Today friends are celebrating the life of Bil Phillips in the Yucatan jungle. Many people have sent me photos and recollections of good times spent with our friend and colleague and I thought I would post them on a page [click here] so that everyone can share. If you would like to add to this page, please email me on my contact page.
On Account of Beauty – Remembering Bil Phillips
Cave explorer, master cartographer, highly respected instructor and influencer, Bil Phillips passed away after a brief illness in late November 2017.
In 1995, I was a co-leading the Ejido Jacinto Pat Expedition in Quintana Roo, Mexico when I first met Bil Phillips. A fellow Canadian, we hit it off right away. We were both focusing on a remote corner of the Dos Ojos Cave System called Macco’s Marvels or M1. In the dampness of a breakdown room, we eagerly filled reels day after day from a gigantic roll of nearly 40,000 feet of line. Bil was focused with laser sharp precision on exploring and accurately surveying the far extents of one of the most beautiful underwater caves I had ever seen. Glorious crystalline stalactites were so densely packed in these opaline galleries that at times, it could be difficult to see the passage through the forest of formations. Without fail, every day, Bil would return with an empty reel after dropping precisely 1000 feet of new line into the unknown. With a satisfied grin, he would methodically refill his reel and prepare for the next day, dropping off his survey slate to our expedition cartographer. His neat and accurate notes would be added to the expanding map which soon became the longest mapped underwater cave in the world. The final line of data on each slate would offer his ideas on where to go next. “Lead to the left at 870 feet,” or “strong flow and rippled sand,” would reveal his new plans. On one occasion, I noticed Bil had returned from his dive with line remaining on his reel. Did he run out of cave? I stopped to check out his survey slate and noticed the final written note. He had only laid half of his line yet returned at the same predictable time. And then I saw his reference, “Called dive on account of beauty.” With a hint of tears in his eyes, he described a room too beautiful to swim through dispassionately. He had to enjoy the wonder of it all.
Bil Phillips was born and raised in North Vancouver, British Columbia. Before becoming known as one of the most prolific cave diving explorers in history, he was an accomplished professional drummer and meticulous craftsman. Bil stayed in close contact with his family and many friends in Vancouver but ultimately set up his business, Speleotech, in Tulum, Mexico.
Fellow explorer Sam Meacham remembers, “Bil and I shared more than 20 years of continued exploration of what became one of the largest cave systems wet or dry on the planet. Bil’s impact on cave diving exploration, conservation, cartography, and training will always be felt here. Quite simply he is one of the most prolific explorers to have ever existed, and he will be sorely missed.”
Bil’s exploration and cartography work resulted in his induction as a Fellow into the Explorers Club of New York. Never one to seek attention for his work, Bill has accepted many honors with characteristic humility and grace. His dive log was boundless, covering nearly 5000 cave dives and he explored and mapped no less than 50 km of previously unexplored water-filled passages in over 35 different systems.
Former dive shop colleague and fellow explorer Christophe Le Maillot with G.E.O (Grupo de Exploracion Ox Bel Ha), remembers fantastic moments shared at basecamps and countless hours innovating new gear and techniques. He adds, “Bil was a tremendous explorer, passionate about all aspects of cave diving. He was very talented in the water, and will always be remembered as the most prolific cave explorer in Q.Roo, Mexico.”
There was no end to Bil’s curiosity and desire to be involved in projects that benefited scientific research. Over the course of his career, he worked with hydrologists, biologists, chemists and geologists and often partnered with archaeologists with the Instidudo Nacional Anthroplologia e Historia (INAH- Mexico’s Department of Archeology). As a safety diver, he worked on television projects, Hollywood movies, National Geographic documentaries and was featured in the History Channel program, Magellan’s Lost Fleet, filmed in Patagonia, Argentina.
Bil stepped up to a role as an educator, influencing standards in dive training and safety. He has written numerous articles on technical diving and taken leadership roles in several diving agencies and associations. He was a founding member and Director of the APSA (Cenotes Committee of the Riviera Maya Association of Dive and Water Sport Operators). He volunteered on the National Speleological Society – Cave Diving Section (NSS-CDS) Instructor Training Committee for Mexico, and the Board of Advisors for the International Association of Nitrox and Technical Divers (IANTD Central America), as well as serving as Director for the Quintana Roo Speleological Survey.
Bil’s passion for exploration and conservation of the Yucatan caves is matched only by his enthusiasm for working with new cave divers and visitors to Mexico. The hundreds of students Bill has mentored remember him for his tireless pursuit of detail and safety while keeping the learning experience enjoyable.
Bil was predeceased by his Mom, Catherine Eleanor Wheatley. He is survived by his partner in life Sabine Schnittger, father Harry Phillips Sr., step-mother Lenora, brother Harry, sister-in-law Gina Lauria, step-siblings Ron, Dave, Rick, Liz and Jeff Blore and their families, many cousins, nieces and nephews.
Bil was actively teaching and contributing to the community up until his life was cut short by a brief illness. He will be honored around the world and remembered by many of us as a life called too soon, on account of beauty.