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Black Belt Divers Blog

A day without diving is like a day without sunshine!

  • Lelle’s Eurotrip – 2016 Part III (Slovakia)

    Let’s travel back a few weeks in time and reexamine my ending statement/question from the last article shall we… “Do you think Google maps has any clue to time management in terms of distance???” Well, by now you probably already guessed it. The answer to that question would be a BIG NO!! With that said […]

    The post Lelle’s Eurotrip – 2016 Part III (Slovakia) appeared first on Mexico Cave Diving & Cave Training - ProTec Blog.

  • AI Robotic Cave Diver Mission a Success

    In 1995, deep in a canyon in the Sierra Mazateca Mountains I sat around a campfire with Dr. Bill Stone. We were wrapping up a project in the Huautla Resurgence; a cave of mammoth proportions that we hoped would become the deepest cave on earth. With spring rains arriving early, we had experienced flooding in the canyon that was destroying the visibility of our cave. But Bill had an idea; a way to see in the dark. Two years later he had built the world’s first 3D mapping device that could accurately define the cave in three dimensions and even link it to surface topography with ultra low frequency radio beacons. The United States Deep Caving Team’s Wakulla2 Project was born.

    I had the honor of driving the Wakulla mapping as a part of a team of 150 volunteers who worked together to create the first accurate 3D map of a subterranean system. It was cave diving history but also a leap forward in engineering and technology that was destined for far greater motives. Since that time Bill has further developed his devices, working with NASA on plans to send an autonomous mapper to Jupiter’s moon Europa where it can explore the ocean trapped beneath the frozen surface. He’s been hard at work in Alaska and Antarctica, diving in deep caves in Mexico and tinkering in the lab.

    This week, a small but extremely capable version of his autonomous mapper made history at Wes Skiles Peacock Springs State Park in Florida. First hooked to a tether, engineers learned about the mapper’s behaviors, watched through its camera and tweaked software. Watching the robot navigate through real cave passages was remarkable. Finally, it was ready for the test. We unplugged the tether and watched the first robot cave diver explore and accurately map a submerged cave.

    What’s next? There is still much to do to extend range and capability before Sunfish can be sent into the unknown to go where no person has been before, but the teamwork, professionalism and skill of Stone Aerospace engineers and volunteer cave divers has made a mark in the history of cave diving and artificial intelligence.

    Jill Heinerth piloting the 3D mapper during the United States Deep Caving Team Wakulla2 project in 1998.

    Bill Stone’s DepthX (DEep Phreatic THermal eXplorer) AUV.

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  • Lelle’s Eurotrip – 2016 Part II (Hungary)

    And so the journey continues! The Viking team gathered, sights are set due south for central Europe, Budapest Hungary to be exact. After returning from the Mumin Valley in Finland, this adventure also originates from the center of universe, Malmö Sweden. First leg of the trip involved a ferry crossing, by far not as adventurous […]

    The post Lelle’s Eurotrip – 2016 Part II (Hungary) appeared first on Mexico Cave Diving & Cave Training - ProTec Blog.

  • A 75 meter dive on the HMS Southworld

  • Protect Your Noggin’ – Diving Helmets

    I have never figured out why so few North American technical divers wear helmets. Perhaps helmets never reached the Pantheon of hip here. Divers in other parts of the world would never consider exposing their scalps to the ceiling of a cave or wreck without protection. Diving in an overhead environment, there is a high likelihood that you will bump your head. It might not be a major incident, but if you use a Diver Propulsion Device (DPV), contact with a rock or hull of a ship could knock you out. A helmet will not only protect you, it offers an opportunity to attach lights and even a GoPro in a handy location.

    Not all helmets are ready to dive “off the shelf” and there are several important points to bear in mind for your DIY helmet project.

    The Shell

    Start with a basic helmet with adjustable, interior suspension straps. Foam filled helmets are very common for skateboarding, cycling and other sports, but they are unsuitable for submersion. The foam inside those helmets is extremely buoyant and will make it almost impossible to sink. I have seen some people painstakingly dig foam out of their helmets or add weights to the interior, but the end result usually destroys the safety structure of the helmet and even makes it un-diveable. Kayaking, construction and some styles of rock climbing helmets offer the feature of interior suspension straps that can be quickly adjusted with a small fly wheel using one hand. The adjustment wheel is a small round dial or ratcheting wheel that adjusts the circumference of the interior headband. This feature will be very valuable if you switch between differing neoprene hood thicknesses in various water temperatures.

    Chin and Side Straps

    Adjust the chin strap so it is comfortable and secure without feeling like it is strangling you. If the helmet strap is too short, you may have to replace it with a bungee strap. Any modification such as this may destroy its safety rating out of the water, but unless you have overhead risks such as those encountered by sump divers, this may be okay.


    The air vents in the side of the helmet offer thermal comfort out of the water and bubble outlets underwater. These holes can also serve as mounting points for lights. It is far better to use these engineered outlets for mounting rather than cutting or drilling new holes in a way that might damage the structure of the helmet.

    The Lights

    I use Light and Motion GoBe lights. They are activated with a simple push button switch. Lights that require turning a bezel may not be suitable for this application. Bezels can be tough to operate with one hand while the helmet is on your head. You might find the entire light spinning in place instead of triggering the switch. I use a GoBe SPOT on the left side of the helmet and point it slightly downward. I want the left light to illuminate a notebook or wrist slate when I am writing with my right hand. My preference for the right side is the GoBe SEARCH. It is a little brighter and has a wider beam. I point that light so it illuminates the cave in front of me when I am in the horizontal swimming position. It acts as the best possible backup light and is actually bright enough to serve as a primary. The GoBe lights have one more important feature. They never need to be opened for charging. The charging cable snaps on the light in place on the helmet. It is quick and easy to charge without breeching any seals and is therefore unlikely to flood.


    Decide whether it is important to be able to remove your lights from your helmet. You can permanently mount the lights for best security or you can use some very snug bungee cord to hold them in place. In this case, I recommend a small bolt snap fastened to the back of the light. Snap the clip onto the bungee cord as a secondary point of security in case the light slides out of its snug sleeve of cording. If you ever have to deploy the light, you can clip it off as needed.

    When choosing the attachment site be careful to consider your swimming position and ergonomics. Lights that are aimed effectively may not look symmetrical or level when the helmet is placed on a table. What is important is that they are well aimed for your swimming position. Before you commit to a permanent location for the lights, take the helmet on a few dives and try using the lights. Ensure your stream of bubbles does not cascade across the face of the light. Bubbles can create a distracting flicker that also appears as an emergency light signal to a dive buddy. I prefer Hollis SE500 side exhaust regulators since they are breathable in either a right handed or left handed exhaust position.

    Primary Light

    Some divers choose to mount their primary light on their helmet. That can make activities such as surveying easier. If your light is a canister style design, you can purchase a releasable or permanent saddle that can be affixed to the helmet, such as models manufactured by Light Monkey. Generally divers choose the releasable version for ease of gearing up. I prefer keeping my primary light in my hand for easy aim. The hand-mounted Sola Tech600 by Light and Motion is my preferred primary light.

    GoPro Cameras

    There are many great helmet mounts available for GoPro cameras. The stock mount accepts the male camera clip into a female receiver which is affixed to the helmet with included double sided tape. The male side of the mount pivots to enable you to point the camera in the proper direction. Once you are geared up in your new helmet, do a short test run of the camera and double check the field of view, otherwise you might end up with an entire file looking down the front of your chest rather than out into the blue.

    Remember that if you use your head-mounted lights and/or camera, you need to think about being very stable with your head movements. If you are constantly looking around you may be creating unusable footage on your camera and if you blind your fellow diver with glaring lights, you may soon be looking for another buddy!

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  • Lelle’s Eurotrip -2016 Part I (Finland)

    Living in beautiful Tulum is a great thing. Having the closeness to all the caves and the Mexican way of life is awesome! But going back to the roots from time to time is equally awesome. This summer I headed back to Europe for some super nice cave and mine diving. This was not only […]

    The post Lelle’s Eurotrip -2016 Part I (Finland) appeared first on Mexico Cave Diving & Cave Training - ProTec Blog.

  • My four months in Bunaken


    Bunaken beach


    Being a bit of tradition I’m now writing about my time in Living Colours Dive Resort in the lovely Pulau Bunaken. And just to start with I’ll introduce myself. First you’ll hear a small story my dad loves to tell.

    While you were a little girl, maybe around four years old, my colleagues were asking what will you do as a grown up girl. And you know how they expected you to answer something common like a vet or a princess (you were still so young). But with no doubt you told them that you’ll become a scuba diver and you can only imagine how their faces looked after you said that with plain certainty in your voice. And eight years later you came to me with the brochure of PADI Open Water Diver –course starting in few weeks. And less than a month from that you already had your Junior OWD –certification. 

    PADI Divemaster Indonesia Young Sara, photo Hannu Waenerberg 

    Since then I’ve been exploring the diving around the world (including Finland). And now, nine years later I’m finishing my PADI Divemaster -course in a place to be. During the nine years I’ve also found my way to the Kajaani University of Applied Sciences where I’m currently studying a Bachelor’s Degree in Sports and Leisure Management which includes instructing sports from basketball to hiking and gym training to swimming. As a part of the studies we’re required to complete an internship including planning/implementing sports sessions and also getting hands-on experience from the managemental tasks and administration of a sports business. When it was time to decide the place for the training I had already got many negative answers but then I remembered this place where I was on holiday four years ago and sent an email to Mia about the training. She welcomed me to Living Colours and Bunaken and I was able to start figuring out the practical things to actually get here.

    So now when the major part of the training is over and the return to the daily life and routines is pretty close, you’ll get to know few pros and cons of my time in here.

    People and atmosphere in here are one of a kind. You’ll find the locals very nice and positive, always smiling to you and greeting you. They will also try to help if there’s any problems (even they might not speak English) calling around multiple people to find the solution. On the evening if you happen to walk outside the resorts you’ll find locals playing guitar and signing (probably also drinking) and having a great time. They might as well be playing cards or just hanging around with friends. By being here four months you’ll also get to know the staff quite well and sometimes even end up in the middle of their houses enjoying the evening with friends, good music and some local snacks.


    Boat to Bunaken Boat trip from Manado to Bunaken with a local family, photo Jii Danya


    Diving is the main reason people come to Bunaken. The island is surrounded by the worlds best coral walls and most diverse marine life. Majority of the sites around the island are walls but we do have a few nice slopes too not to forget the great muck diving just across the strait in the shores of the mainland. Just to mention, my favourite sites are Lekuan 3 and Beruntung (Lekuan 2,5) due to the various shapes the wall has and of course the unbelievable amount of creatures living there. Other sites I enjoy are Bunaken Timur 2 (and the whole house reef: Timur), all the Lekuans and Muka Kampung, Wori (muck) and the Molas Shipwreck. I’ve seen so many great things underwater: hundreds of turtles, red-tooth trigger fishes and nudibranches in various sizes and shapes, few sharks, rays and huge groupers. We also found both Nemo and Dory underwater and many tiny tiny seahorses (which I never found by myself, only with the guide).


    Bunaken dive sites Sachiko's Point Bunaken, photo Jaakko Aalto


     I rarely ate spicy food in Finland and at start I found almost everything with chili too spicy for me.  Now after four months I’m able to eat local foods with sambal or dabu-dabu with much better feelings and less tears. The food in our restaurant is great; I haven’t lost any weight during my time in here whilst I still have been diving  quite a lot. They have multiple dishes from where to choose and the options vary on a daily basis. I’ve also eaten few times in Manado in the street restaurants and few times in my friends home in Bunaken. What a great food you can find also from there. And mostly the spicy sauce is served separately so it’s easy to adjust the taste. I’ve also learned how to eat rice, chicken and veggies with only one hand. Huh – that was difficult in the start, but time after time you’ll get used to it (and the locals laughing to your effort).


    Spicy foodLocal delicacies, photo Sara Waenerberg


    One thing I found very difficult in here was to adjust to the Indonesian time. Given that in Finland mostly people are on time or even a bit early, here it’s nothing like that and you’ll have to get used to waiting multiple things such as locals coming to work, food, boat ride etc. But after you settle to the idea, you can manage with it and find waiting actually more pleasant than you first thought. If you have to be somewhere on an exact time, you should consider reserving great amount of time to actually get there, because it’s obviously possible to be late in Indonesia too.

    One of the worst things to happen in a place like this is to get sick. I had prepared with few antibiotics and pain medication plus a whole bunch of medicines to the possible ear problems when I left from Finland. You should really pay attention what medicines should be brought with though Living Colours do have a nice small availability for the most common medicines needed. I had quite a few issues with my ears whilst in here. The key to avoid ear issues is to keep them anti-contaminated: rinse with fresh water and dry after contact with sea water, protect from wind. While being sick I was feeling blue not being able to dive but also because I have my own routines back home whenever I catch a flu or something else. Luckily though I had one good friend in here trying to cheer me up and Annika and Mia will also be happy to help you if needed.

    Overall my time here have been amazing, great, unforgettable, sometimes also boring and sad, but still the best thing in my life for a while. I will miss every and each one of here: people are the ones who made this like it have been. So I would thank you all the guest visiting Living Colours during my internship, the whole staff working in here, especially Mia and Annika who have been the warp and woof for me and all the Bunaken people I’ve met during these wonderful four months.

    Diving BunakenDivemaster Sara, photo Teemu Siimes 

    Terima kasih banyak! Sampai jumpa temanku!     

    Text: Sara Waenerberg



  • Gozo Technical Diving trimix dive at Inland Sea Gozo

  • Toronto Star Features Jill Heinerth in Insight

    Toronto Star Foreign Affairs Reporter Marina Jimenez interviewed Jill Heinerth about her lie as a cave explorer. The feature spanned three pages in the Sunday Star.

    Download a PDF here: TorStarInsight

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  • Underwater Video Tips

    2016VideoCoverFRONTAs a Contributing Editor for DIVER Magazine in Canada, I write a regular column called “Final Cut.” In the column I share advice on making underwater videos. If you haven’t had a chance to check out DIVER, they have compiled many of my articles here. And if you enjoy them, please subscribe to DIVER or buy my book: The Scuba Divers Guide to Underwater Video. You can also buy the book in Kindle format. If you are a Kindle Unlimited member, it is free!

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