It's about diving. And cats.

Me diving

Saturday, March 24, 2012

Another Almost-Cancelled Boat

Yet again, on Friday I found staring at a really bad forecast for Saturday, and also found myself the "organizer" of a boat on Saturday.  There was a small craft advisory through Saturday afternoon, but the one good thing was that conditions were supposed to be improving throughout the day.  When we drove in on Saturday morning, the bay looked oddly glassy.  It was insanely windy (I thought the van was going to get knocked over on 156), but the wind was out of the south (or maybe southeast) so the bay was protected.  But a change in the wind direction was forecast.  When we got to K-dock, Jim was out driving around Point Pinos to check things out.  We all congregated in the parking lot for a while, and then we eventually decided that standing around in the parking lot at K-dock is for losers, and we should just load the boat, without hearing the verdict from Jim.  When Jim got back, I think he was a bit surprised to find everyone loading the boat :)  He basically told us that it was in the bay or nothing, and maybe nothing.  By the time the boat was loaded, the wind had definitely shifted, and now it was blowing like a @#$!  Jim was hopeful that this was just a short-lived squall (I guess that is the technical term for "blowing like  @#$!") so we took our time at K-dock and eventually left.  We motored out to Mile Buoy, which was super windy, and killed a little time there, then we motored out to Deep Ballbuster, which was windier still, and noted the difficulty of picking up divers in such conditions.  This was the first time in recent memory when I thought we might actually have to call it after going out.  Then we headed back in to Kawika's Garden, which was also pretty dang windy, but not as scary as Deep Ballbuster.  It seemed like conditions were improving, but it might just be because Kawika's is closer in.

Everyone decided to leave their scooters on the boat, given the site.  Rob and I also decided to leave our O2 bottles on the boat, so we were going in light :)  We were the first to splash, and the viz looked good on top.  We swam over to the downline, and started our descent.  The first thing I noticed was how silent it was.  We should leave the scooters on the boat more often :)  The viz got worse as we descended, and by the time we were on the bottom, it was pretty bad.  Maybe 15 feet.  Maybe 20, but very green.  Rob was shooting macro, so we began inching along the bottom.  It was reasonably surgy at times, though not so surgy to make photography impossible.  But we didn't see very much of interest.  I was surprised that we didn't see any basket stars, since it was reasonably dark.  We did find one Tochuina, which was on a very pathetic little stump of a gorgonian, which looked like it had been run over with a lawn mower.  While trying to get a picture of it, it ended up flying around in the water column, getting knocked too and fro by the surge.  Rob made a valiant attempt to get it to grab on to a gorgonian, but it just wasn't interested.  Then he tried to get it to hold on to the reef, or another gorgonian.  But it was curled up like a rolly polly bug, refusing to hang on to anything.  So he tried to sit it on the bottom, though I'm sure the next bit of surge had it flying again.

There were some fish.  Some interesting juveniles, the usual assortment of adults, and the school on top.  But we only encountered the school once briefly during the dive.  Eventually we thumbed the dive, and after moving a bit shallower, I pulled the bag out.  I looked down, and from there, we had an excellent view of the school.  It looked really cool from above, and we watched them through our deep stops.  Deco was pretty uneventful for the first few stops.  As we got shallower, the viz improved, and we started to see some interesting little deco critters.  At 20 feet, Rob decided to try to get some shots of the critters.  He gave me a small jellyfish (a baby sea nettle, I think) with a little crab on its back to hold, while he got his camera out :)  Then after a few frustrating shots, he tasked me with using my HID light as a focusing light.  So we contorted ourselves around each other, as the jellyfish swam around, and he got a bunch of shots.  Just after he had stowed his camera, we saw a Scrippsia pacifica just below us, so he got his camera out for more pictures.  We ended up "overstaying" at our 20 foot stop for 10 minutes to get pictures.  This was probably the most fun part of the dive.  Then we finally ascended, still the first team to surface :)  When we surfaced, it was still whitecapping around us.  The boat came to pick us up, and as we were drifting past the back of it, Rob grabbed the ladder and I got just beyond it and was kicking hard, and stuck less than one body length behind the swimstep.  I asked the crew for a line, and Rob turned back to me, holding onto the ladder, and not making any attempt to help me and just said "why do you need a line?".  Jackass.  By the time the line was about to be tossed out, I had made it back to the swimstep under my own power.

There was not even any talk of a second dive, so we headed to La Tortuga instead.  It was a dive.  Not all dives can be epic.

Saturday, March 17, 2012

BAUE Rec Boat

Photo by Clinton Bauder
Saturday was the March BAUE recreational boat.  Somehow I ended up organizing this one.  The forecast was looking pretty horrendous in the middle of the week... does this sound familiar?  So we were keeping a close eye on the forecast, to see if the boat should even attempt to go, but by Friday afternoon, the forecast was not too horrible.  8 to 10 foot swell and 10 knot winds, or something.  But building in the afternoon.  We also got a report of good viz in the bay, though, so I figured we could get a couple of dives in.  When we got down to Monterey, the flag was at attention, though once again pointing out to sea.  And it started to rain just as we got off the highway.  Jim said that it had been really windy, but the wind direction was changing and we were basically in the lull before it got really windy again.  So we were hoping to make it to Carmel for at least one dive.  The conditions turned out to not be too bad on the way down (at least I didn't think so).  We made it around Point Pinos without any problem.  There were fairly big, long period swells, but the wind was not too bad.  Just the occasional whitecap.

Photo by Clinton Bauder
We pulled up to East Pinnacle and were told to get the heck in the water, so we could get out of there before conditions got too much worse.  So that is what we did.  I was diving with Rob and Clinton.  Rob was shooting macro and Clinton was shooting wide angle.  Clinton definitely made the better choice, at least for this dive.  The water color and viz were good, probably 30 to 40 feet.  I started to see fish (on top of the pinnacle) at like 20 feet on the way down.  It was crazy surgy though.  Not continuously, but every couple of minutes the surge machine would be turned on and we'd be dragged back and forth across the reef, and then eventually set back down, maybe where we started, or maybe not :)  So, needless to say, Rob didn't do much with his camera.  Clinton led us around on a little tour of the best hydrocoral spots at the site (all those rocks look the same to me), and then we circled back to the little school of blue rockfish that we saw at the beginning.  I just hung out atop the pinnacle in the washing machine while Clinton took pictures of them.  We had scooters (because Rob wanted to test out his just-back-from-service motor), which made it slightly less scary to be churned about next to the pinnacle, because if rock was rapidly approaching my face, I could always scooter out of it.  About 40 minutes into the dive, I noticed that all of the other teams had departed up the anchor line, and Clinton had just finished up taking pictures of a patch of hydrocoral, so we thumbed it.  When we surfaced, it was windier, but not so rough as to make reboarding the boat any big thang.

Photo by Clinton Bauder
Once we were back on board, we headed back to the bay.  Conditions had certainly deteriorated, but the worst thing about the ride back was that it was insanely cold, and the wind did not help in this respect.  I really need to get some giant ear muffs or a hat with ear flaps for winter boats (now that the winter is nearly over... I hope).  I was wondering on the ride back if it was actually colder on the surface than in the water.  I couldn't believe it was, but then as I was gearing up for the second dive, I noticed that on the surface, my gauge recorded a temperature of 44 degrees, whereas the water on the first dive had been a not too cold 50 degrees.  No wonder it was so freakin' cold on the ride back from Carmel!  We pulled up behind the aquarium, to Hopkins.  As far as I know, we weren't given any choices for the dive, but Jim said there should not be surge here.  And that the reports were that there was good viz.

Photo by Robert Lee
I jumped in first, and looked down and the viz was really good on top.  As we descended, there was a distinct layer in the water right around 30 feet, where it went from blue to green (and there was a lot of "stuff" in the water right around that layer) but at the bottom, the viz was still quite good.  Again I'd call it 30 to 40 feet, bright, but a bit green.  Definitely really good viz for the bay.  We just meandered around the site, looking for critters, and posing for pictures with the metridiums.  We had a lot more success on finding macro critters on this dive -- the lack of surge (for the most part) helped a lot.  I found a pretty small wolf eel just poking his head out of a crack.  I was above a structure that had a several feet deep crack running across the top and ending at the side.  So if you were facing the side, you would see a vertical crack.  Anyway, I looked down in the the crack from on top, and saw grey.  Hmmm.  I wasn't even sure if his head was sticking out of the side before I signaled Rob to point out that there was a wolf eel down there.  But sure enough, when I swam over to the edge of the rock and dropped down along the side, there he was, just peeking out.  Team Bunny was nearby, so we dragged them over to look at the eel too.

Photo by Robert Lee
Eventually we moved on from that and swam across some sand to another pile of boulders (maybe those rocks are too big to be called boulders).  Rob and Clinton swam right over a little rock pile on the bottom with a not-very-small red octopus among the rocks.  He wasn't really hidden at all, except that he was completely frozen with his legs tucked under him along the side of a rock, and he totally blended in with the rock.  I signaled Rob, who swam back. I circled the octo with my light.  He looked straight at it, paused, and then looked back at me like "huh?"  Then I circled it again and he finally realized he was staring at an octopus.  Then he started taking some pictures.  Once he was finished with some pictures, I got a little closer (didn't want to spook him before Rob got pictures). I did spook him a bit, but he just moved, out onto the sand, extending his legs and changing color to blend into the sand.  So then Rob took more pictures of him.  Eventually John, Carol, and Teresa came by and we showed them the octopus.  We eventually left him alone, and not too long after that, Rob found another, smaller octopus, which by the time I came along was totally hidden in a crack.  But I could peer into it and see him there.  We finally headed back to where we started, near the anchor line.  That area seemed to be filled with lingcod.  There was one really big one, which was either the same one we had seen on the way down to the site or there were two big ones, and lots of medium to small ones, and one really tiny one that was so cute I wanted to pinch his cheeks.  Clinton also found a big cabezon, stuffed into an odd position along a crack, basically head down.  He was a pretty strange color, almost a fluorescent green.  It was a pretty nice find.

Photo by Robert Lee
After that, we thumbed the dive, and headed up the line, which we were right next to.  When we surfaced, there were whitecaps all around us.  As I was waiting at the swimstep, Jim pointed out to me that I was trailing a little line of oil droplets, because my compass had been smashed.  I noticed a bubble in it before the first dive, which I didn't remember being there, but I didn't look at it too closely.  I guess that was fairly dumb of me.  Upon closer inspection, there was a web of small cracks emanating from the center.  I suspect it got smashed in my luggage on the way back from Florida.  I didn't notice it wasn't working in the water, because on the first dive I used the compass on my scooter, and on the second dive I didn't use my compass at all :)  Anyhoo, we got back on the boat and then headed back to K-dock, by which point it was raining really hard.  We headed to the Chowder House, and then to Anywater to, among other things, replace my compass.

All of the day's pictures are here.

Monday, March 12, 2012

Ted's Cave 2 Adventure

Rob and I were wanting to do a longer (full week) trip to Florida before the hot months come. Ted meanwhile was looking to take Cave 2 sometime in the winter or early spring. So we wanted to overlap so that we could dive with him the weekend after class. In the end we decided to just go the same week since there are certain conveniences associated with traveling together (although it does complicate the cat sitter situation).

In the past, I have bulk posted all of my reports for a trip at once, but with 10 whole days of cave diving (!) to write about, that doesn't really make sense.  So this time, I will trickle the posts, and update the master list below as I post.

Ginnie Shakeout Dive
Little River: the last room?
Ginnie Springs: Main Land
Eagle's Nest, Upstream
Peacock Tour
Eagle's Nest, Upstream-er
Corrupting Ted at Ginnie
Double Domes
Ice Room-ward

Ice Room-ward

It was our last dive of the trip, and we were on a bit of a schedule, since we were flying out that night.  We looked over the map to see what was left to show to Ted, and we settled on the Ice Room.  This seemed like a good destination since Ted would get to see the "other half" of the loop we had started up on the dive on Saturday (or part of the "other half" anyway).  Plus it's a cute little room and it just makes for a nice destination.  We got to Ginnie early and made good time getting into the water.  Ted once again weaseled out of leading, so it was my turn.  Once again we went in through the ear, which I am coming to appreciate more and more, and finding the deco on the log at least acceptable, if not luxurious.

As you may remember from the dive two days earlier, I destroyed my mask on the way out of the water, and had dived a new mask the day before.  I had no problems at all with it fogging on that first day.  But today, it was already starting to fog by the time we got to the lips, grumble.  I decided to just make do, since it wasn't undiveably foggy, and I thought if I switched to my backup, there was a chance that it too would fog (and possibly be worse).  So I just sucked it up, and was constantly flooding and clearing the mask.  But it just got worse and worse.  The dive went on as planned, up to the Hill 400 jump, up that line, but the further we went, the more distracted I was by my mask issues, plus I was moving pretty slowly, and sucking gas like a Ted hoover because I was so distracted.  So I finally decided to switch masks, probably quite a bit later than I should have!  I waited until we got to the jump off of the Hill 400 line.  I dropped my cookie, clipped my spool to the line, and then turned around and told the guys I needed to switch masks.  I pulled my backup mask out and switched, while Ted watched me.  Then I had Ted put my other mask back into my pocket, because that's such a pain to do.  The backup mask that I switched onto was my trusty old clear-skirted super-voluminous mask.  I have to say, once I put it on, I was kind of like... how did I ever dive with this monstrosity?  It is just SO big.  But it is an excellent backup mask, since it is at that point where it just never fogs, without any sort of de-fog treatment (it's not such an excellent backup mask from the perspective of being giant, and taking up a lot of pocket real estate.)

Anyhoo, once I was back to the land of the masked, I looked back to my spool, and to my surprise, Rob was being pushy efficient and had picked up the spool and installed the jump while I was dealing with my mask.  After I gave him some giant eye rolls in return, I led us up into the tunnel that goes to the Ice Room.  We slowly made our way up there, because it is kind of small and silty in some spots.  According to Rob, it is only silty when I am in there.  We got to the point where we would jump to go to the Ice Room.  We had agreed in advance that if we didn't have at least another 200 psi in penetration gas at that point, we would just turn there, and save the gas for some adventures on the way out.  I checked my gauge, and I was right at the line, so I called turn.  Rob was clearly annoyed with me (which annoyed me), but well, what could I do at that point?  So we headed out, and on the way out, Ted circled with his light every little plume of silt generated from Rob's kicks, which cheered me up quite a bit :)

We exited to the Park Bench, and then we headed up the line from there.  We tried, once again, to make it to the Wonder tunnel, using the same route that we took the day before, which is more convoluted but with less flow.  We made it to the big room (or is it the bone room at that point?) and we saw the marked jump.  But we couldn't see the line from there.  Rob asked Ted for a spool, which was, shall we say, misinterpreted by Ted.  But what happens in the cave stays in the cave, so I'll have to leave it at that.  Eventually Rob suggested we stay there while he check things out, and then I handed Ted a spool, which he managed to install on the line, but not actually hand to Rob.  Rob came back, having found the tunnel (I think) and told Ted to give him the spool.  Ted looked at me, confusedly, and I told him to give Rob the spool.  Then Ted thumbed it.  Hehe.  So out we went, without anymore spool-passing, hand-holding, or the like.

I led us out, because I guess we got swapped around when we recalculated.  This had the nice side benefit of leaving Rob in position to pull the reel.  Bwahaha.  When we got back to the reel, Rob seemed annoyed by this, but when I offered to take it, he just dismissively waved me along.  I asked again at the bottom of the chute and got the move along signal, and so I did.  I guess Ted managed not to get tangled in hoses today, so we were all up to the log pretty quickly.  We negotiated our deco, wiled away the time with some wetnote-passing, and then surfaced, sad to be finished with our last dive of the trip.

Sunday, March 11, 2012

Double Domes

We were back at Ginnie on Sunday, since it seemed like everything was closed except for Ginnie and Peacock.  Originally we had some ideas of places to go a Peacock, but since Ted had already done most of that during class, we decided to go back to Ginnie instead.  We decided to head to the Double Domes, via the roller coast line and the Hillier tunnel.  We did the exact same dive not long after our C2 class, so it seemed like a good place to take Ted :)  I love this dive; I'm a big fan of both the roller coaster and Hillier tunnels.  Ted somehow managed to worm his way out of leading the dive again, so it was Rob's turn to lead.  

We went in through the Ear again, after our successful Ear deco the day before (though this time there'd be three of us, which would be interesting...)  Rob was hauling ass through the gallery, and was, I think, through the lips before Ted even made it to the start of the lips.  I was a big annoyed about this.  I got to the lips, and wanted to take a moment to recover from the ass-hauling, when I noticed a couple of guys on scooters approaching from behind.  Hmmm.  I could let them go ahead and leave Rob and Ted wondering where the heck I was, or I could schlep through.  So I went straight through there and yelled at Rob on the other side, as the scooter guys passed us.  From there, things were pretty uneventful for a while.  We took the jump to the Roller Coaster line, which Ted had never been on (or noticed, I think) before.  It was nice to get out of the flow.  We navigated the ups and downs of that tunnel without any ear drama.  Then as we came to the end, I had to wait a while in the little "underpass" just before the end of the line, for Rob to install the spool and move along.  I guess when it is just the two of us, the second person will just pop out of the tunnel and wait around the corner.  When it is three, there can be a bit of a backup.

We headed up toward the Hillier tunnel, but this time, as planned, we (Rob, that is) ran the spool directly to the Hillier line, bypassing that little connector between the main line and the Hillier tunnel line (the connector that caused a big blowup between Rob and me once before :P).  As we were going through the Hillier tunnel, the viz was not so good.  It wasn't as bad as I've seen it in there before, but it definitely had that certain quality that it tends to take on after someone has scootered through it.  A minute or so into the bad viz, and what do you know, that team on scooters passed us going the other way.  And the viz didn't get any better :P  It was pretty much milky the whole way to the end of the line.  We got to the teeny tiny jump to the double domes rooms, and headed up that way.  We got to the first dome, and I could see Ted checking his gas, and I was thinking "don't call it!".  Luckily, he did not.  We made it to the second dome and looked around just a bit, and then Ted thumbed it.  On the way out, we stopped a bit longer in the other dome, since we pretty much just swam right through it on the way in.

On the way out, the viz had not really cleared up much in the Hillier tunnel.  When we got back to where Rob had tied in, I proposed continuing on this line for 100 or 200 psi, so we could see the bats (which Ted hadn't been to).  But Ted said no.  I guess he was having trouble grokking the recalculation for it :)  So we continued on out, all the way back to the mainline, without much of interest happening.  We picked up our stages (which we'd left on the mainline, somewhere between the Hill 400 jump and the Roller Coaster jump), and carried them to the Park Bench.  Now it was time for part 2 of the dive.  I let Rob lead again, since, well, I didn't feel like leading :)  We went up the park bench line, and took the first jump to the left, and then when that ended, we jumped left toward the big room.  We had just made it to the end of that little connector (so just at the big room), when Ted thumbed it.  So out we went, back onto our stages at the park bench, and back out to the ear.  When we got to the little cavern zone before the chute up to the ear, I switched off of my stage and moved my bottles around a little bit.  Ted was doing something similar, and I asked the boys if I could head up the chute.  I made my way up to the log, and took the good spot.  And then I waited, and waited, and waited.  And waited.  And wondered if I should go back down to see what was going on.  But I figured there were two of them down there, so they really shouldn't need my help to resolve any sort of problem.  After what seemed like an eternity, and was, I think, at least 5 minutes, Ted appeared.  Phew.  I didn't really get the whole story until after the dive, but apparently Ted got a little tangled up with his bottle.  And I don't mean that figuratively.

Ted was hanging out next to the log looking at me, and after a bit of monkeying around, trying to find a good spot, Rob ended up going behind and slightly above me.  I guess Ted could see him, but to me, it was like he wasn't there.  Ahhh, so quiet and peaceful.  I proposed some reasonable amount a deco, Ted proposed like 5 minutes more, and Rob proposed something utterly ridiculous (I think like half of what I proposed).  So we ignored Rob and split the difference between my proposal and Ted's.  After taking a few notes about the dive, I spent the rest of the time staring longingly into Ted's eyes.  Ewww.

Saturday, March 10, 2012

Corrupting Ted at Ginnie

Now that Ted's class was finally over, it was time for some real diving, bwahaha.  Antonio was in town, so Ted was moping about how if we wanted to go do some cooler dive with Antonio, he could take the day off and rest his ears.  What-ev!  So I dove with Ted, while Rob and Antonio went and did their own thing.  Step 1 was convincing Ted of the silliness of diving without stages.  I mean, really, why would you even bother? :)  Once we got past that, we took a look at the big map at EE, the one that shows the lines, and I bombarded Ted with options for the dive.  He started to look a little scared, so I figured I should just pick where I wanted to go.  So I decided to go up the double lines.  I love this area, and I was hoping we could make it to the change of arrows, so we'd get quite the variety of kinds of passage.  Then on the way out, I suggested we could recalculate at the Park Bench and head up that way, and either shoot for the Wonder Tunnel (which I've never been to) or the White Room, depending on our gas situation.  The downside of Ted going along with all of my crazy ideas was that he said I had to lead the dive.  Totally weak.

We got to Ginnie, not especially early, since we had to get gas and such in the morning.  It was really crowded.  Over by the Turkey Roost, where we always park, we basically all three had to park in that little ditch to the right, with the picnic tables.  And we had to park in such a way that we could only all get out if we exited in the exact right order.  The bigger parking area was no less crowded.  For some reason it took Ted forEVER to get ready.  I really don't know what was going on, but let's just say that Rob and Antonio ended up in the water before us.  But eventually we managed to get into the water, with all of our stuff.  We had agreed to go in through the ear.  Rob and I are pretty partial to the eye, from the deco perspective, though I really hate squishing through there with bottles.  But Ted was partial to the ear (weirdo), so I said I'd give it a try.  I'd actually never done a dive with any real deco through the ear.  So  I figured I should at least try it.  Plus I find running the reel into the ear easier, or well, at least more fun :)  We dropped down, by the stairs, and picked up our bottles underwater.  We were monkeying around with something, I don't exactly remember what, so it took us a few minutes to get going.  We swam over to the mouth of the ear, and I headed in.  Of course (considering the parking situation), there were already 4 lines running into the ear.  Sigh.  So my options for where to run it were a bit limited, but I did my best.  I was the 3rd line from the right, which pretty much put me in the middle of the room once I got to the bottom of the shoot.  We got tied into the mainline and ditched our deco bottles.  And we were off.

Or some approximation of "off" ;)  Actually, everything was going pretty smoothly.  We dropped our bottles on the mainline just a bit before the Hill 400 jump.  I don't know why we didn't just carry them to the jump, but that's how it worked out.  When we got to the jump, there was, of course, already someone else who had taken the jump.  So I had to settle for my second favorite way to install the jump :)  I confirmed with Ted how much gas he had and how much penetration we were doing before I continued on up the line.  Ted had started the dive with a not very exceptional fill (or maybe a not-very-exceptional SPG, who knows?) so we only got like 800 psi after the stage.  Typical Ted.  On the way up the line, I tried to point out the various landmarks to Ted.  I showed him the parallel lines through some of the holes where you can see it.  I didn't manage to see the pink koosh monster, so he didn't get to see that one.  When we got to the jump, I pulled my big spool, since I was going to jump directly to the double lines, as planned, and off I went.  It seemed like I was swimming forever before I got to the line.  Phew.  And then up we headed.  I was going not particularly quickly, and before we even made it to the low section, Ted called turned.  I think we were pretty close to that area though, as we were somewhere between 1300 and 1400.  So we'd been in the rounder passage just before the low passage for a while.  We headed out, and made it back to the spool pretty quickly.  It seemed to take me years to clean up that spool, but eventually that was done and we continued out.  Even though I always think of the flow as being so much lower once you are off the mainline, it really seemed like we were flying on the way out of both the double lines and the hill 400 line, at least compared to our pace on the way in.

When we got back to the mainline, I suggested we just pick up our stages and carry them to the Park Bench.  So that is what we did.  I put the jump in, and we dropped our bottles right on the bench.  Then I took over the lead again for this part of the dive.  We conferenced about how much gas we had for penetration, and it wasn't much, about 300 psi I think.  So I figured the Wonder Tunnel was not going to happen, but we should be able to make it to the White Room.  I headed up the line and man, I forgot how much flow there still is on this line.  It was kind of kicking my butt.  But (huff) eventually (puff) we got past (huff) the really bad (puff) part, and everything got a bit easier.  And before you know it, we were at the turn in the line by the white room.  I asked Ted what his gas situation was, and we agreed that we had just enough gas for a little trip up there.  Last time we went here, Rob ran the spool.  This time it was my job.  What a freakin' pain.  Well, running the spool up to the room was fine, but once again, spooling all that line back took for freakin' ever.  But we got to the room, had a little look around and then thumbed it.

The ride out was pretty uneventful.  When we got back to our reel, we agreed to leave it, for our next dive.  We each picked up our O2 bottles and doodled around with our stage bottles before heading up the chute.  From the bottom of the chute, I could see that our primary tie had been a bit molested, and there was a loop of line flapping in the flow.  Sigh.  I headed up the chute and sort of overshot the spot where I needed to stop to fix it.  So I got to the 30 foot alcove, and after recovering, I inched my way back down to the line and found a lovely little nub to wrap the excess loop of line around.  I was pretty pleased with how snug it was and how easy it was to fix.  Then I headed up to the log and Ted appeared shortly after that.  We negotiated deco, and to my surprise, Ted only asked for 2 minutes more deco than I had proposed, for a total of 20 minutes.  Deco on the log was not too bad, though I had the good spot :)  But Ted didn't seem to mind his spot, hanging off to the side, either.  I took some notes about the dive to pass the time, and passed some notes to Ted.  Before you know it, it was time to ascend.

We swam back to the steps and after removing our bottles, we finally surfaced.  Let's just say we had a rather interesting "debrief" about this dive.  It will have us laughing for years to come.  As I climbed out of the water and pulled my mask off my head, the little rubber part where the buckle attaches to the mask broke.  So I was left with a non-functional mask.  Weak!  Scubapro, grumble grumble.  After not that much longer, Rob and Antonio appeared, and we eventually managed to clean up all our stuff and head to lunch at the Station Bakery.  Profit.

Friday, March 9, 2012

Eagle's Nest, Upstream-er

So, after our dive on Wednesday at Eagle's Nest, we were left with some backgas tanks that were basically full of 15/55.  And since they weren't our own tanks, if we left the gas, it would just be gone.  What a waste that would be.  So naturally, we cooked up an excuse to use the gas :)  Or not use the gas, I guess, since the whole idea is that we never really touched backgas on the dive (except for stage switches, backgas breaks, and the like).  So we were thinking we could go back to Eagle's Nest and go downstream.  But after talking about it, and looking at the map, then we thought we should go upstream again, but this time we could make it to the end (or at least further than we had).  On the first dive, we stopped in each "room" to look around for a minute or two, so if we saved our lollygagging for the rooms that were further in, we should cover a bit more ground.  The two maps that we were looking at both showed the upstream tunnel ending at 2060 feet in a giant room.  Since both our gas and our deco plan gave us 20 minutes on the way in, we should have plenty of time to make it to this room.

The second time around, we had a much more successful journey to the site.  First, we didn't leave anything behind and have to turn around 40 minutes into it :)  We made it to the turnoff from the highway in about 2 hours.  Just after we passed the iron ranger, we crossed paths with a ranger (the non-iron kind), or whatever you call the guys in SUVs with badges in the Chassahowitzka Wildlife Area.  We stopped and chatted with him, and he told us about the other dive sites in the park (which we hadn't known about).  I missed my big chance to ask someone who would actually know how to pronounce the name of the park.  Dang.  Anyhoo, from there it took about 20 minutes to get to the hole in the ground, err, spring.  There were a couple of guys who had just shown up to do some fishing there.  They were friendly, and didn't seem psychotic, and asked if there were catfish down in them there waters.  I felt like an idiot because I really couldn't remember.  I saw plenty of fish on the deco last time, but didn't remember any catfish in particular.  Since we had setup all of our bottles the day before at EE, we were much snappier about getting our gear, and then ourselves, into the water.  The water level in the spring was quite a bit higher than it had been on Wednesday.  I guess there is some sort of tidal influence, which I don't really understand.  And I try not to think too hard about things which I don't understand.

Even though I had admitted after the dive on Wednesday that pre-dropping our O2 bottles wasn't strictly necessary, I opted to do it again anyway.  Then after fickling about it a bit, I decided where to put which bottles, and did it a little differently than before.  In the end it really didn't matter though, and was not worth fickling about :P  I was leading this dive, so naturally I was mad with power.  The plan was pretty much the same as it had been on Wednesday, but I promised not to change the deco around to avoid time in the chute.  On the way down, the chute seemed a lot bigger than it did before.  We dropped our stuff as planned and we were off.  I spied a catfish a couple hundred feet into the cave.  So there, there are catfish at Eagle's Nest!  We were pretty much on the trigger flat out once we got going.  From the duck under before the super room to 1800 feet or so, I think I stopped twice, and the first time was to de-pitch my scooter and wait for slow Bob to catch up.  How is it that my trim sucks but I can always trounce him on a scooter?  We stopped in the room that we had just made it to on the last dive, to look around a bit, before continuing on.  In just a minute, we were in a giant room.  In addition to being huge around (like about the size of the super room), it was really really tall.  But we continued on, because I figured we were going to hit the end of the line, and then we could decide what we wanted to spend our leftover time looking at.  When I hit the 2100' arrow, I was getting a bit suspicious, since the line appeared to keep going.  Then it started to get smaller.  Not small, but no longer a giant room, more of a tunnel, that was getting progressively smaller.  And the bottom was now a lovely shade of mud, instead of big boulders being strewn about.  It just wasn't looking as cool as the super giant room.  So, when I hit the 2250' arrow, and realized I really had no idea when the line would end, I called turn, because I wanted to check out the huge room.  So we retreated back to the big room, and just kicked around in it a bit.  It is really tall.  If you are on the line, which has the feeling of being closer to the bottom than the top, the bottom is still at least 30 or so feet below.  According to the profile view, it is about 80 feet tall at its tallest point in the room.  So cool!

We wiled away the time until we hit the 20 minute mark, and then we headed out. We stopped a couple of times on the way out, once we were a bit closer to the exit, since we were way ahead of schedule.  Before you know it, we were back to the slope, and started our deep stops, such as they were.  From there, the deco was uneventful and for some strange reason, very similar to the previous dive here :)  Except that the viz in the basin sucked at 20 feet.  And at 70 feet, I got a chance to look around in the ballroom a bit.

When we finally surfaced, there was a guy there with his dog.  At least I thought there must be a dog, because I saw a water bowl and a leash snaking around behind his legs.  And then I finally saw his puppy, once of the cutest puppies I have ever met.  She was a 12 week old Siberian husky, who definitely hadn't grown into her paws yet :)  She was extremely excited to meet us, and was so excited that at one point, she was hopping around on the little deck/bridge thing, and fell off the side into the water.  And then she had the adorable wet-rat look in addition to her giant paws.  Well, that's all I will say about the puppy, since Pepper doesn't approve of me writing about adorable non-felines on here.

By the time we were packed up and ready to go, it was 2 or 3, so we figured we could stop for a late lunch/afternoon snack and then still be ready for a celebratory dinner with Ted (celebrating his impending success in C2, and our return to Eagle's Nest without any crazed redneck encounters).  We stopped in Crystal River at a place called Oysters, because I wanted oysters, and I thought there was a good chance they would have them.  And they did not disappoint.  We got some raw oysters and some sort of seafood platter to share.  Everything was good, but Rob and I agreed that if we were to do it again, we'd just get oysters (a lot of them!).

We got back to High Springs and eventually reunited with Ted, who had a shiny new C2 card.  Since we lack creativity, we went back to the BBQ place in Newberry for dinner (and beer, because Ted promised we'd have beer if he passed the class, and more beer if he didn't).

Oh, and later on in the trip, when we were talking to Dan at EE, he told us that the line ends at like 2400'.  Doh!

Thursday, March 8, 2012

Peacock Tour

 After diving Eagle's Nest on Wednesday, I wanted to do a nice, easy dive at Peacock.  We got a late start because we had some business to attend to at EE.  I busted a wrist seal as I was getting out of my suit on Wednesday afternoon.  It was the same one with the patched hole from earlier in the trip... the split wasn't near the hole, but I suspect that the patch put extra strain in the rest of the seal.  Anyhoo, when we got back to EE late on Wednesday, Doug was kind enough to work on my seal (because he's awesome).  So in the morning, we had to give it an extra coat of Aquaseal on the inside and let that dry.  Then it was good to go.  We also left Dan with some instructions for gas fills for tomorrow's adventure.  By the time we got to Peacock, it was about 11, and the parking lot was jam packed.  Definitely the most crowded I've seen it on a weekday.  I guess that was because so many other caves were closed or undiveable.

Anyhoo, I had suggested that we could do a leisurely dive there, and Rob could bring his camera.  And we would just hit the various spots that we think would be photogenic.  The spots that I thought would be cool to photograph were the tall area just past Olson, and Waterhole, which I think is the prettiest part of Peacock that I have seen.  Rob went along with this plan, even though he claims he hates Peacock, whatever that means.  So the plan that we ended up agreeing to was to go up the Peanut line (stopping for some pics in the Peanut tunnel), then we'd take the Crossover Tunnel and go beyond Olson a couple hundred feet, then on the way back, we'd go up toward Waterhole.  But we definitely wouldn't surface as Waterhole... I learned my lesson about that before.  Even though I was the mastermind of the plan, Rob wanted to lead, since he would be taking pictures, and I guess that would make it easier for him to scope out shots.  We brought a stage and an O2 bottle.  More on that later.  We loaded our bottles into the water, which was about the lowest I've seen it, despite the recent rain.  It was one of the warmer days of the trip, or maybe it was just that it was humid, so I decided to eschew my vest.  Actually I went one step further and ditched my base layer (or should I say Ted's base layer).  I just didn't feel like feeling icky on the surface, and I figured I'd stay warm from all the kicking.  Then we got into our gear, did our gear checks, and waddled down the path to the water.  We collected our bottles and headed down.

As I vented gas from my wing and started to sink, I was feeling pretty chilly :)  I momentarily thought my suit was leaking through the exhaust valve, but then I remembered that my Bare undergarment has those silly metal grommets on the arm, where the exhaust valve sits, and without any layer between me and the undergarment, it always feels cold there!  When we dropped into the cavern, it was murky.  Not murky really, more like chalky.  Just stirred up, I guess from all of the traffic.  We dropped our bottles on the line and headed in.  Rob wanted to get some pictures in the Peanut tunnel, though it was unfortunately quite chalky in there.  At some point a little ways into the tunnel, Rob told me to hold and he swam ahead and turned back so he could get some pictures.  I posed for a zillion pictures, until he tired of it, and then we continued along.  Once we got to the breakdown room, he took a few more shots, pointing back toward the exit.  Then we headed straight up the line, until we got to the crossover jump.  I sort of amusedly watched as Rob pulled a spool and started to install the jump, with camera in hand.  Then he realized this was not going to work too well, and asked me to install the spool, and so I did.  Shortly after installing tying the spool in, I switched off of my stage.  I think Rob switched off then too.  But since there is basically no good place to drop a bottle in the crossover tunnel, we ended up carrying them all the way to the other end of the tunnel before dropping them (not that "all the way" is really that far).  Then we jumped back over to the pothole line (if that's still what it's called at that point) and before you know it, we were at Olson.  We swam right through the open water and then back down the hole to the other side.  I've never entered that tunnel from this direction before.  The only time I've been in this section is when we did the grand traverse, so we were coming from the other side.  There was a patch just 100 or 200 feet past Olson that I liked, where the passage is tall and relatively narrow.  We got to that area, got some shots, and then kept going for a couple more hundred feet, stopping here and there for pics.  Eventually we decided to turn it, just 'coz.

On the way back, I surfaced in Olson, because I wanted to ask Rob something about what he wanted to do on the way out.  Olson was a much nicer little water hole that I remembered, probably because in comparison to Waterhole, it is, well, really nice :)  While we were conferencing, another team swam past our legs, continuing right on through.  We descended again and headed in, and in the first 50 feet, we had to have an extended pause, because Rob was having trouble clearing his ears.  But eventually he resolved that, and we were off.  We stopped for a few pictures in the crossover tunnel.  Then back to the mainline, and back to the jump to Waterhole.  We dropped our stages on the jump line, and continued in, I think with me in the lead at this point.  Rob would pretty much just signal me and tell me to turn around when he wanted to get a shot.  So there was a lot of swiveling around and repositioning, which seemed fairly taxing in this tunnel, since it is low in some spots and definitely delicate in a lot of spots.  We stopped for tons of pictures, though I really didn't mind, since I really like this tunnel, so it was nice to take our time.  I think we ended up swimming in for 40 minutes and out for 15.  So that gives you an idea of the pace!

We eventually turned the dive on being tired or ready to go, or whatever.  Rob had already given up on taking pictures a few minutes before.  He was tired I think.  On the way out, I was leading (not sure how that happened... there was lots of repositioning because of the photos I guess!).  On the way out, I became very familiar with a slightly annoying feature of my new Halcyon light that Rob had told me about.  The switch is just too easy to flip.  Every time I would lose Rob's light and turn back to look for it, when I turned back forward, my light would go off.  I guess the bottom of my Scout light was flicking it.  This happened several times, because with all the twists and turns, I was turning back to wait for Rob's light to reappear fairly frequently.  Anyhoo, we got back to the mainline, and went back onto our stages.  When we got to the breakdown room, I asked Rob if he wanted to get more pictures in the Peanut tunnel, since he had originally said he wanted to do pictures on the way in and out.  He said no.  He'd had enough :)  I would be done too, after pushing that camera around for 3 hours :P  We got back to our O2 bottles, and I think we were both scratching our heads, wondering why we had brought O2.  My gauge read 37 feet for the average depth.  I'm pretty sure that EADs to surface :)  So we didn't even bother going on the O2, and started a slow ascent, back to the crowded little basin.

The water level was so low, I think if it were any lower, I would not have been able to get started up the steps to get out of the water!  As it was, I found the need to ditch my fins on a rock by the steps so I had my hands free for the climb out.  After we got out of our gear and retrieved our bottles and my fins, we packed up and headed out of there.  Just after leaving Peacock, we saw Mark's van parked on the side of the road next to a little gate (his class was at Peacock today, we'd seen his van there earlier).  Rob pulled over to see what was back there, because he could see the guys about to emerge from the woods.  They reported that there was a gaggle of baby alligators at Bonnet, just sitting out sunning on a rock.  This I had to see.  We walked down the path to the water (I've never been to Bonnet before, by the way, didn't even know it was there), and started scanning for the alligators.  I eventually found them.  They were tiny, much smaller than I expected.  It looked like a bunch of iguanas sitting out on a rock.  Very cute!  Too bad we didn't have any photographic technology to capture that.

We headed to the country store to get some sammiches, and when we left, they were turning traffic around just past the store.  Apparently there was some really bad accident up ahead, involving a truck I guess, so it was not passable.  So we turned around, with some vague directions from the sheriff's deputy on how to get back to civilization if we went that way.  The alternate path turned out not to take much longer than the usual path.

We got back to EE in plenty of time to collect our gas for Friday, though that took a good bit of time.  I was sitting on the ground analyzing bottles and placing stage regs on them for an eternity, it seemed.  But eventually we got out of there, and I think I even had time for a nap before we met up with Ted for dinner!

Wednesday, March 7, 2012

Eagle's Nest, Upstream

Me, and a lot of gear
I made reference in an earlier report to a dive Rob wanted to do with two stages and a scooter.  That dive was Eagle's Nest.  Actually the dive involved a lot more than two stages, but since you drop all of the deco bottles pretty much right away, I thought of it more as a two-bottle dive.  But actually it was a five bottle dive.  Anyhoo, I wasn't totally sold on diving Eagle's Nest.  It is one of those dive sites that I've heard a lot about over the years, before I even thought about taking up cave diving.  And I will confess that I once told Rob, before our Cave 1 class, that doing that sort of deep dive in a cave was something I would never want to do.  This was after doing quite a few even deeper dives in open water.  (Rob claims there are all sorts of dive-related things I've said I would "never" do and now do regularly, but most of those claims are false; he just has a really sketchy memory.  The only other claim like that that I admit I've made and broken was diving Monastery in doubles.)  A couple weeks before the trip, I asked a friend, who knows us well, for some suggestions of places to dive that are different from the usual spots we always dive.  He sent me a list with several places, one of them Eagle's Nest.  I scoffed, but Rob's ears perked up.  Then when we were talking to Antonio about diving together the second weekend of our trip, he sent me a very mysterious email about a great dive that he had in mind, which was later unveiled as Eagle's Nest.  Then Rob talked to him on the phone, which is never a good idea, because between the two of them, they come up with crazy ideas.  Rob reported "the plan" back to me, and I scoffed at it.  Not at the idea of diving Eagle's Nest, but their plan, which entailed two bottom stages, three deco bottles, and scooters.  It seemed like a bit much gear to me.  But I said I'd let it sink in and think about it.

After letting it sink in, and looking at some maps, and watching some Youtube videos, and doing some visualization (because that's how I roll), and having John draw a map of the entrance for me for like the twentieth time, and realizing that this was more like a two-bottle dive than a five-bottle dive, I agreed to it.  And I came up with a plan for preparing for the dive, though I think about 95% of the preparation was mental, not actual.  Then for some logistical reasons, Antonio wasn't going to be able to make the dive, so Rob wanted to do the dive earlier in the week.  I felt like this was a bit of a bait and switch.  After going to the Mill Pond fell through, we decided to shoot for Wednesday for Eagle's Nest.  Rob wanted to go on Wednesday, so that if we totally loved it, we could go back (and maybe do downstream?) on Friday (our weekend diving was already spoken for).  I scoffed at this -- how awesome could it be?  Things didn't really get off on the right foot.  First, we ended up at EE sorting out gas fills pretty late.  Rob wanted to get an early start in the morning, and I really don't like doing a big dive without enough sleep (though realistically, I almost always do, due to the early morning boat thing).  So after a bit of compromising, we ended up leaving around 7:45.  Then somewhere just a bit past Archer, Rob realized that he didn't pack the Argon straps for our tanks (which we hadn't used yet this week).  I thought we could hit a hardware store on the way and make it work with some bungee and line and stuff, but he was hemming and hawing about it and finally we just turned around and went back for them.  Groan.  So then we ended up leaving High Springs at about 9, again.

Getting to Eagle's Nest is half the adventure.  We followed the directions here.  Step 1 was finding the turnoff from the highway.  This was, surprisingly, the least well-explained part of the directions!  But there is a sign on the highway for Chassahowitzka (how on earth do you pronounce that?) Wildlife Area.  It was a bit earlier than I was expecting, so we poked our heads down the path and it looked like the first picture on the directions, so we headed that way.  The directions are quite good, though many of the signs shown in the pictures look different now.  We did make two wrong turns.  The first one, we came to what seemed like a T and we turned left and the road almost immediately ended at a locked gate, so we knew that was the wrong way.  I think it really wasn't a T, it was just a turnoff that we weren't meant to take (hence not described in the directions), and we were being dumb.  There was one place where we definitely came to a T, and it was not described in the instructions.  Since the next waypoint in the instructions said to turn left, we turned left.  Then I started to really doubt that this was what the instructions had been describing.  So we stopped, found that we actually had 3G out in the woods, and looked at the aerial map on google maps, and found where we were, where Eagle's Nest supposedly is, and figured out how to go from there.  You can actually see the dirt roads on the aerial map!  So we went back the way we came, and it turns out we were only like a mile from Eagle's Nest at that point.  Overall the path was not nearly as difficult to negotiate as we expected (from a quality of the road perspective, not from a not getting lost perspective!).  But I now have my own notes about where all of the turns are, plus I took mileage readings on the way out, so next time, we are not getting lost!

Also a lot of gear
Phew, so once we made it there, we were pretty pleased with the facilities (which you can see for yourself here, though it was much less soggy when we were there).  There is a nice deck to walk to the water, then right by the water, there are benches on each side, and then a set of wide, low slope steps, with sturdy hand rails.  On the hand rails, there are lines tied to the posts, and the lines have little loops in them, so you can clip all of your bottles and other stuff there while you are getting in/out.  It's totally optimized for diving with a zillion bottles!  And the walk to the water is quite short.  There are also two picnic tables in the parking area.  I was also pretty shocked to find that I had phone and 3G signal out there (which is more than I can say for in front of my house half the time!)  We hadn't setup our stage bottles yet, since they weren't all full until late the evening before, so we pulled out our bottles and laid them on one of the tables while we put regs on them.  At this point we realized that we hadn't labeled our bottles with our names (just with MODs), and since I am very finicky about the mouthpieces on my regs, this could cause confusion in the water.  So we had to deal with that at the last minute.  Once we had all the regs on, and I did a quick check that all of my bottles had the mouthpieces I like (and none of Rob's had pink regs :P), we started carrying bottles to the water.  We also had to deal with putting our argon straps onto our tanks, which was sort of annoying since we'd already completely setup our rigs.  Ugh.  Then we got into our drysuits and actually put the bottles in the water.  Then we finally got into our rigs, did our gear checks, and headed into the water.

Since I was being a big baby about carrying 5 bottles, we decided to first go in with just our O2 bottles (and our 120 bottles, since that would be our "travel gas") and find the entrance, scope it out, and drop our O2 bottles.  The viz was not great but not terrible in the basin.  We came back and got the rest of our gear.  Since I was going to be dropping my 70 and 120 bottles pretty quickly, I just put one bottle (my 70 bottle I think) on my leash, and I clipped the last bottle someplace magical where one is not meant to clip bottles.  And then we were off.  We got to the chute, and I thought it was a bit terrifying to descend into it.  There's no way I would have gone in first; good thing Rob was leading :)  As I descended, I was not looking forward to deco'ing in the chute.  I felt like I was sort of smushed inside of it.  I popped out of the bottom, and found the entrance room to be very creepy.  It was just so dark (this is where Rob says that all caves are dark).  But considering the giant skylight in the top of the room, which we were actually right under, it seemed really dark when I first popped into the room.  And since you can't see the bottom, it seems like you are over the abyss.  Not that you really are... the bottom is like 120 feet deep.  I shined my light around just a little to look at the entry room, which was pretty cool.  The walls have a very white smooth look to them.  Then I dropped my 70 bottle on the line.  That bottle is a beast in freshwater; Rob actually reminded me of that with a hand signal right before I moved it, and I didn't quite get what he meant, and then I instantly got it once I did!  There are a series of knots in the line right around 70 to 80 feet, so you can just clip your bottle onto the line, right above one of the knots.  I left my bottle on the leash, because, well, I had to do something with the leash.  Then we got down to the bottom, where the line Ts out, with upstream going one way and downstream going the other.  There are little signs on the line saying which is up and which is down :)  I switched off of my 120 bottle, dropped it on the line, then did a little bottle juggling before going onto my stage.  Once we had both taken care of that (though Rob much faster than me), we headed upstream.

We started out heading down a slope that takes you down to a little over 200 feet, which takes you to the first room, which according to maps is called "Randy's Room", and is a big tall room.  After that, the ceiling comes down, and you go under what I would call an underpass, which forces you to a little deeper than 250 feet, and then you pop out into a HUGE room, called the Super Room, for obvious reasons.  The room is huge, but it's quite dark (yes, Rob, all caves are dark), so you really can't (or can only just barely) see to the right side of the room, since the line runs closer to the left (but still not at all the way on the left side).  So we would basically stop in each new room, sometimes several times in each room, to look around.  This frequently consisted of Rob telling me to stay on the line while he went to check out the areas further from the line.  But I was being a wimp, so I didn't stray quite as far when it was my turn to look around.  In many sections, you could see very well defined layers in the walls, which I thought was one of the coolest things about this cave (oh and the fact that the room was HUGE).  At one point during the dive, I thought to myself... if I lost the line in here, how would I ever find it?  I doubt that my safety spool is long enough to run around the room.  So, the dive pretty much proceeded like that, we would scooter for a minute or two, then when we came into a new area, we'd stop and look around.  The main line has huge arrows every 50 feet, with the feet very clearly printed on them.  I'm pretty sure these huge arrows are designed for divers on air :)  Even though it does not especially look this way on the maps, I felt like even beyond the Super Room, there were distinct "rooms" in the cave.  The ceiling would come down at points and it would seem like an underpass, and then it would go up again and it would feel like you were in a new room.  But it was big, wide open passage the whole way; some rooms were just REALLY big and wide open.

I ended up turning the dive on time (and almost gas) right around the 1600' marker, which was smack dab in the middle of a big room.  Since we were lollygagging on the way in, we weren't in a huge hurry going out, so we did stop to look around a little more, but of course still made much better time coming out.  When we got to the "deep" part after (before) the Super Room, Rob meandered down to check out the bottom.  He's such a bad boy.  Before you know it, we were back at the slope, so we just sort of drifted and kicked our way up that, to start our deep stops.  The viz was noticeably worse there.  It had been the same on the way in, but after spending so much time in the much better viz (the viz opened up in Randy's Room), coming back into the worse viz just seemed so much worse!  We got back to the T and picked up our first deco bottles, at which point I realized it was sort of silly to leave my leash at the 70' stop.  Doh.  Oh well.  So I had to just settle for hip-clipping one of my stages, sans leash, and figured I'd deal with it when I got back to my leash.  The stops on our 120 bottle were kind of funny.  It really reminded me of diving at Kawika's Garden.  It was green, and we weren't that far from the bottom, but we could only just make out the bottom.  And the three minute stops probably added to the effect.  But of course it was much warmer :)  We got back to our 70 bottles (which, in hindsight, would have been more convenient to clip on one of the lower knots, closer to, say, 80', so we could doink with our bottles before actually getting to 70').  I moved the bottle from the leash to the downline (can you call it that in a cave?) and after moving some stuff around, I picked the bottle up, and we were onto the bottles in no time.

Then we started talking about deco.  We had turned the dive on time, so there really wasn't much to talk about... our bottom time was maybe 5 minutes shorter than planned, if you consider the bottom time ended when the deep stops began, and a bit shallower (we had planned for 250', but it was at most 230' on average), but not so much that it was worth shaving the deco (it's 70 degree water, come on).  I was really not looking forward to deco'ing in the chute.  Before the dive, we had discussed reorganizing the deco a little if we (I) didn't like the looks of deco'ing in the chute.  So we agreed to do that, which gave us 10 minutes to kill at 70'.  It's actually pretty neat right there, because you are right at the top of the room, and you can see a lot of the walls around you, as they bell out.  At some point during our 70 stop, I told Rob that 5 bottles were really no big deal, and next time we'd have to do 6 :P  So then he tried to pass me one of his bottles.  No, thank you!  As our 70 stop came to an end, Rob asked if I wanted to be on top or bottom in the chute.  Definitely on top.  It wasn't even negotiable.  I thought that being on the bottom, without being able to see my buddy, staring into that dark abyss would be creepy.  Anyhoo, I inched up the chute and stopped a little above 60.  I actually really liked deco'ing in the chute.  It's quite comfy!  I guess on the way down, it seemed cramped, because I'd never been in it before, but it's sort of the perfect size for deco.  I could rest a fin or a hand on the wall, if I wanted to.  The wall is actually a neat smooth stone, so I kind of liked fondling it.  And it was also no problem to communicate with Rob.  I stayed to one side of the chute, and he stayed to the other, so I could tap his arm and he just had to turn his head to see me.  I took advantage of my position on top, and started massaging his head, just to annoy him.  I was also lamenting that I don't know how to do shadow puppets, as I pointed my light into a little nook just in front of his face.  When we got to 50 feet, we found that we didn't need to be single file.  Once I realized it, I tapped Rob on the arm and told him to keep on coming up, and we wedged nicely into the chute side-by-side.  So in the end, reorganizing the deco was pretty silly.  As we finished our 40 foot stop, another diver passed us, on the way in.  Then when we got to 30 feet, we found our O2 bottles had had babies.  There were now 5 O2 bottles clipped to the log.  I was having a bit of difficulty doing the math on that one, since only two of the bottles were ours, and there was only one other diver that went in.  Hmmm.

Rob made a bee-line for his O2 bottle, which sort of defied logic, because really, who wants to have to hold onto an extra bottle for longer than necessary?  But I guess it's good he went straight for it, because for some reason, it took him like 5 minutes to sort things out after he picked the bottle up.  I can't say I wasn't amused.  About two minutes before our stop was over, I swooped in for my bottle, and had things sorted out right away.  Very bizarre.  We moved up to 20 feet, and after giving Rob the hero cam to get some footage of me, I stripped off all of my gear except my O2 bottle (and my doubles of course), and clipped them to the log.  Ahhh.  I was graceful like gazelle in my one bottle.  Rob for some reason didn't strip off any of his bottles.  He is such a masochist.  Then we started to serve our time.  It was a 50 minute O2 stop.  It really wasn't as bad as I imagined; the backgas breaks really break things up nicely.  Usually when I get to the O2 stop, I start to write some notes on the dive in my wetnotes.  It's a nice way to pass the time, plus I theoretically might one day refer back to the notes.  But I decided to wait until after the first break, since I didn't want to use up that source of entertainment and get too bored.  So we chatted and played with the hero cam for the first segment.  Then I wrote my notes.  Then for the last segment, I did some deco sudoku. The good thing about deco sudoku is that I am really horrible at it (when underwater anyway).  So one easy puzzle can entertain me for a good long while.  At some point during that stop, the diver who we had passed on the way in appeared, and worked his way up the log, and was just a bit above us when we finally finished up our stop.  We inched our way back up the slope, and since Rob was navigating, we came out right at the stairs.

When we surfaced, there were three people there, just enjoying the scenery out there, who we chatted with a bit while we were de-bottling.  Rob asked them if they knew a good place to get some seafood before we headed out of town, and they gave us a recommendation.  After relaxing on the surface for a bit, we finally got out of the water, and got out of our gear.  As we were pulling our bottles out of the water, the other diver surfaced, and we chatted with him for a while.  Then while we were getting out of our drysuits, another van pulled up, and a rather strange couple got out.  They were friendly enough, though sort of in a serial-killers-on-the-hunt kind of way.  The woman asked us if we signed in, and showed us that there was a place where you were supposed to sign in when you got in the water.  Oops.  We didn't see it on the way in, but there is a little wooden box to the left of the deck, and if you open it up, there is a pad of paper.  So I figured if they were going to ax murder us there and scatter our bits for the alligators to eat, they probably wouldn't have encouraged us to sign in and out there, leaving a trace.  After we finally got all of the bottles packed up, we headed out.  It was easier to find our way out than in, though the fact that we were following that other diver may have helped.
Rob enjoying some mullet dip

On the way back to High Springs, we stopped in Homosassa at the seafood place that those people recommended -- "the freezer", which is basically a bar with some food that is located at the Cedar Key Fish Company.  They have cheap beer and seafood.  It was crazy crowded.  The bartender recommended we try the "mullet dip" though we had no idea what it was.  I think it's like the southern version of whitefish salad :)  It was tasty enough.  Anyhoo, it was a good place to go for large quantities of cheap seafood and beer.  And we really needed large quantities of food after such an epic dive :)

Update: Rob told me that after reading this post, it was not at all clear whether I liked the dive, or thought it was worth the effort, etc.  While I think it will become more obvious in future posts, let me say it here: Yes, I liked the dive.  It's a really cool cave.  I like the huge rooms.  And the whole experience was an adventure!

Tuesday, March 6, 2012

Ginnie Springs: Main Land

After our long drive (that should not have been nearly so long) on Monday, we decided to stay close on Tuesday and go to Ginnie.  We were at EE on Monday afternoon, and we ran into some of the Scandinavians (there was a group of 10 or so Swedes and Norwegians who were all in town -- two of whom were in Ted's class). Since we knew they'd been doing a lot of diving with scooters and lots of bottles at Ginnie, we figured they'd have been pretty much everywhere, and have some ideas for where we should go that we had not been.  We were looking at the map and pondering either Sweet Surprise or Main Land (or is it Mainland or Mainlands... I've seen it all three ways on various maps).  Antonio had mentioned Main Land before, and told us it was a really nice area.  The guys we were talking to said that it might be tricky to figure out which of the jumps is the "one" you want to take to Sweet Surprise.  I think there are several, and they eventually all intersect, but with various amounts of restriction, etc.  So we decided to go to Main Land, based on our confidence in finding it, and all that we'd heard about it.  So we got some instructions about what things looked like where the jump was and some other recommendations.

I was leading the dive, but I convinced Rob to run the reel.  I am still not very comfortable squeezing through the eye with more than one bottle, so he agreed to run the reel.  I'd be perfectly happy to go in through the ear and run the reel with the bottles, but deco on the log just isn't as comfy as it is in the eye.  Going through the eye was just about as traumatic as I expected.  I got a bit wedged in there, and my foot was caught (I think on the rock above it, not on the line), and I literally had this thought go through my head, of getting stuck in the eye, and Rob having to go back out through the ear to pull me out from behind :)  Very dramatic I know.  When we got out of the sticky part, I had to collect myself before we continued on to the mainline.  Then once we were tied in, I took the lead.  We headed up the mainline, and passed all of the usual spots.  I'm not going to go into all of those details on that, since I think it's been fairly well covered before.  I've been as far as the River Intrusion Tunnel on the mainline before, so everything past that was new to me.  Right around the River Intrusion Tunnel, the tunnel is quite wide, but it eventually pinches down to what I would call a nice-sized tunnel... not small at all, but not so big that you can't see the walls.  The bottom also kind of changes at one point, where it is like black "gravel" which I guess is actually bits of goethite (or maybe not?).  I also saw many jumps to the left, which at the time, I was a bit surprised by, because all of the places we've looked at to go on the map have been to the right.  So I guess I have a blindspot for all of those jumps on the left (which I shouldn't, since we tried to go to the Insulation room once, and noted the other stuff to the left that we could confuse for it...).

We were told that the Main Land jump was right near the 2900 marker, so I was counting down the line markers until we got to 2900.  And once we were there, it looked as described to us, with the line sort of bending to the left and going up a hill.  Once there, we quickly found a line off to the right, so I put in the jump, and we headed down the line.  It was running roughly parallel to the mainline, basically back the way we came.  So we were going with the flow.  We were in this dark, silty area, and I was thinking, this had better take a turn in the direction I expected it to go soon, or I'm going to turn it.  But then the line ended.  WTF?  Afterward, upon looking at the big map of Devil's at EE, the one that shows the lines, we found that there is a short line that runs parallel to the mainline for like 100 feet (if that) just off to the right of the mainline.  WTF?  Doug says it takes you to some "room" but I really didn't think that it took us anywhere worth seeing!  Anyhoo, after hitting the end of the line, we turned around and dragged ourselves back up against the flow, back to our spool.  Once there, we looked around a little bit, and found that just a tiny bit further upstream and sort of around a little corner, was another line.  Ahhh.  So I moved the jump spool over to there, and dropped my last stage, before heading up the line.  For the first bit, there were a bunch of sections that were kind of narrow and tall.  Eventually we ended up in such a section that was very blue looking because there was grey clay.  I thought this section was very pretty (and would be photogenic, but of course that would require schlepping the camera).  It was getting a bit deeper, though, and I was feeling a big narc'd.  We came to the end of one of these narrow, tall, blue rooms, and there was a little underpass.  I went down into the underpass to see if it popped back out immediately, but I saw that it was low, with clay on the bottom, for a while.  I decided I was too narc'd for that, and turned the dive.  I think I will go back there with 30/30 :)

We headed out all the way to the Hill 400 line, and recalculated there and took the jump.  We went up to the jump at 1000', to the double lines, and went up there.  I like that line a lot.  I like both the wide, low area, with clay on the bottom, and then the area just beyond that with the little rooms separated by doorways (at least that's how it looks to me).  We made it to the first room, and I turned it there, not on gas, but just because I was getting tired, and it's a convenient place to pow-wow and turn around.  From there, we headed out and back out the eye.  While I hate going in through the eye, I always find that coming out of it is always much more graceful, even though I always dread it.  So as I was waiting in the 50 foot room for Rob to cleanup the reel, I was thinking at least this way would be easy.  But then it totally wasn't!  Somehow I got myself wedged on the way up, and was wondering if I upclipped a bottle right there, would it float up with the flow and meet me in the 30 foot room? :)  Well, not going to find out today.  I shimmied my way through and met Rob in the 30 foot room.  Phew, now the easy part.  Lay on the ledge, negotiate deco, take some notes, do some deco sudoku, etc.

Even with the long dive, we got out of the water and had quite a bit of the day left.  We headed back to EE to check in on our fills for the next day, then ran some errands (and bought a cart!), and napped a little until Ted was ready to go to dinner.

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!