After my trip to Abaco in June where I successfully completed my Cavern and Intro to Cave courses I felt that I had to go back and get my Full Cave. So I contacted Brian Kakuk of Bahamas Underground and booked myself in for another week.
What is Full Cave?
Full Cave certification means that you are free from any restrictions in diving a cave. You can do jumps, traverses, circuits. You are allowed to use thirds instead of sixths. However, it does not allow you to use stages, scooters or CCRs (closed circuit rebreathers) even if you are trained for them in open water. Also the lengths of the dives will mean that I will most likely go into deco and that means another certification. For this course I need to be Advanced Nitrox certified, and Brian will also teach me this. Having an Advanced Nitrox certifiation allows me to use up to 100% Oxygen as a breathing gas to help me off-gas faster, thus cutting down on the time spent decompressing at the end of the dive.
There is a total of 8 dives. 4 of those are for the Apprentice Cave Diver and the remaining 4 are for the a Full Cave Course. We also planned to do the Advanced Nitrox course at the same time as I did my Cave course.
I arrived on the early morning flight and we hit the classroom straight away. We completed the necessary paperwork, dive plans , and then headed out to Dan’s Cave to set up two circuits. The first would be around the Crystal Palace. This would involve setting up a jump, and then laying a cookie once we had reached thirds on our cylinders. The second circuit would be the North Badlands/Goodlands circuit. This would involve a jump from the Cavern and then multiple Ts (leaving cookies to show our way back) until we reached the point where we would lay our thirds cookie. We stashed our deco cylinders at the start of the cavern so that we wouldn’t have to carry them with us on the whole dive, we would do this on all subsequent dives. Both dives ended with a very small amount of deco.
Some classroom time in the morning and then it was back out to Dan’s Cave to complete the circuits. They both went well, and as customary on cave diving courses I was subjected to several problems on the return portion of the journey. These four dives meant that I had completed my Apprentice Cave Diver course. Yay!
Again we were back in the classroom, continuing on the different aspects of planning a dive that had a deco obligation. There is a lot more to think about than just following your computer blindly. So once again we were back at Dan’s Cave. This time we were doing multiple jumps and eased our way in with a trip to the Mad Room. The formations in these caves are really unbelievable but you must pay attention as you can cause irreparable damage. The second dive was to the West Badlands and the setting up of a circuit there.
This was the last day of the cave course and it had passed so quickly. We headed back to Dan’s Cave to do the circuit. I have to admit this was the hardest dive I have ever done. The cave was narrow and the corners were tight. I was trying hard not to hit anything but it seemed impossible. We eventually made it all the way around the circuit and pulled all the jumps and cookies we’d used. Brian told me that he took me on this dive so that I could work on my awareness and improve my foot position when finning. I have the classic “Florida Cave Diver” pose, which is good as it avoids silting but it can cause problems in low ceilings as your feet become caught. The next dive as a trip to Ralph’s Cave. This was to be my graduation dive. There were to be several Ts and one jump to contend with, but to make it more interesting he took me to a place called the Glass Factory. Everything in this cave is made of crystal and is very fragile so that meant making sure that I had the correct position for my fins and that I used the right propulsion techniques. This was an amazing dive. It really is so hard to describe. It’s much easier looking at the video below.
I had factored in an extra day just incase I needed to go through any of the skills again or if we had problems that meant we couldn’t dive. So as there were no issues this day became a pleasure dive. I was given the choice of having two dives or going on a stage cave dive. Well you can guess what I opted for – a stage cave dive. This mean that instead of carrying two sidemount cylinders and one deco cylinder, I would also have an additional A80 (this is also the same as my sidemount cylinders). The plan was to stash the deco cylinder at the entrance to the cavern, then swim through the cave breathing from the stage until we had used a third of it. Once that had happened we would tie our stages into the line and then continue on our dive. Once we had reached a dive time of 50 minutes or one third of our sidemounts we would then turn around and head back. Collecting our stage on the way out and breathing from it back to our deco stop.
This dive was unbelievable! We went from the Cavern to the North Badlands, passed Niho’s Mansion, in to the Sanity Room, gazed into the Grey Pool and marveled at Helectite Haven. By the time we got there we had a few minutes before we reached our turn time of 50 minutes, we both had enough air to spend a little longer there or go a little further (and I wanted to) but we planned our dive for 50 minutes and you dive what you plan. So we turned around and made our way back through all the marvelous places we had seen. We arrived back at the deco stop with 100 mins on the clock. Our plan had been perfect. Deco was reading on the computers as 14 minutes on mine 16 on Brian’s. So we followed the most conservative computer. We then did slow ascents to the surface; it took me 6 minutes to cover the 6 meters. By the time I had exited the water there were 122 minutes on the clock.
We moved the tanks to the edge of the entrance, so that we could easily pick them up after lunch. Brian had taught me that it is important to so slow ascents and that you should really avoid any physical exertion after long dives so we went and had lunch before coming back to collect our tanks.
This has been a trip of epic proportions. I have gotten so much out of it. I really need to find somewhere that I can cave dive. I was lucky with my move to Nassau that I was able to scuba dive so easily but as my desires have changed I might need to change location to do that. I will definitely look around and see if there are any opportunities for work in Abaco, Grand Bahama, Florida or even Mexico. Who knows, this time next year I could be cave diving weekly.