Archive for March, 2003


Cavern/Cave Training in North Central Florida Feb 2003

March 2, 2003
February 21-March 2, 2003

Cave Training
Scott (Scooter) and I decided to head down to Florida for a week to complete a Cavern to Full Cave course with an instructor from Indiana that we’d met and dove with at Gilboa. We’d already done some skill work with Tim, so Scott and I weren’t going in completely cold. Even so, this is still an aggressive pace for this amount of information, so I respect anyone’s opinion that would discourage cramming this much info into such a tight timeframe.

Day 1 Saturday
After having driven through the night, the 16 hour drive ended around 5am in the morning. Since everything was closed, we parked across the street from Cave Excursions and tried (mostly unsuccessfully) to catch a couple of hours of sleep. Sleeping upright in a truck is not my idea of a good time, so sleep proved to be somewhat elusive. Since Cave Excursions didn’t open until 9am, we went down to Peacock Springs at 8am to get signed in for the week. Since we were getting the weekly Family pass for our vehicle, we bickered as necessary to put up a good showing. We toured around Peacock Springs to see the various springs and sinks (Orange Grove, Olsen, Challenge, Pothole, Peacock I, II, III, and Waterhole). Some of them had very clear water to look down in, while other’s were covered with Duckweed. The Duckweed was unique in that it was a small clover-like plant that floated on the surface with a small root that hung off the bottom of it to gather sustenance.

By 9am, we were back at Cave Excursions to get the keys to our mobile homes. Each trailer was reasonably priced for a day. $40 covered the first two people in a trailer, and $10 for each extra person. Only one of the trailers was immediately available for use because there had been a slight mix-up in scheduling for Friday night. It wasn’t a big deal ’cause a couple of use just crashed on the couches to catch a few more winks before lunch. After the other trailer was available around lunch, Scott, myself, and the other student (who was already cavern certified) moved our stuff into the other trailer.

The rain was pouring down pretty good at this point (North Central Florida needs rain pretty bad, so we weren’t discouraged). To get started on some line work, we set up an obstacle course inside one of the trailers and practiced running line, following line, primary & secondary tie-off’s and line placements. Also, had the opportunity to place line arrows, as well as attaching jump reels. Near the end of this session the rain let-up outside, so we moved our practice out into the yard and woods. The primary focus of our practice outside was touch contact with the line and the other team members. It seemed to take forever to traverse the several hundred yard course, especially since some to the arrows were placed incorrectly (on purpose) to force us to back track and verify at least one previous arrow. This was to simulate a “misread” of an arrow in the potential adrenaline enhanced situation of a no-viz touch contact situation. Also, it gave us extra practice passing “communication” back and forth in the 3 person team.

The remainder of the day was spent settling in, getting dinner, gear setup & evaluation, and finally settling in for some real sleep.

Day 2 Sunday
On Sunday we headed over to Orange Grove at Peacock Springs to get allot of practice in the cavern zone. OG has a large open basin that gave us plenty of room for skills. Most of what we practiced initially was touch contact line following with team communication and air sharing. The other student in the class apparently had recently acquired equipment for the class, so he was trying to acclimate himself to diving a dual-bladder large wing & twin LP85’s in a wet suit. Watching him, I found myself reflecting on a valuable piece of advice I’d been given a couple of years ago: get used to the equipment prior to a class setting so that training time could be spent absorbing new information, not making extensive equipment adjustments, nor adjusting to the equipment. Of course, you have to be in contact with the instructor or perhaps have chosen a common equipment standard to avoid wasting money needlessly on poor equipment. At some point during the diving, the other student opted not to continue. That left Scott and I to focus on the class alone. For us, this began a week filled with S-Drills, equipment checks, bubble checks, and dive planning (SADDD –Sequence, Air, Distance, Depth, Deco).

We had 5 dives and 173 minutes of bottom time, including 2 dives back to the “Stop Sign”.

Day 3 Monday
On Monday we staked out spot at Peacock 1. Our first dive was down Pothole Line to Olsen Sink. Tim used this as a familiarization dive to show us how the line takes a sharp 90° turn to the surface of Olsen sink. Just around the corner to the right the Olsen line starts, but requires a jump from the Pothole line. We turned the dive here returned to Peacock I.

Our next dive was down the Peanut Line. At around the 250′ mark the tunnel transitions into a tighter tube-like area. From approximately 250-500′ the restrictive area ascends slowly to a depth of 15ft. We turned the dive just as the tube opens up in the “Breakdown” room. On the way back through the tube, Scott and I did an OOA drill for a distance of 200 feet back through the tunnel. This is definitely a single file area air-share area and to make things worse, we had to do it as a touch contact line drill. Since I was the donor, Scott was in front of me with me primary regulator. The permanent line in this area ran back into the tighter recesses of the tunnel. Maintaining line contact, sharing air, crashing between the ceiling and the floor (there was about 10-12 inches of leeway), and continuing forward progress proved to be a bit difficult and we got beat up pretty good. It had us both questioning if we could have made it out in time on a continued air share.

On dive 3, I ran the primary reel from the cavern zone back to the permanent line on the Peanut side. The first (or primary) tie-off is performed outside of the cavern/cave in an area that allows clear access to the surface. This allows touch contact out of the cave into a safe area in the event of no viz. The secondary tie off is made well inside the cavern zone in case the primary comes loose or is tampered with. From there I headed back to the primary line to make a tie-off. The permanent line (in this case a strong yellow kermantle line) is placed well back inside the cave beyond the cavern zone. It is placed in a location that prevents casual location from the untrained. After I made the tie-off, I headed back down the Peanut Line. Scott was in the #2 position. We proceeded back past the “Breakdown” room to the Crossover tunnel. After Tim showed us the permanent line in the Crossover tunnel, we turned the dive at 1100′. On the way back through the restrictive part of the Peanut line, Scott and I did another OOA with him as the donor. Learning from our lessons that we gained on the prior dive, we were able to scoot along considerably faster and finished the drill with a degree of confidence that we could survive this if we worked as a team and used our heads.

Scott was the lead and ran the reel on dive 4 down the Pothole line. I like the beginning of this dive. It is a sharp descent down an angled fissure that bottoms out quickly. It’s a bit of a challenge for a novice like myself to maintain good “line work” while descending sharply, inflating BC, clearing ears, and looking good. Scott did a good job of it despite the fact that the reel he was using presented some opportunities (I don’t have a clue who used that reel on the previous dive, honest Scott, I just don’t know how that could have happened ;-). The on the return leg of this dive, we used backup lights

After four dives and 176 minutes of BT, we called it a day.

Day 4 Tuesday
Our first dive of the day was a setup dive to eventually do a circuit from Pothole line around to Peanut line. I led down the fissure to Pothole line and continued back to Pothole Sink. From there I ran a jump around the corner to the Olsen Line. This is a permanent line that extends from the Pothole sink to Olsen sink. The goal was to push back to the Crossover line and determine where our1/3rd’s would take us. I’d been pushing it a bit too hard and reached my mental limit about 100 psi prior to 1/3rds. Turning the dive, I marked our maximum penetration with a clothespin so that we would have a future reference when we came around from the other side. I just couldn’t get into “the zone” on the first half of the dive, but after I turned it, things settled out nicely. In fact, when we returned to the Pothole sink, I noticed all of the animal bones that had been pulled off the silty bottom and placed on a nearby ledge. The word I got was that there had been an animal that had recently fallen into the sink. After some lost diver drills, we returned back to the surface to change tanks, leaving our primary line in place in to provide a continuous line back to the surface if we were able to make the complete circuit from the other direction on the next dive.
Depth 66ft, 85 minutes

Scott led the next dive down the Peanut Line. The objective on this dive was to see if we could reach the clothespin I’d placed at our furthest penetration on the previous dive. To do this we had to get back through the restrictive tube (now becoming my favorite part of the tunnel) and then place jump reels from Peanut to Crossover and from Crossover to Olsen line (I’d already placed the jump from Olsen to Pothole line on the previous dive). We made it back to the Crossover line without incident (about 1100′ back). We made the jump to Crossover line, and quickly became apparent that the permanent line in this tunnel was different. It was a standard white cave line and was knotted every ten feet on the end where we made the jump. About 1/2 way through the tunnel was a white placard that indicated that a survey was underway in here. We got to the other end of this line and Scott placed in the next jump. This placed us back on the Olsen line. Shortly thereafter Scott spotted my clothespin. We’d been very close to 1/3rd’s, in fact Scott later mentioned that he was ready to turn the dive when he thought he saw the clothespin, but it turned out to be a knot in the permanent line. However, my clothespin was just a few feet beyond. On the way back past I pulled out the jump reel from Olsen to Pothole. After we got past the Pothole on the return to the exit, Scott was told to go to his backup mask. When he pulled it from his pocket, I noticed that only one side of the mask strap was attached. I thought….he is SO hosed. As he was trying to discover what was wrong by feeling around his backup, he found the problem. Putting it over his face and clearing it, he saw what it would take to orient the mask strap to fix it. While repairing the mask and eyes closed, he held buoyancy within a couple of inches. We were all so impressed we started bowing and paying homage right then and there in the tunnel. Later as we began our ascent back up the fissure, we did an OOA drill.
Depth 65ft, 82 minutes, linear distance approx 2800 ft.

Day 5 Wednesday
While gearing up for the first dive, we had a brief conversation with David Rhea who was conducting a GUE Cave 1 class at Peacock. As our dive started, Scott started out by running the reverse of the previous day. He installed the jump from Pothole to Olsen that I removed, I removed his jumped from Olsen to Crossover and Crossover to Peanut after everyone was past. On the way back down Peanut, I placed a jump from Peanut to the Waterhole line for use on an upcoming traverse, but we headed back toward the exit on Peanut. On the way back, we did “lost fin” drills and went to backup masks. In the cavern zone, we had a wet note conversation. After a pressure check and a decision to round the corner and head back up Pothole to retrieve the jump at Olsen, the most disturbing thing that happened all week transpired. After doing a complete circuit, we recalculated 1/3rd’s. I wrote down what I thought I “heard” Scott say (2400) and I wrote down 2800. It should have dawned on me then, but there’s no way, even with a “cave” fill in my tanks, that I could have 2800 in my doubles. There’d been a bit of ceiling bumping in the restrictive part of Peanut line, but I’d discounted it. As I lead the group back toward Pothole sink to retrieve the jump reel, I’d been doing pressure checks and it finally hit me that my gauge wasn’t moving. I reached back and bumped my valves and had my gauge drop down to 1100 psi. Oh… this wasn’t good…. I quickly did a full valve check, while mentally replaying what had just happened. Turning the dive, I chastised myself all the way back to the entrance for not catching the problem sooner.
Depth 64 ft, 115 minutes, 3700 ft linear travel.

Scott and I talked with Tim about a dive where we could focus heavily on lost line and lost diver drills, so we headed down the Peanut line back to the “Breakdown” room. In the restrictive part of the tunnel, I did lost line drills. Sounds simple enough in a smaller area, but it’s complicated by a narrow “ravine/rift” that runs along one side of the tunnel. After conducting additional drills, we concluded the dive with 102 minutes of bottom time.

Day 6 Thursday
Today we ran over to Ginnie Springs to experience maximum entrance fees 😉 and high current. During high flow, Ginnie Springs averages an out flow of 40 million gallons per day. After driving through very heavy rains and flooded dirt roads to get there, the rain finally subsided. Our first dive was down the Devil’s Ear. After a brief swim over to the Ear, we encountered heavily tannic water. The viz cleared at the mouth of the spring. We found the Ear to be an angled shaft the sharply descends into cave. I quickly emptied my wing and dropped into the crack to run a line. Staying in the shadows and nooks we tried to avoid the brunt of the flows force. Even so, it took quite a bit of effort to descend and run a line into the cave. Once in the main tunnel, the scalloped walls gave some relief from the flow before planning the next assault forward. After we poked our heads over the “Lips” and gained the plateau beyond, we rested briefly before continuing on to the Cornflakes. We figured out a variation of the “pull and glide” technique. I call it the “Grab and Tackle”. The flow was brutal in places, so I felt like a down hill skier that would rock back and forth before launching and tackling the next objective. It seemed like we had barely made any distance past the Cornflakes before we called the dive on 1/3rd’s. Scott had to do a lost line drill before we got all the way back. The ride back out was incredible though. It was like drift diving through a canyon! Prior to the exit, I deflated my wing and drysuit thoroughly to avoid being spit out of the ear and embedding myself into the log that sits atop the opening. After a nice slow ascent up the Ear, I settled in for a nice stop at 20ft. Looking up, I saw the most incredible sight I’ve ever witnessed while diving. The dark tannic waters were fighting to overcome the flow of the springs. The struggle that was taking place above us created a most incredibly picturesque sight as the high noon sun cast a brilliant backdrop. The swirling bloody-looking waters looked like they were locked in mortal combat with the swelling crystal clear waters emanating from the spring. It was only after great effort that the upwelling would temporarily push back the dark foreboding tannic. Words to describe the incredible awe I felt fail me, but scenes of foreboding from the movie “Lord of the Rings” come to mind. Simply incredible….
Depth 88ft, 66 minutes

Dive 2 Scott led with the reel down the Devil’s Eye. This passage was a bit more restrictive than the Ear, but Scott did a good job with the line. The objective on this dive was to reach the Bone Room, but shortly after our last jump, the dive was called on 1/3rd’s. About 1/2 way back, I had to do a lost line drill. This was quite different than doing it in low flow conditions. Since we left a primary reel in the Ear, we went back that way to exit. Again, we enjoyed the incredible show above the Ear.
Depth 88 ft, 84 minutes.

Day 7 Friday
We went to Telford to check out the conditions, but there was allot of tannic at the entrance, so we took a look at the upstream sinks, but we were a bit leary about how far the tannic had intruded. Rather than make a go at it, we decided to go back to Peacock instead. Since we still had a jump from Peanut to Waterhole line, we decided to get in at Waterhole sink and traverse across to Peanut. I would much rather get in than try to get out at Waterhole. There was some mild tannic intrusion at the beginning of Waterhole line that mildly clouded the water, but we soon swam out of that. This section seemed to be more up and down than other sections than other sections of Peacock we’d done. It definitely had a character of it’s own. I noticed several of the “blind” white crayfish in this section. This was a very relaxing jaunt back around to the Peacock exit.
Depth 54ft, 91 minutes.

I had some sinus issues during the morning dive that made ascents unenjoyable, so I skipped out on the final dive of the week and read several chapters from Sheck Exley’s “Caverns Measureless to Man”. Scott led a dive from Peacock I to Peacock II and back. From what I hear, he had some true low viz diving that he’d been craving all week. Careful what you wish for Scott!

Woohoooooooo!!!! What an incredibly good and intense week with good camraderie and lot’s of good-natured ribbing (Scott and I relentlessly dogged the crap out of each other for major and mostly minor stuff all week). Things got a little testy at times, but it was usually because the other person made a good point that the other didn’t want to hear. Lot’s of good character building and strengthening of friendships! There was a multiplicity of valuable lessons learned and internalized. It was amazing how many problems we solved or prevented on the surface by thinking through the dive or not taking Instructor remarks and suggestions at face value (he was trying to set us up a couple of times). I left Florida feeling that as long as we stayed within the limits of our training and experience, there was very little that we couldn’t think through and solve together. Teamwork and trust in the team members is paramount.

After logging 16 dives and 16 hours bottom time in six days (Scott had 17 dives and over 17 hrs BT) with two 16 hour drives on both ends of the trip, I think I need a vacation now….