Thursday, November 28, 2019

GUE Cave 1

Bubbles and I headed to Cave Country in North Florida to do the GUE Cave 1 class with Meredith Tanguay. We also had the added bonus of having Annika Persson join the class as part of her journey to becoming a cave instructor.

For me, this would be equivalent training to the TDI Intro to Cave class I had already done last year but I had made the decision to continue my subsequent cave and tech training in the GUE ladder and picked the Florida caves this time to balance out my previous experiences in Mexico.

The entire week was an absolutely amazing experience and I've come out of it as a much better diver - not just in the cave environment but overall. Mer and Annika were exceptional and I highly recommend them to anyone looking for Fundamentals, Cave or Tech training.

I can't wait to get back to the caves :)

Post class - Ginnie Springs and Peacock Springs

A big thank you to the North Florida Springs Alliance for all the work they put in to build and maintain the steps, decks and tank racks at the various state parks we dived on this trip. The difference it makes is truly significant - please consider donating so they can continue working for the cave diving community.

 - U

Peacock Springs

The last day of the trip and we decided on a full but easy day back at Peacock One.

Our first dive was on the Olsen line and we made it the 1400ft to the gap at the Olsen Sink with a little gas to spare. We didn't surface as we were both at the turnaround time we had discussed for the average depth on this dive (it ended up being quite a bit shallower in reality but we didn't want to futz with the plan). There's a couple of cool windows closer to Olsen Sink that the line goes through and the cave also gets a lot more vertically spacious around here. I saw my first cave shrimp right at this turn around.

-> 73min, 67ft, 68F

The second dive was on the Peanut line and we made it to 1200ft even with half as much gas. Honestly, if we had the full penetration gas, I'm pretty sure I would have turned it on distance rather than gas on this line. Not sure I'm ready for that long of a swim back.

-> 55min, 53ft, 69F

We swapped out tanks at lunch and planned a super duper conservative plan for the afternoon as Bubbles wanted to try and get some video. We puttered around the first 400ft of both lines before we called it a trip.

-> 68min, 64ft, 69F

 - U

Monday, November 25, 2019

Ginnie Springs

Now I feel like a GUE cave diver :)

We went back to Ginnie Springs with just one set of doubles for a short day of diving. I wanted to dive but also give myself a break after the long week and it worked out really well.

I reeled in through the Eye so we could check it out for future dives. It's a much easier path in but takes quite a bit longer. The exit here is awesome if you have any deco as there's tons of spots where you can just park and be out of the way. I think I would prefer the Ear if I wanted to get in quicker for C1 dives. 

I led the first dive and got slightly better in the flow. We made it to 550ft, just past the Hill 400 jump. We left the reel in for the second dive.

-> 43min, 90ft, 70F

Bubbles led the second dive and I discovered that swimming close to him and in his slipstream is definitely easier. Hooray for fluid dynamics. The combination of this and not spending time on the reel meant we got to 750ft, around the Roller Coaster jump, even though we had about half the penetration gas as before.

-> 41min, 95ft, 70F

I'm pretty confident we can make it to the Maple Leaf at 950ft next time around, which seems to be the common upper limit at our gas rules.

Ginnie campground was much quieter on Monday morning compared to Saturday. Seems super obvious but the difference was terrific.

 - U

Sunday, November 24, 2019

Orange Grove

Almost there.

Cave 1, Day 6

Last day of class and I had some improvements to make on the fundamentals. We started with some valve and S-drills in 7ffw (I was super stoked when we did this within a foot variation) followed by complex reg failures, no viz exits and gas sharing in Olsen.

We got to a point where one of us lost all 3 posts and had to do a gas sharing exit for 300ft all the way through the mail slot chute to the surface. We also did a no viz exit on the next dive where we covered 200ft in 9min - a huge improvement from the last time we ran this drill.

Whodathunkit. Actual improvements over the course of the week.

The first half of the day wrapped up with line entanglement drills and unconscious diver recovery in Peanut.

-> 1hr 45min, 69ft, 69F

All of this went well enough that we did one final class dive in Orange Grove. Not one single failure to be had :)

-> 56min, 66ft, 68F

Orange Grove feels like going through a parking structure with multiple levels. It's definitely a finesse cave due to its relative tightness but super fun.

Once more to Great Outdoors for some well earned fried chicken for a couple of newly minted C1 divers.

 - U

Saturday, November 23, 2019

Ginnie Springs

Not-so-little bitta flow. The nervous butterflies in my shaky stomach were jittery.

Cave 1, Day 5

I had totally lost track of what day it was and didn't realize it was the weekend. No place open early enough to pick up food meant a hasty peanut-butter-on-a-bagel for lunch. We were going to do the first half of the day on EAN32 and the second half on 30/30 as part of the triox endorsement for the class.

The conditions report indicated moderate flow by Ginnie standards but it was plenty strong to beat me up over the course of the day. We did all dives through the Ear and tried to pick the best spots we could tying in the reel and also through the Gallery. My vertical awareness of space needs some tuning because there always seemed to be far more space above me than I thought. Bubbles was far better at kicking in the flow than I was and left me in his dust on one of the dives. Watch my light, bruh.

Failure handling wasn't as bad as I thought it would be especially because we had gotten a lot of practice with various scenarios already. The focus on these dives was to try and find good spots to stabilize and fix the problem so we didn't get blown around by the flow.

The lost line drill reinforced a few facts about cave line.
- Properly stowed and tensioned cave line is Lawful Evil. Follow the rules, be vigilant about and around it and you can escape its malice.
- Loose line is Neutral Evil. Just looking for a chance to mess with you. 50-50 if it actually will.
- Loose line in flow is Chaotic Evil. Will fuck your shit up just 'cause.

Strangely enough, I worked way harder when I was on triox for the last 2 dives, compared to EAN32 on the first 2. I think the easier WoB just made it easier for me to suck in far more gas than I needed (??).

-> 3hr 5min over 4 dives, 91ft, 71F
The Devil took its toll. My fingers were dry and chapped already from the last few days of diving and a tired pull-and-slide took it to the next level.

Dinner at New York Pizza Plus in Alachua was super satisfying
Also, what the fuck was I doing with this gas analysis sticker?!? What makes this even more mystifying is that this was before my fingers were abraded raw.

 - U

Friday, November 22, 2019

Madison Blue

Photo filched from a Florida parks site because I forgot to take one
Little bitta flow. No worries. Stay on the right side of the deck or you'll end up ass over tea kettle into the Withlacoochee river. Kinda worries.

Cave 1, Day 4

Conditions were good enough to dive Madison Blue so we headed there to get a gentler introduction to some flow before diving into Ginnie. This was where we would first employ the pull-and-glide (which is completely awesome, just in case anyone's wondering) and learn ways to best use the cave layout to avoid the brunt of the water.

The regulator failures piled on top of each other today with both of us losing multiple posts and ending up in a gas sharing scenario. As usual, the blackout masks appeared.

No biggie. We did almost 30min yesterday and we're improving with every occurrence of this drill.
Yes biggie. No-viz gas sharing exit even in moderate flow is not quite the same as in Peacock.

I ended up in some terrible body positions due to the cave layout as well as not managing my drysuit+wing often enough. I don't think I've fought buoyancy this hard since my Rec3 flame-out. It felt like I was completely feet-up vertical but the ninjas assured me that it looked not as awful as it felt.
So, um, yeah. Manage your air cells a lot better and more often than you think you need to when the flow is pushing you.

Some transfill whip magic later, we quickly got back in for another shorter dive and more failures.

-> 2hr 7min, 68ft, 68F

This is a different looking cave than Peacock with lighter colored rock formations and much more varying shapes. I'm glad we got to do this during the class because it seems like it's often blown out. We had excellent conditions and I'm looking forward to coming back here even though there's only one mainline for beginner divers.

Shout out to Discount Tire in Lake City who fixed our rental's flat for free!! Apparently this is not uncommon for most large tire shops - I was today years old when I learned that.

Dinner at Conestogas, where Tim Tebow has a shrine and you have to walk through a gift shop to get to the cash register.

 - U

Thursday, November 21, 2019

Peacock Springs

First real cave and holy-crap-it's-cold-this-morning-can-we-please-get-in-the-nice-warm-water!?!?

Cave 1, Day 3

We had planned to stay at the Peacock One Basin all day and do 4 dives alternating between the Olsen and Peanut lines. Super glad we did line drills last night because it would have been heckin' uncomfortable in the cold this morning.

We started off with valve and S-drills in the basin at 5ft (which I've never done before) and that I, quite predictably for me, biffed. I had totally psyched myself out but also exposed a major weakness in my buoyancy game - far too much reliance on breath control. This was something I would have to work on for the entire week. I was also making it excessively hard on my body to reach my valves and stay in trim - Mer and Annika gave me some great advice on how to handle it, which was also something I would have to consciously work on.

I don't remember the specific details of each dive but we had a bunch of light and regulator failures of all varieties. At one point, Bubbles lost all his lights plus a post and came up to me to grab my backup - I mistook him for one of the ninjas and turned off my light (still not sure why I did that??). Aforementioned ninjas used this as an opportunity to put blackout masks on both of us. We did a no viz exit for 24min and covered about 300ft. Stark reminder of how slow an exit like this can be if you're not using good technique.

The lines at Peacock One are both really pretty. The air pockets in the Peanut Tunnel reflect light all over the cave in really cool ways. The Olsen Line is a lot more open, with giant archway-like structures. There was a shelf around 450ft in with a bunch of animal bones.

-> 4h 23min over 4 dives, 69ft on the Olsen line, 55ft on the Peanut line, 69F

Super long dive day ended with frozen pizza at the house. The rental van had also developed a slow leak in one of the tires and customer support was shockingly unhelpful :/

 - U

Wednesday, November 20, 2019

Blue Grotto

The deck and most of the stairs at Blue Grotto are completely submerged due to higher than normal water levels. Everything looked fairly slippery which added some pucker factor, on top of pre-dive jitters, while walking across it fully geared up.

Cave 1, Day 2

The plan for today was to do a Fundies skills review (propulsion, drills, 2 stop ascents) and some introductory reel work during the first half of the day followed by more reel work and work on the line course in open water in the afternoon. The site briefing included a warning to not let Virgil, one of the resident turtles, get too close to your fingers because she's apparently gotten used to being fed sausages and mistakes appendages for the same.

I felt extremely spazzy during the valve and S-drills and my back kick completely failed me on the wooden platform. I guess it wasn't as terrible as I thought because we immediately went into reel work and entered the cavern in Blue Grotto. It had been almost exactly a year since the last time I had been in a cave and run a reel but it went mostly OK. The cavern path was fairly twisty so running the reel wasn't as straightforward as what I had done in a cave previously but was mostly uneventful except for a light failure which required Bubbles to deploy his backup. On the way out, my primary failed too which meant reeling back in with a backup in my left hand - not the most pleasant experience. I was perpetually on the verge of dropping them both.

When Bubbles ran the reel, the bubble gun dropped in unannounced and he ended up with a post failure, which meant I had to take over reel duties. I kinda forgot to vent my drysuit this time which led to some interesting leg contortions up the slope. Our ninja instructors picked this exact moment to fail Bubbles' other post which meant I had to donate. Fun times. Srsly, I thought there would be a much gentler introduction to failures than this ...

The really amazing thing here is the instructors' ability to pile things on just so and each problem builds on top of the previous one. It feels like you're barely keeping things together and want to get outta dodge ASAP but what it really makes you do is stop, think and work through the problem slowly. Absolutely fantastic teaching and learning methodology!

We both had plenty of gas left so we decided to just stay in the water and complete the drills on the line course instead of getting out to change tanks. We must have done the line course 4-5 times that afternoon in various combinations of mask off (waaay easier in 70F freshwater compared to 50F saltwater), blackout mask, touch contact and gas sharing situations. Improvements were made each time which is always a satisfying feeling.

-> 2hr 49min, 69ft, 70F

We were a little bit ahead of schedule due to finishing all the planned dive activities for the day in a single dive so we went back to the shop to do more line drills in the field.

Back to Great Outdoors for half-off wings - either we were there before the rush or the locals don't think it's as lit as burger night.

 - U

Tuesday, November 19, 2019

Gilchrist Blue and a field in High Springs

Tank fills in cave country are the bomb diggety :D

Also, the fill station at EE has whips that you pull right into your car and fill 4 sets of doubles at once. Not having to lug the Big Berthas back and forth every evening is totes awesome-sauce.
Cave 1, Day 1

0830 start at EE meant this was the one day in the entire week we could sleep in a little bit. The house we were staying at was a 15min drive from the shop which was great for overall logistics. Lectures started in the usual GUE fashion. It didn't take long for us to figure out Mer is completely nuts. Nuts about caves, nuts about diving, nuts about teaching and sharing her experiences and nuts about conservation. The best kinda nuts you want a teacher to be.

We decided to do the swim test before lunch so we could take advantage of the afternoon warmth. We went to Gilchrist Blue Spring and Mer laid out some tape in the run to mark 25m; we were to swim along that for the breath hold and the 400yd swim. This would be different than what I'm used to in the pool because there's no pushing off of the wall. I went for the breath hold immediately without any warm up and easily made the entire length. The swim was easy too and completed in just over 9min, even with my atrocious breast stroke technique.

After lunch, we did some more lecture and line following field drills in the, uh, field behind the shop. As it got dark, we wrapped up with regulator and post failures in the back of the van before calling it a day.

Great Outdoors was poppin' at dinner time for half-off burger night. 

 - U

Monday, November 18, 2019

Troy Spring

Tank tables in the parking lot?!?!
Yes, please. We need these everywhere. Convenient as heck with the Big Bertha HP130 doubles.

Cave 1, Day 0

Bubbles and I had planned on a shakedown dive before the class - Mer recommended a couple of suitable sites and we settled on Troy Spring State Park due to it's proximity and relatively deep open water area. We were specifically looking for a place where we could do drills in 20ft midwater. Little bit of an annoyance when we got there and found out no lights are allowed in the water - apparently, this is an oft ignored rule by folks who dive there regularly.

We got in the water and nothing leaked, bubbled or exploded. I had been inordinately stressed out about my drysuit's zipper getting smooshed in my roller carry-on but everything looked fine. The 60lb wing  with the big tanks weren't noticeably different either.

We swam around for a bit and took a peek at the water boil in the sand before starting on the usual regimen of valve and S-drills. No one had forgotten anything super important which was good considering we had done pretty much the exact same dive just a week ago. There was a bit of excitement towards the end during a gas sharing ascent when both of us forgot to vent our drysuits and wings.

We ended with a weight check - HP130s take forever to empty out. I had done some hand wavy math and thought I would need 4lb of lead with my setup but was convinced by Kyle at EE that I would need no weight. He was right. When someone who's been diving caves in this exact same setup for years and years, I would say it's a safe bet to take his advice.

Bubbles decided he wanted to lengthen his shoulder straps in the water which was semi amusing to watch until I realized he was looking for something to breath with. Details.

-> 67ft, 45min, 70F

Frozen pizza for dinner because everything in High Springs was closed on Monday.

 - U