It's about diving. And cats.

Me diving

Sunday, December 30, 2012

New Year's 2013: Emerald Sink to the Black Abyss

We had a reservation to dive Emerald on Sunday.  There are a bunch of requirements to dive Emerald, and prior to January 1, you had to submit a bunch of paperwork and proof of certification and whatnot in order to get pre-approved to dive there.  So we did all of that in November or December, in anticipation of this trip.  And then of course they changed the rules so that I guess you can just show up at Wakulla with your cards and get in (or so I'm told... don't take that as the truth if you are planning a dive there).  So, first you go to Wakulla to get the key.  It's also important to know how to get there, since according to Kevin, the address on Cave Atlas won't quite get you there (though Kevin has been known to get lost in car-parks).  We got directions from the dive coordinator, and they were spot on.  It was insanely cold the day that we went there.  We left a bit on the early side, and as we drove up there, the temperature gauge on the car was bobbing around between 30 and 35.  Yikes.  By the time we got to Emerald, it had warmed up to 39.  For some dumb reason (laziness the night before), we hadn't put our regs onto our stage bottles when we packed the truck.  So we were punished for that by having to setup gear in the cold.  We eventually got everything setup and into the water.  Kevin brought a rope with loops on it so we could lower bottles into the water.  It was quite a rope, and probably a bit overkill for our needs.  The path to the water is not too far, and it is flat and tree-root-free.  Then there is a platform with benches (a la Orange Grove) and a nice set of stairs down to the water.  There is also a picnic table next to platform.  So overall, nice facilities for a clearing in the middle of the woods (though no "facilities" unless you mean the girl tree and the boy tree).

The Emerald basin is really nice.  It's big and deep and the water was really clear when we were there.  We went upstream to the Black Abyss, which has an average depth of 50-some feet.  The other option is downstream, which I hear is a 150-200 foot dive.  We brought two stages, which was total overkill.  But since we didnt' know much about the site (Kevin has dived it once, and Rob and I have dived it zero times before), we figured that would give us options if we found any jumps worth checking out.  There is a T not too far in, maybe about 15 minutes in.  The two paths, to the left and right, eventually meet up again.  The right side is quite a bit longer, and Kevin told us that it was bigger too (though the left side is not small).  Since we had a lot of gas, we figured we could check out both sides, but we planned to take the right on the way in.  Rob was leading, because it was his turn to lead.  Kevin said it was his turn to be third, so I ended up second (even though it was technically my turn to be third also!).

There is a convenient place on a tree trunk to drop your deco bottles in the basin, and then we headed into the cave.  I'm going to be honest.  I didn't think Emerald was the best cave dive ever.  It is a very dark cave, and for much of the path in, I felt like I was just following a line in the blackness, because you can't see both walls at once, and the walls are dark and suck the light up.  Anyhoo, I digress.  Not very far in, before you even get to the T, you pass a little opening to daylight, off to the left.  There is no cavern shown on the map, so I don't know if one can actually exit there, but there is plenty of daylight streaming in.  Not too far after the T on the right path, there is a change in arrows, and eventually we came to another big sink, Split Sink, which you actually swim right through as you follow the line.  It looks like a pretty big opening, though we didn't surface to look at it.  Very shortly after that, just a couple hundred feet, we passed Cheryl Sink.  This is very close to the other T.  We dropped our first stage bottles there, since we wanted to try to complete the circuit on the way out, and thus couldn't leave the bottles on the right side of the path.  Up until this point, the average depth was probably 50 feet or less, but then it got a bit deeper.  Eventually we came to a spot where it dips down to about 100 feet, under a sort of archway.  At this point the path is a bit narrower and taller, and you can actually see the walls on both sides, which was nice.  This section of the cave is actually the part that I have the most clear picture of in my mind, because you can actually see it :)  The tunnel is not too deep for very long, and then it comes back up to about 80 feet.  Not too long after that (maybe 10 minutes past the second T?) you come to another T, which is the start of the Black Abyss.  The line runs around the outside of the room and then back onto itself.  We followed the line to the right, and swam around the room.  It is aptly named; it's very black, and deep, and you can't see to the bottom.

Just for the record, it took us almost exactly an hour to get to the Black Abyss.  If we had taken the left side path, I think that would shave about 15 minutes off.  Also, this dive definitely doesn't require two stages!  I used two stages plus about 200 psi of backgas, so it is really doable on just backgas (especially if you take the shorter path).

On the way out, right around the deep spot, Kevin pointed out a jump that he wanted to take.  We agreed to check it out, and dumped all of our junk on the line.  We jumped into a line that was running sort of back the way we came, into a brown, silty room.  Not very far in, I noticed another line running along the room, parallel to the one we were on, maybe 8 feet away.  I was rather confused by this.  I suppose whoever installed the second line was probably confused too.  After not very long at all (a minute or two), the line ended.  Doh!  So out we went.  What a waste of a stage switch.  From there, we headed out, and checked out the other side of the loop on the way out.  I liked this side better.  Since it is smaller, you can actually see the walls quite a bit more.  It was a nice view as we rode the flow out.  The flow is not significant, but definitely noticeable.  At some point Kevin basically gave up on kicking, and was just riding the flow out, which was met with a "move along" signal from me.  That was a bit TOO slow for me.  It took us about 35 minutes to get from the first to second T on the way in (on the right), and about 15 minutes to get back on the left, though considering the flow, I'm guessing it would have been about 20 minutes on the way in.

I think the best part of the whole dive was the last couple minutes, as we approached the basin, when we could see the light streaming in.  It's a very nice view.  When we got back to the basin, I swam over to the tree trunk with our bottles, but the boys wanted to check out downstream.  So they bolted down to the bottom and started to swim into the cave (without me!)  I followed, but they turned around before I even made it to the overhead.  We returned to the tree trunk and started our ascent.  This is the first time I've had to do midwater deco on a cave dive (well, maybe Eagle's Nest, but only for a tiny bit of the deco).  Perhaps that is why I had to prove that I had full trimix training to do this 55 foot average depth dive ;)  When we got to our O2 bottles, I called 6 minutes of deco, and Rob practically had a fit.  He considered it an MDL dive, and refused to even go onto his O2 bottle.  So I did my 6 minutes, while his eyes were rolling for practically the entire time.  I guess I need a deco rule for 55 feet, to avoid these kinds of quarrels in the future.

After packing everything up, we headed back to Wakulla, to check out and retrieve our cards.  From there, we had a plan to get oysters for lunch, at one of the two oyster shacks on the way back.  Our plans were thwarted, though, because they were both closed!  This was a huge bummer; Rob was very disappointed.  I think that oysters were half the reason that he wanted to dive Emerald.  It's quite strange, too, since I'm sure that the last time we went to Revell's, it was on a Sunday (during last year's New Year's trip, even).  So we had to settle for Sonic, which is basically like the opposite of oysters, in terms of awesomeness.  But to brighten our day, they accidentally gave Kevin two corn-dogs instead of one.  I think that was the most exciting thing that's ever happened to Kevin.

No comments: