Al and I have managed a few cave trips this year but haven’t been to Florida together for two years, visiting Mexico, France and the Dom Rep instead. I spent most of October there training but Al wasn’t able to join me. The dives then were therefore work, apart from the last weekend when I did a support session at Turner and then got to dive Indian for the first time. This prove so good, I made arrangements to go back as soon as possible – this time with my normal buddy.
We stayed at Cathy’s (Dive Outpost) who as usual was superb in making life easy and used the first four days to build up some hours on the JJ on easy dives. Wayne at Amigos provided cylinders and lime, Extreme Exposure and David Wallace provided multiple cylinders for bailout plus back gas for OC dives later in the week (more on that later).
Cathy is well placed being only a 5 minute drive from Peacock where we intended to do a fair few hours. After a dive in Ginnie to test the gear had made it over OK on day one and a couple of dives in Peacock for fun, we added a camera and strobes and got on with why we went in the first place – to take some photos.
I spent most of October in Peacock and made several jokes about how nice it was to swim in and out the right way round and with lights on rather than off. This did mean though that I had a pretty good idea of what pictures would be nice to have.
We did a large circuit, setting a jump for exit on the way in past pothole, on to Olsen then back past cisteen, the crypt and back via the jump we had laid on the way in. Dive time including taking photographs was around 3 hours. Managing the camera through some of the cave was a new challenge, especially when it wanted to unfurl itself in tighter spaces. Taking things slowly allowed us to make progress without disturbing the cave environment, which had the added bonus of maintaining the viz for the pictures too.
Teaching in Little River does not really add up to long penetrations although the flow is really low at the moment and progress is quite easy. It would be nice to see more of the cave this time.
There are various strategies for taking photos in caves. We planned to go to the far end of the Florida Room without taking any shots and then, when the cave gets tighter, turn the dive and take photos on exit. Even though flow was down this still proved a good strategy as the model is always being moved towards the photographer rather than the other way round. Essentially Alastair would swim out about 30 – 50 feet and then turn and signal. I would then move off towards him, not moving but being carried by the flow. Hopefully he would get the shot he wanted before we met – and then the process would start again. The extra advantage of this strategy is that timings are taken against the flow on the way in and, if you hit a problem on exit you simply stop taking photos and exit.
Dive time was around 2 hours although, unlike Peacock, this did involve a little deco as the depth of Little River is greater.
After 4 days diving the RBs it seems odd to some that for the trimix dives we were then planning to do we would be going back to OC. The primary reason for this is that RBs are not permitted in Indian. However, whilst we have done quite a few RB cave dives on the RB80, we are still building time on the JJ and would have left it in the car for these dives regardless.
As I said, I first dived Indian in October. Getting permission to dive there requires satisfying the Committee that you are an experienced cave diver (through an Abe Davies award or equivalent), have trimix training and a guide who will agree to accompany you. Keith Gault, a WKPP support diver, is a guide and managed to get permission to take me in at short notice in October based on a recommendation from Jarrod. This time, we were able to apply with more time and also get photo agreements in place. Having seen the size of the cave, I asked Casey to lend us a Halcyon HMI light and he kindly made the arrangement for this in time for out trip.
Both dives would require us to travel through a deep (45 meter of so) passage with poor visibility for 10 minutes or so befor the cave splits in to upstream (deeper and smaller) and downstream (more shallow and huge). We would do one dive in each passage on two subsequent days. This meant that we had to take 4 twinsets and 16 stages to the Wakulla area – our poor hire car was groaning.
Upstream Indian has an average depth of around 45 metres. This makes it a two stage, two deco gas dive if you want to make any distance or, as we did, want any extra time for photographs.
We planned to enter without stopping, with me leading carrying the camera as I am affected less by hauling it than others. We developed a gas strategy which would retain more gas for exit than normal to reflect the additional time which would be taken by stopping for photographs.
All went as planned and the results are stunning. The cave here is smaller than downstream and bright white in part. As it has never been dry there are no formal ‘formations’ as seen in Mexico or other places, but the cave is nevertheless beautiful.
It was again a 2 bottom stage, 2 deco gas dive, but this time whilst back gas was trimix, stages were nitrox as the rooms when you get to them are shallow.
Downstream is huge. I had tried to explain it to Al when he was wondering about photos but I clearly failed as his jaw dropped when we got in. You could fly a 747 in some of these rooms. We had three strobes, one HMI, three HIDs and a video light - and it just swallowed it up.
I led in again, and again carried the camera as this had worked quite well the day before. We hit the end of the line quite quickly – a bit like Eagle’s Nest, it comes at you quite unexpectedly. One minute you are in a huge passage and another it has ended.
We were spoiled with wonderful visibility – which I understand from Keith has already ended. This allowed us to swim up in the ceilings of each room – up to 100 feet from the line but high where gas lasts longer and deco is reduced.
This last one may not be the best photo ever - but I love the fact that it looks like the earth is in orbit behind us.
All the dives this week were uneventful. The JJ was working just as we had hoped, the OC dives were a return to a comfortable old friend. We polished off the week with diner at the Great Outdoors and shopping in the Orlando malls.
Hope you enjoyed the read and Al's wonderful pictures.