A few months ago, I had found a deeper section of the cave at a branch near the top of the hill in Laura’s Castle, approximately 2000 feet into the north-west passage.This lead was a little odd for this section of cave as it had turned sharply and began heading south east in the direction of Dan’s Cave.
Today’s dive (and yesterday’s two set up dives) were an effort to get to the end of that line and continue on into what I though was an ascending passage with increasing formations higher up.In the caves here on Abaco, this usually means a shallow, highly decorated room and I was hoping for yet another Fangorn Forest or Steve’s Room.
I had stashed 3 stages of EAN 27 just past the restriction in the Glass Factory yesterday (1100 feet penetration) as well as one EAN 32 stage at the frozen bat skeleton (700 foot penetration).Leaving the surface today, I dropped two oxygen cylinders at the 20 foot stop, and swam with an EAN 32 stage through the run to the Glass Factory.At the frozen bat, I exchanged the stage for a fresh EAN 32 stage and continued through the shallow section and then down through the frozen rain section, carefully pushing the stage in front of me at a snail’s pace as not to break any of the glass-like straws squeezing me on all four sides.
Once past the delicate section, I began loading on the 3 EAN 27 stages I had left the day before at the 1100 foot mark.I dropped the EAN 32 stage and continued on into the deep section with 5 full cylinders.
I had forgotten how much of this part of the cave stays below 100 feet in depth.Along the route to Laura’s Castle, each stage was conveniently used up just prior to consecutively smaller restrictions, with the last major restriction requiring that the last two remaining stages be removed and pushed up ahead of me.This went extremely well and a short distance past this restriction I dropped the second stage at the top of the hill where the line splits between Laura’s Castle and the new, southeast heading and deeper passage below.
The passage here stays relatively deep, roller-coasting up and down between 120 feet and 155 feet in depth with an amazing bright-red, cracked mud floor.These deep, crazed cracks took on many designs in the curvatures of this ancient floor and I was amazed at how they could still be intact after thousands of years of being immersed especially with the light flow that moved through this tunnel.
At one point, the mud floor stops and the tunnel reduces in size to a scoured 3 foot diameter phreatic conduit just before the end of the line.Just as I approached the final tie off from my last exploration here, I found my dropped spare mask sitting on the bottom as if it had only been placed there a few minutes before.
Here I dropped my final stage and clipped the spare mask off to it before tying on a new reel and ascending up the slope that I had hoped would lead to amazing formations above.As the first 100 feet of line rolled of the reel, I realized that the shallow room was not going to be there.
I topped a hill in a large, 75 foot diameter room at a depth of 117 feet.The floor of this room was mostly churned up clay with a few breakdown rocks scattered sparsely about.The warped and eroded formations were only on top of solid floor rock, so they were few and far between.The floor of the room sloped away on all sides, and it took a few minutes to determine which side had continuing passage.
A small, descending breakdown pile on the far side of the room looked like the best possibility for continuation, and as I approached it, I could see a fairly large opening between the two largest boulders in the breakdown, both of which seemed to me to be the two mostly likely to move if I bumped them.The closer I got, the more they looked like a sort of stone mouse trap, and seeing the size of the boulders, I was very much feeling like the mouse.
As it turned out, the gap in the boulders was a bit larger than I had first thought and I passed through them with a comfortable margin of space, down to yet another deeper section of passage.Another 100 feet of line came off the reel and the passage rose again to an even wider room, this time with quite a bit of rock on the floor, but no formations at all.The only notable thing in this large room was a single, large remipede slowly swimming in vertical loops (as remipedes have a tendency to do) in the top of the room.
I looked around this room and saw at least two good possible leads.The remipede being where it was made me think that both of these leads are carrying good flowing water, as these animals will often situate themselves where currents “cross” from different passages in an attempt to ambush other cave crustaceans flowing along with the moving water.
I chose the left side of the room and once again, it descended into a short mud filled passage that ascended into yet another flat room but this time, continued rising all the way up to a depth of 103 feet.The room was oddly shaped with two distinct possible leads much as the last one.I chose left once again and slowly dropped down the other side when the reel finally gave up its last few feet of line.
I tied off the final loop and placed an arrow.Here a low ceiling led downward into a sort of eroded flowstone slope that ducked under an unseen ledge at the bottom of the slope.The silt stirred by my tying off the line was drawn down into the slope below me on the slightly siphoning current, so I know that this lead does pull some water.
The trip out was easier than I had figured on, even though the current was slightly siphoning against my retreat.Setting up cylinders in this fashion made things go very smoothly, and I am certain that I can place at least two more cylinders into the cave in the same amount of set up dives as before.
Today's dive added 604 feet into the Ralph's Cave maze and puts the end of the line in this part of the cave at 4,094 feet from the entrance.The south east direction is odd as it is heading toward Dan’s Cave and would be coming in from the north west part of Dan’s where there is no deep cave in that area (that has been found yet).The mysteries of this place are never ending.Each effort is met with a reward. A small piece of the puzzle to be interpreted and used to see the larger image.I believe these caves will continue to provide explorers with pieces of the subterranean puzzle for generations to come.
Frozen Rain in the Glass Factory section of Ralph's Cave. Photo by Brian Kakuk
Date: 3/2/2010 Diver: Brian Kakuk
Location: Abaco Island, Bahamas
Site: Ralph’s Cave
Time: 12:16 PM
Maximum Depth: 159 feet
Total Time of Dive: 2 hours 49 minutes
Mode: Open Circuit Side Mount with 3 stages
Gas Used: EAN 31 travel stage, EAN 28 travel stages and side mounts, O2 decompression
I’m still trying to find the connection between Ralph's and Dan's cave.I used 3 stages (1 of EAN 31 and 2 of EAN 28) to get up to Steve’s room about 2200 feet into the southeast part of the cave where I found a shallow way around the end of Steve's Bogaert’s old line from 2006, where he was chasing the same leads.Unfortunately, there are two deep areas (160 feet) and one small restriction along the way, which accumulated a lot of deco time.
After tying in to the end of my old line in the upper passage, I headed off in a south east direction toward Dan's Cave.This area is a literal maze of white walled, decorated passages running at a depth of 70 to 75 feet.
I dropped my final stage just past the new tie off and continued on with just side mounts of EAN 28.The cave direction kept changing back to the north, so I would reel line back in and find a new lead.There are so many going leads with water flow up here that it is really difficult to find the main way on.Lots of loops back to where I had come from.
One thing that was really amazing about this area is that it is mostly, white, crumbly rock with scattered areas of crystal formations sparsely scattered along the way.Some of these decorated areas are eroded white flowstones, while other areas are small grottos of clear glass like soda straws that look like glass threads that reach from ceiling to floor. It was all just stunning.
A few leads were single tank removal restrictions in chalk like rock, so the return trip was fairly low visibility compared to the 200 feet of visibility on the way in.I made two long runs and rewound the line from one of them when it started to double back.In the end, I put out 710 feet of line on this dive, and there are so many leads yet to check out, it will be a while before I can get this maze figured out.
So I don't know where the link to Dan's is yet, but I DO know where it isn’t.I still got to see some beautiful virgin cave in the process, so it's all good!
On the way out, I went down into Steve's room just to look at the huge crystal wedding cake formation that is back dropped by hundreds of 5 foot long soda straw stalactites, some of them with tiny helictites curling off of them.
The trip out was slow and easy, and it was nice to stop and look around a bit along the way out.I got back to the entrance at just under two hours and had another 58 minutes of decompression.Even though I couldn’t find the connection, it was still an unbelievably beautiful dive.
Diver: Brian Kakuk
Location: Abaco Island, Bahamas
Site: Ralph’s Cave
Bottom Time: 179 minutes
Water Temp: 74
Mode: O/C Side Mount
Gas: Side gas EAN 28, 3 AL 80’s EAN 28, 1 AL 80 EAN 32
Today was an attempt to find more passage to the south east of an area called Laura’s Castleapproximately 3000 feet from the entrance, but in the north west end of the cave.This area is suspected to be a major loop passage that seems to be heading back to the south east side of the cave system.
I had dropped 2, EAN 28 stages the day before at 800 foot penetration and 1490 foot penetrations.Today I carried two more stages and dropped them as they were used to the appropriate drop offs where the full stages were set.After arriving at the new area, I “Tee’d” into the line, set an arrow and headed back down into a deeper tunnel heading south east.Although this deeper tunnel was devoid of any dripstone formations, the floor was mesmerizing.
The tunnel stayed between depths of 145 and 155 feet, with the most amazing red clay floor I have ever seen.Red Sahara dust coated all of the clay in a terracotta color, and deep penetrating cracks which formed when the clay had dried in the last glacial period created cracking in cobweb patterns where a low spot allowed the clay to droop in the center. The circular patters were smaller in diameter in the center, lower spot, and larger in diameter towards the upper, outsides.The cracking resembled that of a dry lake bed, but much more ornate and 3 dimensional.
As the line spun off the reel, I ended up in what appeared to be a sudden dead end. There was a small bowl shaped ledge near the top of the dead end, so I tried that first.It ended 5 feet into the bowl.I had felt good water flow not too far back from this point, so I knew that there had to be a lead somewhere.A small ledge back down on the floor turned out to be the ticket, and after a 5 foot drop, the line continued pulling off the reel.
Just as this 8 foot high by 10 foot wide tunnel began ascending, and I could see some cave formations a little further up, the last few feet of line came off and the sharp, irritating tug at the end of the empty reel ended my exploration high.I looked for the nearest tie off which was an eroded flowstone formation at a depth of 140 feet.I secured the line and dropped an arrow on the end.Before I headed back I shone my light further up the ascending slope and as far as I could see, formations had begun to clutter the walls, ceiling and floor.Another highly decorated room in Ralph’s cave was up there begging to be explored for the first time.
The trip back was uneventful and I spent much of the trip counting knots on the line, but occasionally stopping to look at some of the amazing formations in the Glass Factory closer to the entrance.What a perfect dive.I got back to the entrance at two hours, and had another hour of decompression before slowing swimming back up into the fern filled entrance.I can’t wait to go back and see the new shallow room above the end of the line.