Monday, August 22, 2011

I am way behind on updating this blog. Work has been slammed, and I am tired and do not feel like writing when I get home. The summer rush is coming to an end as school starts again. So I will try to update this more often.
So what’s been going on?
Two weekends in a row I drove up to N. Florida to Dive with Brett Hemphill and Mike Poucher.
The first trip up we did some ridge walking. Based off of Satellite imagery and their knowledge of the area,  we found new cave!  We spent some time driving around back roads, dirt roads and a few u-turns, but it worked out in the end. Good land owner relations were made. 

The state of the Floridan Aquifer is rather sad, we are in a drought, all major rivers are at record lows and many springs have stopped flowing. The new stuff we found were incredible karst features, there were 15’ cliffs down to water, offset sinks, giant fractures geology; all full of dark water. According the local woman we talked to these features used to flow beautiful blue water.

Maybe after the rainy season the aquifer will be recharged and the water will clear up, reaveiling beautiful new cave.

The next stop is a siphoning fissure crack located along the river, and a sinkhole just a few hundred feet away. The local woman called this Yetti Sink. As I said, the rivers are low, this also means the visibility in the river is good as well. We pulled off the “road” and Brett put on his armadillo; Mike and I ferried two aluminum 80’s down to the water. Brett geared up and descended into the “Big Brown Suck Hole.” Mike and I chatted with the locals for a while. Then we hear noise back in the woods, it was Brett. He had connected the two sinks and was climbing out of the steep sided sink by way of an old fallen oak.

The next stop was a well know but infrequently dove cave, we did a fun dive checking it out. There was no complete survey of it, so we made this a goal for the next trip. I had the privilege to dive with Mike Poucher on this dive. I have dove the cave before and this dive answered several questions I had.

The next weekend we made a  return trip to N. FL. Sara and I drove up on Friday night in the rain and got a cheap hotel room for the weekend. The next morning we rose early and met with Brett and Mike and headed back out to the cave. Here we met with Andy Pitkin, Jerry Murphy, and Ted McCoy. Andy and Ted both had siddmount rebreathers, so they were going to the EOL to survey out, Brett and Mike were investigating leads and Jerry and I were surveying the first 1k’ of cave.
We enjoyed the usual conversation with the locals and Brett taught them about cave diving as if they were little kids. Jerry and I entered the sytem first, he was pulling tape and setting stations and I was recording data. Not too long into the dive, Andy and Ted passed us. It was slow going, the cave is small and twitsy. We reached our turn pressure about the same time we reached our destination. Once the whole team was back on the surface we discussed the dive. Andy and Ted reached the EOL, and turned the dive, while Brett and Mike’s leads did not pan out as we hoped. Jerry and I got about 700’ of survey, I plan to return to finish this.
It was a lot of fun diving with these guys. We went to a local backwoods restaurant, It wasn’t very good. We said goodbye to Jerry and Ted and the rest of us headed back to the woods.
We did some site analysis and I got to see some new caves to dive in the future.
Sara and I spent the night in N.Fl enjoying a good BBQ dinner and the comfort of a cold hotel room with cable.

The next day Sara and I hit the river on the kayaks. It was a nice day, and the river was gorgeous. We headed downstream and I dove a small sidemount cave, and check out a larger river cave. I need to return to both with bigger tanks.

The next weekend we hung arounf the house and made a short day trip down to Lithia Springs. I cannot stay dry too long. Lithia springs is only 40 minutes from Lakeland and flows into the Alafia River. We checked out the campground, which is very nice! We plan to spend the night here in the fall. It is close enough to home that I could camp and go to work the next day.
The cave here has been grated to keep people from killing themselves, thank you local government. It is a great swimming hole that gets insanely busy on summer weekends.

Homosassa Blue Hole Expedition
For the last few years I have heard from one of our customers at the dive shop about all of the caves in Homosassa, but he would not tell me where they were because he did not want me to die in them.
Brett has connections and he knows where many of these caves are. There are a series of Blue Holes located in the Gulf of Mexico, Simular to the Blue Holes in the Bahamas.
On our first trip out we did some recon diving. We checked out one cave and looked for many more.
The cave we dove was very cool. We motored around the clear, shallow, warm  water looking for the obscure entrance. There in about 5’ of water was a fissure crack ~2’wide and 10’ long.
Brett was the first in the water, I hung out on the surface with his son. Eventually the bubbles disappeared, he must have found cave.

20 minutes later Brett returns, and tells me about the dive. I have to see it for myself. I gear up with my transpac and lp45’s. The gulf water is hot and I descend down the crack. 30 feet down I see a crab trap perched on top of a organic debris pile. There are lines run all over, monofilament and glowsticks, 1” Poly twist and some cave line. I follow and old line across the room, it was much bigger than I thought. There was a thin whispy hydrogen sulfide layer, as I dropped to 80’ the water cooled and visibility improved.  I hit a breakdown pile, here the lines ended, and the cave continued, just as Brett described. I tied off my line and ducked down to 130’ visibility was incredbible, the walls were a light grey and reflected my light. The cave was beautiful. After 150’ I tied off my line for a return trip.
I made a big circle back up. The room was huge, it was like a combination of Hospital Hole and Paradise Springs.

We looked for more caves but the weather began to turn.

We returned again the next weekend with a guide. 

The first stop was Buzz Hole. I was lucky enough to be the designated diver here. This cave entrance was huge and it was siphoning. We were told divers have been here before, but only the first 50’. I got the to the first room, and there was a low gravel bedding plane, I followed the flow through the hole.  Then I popped into a large room and the cave took off, I followed the right wall. Not too far later I hit a Hydrogen Sufide layer at a depth of 65’. Below the layer  there were dead stone crabs and black walls. I swam thorough the fog into a large deadend room, I thought, “this cant be it” I swam back into the sulfide. There was a lead I missed in the fog. I traveled another 150’ into the cave and it ended. The room was large, white and crystal clear. I checked for leads, nothing. I turned the dive and headed out, counting knots. I was pumped. I laid ~450’ of line in a virgin sea cave!  I got back to the surface and reported my find and we moved on to explore more holes.

Brett  dove the next cave, N-hole. He had to chase a hawksbill turtle out, this cave began in a hydrogen sufide bedding plane and ended in a series of big rooms.
We then drove around for a while looking for a small hole, we did not find it.
Then Colt Smith geared up to dive a narrow siphoning crack. He descended and returned shortly, reporting that it was too small for AL80’s. I had Lp45’s with me so I decended. I made it through his first restriction, then a thighter chest to back restriction, and I stopped at a restriction that required some digging. The cave was taking a lot of water, and I could see nothing but black ahead. We need to return with more gas.
We made two more stops this day. The first stop was a series of fissures and small caverns, but no linear passage.
The last stop was “small hole” this manhole size hole in the sea floor did not look like much. We power snorkeled it first and “hey!” there was cave. I suited up and dropped in, the cave was siphoning water down to 30’ through a 8” high nasty bedding plane. I turned and behind me there was poor visablitly, but I could not see a wall, so I swam. The water was grey, I was in a hydrogen sulfide layer. Eventually the water became clear, and cold. The walls were Black! My light was swallowed up in this room, I dropped down to the floor and had no reference point and limited gas so I headed back up. Brett went in next. He pushed the cave another 200’ through BLACK tunnel to a white room. It was a cool little cave.
We had a productive day and headed home. There are still many more holes we want to explore out there.

The next Sunday 8/14, Sara and I had the bright idea to go out to the Chazz to dive. Terrible idea! We drove an hour and a half to get there, thirty minutes down a dirt road, hiked a half mile through mosquito infested waist deep mud, and the visibility was zero. Oh well, it was good exercise. We then headed over to Eagles Nest and swam in the basin and relaxed for a few hours.

Finally, this past Wednesday, I met with Brett Hemphill and Andy Pitkin to do some land recon and diving.
This time I came prepared. I had bug spray with the highest deet content I could find, long pants, mud boots, long sleeve shirt, a machete, compass, a GPS, water, and a good attitude J

We hiked around the swamp for a few hours investigating Karst features. There is some cool stuff out in the woods. Once the rainy season is over we will (hopefully) have some awesome caves to dive.

As we wondered past the point where SWFWMD turned around we found a shallow slough, slowly flowing with clear water. We folled this mazy stream through the swamp, as the run became deeper and the water clearer, I became excited, woo hoo, new cave. But no, we found a spring. The spring was probably once magnificent, surrounded by towering cypress trees, lined with white limestone and pumping clear blue water. But man has no been kind to the swamp. Cypress trees were harvested and have been replaced by faster growing oaks, the aquifer has been pumped excessively for irrigation and drinking water, and the recharge area has been paved over with condows. This spring has been reduced to a tiny trickle and is slowly filling in with fine sediment.  Hopefully this will not be the future of all spring s in Florida.

The dives in the swamp did not work out this time, to we headed back out to the Gulf.

We returned to the crack from our first trip to shoot some video. Too bad Andy Pitkin brought his low visibility curse and the Hydrogen sulfide was 100’ thick this time. 

We still got some neat footage and I had a fun dive. Since that didn’t pan out we decide to retun to BUZZ spring to look for a potential upstream lead. We arrived and Brett jumped in with a mask. It was springing fresh water this time! We quickly geared up, and Andy took the lead. I couldn’t believe how much flow there was this time. We got through the gravel bedding plane and this time I followed the left wall, there was a tunnel, it looked just like my downstream tunnel, but where was the line. I turned around and Andy had seen the same thing and was already deploying a reel. Immediately there was a big room, and it went. I was yelling through my reg! On the far side of the room there was going passage 4’ high and 6’ wide, there was flow and a gravel floor (a good sign).  Andy put in ~350’ of line upstream and it was still going. He surveyed on the way out while I looked at side leads. I was pumped; it reminded me of Thunder Road at Crystal Beach. This is going to be something big! This is probably one of the most memorable dives I have had. I smiled all the way home, and even dreamed about the cave. The cave is weird, it springs, siphones, has a hydrogen sulfide layer, and upstream and a “downstream” section, there are stone crabs running all over, soft corals and sponges growing on the walls. Very cool cave!

Brett, Andy, and Curt returned the next day and spooled about another 1000’ of line in “huge” passage. I can’t wait to see it!