Category — Training

Cave Survey and Cartography: The Key to a Deeper Connection

In December 2016, I managed to squeeze in a few days of Underwater Cave Survey and Cartography training with Kim Davidsson (ProTec manager, instructor, explorer) and Tamara (colleague, amazing diver, Melburnian). It was a great course (we expect nothing less from ProTec instructors), we learned about an aspect of cave diving that I had heard people talk about, but had never given too much thought to. We had a really interesting classroom session then made our survey slates before doing some dry surveying practice.

Custom Made Cave Survey Slate

One of the key things that came from the classroom session was the requirement to survey exploration lines (something I hope to do one day), because without the survey data, there is no point laying line. As Kim says, “if you don’t know where you’ve been, you have not been there…” As cave divers and cave explorers we have a responsibility to the rest of the community to share our discoveries and lay the path for future explorers and cave divers.  I am looking forward to continuing the “exploration” part of the workshop and I am excited to one day lay my own line in virgin passage and survey it.

The next day we went off to Cenote Carwash to practice surveying lines, before learning how to plug the data into a computer program (in this case Arianne’s Line). With the data in the program we were able to see the lines we had surveyed, and check how far off our errors were. It was a very cool experience and that really makes you appreciate the many hours of hard work that go into exploring and surveying caves!

Surveyors gear is specialized and redundent

After completing the survey workshop I wanted to put the new skills to practice. After some discussion with the guru, Kim, I decided my project would be to resurvey Mayan Blue. It has been an interesting experience to resurvey the lines in Mayan Blue for a number of reasons. Most importantly, it has been a great excuse to go down many of the lines that I had previously overlooked! I always knew it was a big cave, but diving and surveying gives a picture to this reality. I love to see the “big picture” growing together and knowing each section of cave intimately is very rewarding. Many times we dive caves a few times and then move onto other sites, but so many of the caves here are so big that each dive you can go somewhere new. After exhausting the options close to the entrances on back-gas (or side-gas), I then started to add stage tanks to my dives to get further back into the cave. Going down lines that don’t get frequently dived, where the guideline is covered in a layer of silt, is an exciting experience and shows how once you get off the beaten path there are many areas of busy caves that very few people dive.

Surveying during dives has been both a challenge and a reward. Practicing surveying has made my skills improve as my work flow and abilities with the survey slate get better. Developing these skills will continue to reward, already I have been able to survey faster and with greater accuracy. This is a clear case of what Protec teaches and believes – that courses give people an opportunity to learn and practice skills in a safe environment, but divers need to continue to practice these skills to improve them (and prevent their deterioration). From the perspective of developing new skills the course was a good start and every dive I have surveyed on since has continued to build on those skills.

Accurate collection and storage of cave survey data is essential to success.

Another reward is seeing the survey data once it has been entered into the computer (and doing many dives in the same cave) has really helped me to learn the cave and it’s lines. This is invaluable for guiding clients and being able to explain where a certain jump is, or drawing accurate stick maps of the lines, where arrows are and how long it takes to reach them. As it is, there is still much cave to resurvey so the project will continue! There is something cool about seeing the in water work you do turn into an accurate stick map.

For those cave divers who are interested in a new challenge, and would like to learn new skills I highly recommend the Underwater Cave Survey and Cartography course Protec teaches. It is great to gain an understanding of the survey process and all the work that goes into surveying cave passages.

May 9, 2017   No Comments

Ponderosa: Bringing Old School Back!

As a local Technical Cave Instructor from ProTec Dive Centres, I spend an awful amount of time at this Cenote. The reason for this is, ITS PERFECT for everything you need in a dive. If your Cavern or Intro level it has some amazing cave in the River Run. If your Full Cave and above, well it offers the perfect locations for Stage, Multi Stage and even DPV diving.

I was recently teaching a Cave/Navigation Refresher to a Full Cave diver. As we know our cave diving skills are perishable. If we don’t use it, we will lose it. So after a couple of dives at Ponderosa, we are chatting on the surface and he was like “Rob, this cave doesn’t offer much”. I laughed really, really, loudly (Yes ok again as everyone knows I laugh loudly ha ha) but I told him Ponderosa has kilometres of passageways, it’s a perfect place to cave dive, and to hone our skills as cave divers.

I got my white board out and put pen to paper so to speak. I showed him lines that he never knew existed. I told him about places you can dive whether you are SM, BM or DPV. Where you can stage/multi stages and dive for hours!


The next day he asked to go back to Ponde and for him to be shown some of these lines. On the first dive I decided to show him one such line in the cavern area. We tied in to the right and hugged the wall, descended sharply, took a right and hey presto, first line of the day. It goes right into a halocline, and it’s a pretty big cave.

If you travel on the mainline, you end up at the far end of the cavern line. It’s a pretty good circuit for beginners to complete after they are full cave trained, it is a complex circuit with 2 jumps and arrows facing in opposing directions. It’s a very silty place, with halocline pretty much all the way. You’re in fresh, then salt, then fresh, back into salt water, so it makes the dive team plan and think ahead. It also gave me chance to “wander” off the line to see how his awareness was. Great job, he caught me and told me to stay on the line.

Where the arrows go back to back, we jumped into a low silty bedding plain. Not really small just small enough for me to create a little bit of silt, to “help” him navigate his way home. It’s important to note that we were in SM configuration. So after the silt, and diminished visibility, out comes Mr Santi and now for him its lights out. He then made one of the most common mistakes by not clipping and stowing his primary light and thus leaving the light cable susceptible to entanglements. However, after a couple of reminders he did a really good job of packing it away and finding his way to the water surface. Great job dude came first … then came my debrief.

Second dive involved jumps, T’s and all in-between. I decided to take him into the River Run, jump to an unmarked jump off the main line, follow until end of line, jump to another line, and go left. When we came to the first of 3 T’s, we went right, right, and right again. At this point, I signal to the diver to hold, gave him my wet notes and I’ve already written down a question “what is the navigation to the surface” he completes the exercise, then Mr Santi comes out. Great job. He remembers his way home.

At the end of days debrief, he asks again to come back and be shown some more routes. How awesome is that, so of course we come back the next day!

As we pull up at Ponde in the morning were are discussing DPV diving and Multi Stage diving. He informs me that he would like to book a Stage class sometime, and would like to know where to dive after the Stage class. So, why not take him to the thunder cave I recently “discovered” when stage diving I thought.

Personally, I like to take the long route to this jump as it incorporates 4 jumps, so we can practice our navigation skills and team positioning skills along the way. Off we went into the river run, 1st jump right, end of line jump forward and go left, then 1st jump right after that. All jumps 1-3 executed well enough for me to be happy with them, there is always room to improve I guess, so not many notes in my wet notes for the debrief, however I did have some notes. We arrived at the EOL at jump #4. As you look at the EOL the jump is about 20m to the left midway on the wall. Just look for the dark cave that beckons you into it …

So far to date I’ve not gone far up this massive tunnel, it makes the River Run look small, therefore you could call it thunder cave right? We navigated our way down the tunnel say 10mins, we come across maybe 3 jumps already, but the darkness just keeps going. We hit thirds and turn, then he hits zero visibility. As this was his last day on the refresher course he also is the winner of an OOG diver in zero viz award, he also wins the entanglement award.

At the end of the day, sitting on the tailgate going over my wet notes, giving him his strong points, but also informing him of his weaker points, he tells me ponderosa is an amazing cave. Like I tell all my clients, we forget that these “older” caves that we train in are more than just the River Run or the Little Joe line. To be honest most cave divers and instructors do not spend enough time at these sites to really know what is there.

It seems to be the new trend to try to squeeze into new virgin cave, or visit Muyil as “I’m a sidemount diver I should dive small cave”. I always tell them, they are missing out on some awesome diving. Ponderosa is more than a training site, it is navigational heaven once you venture off the mainline, it is a DPV site, and it is a multi-stage site. By all means, please feel free to dive the caves “off the beaten track”, I do too whenever I can. However, what I am trying to say is don’t forget places like the Pit, Carwash and of course Ponde offer everything you need too.

I am currently involved in a personal project to dive these caves and learn new routes to take clients, to show you how good these sites can be. Right now in the pit I’m 3 dives into my project and I am already racking up bottom time of 19hours (CCR of course).

So you see, whatever you need, we here at ProTec can offer some advice, no matter if you dive with us or not, we are happy to give you some ideas of where to go.

Enjoy the caves, and Safe diving people!!!!!!!!!

June 15, 2016   2 Comments