Wakulla trip report

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Posted by MHK on May 01, 2000 at 14:21:10:

I spent this weekend in Wakulla Springs observing/supporting the WKPP team
in action. To say that this effort is impressive would not be doing
adequate justice..

Coming in I had no idea what to expect. Having heard and read so much about
the operation and having done so many previous expeditions myself I could
not believe what I saw when I arrived..

The 5:30 am wakeup call while still on west coast time certainly didn't help
get me on top of my game. I knew no matter what that I needed to bring my A
game to the plate I certainly didn't want to make a fool out of myself on my
first effort with the team. And I say team because that is what it is...
Granted George and JJ do the big pushes, but without ALL the extreme set up
and clean up the pushes would not be possible.. The last thing I wanted to
do was make a major mistake and introduce myself to the team in stroke
fashion... But even at 5;30 am everyone on the team was friendly,
supportive and willing to guide the way. By 5:31 am it was clear to me that
I was low man on the food chain ( not ever having been inside a cave, that
goes without saying ) I did think that my past diving experience would
atleast prepare me for what I was about to join, but afterwards I told
George that talking about it on the net or reading about it does not do it
justice, it is one of those thing you need to experience to appreciate it.
George's comeback was, now you know why I don't put up with bullshit...
He's right, the stakes are just too high..

Prior to my arrival the GUE surface manage team of Heather and Casey require
diligent records of prior experiences and of course C-cards and insurance.
While I'm not yet cave certified there is plenty of work for the non-caved
trained.. George and Casey made it clear to me early ( prior to booking my
flights ) that you need to work your way up the food chain, you need to
watch, learn and get mentored by other's before you could get into the
water.. You really do learn by osmosis just being on site.. George did say
if the was an opportunity to do some support not requiring entering the cave
he would try to get me in the water to see the operation..

Now to the dive...

After arriving very early it was surprising to see SO many support people
there so early.. My first look at the springs and what you saw was more
gear than anyone could picture. And this was Saturday morning.. The team
had spent all day Fri. already preparing and loading the cave with
additional equipment. After the inevitable equipment problems, even after
several checks, the rebreather team of TC and Jesse Armantrout went in at
about 8:00am ( I'm sure Casey or Heather will post a more accurate report
I'm just reporting my observations as a first timer ). I was still at the
vans with George and JJ so I didn't see these guys shove off. But at 9:45
it was George and JJ's turn. I helped George rig right at the basin. I
understood right then and there why he preaches his physical fitness.. He
was wearing the Haclyon rebreather complete with 2 bailout bottles attached.
We clipped off 3 stage bottles and 2 scooters and his huge cave light.. And
that was just to start the dive. He would add and remove other's during the
course of the dive.. Another reason you can't have hoses and clips
everywhere.. So gone they were by 9:45am not expected to be back until
atleast 10:00pm..

I have heard about the long deco's but I don't think you truly understand it
until your there. I asked the other guys on the team ( specifically MJB,
no not that asshole I'm talking about Michael J. Blitch and Rich L ) what do
you do now??? they had staggered teams of support on the beach throughout
the day and then a well-coordinated schedule of what time certain other
diver's would either bring deco gas, additional rebreather's etc etc etc...
So Blitch, Rich L, Claudia and a few other's decided to go to Indian Springs
to do a dive.. My dive was somewhat limited in comparison to the other's
since I didn't enter the cave, so I let Rich L or Blitch describe Indian.
All I have to say is you warm water, fresh water guys have it made :-)

After the dive, we went to lunch, relaxed then drove back to Wakulla and got
there by 3:00.. It really hit home at that point.. We left, we did a dive,
we ate lunch, we sun tanned and these guys were still underwater at 300'..
Right about that time one of the support diver's emerged and said that they
had just seen George and JJ and they were heading back.. Apparently vis
wasn't cooperative enough to complete the survey they wanted so they cut the
dive short ( If you can call a 12 hour dive short ).. At that point with
military precision, Casey and Heather began reorganizing the support
effort.. Schedules were adjusted, diver's were prepared and thus the effort
continued.. Like a well oiled machine support diver's came and went, tanks
were in, tanks were out.. At 4:30 Heather said to me if you want to get in
and shuttle tanks the guys are at 20' in the habitat you can get in... Well
I was ready in a minute's notice... Probably because I was the only diver
without a drysuit ;-)

So at 5:00pm 5 of us got in and dropped over the ledge to begin the clean up
effort. In my mind I couldn't imagine needing 5 diver's ( on the 1st team
to clean up ).. Well as soon as I dropped over the ledge I understood why..
Clipped off to the habitat's were more deco bottles and scooters than I have
ever seen in one place at one time.. It was a massive collection of tanks,
scooter's ( long and short ), rebreather's, spools, bag's, etc..

And in a startling moment for me, much like the last seen in Carrie when the
hand comes out of the grave, I was reaching for a set of bottles to shuttle
back and a hand extends from the habitat and grabs mine.. I poke my head
into the habitat and Trout asked me if I could get him his sandwiches that
are clipped off the other habitat.. Mind boggling...

Chris Elmore was kind enough to take me under his wing during the day and
explain alot to me about the past and future efforts. Thanks Chris..
Moreover, it is often said that some of the guys in the WKPP are arrogant
and hostile, but you would never know it from watching this team in action.
I was welcomed right in, even got a few insults thrown my way at the after
dive dinner.. I always feel like I fit in when you are getting insulted
with the rest of the team ;-) It was refreshing to show up at a site with
so many competent and qualified diver's all sharing the same goal/desire and
no idiots like BLACK stirring up shit.. But the bulk of the jokes at the
dinner were at that idiot's expense.. Once again BLACK, thanks for being
the asshole that you are, after a long day your stupidity provided comic

So for me, it's cave training at GUE Memorial Day weekend and then hopefully
more trips with the team. Thanks guys for having me and showing me the


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