It's about diving. And cats.

Me diving

Monday, March 5, 2012


Our plan had been to go to the Mill Pond Monday morning and to stay through Tuesday. The pond had been drained and so far only partially refilled, so only JB was accessible. But we figured that we could always dive JB one day and hit Madison on the way back if we didn't think JB could entertain us for a second day.  Then we heard that Madison was flooded, so JB would have to entertain us for two days. I spent quite a bit of time studying the map of JB on Sunday night.  Then Sunday night after I had already "gone to bed", Rob was reading the cave diver forum and found a couple of reports from Sunday saying that the viz was blown in JB. Sigh. So we decided at the last minute to punt on the Mill Pond, and head to Manatee instead. Getting to Manatee was quite a challenge -- not that it should have been. I don't know precisely where google maps thought we were going, but it was not Manatee Springs State Park. We realized this when we got to our destination (or thought we were close, since we had no signal and thus no more blue dot on the map) and there was nothing there, or within several miles on that road. Upon closer inspection, we found Manatee Springs State Park on the map... on the other side of the river! So we had to backtrack like 20 miles then go another 10 to get there. Doh!

When we finally got there, we were still the first team to checkin. We parked as close to Catfish as we could and then started unloading gear. Our second failure of the day was bringing so much gear and no cart. This was a major failure. Aside from the fact that it was hot and tiring to move the gear, it also just took forever (we have since acquired a dolly). Once we finally had everything staged, including our tanks near the water, we got dressed. It was quite hot and sunny, so the pavilion was helpful for gearing up out of the sun. Then Rob took a test plunge to put the bottles and scooters into the water, and also to determine the depth of the water by the platform, to see if it was safe to jump in (the spring was completely covered with duckweed, so we could not see). No it was not deep enough, so instead we would have to climb down the ladder, which is reminiscent of a pool ladder, and about as wide. We got geared up and into the water. Climbing down the ladder was not as challenging as expected. The gillyweed was everywhere though, so after getting bottles and scooters on, we decided to drop below to go onto our bottles. We dropped to 20 feet and the viz was amazing. The basin was huge, and filled with crystal clear blue water. After switching to our bottles, we set about looking for the line. Once we figured out which side of the basin had the cave entrance, the flow made it pretty clear which way we wanted to go. But Rob had to poke around a bit to find the line, then once he knew where he was going, he ran the line in. We dropped our O2 once we were well within the cavern, but before he got to the mainline.

A lot of people have told me not to bother diving Manatee without a scooter (though others have said it is worthwhile even kicking) and now I can see why :)  There is a lot of flow. There was one very brief section (where the passages narrowed) where I found myself flutter kicking while on the trigger. It is a nice wide open cave for the most part, making it good for a beginner scooter diver like me (I can hear Rob scoffing and telling me I am not a beginning scooter diver). It is very dark though, and a little bit spooky. The viz was not so good, maybe 20 or 25 feet, with lots of big particles in the water, up to Friedman Sink, but then it opened up. We dropped our first stage right by the T that goes up to Friedman. From there the viz was maybe 50 feet, though hard to tell because it is such a dark cave. But definitely good viz. I for some reason thought this cave was a bit shallower than it was. We probably averaged around 70 feet, though we were in the 80 to 90 range for quite a bit of the dive. We eventually came to an area where there were a lot of ups and downs. We literally went from 80 plus feet to about 20 feet at one point. My ears were not too pleased about this. After the 20 foot section, we went back down a hill and I had a ton of trouble with my ears. I was inching along, Rob having gone through a duck under and thus oblivious to me. I finally made it to the bottom, at that duck under, and looked up another hill, where Rob was waiting. I told him my ears were acting up, and that we could keep going until the next big drop. He suggested that I lead. I said okay, then looked at the time, and realized that we were 2 or 3 minutes from our agreed upon turn burntime, so I suggested we just turn. We were right at the 1200' arrow during this conversation.

I led us out, and found scootering with the flow to be quite amusing. My approach to dealing with the ups and downs was to stay low in the shallow rooms and high in the deep rooms. And every time we came to a duck under, I would blow through it as fast as possible, so I didn't have to clear my ears :). As a result, every time I got through a deep duck under, I'd have to stop to recover. It probably drove Rob nuts. I also had a bit of a scooter breakthrough. I have always had trouble thumbing my lighthead while on the trigger (without accidentally letting up on the trigger). But with all of the ear problems, and needing to pinch my nose to clear my ears, I pretty quickly figured out, by necessity, how to do this. I still had trouble pointing it in the direction I wanted though.

We got back to Friedman and found that we'd used less than half as much gas on the way out as on the way in (plus we hadn't turned on gas, so we had a ton of gas left in the stages anyway). So Rob suggested that we go off the trigger and just drift out with the flow. I agreed. Then not too long after that, we came to a marked jump that Rob wanted to investigate.  It was to the right if you are headed into the cave, a couple hundred feet before Friedman.  Rob looked around for the line, and once he found it and suggested heading up there, we dumped some of our gear on the mainline and headed up that way.  The line kind of loops back around so that it is roughly running parallel to the mainline, and we were heading back upstream now.  At first the tunnel was not very attractive, just sort of brown and silty, and flowful, without much to pull on.  I was starting to think that this little foray was folly, accomplishing nothing but producing a bunch of CO2 :)  We soon came to something sort of odd on the line; there were two opposing arrows, but they were pointing at each other.  About an arm's reach away to the right, there was a jump, which had an arrow pointing away from the line we were on.  I have no idea what this means, since we could not have been further than 400 feet from Friedman, and I see no other closer entrances on the map.  (I assume we were on the "Chalkley Bypass" line, and the jump to the right was "the sewer".)  Anyway, after noting this anomaly, we continued on the line we were on.  Not long after that, we came around a corner and up into a really pretty room, that had this grey, almost grey-blue (or maybe that was the HIDs), clay in it.  The viz was better in here too.  We continued a bit further along, and found some more rooms with this pretty grey clay in it.  I think this was my favorite part of the dive.  The rooms were very attractive and much brighter than the rest of the passages.  It's weird, because pretty much everyone I have asked about this line (I was wondering about the weird arrows) has told me they have never been off the mainline at Manatee!

We turned the dive based on gas, since we'd agreed to some ridiculously small amount of penetration when we recalculated.  We got back to the mainline, and picked up our gear and continued our drift out.  Before you know it, we were back to our reel.  We picked up our O2 bottles, and then began to cleanup the reel.  I was looking forward to decoing in the excellent viz in the basin, but once we got out of the cavern, we found that that was not to be.  There was a group of open water divers diving in the basin, and the viz just wasn't what it had been when we started the dive :(  Oh well, it was still a nice enough place to deco.  We negotiated deco, which took a bit of thought, since I have a magic rule for 60 feet and 80 feet, and had to extrapolate to 70 feet.  Okay not that much thought.  Once we surfaced, we had to deal with all that gear again.  The team of open water divers and their guide had just surfaced too, and their guide helped us to hoist the scooters out of the water, once Rob was out of the water and he and I were still in the water.  So helpful.  Then we slowly walked the gear back to the car, which took forever!  When we were finished, we walked over to Manatee Spring, which I was considering going for a swim in, but it just didn't look that tempting.  Plus we were starving, so we decided we'd rather go find food!

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