This is an ongoing and continuely updated journal of the efforts of Jon Ward and myself to discover, explore and map the blue holes and caves of the Turks & Caicos islands. We both work as full time dive instructors on the island and both have full cave dive qualifications.
In 1999 the original 'Caicos Cave Project' was setup, with many caves being explored and indeed new species of marine life being discovered. The project has been largely dormant for the last 6 years and most of the caves explored were on the islands of North Caicos and West Caicos.
For further information on their achievements and discoveries check out the following:
We believe there have to be a number of caves on the island of Providenciales on which we live and work. The challenge of finding and possibly being the first to dive these is an opportunity too good to miss.
What follows will be a record of our exploits, our blood (literally), sweat and tears; recording both our sucesses and failures :)
As with most people a lack of resources (both money and time) have had an impact of what we can achieve, in the absence of being able to use a helicopter or private plane to fly over the island in the hunt for potential blue holes and caves, we took advantage of the cheaper technology of 'Google Earth' which offered the opportunity to view the whole island, albeit without the same level of detail. Jon found a promising lead and set off on some initial exploration using the coordinates from Google Earth and a hand help GPS. Fighting through the bush he found the pond, startling a stand of flamingos (with one white flamingo amongst them). After a few minutes snorkelling in the vicinity indicated on google earth, he successfully found the blue hole, freediving down a little way to ensure it didn't bottom out after a few feet we had our first potential cave and the Caicos Cave Project was reborn.
WHITE FLAMINGO CAVE
Dive 1 - Date:01/09/12. Max Depth:46ft. Dive Time:6 mins. Temp:81F. Tide:Incoming
Working 6 days a week with differing days off makes planning any other activities challenging. The initial plan was to head out to the pond after work, we would take one set of diving equipment; utalising a single 50cft tank, a reel and a couple of torches. Whilst this goes against cave diving guidelines we were not planning a dive of any significance, we just wanted to find out if the blue hole had any potential. We also only had about 3 hours of daylight to get there, check it out and get back.
We drove as far as we could with the last 3 miles being on a very bumpy unpaved road. The sun was still blazing in the sky as we set off on the next part of the journey - a 15 minute walk along an old track (not suitable or accessible for vehicles). I carried the dive gear, whilst Jon hauled the tank. With the handheld GPS we relocated the pond then had to fight through the thick bush for about 5 minutes (long trousers, tops and boots required) eventually arriving at the edge of the pond. We were on the far side of the pond so had to wade through the pond for a further 5 minutes or so disturbing a layer of very smelly silt in the process, finally arriving close to the location of the Blue Hole. Whilst fending off the mosquitoes we set up the diving equipment and full of anticipation swam out to the hole. The depth at its edge was no more than a few feet, however looking down into the hole it just seemed to disappear, the water temperature was noticably cooler over the hole and visibility looked amazing. I tied off the line on the edge of the hold then slowly descended. I kept descending slowly down, looking at the holes topography whilst checking my depth gauge... 10ft, 20ft, 30ft...it kept going (this was more than we could have hoped for). At 30ft I noticed the start of an overhead environment, continuing down I reached the bottom at a depth of 46ft, tied off and ventured a few more feet into the cave . The cave appeared to be a large dome room, it was clearly tidal as I could feel the current, there were small free swimming fish, but most amazingly the walls of the cave were adorned with thousands of shrimp. The temptation was to explore and see if it continued past my torch beam, however that had not been the plan and I was not equipped to turn this into a cave dive, reluctantly I tied off the line. Turning 180 degrees the ambient light provided a silouette of the bluehole above me as I headed back to the surface to tell Jon the great news - against our expectations it didn't bottom out ... there was a cave ! We didn't know how extensive it was but it was there to be explored. Jon wanted to have a look so dropped down and followed the line to where I tied off before returning to the surface. As Jon had initially found the cave (and in the absense of knowing if it had any other name) it seemed only right that he should name it, hence it became 'White Flamingo Cave'.
White Flamingo Pond
We used an alternative route to get back to the track that avoided wading through the water, and headed back to the car. It was dusk by the time we returned to the car - to some a 3 hour round trip including carrying dive gear in the heat of the day for a 6 minute dive may seem excessive, but to us it was worth all the time and effort to find a potentially unexplored cave on the island.
WHITE FLAMINGO CAVE
Dive 2 - Date:03/09/12. Max Depth:77ft. Dive Time:33 mins. Temp:81F. Tide:Incoming
September is a quiet time of year here on the island (hurricane season, US schools have restared) so it means getting time off is easier. We coordinated a day off together to give us more time to revisit White Flamingo Cave.
We decided on a 7am start as we would be carrying more equipment and wanted to be on the move before it got too hot. We had opted to use single 80cft tanks due to the logistics of transporting our equipment, we were also limited to using yoke regulators due to an absence of DIN tanks on the island (apart from those on my twin set). We would be carrying both primary and backup lights and reels; cutting devices and spare masks and had planned to accomodate the less than desirable gas and regulator situation. These included not penetrating further than 100ft, not exceeding a depth of 100ft and not entering anywhere that was not wide enough for 2 people. We would dive the rule of thirds and the agreement was that anyone could end the dive for any reason, without repercutions.
Parking the car we setup our gear, having decided carrying it on our backs was going to be the easiest option. We had an additional bag each to carry which held all our dive accessories (fins etc) as well as water and mosquito repellent. Even at this time of the day it was hot and hard going, fighting through the bush was especially challenging and we were both exhausted by the time we reached the pond. Upon arriving we were rewarded with a stand of flamingos and a couple of great herons feeding in the pond. Having rested for a while we eagerly setup our gear, waded into the water and surface swam out to the hole. Descending down into the hole we followed our guide line until we reached the reel. Retrieving the reel I continued to reel off into the cave; the ceiling soon started to slope downwards and after about 40ft and at a depth of 65ft it became too narrow to safely continue with our current configuration. The floor was made up of shells and shingle and formed 'ripples' caused by the tidal movement. It looked like the ceiling rose again further in and we could probably have progressed further if we removed some of the bottom composition, that however was not part of our plan so reluctanly we turned back. Enjoying the topography and exploring the walls Jon spotted another reasonably sized hole just inside the mouth of the cave (which we later named 'the cauldron'). Tying off another line I dropped down to this lower level which bottomed out at 77ft. A tunnel led off and my torch was unable to see if and when it ended. The tunnel was barely wide enough for one person at a time though with a restriction at its entrance; again our dive plan and dive configuration prevented us exploring further. Reluctantly we headed out of the cave. We had mixed emotions at the surface; jubilation that we had indeed found a cave, mixed with dissapointment that it didn't look to be an extensive cave system.
Base Camp !
We snorkelled the remainer of the pond to see if there were any other entrances and although we found two other sizable holes, they were relatively shallow and full of silt.
WHITE FLAMINGO CAVE
Dive 3 - Date:03/09/12. Max Depth:77ft. Dive Time:28 mins. Temp:81F. Tide: Slack
We still had 2000 psi in our tanks so after a surface interval chose to do a second dive just to enjoy our cave, play with the shrimp and see if we had missed anything. The tide was slack by this dive and as a result of this the shrimp seemed to have multiplied tenfold .. the walls appeared to be moving and exhaled breaths caused them to fall on your face, it was all very surreal.
It was a long walk back, the sun was high, there was not a cloud in the sky and the gear was heavier for being wet, reaching the car was a welcome relief.
You can check out our exploits at http://youtu.be/5Cs0pIaY4lE
On the journey back we stopped off at another pond which had looked like there may be a hole. There was an easy path to the pond, the pond itself was shallow and we waded through thick mud in the direction of the hole; it turned out to be a natural depression not more than a few feet deep. Hot and stinking of the mud we staggered back to the car... well you can't win them all !
A few days later I bumped into Mark Parrish (one of the founders of the 1999 Caicos Caves Project) and told him of the cave and its location. He confimed that they had not previously dived it and knew of noone else who had done so - it really is possible that we were the first 2 people ever to have been into the cave !
CHALK SOUND CAVE
Dive 1 - Date:06/09/12. Max Depth:57ft. Dive Time:49 mins. Temp:90F. Tide:Outgoing
We had both heard about a supposed cave in Chalk Sound but knew of noone who had actually dived it (again having spoke to Mark Parrish I established that the Caicos Cave Project team had not been there). The wonders of Google Earth again came into play and we found its likely location. This time it appeared more accessible, being not too far from the shoreline. Jon investigated on his day off, found easy access from the roadside and snorkelled out to its general vicinity. The water was quite murky and it was impossible to determine if anything of any significance existed.
After work I joined him, armed with the same equipment configuration from our previous dives we set off to determine if there was a cave to be dived. We had about a 10 minute surface swim, the water was very warm and visibilty pretty poor. As the water got a little deeper we chose to descend down and follow a compass bearing, visibility was about 10ft and the bottom composition was a thick layer of fine clay. After a few minutes we found what we were looking for, it appeared to be more of a huge crack rather than a hole, with water depths being about 15ft on its edge. Tying off we slowly descended into it, visibility was even less here, in some places as little as 2ft and our torchlight merely reflected back against all the sediment in the water. It was definately a cave but how far back it went was difficult to determine, the sloping bottom made our entry angle difficult and it was impossible not to stir up the clay; combine this with an outgoing tide which was sucking out further sediment as well as trying to push you into any entrance we probed and it became a very challenging situation. I was glad of the line, as at times I could only make out the reel in my hand as I reeled in and out looking for possible accessible locations. All that said though,we had the dive under control at all times, and we never ventured more than a few feet in, merely probing for a later visit.
We left knowing that there was definite opportunity for further exploration but not really sure if it was a cave as such. We plan to revisit this site during an incoming tide in the hope that the visibility will be better.
Chalk Sound Blue Hole
WHITE FLAMINGO CAVE - 09/09/12
Due to the distance required to get to the site and the equipment logistics we decided to transport some of the equipment to the site in preperation for subsequent dives. After work we loaded a wheelbarrow up with 4 tanks, weights and drinking water and wheeled them to where the bush trek started. This time we took time to cut a narrow path through the bush to the pond then carried the gear the remained of the way.
In all it was a 2 hour round trip but would hopefully make for an easier life the next day !
WHITE FLAMINGO CAVE
Dive 4 - Date:10/09/12. Max Depth:76ft. Dive Time:20 mins. Temp:84F Tide:Outgoing
Another early start to try and avoid the heat of the day. We took the wheelbarrow again to transport the rest of our equipment, only having to carry it the last few hundred yards through the bush. It was a breeze compared to our last trip. The pond was full of birdlife - flamingos, pelicans, both Great and green herons, as well as a few ducks.
We had decided on 2 seperate plans over the dives, firstly to get past the restriction in the 'cauldron' and see how far the passage progressed; secondly to see if we could progress in the main level by excavating some of the shingle. To allow us to do the first more safely we had modified our regulator setup, adding our usual 7ft cave diving hose to our primary regulator - this would mean that in the event of an emergency we could airshare whilst travelling in single file.
Kitting up we entered the water, visibility was poor and the water was very green with sediment flowing into the cave. We had not really thought of the significance of an outgoing tide with regard to visibility, but we were here now so decided to make the best of it. We descended down and even at the bottom visibility had not improved, we even had trouble finding the entrance to the lower level! Securing the line I descended down the 'cauldron' and managed to squeeze past the restriction. I cautiously worked my way down the passage aware that at this point it was not wide enough to turn around. After a short while it turned at a right-angle and continued on for maybe 15 feet or so before opening into another chamber. The good news was that I now had plenty of room to manoveur, the bad news was that the botton composition changed from shingle to silt, meaning we had to be very careful. The passage itself continued beyond the chamber and there appeared to be at least on other passage exiting the chamber itself. I was really excited at this point and wanted to continue to explore but having achieved our plan I tied off and left the reel before heading out of the cave to discuss our next actions.
WHITE FLAMINGO CAVE
Dive 5 - Date:10/09/12. Max Depth:69ft. Dive Time:31 mins. Temp:84F. Tide:Slack
We had a slightly longer surface interval than usual in the hope the visibility would improve and spent it wandering through the bush looking for another close by pond we had identified, we successfully found it, but it was shallow and had no tempting nooks and crannies to investigate.
Our next dive plan was to use use the same tanks and see if we could excavate any of the shingle in the main level and progress any further. Visibility was a little better, however the couple of routes we chose to excavate proved of little success allowing us only to push forward a further 10 feet or so.
WHITE FLAMINGO CAVE
Dive 6 - Date:10/09/12. Max Depth:76ft. Dive Time:38 mins. Temp:82F. Tide:Slack/Incoming
We carried our depleted tanks back to the wheelbarrow and setup our new tanks. We now planned to continue exploration along the 'cauldrons' lower passage, strictly adhering to the rule of thirds. We quickly reached the chamber having opted to check this out first, it was not too large and seemed to only have one further passage exiting from it which we chose to follow. Sadly after only about 20ft we came to another restriction and shinning our torch beyond this the passage seemed to end shortly after. There was another passage looping back which I assumed bought us back the way we came. At this point visibilty had been reduced by the silt we had disturbed so we chose to leave the reel in place and exit for the day.
We again checked out the main level but determined that we really need sidemount configurations to progress further here.
Lugging the gear back we reflected on the day, hoping that the cave still has a few secrets to reveal to us !
AIRPORT CAVE & SNAKE CAVE - 15/09/2012
We had a couple of hours of available daylight so decided to undertake some land exploration and see if we could find two caves that we had heard about, both of which were within a mile of each other.
We knew this to be a sink (usually associated with collapsed ground and many times provide access into extensive cavern and cave passages) and that it had been dived previously by the Caicos Cave Project team (short video of it at http://www.amphibiousadventures.org/caicoscavesproject/providenciales.html). Mark Parrish had described the route to find the cave and after a few minutes fighting through the bush we reached our destination. There were 3 sink holes, 2 were dry, however the third appreaded to be what we were hunting for . A narrow fissure, about 20ft deep (there is an old rope in place to help with the climb) with a pool of water at the bottom. Peering down we disturbed a small colony of bats which subsequently buzzed us during our time there. Once at the bottom we peered into the pond, the water appeared reasonably clear but you couldnt really make anything out. We know that from talking to Mark there is a small chamber containing stalagtites and stalagmites, the bottom composition is silty and access is via a tight vertical chimney (room for one!).
Clambering back out we headed back to the car. We plan to dive here at some point in the future.
Whilst researching on the web we came across a paper published in 1984 identifying new findings of a species of 'troglobitic mysid genus' (http://www.tamug.edu/cavebiology/reprints/Reprint-19.pdf) at a location on Providenciales named 'Snake Cave'. The description went 'Snake cave is a long but narrow fissure, mostly water filled that forms one margin of a larger collapsed sink. Maximum observed water depth was 8m.'
Armed with this information we were able to find the likely location on good old google earth. The road was pretty much opposite Airport Cave, however the track we needed to follow was on private land ! It turned out the private land was a farm which was a real suprise as I didn't even know there was one on the island, more importantly the owners were very helpful and friendly and let us access their land. They had heard of the cave and searched for it about 15 years previously but failed to find it due to the thickness of the surrounding bush. Using a handheld GPS we fought through the bush often stumbling upon narrow trails and abandoned illegal Haitian camps. After about 20 minutes we emerged hot and covered in scratches at the top of the water filled fissure, which certainly appeared to match the above description. There was evidence of people living in the area and lots of trash around the site. The water was an appealing brown colour, but temptingly though there were stalagtites hanging down and dissappearing under the water.
Another success !!!
We got lost wandering back, eventually emerging behind some wooden shanty huts and disturbing a man standing in a tub having a wash - excusing ourselves we wandered through the huts reaching the road and retracing our path to the car.
To our knowledge other than the freediving for the samples noone has ever dived here to see if there is an entrance under the water. We plan to come back with a weight and line to check the depth and also to get a water sample for testing to make sure there is nothing too nasty in there before we consider diving it !
Watch this space concerning both of these caves.
CHALK SOUND CAVE
Dive 2 - Date:17/09/12. Max Depth:65ft. Dive Time:43 mins. Temp:90F. Tide:Incoming
It was theoretically a perfect morning to dive at Chalk Sound, hightide was at 10:30am, so a 09:00am dive should mean an incoming tide, this would mean we would be pushed out of the cave (if there was one) rather than into it (a much safer scenario), also it should mean better visibility - to be honest it could hardly be worse than our first dive there !
We surface swam out again and lined up our 3 points of reference (taken at end of previous dive) to ensure we were positioned over the blue hole. Dropping down we were rewarded with equally poor visibility - Oh joy ! Our plan we to swim along the edge of the hole to ensure we hadn't missed anything; that accomplished without discovering anything new found we dropped down the 15ft or so to the top of the hole (much more of a crescent shaped crack really). We swam the length of the crack looking for options, there was a promising looking entrance at one end, the remaining length being more of a vertical fissure rather than a real entrance of any sort.
Returning to the entrance, we tied off our line and headed in, visibility was significantly better here (about 15ft) and you could really feel the incoming waters pushing against you. We continued in slowly, being very mindful of the thick clay sediment on the bottom, even our exhaled bubbles dislodged silt from the ceiling, it was actually far easier to use the ceiling to 'pull and glide' along rather than using fins for propulsion. The passageway was large enough for one person at a time to comfortably progress, the walls were adhorned with a variety of small yellow sponges and the whole topography was captivating. After about 30ft we had to rise over an obstruction before dropping back down again and after about 60ft a vertical crack dissapeared off to one side (but was too small to progress into). We continued on until at about 90ft we had exhausted the line on our reel - our bigger reel was still tied off in White Flamingo Cave ! The passage appeared to show no intention of ending, merely continuing out of view, frustrated at a lack of better planning with regard to our line we turned and headed back out, reeling in as we went.
Upon turning the issue of the water movement raised its ugly head as we were pushed out of the cave. I had to brace myself as I reeled in; the water movement forceably pushed us around, causing us to impact into the silt and massively reducing visibility - not too bad for Jon as he was leading the way, for me at times I probably had less than a foot visibility and could only make out the reel in my hand.
Once we had exited and congratulated ourselves on finding another cave to further explore, we chose to drop down into the crack at its most promising point to check out if progress could be made there. Lining in again we got to about 65ft depth and about 40ft in, it continued to get tighter and looked as if it bottomed out at 70ish ft with no discernable passageways to explore.
We had made significant progress from our first dive here, having identified both the best time to dive and probably the only passageway there that is worth persuing.
We celebrated with corona and hotdogs and can't wait to go back there :)
WHITE FLAMINGO CAVE
Dive 7 - Date:24/09/12. Max Depth:77ft. Dive Time:55 mins. Temp:82F. Tide:Slack/Incoming
A few days previously we had lugged out a couple of new tanks and retrieved the couple of remaining used tanks, the wheelbarrow was indisposed so today we had to carry our dive gear to the site :(
Jon had had a delivery of new dive goodies - including a sidemount system, so the main plan of the day was to try out his new equipment configuration (he had already tested the gear in an open water environment). We had already decided that sidemount configuration was probably the way forward with alot of the caves on the island and I have plans to buy a sidemount system at DEMA in November (we have both previously cave dived using sidemount systems). In addition to our main plan we also wanted to spend more time in the 'cauldron' and retrieve the reel & line to allow us to extend our penetration into the Chalk Sound Cave.
Arriving without incident we geared up and descended into the hole. We worked our way into the 'cauldron' and soon reached and retrieved the reel. Just as I was about to exit the lower level I noticed a previously missed side passage; shinning the torch the passage appeared to descend down to a greater depth. The passageway has a number of restrictions and has a very low ceiling before appearing to open up again. There certainly isn't room for a back mounted system and it would be tight even with sidemount - this cave just continues to suprise.
Lower Level Plan of White Flamingo Cave (not to scale)
Back in the main level Jon tested to see if he could progress further back with sidemount and proved that we could make further progress with this configuration - looks like its the way to go !
Exiting we packed up and hauled the gear back to the track. We had identified another potential site in the near vicinity and after fighting off the mosquitoes whilst struggling through thick bush and mangroves we finally reached our goal- a small oasis of tranquility, which we named Mangrove Pond. We jumped in with snorkel and mask and swam a circuit. Duckdiving down, the pond appered to bottom out after only a few feet, however, just beneath the surface at one end of the pond there was a limestone ledge which went a few feet underneath the mangroves before revealing what looked like the mouth of a small cave !
There certainly appears to be something new to explore. Maybe another success .... definately another logistical nightmare.
Again, watch this space !
WHITE FLAMINGO CAVE
Dive 8 - Date:17/12/12. Max Depth:78ft. Dive Time:51 mins. Temp:79F. Tide:Incoming
First return to the cave after an absense of a couple of months (holidays etc) and first opportunity for Jon to try out his sidemount rig with two tanks. The plan was for me to reestablish the line in the 'cauldron' whilst Jon got comfortable with his configuration in the more roomy main level.
Once I had laid out the line I took advantage of the good visibilty and incoming tide (to carry anything I stirred up away) to double check what we had explored so far. I was pretty convinced that 2 of our passages joined, more interestingly though at the extent of our reeling what had looked like a dead end now appeared to be a continuation of the passage, although there is a significant restriction hindering progress.
Dive 9 - Date:17/12/12. Max Depth:78ft. Dive Time:24 mins. Temp:79F. Tide:Slack
The plan was for Jon to accompany me into the 'cauldron', he would shine his torch down one of the 2 passageways that we believe link up (but are too restricted to progress down). I would follow the line until I got to the other end of the passageway and see if I could detect his torchlight, thus confirming the link. All went well and we confirmed that that there is just one passageway. The continuation through the restriction will have to wait another day.
MANGROVE POND & MALCOLM'S CAVE (?)
We lugged a set of gear to Mangrove Pond to check out if there really was a cave entrance, getting there is a logistical nightmare so some part of me was hoping it was not another cave system ! There is a small hole and shrimp around the entrance, however its so small that even if you took the equipment off and pushed it through and you then followed it would be touch and go as to whether you would not get stuck. That sort of diving is certainly out of my league for the moment so its firmly on the back burner.
We also checked out another promising lead near Malcolm beach, sadly slack tide meant poorer visibility and a clumsy hand in the silt meant a blackout. It does look as if there is a vertical crack in the bedrock though so we will have to check it out again at a later date.
Busy at work now so no more cave diving in the Islands until 2013
AIRPORT CAVE REVISITED
The clocks going back an hour has given us the opportunity to continue our exploration of the caves of the Turks & Caicos. Last week we improved the trail to Airport Cave, located an easier access route to the water level and snorkelled the site itself. The water was relatively clear, however there was a serious amount of silt. Looking down there is a long, thin crack that disappears into an overhead environment. There are a number of good sized stalactites descending into the water, as well as stalacmites below the water level and one huge column. We also found the cave line left behind by the Caicos Cave Project, complete with about an inch of silt attached to it !
The plan today was to do our first dive in the cave.
Dive 1- 28/03/2013. Max Depth: 49ft. Dive Time: 25 mins. Temp: 75F/77F. Tide: n/a
The walk to the cave with our gear was a piece of cake compared to our visits to White Flamingo, we installed rope on the slope leading to the water to make life a little easier, a short climb down and we were on the waters edge. Even slowly lowering ourselves into the water kicked up the silt; I can only assume its decades of guano from the resident bat colony. The water was colder than we had become used to (75F) and was devoid of marine life - I believe the water here is fresh water, there certainly appears to be no tidal movement. I tied off our line on a hugh stalactite and descended down the crack; there are a large number of both stalactites and stalagmites in this section (which make for easy tieofffs), looking behind there were a really impressive row of columns that gave you the appearance of being behind bars. Looking down at the sloping floor, even the mildest of finning techniques created an avalanche of silt which slowly cascades downwards. The room itself was large and it was great to be in our first, formerly dry cave.
At the bottom (at about 35ft) there was a hole, shaped like a chimney and large enough to squeeze through with full cave diving gear, continuing to tie off we descended down and into a smaller room which dropped down to 48ft, the water was noticebly warmer here (77F), the floor was covered in a thick layer of silt. There was a pasage heading South, however a rockfall prevented further exploration; just as I was about to turn I noticed another possible way to proceed further, a narrow bedding plane blocked by a mound of silt. Now was not the time, however, I believe that if we levelled the silt we may be able to squeeze through and proceed (of course the silt could be merely covering another rock); visibility was already at a minimum and without having discussed my idea first with Jon, now was not the time to reduce visibility to zero ! Exiting we spent a little more time in the main chamber before exiting the water.
Discussing my plan we decided that we would leave it for another day as we didnt have much daylight left. The plan is to come back (have to retrieve my line amongst other things), take some photos of the main chamber and then see if we can remove the silt and progress further.
Stay tuned ...
Dive 2- 21/05/2013. Max Depth: 48ft. Dive Time: 30 mins. Temp: 77F. Tide: n/a
WOW, 2 months since our last dive in the TCI - well its busy, busy at work.
Had more of a look around in the main chamber and took some (albeit poor) photos of the cave decorations.
Dropped into the lower room, held the line for reference and spent about 5 minutes moving rocks and large piles of silt where the potential progression point is. Visibility was reduced to shit and will need a while to settle. Will head back later in week to see if all the effort has paid off, whether more needs to be done or if indeed its possible to progress further in the cave.
Dive 3 - 22/05/2012. Max Depth: 48ft. Dive Time:15 mins. Temp: 77F
Really, really poor visibility, probably less than 2 feet, had to use line all the way down to the chimney. Lower level clear, major progress with rock and silt removal. Moved another large rock, debri and silt and cam just squeeze through. Visibility so poor by removal of debri that I couldnt even see where to tie off line, so chose not to progress through. Great feeling though that on the next visit we will be able to progress further. Visibility was even worse on the way out (if thats possible). Speculated on poor visibilty; not sure if its the result of our work from a couple of days earlier, or the major construction work on the new airport carpark thats started just a couple of hundred feet away. We are going to leave it a week before we revisit the site and hope that the visibility is better.
CHALK SOUND CAVE - UPDATE
Dive 4/5/6 - 18/09/2013. Max Depths: 44ft, 46ft, 48ft. Dive Times: 50mins, 15mins, 30 mins
Quiet season at last ! Time to catch up on some cave diving here in the TCI, progress has been pretty limited due to long work days and a serious lack of energy at the end of the day. Its been over a year since diving Chalk Sound so we were a little rusty with our surface references. After some time we found the crack, tied off and dropped down to where the cave entrance should have been - it was gone ! Swimming the length of the crack, its topography was not consistent with what we remembered - we'd only gone and found a different fissure in chalk sound, close to where our original discovery had been ! When you look at google earth it looks as if theres 2 fissures, but we had been unable to locate then both the first time round. Exploring it we determined that it went nowhere. Further swimming around and with the sun beginning to drop we finally found our original fissure and so the cave. Surfacing we retook visual references and headed home.
A few days later we returned, this time armed with a 2 litre plastic bottle to tie off about 3 feet under the surface from where the cave is located, giving us an additional refernce point. Makeshift buoy tied off, we entered the cave to find that it was still an outgoing tide (despite tide reports), visibility was poor and we struggled with ties offs due to a lack of suitable protruding rocks. Called it a day.
Third visit saw us find the cave with no problem, thanks to the buoy. In the interim Jon had make a number of 'silt pegs' from plumbers pipe. They are about 3ft long, have a point on one end to drive into the silt and a groove cut into the top to tie line around. The chalk sound tides and the tide tables still were not playing ball and we were pretty much at slack tide so the strirred up silt was just hanging in the water which meant visibility was between 3 - 5ft. Progressing in, we found the silt pegs to be a real bonus, allowing us secure the line as we progressed. We finally passed our penetration point from over a year ago, continuing until we came to a restriction. With almost no visibility it was impossible to see if it could be passed; we may need to drop dowm deeper, or even twist sideways to progress. We called it a day, leaving all lines in place. A better understanding of how the tides seem to uniquely affect Chalk Sound are needed to allow us some good visibility.
LONG BAY HILLS 'THE HOLE'
Dive 1- 19/09/2013. Max Depth: 16ft. Dive Time: 8 mins. Tide: n/a
There is a sink hole in Long Bay; its even classed as a tourist attraction (though god knows why). We had heard various reports of a cave here - which made sense if the hole was a collapsed cave itself. Again, there are no easy caves/potential caves here - would love just to turn up, kit up and dive - but Oh no ! Firstly I scrambled down to the water level which was pretty precarious, especially as I was wearing my sidemount harness and weight system. Jon in the meantime had secured my equipment to a rope and lowered it down over the vertical drop to the water (about a 100ft + drop). I untied my gear, put it on , then waited whilst Jon lowered his gear down, he then came down to join me. Suprise, suprise ..... poor visibility. Dropping down (and maxing out at about 15ft) we did complete circuits of the hole - I knew I had circuited at least twice as I passed the same dead crab under the water ! If there had even been an entrance, it was now collapsed ... so no cave to explore. We did find two old house safes (opened), which had obviously been dumped after a robbery in the past. Climbing out we disturbed an owl - its the first one I have seen in the 7 years in Providencials. The climb up was even worse as we now had wet footwear and were dripping water everywhere. Also let me tell you that I will never complain again about hauling tanks off a boat after hauling the gear back up from the bottom of the hole - I though my arms were going to explode.
So... no cave... just another day of cave exploration here in the Turks and Caicos. We're still having fun ! Stay tuned for more crazy exploits.
MALCOLMN'S (STINKEY) CAVE
Dive 1- 25/09/2013. Max Depth: 27ft. Dive Time: 12 mins. Temp: 81F. Tide: Incoming
This was the last potential cave that we sought out at the end of 2012 - it seemed that it was time to make a return visit.
Looking into the pond, it could not have been less appealing even if it had tried ! The water was brown/red (tannic acid); stepping in made the situation worse; silt kicked up and a foul smell filled the air - hydrogen sulphide, which results from the bacterial breakdown of organic matter in the absence of oxygen. The gas it gives off is a potent respiratory toxicant and smells like rotten eggs. What a wonderful start and we were barely ankle deep at this point ! Trying not to think about how disgusting the water was, I tied off the reel and dropped down, visibility was zero, the reddish colour of the water was due to the tannic acid (again from decaying vegetation). I kept one hand on the edge of the rock face as I felt my way under the overhang. Suddenly two things happened simultaneously, first the water temperature dropped about 6 degrees, secondly we were in crystal clear water. We were confronted with a large chamber (floor was thick with silt), which temptingly slopped down to a bedding plane. Looking around the chamber we were confronted with two contrasting features - firstly huge stalactites (showing it had once been a dry cave system above the water level) as well as large quantities of fossilised coral (including brain coral), and a large conch shell embedded in with the coral (showing that it had once been below sea level). This is our first discovery of coral fossils in the caves to date. The disturbed silt from our initial water entry was already reducing visibility as it slowly and eirily rolled downwards. We still headed down to the base of the cave to see if progress could be made - in sidemount if you were willing to pull yourself through the silt it looks if progress could be made - how far is difficult to tell and it would be a pretty scary prospect. Even in the main chamber with plenty of space to manouveur visibility was rapidly deteriorating. We chose to call it a day, as I reeled out I was completely blind for the last 15ft or so, not even able to see the line as I reeled it back in. I couldn't begin to image that sort of situation in a severe restriction !
We reeked when we got out, so walked to the sea and jumped in the clean up as best we could.
So, looks like it does not progress beyond the main chamber, an exciting find none the less, again we don't believe anyone has dived here before. We shall probably brave it at least once more to try and get some photos. A better entry with less silt kick up might also make for a better situation !
Dive 1 - 26/09/2013. Max Depth: 81ft. Dive Time: 29 Mins. Temp: 75F. Tide: N/A
We had mild concerns about the quality of the water here, so had earlier had a water sample tested by the water authority, it had come back with nothing harmful so we had a green light to proceed.
The path had become overgrown in the months since our last visit, however, we managed to find our way without too much difficulty. The water was full of trash and the same reddish (tannic acid) colour of Malcomn's Cave - yipee!
Clambering down and avoiding the broken glass we slowly lowered ourselves into the water. Jon tied off and then reeled off into the gloom. I had a hand on the line as I followed as once again visibility was pretty much non existent. Low and behold after about 15ft the visibility cleared and we found ourselves in a pretty good sized room, containing a good number of large stalactites and a huge column; typically there was a deep layer of silt on the floor.
The big difference here though was that at 23ft there was a hole in the middle of the floor which seemed to drop down quite a way and was comfortably sized for a diver. We proceeded down and at 55ft were confronted by another room, greater numbers of stalactites and less silt. This room also continued downwards, following it we bottomed out at 81ft (our deepest cave dive to date). As we proceeded down the quantity of the decorations continued to increase, with multiple stalactites, stalactites (including some really delicate ones), columns and some beautiful crystals (first ones we have seen in TCI). It really was stunning, to be honest its what we had been hoping to find when we first set out cave diving here. We were aware that the bedding plane seemed to progress and that we had minimal silt at this depth. The silt that did exist was also much heavier than we had experienced elsewhere so settled quickly. Tempting as it was to proceed, we were not really equipped for further exploration, instead we spent time exploring what we had already discovered.
Exiting the cave there was some real elation at what we had just dived; we were planning a return even as we were carrying our gear back to the truck.
Its amazing to think that the two potential caves that we thought would reveal so little (and so we put off), have produced the most exciting finds. Not only that but we dived them both in the same week !
Dive 2- 26/09/2013. Max Depth: 83ft. Dive Time: 42 mins. Temp: 75F. Tide: N/A
Three cave dives in a week - unheard of, but we just could'nt wait to go back. The plan was to continue to explore what we had already seen to date, take some video footage (to follow) and remove some of the trash in the lower level.
It still takes me by suprise when you pass through the layer of no visibility into this beautiful underwater world; visibility was as good as previously, again showing that the silt here is not as fine as elsewhere (in airport cave it takes about a week to settle).
We pretty much followed the plan, made some new decoration discoveries and pushed a little further along the bedding plane to see if it would open out. Its certainly a tight squeeze and so we only progressed about another 30ft before continuing explorations elsewhere. Managed to reach a new record depth of 83ft.
We both agreed we could just keep visiting this cave even if it progressed no further - 2 happy cave divers !
CHALK SOUND CAVE
Dive: 6 - 30/09/2013. Max Depth: 70ft. Dive Time: 38 Mins. Temp. Tide: Incoming
We now figure that Chalk Sound seems to run about 2 hours behind the tidal charts (go figure); so set off with this calculated knowledge. Great visibility finally and and steady incoming tide which pushed any kicked up silt oit of the cave. progress was smooth, lots of crabs and shrimp as well as numerous delicate and colourful sponges. Confirmed that we had indeed reached the end of the passage on our previous exploration. Exited with total time of 20 minutes. Reeled down the crack/slope that we had explored on our first ever dive here, sidemount meant we could progress more easily, passing previous depths we reached a low bedding field (seems to be becoming the norm) which seems to continue on. Low and silty, the increasing strength of the outgoing tide and lack of tieoffs (or silt pegs) made further progress unrealistic. May be an opportunity for a later date although the disturbance of silt would be a big issue.
Dive 3- 05/10/2013. Max Depth: 74ft. Dive Time: 35 mins. Temp: 75F. Tide: N/A
The dive plan was to remove accumulated trash (3 mesh bags full) and insert a permanant line. Mission accomplished
Dive 4- 07/10/2013. Max Depth: 82ft. Dive Time: 42 mins. Temp: 75F. Tide: N/A
Improved the pathway to the cave.
There appear to be 3 potentials for further cave penetration along the bedding plane. Explored and discounted 2 of them; more stunning decorations discovered along the way mind you.
CAVE DIVING REVISTED
Wow, its already April 2014 and apart from a most excellent cave diving adventure in Mexico earlier this year, the cave gear has been sitting idle; our last cave dive here was 6 months ago ! The best we have managed since then was in March when we waded through Flamingo Lake to eliminate the slim possibility of there being a cave :(
The clocks have gone back and now its not getting dark until 7:30PM, so work allowing its cave diving season again here on the rock.
NW POINT POND
Dive 1 - 07/04/2104. Max Depth: 52ft. Dive Time: 39 mins. Temp: 78F. Tide: Incoming
Towards the end of last year, we hooked up with Agile, a fellow explorer (the above water kind) on the island. We had shown him Airport Cave as he was interested in the bat colony there and he had accompanied us to Snake Cave. During his years of exploring the island he had found his way to a remote pond that had not initially shown promise on google earth and as such had been overlooked by us. From his visits there though, he had concluded that there was definate tidal movement - a cave(s) perhaps ? Better go check it out then !
Thankfully for me, Jon and Agile did the legwork - clearing a path to make access manageable (barely) and confirming that there were at least 2, and maybe 3 potential caves.
A week of slow down on the island gave us both our first opportunity to get a day off together, Agile was in on the adventure, the tides were in our favour - it was time to go adventuring :)
None of our caves are what you would call accessible, these ones however simply take the biscuit ! Leaving the paved roads, its a slow 10 minute bone shaking drive (in a landrover - would dread to take a normal car here). Then its the usual process of equipment hauling - walking through swampy ground and working through/under/over the tightly knit network of mangroves. We eventually reached the edge of the pond and proceeded to set up the gear (2 tanks,full sidemount setup) whilst trying the minimise how much mud we covered everything in. We then climbed over the final mangroves and by working chain gang fashion reached the waters edge. Standing waist deep in the water we clumsily kitted up - now all that was left was a 10 minute surface swim to the first cave !
The pond itself was completely screened by mangroves, looking down into the water I quite taken aback, instead of the usual clay/sediment/rock bottom composition, I was greeted with lush green plantlife and a deep emerald algae that completely smothered the bottom of the pond; amidst which were thousands of upside down magrove jellyfish. Small fish darted around, whilst needle fish glided just below the surface. Simply stunning and a reward in itself.
Reaching the first potential cave we dropped down into a wonderfully cylindrical sinkhole which took us down to about 47ft. The passageway that greeted us was pretty straight in direction and progressing along seemed neither to veer or entice us with side passageways to explore. There was a definate incoming current, the ceiling was low and I was glad both that we were diving sidemount (not a backmount cave) and that I was wearing a helmet. There were a few vertical holes that we pocked our heads into but none offered anything of interest. After about 18 minutes of lining in we sadly came to a halt having reached the end of the road, the length of the cave was probably in the region of 200ft. Exciting to have probably been the first people to dive it whilst dissapointed that its potential was reached so soon.
Retracing our steps we pulled ourselves into every available overhang looking for other routes but to no avail; looking up out of the sinkhole during the safety stop was awesome, it was so clear that you could see the mangroves reflecting off the water.
Exiting, we made our way towards the next potential cave. The route to this one was even more unique, the mangroves had choked the waterway at the surface so we had to swim under the mangroves, pushing aside the prop roots as we passed. We surfaced in a perfect little pond complete with sinkhole entrance. The hole went down about 40 feet but sadly ended in a small chamber (filled with shrimp) but didn't progress any further.
Not being daunted and thoroughly enjoying the whole unique experience we headed towards the last of our 3 potential locations.
Dive 2: 07/04/2014. Max Depth: 46ft. DiveTime: 27mins. Temp: 78F. Tide: Incoming.
The entrance was similar to the previous two and it was evident that although there was a passage it would,nt be as long as the first we had dived. The whole passage was both narrower and lower and soon started to taper to nothing; it still went back about 100 feet and was certainly worth the effort.
Swimming back to our exit, we began everthing in reverse and a few cuts, bruises and curses later were back at the vehicle.
A tiring, but rewarding and exhilerating day. There's just something about pioneer exploring that makes you so very sleepy. yawn. That aside its given us the renewed impitus to get back up and running and see what else 2014 has in store for us. Watch this space
And suddenly 6 months had passed us by and no exploring had been done ! So, we took a day off and went back to some of our old cave haunts.
Dive 5: 03/11/2014. Max Depth: 83ft. Dive Time: 41 mins. Temp: 80. Tide: N/A
It was great being back in this caves, its my favourite because of all the decorations. We checked out and eliminated the final option for further exploration. We have now discounted any further potential for new discoveries here - a bitter, sweet feeling. The plan is to return here at some stage with a decent camera rig and take some pictures.
WHITE FLAMINGO CAVE
Dive 10: 03/11/2014. Max Depth: 77ft. Dive Time: 36 mins. Temp: 80. Tide: Incoming
Its been almost 2 years since I last visited WFC, the place where our cave diving exploits first began in the Turks & Caicos.
We had decided to make an effort to push beyond the shingle restriction in the main level to determine once and for all whether the cave opened up again (the shingle had to come from somewhere after all), the question was what if anything was beyond it. We were once again diving using a single tank H-valve sidemount configuration (we had already determined that no progress could be made with backmount).
Once we reached the restriction (which we later named 'Plane Insane') Jon proceeded first, wriggling his way through the restriction he quickly disappeared out of my view as a result of the inevitable disturbing of the sediment that was mixed within the shingle bed. The incoming tide soon cleared everything out and I could see that Jon had pushed beyond the restriction (which turned out to be about 20ft). Then it was my turn to follow, and it was pretty tight, I could feel my back against the ceiling as I wriggled my way in, luckily there was enough 'give' in the floor composition; once through I looked back to see the body shaped groove that I had left behind !
Looking around I could see that we had emerged into a reasonable sized chamber, exploring about 50 feet to the left it looked as if there were two potential passageways for later exploration. Whilst to the right it progressed a similar distance as it dropped down through a tumble of rocks to a lower level; again with the possibility of further progress.
Sadly at this point I had developed a problem with one of my first stages and had had to shut it off; that effectively made it game over for the day and so we exited.
A truly exciting dive with real progress made, easily doubling our progress in the main level - and with the promise of more to come.
Maybe I won't wait another 2 years before going back !
WHITE FLAMINGO CAVE
Dive 11: 10/11/2014. Max Depth: 79ft. Dive Time: 50 mins. Temp: 79. Tide: Incoming
It was too good an opportunity not to take advantage of an extra day off, tides were not the best with a high tide of 11AM meaning we would only realistically get one dive in - still one is better than none !
The visibility was at its best with the tide still incoming; passing through 'Plane Insane' we headed off to the left and Jon entered one of the two passages we had previously identified. He didn't get too far before hitting a tight restriction, so returned and tried the other passage - this proved more successful at it appeared to rejoin the first passage on the otherside of the restriction.
With only the opportunity for one dive, the decision had been made to make quick investigations to allow us to plan better for further exploration. Having determined that one of the passages held promise, it was now my turn to checkout the right had side of the chamber. Reaching the end of the line I could see a small vertical hole ('Keyhole') at the end of the passage, which once squeezed through opened up into another reasonable sized passage (large enough for both of us). This continued for another 60ft or so before ending in another tumble of rocks (this time heading upwards). It looked like it would be possible to progress beyond this, however, air and deco limits meant that we had reached the end of the road for the day. More line had been laid, 2 passages still offered further exploration and a new maximum depth had been reached. All in all a pretty successful dive.
Returning to the entrance, it was time to lug all the gear back to the car and speculate on what we might find on our next dive. Sadly we are not too sure on when this will be as I am off to DEMA next week, then Jon is on vacation and then its crazy season again. It woud be great to get another couple of dives in this year though :)
CAVE DIVING REVISITED 2015
So Xmas came and went with no more opportunity to continue our explorations of White Flamingo Cave, a lull at work, coupled with the tides being in our favour gave us a day to haul ass back through the bush and try and carry out 2 dives - the downside was lugging 2 tanks all the way there and all the way back !
WHITE FLAMINGO CAVE
Dive 12: 13/01/2015. Max Depth: 77ft. Dive Time: 41 mins. Temp: 79. Tide: Incoming
The visibility was not at its best, however, beggars cannot be choosers. The plan was to continue where we left off. Jon led the way and soon came to where I had previously tied off. We managed to squeeze through yet another obstruction (i got stuck the first time) and the passage continued upwards a short way before becoming seeming to become too tight to proceed any further - so another dead end.
I had spotted a side restriction just prior to where we had tied off on the previous dive that I thought was worth a quick look. Tying off from our line I managed to push through the restriction which then opened up into a reasonable size passage which I followed into a room of sorts. The passage continued to the right and it looked as if there was another route off to the left. At this point though I had run out of line and only had my emergency reel left - so it would have to wait for another dive.
I had decided earlier that on the way out I would head back into what we had previously called the 'cauldron', somewhere we had not returned since moving to sidemount - I was intrigued if we could get past the restriction that had initially ended our progress there. Reaching the end of the line I squeezed through successfully, having proved we could continue I retraced my path as remaining air, limited deco time and no line didnt make any further exploration a realistic option.
All in all a successful, yet slightly frustrating dive.
WHITE FLAMINGO CAVE
Dive 13: 13/01/2015. Max Depth: 78ft. Dive Time: 42 mins. Temp: 79. Tide: Slack
We used our surface interval to take our empty tanks back to the car and bring our second set of tanks.
Continuing to where I left off, Jon then continued to the right, the passage shortly went upwards to a restriction of loose, sharp stones ('Dragons Teeth') before entering another room 'Dragons Lair'). Sadly, it was now slack tide and the area we were in was full of silt which was impossible not to disturb due to the tightness of the passage and there was no flow to move it along and restore visibility. As such we could not tell if we could progress further, heading back we had to stay in physical contact with the line as there was simply no visibility. I took a quick look off to the left, it progressed but it would be a seriously tight restriction which I didnt fancy persuing without water flow - a tight restriction is one thing, but to do it in reverse for the first time effectively blind was not something I was too excited about. It just means we will have to return.
Once again I went into the 'Cauldron', lined past the restriction and entered a room with a serious collapse of rocks and no apparent way of proceeding. Another dead end. Another loose end tied up.
Until the next time.........
WHITE FLAMINGO CAVE
Dive 14: 13/02/2015. Max Depth: 77ft. Dive Time: 44 mins. Temp: 74 Tide: Slack/Incoming
We had the opportunity for a quick dive before dark if we got our skates on !
Arriving at the pond we were confronted with the lowest water level we had seen to date, that meant a lot of outgoing water and poor visibility; our hope was that as it was just on an incoming tide then at least any silt we disturbed would be pushed out of the cave. The next shock was the water temperature - a drop of 5 degrees in 4 weeks (by the end of the dive we were both shivering).
The plan was to continue where we had left off on dive 13, I led the way this time and upon pushing through 'Dragons Teeth' (having had to back up once when a hose got snagged) I entered 'Dragons Lair' in which Jon had tied off. The visibility was good enough that I could identify exploration possibilities both to the left and right. I chose to continue right along a reasonable sized passage, there was no real flow and so visibility started to reduce, it was time to tie off and retrace my steps. Still new passages lined and more to investigate.
Returning to the initial t-junction (after'Plane Insane') Jon investigated the 2 passages we had identified but not pursued on dive 10. The first soon came to a blockage, however the second showed much more promise actually bypassing the blockage and rejoining as a single passage of the far side. Good news.
Meanwhile whilst I had been waiting for Jon to return I had glanced up to see a small hole in the ceiling ('The Attic'), poking my head into it I saw in turned at a right angle and soon became a room in which you could turnaround. I lined off as far as the room, observed that it then continued into a further passage. Gas limits and cold limits had been reached so I turned aroud and waited for Jons return a few minutes later.
Exiting with chattering teeth and too cold to chat we lugged the gear back to the truck (which warmed us up) with a few minutes to spare before it became too dark.
We celebrated with a traditional beer - 2 passages continue to show promise and a new passage on a seperate level has been discovered. Not a bad way to spend a few hours after work ! If only we could dediacate ourselves full time to our explorations here in the Turks and Caicos, who knows what we might discover.
WHITE FLAMINGO CAVE
Dive 15: 20/03/2015. Max Depth: 77ft. Dive Time: 40 mins. Temp: 77 Tide: Incoming
The clocks have finally changed so more opportunities to keep on exploring. The passage that Jon explored on the previous dive comes to an end shortly after the restriction. The'Attic' though shows promise, progressed further but came to a tight restriction where there has been a rockfall in the past. I moved some of the smaller rocks, its a tight squeeze but may be possible if we remove tanks, tantilisingly it opens out and continues once through the restriction - wasn't feeling brave enough to pursue it on this occasion though ! Jon lined off in a new direction, off to the right of the very beginning of 'Plane Insane', lining out about 100ft before running out of line - further progress is possible. Finally I "re-found" a new passage on the 'Cauldron', to be fair I had seen it a couple of years ago but deemed it too tight to proceed through, managed to wriggle through with sidemount just to try it out, just got through and it looks likely to continue. So to conclude - 1 loose end tied up, passage continues ('attic') and 2 new passages still to explore.
WHITE FLAMINGO CAVE
Dive 16: 08/05/2015. Max Depth: 77ft. Dive Time: 50 mins. Temp: 79 Tide: Incoming
Its quiet at work so an extra day off and only one thing to do and thats go cave diving. Our plan for the first dive was to return to 'Dragons Lair' so that Jon could have the opportunity to see where I had previously explored and also to allow further exploration of the area. I led the way through to 'Dragons Lair' at which point my primary light failed. This would normally mean end of dive, I was however happy to revert to one of my backup lights and stay put by the line whilst Jon proceeded with the exploration (He travelled to the end of the line but didn't find anything new worth investigation). Upon his return we started to head out, just as I started to leave the 'Lair' I glanced down to see a small stalagmite lying in silt on the bedrock. I was completely gobsmacked and slighty confused as we had been exploring the cave system for a while with absolutely no indication that any part of it had previously been a dry cave - we had assumed that it was a solution cave. To be honest we had not been investigating too closely within the system, choosing further exploration over fine combing of what we had already discovered. Exiting I told Jon of my find, the plan of action for the second dive was now established - a return to 'Dragons Lair'.
Dive 17: 08/05/2015. Max Depth: 77ft. Dive Time: 49 mins. Temp: 79 Tide: Incoming. Deco: 12 Mins
Its amazing what you discover when you look at something with fresh knowledge and information ! As soon as we passed through 'Dragons teeth' and shone our torches in the lair we saw several crystal domes that we had managed to miss on our previous visits to this part of the system. There were maybe 5 or 6 and only 8 inches high (and that was the largest) so we can be forgiven for missing them. We also found 2 more broken stalagmites (due to constant tidal flow ?) and in one protected area a lone intact stalagmite, maybe 10 inches in length. It doesn't sound much to most people but we were elated and I'll even admit to 'high fiving' under water (not a very British thing to do). This area was now for later more detailed exploration as Jon wanted to show me the passage he had explored to the right of 'Plane Insane' that I had yet to see. Retracing our steps we set out along the new passage - the longest restriction so far of probably 60 feet of pulling yourself through shingle whilst trying not to bang your head on the ceiling (sounds like fun huh ?). At the end of the restriction there is a chamber and then a new passageway which is wide enough for one person at a time. As with all new lining that we have done, one person lines and the other person waits, as there is nothing worse than getting to a dead end/restriction and wanting to back up only to find someone behind you. Jon lined about another 50 ft before turning (due to deco times), but said afterwards that it proceeds further - I look forward to getting to see it on our next dive here. A few minutes of deco and we surfaced. - today felt like a major accomplishment with a promising looking passageway and most importantly proof that at least part of White Flamingo cave was once a dry system. To our knowledge this is a first as all previously dry systems found/dived to date on Providenciales (Airport Cave/Snake Cave/Malcomns Cave) are non flow systems. Needless to say we celebrated with a beer !
WHITE FLAMINGO CAVE
Dive 18: 30/05/2015. Max Depth: 78ft. Dive Time: 51 mins. Temp:79. Tide: Incoming
The plan was to revisit 'Dragons Lair' to see if there was any evidence of further decorations. Explored and found a few more in the Lair itself. Continued past the lair but no further decorations and concluded that the passageway ends at this point with no further areas to explore, there was a small side tunnel but didn't run far before ending. Tied up a couple more loose ends. The passage explored by Jon at the beginning dive 12 (and thought to end in a restriction that was too tight) was revisited by Jon, he managed to proceed and we were both suprised that it joined 'Dragons Lair'. The room prior to 'Dragons Teeth' that contained the left hand passage with restriction (dive 13) also progressed into 'Dragons Lair'. Not as fruitful as we hoped but a few loose ends tied up.
WHITE FLAMINGO CAVE
Dive 19: 13/06/2015. Max Depth: 71ft. Dive Time: 46 mins. Temp:81. Tide: Incoming
The plan was to revisit 'The attic' (dive 15) to determine if we could actually proceed beyond the restriction. Once there we found that with 2 of us working together we could just manage to roll back one of the boulders. It was still seriously tight and it took me several attempts to get my body position correct to enable me to pull myself through. It was a bit like opening a bottle of champagne as once through the tightest section I literally 'popped' out into the room. I was not in the mood to progress too far as I was more than a litle concerned with how I was going to get out again ! Shinning my torch around it appeared to be a largish room that sloped down to the floor and without a further way to progress. The disappointment was short lived as I caught sight of several decorations (both stalagmites and crystal domes). Although only about 30ft away I chose not to examine them further but to retrace my steps and exit the restriction. Getting back was even harder work and I had to back up several times as I kept getting stuck. Finally with lots of pulling and twisting I reemerged. That was enough excitement for the day and it was decided to head back out. We will try and move the boulder further which should make the going slightly easier, set up a 'jump' as I don't fancy having to contend with a permanant line providing us with another entangelment issue and go check out the features properly. We named the restriction 'slim fast'.
WHITE FLAMINGO CAVE
Dive 20: 29/06/2015. Max Depth: 78ft. Dive Time: 45 mins. Temp:81. Tide: Incoming
Quick visit to 'The attic', Jon squeezed through 'slim fast' to check out the decorations. He lined in but it shortly came to a dead end. He got to see the formations though which was the main thing.
Headed back to retrace the steps Jon took on dive 17 (passage to right of 'plane insane'). Its a squeeze initially but opens up into a nice passage, the bottom composition is shells which is a good sign. Jon found a fossilized conch shell embedded in the wall (first we have found), aswell as a new cave critter that we had never seen before (a bit like an albino scorpion?). I proceeded to where Jon's line had ended - it certainly continues, but air limits prevented further exploration. On my way becak out I spotted 2 more stalacmites in the passageway, so now thats formations in 3 sperate areas of the cave. A great dive for new discoveries and the tides should be good for getting a further dive in tomorrow.
WHITE FLAMINGO CAVE
Dive 21: 30/06/2015. Max Depth: 77ft. Dive Time: 39 mins. Temp:81. Tide: Incoming
Headed back to where we had left off yesterday with the hope of lining further in. Jon lead and took the main passageway, I chose to poke my head into a side passage. I couldn't get too far as there was a restriction (it opens up afterwards). It appeared to end in a room, which had a silty bottom (not a good sign as this always means an end of flow). That aside what I saw was amazing - stalacmites, stalactites (first ones found at this cave), a huge crystal dome and what looked like flow formations. As I was wishing Jon could see this, his flashlight came into view at the opposite end of the room. He had worked his way round from the other side and actually managed to get into the room (was slighly jealous). His GoPro footage afterwards showed amazing domes and definite flow formations and Jon aptly named the room 'jewelery Box'. He also found another of scorpion type critters (I have yet too see one except on his GoPro footage). The only downside is that it appears the cave ends at the 'jewelery box', this seems to be the feature of this cave with formations always signalling a dead end. That said it was another amazing dive and I look forward to exploring in the room properly next time.
MIDDLE CAICOS OCEAN HOLE
Whilst we have focussed on exploring the caves we have discovered, there are several known places that have long been on our radar to check out. One such 'place' is the Middle Caicos ocean hole. There are 3 reasons why we have not managed to dive it, firstly we needed the right tides, secondly we needed to be able to get the same day off work and thirdly to get there we needed to travel 25 miles over the Caicos banks on a small skiff - so the seas needed to be calm. You just can't imagine how difficult it is to get all 3 of those things to coincide.
December the 27th 2015 was such a day ! So a little about the ocean hole:
At nearly twice the diameter of the Great Blue Hole of Belize and three times the diameter of Dean’s Blue Hole in the Bahamas, the Middle Caicos Ocean Hole is likely the widest blue hole in the world.
Found off the south coast of Middle Caicos in the shallow Caicos Banks, The Ocean Hole is a 250 feet (76 m) deep geological feature that can clearly be seen by air when flying by Middle Caicos. At nearly 2000 feet (.6 km) in diameter, the Ocean Hole is by far the largest of the blue hole features in the Turks and Caicos.
Like nearly all caves and sink-holes in the country, the Ocean Hole was formed by the Karst Process. In previous ages when sea levels were lower, slightly acidic rain water would slowly dissolve the soft limestone of the Turks and Caicos plateau as it made its way to the water table. Because this process happened anywhere rain water puddled, small sink-holes and formations can be seen wherever there's the harder Turks and Caicos limestone, even on the highest points in the islands.
Although not much is known about the Ocean Hole, several expeditions were made out to the site over the last few decades for sounding and diving.
The giant Ocean Hole off the south coast of Middle Caicos, Turks and Caicos Islands.
Due to the hole's location, access is difficult. The entire south side of Middle Caicos is mangroves and wetlands with no roads breaking through to the south coast. Ocean depth in the vicinity of the Ocean Hole is also quite shallow. Access is only feasible as a long ride on a small boat that draws very little water.
The journey accross the banks took nearly an hour and a half, but the seas were relatively friendly and it soon passed in a mixture of banter and tom foolery (a pretty typical scenario actually). Anchoring at the edge of the hole in less than 6ft of water, we kitted up and jumped in ...
Dive 1:27/10/2015. Max Depth: 101ft. Dive Time: 23 mins. Temp: 80 surface. 75 at 100ft. Tide:Outgoing
There was an evident outgoing current at the surface and looking down you could barely see the bottom - not the most promising of starts.
We secured our line to the anchor and reeling out dropped in the hole. The scale of it meant that you simply felt like you were wall diving, we slowly descended, the water got cooler as we descended and at about 70ft the water was the colour of ink ... and below ... nothingness. All you could see was the wall, then blackness. It was quite spooky. The actual wall was covered in a fine silt from the banks, we stopped at 100ft and followed the wall for a while, I'm not sure what we hoped to find, I'm sure we each harboured ideas of finding a formation or passage. We had a better chance of winning the lottery, you could dive the hole every day for a year and barely scratch the surface. We hadn't really discussed a plan so after swimming vaguely around for a few minutes we ascended and climbed back on the boat.
Dive 2:27/10/2015. Max Depth: 71ft. Dive Time: 4 0mins. Temp: 79F.
Well! we had finally dived the middle caicos ocean hole. As we had come all the way out here we thought it was foolish not to do another dive. We navigated along the wall at a depth of 60ft for about 15 minutes. It was all the same, a featureless and silty wall. I looked uptowards the surface hoping to see the sharks that were rumoured to be here but to no avail. Turning, we retraced our steps.
We stopped off on the way back to checkout a potential cave in the mangroves but it didn't pan out.
Returning to the dock we washed the boat and called it a day.
Were we glad we dived the ocean hole? ... Yes ! Would we make the effort to go back again? ... Probably not.