Trip Report: 5 days of Cave Diving in Florida

Florida Cave Diving for Thanksgiving

I was starting to get the travel itch again so I figured an impromptu trip to cave country in Florida was on the agenda.  I guess it really wasn’t impromptu; a couple of my friends were driving down and it was really a question of if I could find a cheap flight and rental car.

Luckily I was able to find a flight on JetBlue on Thanksgiving for under $300 from Boston to Jacksonville.  My friends Matt and Lea offered to mule down my rebreather bottles and a few of my bailout tanks/regulators so it would make it even cheaper since I wouldn’t have to pay extra for checked bags or rent any bailout tanks.  They have scuba cargo van so that makes things much easier.

I’m writing this post about a month after my trip so I’m missing lots of details. TL;DR It was an awesome albeit short trip. 11 cave dives in 5 days.

This blog post doesn’t include all the dives we did, just some of the more memorable ones.

Flying on Thanksgiving is awesome

I don’t really care about Thanksgiving so flying on that day was perfect.  In fact, flying on Thanksgiving was glorious. The airport was completely empty.  I did get there a bit early since I find flying with a rebreather can sometimes be a challenge.   You always play the game of how long TSA wants to inspect it and if I need to take everything apart.  Thankfully I got a competent TSA agent and after a quick inspection and swab chemical for weapon explosives I was sent on my way.  Amazing!  Now what do I do with 2 hours in Logan airport before my flight?

Thanksgiving Dinner at Dive Outpost

Arriving in Jacksonville around 4pm I quickly grabbed my rental car and made the ~2 hour drive to the AirBnB in Branford, FL that Matt/Lea rented. Nice little place.  We then headed to Dive Outpost for Thanksgiving dinner.  Thanks DJ for the invite.  We were concerned about what would be open on Thanksgiving for dinner options.   Cathy is an awesome cook and there was plenty of food and good company there.

Friday (Peacock I to The Crypt)

Matt and Lea had to finish up a class with Jon from Cave Country Dive Shop.  Thankfully DJ offered to do a nice little shake down dive with me at Peacock Springs.

We dove Peacock I to Cisteen and then explored The Crypt a little bit.   This was really nice because I have never been to the crypt before. The last time I was in Florida we did plenty of dives at Peacock I and Orange Grove including the Grand Traverse.  It was really nice to see a different area of the cave.

Saturday (Peacock III to Henley’s Castle)

Matt and Lea finished up their dives with Jon so they were available to dive on Saturday.  We figured we would try something different and check out a deeper section of Peacock Springs. I had never dove Peacock III before so this would also be a new dive for me.

We staged a couple AL40s of O2 and a couple AL80s of 50% at top of Henley’s Castle before it drops down for this dive. We each carried two AL80s of bottom gas for bailouts.   Henley’s Castle was a really cool dive. We didn’t stay at depth very long and basically just turned around when we got to the bottom; I’d like to do this dive again and perhaps explore some of the side passages at depth.

The really nice thing about Henley’s Castle was we were able to burn off almost all of our deco on the way out at depths of 50-60ft.

We also met another team diving in Peacock III which turned out to be Bobby from UWLD. Both Matt and Lea own lights from his company.  I also noticed that he was diving Deep 6 regulators.

Sunday (Ginnie Springs)

We did 3 dives at Ginnie Springs on Sunday spending a little over 4 hours underwater.  Last year was my first time at Ginnie Springs. I didn’t really like it because it was super crowded because there were so many teams in the cave. It really took away the experience for me.  Luckily this time it was much quieter. There were no drunk spring breakers on tubes and not too many teams in the cave.

It was my first time back in proper flow since last year so I didn’t really adjust well until the second dive.  On the first dive I felt myself working a bit harder than I wanted so I took off my hood to cool down.   Overbreathing (CO2 hit) on a rebreather is one of those things I really would like to avoid so I slowed way down.

I don’t really think I cooled down until about 25 minutes into the dive so that sort of sucked.  Part of my issue is I don’t dive in caves with flow very often.  Thankfully once I slowed down, positioned myself into the right places (high and up in the cave) and actually pulled instead of trying to swim things went much better.

I’ve got to get back to Ginnie Springs and explore more next time. The visibility was/is stunning there.  We did 3 dives jumping off at Hill 400 to escape the flow and exploring some other jumps. I’d like to explore more down the gold line at some point. There is just so much I haven’t seen.

Monday (Madison Blue to Courtyard through Rocky Horror)

On Monday we did a dive that Matt and Lea had been talking up to me for a while.  We dove Madison Blue through an area called the Rocky Horror tunnel.  It’s a gnarly and tight (for least) little winding passage that eventually opens up into a large area called the Courtyard.   From here the cave is absolutely stunning.  Matt and Lea previously dove this passage on open circuit back-mounted doubles with a stage bottle but basically turned right after they exited Rocky Horror.  This would be their first time diving it on closed circuit (CCR).

Before you enter Rocky Horror there is a dive slate that you mark to indicate if a dive team is currently IN or OUT of the passage.

If you get this far and notice there is currently a dive team ahead of you in the tunnel then you’re basically forced to turn around so it’s a good idea to try to coordinate with any other teams before you begin your dive.

Here is a screenshot from someone else’s video:

Rocky Horror slate

It reads: “Please Heed This Warning!  The small size of the passage ahead will not allow divers to pass in opposite directions. Exiting Divers Have Priority.”

We were unsure exactly how “cleanly” we would fit through Rocky Horror with a rebreather and two sidemounted AL80s for bailout. In short, not very “clean” but do-able.

Anyway for our dive planning, we staged a couple AL40s of O2 at the cave entrance at Madison.  Me and Matt carried 3 AL80s on these dives.  We dropped our third AL80s a little before the entrance to Rocky Horror as “safety” bottles.

I will say this.. I am not  definitely not a “fan” of super tight caves.  No-mount diving is definitely not for me but I’m beginning to start to appreciate smaller passages more and more especially after Rocky Horror.

Once I know that I’m able to easily fit through something my apprehension and anxiety goes down completely.  I reminded myself that MANY people have fit through Rocky Horror before and that I would not be the first or last.

Going through Rocky Horror there were definitely a few moments where I was swearing and cursing through my DSV.  I took it slow and methodical but still made quite a mess.  Matt ended up “supermaning” (is that a word?) one of his bailouts in front of him while I kept both of mine on (not knowing what to expect).

I was middle person in the team and Lea was behind me.  Eventually I got stuck in a few spots and had to take both bailouts off.  Lea managed to get squeeze through without removing any bottles so it’s certainly possible to do without taking bottles off.

Anyway, that was Rocky Horror. Once we were through we went a bit further in the Courtyard. I don’t recall our exact distance since I am writing this from memory. The cave is really beautiful here and I’d love to get back there in the future.

We eventually turned and made our way back through Rocky Horror again. Lea was in front managed to fit through without too many issues.  I was in the middle again. While I think I did a slightly better job on the way out there were a couple spots where I made a mess which I am sure made for an almost zero viz exit for Matt.   Having gone in and out of Rocky Horror I think I’ll be able to do a much better job next time around if I go a bit slower.

Tuesday (Cow Springs)

On Tuesday we decided to do something a little different and dive Cow Springs.  Matt and Lea had never dove here before but are current NSS-CDS members so they figured they should check it out.  I thought I would get “revenge” on Matt for taking me through Rocky Horror.  Matt admits to liking small passages so I thought he might “enjoy” the Cow Springs entrance.

I had only dove Cow Springs Upstream once previously with Paul when I was down in Florida last March. Paul had showed me the “backmount” entrance and I had gone through with my rEvo and a single AL80 without much hassle so I knew that I could fit through. I was recalled that the entrance was pretty tight but I have to confess I forgot just how narrow it was and didn’t take into account that the JJs have a much bigger profile than the rEvo.   I also knew my friend Tom has fit through it with double 130s and a stage and he is pretty big guy.

When we arrived at Cow Springs another team, Marissa and Christa, were just about to enter the water.  It’s amazing how small the diving community is.  I didn’t know Marissa or Christa but due to having similar friends in-common on Facebook I had seen some of their posts before. Christa lives in Massachusetts so we had some of the same dive buddies but just had never met before.

In case you’re wondering…a JJ-CCR with two sidemounted AL80s is not really appropriate gear for the Cow Springs entrance.  At least that is the conclusion that Lea and Matt came to as they were cursing me.

It’s not so much of a wide issue that it is a height/clearance issue.  Matt and Lea both got stuck pretty bad and their cave shields are now sporting some very deep scratches and metal scars. Score one where the rEvo actually does something better than a JJ. Who says you need flood tolerance? 🙂

We didn’t go very far in Cow Springs since I think I firmly demoralized them from the initial entrance.  We turned at Not My Fault which I had never gone through so to be honest I wasn’t sure the best way to do with a rebreather and two AL80s.  I’d like to go through here next time with somebody that has done it a few times.

We finished the day by poking around in Cow Downstream for a bit until it got too narrow.  It’s not very far; maybe 250-300ft of penetration before it turns sidemount.

End of the proverbial line

My short trip to Cave Country Florida has come to an end. I managed to sneak in 5 days of cave diving and 11 dives in.  Not too bad for an impromptu vacation but I certainly wish I had more days down here.  I think I’ll definitely explore more of Madison Blue and Ginnie Springs on the next trip.

I think the next time I come down here I’d like to explore using LP85s or even LP95s for sidemount bailout bottles.  I quickly realized that depending on your bailout philosophy you can easily hit penetration limits carrying two AL80s.  Furthermore, carrying 3 AL80s in flow sucks I’d like to avoid that next time.

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