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GUE Cave 1 course report - Part 7

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OK, so the course is now well underway and things are getting more complex. We've made our way to cenote Taj Mahal, which is just one of the most awesome places we saw in Mexico.

It's a circular cenote with stairs that lead to an island in the centre. Cave passageways radiate outwards in al direction from the crescent moon shaped water. I've got some pictures but the camera was having problems with the heat so they are not great. Instead, I found a suitable video on youtube to share with you.

It was a stunning place, but definitely deeper in the jungle as the spiders and insects were getting bigger. It caused me to swear for the first time in front of the ever professional Danny when a wasp the size of a seagull flew past my face and I simply announced "f*ck this for a game of soldiers, I'm going diving".

We kicked off the day with the line crossing out of gas blind exit. OK, I should probably explain that. The concept is that we try to lay line in the middle of the cave, so that if we had to exit blind we could do so easily. Sometimes this isn't possible, so one side may be restricted. Or the geometry of the cave may simply force you to lay line in a particular manner. So what we practice is to exit the team blind, with the team crossing the line several times. This is considerably more tricky than it might sound in complete blackness. Diver 1 finds the restriction, signals cross the line to diver two, who then signals the same to diver three. All three divers now go into a particular drill depending on their position in the team. For example the diver at the back has to break touch contact and swim backwards, whilst dropping their head to the line to maximise the amount of spare long hose and putting them in a feet up position. Diver two does the same, but only swims back the length of one person, with both diver 2 and diver 3 ending up with their heads close to the line and feet up. Diver 1 is just counting, trying to give the team enough time to get into position. then the team moves, with everyone's feet going over the heads of the person behind so you don't kick out a reg or mask. I'm sure it looks cool when a team pulls it off, but unfortunately it's always pitch black. Everyone is protecting the out of gas diver. We mocked this up countless times on dry land to make sure it was smooth, and then kitted up quickly due to the heat and got into the water. 

We found the hundreds of bats flying around our heads to be a little distracting, but went through our GUE-EDGE, bubble check and mod S and then descended. This was just going to be another Danny-style dive. So swim in, practicing laying line and generally enjoying the cave, then turn the dive at an agreed pressure, and then mayhem and carnage would ensue. Off we went. We spent quite some time identifying the correct line and tying off to it and then went into what was now becoming muscle memory. Check the gas, flow check, check the compass to get an idea of the way out, check the depth, all whilst starting the swim into the cave. It was really was very beautiful, but unfortunately Danny had a lot to do so no sooner had we relaxed into the darkness than the dive was turn and all hell let loose. Neil's primary light torch. I unclipped a backup and gave it to him, but I had neglected to turn it on so Danny took it off me. Then regs started failing. Things were getting more complicated now. It wasn't just a question of shutting down a reg, you had to work out if the other person had anything to breathe before you did so. If not, you'd have to give them someone's primary reg and then try to diagnose the problem. So valves were failing and long hoses passing back and forth whilst the team tried to work out what gas we had left and what valves were left working. Eventually, Imogen was left out of gas, and I was left donating to her, when ALL the lights failed. OK, well, that's quite a sobering moment. Plenty of time because I can hear Imogen breathing nice and slow so she' clearly chilled out. Neil must be in position one. Have I got the line? Yes. Awesome. OK feel up the line. Imogen has the line too. OK protect the long hose and two pushes. Imogen moves up the line in the blackness. I wait. She finds Neil. The team is now in touch contact with the long hose protected. Two strong pushes from me and we are off, swimming out about as fast as we swam in. Every now and again I get a signal to stop as the team encounters a tie off, which has to be inspected by touch by the entire team. We don't want to be swimming off on the wrong line into another part of the cave. That would be unfortunate. Then there's a pause and I get the signal from Imogen to cross the line. I move my head to the line to lengthen the amount of long hose Imogen has. Now I back kick about the distance of two people, or what I think is the distance. I can feel the wash from Imogen's fins so I know she's coming back too. Then I go a bit further. I grip the line and long hose to protect it and move into a 45 degree position, feet up, head down. The guys should be in position now, so I swim over the line and cross hands. I go back into a flatter trim and then slowly take up the slack in the long hose whilst finning forward gently. I feel along the line and find Imogen's hand. Push, push, she moves forward. Pause. Push, push. The team is now moving together again on the other side of the line.

We switched sides maybe 5 times on the way out until Danny decided he had seen enough and stopped the team by putting the lights on. I was a little disappointed that we hadn't swam all the way out, but it turns out he had stopped us for another reason. It was time to do Imogen and Neil's lost line drill. Danny wasn't forgetting anything, and I wondered if like me he kept an actually checklist of skills for each diver. I was put on the line and told to stay still in the darkness with my hand firmly gripping the line. I figured it couldn't hurt so I kept my eyes open and watched what happened next. I saw Danny lead Neil to one side of the line, flash his torch at the mainline and then it all went dark. A little while later I saw him lead Imogen off to the other side of the line, a flash, and then back to darkness. The guys had their eyes closed as well so saw nothing but there was a faint glow from the cavern a little further ahead and I could make out shadows. I saw Danny put each team member's SPG back through their manifold and shine his torch on it to make it glow. That answered the question of how the hell he knew where we all were. Then I saw a cloud of silt rising. This would be Neil and Imogen scrabbling on the bottom trying to find a primary and secondary tie off for their spool. It was really quite ethereal. I couldn't see much because it was very dark, but I could see shadows scrabbling about and the cloud of silt slowly rising. 

Eventually, the lights came back on. Danny showed the guys how they had got on and then came and got me. I could see they had both found the line and tied up nicely. To be fair, they had both done a slightly nicer job of it than I had done the previous day, but hey ho. We were back on the line, and swimming out again. As we approached the cavern area, I received a finger tapping on my mask the signal to give it to Danny. I did so and immediately felt Imogen grasp my arm. Now we had touch contact in place I went into my pocket, got my other primary (I don't believe in a backup mask, I just have two masks) mask out of my pocket and put it on. And off we go again. 

Debrief and Danny appeared pretty pleased. We were now starting to do an event by event description of the dive as a team, which encourages everyone to give and take feedback, and also tests your awareness of what was going on. How much gas did we have at the start of the mainline. What colour was the line, what type of line. How many jumps did we see. what was your compass heading, your maximum and average depth. How much gas did you have at the turn. then on the way back, what failed first, then what happened, what did you do, why. What else could we have done. What might have been better. Then what happened. Why did we do that. etc. etc. To be honest we were picking up minor issues, what I could call fine tuning, rather than anything too dramatic. 

We then had lunch before going back in for a second dive. This was basically more of the time, with the pressure being gradually increased. However, Danny added another drill into the mix. We had discussed the unconscious diver recovery on the surface, and now it was time to give it a try. I'm pretty good at this drill as I have to demonstrate it a lot, but doing it in a cave is quite different. the concept is that you get rid of everything that might affect buoyancy accept the victims wing and use that to lift you both, so you are on top of the unconscious diver, keeping their airway open. Being behind them vertically doesn't work in cave or wreck. Neither does being in front of them. The only way that works inside an overhead environment AND open water is being on top of them horizontal. so you can change position going up. Which is what we did. Danny made us swim our unconscious diver out of the cave. This means changing direction whilst swimming, getting through minor restrictions. It also means making use of the team. If it takes you twenty minutes to swim an unconscious diver out of the cave there is no point one person doing all the work when you can put that person down, and the other team member can pick them up. You lose very little time if the switch is smooth and it means the actual swim out time is probably faster. Danny warned us not to pick stupid places to put the victim down. He told me to swap at the bottom of a 5 metre incline and minor restriction, so I ignored him and swam to the top, where the cave opened up a bit and the peak of the incline was like a table top. Imogen took over carrying Neil. the trick is to get both of you perfectly neutrally buoyant with the one wing. you can then do anything. Swim backwards, turn, etc. At one point Danny made me do a flow check whilst carrying Neil. This meant letting go of Neil completely whilst manipulating my valves. The point he was proving is that once you are "locked" to your victim in the right position. then you can do anything you want. So we swam each other out of the cave. 

However, you may have forgotten about Neil's arm by now. Neil hadn't. It was getting worse. I noticed he was putting the splint back on it whenever he had the chance and had gone back to f*cking whinging that it was tired. We had done some insanely intense dives, with drills that were bound to put his wrist under stress and he was a lot of pain. We decided at this point to go back to Zero Gravity for some theory, and then have a day off the next day. We had loads of time because we had a week spare after the original course end date, and Danny had nothing on so was being amazingly understanding and flexible. He gave us the option, and we took it. Back to Zero Gravity and we did a review of decompression. Cave1 is a minimum deco course, so the theory here was pretty foundational, so in a room full of instructors and instructor interns there really was no need to labour the point. So Danny used it as a review, and an opportunity for everyone to learn from everyone else, which I thought was a very nice touch. We went through the basics and then chatted about research we had all read recently. Once we had completed that we went into a discussion about accident analysis. The causes of accidents, what to do about accidents when they do happened but how to avoid them in the first place. It's pretty obvious stuff to be honest, and the same lessons I teach all the time. Use the team. Don't take shortcuts with line or equipment. Don't be cheap. Don't assume you are an exception or that you know better. Don't bend the gas rules. Keep your equipment maintained. Practice your skills until they are perfect. Keep your skills fresh. Dive a lot. The same guidelines every instructor has given every diver and that so many divers tragically ignore. 

so we made our plan for the final day. We were off to yet another site, Mayan Blue. I had heard about this cenote and was really looking forward to diving it. The plan was to do 2 dives, with one I've being a skills dive, and the other being an experience day. We would also do some field drills and open water work, learning what to do when you find a cut line. How to repair it without endangering yourself. how to cut yourself out of the line if you are entangled in it, without losing your oh so precious reference to the exit.


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Gareth Burrows is a GUE Instructor trainer, and a personal diving coach for recreational and technical divers of all levels, specialising in improving buoyancy control, trim and stability, in-water confidence, and ascent management. He has trained with PADI, TDI, IANTD and GUE as well as serving as a DO in a BSAC branch. He has been diving cold water wrecks in Europe and around the UK for over a decade, and can usually be found diving out of Brighton, Portland or Plymouth. He is qualifying later this year as a cave diver and looking to become a GUE tech1 instructor in the 18 months. He has trained or coached hundreds of divers from newly qualified open water divers, to course directors and technical instructors.