It's about diving. And cats.

Me diving

Monday, July 26, 2010

Hole in the Wall

Photo by Keith Gault
On Monday, we rented a pontoon boat from Cave Adventurers and dove at Hole in the Wall. A map of this cave is here. There are a couple of sites that you can dive on the mill pond from a boat (and more than a couple if you dive sidemount, apparently). We decided on Hole in the Wall because the viz was reported to be really good, which apparently is not always the case. This cave has basically no flow which was also a treat. I dove with Kevin and Keith. Keith had his camera, and since I am vain and like to have my picture taken, I immediately volunteered to join them when he mentioned he would be taking pictures. Thanks to Keith for letting me post his pictures here.

Photo by Keith Gault
From the cavern entrance, there is a very short restriction at about 30' (which fits nicely into the new Cave 1 limits :P), and then a pretty wide vertical shoot going from 40' down to about 70'. That is where the two mainlines start (one upstream and one downstream). We went upstream on the first dive, which is to the right. The coolest thing about this dive was all of the blind salamanders. I had never heard about them, but I kept seeing these white "fish" darting around, and when I finally got a good look at one, I realized they were actually salamanders. When they swim around, the tuck their legs back so they look like fish with long tails (or eels with short tails). Then they flare out their legs as they land on the bottom. They were really cool. Aside from the critters, there were also tons of sea urchin fossils, and a couple of (more recently) dead fish. I was left to wonder what had killed the fish ;) The cave walls are silty and crumbly, but the passage was very tall and open, so the silt wasn't an issue. The viz was really good, as promised. It was a very pretty cave. I was glad I was with someone with a camera :)

Photo by Keith Gault
At around 1000', there is a T, and we went left. We were told that if you go right, you get into a fairly straight passage at about 100' (which supposedly has a thermocline). If you go left, it gets much shallower and eventually the line ends in a room. It did in fact get quite a bit shallower, and it also got a bit narrower and shorter -- just a lot more tunnelly. We turned on gas near 1300', and had a long swim out :P

Our second dive was downstream. In this direction there were a lot of tunnels separated by little round rooms. Many of the rooms had black iron deposits on the ceiling. The formations hanging down from the ceilings reminded me of chandeliers since many were right in the center of the rooms. We did not make it too far (700' I think) before I turned the dive on time. Once again, the no-deco limits for C1 were a bummer.

Photo by Keith Gault
After that, we got back on the boat and headed back to Edd's to fill our tanks. I also went for a swim on the surface interval. The water was insanely cold for swimming in a swimsuit. I don't know what all those kids at Jackson Blue were thinking :) Elissa and Kevin sat out the afternoon, since they both had leaky suits. So, Rob, Keith and I dove together. This time we planned to go downstream on the first dive (so we could get a bit further in there) and upstream on the second. We made it to about 1100' downstream before Keith turned the dive. I already described the beginning of the downstream portion. The only thing I have to add is that after about 900', I thought it got a bit more tunnelly, rather than the tunnel, room, tunnel, room of earlier. Also the tunnel portions were not quite as tall. On our attempt to go upstream again, we made it about 200' before Rob's light died, so that was that.

Photo by Keith Gault
Keith headed home and the rest of us headed back to the house, and laid out all of our gear in an attempt to dry it out before packing it up the next morning. Since it was Rob's birthday, we were determined to go someplace decent for dinner (i.e. not Ruby Tuesdays). It turned out that the steak place we tried to go to the day before, Madison's Warehouse, was just closed on Sundays, so we went back there and they were actually open. It was pretty good. Definitely a notch above Sonny's BBQ. Then we had a pink cake (what can I say? Rob likes strawberry and he's manly enough to eat a pink cake) that we procured the night before at Walmart.

Tuesday we headed back to Jacksonville after stopping by Edd's for some t-shirts and to settle the tab. We took a short detour to drop my light off at Light Monkey for a new cord (it just got a new cord from them like a month ago :( ). And of course we had to stop at Sonic again too. Tuesday wasn't exciting enough to warrant a blog entry though :P

Sunday, July 25, 2010

Jackson Blue

On Sunday, we headed up to Marianna to dive at the mill pond. We stopped at a Sonic on the way there. I've never been to Sonic before, and always find it annoying that they have commercials for them on TV all the time, when there isn't one anywhere around (though I found out that there is one in Gilroy, which seems dangerous as it is on the way home from Monterey). I had no idea that part of Florida was in central time zone, but apparently we crossed a time zone on the way there. As a result, we ended up getting there earlier than I expected, and we had plenty of time to pickup tanks from Cave Adventurers, get settled in at the house (we stayed at Hole in the Wall House), and get some diving in at Jackson Blue. It was insanely crowded with people trying to escape the heat. Kevin was diving with Keith (a friend of Karl's who he had dived with before), so Rob, Elissa, and I dove together. Don had to be back at home for work on Monday, so when we headed to Marianna, he headed home. He was nice enough to loan me his light for the rest of the trip.

Jackson Blue is fabled to have flow, sometimes a lot of it. There was flow, but not as much as I expected. However, there are expanses where there aren't very good places to pull (or if they are, they are reasonably far from where the main line runs) which is sort of annoying. But I would say this was the prettiest cave we went to, certainly it had the best/most photogenic cavern zone. A pretty good map of it is here. Once you get to the line, you are in about 30 to 40' in the cavern zone for a little while but then it drops down fairly quickly to 80+'. There are a couple of breakdown rooms in the first several hundred feet. Between those rooms it is a wide fairly low passage (it's not really low, but it's much wider than it is tall). The easiest place to pull along is the left wall, though the line runs closer to the right wall. On the way in, we pulled along on the left wall for much of it, so on the way out it was nice to drift along with the flow on the opposite side, since we missed all of that on the way in. There is a T at 900', which is just where we got when I called it. I knew the T was coming up, but couldn't actually see it (since I was in the back), but apparently Rob had already placed a cookie when I thumbed it, which was *so* annoying :P We passed Kevin and Keith (on scooters) just after we turned the dive. On the way out, there were some neat little nooks along the side that I thought would be pretty photogenic. And of course the blue cavern zone would make for some nice pictures. This was the first cave where I thought it was really too bad that Rob didn't have his camera.

Elissa was soaked after the first dive (it's a common theme... apparently her zipper was going), so we walked her to the stairs to exit the water, and after hanging out in the water for a while, we did a second dive. I led the dive, and at around 600' I thumbed the dive because I was just too worn out to keep pulling :P So we returned to the cavern zone and played around in 30 to 40' for a while. There are tons of fossils of sand dollars and sea urchins all over the place in there. Eventually we got bored and headed out. By the time we got out, the crowd in the water had thinned out because the park was about to close. As we were packing up to go, Kevin and Keith got out of the water. We met back at the house and then headed to dinner. We tried to go to a steak place that Keith recommended, which turned out to be closed. The dinner options in Marianna seem somewhat limited. We ended up going to Sonny's for BBQ.

Saturday, July 24, 2010

Little River

Saturday we went to Little River. Finally someone (Don) remembered to take some pictures. We were really bad about that on this trip. Thanks Don for the pictures (Don is also responsible for the video embedded below). Since it was Saturday, there were a lot of people swimming there. We got there around 10:30 or so, but somehow we still managed to get decent parking spots (decent in the sense that it was relatively close to the stairs, not in the sense that there was any shade at all). It was horrendously hot, even compared to what seemed like insane heat the two previous days. Elissa decided it was too hot to dive (or to lug gear and get into her drysuit, I think), so Kevin and Don teamed up and Rob and I were a team. We walked our doubles down the steps and laid them down on the retaining wall in front of the water. Then we got into our drysuits and came back down for a swim.

We eventually got back out and got into our gear. When I stood up from the wall I noticed something hanging down from my rig. It was my light cord, but my light head was still clipped to my d-ring :( The cord had completely ripped off of the light head, so that at the end of the cord, where the light head should be, there were just two sad little wires hanging out. I am pretty sure the cord got pinched under my tanks when I was laying them down on the retaining wall. In any case, Elissa brought me her light and helped me to put it onto my rig and we were able to do the dive as planned. I didn't know very much about this cave. I knew it was relatively deep (got to 90', though I didn't know how quickly), and I'd heard it was twisty turny. I also heard that there were two T's fairly close to the entrance. For some reason I didn't think it had much flow, which it turned out I was wrong about. This is the best map I could find, though it doesn't include depths. There was flow, though the geometry of the cave made it pretty easy to pull and glide through most of it. Even though it was 90' with some flow, I felt fine diving 32%. The two T's were apparently replaced with jumps, so that did not turn out to be a problem.

The site has a wide cavern that starts in about 10 feet. The mainline starts at maybe 50' and then it narrows down to a tunnel that runs in the 60 to 70 feet range for a little while. Then you get to a chimney, which drops down into about 90 to 95', and it stays around that depth from there on (at least as far as we got). The tunnel from the mainline to the chimney is actually corkscrewed shaped so that when you start down the 90' tunnel you have basically reversed your direction. In much of the tunnel from there to the first T (around 400'), the side of the cave on one side or another has a little overhang part way up which is useful to pull along. On the first dive we made it just to the T, and I had under 100 psi before turn pressure so I decided it wasn't worth cookie-ing in and continuing. On the second dive we again made it to that T with only about 100 psi to go, but I decided I really wanted to see what was past the T. So we headed to the right, and the flow settled down immediately. Apparently Don and Kevin headed left and the flow picked up, so that was a lucky guess. We made it just a couple minutes down the line before turning it. The main problem with this dive as a cave 1 dive is the deco limitation -- it's not a good cave to do back to back C1 dives. I quickly decided on this trip that not being able to do deco on a cave 1 dive is the most annoying restriction :)

After we got out of the water and humped our gear up to the cars, we decided it was too hot to do another dive here. We briefly considered heading over to Peacock, but decided to just take the afternoon off from diving instead. After spending way too long at EE (while Rob got an on-the-spot neck seal replacement) and way too little time relaxing at the house, we headed to Newberry Backyard BBQ for dinner.

Friday, July 23, 2010

Peacock Springs and Ginnie Springs

On Friday morning we were a bit slow to get going. First it took forever to get fills (I think there were some sort of technical difficulties at EE, but I'm really not sure). Plus Rob wanted to stop by Halcyon to visit Sonya and play with gear, and Kevin's fancy dive watch was falling apart, so he wanted to find a jeweler that could fix it (in the end, he got it fixed at a pawn shop, teehee). This all resulted in not getting to Peacock until after 1. So we ended up having time to do two dives there, at Orange Grove. Here's a nice map of Peacock. The viz in the basin was really bad and it was completely covered in duckweed, so it took us a while to find the entrance. We spent a while getting lost in that little entrance to the left that goes really deep. Then we finally found the right entrance but went the wrong way and didn't immediately find the mainline.

We ended up blowing quite a bit of time and gas on that, so in the end we had 600 psi to penetrate with. However, we still made it a lot further than we had before, making it to 200' from Challenge (which I think is a total penetration of about 1500'). The viz was much better than the last time we were here, and the flow was much lower (not that it was that high before). The area beyond about 800' seems to open up a bit vertically for a while. However, this could be at least somewhat in my head, since the better viz just made it seem a bit less claustrophobic in there :) The downside of a low-flow cave is that you actually have to swim out. What a drag. We left the reel in and did a second dive back in. This time we made it just to the arrow change and turned there. Rob discovered that the little funhouse maze right before the 800' arrow has a bypass right around the corner there. I don't understand why they ran the line through the maze, but having not gone around the corner, I don't really know. Someone on the other team (Don I think) reported going around the corner and not knowing why they didn't run the line that way.

Since there wasn't enough time for another dive at Peacock, Rob, Kevin and I decided to go to Ginnie for a night dive or two. We entered through the eye again, with Rob running the reel. His reel jammed halfway down the chute -- deja vu. We returned to the surface and fixed it (it was actually much worse than Kevin's jam the day before), and then headed back in. After feeling like I had finally figured out how to dive Ginnie without getting too worn out yesterday, I felt like I completely regressed today. I felt like a totally spaz pulling my way through the gallery. In the end, we made it a little past 800 feet, probably about 15 feet farther than I have made it in there before. If only we could not have the reel jam on the way in, coupled with me not being a spaz through the gallery, I could finally see some new cave :) For a second dive, we went back into the catacombs. Rob turned it when he got to a dead end. He claimed after the fact that he thinks he knows where he made a wrong turn (we made the same wrong turn yesterday, I guess, but I just happened to turn us a few feet before Rob's dead end). We returned to the mainline and planned to head back in.

When we got to just before the lips, I suggested we just hang out in the gallery. It didn't make sense to me to fight our way through the lips and keyhole (not that it's really a fight, but it's a bit tiring) just to call the dive. The gallery is the pretty part of the first 500' or so anyway :P So we poked around in there until I got hungry and thumbed in. I was in the middle on the way out, and as I was attempting to not get shot out of the ear at 30', I felt the line wrap around my leg. After a brief attempt to free it, I felt it wrap around my other leg, and decided I was just going to have to wait for either Rob or Kevin to free me. So I laid there holding on tight with my fins flapping in the flow, knowing that if I got blown any which way by the flow, I'd just end up more entangled. Finally Kevin looked back and caught on, and came and freed me. Phew. I guess Rob had tried to sort of whip the line back around my first entangled leg, and that is how my second leg got entangled. Hehe.

We managed to get out of the water in time to eat dinner at a non-waffle restaurant, so we went to Great Outdoors in High Springs.

Thursday, July 22, 2010

Ginnie Springs

All of us but Kevin were on the same flight. Of course this guaranteed that Kevin's flight was delayed. So when we arrived, we split up and left Don and Elissa to retrieve Kevin, while Rob and I headed to High Springs to get some provisions for the house and tanks. We all met up at EE. By then, we had analyzed all of the gas and just had to load up the cars and get going. We were making much better time than I expected. We rested a bit at the house and then headed to Ginnie for some diving. Here is a pretty good map of the system. For the first dive, Rob and I dove together, and Kevin, Don and Elissa dove together. For some odd reason, Rob prefers the eye to the ear, so we went in there. I think the ear is better -- the flow is more ripping but you get through it faster. Plus it's sort of fun clawing your way down the chute. Anyway, I offered to run the reel, which I have not done before at Ginnie. I was a bit scared of running the line in flow. Since it was rather hot, we got into our drysuits, then went for a little swim before getting in our gear and going back into the water. This is pretty much the protocol that we followed for the entire trip.

We headed in through the eye, and I managed to run the line without tying myself or Rob in knots. I think afterward Rob told me he didn't even have to reset any of my placements behind me (which Rob just can't resist doing when I run the reel). The flow did not seem as bad as I remembered it from the last trip. However, it did take me a little while to get the hang of the whole pulling and not kicking thing again. Past the keyhole, I noticed a lot more chunks of clay with different colored layers laying on the bottom. I guess I was able to pay a bit more attention to the features of the cave with the lower flow. On the first dive, we made it just past 700' before turning on gas. I like to slow myself down with my hands on the way out, but Rob doesn't do that, so I felt like I was flying on the way out to keep up with him. I still haven't figured out how to not get spun around on my way out of the lips :)

We decided to use the rest of our gas for a second dive into the catacombs. We left the reel in and then Rob picked it up and ran it into the catacombs. We ended up getting into some tight twisty areas so I turned us and we headed back to the mainline. We tied the reel in there and headed back in along the mainline. We hadn't seen the other team at all (nor had we seen their reel), but right as we approached the keyhole, they came out of it. I guess they had aborted their entrance through the eye and came back in through the ear. They must have come in while we were in the catacombs. We made it just through the keyhole before turning it on gas. In hindsight we should have just hung out instead of bothering to pull our way through the keyhole, just to turn the dive.

We got out of the water and switched tanks, and then headed in for some more diving. Elissa decided to sit out the dive because she had a massive leak on the first dive, so Rob and Don dove together, and Kevin and I dove together. We went in the eye this time. Rob and Don went in first, and then Kevin and I headed down the hole. Kevin was running the reel. We spent a little while picking a secondary tie, and after finally finding one, his reel jammed. We spent a little time trying to fix it, as we wedged ourselves in to avoid getting spit out. Finally he gave up fixing it and we came back up to deal with it. We recalculated our gas and headed back in. Aside from entering from the ear this time, we basically repeated the exact same first dive that Rob and I had done before, and turned the dive literally like 10 feet from where Rob and I had turned. We had a slightly more leisurely ride out though, since I was leading out, and I slowed myself down along the way. After recalculating gas, we did another penetration and in the room right before the keyhole, Kevin called the dive. I always like to stop in that room to catch my breath before going through the keyhole, and while I was resting, I checked my gas. Kevin was looking at me expectantly, like he was hoping I would call the dive. When I gave him the okay, he thumbed it. He told me later that he thumbed it on CO2 -- he was diving 32% and I was diving 30/30. As we came out, we saw that Rob and Don's reel was still installed, but they were no longer in the cave (as far as we could tell). When we got up to the log at 20 feet, we saw them hanging out on the lip just above the ear, waiting to enter. They signaled to us that they were just going in to pickup the reel. I guess they left the reel in and then decided they didn't have it in them to go in for a second dive.

By the time we were out of the water, we were all really hungry. It was almost 10 o'clock and after calling all of the usual restaurants and finding they were all closed (or about to close), we finally found out that the waffle house in Alachua is open all night. Sweet. We headed over there and gorged on breakfast foods.

Wednesday, July 21, 2010

Florida Cave Diving Extravaganza

Since I finagled a trip to Mexico for my birthday (which has not yet happened), Rob decided we should go to Florida for his birthday. Never mind that it's heinously hot and humid in Florida at the end of July :) So of course we had to share the joy of stinky drysuit undergarments with our friends, so we enlisted Kevin, Don, and Elissa to join us. We flew into Jacksonville on a Wednesday night redeye, and then drove down to High Springs on Thursday. We stayed in High Springs (at Diver's Den Cottage) for the first 3 days, diving Thursday afternoon, Friday, and Saturday in the area. Then on Sunday morning, we drove up to Marianna (we stayed at Hole in the Wall house) for a day and a half of diving on Merritt's Mill Pond. Tuesday we flew back home :(

Here are the day-by-day reports:

Sunday, July 18, 2010

Montana and Whale Watching

On Sunday we were on a BAUE tech boat. The Saturday boat had made it down to Yankee Point, but unfortunately the Sunday forecast was not looking quite as good. When we woke up on Sunday (after staying down Saturday night), we were greeted by fog. Hmph. Well, we had plenty of time before we were leaving the dock, let alone ready to dive. We dawdled quite a bit at the dock, hoping the fog would lift by the time we left, and then eventually headed out. One of the other boats called to say that the fog was lifting in Carmel Bay, so we headed down there. The fog was definitely getting better, though I still had trouble figuring out what point we were turning as we turned Point Joe :) It was a somewhat sporty trip, with gear rolling across the deck on several occasions, and me rolling across the deck once. We finally got down to Lobos and were planning to dive E3. For some reason there was a last minute change of heart, and we went to Montana instead.

Since I had fun videoing Rob's class on Saturday, I decided to bring the camera along and play with it on the dive. In hindsight it would have made sense to play with it some more on a shallower dive, since it seemed to take up a lot of my time even though I only took about 6 minutes of video on the dive :) On the way down, we found good viz, as expected. We passed a big egg yolk jelly on the way down (which I wish I had video'd, but I was holding out hope for seeing one on the reef). Not long after we got going on the bottom, Rob (or someone) found a basket star. Kevin and I headed back to check it out. There was a bit of a crowd around it, so I took a few seconds of footage (with Kevin's light with video reflector on it) and then backed off. I came back a couple of minutes later and got a bit more footage, but I think I may have disturbed Rob as he was about to setup a shot. Oops. From there, we headed clockwise. We really didn't make it all that far around. It was a very fishy dive, with swarms of juvey rockfish, plus some bigger rockfish on top of the pinnacle. I also saw a few small lingcods. Other than that, it was the usual suspects. I found a couple of Dotos with an egg ribbon near them, and an Aldisa cooperi. But I wasn't really looking for slugs.

Eventually we doubled back toward the way we came, and swung around the top of the pinnacle, before shooting a bag and starting our drift. The deco was pretty uneventful until 20 or 30 feet, where it was super thick with small jellyfish. I'm not sure what they were, but I felt like I was floating in a tank at the aquarium! It was pretty cool. When we got to the surface, conditions had deteriorated. It was quite windy. Greg reported that it had gotten super snotty while we were in the water and then calmed down a little by the time we came up. So we got the hell out of there once everyone was collected. It was a bit rough on the way back from Carmel.

There was quite a bit of ambivalence about doing a second dive, and there had been a lot of blue whale sitings recently, so we decided to go for a ride and see what we could find. After quite a bit of driving around we found the mother lode. Well, a few anyway. I'd never seen a blue whale before. Rob saw one/some the weekend and described it like seeing a smaller whale but it just keeps going and going and going before it sinks back beneath the water. That is a pretty good description. They are also way more blue than I expected! I pointed the video camera in their general direction while we were watching them and attempted to get a bit of footage. Rob told me that I should really aim it, but I told him I was more interested in seeing the whales than video'ing them :) Right before we took off back to the dock, we also saw a sea otter with a crab on his tummy that he was feasting on. It was the best example of a sea otter feeding that I have seen in the wild.

Lunch at the Chowder House.

Apparently Rob has become such a picture snob that he didn't think any of his pics from Montana were worth posting. So I guess you have to live with my video instead.

Sunday, July 4, 2010

July 4 Recreational Boat

We had a recreational boat on July. I dove with Rob and Kevin. I didn't post a report for a while, because I was waiting for pictures from Rob and/or Clinton. But apparently neither of them "got anything", whatever that means ;) But I did want to write a quick report, so that the dive wasn't lost in the annals of dive history. Since Bunny Kenn was the only one man enough to post anything from the trip, I have included his video here (I wasn't diving with him, though I do make a cameo appearance in the video). Conditions were not exactly what you would call wonderful, but we did make it down to Outer Butterfly House. Once in the water, conditions were still not wonderful -- it was bright blue but pretty chunky in some spots, and in other spots it was just green (which I think you can see in the video). I had a couple of good slug finds, including a Dirona. Nothing terribly unusual though. Clinton found a wolf eel, which was cool. Those were the most notable events of the dive.

When we got back on board, it was damn sporty. So we hid in the bay for the second dive. We ended up at Eric's Pinnacle, which Rob has never been to. Viz was likewise not wonderful, and it was especially murky on top. We meandered around the base, and explored off into the sand a bit. Out in the sand, we saw a small octopus and a bunch of squid eggs. Back on the structure, we found one spot that was teeming with Hermissendas. There seemed to be some decent rockfish, but they were mostly at the top of the pinnacle, where the viz was terrible. We did see a couple of treefish (or maybe the same one twice?) which I remember seeing the last time I was at Eric's too.

After the boat, we went to Sue and Beto's for a post-dive BBQ, which made up for the crappy diving.