Another bright and early day, but that was fine with me! Today I got to do all of my cavern dives! Steve, our instructor, and I met at Blue Spring (my favorite spring that we worked at with the Cambrian Foundation). Once we got there we walked around and did a site check, then we practiced more dive reel skills, made our dive plan, set-up our gear, and went down to the water. We had to walk up the spring in the water for a bit to get to the mouth, but we didn’t mind because it was so pretty! (And we were SO hot that the water felt amazing). Once we got there it was drill time! Our cavern instructor swam down and set-up a circuit with his dive reel around the mouth of the spring. Then Steve and I each had to go down individually and swim around the circuit blind, only using our hand and the line to guide us. As we did this the “cave monster” (i.e. our instructor), was swimming around us, and would randomly try to bat the line out of our hands, and tangle pieces of our equipment so that we had to deal with trying to fix it all. Let’s just say that freeing yourself when your tank is tangled up behind your head is nigh-on impossible alone. That’s why we have buddies! 🙂
There were a few other divers around, but they weren’t cavern or cave certified, so they ended up just watching everything that Steve and I did. It was kind of funny, except for the part when they knocked the line circuit free while Steve and I were swimming together, blind, around it. That was not cool. Loose line is almost as bad as tangled line! It gets everywhere, and can quickly turn into a real problem if you get caught in it. (…thank you cave monster for demonstrating this). But, we made it! After that it was time for Steve and I to buddy breath blind around the circuit. It was so strange! I had an extra-long, 7ft hose for my regulator that Steve was breathing off of. He swam in front of me, and I could hear every time he breathed. It was pretty creepy… We both agreed that we never wanted to have to use that particular skill. But, once we finished, it was time to actually go down into the cavern!
For our first cavern dive our instructor guided us down to 60ft. It was SO COOL! Everything was really clear, and the walls of the cave were all different shades of white and gray. Once we got down to 60ft, we practiced all of our different kicks for cavern diving. There were these ledges that jutted out, and when we swam above them it was pretty easy to do each kick. However, when we swam over the open spaces that led further down into the cavern it was harder because of all the water flowing out of the spring. It was such a neat, and humbling experience! After we finished that dive we went back up to the surface, did our safety stop, and then drifted back down the river portion of the spring. It was pretty relaxing to just let the current take us, we hardly had to do anything but steer. The water was wicked clear and there were big gar all over the place. Once we made it back to the staircase, we got out and took a lunch break were we planned our next two dives.
After lunch we geared back up and headed out for another round! This time Steve and I lead the two dives. I lead the first dive, and we went down to 100ft!! I started the dive off by making my primary tie-off with my reel, then my secondary, and then we literally got to “free fall” straight down into the cavern. It was crazy looking back up! You could see the light from the sun, and then the walls of the cavern just went up forever! They were so pretty! We used our dive lights to explore around a bit, but after about 10minutes it was time to head back up. We did our deco stop in this little alcove conveniently located at about 15 feet. It was really neat because we got to look around, and down into some of the other caves and tunnels connected to it. Once we finished this dive, we surfaced, talked about how it went, then prepared for Steve’s dive. We went to 60ft for his dive, and then explored back into the large cavern where we practiced our kicks. It was really neat, and slightly spooky. Our instructor stirred up a bunch of silt at one point to show us what it was like to lose visibility down there. It was pretty scary. We simply turned around and followed our line back out and up where it was clear, but I couldn’t help thinking how much harder that would be if you “silted-out” back in a cave with no sunlight.
We continued up to our “deco-cave,” and once we finished we discovered that we had more than enough air left to explore around up in the shallower cavern. This part of our dives was really fun. We went into little caverns, and then swam up through cracks into the caverns above. (I can totally see why side-mount is the preferred method in cave diving! It would be SO much easier to squeeze through everything!) In one of the little caverns we saw tiny catfish, about 8inches long hiding back in the crevices. I was surprised to see them because the water coming out of the spring is so anoxic. I’m curious to know how they are adapted to it. After we finished exploring, it was time for our lazy drift back down to the entrance. All in all taking this cavern course was officially one of the coolest experiences of my LIFE! I can’t wait to go again in the future!