Wednesday, August 01, 2007

High Springs, Florida - March 2-5, 2006

I just got back from a short cave diving trip to High Springs, Florida. I did some awesome dives, met some great divers, and made some new friends. I was really sad to leave High Springs again but I plan to be back within a few months.

For some background - I am GUE Tech 1 (Gideon Liew) and Cave 1 (Tyler Moon) trained. I did Cave 1 in Florida in March 2005 and am going to do Cave 2 in Mexico in 2 weeks' time. This trip was partly for fun, and partly as a warm up to Cave 2.

This cave diving trip was the first one that I made without my cave diving buddy. He was on the GUE trip to Grand Cayman, so I don't blame him for not joining me. I was concerned about being able to find good buddies but finally decided that the trip was a necessary precursor to Cave 2, so I went ahead and started looking for buddies on the various forums (DirExplorers, TheDecoStop, DIRQuest). Some will say that this is a bad idea because you don't know what you're going to get, but read to the end of this report and you'll see that it worked out very well for me. Maybe I was just lucky.

GUE Cave 1 has all sorts of limits but for practical purposes the ones that mattered were 1/6 of gas for penetration and no jumps. This makes it even harder to find buddies as there aren't many Full Cave divers who want to dive within these limits.

So on Thursday afternoon, I flew into Orlando from Chicago. I picked up my SUV and made the 2 hour drive to High Springs. I stayed at the High Springs Country Inn for the first time, as they had just installed wireless internet. It's a little old, but clean, comfortable, and very convenient.

No diving on the day of arrival, as most of it was spent traveling.

Day 1

On Friday, I went diving with Doug Mudry, who works at Extreme Exposure and is a WKPP team member. I couldn't find anyone who could get the time off on Friday, so I paid Doug for some guided dives at Ginnie. For those wondering, EE's rate is very reasonable and I found it a good value as I spent the day diving and learning from Doug, who is a much more experienced cave diver than I am. Experience makes a big difference in a high flow cave like Devil's and if not for him, I would not have had to sit the day out.

Dive 1: Devil's Ear
Depth: 28m/93ft
Dive time: 31 min
Deco: min deco

I ran the reel on this dive as I wanted to get the practice. Surprisingly, I was able to do a pretty good job (if I say so myself), given that I hadn't been cave diving for quite a few months. The flow was a bit lower than I had previously seen, and that helped. Inside, Devil's was as beautiful as ever. We made it half way through the Mud Flats before I turned the dive on gas. We decided to leave the reel in for the second dive.

Dive 2: Devil's Ear
Depth: 29m/98ft
Dive time: 39 min
Deco: min deco

After a short break on the surface, we went back in the Ear. Doug led the way and showed me some nice tricks for navigating the cave that I did not know before. Again, we made it to the Mud Flats before I turned the dive on gas.

It was only mid afternoon, so we decided to go back to EE to get gas and go back to Ginnie for more.

Dive 3: Devil's Eye
Depth: 28m/93ft
Dive time: 35 min
Deco: min deco

This time, we went in the Eye. Because of low visibility due to tannic water from the river, Ginnie staff had installed a temporary guideline half way up the Ear. We only ran the reel a short distance before tying off to the temporary guideline. Coming out of the Eye reminded me why I usually prefer to go in an out of the Ear. Even while being extra careful, I have to admit that my manifold and tanks bashed the ceiling at least a couple of times.

We left the reel in for a fourth dive but during the surface interval, Doug's stomach was upset, so we called it a day and did a quick cleanup dive to pick up the reel. All in all, an excellent day of cave diving and a good start to the trip. I had dinner at Floyd's, did some reading, then retired early.

Day 2

Saturday started with meeting Stacey and Matt at EE. Stacey responded to my posting on an internet forum and we arranged to meet up. She is Cave 2 trained by Tyler Moon, so I knew she would be a good diver. She brought along Matt, who is Intro to Cave trained. After getting gas, we drove an hour to Peacock Springs State Park. It was surprisingly busy, with more than one class doing training dives in the system.

Dive 4: Peacock 1
Depth: 20m/68ft
Dive time: 34 min
Deco: min deco

Matt led this dive and I was in the middle. Being the first time I dove in a three person team, I had to learn a few new things about team communication. I quickly found that both my teammates were good divers, so communication was a breeze. We had a nice, relaxing dive and got caught in a traffic jam on the way out, with 3 other teams either entering or exiting the system.

Dive 5: Peanut Tunnel
Depth: 17m/57ft
Dive time: 49 min
Deco: min deco

We waited on the surface for the traffic to die down before heading into Peanut Tunnel. This time, Stacey led the dive and I was in the rear. We were all pretty comfortable with each other and made it to 1,200ft before turning the dive. That's the furthest I'd been into any cave, and it was quite a thrill.

We were all getting along well, so we decided to head over to Ginnie for more dives. We drove back, got gas at EE and went over to Ginnie.

Dive 6: Devil's Ear
Depth: 29m/95ft
Dive time: 37 min
Deco: min deco

I led this dive, and just as I made the primary tie, my teammates flashed me and called the dive. Matt's Helios 4.5/10W had died. On the surface, Matt decided to sit out the dive and let Stacey and I go ahead. Half way through the dive, I realized that I was rushing unnecessarily. This reduced my gas consumption and I saw less of the cave, so I slowed down to take it all in. Here, I am reminded of a quote attributed to David Rhea: "Slow is smooth. And smooth is fast." The dive was nice but did an ugly job of taking the reel out. Learning how to manage the reel while exiting from Devil's Ear in the high flow is something I need to work on.

Stacey had to take off after that dive, so we called it a day. Day 2 was also great, and I met two new buddies. Stacey is an experienced cave diver and gave us good feedback after each dive. I'm grateful that people like Stacey take the time to dive with people like me, because I benefit hugely from diving with divers who are better than I am.

Matt and I had dinner at Sonny's BBQ (a must do when in High Springs) to end the day.

Day 3

On Sunday, I met Dan at EE in the morning. Dan also responded to my posts on an internet forum and we arranged to dive together. He is Full Cave trained and DIR minded. After getting gas, we headed over to Alice's for breakfast. I used to go to Floyd's in the morning, but they don't serve breakfast there anymore. Anyway, the food at Alice's was good and prices even better. Over breakfast, we talked about cave diving and I found Dan's attitude very humble and respectful of the caves. It was quite the opposite of the macho, gung-ho mindset that I often see. His is the kind of attitude you want in your cave diving buddies, because your life can depend on them if things go bad.

We drove over to Orange Grove, part of Peacock Springs State Park. I had never dove there before, so I didn't know what to expect.

Dive 7: Orange Grove
Depth: 21m/70ft
Dive time: 46 min
Deco: min deco

Dan ran the reel on this dive, since he was familiar with the system. It was a pretty busy day, with a couple of other cave diving teams and two big open water classes. Inside the cave looked like a cross between Peacock 1 and Peanut Tunnel - it was gorgeous. Dan's pace was just right and I got a nice look at the cave on this dive. It was a pleasure to dive with him, as he was well squared away and knew the cave well. I thumbed the dive just after the fissures at 800ft.

Dive 8: Orange Grove
Depth: 21m/70ft
Dive time: 47 min
Deco: min deco

After a brief surface interval, we did one more dive in Orange Grove. The dive was pretty much identical to the first one, except I ran the reel this time. I did an OK job, but later realized that I placed the reel down the middle of the cave, thus getting in the way of others divers.

We called it a day after the second dive, as Dan had a long drive home and I had to head back to Orlando. I stopped by EE to drop off my rental tanks and close my tab before starting the 2 hour drive back.


I had an awesome time cave diving in High Springs. My initial fears of not finding a buddy or getting bad/dangerous buddies were quickly dispelled once I got in the water with Stacey, Matt, and Dan. All were safe, competent divers, and on top of that, nice people. I owe them thanks for diving with me, an unknown person, and for doing dives that were below their certification level. I would not hesitate to dive with them again and definitely plan on contacting them the next time I head down to High Springs. And then there's the option of guided dives, which is a good way to keep learning.

I am really looking forward to Cave 2 and if all goes well, hope to return to High Springs before long to do some more advanced penetrations.

No comments: