Archive for the ‘Cave Explorations’ Category

April-May 2019


I recently had the opportunity to test a cave light made by Nanight of Sweden. This was through the kind arrangement conducted by a good friend and fellow dive instructor Kent Barquin of Chicago, Illinois.

Kent also lent me his personal Nanight light products which were a pair of Sport video lights and a Tec2 light. All the Nanight lights performed superbly but this review is focused on the Cave3 light since it is the newest addition to the Nanight line-up.

Testing of the said Cave3 light was made in both freshwater and saltwater environments.


At Pawod Underwater Cave System with (L-R) Jaime Lapac, Art Gardiner, Dean Apistar, author

Getting ready to dive the Liloan Ship Wreck with (L-R) Jaime using the Cave3, author with the Sport video lights and Nelson Que with the Tec2 lights.

The Nanight Cave3 is a 4000 lumens LED light with an umbilical head and a canister battery packed with 24,000ah of battery power.

The light was used in sidemount diving set-ups. Maximum depths reached during testing in a freshwater cave was 25 meters. Saltwater testing was made on a shipwreck to a depth of 45 meters.

Average dive duration during the tests was 1 hour.

Initial Observations:

Things inside the goody bag.

1. Attachment of the battery canister to a tank can be made via a supplied velcro strap.

2. Attachment to the waist strap (backmount) or crotch strap (sidemount) can be done using the pre-attached 2 pieces of hose clamps and webbing.

Attached on the crotch strap for sidemount diving.

3. Options available to use a carbon-fiber Goodman handle or a soft/ multi-mount Goodman handle. Both said items are supplied in the package. I liked the soft handle.

Observations During the Dives:

1. Intensity of the light is noticeably higher, and the beam is more focused compared to a Chinese made 3000 lumens light that I used for comparison (Cave3 is 1000 lumens higher).

A strong beam is fine in certain environments but if you’re diving in a site with a lot of suspended calcite particulates, such as in certain points inside Pawod cave, a strong light beam will result in a high back-scatter. You will experience something akin to driving on a foggy road with your car’s white headlights set on high beam.

We reduce back-scatter by shifting light power to the lowest setting. The Cave3 has two light settings but the lowest one is still strong in comparison to the other brands we use that has 3 levels of power intensity.

2. The lamp head is neutrally buoyant in fresh and salt water. This takes out the possibility of disturbing the silt if one should accidentally let go of the light. I really liked this particular feature.

3. Fully charged, it took a long while for the power to drain during use. Although we did not conduct an comprehensive battery test, I was pleased to note that I did not have to wait too long for the battery to charge after a long day of diving since it still carried a lot of power inside it.


Upper left is the beam of the Cave3. Lower right is from the Tec2.

4. The strong beam allowed me to see more details inside the cave and the wreck. I particularly enjoyed the fact that although the sites we dove were well known to me, the excellent illumination by the Cave3 light gave me a fresh view of the sites.


I can wholeheartedly recommend the Nanight Cave3 since it has a durable construction, excellent battery life, non-corroding components, strong beam and overall good feel to it.

The downside though is the cost of the product which might be an issue for divers who already made substantial investments for their existing equipment.

It behooves the new cave or technical diver to consider the Nanight Cave3 as his or her first primary light purchase. There is no doubt that this product will easily survive the challenges of the underwater environment and will be of service for many adventurous years.

Link to manufacturer’s site:


What I found lacking in the manual was a clear information on how to separate the umbilical cord and the battery canister to allow one to charge the battery. I searched through the internet but I did not find any details to perform the procedure.

Here then is my method:

1. Find a rubber strap, the ones you use to retain your hose on your SM tanks will do very well;

Fig. 1

2. Wrap the rubber strap at the base of the area where the umbilical cord starts (Fig. 1);

3. Grasp the battery canister with your left hand and with your right hand take the other end (use opposite hands if you’re a lefty);

4. Firmly rotate to the left the battery canister and rotate to the right the other end with the rubber strap;

5. The seal is very tight so be patient and do your darn best;

6. Once open, slide out the battery and do what you need to do (Fig. 2).

Fig. 2


  1. Thanks a lot to Kent Barquin for making available the excellent Nanight lights for us to try.
  2. Thanks to my buddies who tested the products with me– Jaime and Nelson.
  3. Thanks to Jaime’s Dive Center for the logistical support.
  4. Thanks to Nelson Que for sponsoring the use of the boat to the Liloan Ship Wreck.

Disclaimer: The author was not under any agreement with Nanight to conduct a review of their products. This review was made through the initiatives of the author.

I have lost my best friend and cave diving buddy—Doc Amores. He passed away last June17, 2014 in an enchanting and mystical place aptly called The Enchanted River of Hinatuan. He was captivated by the beauty of this unbelievably blue body of water that since 2010 he has been back to the area 7 times.

Doc & I-- Enchanted River 2010

Doc & I– Enchanted River 2010

I do not wish to discuss the details of his last dive but I will instead direct you to the Filipino Cave Divers website so that you may understand that losing him is not only a loss to his family and friends. You may also find further details in this link to a local paper’s article: Doc’s Unfinished Book & the Pawod Cave.

In this period of mourning, I will take comfort in the thought that the times we spent together helped shape me to the kind of person that I am now.

I miss you, Doc. See you in the next life…

To the depths of the Enchanted River

Doc in the foreground– Enchanted River 2011

Missing Doc

Congratulations, Open Water Diver! Now READ this!

Doppler's Tech Diving Blog

Hi: and congratulations on your new open-water certification. Diving is extremely cool and I hope you get as much out of the experience as you can: talk about opportunities… wow!

You probably do not recall everything you read while doing the academic work to earn your certification, so I would like to take this chance to remind you of something important: An overhead is no place for an open-water diver: period. There should be no exceptions to this.

I’m writing to tell you this because there is a chance that sometime soon, someone – perhaps a buddy or a more experienced diver, maybe even an instructor – will try to tell you differently. Please tell them they are wrong. You can quote me if you like, and you can use stronger language too, but much more importantly, you can find the same advice in training manuals from EVERY agency and…

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Filipino Cave Divers

The Filipino Cave Divers team. L-R: Lyndon Cubillan, Doc Amores, Jake Miranda, Bernil Gastardo


It was another day in paradise on June 23, 2013 as we made our way to Larry Williams’ banca for the trip to Dinagat Island at the break of dawn. We left from Jake Miranda’s Punta Bilar Dive Shop in Surigao del Norte. The sea was flat and the sky was clear.At the break of dawn.

It was the 3rd day of our Southern Expedition that started in Butuan. But we were supposed to start the trip from Davao. My research showed that there is an area in Davao Oriental that may have the same potentials for exploration like the Hinatuan Enchanted River.

All rights reserved to the original photographer.

Lake Carolina, Davao Oriental

The prospective site is called Lake Carolina  and the photos I found on the internet showed a blue pool of undetermined depth, nestled among coconut trees and jungle foliage.

It was 2 days before our flight to Davao to meet up with Jake, Larry (driving from Surigao del Norte) and Lourdes (flying in from Manila) when news broke out that a couple of government soldiers and civilians were shot at and kidnapped by insurgents in Davao del Norte.

We wavered a little on the decision and the possibility of not changing plans but we definitely changed our minds as soon as Jake informed us that his military contacts have positively identified the sector in Davao Oriental leading to the Lake Carolina as “Red-Hot”!

Jake is featured in the airline magazine.

Jake is featured in the airline magazine.

The new itinerary was to fly to Butuan, then drive to Barobo to assess a potential site and then proceed to Hinatuan to continue the exploration of the Enchanted River.

Our muses

Lourdes Alejan & Jeanne Dumlao

Ok, but the  interesting thing was that Lourdes Alejan, our seemingly fearless geologist thought that she might as well meet us at an area on the way to Barobo.

When we saw her mid-morning of June 20th, she told us that she took the overnight bus from Davao. Surprisingly,  the bus route went through the “Red-Hot” zone we were trying to avoid! What the …!!

All is well that ends or starts (?) well and so there we were on that fine day, healthy, alive and all accounted for, headed out to Dinagat to traverse the Lake Bababu. The tunnel that starts from the sea and ends up in a freshwater lake was initially explored by FCD Lyndon Cubillan on August 28, 2012 and first traversed by FCD Jake Miranda on September 7, 2012. Jake wrote a fine article about the awesome experience of diving from the sea and coming out to the lake.

With an approximate length of 2, 200 ft/ 650 meters, Lake Bababu Underwater Cave is considered the longest fully-submerged cave in the Philippines!


Info made by: Jake Miranda


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Peaceful scenery Dinagat and SurigaoDinagat Island is an enchanting area with an allure that may remind one of the top-side beauty that Coron, Palawan offers—minus the sight of other tourists.

The eastern coast of the island fronts the Pacific Ocean and the south-western side faces Surigao del Norte. Travel time to the site took 2 hours.

Picturesque white-sand coves and uninhabited islets along the way served as icing on that sweet day. We anchored the outrigger boats on a still and calm cove beside a high limestone cliff.

Directly above the cave’s entrance are warning signs placed by Jake and Lyndon.

The tunnel starts at a depth of 9 feet/ 3 meters and the tidal current was predicted to gently flow in from the sea to the lake on that certain time. We expected to have the leisurely condition of being carried through the tunnel. A more relaxing cave dive could not have been envisioned!

Getting ready for an epic traverse!

Jake was the lead man with Doc as his buddy. With our cameras, Lyndon and I teamed up to document the traverse. Each diver was equipped with 4 units of 80 cu/ 11 liter tanks to fully cover any issues with gas requirements. Total expected time from start to finish of the dive was 70 minutes with 20 minutes of possible decompression obligation.

Filipino Cave Divers

L-R: Lyndon (twin tanks & 2 stages), Doc (4 sidemount tanks), Jake (twins tanks & 2 stages)


Underwater, Jake signaled OK and everyone responded the same. Poised near cave’s mouth, Jake started to fin forward and was swiftly carried in. Doc followed suit, next was Lyndon and the last to go was me. The current started with a gentle push, slowly nudging—but when we were fully inside the cave the push became a shove and then we got flushed into the tunnel! Imagine a water slide—yep, something akin to that but in this ride, you are in a long, dark, enclosed space with jagged things out to cut you and your equipment if one is not careful.

Touch and cry.

Stinging hydroids on the rocks. Nasty.

“This is going to be one hell of a roller coaster ride!” I thought as I sailed past stinging hydroids growing on the sharp, coralline sides of the cave. The floor was covered with a collection of small shells from bivalves long gone. Perimeter clearance was less than a meter on each side and a meter from the ceiling to the bottom.

5 minutes into the dive, we came to a 30° right turn that required us to slow down but the current won’t allow us that privilege. I could hear tanks banging as the 3 guys made contact with the sides of the cave and with each other. I dropped down closer to the bottom and positioned my left tanks to prepare for collision. Shifting sideways, my left tanks slammed into the wall jerking me upward and making my helmet scrape the ceiling. Ah, thank God for helmets!

Interesting rock formation

It went on like that for 30 minutes, more or less. Turn! Bang! Scrape! Repeat. I started to get a good idea of how the ball in a pin-ball machine might feel while being played.

A respite from the wild action occurred whenever we found ourselves in larger spaces where the strength of the water flow was less.

Bottom crawler

Speaking of large areas, there is a Cathedral-like chamber where I found rock formations rising from the bottom and coming down from the ceiling. Stalagmites and stalactites? Perhaps…

Another interesting experience was the challenge of maintaining buoyancy whenever we came to a point where fresh and saltwater mixing occurs. I’d be trimmed and neutrally buoyant for saltwater and then suddenly I’m dropped to the bottom as the water density changed.

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Tired but happy and alive.

Doc resting with “souvenirs” on his back.

We rounded another corner and we observed several small yellow sponges on the bottom. The current was slowing down and in a distance I could make out a faint greenish hue. We have reached the end of the tunnel, we are in the lake!


Near the exit, I saw Doc on the bottom having a rest after the adrenaline filled ride. The back of his Hollis carried “souvenirs” — parts of the tunnel that dropped loose as we passed through. Jake came up and we all shook hands, congratulating each other for the successful traverse!

I tasted the lake water and it was fresh, which was interesting because I then saw 2 big trevallies (jack fish) swim past.

MoonscapeWe had incurred 19 minutes of decompression time which we had to clear at a depth of 6 meters before we could ascend to the surface. We used that time to swim slowly towards the lake shore.

The surreal landscape enclosed in greenish water lent more mystery to the tangle of fallen tree trunks. I noticed small sea urchins on the rocks and again, the trevallies.

selfie!My dive computer cleared of the decompression requirement and I slowly made my ascent. The first surface image I saw was enthralling! Tall limestone walls surrounded me with trees and foliage bordering the water’s edge. The water was flat and still and everything was peacefully silent. I saw small transparent freshwater shrimps and silver half-beak fishes swimming among the tree branches & leaves overhanging into the water.

Can't beat the view.Larry, Lourdes and Jeanne were waiting at a small shore. From the beach, they had to follow the trail up on a hill and then down to get to the lake. It took them approximately 30 minutes of good hiking through a path cut out from the jungle that covers the island.

The team was tired. We rested and lunched on the fine packed meal prepared by Larry’s lady, Ayet. Good food, great ambiance, fine company—ahh, such is life.

After a relaxing hour or so, we decided to pack up and head back to Jake’s shop. What awaited us between our current location and the boat was the trek up the steep hill, through the rocky forest path and down to the beach. And boy, was that a trek!

Thank God for the local porters because without them we would have died. No pun intended, really! Imagine making the trek carrying the tanks and other stuff after a decompression dive. The porters did an excellent job of maneuvering through the rocky uphill and downhill path while carrying such heavy equipment.


My hero!

I wore my sidemount harness with lights and reels attached, and I was panting all the way up and all the way down. The guys carrying our tanks were passing us with smiles on their faces. I tell you, they are God’s gift to explorers.

After 30 minutes of trekking, we came upon a sight for sore eyes. The secluded beach was impressive!

The beach!

We met up with the caretakers of the site and we showed them the videos we took of the traverse.

Smiling locals, happy to see what's the hidden beauty of their island.

On the way back to Surigao, we passed by areas of immense beauty. Dinagat Island and the Lake Bababu are so awesome that I silently promised to myself, I will be back.


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One of the areas revisited by the Filipino Cave Divers in the June 2013 Expedition was the Hinatuan Enchanted River. These shots were taken on June 20-21 on dives down to 50 meters deep and during decompression stops at 6m. Explorations have yet to fully measure the length and depth of the underwater cave system which is believed to be the deepest in the Philippines.

Part 1: Enchanted in Hinatuan (Going down to the depths of the head spring)

Part 2: Enchanted in Hinatuan (Inside the Mayor’s Chamber)

Part 3: Enchanted in Hinatuan (Heading back to the light)


As a Filipino Cave Diver (FCD) member, I am privileged to meet, dive and explore with other like-minded, generous, hospitable and generally wonderful people!

The latest FCD Southern Philippines expedition was from June 20-26, 2013. And for the period that I was involved which was from June 20-23, I would like to say a heartfelt “SALAMAT” to the following people:

JAKE MIRANDA (FCD, Punta Bilar & JJ Dive Center)- as Expedition Leader for this trip, his excellent planning skills & logistics management made everything smooth, allowing us to maximize exploration time. We also declare his mobile diving van FCD exploration tested and certified! Thanks also to his attentive and helpful dive staffs.

LARRY WILLIAMS (FCD Associate Member)- for his valuable assistance in logistics and for welcoming us into his beautiful abode. Best of thanks to his wonderful wife, AYET and to her excellent cooking skills and warm hospitality.

LYNDON CUBILLAN (FCD, Surigao Dive Club)- for leading us to his discovery– the Lake Bababu of Dinagat, and for his videography skills, which allowed us to fully document the traverse from the sea to the lake. Thanks to his lady, Landz for the fine meals at Larry’s place.

FERDINAND BARRIOS (HINATUAN Municipal Planning Officer)- again, Ferdinand’s invaluable assistance and whole-hearted support shone through even though we had a change of schedule & was at his area 1-day earlier.

MAYOR VIOLA (HINATUAN Municipality)- even though we were not able to meet him on this latest visit, we felt his kind assistance and his generosity. And thanks also to the various folks of the HINATUAN TOURISM COUNCIL (Marlon & the rest) who gave us logistical assistance and showed us genuine hospitality.

MAYOR FELIXBERTO URBIZTONDO (BAROBO, Surigao del Sur)- for his willingness to help and for showing us the springs in his area. We hope that he will succeed in his endeavors to protect Barobo’s natural resources from illegal mining and illegal fishing.

LOURDES ALEJAN (FCD in-house Geologist)- for her enthusiasm and willingness to enhance our survey reports with her knowledge of geological compositions that create the tunnels and the underwater caves that we explore. Excellent road-trip companion too!

SURIGAO DIVE CLUB MEMBERS– for the wonderful dive at Cantrasa Shoal of which I declare is “currently my best saltwater dive for this year”! Special mention to JEANNE DUMLAO for the  topside hospitality. Thanks also to Ayesha Laurente, Vivian Chaplain, Clint Sia & Zati Orquina– nice meeting and diving with you guys!

DINAGAT ISLAND FOLKS– for their assistance in our Lake Bababu exploration. Without them, trekking up a hill and hauling tanks and other equipment after a deco dive would have been the kiss of death for us!

And last but not the least– to my cave buddy DOC AMORES, for injecting us the spirit of exploration and for setting the tone of the cave diving culture in this part of the country.

I look forward to more discoveries and explorations with Doc, Jake, Lyndon and the FCD Team! Cheers to the continuing growth of cave explorations and explorers in the Philippines!


FCD(Expedition reports will be posted at Visit the website to get the latest stories.)

Filipino Cave Divers

The 6th Lake Bababu Underwater Cave Expedition

By Jake Miranda, TDI

This article is dedicated to my dear cousin, Dr. Edgar Vincent “Gagay” T. Miranda, who passed away last January 21, 2013.

One of the most exciting things you can do in your life is go cave diving in Lake Bababu. Traverse the whole length by entering a cave from the sea, and after an hour of swimming underwater and passing through  prehistoric chambers, emerge in a hidden lake of beauty.

For decades, cave divers from the Philippines have been looking for large underwater cave systems that could equal their technical skills. The discoveries of Pawod , Enchanted River, and Paglugaban caves have excited foreign and local divers and still the search for more underwater caves went on.

lake to sea

In 2012, a unique cave system- an underwater cave with two entrances was found  at Lake Bababu, Basilisa Municipality, Province of Dinagat…

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In cooperation with DOT 13 (CARAGA Region), Punta Bilar Dive Center- Surigao and the Surigao Dive Club, (with acknowledgement to the efforts of Mr. Jake Miranda for organizing the group) we will be showcasing the hidden treasures of Cebu and of the Southern Philippines. We hope to see you there!



Surigao Wrecks






Cave diagram by Dr. Alfonso Amores, 2010

A national newspaper (Philippine Daily Inquirer) published an article about the Hinatuan Enchanted River last September 30, 2012.

The diagram of the cave made by Doc Amores from our 1st area expedition was included in the published images.

Unfortunately, the image credit bore another name instead of Doc’s. I was able to contact the author and he has apologized for the oversight (not really his fault). A miscommunication with the paper’s bureau chief was the reason.

I have requested a revision of the online version of the article and hopefully soon, Doc will be given credit where it is due.

I found the succeeding notes in my files– should have published the post last January but for some reason I forgot about it. Seems like a waste to keep it hidden, so here it goes:

2011 was an exciting one for the MAD Cavers in terms of accomplishments and discoveries!

Here is a list and a timeline of the things that happened for that eventful year:

January– Doc made a trip to Puerto Galera to train and obtain a certificate for the Evolution Closed Circuit Rebreather- Trimix. The training gave him the necessary skills and experience to plan and conduct dives to 100 meters and beyond.

Doc doing CCR skills practice.

June– We returned to the Hinatuan Enchanted River to further explore the tunnel with the plan to reach a maximum depth of 90meters. The unfortunate discovery was that the head spring’s entrance was blocked by copius amount of sand from God-knows-where. One of the theories we had was that the sand was brought in by the strong tsunami that wrecked eastern Japan last May and the other theory was that a previous development close to the area led to sand filtering into the mouth of the cave. We believe the entrance will sooner or later clear up and when it does, we will be back, and to quote Morphius from the movie Matrix, “to see how deep the rabbit hole goes.”

Hinatuan Enchanted River, Surigao del Sur


July– A contract to recover “things” under the sea gave us the chance to conduct deep open water dives on trimix. Minimum depths being 60 meters, Doc had the good chance to practice his acquired CCR Trimix techniques and I enjoyed the opportunity to dive using the uber-expensive helium gas, minus the cost of paying for it. We can’t divulge anymore information on the experience because we don’t want to have to kill you after–you know what I mean 😉

August– Systematic internet research paid off and it led us to the location and discovery of Casili Spring— currently the deepest freshwater cave system ever discovered and dived in Cebu! We’ve made 3 trips to the area so far and what we know is that the tunnel goes deeper than 30 meters. We will soon be back to conduct more expeditions using the Hollis sidemount system.


Casili Spring– the deepest freshwater cave system in Cebu.

September– I passed my Advanced Cave- Sidemount course. Doc passed his Evolution CCR Recreational Instructor certification.

The MAD Cavers finally ditched their back-mounted twin tanks, back plates and harness for a more streamlined and more backbone-friendly sidemount system!

Weapon of choice is the ultra-versatile Hollis SMS 100.

Hollis sms100 with stage tank

We’ve been toying with sidemounted tanks for sometime using our reconfigured BCDs but we realized that a better unit to handle our increasingly demanding cave discoveries was needed— hence the SMS 100.

Pool and open water practices have been quite fruitful in terms of setting our muscle memory and getting familiar with the handling of more than 2 tanks at a time.

We will soon put our enhanced sidemount diving skills and new units to good use. In the meantime, stay tuned for another exploration report.

Excellent! I finally got a copy of the book ” Basic Cave Diving– A Blueprint for Survival” by the cave diving pioneer, Sheck Exley.

Written in 1979 and published by the National Speleological Society – Cave Diving Section, it underwent 5 revisions; what I have is the “brand new 5th edition” 1986 version.

My heartfelt thanks goes to my friends Mannix & Cindy Lozada of Oahu, Hawaii for this valuable gift!

Basic Cave Diving - a blueprint for survival

I believe that all cave divers and anyone aspiring to become one must have a copy of this book to supplement their reference materials and course manuals.

Within the confines of its humble looking soft cover and printed over 43 pages of simple paper is a wealth of knowledge gathered and procedures field-tested by the author himself.

When Exley wrote the book, he had already performed 2,000 cave dives. He went on to do 2,000 dives more before his untimely death in 1994.

Sheck Exley had his share of body recoveries back then in the Florida caves and he was determined to put an end to all the fatalities borne from a lack of understanding that cave diving requires a special set of skills and procedures, more specialized equipments and more thorough planning in comparison to recreational open water diving.

The book delves into causal factors of several cave diving accidents. The ensuing recommended special procedures and techniques are very practical, logical and contemporary.

Discussed are the proper use of the guideline, air supply planning, depth black out, panic, lights, scuba configurations, silt , emergency procedures, technological and physiological emergencies.

Table of Contents

For a background on the author, here is an excerpt of an article on the about Sheck Exley, or you may follow the link:  []

Sheck Exley (April 1, 1949 – April 6, 1994)

Sheck Exley-- cave diving pioneer

“Exley began diving in 1965 at the age of 16. That very year he entered his first cave and was hooked on cave diving for the remaining 29 years of his life.

He was the first in the world to log over 1,000 cave dives (at the age of 23): in over 29 years of cave diving, he made over 4,000. He is one of the few divers to survive a 122 metre(400 ft) dive on compressed air. During his diving career, he set numerous depth and cave penetration records.

He died aged 45 onApril 6, 1994 while attempting to descend to a depth of over 300 metres (1,000 ft) in a cenote called Zacatón inMexico.

He made the dive as part of a dual dive with Jim Bowden, but Bowden aborted his descent early when his gas supply ran low. Exley’s body was recovered only because he had hooked his arms in the descent line, perhaps to sort out gas issues.

His wrist-mounted dive computer read a maximum depth of 268 metres (879 ft). It is not certain what caused his death; team members concluded the causes “…could include stress of HPNS exacerbated by the narcotic effects of nitrogen at that depth”.

The line was also wrapped (deliberately) around Exley’s tank valves. Bowden and other experts have theorised that Exley may have done this in anticipation of his own death to prevent any dangerous body recovery operations.

Sheck Exley is one of only eight people in the history of technical SCUBA diving to dive below 800 feet.”

As Jim Bowden aptly puts it in his tribute article to Sheck; “Historically it is one individual’s pioneering breakthrough that leads the rest of us out of the trees. And they often pay a tremendous price for the boon we receive.” []

Ten Recommendations for Safe Cave Diving

Bernil, Natsumi & Doc

It was a great drive from Mactan to Cebu then across the trans-central highway to get to the lovely Municipality of Balamban on that fine mid-morning on Dec. 15, 2010. The town is on the western coast of Cebu and faces the Tañon Strait.

Balamban’s Cambuhawi Spring  intrigued me when I visited it many summers ago– way back when I was not a diver yet. Cold, fresh water steadily spilled-out into the man-made pool where families and children kept themselves cool from the summer heat. I wondered then, where is the main source of all this strong water flow? It seemed that the water came from under the roots of a big tree that was growing on the side of the hill.

The Cambuhawi Spring of Balamban

Fast forward to the present– I am off to know what secrets lie at the bottom of the Cambuhawi Spring!

Doc, breaking-in his new Strada, gamely loaded the truck’s bed with our twin tanks and our entire inventory of cave diving accessories. I brought along my wife and our baby daughter for the scenic road trip from Cebu’s east to west coast.

The Cambuhawi Spring looked strangely quiet on that afternoon. The main pool was also drained, the water flow unblocked.

Opening the gate, we let ourselves in. I prepared a single tank with a regulator for an initial look-see. Doc suited up for this one. He first looked into a well, hoping there might be a deep tunnel there– nothing.

He then swam around the shallow area from where the water that feeds the main pool flows from– no holes, no restrictions, no tunnel– nothing.

The water flows up through the ground, through the stones and gravel covering the bottom of the shallow pool.

After a couple of minutes swimming around, Doc came up and declared that there is no tunnel or well for us to dive into. Our cave lights, reels, and twin tanks had no purpose in that site.

too many gears…

Oh well, it was still a fine trip with Doc and the family anyways– baby and wife enjoyed it! On the way back across the transcentral highway, we bought some fresh corn from a road side stand… it was a nice day.

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New Cave Diver!

Posted: September 13, 2010 in Cave Explorations

Mantaga Adventure Divers would like to congratulate Emgee for passing his Cave Course ! We’re looking forward to our next explorations together.


By Bernil H. Gastardo

The Pawod Spring area as it looked on that eventful day of May 2007.

“Let’s eat so we can die with a full stomach,” said my instructor Paul Neilsen. “Lovely…,” I thought.  We then started on our lunch of inasal manok (roasted chicken).

That afternoon, we were to do the final dive for my IANTD Technical Cave course.

The dive objective was to penetrate “Paul’s Peril”. This tunnel goes further and deeper into Pawod Cave. Running 30 meters farther from the main chamber, its maximum depth reaches 18 meters/ 60ft. Only a handful of men have previously penetrated this tight restriction. I was to be the 5th one allowed the privilege.

Schematic Diagram by Doc Amores

docThe Pawod Cave was discovered by Dr. Alfonso Amores. Trained in cave diving techniques in the freshwater caves of Florida, he is the first diver ever to shine his light into the cave and lay a line around the main chamber. In his childhood years, he was one of the many kids that used the cave’s main pool as a swimming hole to ward off the summer heat.Pawod Cave 15

One of the dangers associated with diving in this overhead environment is that the bottom is blanketed with thick, muddy silt. Anybody untrained in maintaining perfect buoyancy and proper line laying is assured of a disastrous outcome once he has reduced the clear visibility to zero with a careless sweep of his fin or hand. Without a guideline and unable to return to the exit point, the unlucky diver will frantically move around in circles until his gas is consumed. With lungs burning for air and clawing desperately at the cave ceiling in his final attempt to survive, the diver soon succumbs to the dark and cold embrace of the cave.

After which, the locals would say that the diver was victimized by the “Mantaga”, a “freshwater octopus” that supposedly lives inside the cave.

We were not leaving anything to chance that day. Since the start of the course, we have been using twin 11 liter tanks with isolator manifolds. Each diver carried 3 lights. The main light is a High Intensity Discharge (HID) light. With a price tag of US $800, it is well worth the investment since its beam slices through the dark corners of the cave, turning night into day.

Using the reel properly is one basic skill a cave diver learns. We had 3 reels each. There was a main reel plus two spools. In our pockets, we carried directional markers and an extra mask. On our harness, we had line cutters and scissors incase of line entanglements.

L-R: Jean-Marc, Paul, Bernil. Suiting up beside the Agus Road.

We never fail to draw a crowd anytime we start gearing up at the side of the road that runs beside the cave. That day was not an exception. “Are you looking for the Japanese gold, Sir?” is a pretty standard question. The local kids whisper among themselves, I hear the word “Mantaga” mentioned. I caution them not to follow us when we swim into the cave’s entrance.

My technical cave instructor, Paul Neilsen in his tropical drysuit, making his way down to the spring…

With twin tanks on our back, it is quite an effort going down the rocky slope that leads to the cave’s pool. At the shallows, we settle down into rechecking our equipments and going into our safety drills. Valve shutdowns and long-hose drills are done before each dive.

During the briefing, it was decided that Paul would lead me into Paul’s Peril while I video the whole process. Lights on, wings deflated, we descended into the pool’s bottom. The water was murky from the silt stirred up by the numerous kids jumping around the water. A small school of guppies flitted around us. Paul finned into the cave entrance and I flicked on the video.

Paul making his way through the dark cave…

The entrance to the main chamber is like a gaping mouth.  Around 2.5 meters wide, and 9 meters long, the edges taper off to a restrictive size. A long wooden branch lies right at the center (God knows how it got there), and that’s where we did our primary tie-offs.

Inside the cave, the water is very clear. There seemed to be a constant flow in the area since the silt we stirred up from an earlier dive has dissipated already. Moving away from the cave’s mouth, ambient light diminishes, total darkness descends, and we hold it at bay with our powerful HID lights. Average depth of this area is 6 meters.

Think of a woman’s birth canal. There’s the entrance and then there’s the uterus. A big uterus—that would be the cave’s main chamber.

The bottom of this chamber is covered with slabs of limestone rocks that looked liked they were once part of the ceiling. There is a big pile of these rocks right in the center of the chamber. We’ve navigated around this pile on previous dives, carefully laying lines for reference.

With each exhaled breath, our bubbles disturbed the limestone ceiling and white particles drifted down like snow.

Each fin movement is a conscious effort not to disturb the silt. Everything on the bottom is covered in silt, thick brown silt that lets loose at the slightest movement. Left undisturbed, one can observe small tractor-like prints made by petite crabs.

After 8 minutes of careful movement across the chamber, the guideline leads us to the corner where Paul’s Peril starts.

Into Paul’s Peril

Imagine going inside a box.  Imagine the bottom of the box littered with rocks, mud, sand and silt. Imagine the ceiling of the box decorated with scraggy limestone. Imagine the box stretching far into a distance where your light does not fully reach.

Can you see all of this in your mind? Congratulations, you are in Paul’s Peril.

I focused all my energy into maintaining perfect buoyancy. “Don’t hit the ceiling, don’t scrape the bottom,” was the mantra that flowed though my mind. Certain stretches of the tunnel made it impossible for me to follow my mantra.

There was an area that left me chest deep in mud. My manifold was scraping the ceiling and each exhalation brought down so much particulate. Using my left hand, I slowly clawed my way forward. That action, together with my fining and breathing, created a total whiteout. Visibility turned to a finger length. All I could see was the white line on the mud floor that leads farther into the cave.

“What was Paul thinking when he laid this line,” was all I could think of.

What sort of person would wedge himself into a hole with no assurance that the ceiling will not collapse, or that the tunnel will not taper off after a considerable distance giving him absolutely no chance of making a 180 degree turn?

Having freed myself from that space, I found myself in a slightly bigger area where I was able to rise a meter off the bottom. I checked my depth gauge, it read 12 meters.

I could see the faint glow of Paul’s light in the distance. “Onwards then,” I shrugged.

Squeezing into another tight area, my eye caught the familiar shape of a giant clam’s shell.

“How many millions of years has this thing lain in here,” I wondered. It was at that moment that I felt what explorers might feel when they chance upon a discovery few people have ever seen. I felt awed by it all.

I continued on and came out into a chamber. The water in here was the color of deep blue—clear and clean. I took off my regulator and tasted it. Fresh water. Depth gauge reading, 15 meters.

The line continued in between two boulders. I followed it and I entered the final chamber of the tunnel. The line ended there and it was tied up on a rock at the bottom. Depth was 18 meters.

The bottom of this last chamber is covered in boulders. The sides are limestone and the area is big enough for three divers to float beside each other. I approximate that the space is around 3 meters by 3.5 meters.

Paul signaled me the OK sign, I responded and then he headed back out. Alone, I paused for a moment to enjoy the area.

Heading Back

The trip heading back out was something. The muddy silt we disturbed had amassed into angry, thick clouds. I kept my eye trained on the line for reference.

Then I came upon an area where the bottom sharply angles up. I got stuck. I moved left—scraped my manifold. I moved right—ouch, bumped my head on the ceiling.

And right in the middle of this silt-out situation, my HID light went off!

Good thing that the video light was still on. But then the monkeys in my head started chattering, “You’re stuck, you’re going to die, you can’t get out now!” Weird.

So I stopped, took a slow, deep breath, paused, exhaled very slowly and willed myself to relax. Then I slowly clawed my way out.

At the end of it, I saw a light. It was Paul waiting for me at the cave’s main chamber.

We gave each other the OK sign, shook hands, and then we swam out to daylight.

“Cool dive,” I thought.

– Bernil 2007

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