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MAY 14, 2003

HESSIE'S SINKHOLE


Position: WGS84 - 18 22' 46.3" N, 77 37' 35.2" W, Alt 170 m

Field notes: R. S. STEWART

Caver: R. S. Stewart

This was the last day on which I could cave this session and although I had to prepare for a flight the next morning, I had no intention of wasting it. For years I had been told of a deep, dread sinkhole not far from Miss Lilly's Shop in Coxheath. I'd realized that as it was a sinkhole it would just go straight down, would probably have no horizontal extensions at the bottom, and so had always allowed myself to be dissuaded from making the attempt every time the subject had arisen. Miss Lilly, Malibu, others, they had all said, "No, mon! You don't want to go in that one." Because it was so close, required no long drives, and would allow me to get other things done that day, I decided that this was the day to check out the dread hole.

The night before, at Lilly's, when I'd announced my intention to go down it, Lilly and the others, now having heard the tales of our exploits many times over the years, the stories of us descending into deep pits and journeying around under the earth, and never having seen us in action, did not try so hard to dissuade me. It seemed as though they actually wanted to see it done.

The conversation had turned to the legend associated with this hole. The story goes that many years in the past, a woman named Hessie, in a terrible fit of depression brought on by a romance gone bad, had disappeared and was strongly suspected to have thrown herself down this deep shaft. It was known of by all for its bottomlessness and for being a gateway to oblivion. Hessie, prior to her vanishing, had threatened to do great harm to herself and a last long leap into this dread hole had been one of the options. When Hessie went missing, she went for good. No trace of her was ever found and it has long been believed that the deep sinkhole that I would descend into was where Hessie had ended her days.

The application of a series of cold Red Stripes to the consideration of this plan, this being my last free evening in Jamaica, aided us greatly in determining exactly what we would do if I found Hessie, or rather what remained of her, at the bottom of the pit. The bones would be placed in a pack, tied to the rope, and after I'd ascended would be brought to the surface to find, at last, a proper home. We decided she would be interred on a high hill that overlooked Coxheath, where a few flowers could be planted. The time was decided upon, 1:00 PM the next day, and as people dropped by Lilly's Shop, and learned of our plans, the word went out to the neighbourhood that tomorrow we would be looking for Hessie.

At 12:45 the next day, I was at Lilly's with a severe hangover and a 60m rope. Malibu had not struggled up the road yet with the other 30 m line. I had the beginnings of a fair sized audience waiting for the show. I drank a lot of water, still didn't see Malibu, so as the time arrived, at 1:00, I figured, "What the hell, the thing's probably nowhere near 200 feet deep, lets get at it". Lilly and I drove down the lane through the cane field to where the sinkhole is found, and about twenty others walked ahead of us. I admit that even with the hangover, I was thoroughly enjoying it all.

At the hole, there were several large trees conveniently positioned as anchors around an opening of about 3 m. I rigged the drop and fed rope into the abyss. As I got the harness and gear on, I instructed the attentive crowd that they must stay back from the edge or they might launch rocks onto my head. They fully appreciated the risk of which I spoke and promised to be careful. One of them ascended a tree that leaned over the pit to act as a colour commentator on my progress. Everything seemed good, I began to move over the edge, and then realized I'd forgotten something critically important... the white rum that we'd brought to put Hessie's duppy to sleep with while I was in there. I hauled myself out, was handed the rum by Lilly, and as I chanted, "Sleep now, Hessie, sleep now", I sprinkled the white rum down the hole. The audience very much enjoyed this. I tossed the bottle up and headed back down.

When I had gotten away from the bright light of the entrance above me, and could shine my headlamp down the shaft, I had the comforting sight of rope on the bottom of what appeared to be a very deep hole and knew that the line was long enough. Less comforting, as I carried on, was the sight of small pieces of broken glass embedded in the dirt walls of the shaft. Anyone near that hole for many years with an empty bottle had tossed it in and not all had made it unbroken to the bottom. As I rapped down, I pried the most dangerous looking ones out and dropped them, attempting to miss the rope. A slight rain of dirt was coming down on me as the rope dislodged material near the top, but no rocks. Whenever I briefly looked up, I could see framed in a tiny, bright opening, the man who perched in the tree and relayed my progress to the others. After several minutes, I touched down on a pile of debris, both natural and human detritus, and gave a shout that I was at the bottom.

There were, as expected, no horizontal extensions, and the floor of the shaft was a mix of trash and dirt. The trash was very old and consisted mostly of fertilizer bags and cans. I looked carefully, digging down somewhat into it, in an attempt to locate Hessie, but saw nothing out of the ordinary. It had been unlikely that I would arrive at the bottom to see the skull of the poor old thing sitting on a rock grinning at me, and I hadn't really expected to find anything at all anyway, but I was still somewhat disappointed that I had nothing to report to the waiting crowd above. It must be said though, that the smell of white rum had been obvious the entire way down and was strong even here in the depths; perhaps we had put her into too deep a sleep, for it can be reported that her duppy didn't show up to offer any hints, let alone lend a hand in my search. If another attempt is made, the use of less rum should be considered, thereby making her merely drowsy but still able to wave an ethereal hand at the right spot. After a little while, I gave up, tied a knot where the rope touched the floor for a topside measurement, and clipped in for the ascent.

My hangover was by now subsiding and the ascent went quickly and uneventfully; I was pulling myself out the top of the hole about 10 minutes later to an appreciative, questioning, crowd. We hauled the rope, after having carefully marked where it had crossed the lip of the shaft, and then took it into the open, stretched it out, and measured it with the 30 m tape. The depth of Hessie's Sinkhole is 35.5 metres, or 116 ft, 10 in. This was the first recorded, or known of, descent of this sinkhole, and it is not found in JU. The position has been GPS marked with better than +/- 5 m accuracy.

I found this little solo effort to have been very rewarding and very much appreciated the respectful manner in which those who had watched, and later those who had only heard of it, greeted me that evening when I returned to Miss Lilly's for a last short time before my return to Babylon the following day. Few of them had seen the techniques being used before and although they knew of the Crew's deeds by rumour, this was the first they'd seen any of us in action. It was a very enjoyable way to conclude things.

Give thanks and praises to Jah for guiding us through the dark and protecting us on another successful expedition.

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