Fun with Manatees at Crystal River

Since I had never done a manatee tour, I thought it would be a fun weekend getaway.  Kaitlin and I booked reservations with Florida Manatee Tours in Crystal River, FL.  Because the weather had been warmer recently, the manatees were hanging out in the bay, where visibility is low, and weren’t in the spring area like they traditionally are.  We did catch one in clear enough water to film, so I embedded the video.

If you turn up the volume and listen carefully, you can actually hear the manatee chomping away at the sea grass. Manatees are almost always eating, as they get over 1500lbs, and need to eat 10% of their body weight each day. Since baby manatees are fed milk form the mother, they don’t have to worry with eating such large amounts of food, so they’re more likely to play, since they have all this spare time on their hands!

Seeing what all the fuss is about…the “New Ginnie”

Having resisted the temptation for several months now, I finally decided to venture beyond the old end of line at Ginnie Springs and see the new section.  For those of you who have been living in the dark for the past two years (or don’t cave dive), the “New Ginnie” refers to a newly explored section of the cave.  Ginnie was believed to have been walled out years ago, but Swiss cave diver Marius Frei discovered a no mount lead through clay which opened into a new, reasonably large passage.  Over time, Mark Fyvie would extend this line (and survey, which Marius isn’t known for), but passed away in a diving accident in the process.  Shortly after, UCLA professor Andrew Ainslie added additional line (5600ft at that time) and provided Anita Berman with an extension of the existing map that her husband produced.  Agnes Milowka added some line, and also produced photos in the NSS-CDS journal.  Finally, James Toland came along and as he seems to do literally everywhere he dives, he extended Ginnie’s end of line out to 7100ft, which only a few have managed to even follow his line, which is currently EOL at this time.  Bob Schulte is in the process of surveying the section and will produce a map in the future.

Anyways, enough with the history of the section…Andreas and I had talked about going here for a decent amount of time, but never went due to other sites taking priority.  Ginnie is pretty hard to motivate me to do a “big” dive in, due to the substantial amount of damaged cave that you have to go through to get to anything pretty.  I typically consider it a training cave with a few pretty sections, but this was different.  Scubaboard hosts an annual megadive event, where close to 100 divers invade the park to camp, eat, and throw one massive bonfire party.

Our plan was reasonable simple, 3 stages, using helium to make them easy to carry, sidemount gear configuration (due to the rock restriction) and DPVs.  Because of the high flow, a 6 man team taking forever to exit while we held on for dear life (cave courtesy is to allow exiting teams to pass), and drag from the stages, my SAC was abnormally high and I burned through my first stage by stage bottle rock at 1800ft.  The next stage got me to just beyond the Heinkle Restriction, and the final stage got me to the end of the old gold line.

Beyond the old end of the line, you’ll find somewhat pristine cave (this tunnel is no secret– and traffic shows), with a few large rooms where the rock alternates between jet black and a very unique tan color.  We made it to the third T, which was right at 5000ft penetration.

Jug Hole – A cave too short…

Today Andreas and I headed off to Ichetucknee Springs State Park to dive Jug Hole.  Since this cave has a few restrictions, we had to dive side mount.  Andreas brought his camera along and got a few good photos, which I’ll try to post up here later.  We were hoping to explore a few going leads that we had heard about, but found that the 50w HID battery packs were simply too large to manage going through tight restrictions and will have to save those leads for another day :(.  Once beyond the lead, we had plenty of time to see the entire cave and poke around everywhere we could find on the way back, but Jug simply doesn’t have many side passages, or really even any potential leads at all.  It is however, a beautiful cave with some very pretty clay banks, as well as black and white layered walls.

Peacock Springs – The Crypt

After a few weeks out of the water (drysuit zipper was being replaced), it was time to get some cave diving in!  I had been talking with Heather about a NAUI Tech 1 course, and had both agreed to meet up for a familiarization dive with each other before class since we hadn’t dove together, and we could pick dive sites from there.  One room I had heard a lot about was the “Crypt”, which is a known water source for the Peacock Springs Cave System.  Since neither of us had been, we decided to attempt it.  Celia and her husband Scott helped us out with directions.

Although it wasn’t necessarily required, we elected to use a stage.  My first stage was dropped about 300ft shy of Olsen, and then I continued on with back gas.  Because of the head start the stage gave us, we didn’t have to worry about running low on gas in the lower, more silty areas, and also had time to turn around and find a jump again if we happen to have missed it.  Fortunately their directions were excellent, and we found the Crypt first attempt.  Round trip was 117 minutes.  The room was a disappointment for me, just a normal Peacock room with a bunch of snakes, bats, skulls, and various other man made items littering the room.

Here’s a video that someone recently posted of this dive on a diving forum.

Mainland and Sweet Surprise Circuit @ Ginnie Springs

After having swam the Mainland and Sweet Surprise tunnels  a few times, I had still not done the crossover tunnel, which connects the two.  Circuits aren’t necessarily all that appealing to me, I’ve only done one of them outside of training before today, but Allen has been talking this one up to me for a while, so I went along with it :).  After meeting up with Rob Culbert and Allen Beard at Cave Excursions East for some tank fills, we headed to Ginnie Springs to sign in and get to diving.

Because swimming in the Devil’s cave system just plain sucks, the plan was that we would all 3 scooter to the Sweet Surprise jump, and then swim the rest of the circuit, returning to main line to grab scooters with assistance of the flow.  We would each breathe a stage to breathe during the DPV portion of the drive, drop it at the jump, and swim on back gas (we had all swam at least half the circuit before this dive to verify gas).  The swim would be from about 2400ft to 4000 (ish) where there’s a T, and the left side leads to the “crossover tunnel” which heads towards mainland.  Once we hit mainland, the flow would be at our backs and the rest of the trip would be a breeze.  Due to the small nature of the crossover tunnel, they allowed me to lead since I hadn’t seen it before, and limited visibility was to be expected from diver traffic.  This tunnel is very pretty, with surprisingly little damage given how small it is.  After the crossover tunnel, we arrived at Mainland, which is my favorite area of the cave to date.  Unfortunately, there was substantial river intrusion, so even my 21w HID didn’t produce the beautiful blue glow I’ve grown accustomed to seeing.  Once out of Mainland, we coast from 3000ft to around 2400 where our scooters were waiting, ready to spare us from any more swimming!

Photo Shoot with Becky Kagan Schott of Liquid Productions LLC

Tonight I finally had the opportunity to go on a photo shoot with Becky of Liquid Productions LLC, something I had wanted to do for a long time.  Andreas was my buddy for the shoot, which worked well, as we had tons of time with a single stage and back gas since we’ve both dove Devil’s quite often.

This was my first shoot with a professional photographer, and I was very impressed.  I had worked with Becky before when I was Vice President of the UCF Dive Club, where her and her husband David gave a presentation on shooting video and photos underwater, as well as the Weeki Wachee exploration footage.  Becky did an excellent job on the surface explaining the complex shots that she had planned, and also with directing “on the fly” underwater after we completed the staged shots.

5 Hole, Suwannee River State Park

This weekend we were off to 5 Hole, an extensive cave system at Suwannee River State Park. A few of us had been asked to help make a video to show the park staff what a beautiful system they’re protecting. Since this site is permit only, it’s very pristine, but lines aren’t kept up to date as well as park caves. We were only able to get usable video for the first 400-500ft of the system due to lines being ripped out from recent flooding. Jeff Marchand and Michael Gibby are going back next weekend to fix that. Conditions are amazing for this site right now, so we’ll be back VERY soon!

5hole from James Garrett on Vimeo.

Jug Hole – Well worth the walk!

8am sharp my alarm clock disrupted my sleep pattern, and it was time to clean the car out to make room for dive gear!  Today was the first weekend that Jug Hole would be open to cave diving for the season!  My dive here almost a year ago was one of my first side mount dives, so revisiting it should be a whole lot more fun.   It’s close to home, cheap ($4 entry fee), and a beautiful walk to the dive site, even though it’s far.  After talking to the ranger, we found out that we were the first to dive here since it opened yesterday.

Jug is a beautiful cave, albeit a short one.  Most popular for it’s amazing cavern and light chimney, the cave is just under 700ft in linear penetration, with a single jump which leads to a nasty restriction where most of the water comes from.  It has a well known restriction, called “Diamond Sands”, which refers to the minerals  in the sand near it, which reflect like diamonds.  There’s a clay room with beautiful layering, and several large rooms along the way.

October is FINALLY here! One of my favorite springs! from James Garrett on Vimeo.