Archive for April, 2006


Our cave dive in Marianna, FL (JB, Hole, Twin) on Merritt Mill Pond Mar 2006

April 3, 2006

On Thursday March 30th 2006, I headed down to Marianna, FL (about 60 miles north of Panama City and 60 miles west of Tallahassee) to do some cave diving on Merrits Mill Pond with Scott L (scooter), Brandon S (brando), Scot W (scot), and Don C. This Pond has access to several cave systems, 3 of which we did: “Hole-in-the-Wall”, Twin, and Jackson Blue.

I’d driven down to Cincinnati a few days earlier, so they picked me up on the way past there. We used a couple of vehicles to get the 5 of us down the road. All of the tanks went in the back of the Scott’s truck that he and I rode in, and the scooters and other miscellaneous gear went in the rented mini-van with Brandon, Scot, and Don. I had to chuckle when I considered what the DOT might think about the 9 sets of steel doubles, 10 AL80’s, and 5 02 bottles (mostly AL40’s) riding in the back of Scott’s truck (I realized it’s wasn’t commercial transportation, but it still made me chuckle to see all the tanks). The best way to describe driving that truck was trying to maneuver a wounded sow down the road!

We arrived down at Marianna around 11pm CST, secured equipment in two Ramada hotel rooms, and placed batteries on chargers for some last minute juice. Bright and early Friday morning, we headed out for breakfast, then head over to Ed’s at Cave Adventurers. We topped off our tanks, and headed down to the pontoon boat that we’d rented for the day. Our first stop with the boat was over to the “Hole-in-the-Wall” cave, located about 200 yards from the boat dock on the opposite side of the pond. It’s literally an underwater entrance to a cave at the base of the cliff, hence, a “hole in the wall”, so to speak.

Our first dive down this cave was to the tunnel on the right. Near the entrance, you squeeze through a restriction that forces you to rub you belly and tanks a bit between the ceiling and the floor, but it’s a small restriction to squeeze through, then opens up quite nicely. I followed the crack down and to the right, running my reel, to tie into the main gold line at around 70ft deep. This first dive was a warmup for us, so we breathed off of our stage bottles only, and held our back gas in reserve. With a depth of around 100ft, we made it several hundred feet before we turned around and came back. Since I ran the reel down, I was last one back up, and Scot had me move the reel over to the other tunnel passage and tie into the main line located over there. Back near the entrance, we picked up our O2 bottles and stopped a few minutes at 20ft for some additional off-gassing. Max Depth 105ft, approx 60 minutes.

The second dive was with our scooters. Since there were five of us, we’d broken in to two teams (3 person, and 2 person), just like the first dive. Since it’s possible to scooter further back into a cave than you can possibly swim out (using the back gas you’re carrying), we decided to conservatively limit our “trigger time” to 20 minutes on penetration (our scooters have a burn time with the pitch turned down of an hour), and then turn around and come out. We had made good distance past a couple of T’s, swimming through narrow sections to avoid silting the bottom with our scooters, but finally reached a really silty section that got a bit messy from the five of us going through it. We turned the dive there and swam our way back through the murk, then scootered again once we reached clear water. It was awesome to see how everyone calmly reverted to their “low visibility” training to get back out to clear water, then proceeded to exit out. Max Depth 100ft, 100 minutes.

After lunch, we headed about 500 yards further down the pond (toward the head springs) to Twin Cave. I’d never done this cave before, so I was looking forward to seeing it. Scott and Brandon ventured off on their own, while Scot, Don, and I head down this beautiful long hallway that reminded me of a scene from the Middle ages looking down a hallway with arches across the corridor along its length. We dropped down off the gold line, leaving our scooters and stage bottles, and swam down several passages that were marked with white survey line. It was cool to go down passages that didn’t show signs of “wear & tear”. A very relaxing diving with lot’s of sight-seeing! Max Depth 100ft, 90 minutes.

My final dive of the day was a short one with Scot W to retrieve the reel we’d left in “Hole-in-the-Wall” cave (we thought we might make it back for another dive, but we ran out of day). Since we’d already had some long dives, we took our ascent very slowly and spent additional minutes on the O2 at 20ft and up. Max depth 70ft, 25 minutes.

When we got back to the hotel, we dismounted some of the sensitive gear and set stuff on chargers, then headed out for Ruby Tuesday for a hearty meal!

The next morning, we got up early for breakfast, then headed over to the Sheriff’s office to sign in and get a key to the Mill Pond Park where Jackson Blue cave is located. Unfortunately this is on the opposite side of town as the caves so there’s a lot of driving involved.

There were several cave divers and their vehicles already there when we arrived, but the cave is pretty large (with a healthy current), so it clears out fairly quickly. For our first dive, Scott L, Don, and I did a scooter dive down the main line, past a couple of “Y”‘s in the line where we placed cookies (line markers). This was allot more fun than the last time I was in here since I was swimming then. After we dropped our stage bottles, we got a bit further and were close to dropping our scooters when we reached an area with lots of silt in the water for another group that had passed us a bit earlier exiting. So, unfortunately viz was low and we turned the dive. It was cool to see so much of this beautiful “white walled” system. Max depth 100ft, 70 minutes
Photos from Cave Adventurers

On the second dive, we decided to setup for some pictures in one of the larger rooms. I refer back to this dive now as the “Olin Mills” dive since it seemed like a professional picture session that might have been schedule for family portraits. Scott L had a remote strobe and sensor setup against a nice white wall, plus the two strobes on his camera, and he proceeded to wave us past his “setup” and stop for pictures. Some of the shots became very amusing and comical… what a group! After several minutes (and my turn was over), my light started dying due to battery charge, so I went to backup, and Don and I headed out toward the entrance where we took lot’s of extra time in the cavern zone enjoying the incredible beauty of the exit. I love just poking around inside of a cave to discover little crevices and passages, to catch those extra little things that someone might typically rush past. A very relaxing time! 100ft 60 minutes

For our 3rd dive, Don and I planned on running a reel off of the main line down various crevices and passages that we’d seen at the end of our second dive. Was I ever glad we did!!! We went a couple of hundred feet back into the tunnel, tied off, and proceeded down the crevice on the left side of the hallway as you’re entering the cave. After I got to the bottom of it, and proceeded along the bottom a ways, I was looking under the ledges and saw something I never would have expected. Now, I’ve had the privilege to see some cool animal life inside of caves, like albino crayfish, and albino salimanders, as well as lots of catfish, etc, but NEVER did I expect to see a fresh water eel… not just any eel, but this beautiful blue-gray creature was 4-5 inches in diameter, and possibly 5ft long. It started turning away as I approached and worked it’s way further underneath, but I was like “THIS IS FRIGGIN’ AWESOME!!” Don later confided that he was concerned that the eel might dart out at me and gnaw my face off.

I reeled up our line, and tied off to the main line right before the descent to 80ft, and explored a bit back deeper into the cave, to unexpectedly find another white line that had a sampling station setup beside it. It had a note beside it to “not disturb” so we left it alone, tied off our reel to the white line and followed it a bit. The line dropped sharply through a restriction, and appeared to continue on. We were not far from our turn around pressure by this time, so we had to bid farewell and leave the line alone, saving exploration for another time. I’m eager to see where it goes! While Don and I were discussing the dive on the surface, we met another cave diver that we’ve seen post on TDS, and he explained that the line we found was a circuit. I hope to follow it next time! An incredibly relaxing and fun cave dive! Just the way I like them!! 70ft, 63 minutes

Once again… the service that we received from Cave Adventurers was “Top Notch”!! Ed does an incredible job of servicing his customers from the dive shop and air station on the first level of his house!

After packing up much of our gear Saturday night, we finished packing at 3am Sunday morning, and headed back up the road to Ohio, Indiana, and Michigan. While I prefer trips that are stretched out a bit, without all this compressed diving/driving in such a short timeframe, it was great to head down and get into these cave systems again, and I look forward to the next opportunity I get to dive them again.

Many thanks to “the boyz” for having me along on this trip on short notice and letting me experience these caves again that are a bit off the normal “cave diving” path!!!