A Cave Diving Odyssey – Team ProTec Crushes the Florida Cave Diving Scene

Four of ProTec Dive Centers’ team members embarked on a 10 day cave diving odyssey to Florida. What could possibly go wrong? Nothing, actually.

Our team consisted of two Aussies (Tamara & Skanda), a Californian (John) and the Spaniard (Jaime). We checked in at 7.30am at Cancun Airport with a combined weight of approximately 120kgs for our flight to Orlando, Florida.

 

Florida traffic is a buzz kill, but we over came.

Upon arrival in Orlando, we load up our super swankyrental Dodge van and drove toward Odessa, Tampa to meet our good friends and returning ProTec Dive Centers’ clients, Mark Dobson and his wife Pat.

In Odessa, we were greeted with the warmest of welcomes, a bed, food, a pile of fluffy waging tails, and a garage full of cylinders and tools waiting for us to set up our gear our dive the next morning.

 

Day 1 (8AM): More good friends and fellow ProTec clients, Roy Reynaud, wife Marie, and Ken Plunkett arrive to join us for our first day of diving. We finished setting up our equipment, loaded the trucks, topped up gases, and got some tasty treats and post dive beer.

 

Dive 1: Eagles Nest Sink – Max Depth: 200ft/61m / Duration: 92mins

We felt slightly spoilt to dive in world renowned state park with locals. We were feeling very grateful for beautiful steps down into the water, a map, a visitors log, a marque, bench tables, and not to mention trimix.

Mark and Roy gave us a nice introduction to the Floridian caves as they briefed us with their map. Unfortunately, Roy wasn’t able to join us on the dive but was the best surface support a diver could ask for!

We donned our gear and Ken led the way, single file down the ‘chute’ until it opens out into a large chamber at 20m, our light beams struggle to hit the walls.

We descended to a T and swan downstream through a ‘restriction’. After the restriction we encountered a sloping tunnel, the floor covered with dark brown sediment.


Like many of the caves we dived on the trip, the walls are beautifully sculpted, and light in colour.

Left-to-Right: Roy, Tamara, John, Mark, Skanda, Jaime, & Ken

We enjoyed an epic first dive, post dive beers, and great company.

DAY 2: Another early morning and a 3-hour drive to Live Oak to check into Cave Excursions.

Cave Excursions is like looking back down the timeline of side mount cave diving. Most mornings we had the pleasure of sitting with the original owner Bill Rennaker to chat about the caves in the area, development of cave diving, and his shop.

We especially enjoyed discussing his experiences in Florida and Tulum many years ago and of course his gallery of side mount units hanging out the back.

Straight away we topped up our cylinders and headed off to Peacock Springs State Park to dive Orange Grove, one of its many sink holes.

Dive 2: Orange Grove – Max Depth: 117ft/35m Duration: 146mins

 

Duck weed covered the surface but beneath was crystal clear. Here we dived up to ‘Challenge Sink’, the ‘Distance Tunnel’, and the deep section.

Dive 3: Telford Springs – Max Depth: 67ft/22m Duration: 123mins

All the way to the T

DAY 3: We headed off to Ginnie Springs and met up with ProTec client and local instructor Marissa Waltman. Ginnie Springs has a beautiful open water area, parking, shaded table, and chairs. The high light at Ginnie was the beer drinking local with a giant unicorn floaty.

Dive 4: Ginnie Springs – Max Depth: 100ft/30m Duration: 134mins
‘Bone line’, ‘Roller Coaster’, and the ‘Bats!’

Dive 5: Ginnie Springs – Max Depth: 99ft/29m Duration: 90mins
‘Hill 400 Line’ and ‘Double Lines’

An insanely beautiful and typical Ginnie dive experienced fossilized shells and sand dollars covering the floor and then an amazing flight back on the flow to our deco stop. As we returned after sunset, the flood lights were on to light up the open water.

We had the pleasure on deco to watch some awesome lighting effects, some deco dancing by Jaime and Skanda, and nocturnal animals on the return swim.

DAY 4: As we have all discovered our love for flow, Marissa showed us some cool dives at Little River, and Cow Springs.

Dive 6: Little River – Max Depth: 103ft/31m Duration: 123mins

T left, T left, almost made it to the well! Here we encountered what must be the largest T ever.

Dive 7: Cow Springs – Max Depth: 103ft/31m Duration: 131mins

We got our fair share of flow on this dive! We used the anchoring rope to pull and glide our way to the end of line which took us 75 minutes. Our exit was an exciting 30minute ride on the flow.

Starting with a tricky restriction entrance progressing into a darker cave with beautifully layered clay banks in sections.

DAY 5 – Ginnie Springs: Back to Ginnie for a double dive day. We were fortunate to be joined by another ProTec client, Joe Seda. Joe came to light it up for a dive with a handful of Big Blue lights !!

In between dives we popped over to Cave Country to top up our cylinders.

Dive 8: Ginnie Springs – Max Depth: 90ft/27m Duration: 82mins

‘Bone Line’, ‘White Room’ and ‘Wonder Tunnel’. An insane dive with 60,000+ lumens!

Dive 9: Ginnie – Max Depth: 96ft/29m Duration: 130mins
‘Hill 400’, ‘Double Lines’, ‘Ice Room’!

DAY 6: Mark Dobson and Ken Plunkett drove up from Odessa to show us a couple good dives at Madison Blue. We were lucky enough to have Mark shoot some photos of the team on an epic dive. We topped the night off with a BBQ and beers around an open fire back at the cabin!


Dive 10: Madison Blue – Max Depth: 94ft/28m Duration: 76mins
‘Godzilla Circuit’

Dive 11: Madison Blue – Max Depth: 92ft/27m Duration: 119mins
‘Rocky Horror’, through the well and turned just before ‘Pressure Gauge’

At Madison Blue, there is a passage so ‘small’ only one team at a time is allowed in. Teams are required move a slate from in to out so that other teams know the status.

DAY 7: Good friend and returning ProTec Dive Centers’ client Sandy Robinson met us at Cave Excursions and did a morning dive with the entire crew. Finally, we got to dive the famous ‘Peacock Springs’ and what better way to do it than with a great group of friends from the area.

We arrived to see what had been crystal clear water was now as milky as a nice cup of tea. Fortunately, just inside the entrance to the cave, the water was crystal clear.

Dive 12: Peacock I – Max Depth: 53ft/16m Duration: 170mins

‘Peanut Tunnel’ up to ‘Challenge Sink’ and jumped to ‘Woody’s Room’

Dive 13: Peacock I – Max Depth: 77ft/23m Duration: 137mins
‘Holson Line’ all the way to the ‘Crypt’ and checked the ‘Well’ on the way out.

Finally, we packed the van and set off to Mark’s and Pat’s house in Odessa. Upon arrival, the drying and packing began in preparation for our flight the following morning.

We would like to thank Mark and Pat Dobson for your incredible hospitality, help with equipment, navigating the supermarket (Pat), you really made this trip an unforgettable one!

Marissa, Roy, and Ken for sharing your time with us, your help, and great dives , let it not be our last!

Thank you Sandy for your wealth of information. Thank you Tom from Cave Excursions for looking after us as well as a few great nights by the bon fire.

Finally, a big thank you to all that were able to join us on the trip, either diving or just catching up. We appreciate it and hope to see you back at ProTec Dive Centers or… back in Florida next year!

Join Us On Your Next Adventure!

ProTec Dive Centers in Playa del Carmen, Mexico and Tulum, Mexico offers Cavern, Cave, Sidemount, CCR, Trimix, Technical, and Instructor Training.  We also offer Guided Diving, Equipment Storage/Servicing/Rentals, Nitrox/O2/Helium Fills, and Retail.

Book your next trip with us: info@protecdivecenters.com.

 

June 3, 2017   No Comments

Cave Survey and Cartography: The Key to a Deeper Connection

In December 2016, I managed to squeeze in a few days of Underwater Cave Survey and Cartography training with Kim Davidsson (ProTec manager, instructor, explorer) and Tamara (colleague, amazing diver, Melburnian). It was a great course (we expect nothing less from ProTec instructors), we learned about an aspect of cave diving that I had heard people talk about, but had never given too much thought to. We had a really interesting classroom session then made our survey slates before doing some dry surveying practice.

Custom Made Cave Survey Slate

One of the key things that came from the classroom session was the requirement to survey exploration lines (something I hope to do one day), because without the survey data, there is no point laying line. As Kim says, “if you don’t know where you’ve been, you have not been there…” As cave divers and cave explorers we have a responsibility to the rest of the community to share our discoveries and lay the path for future explorers and cave divers.  I am looking forward to continuing the “exploration” part of the workshop and I am excited to one day lay my own line in virgin passage and survey it.

The next day we went off to Cenote Carwash to practice surveying lines, before learning how to plug the data into a computer program (in this case Arianne’s Line). With the data in the program we were able to see the lines we had surveyed, and check how far off our errors were. It was a very cool experience and that really makes you appreciate the many hours of hard work that go into exploring and surveying caves!

Surveyors gear is specialized and redundent

After completing the survey workshop I wanted to put the new skills to practice. After some discussion with the guru, Kim, I decided my project would be to resurvey Mayan Blue. It has been an interesting experience to resurvey the lines in Mayan Blue for a number of reasons. Most importantly, it has been a great excuse to go down many of the lines that I had previously overlooked! I always knew it was a big cave, but diving and surveying gives a picture to this reality. I love to see the “big picture” growing together and knowing each section of cave intimately is very rewarding. Many times we dive caves a few times and then move onto other sites, but so many of the caves here are so big that each dive you can go somewhere new. After exhausting the options close to the entrances on back-gas (or side-gas), I then started to add stage tanks to my dives to get further back into the cave. Going down lines that don’t get frequently dived, where the guideline is covered in a layer of silt, is an exciting experience and shows how once you get off the beaten path there are many areas of busy caves that very few people dive.

Surveying during dives has been both a challenge and a reward. Practicing surveying has made my skills improve as my work flow and abilities with the survey slate get better. Developing these skills will continue to reward, already I have been able to survey faster and with greater accuracy. This is a clear case of what Protec teaches and believes – that courses give people an opportunity to learn and practice skills in a safe environment, but divers need to continue to practice these skills to improve them (and prevent their deterioration). From the perspective of developing new skills the course was a good start and every dive I have surveyed on since has continued to build on those skills.

Accurate collection and storage of cave survey data is essential to success.

Another reward is seeing the survey data once it has been entered into the computer (and doing many dives in the same cave) has really helped me to learn the cave and it’s lines. This is invaluable for guiding clients and being able to explain where a certain jump is, or drawing accurate stick maps of the lines, where arrows are and how long it takes to reach them. As it is, there is still much cave to resurvey so the project will continue! There is something cool about seeing the in water work you do turn into an accurate stick map.

For those cave divers who are interested in a new challenge, and would like to learn new skills I highly recommend the Underwater Cave Survey and Cartography course Protec teaches. It is great to gain an understanding of the survey process and all the work that goes into surveying cave passages.

May 9, 2017   No Comments