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dannygoesdiving This is a blog & photo journal of the trips that I (Danny) and Jo (wifey) have taken over the past few years.

Cave Diving in the Abacos (Bahamas)

BAHAMAS | Tuesday, 1 December 2015 | Views [584]

Florida ... check, Mexico ... check. As Meat Loaf once said '2 out of 3 ain't bad, but now it was time for a full house - we were off to dive what are considered by many to be some of the most highly decorated caves in the world. We were heading to the Abaco Islands in the Bahamas to dive with Brian Kakuk of Bahamas Underground. Now Jon had done all of his cave training there with Brian and so knew what to expect and had been going on at me about diving there for a couple of years. Its an expensive trip but if Jon wanted to go back for a third time then it must be good.

Now you would think that as its one of our closest neighbours it would be easy for us to get there - hell no !  The flights didn't work our for connections, so 3 days of cave diving involved 4 days of travel and an overnight each way in Nassau *sigh*

Luggage weighed (try carrying all your cave diving gear and personal items with only 44lbs of checkin and 10lb of carry on) we checked in for our first flight to Nassau. Landing without incident we caught a taxi to Towne Hotel and headed to McDonalds (2nd Big Mac of the year). Jon followed that up with 2 Boston Cream donuts at Dunkin' Donuts (vomit).

Next morning we returned to the airport (where Jon ate 2 more Boston Cream donuts for his second breakfast !) and caught a 30 minute flight to Abaco where we were met by Brian. We were not really sure what to expect as he had emailed a couple of days earlier to say he had had an accident and broken a couple of ribs and wasn't sure if he could dive or not. It turned out he was well dosed up on pain killers and was planning on giving it a go, just asking that we assist with the carrying his gear (no problem).

We headed back to his place, there was a small accomodation hut 'cottage', where we would be staying. It had all we needed - beds, fridge, microwave, hotplate and oven and of course a bathroom. We unpacked and then headed to the dock to collect some O2 bottles, grabbed a bit of lunch (homemade chicken curry patty) and then headed to a place called 'Sawmill Sink'.

"The Sawmill Sink Project is a multi-disciplinary research project, funded by the Bahamas Antiquities, Monuments and Museums Corp. (AMMC) / National Museum of the Bahamas.  In 2004, BCRF Director, Brian Kakuk discovered a single Tortoise shell and Crocodile skull on the peat covered talus mound of the sink hole. a decision was made to have one of the tortoise shells collected while the UF/FNHM team was on the island.  When the first shell reached the surface, it was declared such a significant find, that Dr. Tinker allocated funds for formal excavations to begin.  With the AMMC funding this project over the last four years, the team has collected, cataloged, preserved and dated what has been declared the most significant fossil find in the history of the West Indies.  To date, the team has discovered forty five crocodiles, ten tortoises (new species), bats, birds, lizards, snakes and plant life that were living on Abaco more than 2000 years ago."

Today Brian was to be collecting samples from a particular gridded area, once bagged up they would be washed and the finds analysed. We helped with the setup then chilled whilst Brian diving.  A nice relaxing start to our holiday.

It was Brians birthday so that evening 11 of us went out to a local establishment called 'Jakes' - the lobster alfrado was particularly good. Yum.

So, today was to be my first day of cave diving in the Abacos. Tanks were analyzed, gear was loaded into the van and we were off to Dan's Cave. Brian has set the area up nicely, its flat and clean, there is a table for tanks, and wooden structures for hanging suits and the rest of the gear. A tent is set up and fits flush against the back of the van, protecting you from either the sun or the rain. Access to the cave is easy with wooden steps leading down to the entrance. The entrance was quite understated considering what lay beyond, the water looked crystal clear. We carried the tanks to the waters edge, Brian briefed the dive, we geared up, carried out all out check, Brians final words were 'prepare to be amazed' and then we slowly descended beneath the water.

Dive 1: 3/12/15. Max Depth: 124ft. Dive time: 86 mins. Deco: 9 mins (plus 3 deep stops). Gas Mixes: 29% Primary. 100% Deco. Temp: 75F

We left our deco bottles at 15ft then continued into the cavern zone almost immediately passing through a disorientating halocline. Continuing Past the 'STOP' sign we came upon the 'gnomes' at about the 300ft zone. There had been several stalactites and stalactities up to this point, these however were the first significant set of features - a series of stalactites which we gently glided over.  If anything they felt more like sentinals than gnomes as they marked the entrance to the 'Cascade Room'. This room is so impressive that it was the cover shot for the August 2010 edition of National Geographic. There was no time to stop and admire (that was for the more leisurely return journey) as Brian wanted to make sure we reached our planned destination for this first dive - 'Crystal Palace'. Reaching our maximum depth we entered 'Crystal Palace', above us and to our left were an impressive series of stalactites and stalactites that had joined to form a series of fine columns. Shallowing up we rested on the edge of this shelf of columns, then in single file we passed through this 'passageway' of columns. The features were so delicate that we had to 'pull and glide' whilst ensuring that our feet dragged behind us - any fin movement would have destroyed what took thousands of years to create ! Once I exited I turned around to get a second look at this impressive feature and to watch Jon carefully working his way through.

Exiting Crystal Palace we reentered the Cascade room and spent time looking at many of the features in this one area. Brian also showed us trapped red sahara sand which obviously dated back to when they were dry caves, as well as various bat bones, coral formations and shells from when it was below sea level. Heading back to the entrance we carried out our deco stops and exited.

To sum up what Brian routinely (and rightly) said before each dive - we had been amazed !

With tanks changed and moved to the water, we had time to relax in deck chairs whilst eating our lunch. Then it was time to gear up and do it all over again.

Dive 2: 3/12/15. Max Depth:76ft. Dive time: 87 mins. Deco: 5 mins (plus 1 deep stop). Gas Mixes: 33% Primary. 100% Deco. Temp: 75F

Once again we passed through the halocline and into the cavern zone we took a jump off to the right - this time we were heading through the 'Badlands' and onto the 'Goodlands'. Dropping vertically down through a restriction we entered a number of mainly more rugged, gnarly passages, that reminded me of the caves in Florida. That soon began to change as we moved from the badlands into the goodlands ! We passed a number of unique shaped features that Brian had named over the years, including the 'corkscrew' and the 'kraken'. Another stunning dive, on the way out we saw a number of additional bones from both turtles and long since extinct crocodiles.

A late start meant it was dark when we exited, which made packing down a little more challenging, worst of all was the barrage of mosquitos we encountered.

Gear stashed away we chilled in the evening, choosing to cook simple hearty food (tins of soup!) in the cottage.

It was day two and overcast with a real threat of rain (the previous day we were complaining about how hot it was for kitting up in !). We were already falling into a pattern, analyse tanks, load gear, breakfast patties as the garage (chicken curry) and off for another days diving at Dans Cave.

Our first dive of the day was to be the 'Big Circuit'.

Dive 3: 4/12/15. Max Depth: 143ft. Dive Time: 77 mins. Deco: 7 mins (plus 2 deep stops). Gas Mixes: 28% Primary. 100% Deco. Temp: 75F

Passing through the cavern zone we hung a right just before the cascade room. As the name suggests this dive comprised of several huge chambers, this was certainly not a dive for formation lovers as they were few and far between until towards the end of the circuit. No ... this dive was about size and destruction and really reminded me of some of the cave diving I had previously done in Florida. Here we really were insignificant, our lights barely penetrated the vastness of the chambers, often not even reaching the walls, looking up the ceiling was well above us, whilst looking down there were huge slabs of rock littering the floor and vast areas of cracked, dried mud beds of old. In places the bedrock was spattered with deep acid holes, it was like something out of Aliens. Reaching one chamber we saw a line descending from the ceiling, rising up and shinning our lights it revealed itself as a narrow vertical shaft.  This shaft was the 'birth canal', it could be approached from a room directly above, the line was used to lower one of your sidemount tanks down first as it was too narrow to pass through in full sidemount, then the diver would follow and squeeze through the shaft ... sound like fun ?

Towards the end of the circuit we reached another vertical shaft, rising slowly up it we entered into a room of beautiful formations which we worked out and through - a real contrast and a great end to the dive. Back in the cavern zone Brian showed us some more bones, including a crocodile jaw, complete with a couple of menacing looking teeth.

Deco stops completed we exited to pouring rain. Swapping gear, we shivered our way through lunch and keenly geared up to get back in for the second dive of the day.

Dive 4: 4/12/15. Max Depth: 77ft. Dive Time: 84 mins. Deco: 5 mins (plus 1 deep stop). Gas Mixes: 33% Primary. 100% Deco. Temp: 75F

This dive would see us on the level above the 'Big Circuit', which would culminate at the other end of the birthing canal. This dive was the polar opposite of dive one, the amazing thing about Dan's Cave is not just the formations, but the versatility of the diving. This dive was about restrictions, careful movement to prevent damaging the cave and the reward of a higly decorated section of the cave. Highights included passing through a really cool low bedding plain, a type of formation that Brian called 'popcorn' that decorated the floor and had to be passed over with care - to me they looked like thousands of little skulls and reminded me of a scene from 'The Terminator', when a vehicle passed over all these skulls cushing them - maybe too vivid an imagination !. The dive ended at the birth canal, you could see the line used to attach tanks disappear into a hole in the floor. Approaching and looking down it appeared even more intimidating - apparantly you  have to go in feet first and wriggle and move around to 'pop' out the other end as it was by no means a straight descent - I'll give it a miss I think.

We exited in dayight which made packing away all the more pleasant. On the outskirts of Marsh Harbour we stopped at a roadside mobile hut to get some conch salad - it was a bit of a wait as it is made to order but well worth it, its not my favourite dish but Jon is mad for it and claims it was the best he has had - high praise indeed.

We chilled again in the evening, opting to watch a dvd from Brians extensive library.

How time sneeks up on you - it was already our last day of cave diving, normal drill and we were off, our first dive was to be at Dan's Cave and our final dive was to be the 'piece de resistance' at Ralphs Cave.

Dive 5: 5/12/15. Max Depth: 116ft. Dive Time: 91 mins. Deco: 11 mins (plus 2 deep stops). Gas Mixes: 29% Primary. 100% Deco. Temp: 75F

A final dive of Dan's cave was to be the 'Mad Room'!  We passed through the cavern zone and Cascade Room, dropped down through a hole in the floor coming out in a large chamber which contained a face shaped rock formation that Brian had named 'Aristotles Head'. After this we entered a new chamber for us called 'Glacier Room', named because the main features in the room were chalk (the first of any significance we had seen).  The room was in contrast to anything else we had seen and working around all these pure white features was like flying around the peaks of a snow covered mountain range.

Continuing on we entered the 'Mad Room', the quantity and variety of formations was staggering, certainly the most decorated room we had visited in Dan's Cave and a fitting final dive here.


Dive 6: 5/12/15. Max Depth: 79ft. Dive Time: 110 mins. Deco: 9 mins (plus 2 deep stops). Gas Mixes: 33% Primary. 100% Deco. Temp: 75F

We ate lunch and then packed up and moved onto Ralphs Cave. The entrance area was similarly well setup, with steps leading down to a platform in the water itself.  Descending we entered a chamber, the floor of which was deep in age old black matter (wood, leaves etc), this gave the place an eiry feel with stalacmites emerging from out of the sediment. Brian had reinforced to us the delicate nature of this dive, there were going to be several places where we were to keep our feet low to avoid damaging overhead features and other areas where we were to pull and glide our way along. Almost immediately we passed a beautiful feature on our right hand side called 'waterfall', if you can imagine a candle where the wax has flowed down and over the holder, then increase its size and hundredfold, then thats what it looked like. We reached a vertical restriction which we had to 'flow' over and down, making sure we didn't lift our feet so as not to damage the stalactites above us. Reaching another restriction we had to position ourselves to the right hand side and pull and glide to prevent damaging some amazing delicate features, they were so fine as to be translucent, Brian put his hand behind them, then shone his torch at the features - you could make out his hand behind them. I believe he called the features 'bacon' (Mmmmmm ... bacon), with each feature hanging like a thick rasher of back bacon ! Shallowing up we entered another large chamber with a strong halocline layer within it. We spent quite a while in this room as there was so much to see - there were several well preserved bats embalmed within the floor, beautiful copper pools containing delicate crystals and towards the end of the room a number of huge features called 'wedding cakes'. There was so much to see, it was almost too much to comprehend ... this was already the most decorated dive we had done and we still weren't at our goal. Another feature ' chandelier' followed - the names often do better justice to the features than any description I can give it, then we entered the most delicate part of the cave. We had to very carefully pull our way through a narrow passage, there were so many delicate features both above and either side ... passing through we turned to look back and up on what we had passed through. Attached to the end of all the delicate stalactites were a formation of crystals that looked just like rose buds. It really was staggering ... but there was more to come. We continued onto a final room that has been named 'frozen rain', again the formations are delicate to the extreme and its almost like someone has taken a photo of rain falling and hitting the floor using an  extremely slow shutter spead in order to capture the movement. So ... OK ... we had been amazed !

Heading out Brian showed us more features and copper pools, taking the time to ensure that the entire dive was a truly memorable experience. Without doubt the best cave dive I have done to date and its certainly going to be a hard one to top.

And so all too soon our cave diving adventure to the Abacos was over, but what an adventure it had been.

That evening there was an outdoor Xmas festival just around the corner from where we were staying and so we headed there for some local cuisine. A couple of local beers (Kalik) were drunk to celebrate another great trip, along with conch fritters, BBQ ribs, corn and mac n' cheese.

The following morning we walked into town for some breakfast at the 'Family Island Restaurant', tempted as I was I avoided the two specials on offer - stewed conch and sheeps tongue broth - instead opting for the somewhat safer sounding breakfast sandwich (egg, sausage and cheese) and a cup of coffee. We spent the better part of the day chilling at the cottage before Brian dropped us off at the airport and we flew back to Nassau. We spent another night at Towne Hotel and ate there that night - baked chicken, pea n' rice and coleslaw.

The followng morning we headed back to the airport where Jon managed to get in another couple of boston cream donuts before we boarded our flight back to the Turks and Caicos Islands.

The only question now is where is our cave diving destination for 2016 going to be ?

 

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