The majority of people will assume that “666” is the number of dives made. In this case, it is the amount of minutes spent on ONE dive, THE DIVE!
The idea behind this dive was to make a 666-minute cave dive, which roughly translates to an 11-hour bottom time. The purpose was so much more than just hitting a “cool” number. It was about the whole experience from the first second the idea was born, through out the entire planning stage, logistics, choice of cave, etc. For me it’s the planning and execution that makes a dive like this interesting. Choosing the right location was a large part of the planning. It needed to be a cave that has a fairly shallow average depth, due to gas logistics and the duration of the dive.
As we intended to dive backmount with a large amount of stage tanks, we had to make sure the cave route didn’t have any major restrictions that would make it difficult to pass. The cave also had to ideally have a long mainline, so we could travel easily for several hours. Of course, we are blessed here in Mexico with a large amount of choices. After some serious thinking, the cave of choice became Nohoch Nah Chich “The giant bird cage”. It more or less nailed all the different aspects we where looking for, including very friendly landowners that allowed us access to the property “off hours”.
In terms of configuration, we quickly realised this dive would be conducted in backmount. For me this was dictated by the amount of stage tanks that would be carried. Now, some people would argue that it would be no problem at all to make a dive like this in sidemount configuration. I totally respect that, but do not agree. Swimming with 8 80cf ALU tanks in sidemount configuration really defeats the purpose of sidemount. Choosing backmount allowed us to utilize the space on our backs with a twinset, and freed up our sides for 6 stage tanks. In total we were carrying just a few liters shy of 20,000L of gas each. A weekend in mid November 2015 was set as the target date for the dive itself. Not counting all the previous planning and equipment setup, the “dive” started on Saturday, with placement of two stage tanks at a preplanned location inside the cave. Knowing that we would definitely like to avoid carrying 16 tanks down the Nohcoh stairs before making an 11-hour dive, we made arrangements with the landowners that we could leave some of the equipment and tanks on site so it would be ready and easily accessible on the “big day.
All of the preparations went according to plan and only thing left to do was to get as much rest as possible before the dive. The Day We left Tulum at 3:30am, destination: Nohoch Nah Chich. Approximately half an hour later we arrived. One does not really think about it that much, but wow, the jungle is really, really, dark at night! As promised by the landowners the gate was closed, but not locked, success! Turning off the car and all the lights, it was pitch black, almost as black as inside a cave without lights. One thing that amazed us both was the nighttime sounds of the jungle, with all the creatures that it includes, and the gazillion stars in the sky. It was an amazing view and experience.
Due to the preparations the day before, we got dressed and into the water fairly quickly. We made a final check of drysuit integrity and also functionality of making a “number one”. When everything was sealed up and connected, we continued with pre-dive checks, gear matching, final run thru of the gas plan with actual pressures and visualization of the dive. Once good to go, we descended down into the darkness with the intent of not seeing daylight for the next upcoming 666 minutes. We started to follow the main line.
In all honesty, there are more comfortable things than carrying 4 full stage tanks with EANx32! In retrospect, putting some helium in the mix would probably have made a big difference, for the sole purpose of making the tanks a bit more positive! Full doubles and 4 stages has quiet some weight… But, no big drama, we made do! The dive was proceeding according to plan, using stages and dropping them one after the other. Also picking up the two stages placed on the previous day, exactly as planned. The cave itself was highly decorated and beautiful. With the amount of equipment one does not need to be a rocket scientist to figure out the pace of swimming was SLOW, which gave us the chance to really look at the cave.
Cruising along the main line, simultaneously ticking off significant cave features that we know and recognize, from looking at the map during the planning stage. There was a bit of flow going upstream, which really affects you when being as “streamlined” as one can be in back mount and a large amount of stage tanks. You can probably imagine the feeling when the last stage tank was dropped and the final part of the dive was with only doubles on our backs! That was a very liberating feeling in comparison to the beginning of the dive. It was almost as if we were flying through the water column. After passing a 9000 ft. distance marker and reaching 360-minutes/6-hours, which was the time we planned to turn the dive, we were now heading back. Slowly but surely picking up stages one after the other. Finally with all stages on we noticed a big difference between a full stage tank and a 1/3 used stage tank in terms of buoyancy characteristics. And as we rotated through the stages we breathed them down to 2/3’s empty on our way out. We leashed off the used tanks, they floated nicely out of the way, which was much more comfortable! Both of us were extremely pleased at how smoothly our dive had gone.
We came back to the start of the main line with 10 minutes to go. By the time we were completely out of the overhead environment and removed all of the stage tanks, minute 666 was coming up. We gave each other a big high five in the water and then finally ascended to the surface, where our “crew” Alberto Ripe and Alvaro Alvi were waiting with big smiles and ice cold Gatorade. Breathing fresh air, drinking ice cold Gatorade, and talking about the dive floating on the surface, will be a fond memory for a while to come. We were tired but had smiles stretching from ear to ear on both our faces! Alberto and Alvaro helped us to lift all of the tanks out of the water and load up the trucks. Driving back to Tulum was kind of a surreal feeling after having spent the last 666 minutes underground. We arrived back at Protec Tulum around 7pm where we unloaded everything and finished the day with a nice, well-deserved dinner with lots of people.
We would like to take the opportunity to say a big thank you Protec for the logistical support and gas filling. Alberto and Alvaro for taking the time to help us with all the equipment and especially the cold drinks at the second we surfaced, that was priceless! The day of the “666” finally came to it’s end!
Divers: Lelle Toth and Jaime De La Puerta Salazar
Article by Lelle Toth