Cristina Zenato and Oscar Svensson stand in front of the landmark sign for Mermaid Pond in West Grand Bahama IMAGE credit: Eddy Raphael
Freeport, Grand Bahama Island - Cristina Zenato, Diving Operations Manager, UNEXSO, and who is a NSSCDS cave instructor made history in December 2012 when she performed an historic double-stage exploratory cave dive made between Mermaid Pond in West Grand Bahama and an ocean blue hole.
This pond has been traditionally referred to as The Spring, a body of
fresh water that is believed to be connected to the ocean
(approximately 1,000 feet away), by an underground vein or cavern. It
is believed that this reservoir of fresh water (crescent in shape with
an approximate overall dimension of 97' x 40') is the result of a
natural filtration process where salt water is filtered through the
earth and rocks and eventually becomes fresh water.
World renown diver and shark handler, Cristina Zenato in West Grand Bahama Island IMAGE credit: Eddy Raphael
Friend, colleague and photographer Eddy Raphael gives an account of the exciting day, along with providing the photographs seen here:
One sunny afternoon in late December, my
phone rang. I answered it,and the conversation went something like this,
‘Eddy! Eddy! Eddy! Get your camera, can you?! Meet us in Hawksbill by
Mermaid Pond as fast as you can, we are going to make the connection!
Come on, are you busy?? Come anyway!! Hurry!’ – Well, I didn’t get to
speak much, apart from getting directions.
was my very excited friend and cave instructor Cristina Zenato. Having
dived the mysterious inland Mermaid Pond and found a new tunnel, she
decided to explore it with her cave student and Rolex Scholarship winner
to see if they could find the link through to the ocean blue hole she
had dived from the beach. If the two connect it will mark a great
have now protected this unassuming, serene, and pretty little fresh
water pond as part of the Bahamas conservation effort. Winding sharply
down into the earth away from the tropical lush greenery above, it turns
into a tunneled twisting abyss of bacteria coated ceilings amidst
strange orange sulphur colored water. Mmmm. A cave divers delight!
on the edge of the pond as final gear checks go on, crash hats are
donned and gear is checked, and checked, and checked, the suspense makes
me anxious. The locals look on with wonder and marvel at these crazy
folk about to go down into the swampy abyss.You take into account that
the rules are set, and cave divers don’t venture where they shouldn’t.
Tragedy would most probably follow,and sadly, has done so in the past to
surprisingly well trained cave divers. But this is Cristina we’re
talking about. I’ve done surface support before when she solo dives and
it has the same feeling of suspense, but a good suspense.
Cristine Zenato (left) and Oscar Svensson ready to take the plunge deep into Mermaid Pond in West Grand Bahama IMAGE credit: Eddy Raphael
at my watch, Cristina firmly looks up at me from the entrance and says,
‘one hour’ and waits for my response. I look back and she has this kind
of odd expression on her face that neither fills me with confidence nor
does it make me doubt her, it’s a mysterious look that she gets when
maintaining her balance is required. Controlling stress levels and task
loading is what she trained for. Of course, I realized at the very same
second the fact that personally, there is no other person I’d rather be
with in a cave, than her. Her cool nature whilst diving is unsurpassed,
and for a cave diver, this is fundamental. Looking at my watch, I nod my
Divers who cave dive are
splendid divers. They are the helicopter pilots of diving, able to
maintain the utmost calm and control of their safety,whilst
simultaneously traversing pitch black underground flooded networks
sometimes with very challenging gaps and fissures, and our Bahamian
caves are old, twisty, and delicate. They were around before everything.
Millions of years old. Every cave diver knows that every time their
fins twitch behind them they must be careful not to break any
‘decorations’ or crystals that may protrude up from the floor, or hang
from the ceiling. They do their best not to stir the silt, or they may
be blinded by sediment and get lost. They manage their gases,dive time,
and equipment on the fly, juggling ever-changing conditions.The training
of a cave diver is elite and awesome. For me, simple‘Cavern’ training
came only after open water diving professionally as a photographer for
many years, and it was rather eye opening.Now, you take the combination
of the caves and the divers, you then add exploration of tempting
tunnels and the addictive desire of discovery, and you may think:
Danger? You bet. Scary? Maybe. Worth it? Absolutely. This is what it’s
all about. Goose bumps on the skin.Satisfaction and reward.
Cristina and Oscar in Mermaid Pond before their descent. IMAGE credit: Eddy Raphael
glance over at Yoli, the other Rolex Scholarship winner who is visiting
us and we both silently grin in anticipation without showing the
others..as we both aspire to explore caves and hope that one day we can
both be good cave divers. The silence is broken by a brisk bark.
‘Bye!’Cristina and Oscar’s heads duck below the surface, and are gone.
The pungent smell from the disturbed pond water makes us wonder what
else is down there. I look at my watch.
a rush of adrenalin is a thrill, but at this point I’m thinking about
good luck and cool thinking, and all the other things that you don’t
want to think about. Breeeeathe, I know they’ll be successful.Okay! one
There isn’t much to do
beside taking pictures and waiting up top,because even if something
happens deep in a cave, we wouldn’t be ofany help. Rescuing cave divers
can only be achieved by other cave divers.
get back in the car this time and decide to get a large well-earned cup
of coffee for Cristina and a small bottle of beer for Oscar when they
emerge victorious. A couple of Jamaican patties help to fill our
stomachs. Positive thoughts fuel us all the way back to the
ocean.Walking the 1/4 mile down the dirt road to the ocean toting the
victory beverages, we feel the strong southerly wind and emerge out onto
the flat rocky coastline, which stretches into the water. Where is that
blue hole? Scanning the waterline along from shore we see a bubbling
blowing volume of water jutting up from the ocean. Timing is everything
for them as the tide has dictated which way the water will flow.
Resembling a boiling pot of water, it is here that Cristina and Oscar
are going to emerge.
that is what we hope... As time goes on, it seems like an eternity. ‘I
should keep the camera fixed on the hole’ I say, ‘maybe they will pop
up, after all it is an hour now’. Yoli and I watch some children
collecting stranded Octopi in a bucket for their dinner, and feel a
little helpless like the Octopus. The late sun turns yellow-orange
reflecting off the waves and we both turn silent.Come on guys...appear!
Photo: Arek Pers
a yellow helmet appears, and a grinning face along with it, they did
it!! Staggering like crows they haul their side-mount tanks and more
stage tanks slowly up the shore, and tired but laughing receive their
hugs and back slaps. The sense of satisfaction on everyone’s faces is
So it really goes
all the way through... This marks an important time for Cristina, and
now she can add even more to her extensive mapping project. Back at the
car, there is gear laid out for breaking down and picture taking and
talking and smiling. There’s even a little dancing. Amongst the hugging
and dancing, Oscar holds up his hand and we all notice a small piece of
duct tape wrapped around his finger. ‘Did you hurt yourself Oscar?’ says
Cristina. Now remember that Oscar is also her cave student and cave
divers are honest with one another. There is a code that allows a diver
to call the dive before it happens, there are no questions asked. No
reason needed. It avoids embarrassment, and more importantly accidents
and situations from developing. Simple and effective.
if you hold back some small piece of information from peer pressure
etc., this may be the one small thing that could potentially cause a
eyes get a little wider, and guarding his finger with his other hand he
says sheepishly ‘I broke it a little while ago, it’s only a fracture
and...’ but before he can finish his sentence a sonic boom has broken
the air. The lightning fast slap to the rear of Oscar’s head by Cristina
has just reinforced the cave diver code in a way he will never forget.
Nevertheless, it truly was a great day!
Circular water to the right of this photo is the area of the blue hole, and location that Cristina and Oscar come up from. IMAGE credit: Eddy Raphael
Success! Oscar Svensson and Cristina Zenato make history by crossing from Mermaid Pond to the open ocean off West Grand Bahama. IMAGE credit: Eddy Raphael