Project Participants and Sponsors
Aquatech/Villa De Rosa
Ocean Management Systems
Dive Rite Inc.
Rick’s Dive’N Travel
Safe and Sound
Friday, April 27, 2001 –
The mission for the last day of the Akumal 2001′ Survey Expedition had team 1 (Mike, George, Terrence) and Team 2 (Andy and Mark) headed to the same destination with two different objectives (Team 1 was to continue the push on Allison’s line and Team 2 would video the spectacular beauty in the newly discovered passage).
Team 1 would leave 10 minutes before Team 2 and stage their bottles in an area past Allison’s room on the line that was surveyed yesterday (normally the team would stage in an area just prior to Allison’s room as to not risk damaging any of the amazing decorations in this area). As the team passed through Allison’s room, they took extra precautions with their navigation and buoyancy skills!
As Team 1 starts their push on Allison’s line, Team 2 is arriving to their staging area at the last junction (“T” intersection just prior to Allison’s room).
After carefully negotiating through Allison’s room, Team 2 started to video the amazing passage that lies beyond. Soda straw stalactites, flowstone, monolithic columns, and huge areas of breakdown are encountered during the route.
One of the most spectacular sights along Allison’s line is a huge monolithic column located in a highly decorated room about 200′ down the passage. As the explorers from Team 1 passed through the area for the first time yesterday, George said that the column reminded him of a “wrought-iron” gate protecting the southern entrance to Allison’s room.
Adding to the 600+ feet of line that was laid and surveyed yesterday did not come as easy today. Once past the monolith Team 2 quickly tied on to the end of yesterday’s line and traveled further into this yet unknown region. They encountered an area of highly decorated miniature formations which was appropriately named “Fantasyland”. Shortly after Fantasyland the team encountered an apparent end to this marvelous passage; however, the entrance to a fabulously decorated room rivaling anything yet discovered was beckoning from 25 feet above the divers. While Terrence secured the exploration line, George went vertical and was rewarded with a view that will be forever etched in his memory. As he illuminated the passage he was amazed to discover that it lead through was has been named “Therese’s Balcony” . With time running short the Team had little time to absorb in detail nature’s magnificent handiwork. Continuing on the team was able to add an additional 300′ of line but too soon came to an area where further passage could not immediately be found. As Terrence and George searched for a way passed the apparent end of the tunnel as Mike continued to spool off line and make the appropriate tie offs. The team came to an area that was not passable even with sidemount gear configurations and the large chunks of percolation coming down from the ceiling of the small passage quickly made the visibility less than desirable. Securing the exploration line to a tie off, the team began to survey it’s way back toward the exit.
Mark and I are holding near a giant column. We’re doing some video, waiting for team one to arrive. About twenty minutes later, we see a distant glow. Like something out of a Star Wars movie, the beams from their HID (high intensity discharge) lights look like blue light sabers. It’s an awesome sight as they silently move past our position. We’re intruders here. It’s a solemn world. Totally dark and silent. Time is measured in change, a tiny stalactite breaking free on its own from the ceiling and settling into the silt is a major event in a cave. We need to keep our perspective on it It’s definitely humbling…
Surveying in a cave is task loading. There’s lots to do and coordinate. As Mike takes the azimuth for the heading, he’s using a small compass placed on top of the line, at the same time, he’s also keeping track of the distance by counting the number of knots in the line (placed every ten feet.) The data recorder, George, is responsible for recording the information on a small hand held slate. Cave divers have their own form of sign language, obviously, they can’t simply talk to each other with open circuit gear, so they use hand signals to communicate the numbers and type of information being relayed. The third diver in the team, Terrence, is responsible for verifying the data being collected. Keep in mind, all of this is being done while maintaining buoyancy, clearing ears to depth changes, avoiding the formations, avoiding entanglements with the line, holding the lights, controlling breathing, marking the line with the appropriate directional markers, etc… It’s not merely following a line….
It’s a miniature cave system all in one compact place. Top to bottom it’s only three feet high. Everything is in tiny from. We almost expected to see little gnomes pop their heads out from behind the columns.
Mike St. Germain
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