Saturday, May 28, 2011

BDB Exploration

Since I began cave diving, I have had the drive to explore. I did most of my training at the typical caves; Ginnie, and Peacock. While these are beautiful caves, they left something to be desired. In the last 10 years I have seen these caves get beat to hell, I hate the high prices and crowds this has led me elsewhere.

I have enjoyed spending my time in the canoe, the woods and in the swamp, poking into holes, looking for going cave. It seemed that everything I found had already been dove. I would spool out 100’ of line and then there, buried in the silt was old, broken, stained twisted line. These remnants of the former explores were depressing, and yet neat to find out who laid the line and when.

There was one man in particular that seemed to have been everywhere; Brett Hemphill. I contacted him several months back looking for info on a cave I had found with old line in it. We got to talking and we had similar diving interests. I’m not sure how it happened but a few weeks later I was hiking through the swamp looking for new cave with Brett; a modern cave diving ledged. I’m not going to lie, I was intimidated and honored!

About 3 weeks ago we returned to one site we had dove previously. I wanted a second crack at a tiny bedding plane that had thwarted me on my first attempt. I laid about 15’ more line in this crappy bedding plane and could push no further. I came up from the dive disappointed. Minutes after surfacing from the dive Brett popped out of the woods with a giant grin on his face, “You’ll never believe what I found!”  Just one crappy hike through the swamp and there it was a beautiful pool of clear blue water!

It was dubbed BDB, Back Door Blue.

I had the privilege to free dive this cave, I made it about 20’ down and there was an upstream and a downstream. It was getting late so we decided to save hauling tanks for the next trip.

Brett returned that next week with a single recon bottle and laid 80’ upstream and 200’ downstream. It goes!

Yesterday we returned, I was the first to dive. I dove with a webbing harness and 2- LP45’s side mount., so I was very low profile.  I got to the end of Brett’s line upstream, looked at the bedding plane restriction, and thought, “ You have got to be kidding me?!” It was low and appeared hopeless. I tied off my reel and analyzed the restriction. I thought, what the hell, I’m here might as well try.

I got into the plane and it wasn’t as bad as I thought. I rolled a few rocks out of the way, trashed the vis, and did some chest to back grinding for about 30’. I laid still for a few minutes waiting for the vis to improve. Looking ahead appeared hopeless, it was an even lower bedding plane with a solid coat of black organic silt.

Where does the flow come from? I pushed a few feet further and the left wall took a 90 degree left hand turn. I cocked my head to the left and blackness. “Woohoo!” there is cave! I squirmed foreword to a point to check my gas. I had nearly hit thirds in one tank already.

I swam forward analyzing the cave, it was beautiful. It was small passage, maybe 4’ high and 6’ wide, it had a diamond shape and a thin layer of grey silt coated everything. After a few hundred feet I came to a little breakdown room, the limestone was white and full of sea biscuits. After jogging around the breakdown the cave continues through a duck under.

Eventually I hit straight passage, the vis was excellent and my light could not reach the end. I swam watching walls without tank dings fly by, and the line pouring off the reel. It felt great.

All too soon gas was running short. I had small tanks, diving solo in virgin cave, with a major restriction behind me. I did not want to push it. I found a big column to tie the line off. I turned the dive.

It is the hardest thing to turn the dive with line on the reel, and unseen going cave in front, but it was necessary.
The trip out was easier than expected.  When I surface after ~45 minutes I had a crap eating grin on my face. I wish I showed my excitement better. I would have loved to have screamed, sang,  danced, streaked, anything.

All I did was smile, I was ecstatic. It was an awesome little dive.

After discussing the  details and drawing a map; Brett decide he wanted a crack at BDB. We spent some time and knotted some more line, just in case….
I brought an extra set of LP98’s, Brett grabbed these and his armadillo harness. I thought quietly to myself, “that could be cozy,” but he has done more tight diving than me.

We took the long way back to the spring ( Stupid GPS) and he geared up and dropped in.
I entertained myself on the surface, ridge walking, taking pics, and listening to the swamp come alive at sunset.

After about 1:15 and a long conversation with an owl, bubbles cracked the surface.
Had he spooled out 1500’ of line? Did it go deep?

Brett snickered as his reg dropped from his mouth, “You skinny mother…”
I laughed thinking of him in that tiny bedding plane with all that gear. I turns out he had to no mount his way through, digging a trench the whole way.

It is a great story when he tells it!

He ended up reaching the end of the line and spooling out another 80’ discovering a pile of dugong bones, before turning to confront that bedding plane restriction once more.

So BDB is going cave! We have about 1000’ of line in there total, and it appears to continue. I can’t wait to get back.

I got to lay some line in a pretty cave in Florida and explore with a cave diving icon.
It doesn’t get much better than that!

Tuesday, May 24, 2011

5-24-11 Volusia Blue Springs Dive

It has been several months since Sara was able to dive; her busy season at work, combined with my full weekend agenda, left her desiring a weekend outdoors. So on Sunday, May 22, we decide to run over to Blue Springs in Orange City, FL.

It has been nearly 10 years since I last dove Blue Springs so I was anxious to go back. My Dad and Carol joined us on the trip.

Blue Springs is one of Florida's 33 first magnitude springs, meaning it has greater than 100 cubic feet of water discharge per second. All of the water at Blue Springs discharges from a small chimney at 120'. The current here is disorienting, it will rip a mask off of your face, and pull gas out of your regulator. The flow on your chest makes it hard to inhale and it will throw you against the wall. The high flow combined with darkness and depth makes for a fatal combination to those without proper training and experience.

Blue springs is a beautiful state park, located along the banks of the St. Johns River in Volusia County. Since it is a state park, admission is only $6 for a car load of divers. Open water divers are prohibited from carrying lights (for your own good). The park opens at 8am, so arrive early, it fills quickly on a nice summer weekend.

Check out their website for more info:

We arrived at the park a few minutes before 9am, and checked in. My dad and I buddy up as cave divers so we could carry lights, and Sara and Carol buddied up as an open water team.
At the parking lot there was already one group of open water divers gearing up and all of the picnic tables were taken by families cooking out.

We geared up in the parking lot, one of the advantages to driving a pickup truck. Then we began the long trek to the spring head. Half of the walk is along a raised boardwalk through a hardwood hammock, the second half of the walk is up the spring run through knee to chest deep water. The total walk is about 1/4 mile.

The head spring is a large fissure crack that drops straight down to sixty feet. Here is the sign warning divers to go no further unless properly trained. The passage angles and you are now in an overhead environment. The tunnel continues to a depth of 110' where it opens to a large room with a crack in the floor.


My dad and I fooled around at the bottom for a while attempting to take pictures and playing in the current. Cork Rock has mostly eroded so the passage is large enough to enter, if you could just get through the insane current.
Looking down the chimney

After ~25 minutes at the bottom and a small deco obligation we worked our way up and met the ladies. The remainder of the dive was spent playing in the flow, taking pictures, and admiring the beauty of the crack.

The cave is reminiscent of a desert cave with smooth sand blasted walls. Here the walls are worn smooth and form perfect symmetrical shelfs the whole way down. The light rays are tinted green from the water and dance along the white limestone. It really is a beautiful place.

All too soon the dive was over, the total dive was just over an hour. I could have spend hours just laying on the bottom looking up.

Upon surfacing we were greeted by a huge crowd of swimmers and tubers. We sat at the head spring smiling and talking about the dive for a few minutes. Then we inflated our BCs and enjoyed a lazy float back down to he tuber exit. The walk back to the truck was shorter this way.

We strolled around the park enjoying the river and people watching before heading home.
It was a great day. Blue Springs is only 1:30 away and only $6 to dive.

Thursday, May 19, 2011

So I never thought I would have a blog....

Well, this is interesting, I never thought I would start my own blog. After all, who cares what I had for breakfast, how many times I used the bathroom etc...

The reason I started this blog is to share my trip reports from adventures with my friends, family and hopefully inspire others to get outside and enjoy their lives.

I will try to update this once a week with fun picture and interesting articles.
I hope you all enjoy the reports and pictures.