Castillo, Cenote Chun Chechem (Fallen CheChem), Cenote Chalat, Cenote Chuuh (Fire Site), Cenote Coop One, Cenote Dos Pallapas, Cenote Ha’ak Kak (Banana Candle), Cenote Kot Be (Next to the Path), Cenote Ksel K’ax, Cenote Koi, Cenote Muk Wakal (Many Entraces), Cenote Nai Toucha, Cenote Nhoch Pa (Great Wall), Cenote Quitau (Wild Boar), Cenote Sac Ktu Cha, Cenote Sac Xib (White Man), Cenote Sac X’iquin (Little Tiger),  Cenote Shaman Ek, Cenote Side Mount, Cenote Sootz (Bat), Cenote Tan Ich and Cenote Tres Estrellas.

This cave system was connected with Sistema Tux Kapaxa on December 9th, 2011 by Daniel Hutnan and Miroslav Manhart.

“The joining of the K’oox Baal and Tux Kapaxa caves created the fourth-longest underwater cave system in the world with a total length of 56 kilometers.  It is the biggest cave system in the world that has of its spaces mapped!  The making of this connection is the symbolic high-point of many years of endeavor.  We’ve made hundreds of dives in the caves of this region and spent thousands of hours in the waters.  We’ve spent hundreds more hours researching and hacking ways through unknown, dangerous jungle, transporting and maintaining our equipment, driving cars, and overseeing endless repairs to them. We’ve known joy and disappointment.  We’ve celebrated our success boisterously but always been humble in the face of nature’s monumental works.” - The Czech Spelelogical Survey Team

The Situational Map as it Stands in 2012.

Between 2006 and the end of 2011 over 30 kilometers of new space was discovered in the K’oox Baal cave system, thus extending its length to 120,541 feet/36,741 meters.  In the same period almost 7 kilometers of space was discovered in the Tux Kapaxa cave and it was successfully joined to the Cenotes Quintan and Sac X’quin, extending its length to 65,124/19,850 meters.  On December 9, 2011 the two cave systems in a single system – which still bears the name K’oox Baal – was discovered, bringing its length to 246,522 feet/75,140 meters and moving it into fourth place in the table of the world’s underwater caves.  At the same time it is longest cave in the world whose entirety – including contours and fills – is mapped.

To dive any part of this massive cave system you first must have permission from the particular land owner.  They are listed under each major cenote entry point listed.  To get there drive west on the Chemuyil Road approximately 8 kilometers and you are at a four-way intersection.  For Cenote Ko’ox Baal you will turn right and head north and gradually the road will go westward then south.  For Cenotes Coop One, Nai Tucha, and Tres Estrellas and you will turn left and drive south.

The first explorers from the Sistema Tux Kapaxa side were Gunnar Wagner and Robbie Schmittner.  The first explorers from the Sistem Koox Ba’al were Bil Philips and Robbie Schmittner.

Other explorers were Steve Bogearts, Petr Chmel, Miloslav Dvoracek, Harry Hicks, Radoslav Husak, Daniel Hutnan, Martin Hutnan, Karol Kyska, Radek Jancar, Andres Labarthe, Miroslav Manhunt, Michal Megela, Theirry Minet, Zdenek Motycka, Bil Philips, Sabine Schnittger, Wulf Schubert, Jan Sirotek, Sarka Stepanova, Kamila Svobodova, and Radoslav Teichmann, Max and Laura Tobey.


This book, heavily illustrated with color photographs, describes the series of expeditions to Quintana Roo from 2003 through 2012 during which Czech cave divers explored and mapped the 75-kilometer-long underwater Sistema K'oox Baal. K'oox Baal is the fourth longest underwater cave in the world, and the longest one for which a real map, not just a line plot, has been drafted. The book includes a color 18-by-22-inch folded map plate showing the system and its forty-four cenote entrances. Embedded among the chapters listed below are thirteen illustrated essays on special topics such as equipment and techniques.

Tuesday, August 19, 2014


Saturday, August 16, 2014

CENOTE ICH BALAM        “The Jaguar Eye”
16Q 0455374 UMT 2246378

The land owners are Alex Alverez, Alberto Nava Blank and Franco Attolini.  The maximum depth of this cenote is 29.5 feet/9 meters.  It is located 197 feet/60 meters east of the famous “Hoyo Negro” or Black Hole pit that is 187 feet/57 meters deep.  Most of the bottom of Hoyo Negro ranges from 120 feet/36.6 meters to 165 feet/50.3 meters.  There are warning signs both in English and Spanish warning cave divers not to enter the Hoyo Negro area.
The road to this cenote is approximately 400 feet/120 meter past Cenote Outland on your left side.  There is a locked gate with a green chain liked fence surrounding the entire property.  The road has been smoothed with sascab and you can drive almost a kilometer to the cenote opening.
There is a steep set of wooden steps with rail that descends 25 feet/7.6 meters to a large floating deck area that allows safe entry into the water for cave divers and scientists.    Guillermo De Anda and other members of the Facultad de Ciencias Antropologicas at the Universidad Autonoma de Yucatan and Dominque Rissilo of the Waitt Institute are conducting archeological studies along with the Instituto Nacional de Antropologia e Historia – Pilar Luna Erregueerena of the Subdireccion de Arqueeologia Subaquatica of INAH and Adriana Velazques Morlet of Centro INAH Quintana Roo.

There are no bathroom facilities.

Friday, August 15, 2014


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Steve Gerrard stirred his coffee slowly as a lazy Sunday morning in 1991 began at Spring Systems Dive Center in Luraville, Florida: “cave country” for those in the know. He still had some time to kill before his cave diving class would begin and he turned the pages of the Sunday paper with growing boredom. Just after 9:00 AM, the phone range and right away he knew this was not going to be a typical weekend.
The caller was Vivian Indriago from Venezuela. Gerrard remembers, “She was distraught. A good friend of hers, Gustavo Badillo, was lost in an underwater cave. He’d already been missing over 12 hours and it was hard to hold much hope that he’d be found alive.”

Gustavo and a diving partner, Eduardo Wallis, had decided to dive the Riito de Acarite cave in search of a legendary underground lake reported by earlier British explorers in 1973. This river cave would be rated as extremely hazardous by even the top cave diving professionals. The entrance is gained from the base of a mountain surrounded by dense, virtually impenetrable jungle at nearly 2500 feet elevation. The bottom is fine mud silt rendering visibility limited under the best conditions and water temperatures hover at about the mid-6o’s F.

The setting was challenging enough and the two buddies were well experienced divers (Gustavo was credentialed as an instructor), but neither were formally trained as cave divers. This fundamental requirement had been ignored and now one man was missing and presumed dead. Gerrard quickly listened to enough details of the dive to assess the situation.

“Both divers had entered the water at 8:00 PM Saturday night without a guideline from outside the cave, but carrying a 100 foot spool of thick rope. They were each using a single 80 tank, one regulator, no alternate air source, and three lights,” he related. “Gustavo was wearing a wet suit in the chilly water and Eduardo a dry suit. They also carried an orange float ball attached to a chest harness by a 15 foot rope. They began the dive following a cave wall underwater. The visibility was about ten feet as they fumbled their way deeper into the system and emerged into a small air chamber.”

Unfortunately, their swimming quickly stirred up the silt bottom and reduced the visibility to zero. Then they realized that they had become separated and were lost.  Trying to stave off panic, they groped around in the turbid dark water and only became further confused. Gustavo floundered into another small air pocket and surfaced. Although he could not see Eduardo, at least they could talk to each other. They grimly discussed the seriousness of their situation for several minutes as their air supply trickled down. It was agreed that each would try to find their way out independently.

Eduardo set out and began a terrifying exodus that kept him swimming into walls and dead ends. After seemingly endless searching, he miraculously stumbled out of the cave into the night jungle atmosphere. But Gustavo was still inside! Eduardo had no way of knowing if he was still in an air pocket or lost in an underwater tunnel. In spite of being critically low on air, he made several futile trips back into the cave in a desperate attempt to find his friend. Finally, with dawn peering through the rain forest canopy, he abandoned the solo rescue effort and sought help.

Gerrard knew the odds of finding Gustavo alive were absurdly low in the cold water and limited oxygen of an air pocket if he had managed to avoid drowning in the tunnels. But the Badillo family were willing to charter a private jet to transport two expert cave divers to the site in hopes of saving their son. Would Steve be willing to try?

“I knew we were probably really going after a body recovery, but I kept quiet and said we’d be ready as soon as the plane landed. I contacted John Orlowski who was another cave instructor with a lot experience with river caves down in Belize and Mexico. John dropped everything and started assembling the gear we’d need. Time was critical. We had to get everything together and be at the Gainesville airport in 10 hours. I wasn’t even sure where my passport was but I assured the Badillos we’d be there and find Gustavo,” Steve remembers.

By 10:45 PM that night, Gerrard and Orlowski were flying at 20,000 feet over Florida beginning the 1200 mile trip to Venezuela. They worried about overzealous, but well-meaning amateurs trying a rescue before they got there and discussed the grim scenario of bringing out the body in the difficult conditions they would face. Finally landing at 5:30 in the morning, they found that dense fog in the mountains had canceled their helicopter flight to the cave site. A mad scramble ensued to load a Jeep with all the gear and cram people into the remaining space.

What followed then could have come right from an Indiana Jones script. Steep grades, impossible curves, potholes, washed out bridges, and various animals were all part of the picture as they crossed a 6000 foot mountain range to begin the descent into the dense jungle valley. Gerrard smiles ruefully, “Somehow we made it to the cave site and there were 18 people standing around a bunch of tarps with 20 scuba tanks and a portable compressor. They helped us move the equipment we’d brought on the plane down a muddy, slippery path. I thought our twin sets of doubles would finish them off, but suddenly it was just past 8:00 AM Monday morning and it was time to dive.”

Thirty six hours had passed since Gustavo had originally entered the cave and both Gerrard and Orlowski gave him no chance of survival. They flipped a coin to see who would run the guideline. John tied off the line on a surface rock projection and disappeared into the muddy water. Visibility was six inches or less and both divers had to swim about forty feet before going under the rock overhead. Orlowski followed the left cave wall with Gerrard barely able to see his fin tips. The guideline was taut as both men peered into the void hoping for any glimpse of terrain similar to what Eduardo had described.
“After what seemed like an eternity, we swam into a shallow air chamber and surfaced. I bumped into something and felt it move away. We looked around expecting to see a floating body but only found the orange float Gustavo had worn on his harness. This was totally nuts! Who in their right mind would dive this?”, Gerrard continued. “I didn’t even think we could find the body in these conditions. He could easily have swum into a side passage or hole where we could pass him several times and never find him. The thought of just staying put for a couple of hours where we were and then lying about looking for Gustavo crossed our minds. I mean, why risk two more lives for a guy who was surely dead? But we pressed on.”

The search seemed like hours down one tunnel after another with no results. John had gotten ahead of Steve and suddenly began flashing his primary light. Gerrard figured he had found the body and steeled himself for the gruesome apparition. He surfaced in another air chamber pool larger than the first. “John began to stand up and I saw a reflection of something else. It was moving. Holy Glory, it’s a human, he’s alive! I couldn’t believe it.

“Gustavo was in two feet of water, stumbling toward John in shock. We yelled that we were Americans, was he OK? He reached out and hugged us both in euphoria.”
Gustavo explained that he had thought they were angels coming to take him to heaven when the divers’ lights lit up the air chamber from underwater. He had lost all hope of being found. Incredibly, he was in good shape, although quite cold and still wearing his wet suit. Steve tied off a new reel inside the room and hurried back to the cave entrance to tell those waiting outside the good news.
“He’s alive. He’s OK!” The crowd was stunned and then erupted in cheers.

Gerrard grabbed a bottle of water with glucose to replenish Gustavo’s fluids and bolster his weakened condition. Checking his air pressure, he swiftly returned to the chamber where Gustavo had been entombed. Only thirteen minutes had elapsed. Now a crash course in emergency cave diving procedure was initiated with Gustavo an eager student. He would breathe from John’s long hose second stage while the two veterans sandwiched him between them on the long swim out. After more than a day and half in the darkness waiting to die, he surfaced into the arms of his family and friends and collapsed.

Later, huddled by a fire wrapped in blankets to warm him after the ordeal, he thanked his rescuers and offered a prayer. The fog lifted and a helicopter landed to fly him out for follow-up hospital care. Gerrard and Orlowski retrieved the lines from the cave and gathered their equipment for the torturous journey back over the mountains. It was just past 10:00 AM when they were packed and ready to go. A little over 24 hours had passed since Steve’s Sunday morning coffee had been interrupted.

Wednesday, August 13, 2014


By Steve Gerrard, NACD & PSAI Instructor #39

Muyil (it is known by the Maya people as Chunyaxche) is the name of an archaeological Maya site and a village located about 20 twenty kilometers of the City of Tulum in the State of Quintana Roo along the western coast of the Caribbean on the Yucatan peninsula of Mexico.   It is within the boundaries of the Sian Ka’an Biosphere. 
The Sian Ka’an Biosphere Reserve was established on the 20th, January 1986 by presidential decree (under President Miguel de la Madrid Hurtado) and became part of UNESCO’s Man and the Biosphere (MAB) program that same year. In 1987 the reserve was declared a UNESCO World Heritage Site.

Sian Ka’an is approximately 1.3 million acres in size and spans 120 kilometers from north to south (comprising almost one third of the Caribbean coast of Mexico). In 1994 an area of over 200,000 acres to the south of the Reserve was named a protected area of Flora and Fauna of Uaymil, increasing the continuous area of protected land.
The Muyil archaeological site was inhabited by the Maya when people migrated from Peten, Guatemala during the fourth century AD.  Many artifacts and pottery that were found have been dated to as far back as the year 350 BC and remained inhabited until the years of 1200 – 1500.

The ruins of Muyil are an example of the architecture of the Peten region with some architectural resemblance to the ruins of Tikal of Guatemala. Its position in the lagoon of Sian Ka’an provided a strategic position on the trade route of the Maya people along the coast and through a network of waterways in this region of the Mexican Caribbean.

By order of the Ejido Chuyaxche the Muyil area caves are officially open for cave diving.  There is NO cavern diving in any of the cenotes of Muyil.  There is a cenote dive site fee for full day access to all Muyil caves with the fee paid to the Diconsa mini super market located directly across the street from the Muyil ruins entrance.  Muyil area caves include Sistema Nohoch Pek and Sistema Caterpillar.  The Secretary for the Ejido Chanyaxche and all annexes is Juan Bolotista Kau Cen. His phone number is 984 116 5292.


The land owner is the Ejido Pino Suarez.  The linear distance explored and surveyed is 2753 feet/839.1 meters as of May, 2014.  The maximum depth is 70 feet/21.3 meters.

Drive to a trail approximately 100 meters pass the overhead sign shown below and turn right into a vacant field and continue following this jungle road for approximately two kilometers.  Park vehicle and hike another 160 meters and turn right (north).  It is 57 meters from the trail.            


The first explorers were Nadia Berni, Privett, Pye and David Sieff.

The linear distance explored and surveyed is 44,134 feet/13452 meters as of April, 2014.  There are four cenotes located within this cave system.  They are Cenote La Bajada, Cenote Bobcat, Cenote Escamas, and Cenote Dzulo (Xulo).
The first explorers were Sebastian Kister and Rick Hakin.  Other explorers were Nadia Bernie, Mauro Bordignon, Kim Davidsson, Pietro Donaggio, Henrik Farnbo, J.F Huard, Philip Lehman, Jason Renoux, Alvaro Roldan, David Sieff, and Patrick Widmann.

The land owner is the Ejido Chuyaxche.   The maximum depth of this area is 89 feet/27.1 meters.

Drive south of the village of Muyil on Highway 307 past the first curve and travel approximately a half of a kilometer.  Look for a road to the right and follow it a ½ kilometer and the jungle will open into a large unused limestone quarry.  You will find the opening on the far side.  The best dive is the “Ho Lee Sheet” passage.   There are two sets of ancient bear remains including very well preserved feet and claws.  Be sure to register with the Ejido Chuyaxche before you dive.

The dive site fee is paid at the Diconsa mini super market located directly across the street from the Muyil ruins entrance.                    


The land owner is Senor Dzulo (the correct spelling) who sadly passed away during the spring of 2014.  His family now operates the dive site.  The family calls this cenote Cueva De Golondrinas – “Cave Of The Swallows”.  The maximum depth is 89 feet/27.1 meters.

There are bathroom facilities available.
There is a dive site fee paid here.


The linear distance explored and surveyed is 39,488 feet/12036 meters as of June, 2014.  The maximum depth is 48 feet/14.6 meters.   There are two cenotes located within this cave system.  They are Cenote Doggi and Cenote Style.   Side mount configuration ONLY is allowed.

The explorers were Victoria Alexandrova, Mauro Bordignon, Kim Davidsson, Pietro Donaggio, Santiago Pintado, Harry Gust, Sebastien Kister, Arnaud Leblant, Phillip Lehman, Ralph Naruszewicz, Alvaro Roldan, Jason Renoux, Alvaro Roldan, and Patrick Widmann.


The land owner is Jose Segoviano Martinez.  The maximum depth is 48 feet/14.6 meters.
This cenote is located within the village of Muyil ½ kilometer south of the Diconsa mini super market located directly across the street from the Muyil ruins entrance.  You take a right and drive back to a gate, unlock the gate with a key obtained at the Protec Dive Center in Tulum, enter, close the gate and drive to the “new” palapa and equipment tables constructed for cave divers.

There are bathroom facilities, equipment tables and palapa available.
The dive site fee is paid at the Protec Dive Center in Tulum and a Side mount certification card must be presented.

The land owner is the Ejido Chuyaxche.  The maximum depth is 48 feet/14.6 meters.

The dive site fee is paid at the Protec Dive Center in Tulum and a Side mount certification card must be presented.


The land owner is Lic. Javier Tun Jimenez.  His email address is:  The linear distance explored and surveyed is 478 feet/145.7 meters.  The maximum depth is 27 feet/8.2 meters.
This is a small cave system that requires side mount configuration.

There are bathroom facilities available.
There is a user’s fee charged.
The explorer was Robbie Schmittner.
There is a cartography map produced Lucas Tietz and Roth.


The land owner is the Ejido Pino Suarez.  The linear distance explored and surveyed is 7092 feet/2161.6 meters.  The maximum depth is 44 feet/13.4 meters.  There are five cenotes within this cave system.   They are Cenote Kiix Pepem, Cenote Kiix Pepem, Cenote Sac Pepem, and two others.

This cave system is located west of the village of Muyil.
The first explorers were Natalie Gibb, Anders Knudsen and Vincent Rouquette-Cathela.


The land owner is the Ejido Chuyaxche.   The linear distance explored and surveyed is 78,430 feet/23,905 meters.  The maximum depth is 61 feet/18.6 meters.  There are eight cenotes located within this cave system.  They are Cenote Alvaritos, Cenote Black Spyder, Cenote Quicky, Cenote Muk K’in, Cenote Rat’s Hole, Cenote Second Look and two more.
The explorers were Laurent Benoit, Mauro Bordignon, Kim Davidsson, Natalie Gibb, Harry Gust, Sebastien Kister, Anders Knudsen, Philip Lehman, Jason Renoux, Alvaro Roldan, Vincent Rouquette-Cathela, TristanTermat, and Patrick Widmann,


The land owner is the Ejido Chuyaxche.   The maximum depth is 58 feet/17.7 meters.  This cenote was connected into Sistema Nohoch Pek on Friday, 30th, 2013.  Drive one block past the Diconsa mini super market located directly across the street from the Muyil ruins entrance.  Be sure to pay the dive site fee.  Drive west four blocks where the road ends and park your vehicle.  Hike back following the trail approximately 400 meters and look for path on the left side (south) and a short distance is the cenote.  The entry is side mount only.       


The land owner is unknown.  The maximum depth is 58 feet/17.7 meters.   It is located by following the same path to Cenote Muk K’in but 200 meters closer to Highway 307.  Turrn south and hike ¾ of a kilometer.
The dive site fee paid to the Diconsa mini super market located directly across the street from the Muyil ruins entrance.
The first explorers were Natalie Gibb, Anders Knudsen and Vincent Rouquette-Cathela.

SISTEMA SAC PEPEM   “White Butterfly”

The land owner is unknown.  The linear distance explored and surveyed is 6365 feet/1940 meters.  The maximum depth is 47 feet/14.3 meters.  There are four cenotes within this cave system.

This cave system is located on the property of the the Ejido Chuyaxche.
The first explorers were Natalie Gibb, Anders Knudsen and Vincent Rouquette-Cathela.

SISTEMA SAC PEPEM   “White Butterfly”

The land owner is unknown.  The linear distance explored and surveyed is 6365 feet/1940 meters.  The maximum depth is 47 feet/14.3 meters.  There are four cenotes within this cave system.

This cave system is located on the property of the the Ejido Chuyaxche.
The first explorers were Natalie Gibb, Anders Knudsen and Vincent Rouquette-Cathela.

This is a sample of my new eBbook “THE CENOTES OF THE RIVIERA MAYA 2014.  It will be published late August, 2014.


THE CANCUN BEACH AREA 1970 versus today.

This was the CANCUN BEACH peninsula of 1970 in its beginning construction phase.

THIS IS CANCUN BEACH area of today.  


THIS "STICK" MAP was a fun project during the summer of 1999.

My new eBook will be available late August, 2014.

Email me if you wish for a copy at: