Speleology - Underground underwater record - The longest cave dive accomplished by Poles

Leszek Czarnecki and Krzysztof Starnawski explored the flooded corridors of cave systems (so-called cenotes) in the Mexican Yucatan Peninsula. Among the karst sink holes (used by local inhabitants as source of drinking water) spreads a network of corridors, bearing a striking resemblance to Swiss cheese. ‘The greatest challenge for the diver is not to get lost in the maze’, says Krzysztof Starnawski, cave diving instructor and Polish record holder for many years (184 m). Only two year ago his record was beaten by Leszek Czarnecki – his friend, partner in diving expeditions, businessman and stock investor by profession. He was the brains behind this expedition to Mexican cenotes, he planned it, raised funds and invited Starnawski to take part in the project.

Their trip to a cave system called Dos Ojos near the towns of Tulum and Cancun was preceded by 6 weeks of preparations. ‘It was the most difficult and by far the most dangerous stage of the project. We spent hours swimming in the corridors, every day venturing further and further, learning our way through the labyrinth. We wanted to learn all passages by heart, all narrow spots, all turnings, so that not to lose way afterwards’, says Starnawski. ‘We made drawings of all underwater crossroads in waterproof notebooks.’

When they eventually got down to beating the record, each of the two divers had eight bottles with oxygen-rich breathing mixture (the so-called nitrox), as well as three underwater scooters each. Such scooters resemble small torpedoes in shape and operating principle – the diver is towed by a metre-long cigar with a power screw. The organization of the expedition was aided by 10 people altogether and 3 companies: Getin Bank, Eques and diving centre Protec.

The underwater traverse between three sink holes to the Dos Ojos cave system (called the Monolith, the Pit and the Kentucky Castle, respectively) took the two Poles no less than 6 hours! ‘We did not have major technical problems’, says Starnawski. The only problem was halocline, the boundary between a layer of fresh water (on top) and salty water (beneath). When you cross it, the water churns and becomes cloudy, which causes a drop in visibility. You can’t see which corridor leads towards the exit and not to a dead end. ‘At such times I blessed the weeks of navigating through the corridors and learning every detail by heart. It could be dangerous, as from certain areas the divers would have had to swim up to several km to the nearest exit, should they get lost or should the equipment fail.

In the deepest section, the divers reached 41 m beneath water surface. Their 14 km route is over a kilometre longer than the longest dive of the Brazilian Gilberto Menezes in the Bananeira, previous world record.

Marcin Jamkowski

Please note that the images above are have been randomly selected to show the Mexican Yucatan Peninsula