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Thoughts on Diving To Great Depths



By Jim Bowden, March 7, 1998

Header image: Explorer Jim Bowden surveys Zacatón. All photos courtesy of Jim Bowden and Proyecto de Buceo Espeleologico Mexico y America Central

Deeper into, the abyss, knees bent and streamlined for speed. The feeling of space and the suspicion that the void goes on and on. The darkness closes in, embraces me, not hostile, not threatening, just black like eternity. My light, a sword with nothing to touch, only my line, and the limits that my fears decree.

Bowden’s Proyecto de Buceo Espeleologico Mexico y America Central logo

These last few years I have wondered about my comrades in arms who have experienced that immersion into great depths. In 1993, Sheck Exley published an article in aquaCORPS # 7 C2 titled, “Beyond 500 feet (150 m)” listing sub-500 ft/153 m open circuit technical dives. There were thirteen at the time, completed by six divers, five men and one woman. All but one were in fresh water and in caves, though Exley commented that the wreck divers were sure to ”catch up.” Other than general fatigue, and one case of skin bends, no DCS symptoms were reported. The decompression models used were customized and often proprietary. My intention here is to update the list of sub-500 ft dives/153 m. To date, at least thirty-seven have been completed in this range and technical diving is no longer the realm of the lunatic fringe, at least in comparison to a few years ago. This paper will embrace the sub-500 ft/153 m dives made to the present and the known physiological challenges to those who dare. At best, it is an incomplete report and it will be dated by the time it finds print. The participants are not always forthcoming with all the details of their activities (myself included) and not all the individuals involved in these dives are known. Not everyone is interested in sharing their passion with the world. It is an immensely personal endeavor whether they chose media coverage or not.

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The dives in the chart Deep Dive List (1982-1998) [See: Diving Beyond 250 Meters] reflect the historical journey rather than a listing of progressively greater depths. To list them according to depth would imply a status that deeper is the greater accomplishment. The deepest depth is a coveted goal and I cannot exclude myself in this desire. However, some of these dives, such as Jochen Hasenmayer’s (sneak) dive in Vaucluse, Nuno’s difficult access and altitude, the cold and strong currents that some of the wreck divers must face, makes the distinction that just the volume of water over one’s head is a poor gauge of the individual’s accomplishment. It must be considered that many of these dives were preparation dives for a much more ambitious effort in the future. In Sheck’s article, I was one of the six divers in the sub-500 ft/153 m group. I was honored to be there. In less than six months I had made two more dives and found myself with the record. This is waiting to happen on the world scene. Somewhere someone—South African, French, German, Swiss—is on the brink of accomplishing the impossible.

Jim Bowden and Ann Kristovich reviewing their dive plans on site at Zacatón


Diving at the edge of the envelope obviously invites the possibility (probability) of decompression illness. “Bends is a statistical inevitability” says Bret Gilliam. The true pioneers in this exotic discipline were extremely exposed. Jochen Hasenmayer and Sheck Exley had little history to guide them in their efforts. Decompression software and models that would fit their particular techniques were not available, and everything was experimental. We have all benefited from their courage and their accomplishments.

Bowden preparing to make the jump

It is remarkable, considering the extreme nature of the dives, that there have been few incidents of DCS among the divers listed. The inert gas exposure facing each of these individuals is mind boggling, and the lack of CNS compromise in this series of dives is interesting. Jochen’s unfortunate incident occurred because of the cascading number of mistakes brought about by equipment malfunctions; he was also subject to inappropriate recompression treatment. My hit was multiple joint involvement, Nuno’s was inner ear, Gilberto’s was, by his report, the result of poor choices in the decompression profile. We have all recovered and are still diving aggressively.

Complicating the risk of DCI and the hope of resolution of symptoms is the remoteness of many of the dive sites. Nature is seldom kind enough to grant us sites that provide ease of excavation and treatment. In water recompression and/or aggressive medical management in the field are often the only options available for immediate DCI management.

High Pressure Nervous Syndrome

Sheck experienced HPNS on his August 1993, 863 ffw/265 mfw dive in Bushmansgat, SA. It occurred below 700-750 ffw/215-230 m. Descending at greater than 100 fpm/30 mpm, he first experienced visual disturbances at or just below 700 ft/215 m. His entire field of vision became a series of small concentric circles with black dots in their centers. Distant vision deteriorated, and objects began to blur. He slowed his descent and paused at 750 ft/230 m in the hope of relieving the problem. Around 800 ffw/245 m he experienced itching all over his body that soon became a stinging sensation (Inert gas counter diffusion?). Tremors ensued and increased in intensity until he reached the bottom at 863 ffw/265 m. According to Sheck, ”the tremors were quite intense by the time I reached the bottom, severe enough to make operation of my inflator difficult. Essentially, the bottom stopped the descent. My entire body began trembling, gradually escalating to uncontrollable shaking by the time I landed.” On ascent, all of his symptoms disappeared by the time he reached 400 ffw/123 m.

Sheck Exley with Bowden after making a 400 ft/123 m dive on air to loosen up his tissues (on Dr. Bill Hamilton’s advise) the day before his big mix dive.

Interestingly enough, Sheck did not experience HPNS during any of his dives in Mante, all of which were in excess of 500 ft/153 m (see chart below). His descent rate was slower than the 100 fpm/30 mpm rate in Bushmansgat due to the current, but still very fast compared to commercial protocol. He mentioned no problems with his 721 ffw dive in Zacatón in which his rate of descent was greater than 100 fpm. I dove with him that day, and I am sure he would have mentioned it. We were planning our future dive to the bottom of Zacatón, and we discussed every aspect of our plans and concerns. Sheck called it “addressing our fears.” Very appropriate and necessary on dives of this magnitude.

Zacatón revealed

Nuno Gomes reported on all his dives to 581 ft/178 m and on his recent dive to 925+ ft./284m. Nuno has made at least two other dives in excess of 500 ft, one to 754 ft/231 m and the other to 826 ft/253 m. I have no information revealing that he experienced HPNS on those dives. On his deepest dive he experienced tremors beginning at 600 ft/184 m but felt comfortable continuing his dive. “I had felt this before; therefore, I was not alarmed,” Nuno said.

Gilberto Menezes de Oliveira, diving Agua Milagrosa in Brazil, experienced slight trembling in his left arm which he presumed was HPNS. It occurred as he approached 500 ffw/153 m. He later made another dive to 592 ffw/182 m m the same system and did not experience HPNS.

Out of dives to 504, 648, 744, 800+ and 925 feet, I have experienced what I perceived to be HPNS on only one dive. On the dive to 800+ ffw/245 m I experienced tremors in my latissimus dorsi and my arms. It was noticeable but not serious enough to abort the dive. It occurred around 700 ft/215 m. I had been ill with the flu just prior to the dive. Other deep colleagues, Dr. Ann Kristovich, Terrence Tysall, and Mike Zee have not mentioned any problems with HPNS.

HPNS can occur as it pleases. Immunity one day does not insure that it will not occur on a subsequent dive. In some cases it can be mild enough to be tolerated. On brief technical dives, perhaps the worst effects of HPNS—nausea, vertigo, and convulsive jerking—would not take place. Without the saturation habitat environment used by commercial divers, the occurrence of these types of symptoms would probably be fatal. 

The whole concept of diving for records carries emotional responses that often confound and confuse the explorer/adventurer. The desire to excel in some way is a powerful drive that has existed since the beginning of civilization. Usually a solitary and driven individual, divers who find themselves suddenly thrust into their 15 minutes of fame, also find themselves both respected and vilified. Not only in diving to extreme depths but in almost all extreme sports the accomplishment of the task carries the burden of attention, both positive and negative. Divers who are kindly labeled pioneers, and brave adventurers are also labelled  thrill seekers, insecure individuals seeking attention, and just plain crazy.

Kristovich and Bowden preparing to dive

The situation is further confused by the public desire for a champion. I think  this is more of a European thing than here in the states. Competition becomes a factor. Accomplishments are often segmented to allow for champions in methods and degree of risk: a different, more difficult route climbed, a breath-hold dive made without assistance, or with assistance either on descent or ascent or freestyle. The media stokes the fire with the promise of a future story. In 1993, it was a simple catalogue of divers who made dives to deeper depths. Now there is talk of having different categories. 

My dialogue with divers throughout the world in researching this article revealed proposals that range from some degree of practicality to the absurd. Suggestions have come from the European community about categorizing records by scuba or surface supplied, requirements that all decompression gases be carried by the diver, the diver must have no help from the surface, extra tanks can be available but the diver cannot use them (I presume you could in an emergency). Other styles would allow surface support, deco gases hanging on a line, habitat use, heating, and so on. There is no “official” delineation but there is a trend in that direction. Perhaps this is inevitable. Already there are claims based on experts assessing the depth reached by the severity of HPNS symptoms. Give me a break. 

Nuno had HPNS on his shallowest sub-500 ft/153 m dive, look what he has done since. I had HPNS on my 800+ ft/245 m dive, but no noticeable symptoms on my dive 125+ ft/37 m deeper. When there’s talk about depths of 500 ft/153 m and greater, there is a difficulty of accurately recording the depth with existing technology. Already there have been mathematical calculations based on environmentally difficult premises. Sheck was never happy with the need to calculate his record depth at Mante. Allowing for errors, he estimated the depth of his dive between 867 ft to 880 ft/266-270m. Ever modest, he personally chose the lesser number. He wrote that his 863 ft/265 m dive in Bushmansgat was just four feet shy of his record. Those of us who admired him chose the latter.

Dr. Kristovich, out of respect and admiration for M. E. Eckhoff [Sheck’s widow], stated that she would not claim the woman ‘s record unless it was decisive. At 554 ft/170 m, her dive surpassed the record by 154 ft/47 m, but if it had been less than 100 ft greater/30 m, she wouldn’t have claimed it. I believe her. So the whole vague, confusing  and admirable issue of personal ethics clouds the question as well.

These were gear intensive dives

The depth of my dive was determined by the UWATEC computer I sent to the media representatives waiting for me to finish my greater than ten hours of decompression. Concerned and desperate to arrest my descent because of inadequate gas volumes to continue the dive, the 925 ft/283 m marker on the descent line passed through my hand. Where did I stop? Who knows? I was desperate to get out of there. The writer from Sports Illustrated and Discover Magazine chose my depth for me from the read out on the UWATEC, 925 ft/283 m. At the time, I was shocked and grief stricken over the loss of Sheck. It was hardly a time for rejoicing. For the next year both the criticism and the loss of my friend did not allow me to accept the fact that I had made a ”record” dive.

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Nuno is the man of the time in my opinion. I will not concede that he went deeper, but if he had not bottomed out Bushmansgat, then he would have been the first man to make a sub-300 m dive. Nuno and I both have done more sub-500 ft dives than anyone else in the world. As fortune would have it, we are tied in that number. Fate is fickle and a tie carries about as much excitement as kissing your sister. The public and the media cry for a decisive champion. If succumbed to, then that pressure can kill you. I hope that we are both too smart for that.

Unfortunately, some of us will die in pursuit of great depth. The continued efforts in the face of danger is unanswerable to anyone but the participants. I do believe that every man and the one woman here would agree that the intense freedom of the now, a moment that is unique and life enhancing and the pushing oneself in order to find oneself is, indeed, a reaffirmation of life.

My colleagues, I salute you. We are brothers and sisters of a kind. A bond of having been in the belly of the beast. No one can understand who hasn’t been there.

Return to the main story: Diving Beyond 250 Meters

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Madagascar Madness

Earlier this summer Jake Bulman and the Protec Team launched their 2023 expedition to Madagascar’s formidable Malazamanga cave known for massive tunnels, formations the size of buildings, and its unbelievable cobalt blue water. They then journeyed to Anjanamba, which despite enormous passageways, consistently turned into tight, restrictive spaces before opening up again. Having appeased the cave spirits and returned safely, Bulman offered up this account.




by Jake Bulman. Photos by Phillip Lehman. Lead image: (L2R) Jake Bulman, Patrick Widmann and Ryan Dart motoring through the first mega-room after Ryan’s Chamber, Malazamanga.

Deals made. Plans Laid

As I sat in the Paris airport working on my computer, Patrick Widman gestured to me to remove my headphones. He and Phillip Lehmann sat across from me and asked if I wanted to make a deal. Assuming I was walking into some kind of joke, I replied with a hesitant “Sure.” “Next summer you come with us to Madagascar, if you…“ “Yes! Deal, ” I answered before he finished explaining my end of the deal. It didn’t matter, the answer was yes. Patrick finished laying out his already agreed deal, headphones went back in and everybody went back to what they were doing, except for my thoughts, which went to “Holy Shit! I’m going exploring in Madagascar!” 

Now nearly a year later in June 2023, we were back in Paris, this time packing all of the bags for the flight to Antananarivo (“Tana”), Madagascar’s capital city. When we got there we met up with Tsoa, who is the local contact, translator, organizer, and overall critical part of the team. Our bags headed to Toliara with the drivers while we spent the day doing some errands. 

The next day was important to me, not because i turned 30, but it marked the end of a bet Patrick and I made in 2020, for which I had now won $100. The victory was short lived, however, as I spent that day stuck in my hotel room violently sick. Welcome to Madagascar!

After a short flight, overnight in Toliara, then an hour long boat ride along the coast, we reached Anakao Ocean Lodge. This place is a bit of a shock to the senses after traveling through the poverty stricken cities. Luxury in the middle of nowhere; it would be our basecamp for the trip. As Patrick and I posted a photo of the place, Phillip sarcastically mourned the loss of any “hardcore expedition” image people would imagine.

The next day we planned to meet up with the National Parks’ representatives, organize porters, transport all the equipment to the site, then get in the water and place all of the deco tanks and scooters we would need, and finally be out by dark to avoid being stranded overnight. This may seem overly ambitious, and it was, but is a good example of the overall approach of the project. Always go all in, no shortcuts or laziness, and if it was not possible in the end, no worries at all. The goal is to have fun with the group and do awesome stuff, which we always did.

”This is the most epic cave ever”

Phillip Lehmann on Malazamanga
The view from Ryan’s Chamber, entering the first mega-room.

Musing on Malazamanga

Malazamanga, a cave of indescribably massive tunnels, formations the size of buildings, and amazing blue water dominated the first part of the trip. We set up a little basecamp in the mouth of the cave, each of us with our own spaces to change, hang up our suits to dry, and change sorb each day. The entrance swim is a tediously frustrating one for rebreather divers: 20 minutes of low ceilings, bouncing from 20 m to 5 m/66 ft to 16 ft and back several times, never allowing space to sit “in trim”, and no flow to remove any of the inevitable silt that came from passing with multiple scooters, stages and divers. 

However, once you reach Ryan’s Chamber, the first big room, you find a staging spot for leaving scooters and tanks for the following day, and a small tunnel leading to the real, intimidatingly massive, Malazamanga.

Patrick and I went to the deep section right away (45-50 m/138 to 164 ft) and spent three days trying to find the way on, while Phillip and Ryan Dart looked around the shallower parts of the cave (20-30 m/66-100 ft) for any leads that had not been checked. Patrick laid line while I surveyed behind him through a wide but low space that became swirling silt and clay by the third tie off. We reached a vertical shaft, Patrick asked me to hold and ran a line into a smaller tunnel below us that led to a restriction. In spaces like this where zero visibility is guaranteed, diver two will be pushing through restrictions blind, having no idea the shape or size of the space around them, which is a recipe for disaster, so I waited on the line for Patrick to return and started a timer.

As fifteen minutes showed on the timer, it started to feel like a long time. How long do I wait before doing something? Five more minutes rolled by, and my mind started to run… What if he has a problem? Does he need help? Memories of having to get somebody out of a similar space once before came to mind. But this time it was Patrick though, if he truly needed help it would be a serious situation. I decided to give him until 30 minutes from when he left, and then I would go in (slowly). With four minutes remaining, a glow appeared before Patrick explained that “it’s tight, but it goes.” It was a long wait that meant a bunch more deco, but this could be the way on.

The next day I was tasked with pushing the End Of Line (EOL) while he and Phillip looked elsewhere. After twisting, turning, removing tanks, and wondering if this was a good idea more than a few times, I pushed through a few ups and downs, but the cave unfortunately ended in a basement section at 52 m/170 ft. No going leads. Time to head home.

A smaller part of Malazamanga

Breakthrough and Packing Techniques

Our daily routine started at 06:30 with a breakfast of bread, fruit, eggs, tea and espresso. We’d leave the garage at 07:00, meet the porters at the bottom of the hill in the national park and send the equipment with them. Phil would then educate us on the risks of breakthrough, importance of proper packing techniques, and the impact of dwell time. All of which are critical to making espresso.

After making espresso, the handpresso is put away, we hike the 30 minutes up the hill, get dressed, dive four to six hours, then head home. Back at the garage by 08:00 pm, fill tanks for an hour, eat dinner at 09:00 pm, and then sleep. All the while making jokes, sharing stories, talking about life, trying to blind each other with lights, and being shown the same photo of Rosie, Phillip’s pit bull, with a “look at this awesome photo” preceding the photo display by a few seconds. 

All in all, going diving required some effort, not to mention the week of traveling with piles of luggage to get there, the week to get home, and all of the time spent organizing beforehand. In terms of “cost (time/money/effort) per hour underwater” it is some of the most expensive time I’ve ever spent underwater.

Patrick filling tanks in Anakao Lodge.

One day, after a significant amount of problem solving in the hot, muddy entrance tunnel of the cave, we finally got everything sorted and started doing checks. Halfway through, Phillip said, “I’m not into this. You guys go. Nobody is paying me to do this,” and started to remove his tanks. Considering the “cost per hour underwater,” I think many of us would go whether we wanted to or not, giving in to a sunk cost fallacy-like sense of commitment. 

We reformed a plan for the two of us, a few angry birds levels were completed on the surface, and everybody went home excited to see the survey data. There is a lesson to be had here for many of us, about what is actually important and ignoring those perceived, often self-induced pressures to carry on even if it doesn’t actually make sense.

We scoured every corner of the section we were in, until a hole underneath a formation showed a large room on the other side. I tied in at ~40 m/~130 ft, headed down the slope to where floor met wall, removed my tank, locked the reel,  threw it through the hole, and headed in. Once my torso passed the squeeze, still inverted in the water, I put my tank back on, grabbed the reel, and swam the direction that I remembered it went. I passed the cloud and made a tie off. Turn, tie off, into a bedding plane, tie off, big room, tie off, and stop. 

The entrance of Malazamanga, featuring our basecamp. Patrick seen in the distance.

The floor suddenly featured huge, wavy marks that everybody recognizes as signs of flow. A lot of it. Massive clay bricks fit together like tiles in the riverbed resembling floor. A promising development, I tied off and ducked my head under the lip of the ceiling. Instantly the ceiling met the clay bed and the cave ended. Water unfortunately doesn’t consider human size in its choice of direction. Back to the drawing board.

“Fuck it, let’s just see what happens”

Patrick Widmann

To Breathe or Not To Breathe

At the time, the furthest reaches of Malazamanga was an enormous collapse with no way beyond it except a few air domes. We were aware the air domes may not be breathable, but lacked a proper analyzer for that. After some thought, Patrick decided that we would just give it a go one at a time. We surfaced and knelt close together as Patrick closed his DSV and took a short breath of the gas. Wearing an expression resembling somebody tasting less-than-appetizing looking food he took a second breath. 

Watching intently, I saw the expression quickly change from hesitant but ok, to uncomfortable to concerned as he put his DSV back in and opened it. I was ready for him to pass out as we sat there breathing, but nothing happened. We knew it was likely not breathable, but I wanted to see what it felt like! I removed my DSV and took a breath. A humid, thick, shockingly hot breath filled my lungs and I was not going to take a second one. No way that was safe, I thought, as the burning in my lungs slowly faded. 

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Patrick climbed out with just his rebreather (and flowing oxygen) and took a quick look around, but no luck. As he was getting dressed again, I popped my head into a few holes and found a passage that looked to slope downwards on the other side of a tight squeeze. I ran a line in with Patrick behind me, and tried to push through but couldn’t fit. After removing myself and the cloud of unavoidable silt surrounded us, I grabbed the rock that was in the way and flipped it over. If you have ever moved a big rock in a collapse, in a never-before-dived cave, you can imagine the visibility afterwards. We backed out, went to check a few other places, then returned hoping for slightly better visibility.

The crew in Malazamanga.

Patrick was the next one in, leaving a tank on the line with me this time, and he extended the line down the slope on the other side. I heard rocks falling, tanks banging on rock, grunting, laughing, bubbles moving along the ceiling, and then he returned with his hands shaking like crazy. Whatever was over there, was not for the faint of heart it seemed. After a bit of cooling down, he went back into the cloud, which was followed by loud yelling. Excited yelling. We exited, and planned our return for the next day. What lay beyond the 6 m/20 ft deep, vertical, awkward, tank-off restriction was an open space that continued downwards to what appeared to be 40 m+.

The next day, I was going through first. We rehearsed the shape of the restriction and the series of movements needed for passing it on the surface. It was weaving through the space where collapsed boulders met the sloping ceiling, and any extra force on the wiggling rocks meant possible collapse. The plan was for me to pass, tie into the EOL, and head off. Patrick would pass behind me with the MNemo and survey in. Adding tie off after tie off, I headed deeper, then flattened out, then up through an opening to my right. Now it was my turn to yell, the cave had returned to its previous enormous size!! This celebration lasted three tie offs, as we climbed yet another collapse that was quite clearly the end. Cut line, put reel away, look around knowing that nobody will ever be here again, and head home.

On to Anjanamba

Several options lay ahead of us, which Patrick and Phil weighed over dinner. Continue searching in Malazamanga, or get the filming done then head north to Anjanamba, or spend the next two weeks surfing. The last option was apparently way more valid than the joking suggestion I had taken it as. Fortunately, the second option was the choice. We spent a day scootering around with lights in hand and on the DPVs. Screen grabs of the video were used as photos for this article. 

We also had two surfing days, where I (having never surfed before) mostly tried to not get annihilated by the waves. My second goal was “not to kill anybody” as Patrick and Phillip repetitively warned me not to do it with my oversized board (only a stand up paddle board was available). Fortunately I’m a very strong swimmer, as I spent large chunks of time crashing and burning, then being tossed around by the ocean. 

”This is the most epic cave ever”

Phillip Lehmann on Anjanamba

Heading up to Anjanamba featured a boat ride, a seven hour drive that resembled one of those truck commercials trying to show how tough its product is, and a journey through the Mikea National Park which had no paved road either. During lunch break everybody commented how much better it is now than it was several years ago, describing it as “pretty smooth” and “less violent” in the same sentence.

We visited the local village, where residents are the spiritual keepers of Anjanamba, to talk to the chief and say hi to a friend of Tsoa who had just had a baby. While there we got a tour of their newly built school, joked with the children a bit, took a photo and headed home. For a lifestyle that is so drastically different to our own, with so much less of everything tangible, the village seems a happy, lively place with kids running and playing. However it is easy to see the need for food, schooling, health products, and basic medical care to name a few. 

Exiting towards “The Megatron” formation in Malazamanga.

Appeasing the Spirits of Anjanamba

Anjanamba is the location of  the filming of the “Spirits of the Cave ” series (see DIVE DEEPER below). Described as a much more dendritic, Mexican-like cave with a blue color that puts the famous Mexican salt water tunnels to shame. The name of the series doesn’t come from nowhere; this cave is home to several spirits. In order to appease them, a few things need to be accomplished. 

First, we must visit a big, double trunked baobab during the walk there. We remove our hats, gather near the meeting point of the trunks, place a pointer finger on one tree and pinky on the other (think bull horns hand shape), bow our heads and ask the spirits for two things. One, that they allow us to find an epic cave that goes. Two, that they grant us safe passage and everybody returns home safely. The ever-present, always watching lizard that lives there looked down in approval. The locals however, who had no idea what we were doing, waved us back to the path with a smile and laugh.

Once that is done, a ritual must happen with the Mikea people (in which the National Park is named after). Patrick and Phil have already been through it, so it’s just me. The chief started the ritual, as they each took a sip from a bottle of rum we had brought. Tsoa explained to me afterwards what they had been saying (asking the spirits to accept me, safe passage etc). Notably, it included nothing about finding mega cave, but we had already covered that during the lizard tree ceremony I guess. 

Jake eating sand in Anjanamba ritual. Phil filming.

The guys had warned me about the second part of the ritual, which had me eating a part of the cave – sand, dirt, rock, whatever. The chief continued speaking, and Tsoa told me it was time. I pinched some sand, put it in my mouth and swallowed. Phillip verified it was all gone. In the background I hear Patrick stifle a laugh, and my long-held suspicion was proven true, this was not actually part of it. The locals found it hilarious, and it wasn’t as if I was going to say no in any case. Diving time.

As usual, we were quite late and had made very ambitious plans which didn’t quite pan out. But we did as much as we could, then headed back to our new home at “Laguna Blu.” Like in Anakao, we had great food, friendly staff, beautiful views and comfortable sleeping. 

Laguna blu view.

Reel Bashing

Having laid less line than we had hoped in Malazamanga, we were keen to “bash some reels”. Anjanambas current EOL lay at more than 2287 meters/7500 feet with an average depth of 18m/60 ft or so. It featured enormous tunnels and decorated rooms, yet consistently turned into tight, never-quite-ending spaces before returning to vast rooms with pristine formations all over the place. 

Patrick and I each carried a stage, and I carried the back up scooter. Passing through the 30 minutes of sideways swimming, weaving up and down, belly scraping, up and down cave with a negatively buoyant scooter in between my legs meant it was not always smooth sailing. Fortunately it usually got stuck when I was in the back so nobody saw. We reached the end of the line, Phillip tied in and headed off with Patrick recording and me surveying behind them. 

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From my POV, it looked likely to end every 10 tie offs only for the line to weave into a little corner of the room and continue, with nothing but a light dusting of silt at each tie off as signs of my team ahead of me. This repeated for another 457 meters/1500 ft of line until the reel was emptied, everybody cheered and fist bumped with excitement and then decided that we really needed to head home.

Our DPV charging plan didn’t pan out, so after each day Patrick and Phil drove over to a neighboring location and ate lunch while the scooters charged. I went back to Anjanamba and swam some of the closer lines checking for any going cave. After extending a few EOL’s, the sections had been checked without much luck. After a few days of exploring in Anjanamba, which mostly featured a repeating pattern of restrictions then big rooms, we finished our last diving day with nothing clearly going, but a few hopeful areas left. 

Jake at the surface of a local bathing site. Only tie offs to be found in there were Zebu (Malagassi Cow) horns. Hydrogon Sulfide from top to bottom.

End of the Line

As we reached the end of the trip, instead of feeling tired as we expected, we found ourselves ready for more. We had lots of sorb left, but had used every last liter of oxygen. Unfortunately, it was time to take a group photo with the locals, dry our equipment and start the journey home. Not only did we have flights to catch, but we had classes to teach less than 12 hours after landing in Mexico. 

After five weeks of expedition, we had managed to get the most out of every day, be on time almost never, and explore some amazing cave. More impressively, I don’t recall a single argument or bad mood at all, which is rare when you spend 18 hours per day with the same people. Until next time, the villagers return to their normal lives, we go back to the Caribbean, and the spirits of Anjanamba can rest again.

We did have one last day before heading home, in which we would make a discovery.  What will come of it is yet to be seen, but I’m sure it’s going to be a mega-epic either way. In fact, probably the most epic cave ever.


The Protec Team‘s past Madagascar Expeditions:

YouTube: Spirits of the Cave (2017)

YouTube: Spirits of the Cave 2 (2019)

YouTube: Spirits of the Cave 3 (2020)

Originally from Canada, Jake Bulman is a full-time cave diving and CCR instructor at Protec Dive Centers in Mexico. The last several years of teaching have been almost exclusively sidewinder focused, from try dives to CCR Cave classes, 4C to 24C, and in several countries around the world. Outside of work, he can be found on exploration projects in local caves of a wide range of depths, distances, and sizes.

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