Unpracticed makes imperfect. Weekend Report

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Posted by R Bear on February 20, 2001 at 06:48:10:

Kim and I hadn?t been diving in over a month. The main reason is that we had each been sick for about two weeks apiece and we weren?t sick at the same time. Many Florida cavers say that if you don?t go caving every weekend you are not really a caver. Kim and I Unpracticed makes imperfect. Weekend Report
decided that (seeing as how we had lost our ?caver? status) we would limit our penetration. Our last couple of dives at Jackson Blue had taken us 2600 to 2700 feet on the mainline and we had come out different routes than in. Saturday?s plan was to go 1500 feet on the mainline and then explore a low silty area south of a passage known as the King?s Bypass.
Jackson Blue Saturday
This ticks me off. The park service had taken the topsoil off of an area adjacent to the spring so they could make a parking lot or something. In Florida, if you can find high ground close to a spring, you will find Indian artifacts. When the park service had disturbed that dirt they had unearthed points, chips, and pottery shards. Then they put up a big sign saying not to disturb this archeological site. So far so good. I didn?t take a single thing and I am glad they have an eye towards preservation. Guess what they did next. They dumped three to four feet of fill dirt on top of the site and continued construction work. Nimrods.
I didn?t stay ticked off very long. There were three other teams there and I knew at least one guy from each team. Kim made me promise to dive first and jack my jaw AFTER the dive. Because of the new construction, we had to park on top of the hill and carry our stuff down passed two retaining walls. The first was only a one-foot drop off but the second one was about three feet. I put my gear on from the back of the truck as usual. Kim informed me right away that she would be unable to get down those retaining walls with gear on. Therefore after I carried her gear down to the water, she geared up sitting on the ground. For now suffice to say that there is a reason I mentioned that. It was a beautiful day and it was very pleasant carrying stuff down to the water in spite of the weight and the retaining walls.
The Two Stooges dive
Every time I am away from this cave for a while, the beauty of the cavern zone immediately strikes me. The 300-foot long entrance room was formed when a solution cave at a depth of about 95 feet collapsed. Because of this method of formation, there are huge boulders littering the entire floor. Saturday I was carefully looking at a slab of rock about forty feet long. I was having fun matching every hump on the floor to a dome on the ceiling and every bump on the ceiling to a hole on the floor. It is really neat to be able to figure out exactly where the floor used to be attached to the ceiling. This area of the cave is the most interesting part of the cave until you get another 600 feet back.
We were still in the cavern zone when Kim showed me that she was having difficulty reaching the knobs on her manifold. I made my first bad call of the day right then. I decided that her difficulty was because her wetsuit was too tight. (Those things shrink after Thanksgiving and don?t tend to loosen back up until a couple of months after New Year?s resolutions. [:]-) She eventually got her hands on both knobs, but it was obviously harder than it should have been. I thought about calling the dive, but between the fact that valve manipulation is rarely a player, I could shut down for her, and she was able to reach them (barely), I left it to her discretion. We headed on in.
A couple of hundred feet further into the cave is an area where there are four side passages in close proximity to one another. Three of these loop back around to the main line and form circuits. The fourth passage dead ends just short of being a fourth circuit. Water already flows through it so maybe it will be another circuit someday. I glanced over at Kim and noticed that her safety reel was dangling about six inches below her. We were headed into some passages that would leave the reel in about six inches of silt, so I had her attach it to her hip D ring. It had been on her crotch strap.
Obviously cavers occasionally mis-clip things. Obviously cavers can?t tolerate danglies. The only reason I mention it is because I think it is an indicator of our general sloppiness on this dive.
At twenty-six minutes into the dive, Kim dropped her stage at 780 feet of penetration and I dropped mine at 800 feet. Normally we drop them at 1000 feet twenty minutes into the dive. This coupled with the fact that I had a short fill in my back gas made it so I suspected we wouldn?t meet our plan. I decided that I was just happy to be there. I focused on having fun and trying to get a few good pictures. I still couldn?t help but realize that our performance was really sucking on this dive.
At 800 feet the cave is a staggering 80 feet wide. The profile of the passage is kind of like a flying saucer. It is very tall towards the center and tapers down to flat nothing at the edges. There is a place at the right edge at a penetration of about 850 that looks like water might flow through it. The trouble is that it is at the edge where the height is about nothing. One of these days, I am going to check it out. Saturday though I was working the left edge instead. Right at 900 feet there is a passage that parallels the main passage for about ten feet. I?ve been through it a bunch of times. I was going through it Saturday when I suddenly noticed that I could stay in it longer than I thought. There is a three foot in diameter shaft that extends this little parallel passage another ?? feet. I had only gone down it about eight feet before I could see Kim on my right out in the main passage and wave at her. I couldn?t actually exit this passage for another eight feet though because the gap I was using to look at Kim started out only about six inches tall and gradually tapered bigger.
From 1000 to 1350 the cave is easy to dive but hard to really map out. They?re as many as four parallel passages through there. The two main passages connect back to each other in two different spots. The other smaller passages don?t run as separate entities the whole distance. There are huge boulders in huge high ceilings and tiny passages where big boulders can?t fit. I am fairly successful at finding a different route through there almost every time I dive it. At a penetration of 1260 I thought about just giving up on our stated goal and going up the shaft there. This shaft goes up about fifty feet to a pristine room about 150 feet long with no string in it. I have thought about putting line in it a few times, but I have never gotten around to it. Ultimately we just stuck to the original plan.
At about 1400 feet I started really thinking about the low silty stuff we were about to dive. I verified that my gap spool and gap reel were both where I thought they were. There was a loop of string hanging off of my gap reel. I picked it up and saw that it had a bird?s nest in it. That bird?s nest was a plan slayer. I could either clear it or abort. For the next hundred feet, my whole world was a knot in a reel at 95 FFW. I didn?t see the line or the cave. I just followed Kim by letting my peripheral vision keep track of her light. I cleared the reel and got it wound back up just as we got to 1500 feet and jumped off of the mainline onto the King?s Bypass line.
I?ve written about the King?s Bypass several times. It is the area where there are low rolling silt dunes. There is good clearance between ceiling and silt if you stay in the troughs between the dunes. The line on the other hand goes straight through. Sometimes the line is in good clearance sometimes not. A smart caver will opt for good clearance rather than the line in hand. On the south side of this room there are three dark openings spaced about fifty feet apart. The line is on the north side of the room about fifty feet from the south wall where the openings are. I dodged between the dunes one time and stuck my head through one of the openings. There is a passage back there, which I saw but did not explore. That passage was our mission.
When I spotted a hole to go in, Kim was about ten feet south of the Bypass line and I was about ten feet south of Kim. The Bypass line itself was in an area of the room that offered insufficient clearance for a diver with back mounted doubles. As I swam towards the Bypass line I decide to check my back gas pressure even though I knew what it was. It was dumb to check it at all, and it was even dumber to check it right when I did. Just as I reached the line I swept my SPG right through the silt. I knew I had done it and I even winced a little when I did it. In spite of that it was still a surprise to be looking at a ball of mud on the end of a high-pressure hose instead of looking at an SPG. A swipe of my thumb let me read it and then I tied off my gap reel.
I could still see what I was doing. The silt was under my belly where I had swiped the SPG. I also had the line. Kim in contrast had lost sight of the Bypass line because of my mess. She knew I had my reel attached to the Bypass line though. So when I started my helicopter turn, Kim grabbed my leg and didn?t let go until I had pulled us both out of the silt. We dodged a dune and continued on in to the hole I had spotted.
The passage was much bigger than the short segment I had seen through the other hole. We followed this passage for about 100 feet before I turned the dive on a combination of the passage got too low and I was too close to thirds. Mapping it out in the comfort of my living room I realized that I was right at the point where the passage HAD to either dead end or come back out on the mainline. Knowing how the cave is right there I would give you odds that it comes back out on the mainline.
Coming back out of there I just had to make one more stupid mistake. I had already retrieved my reel and cleared the silted out portion of the Bypass tunnel. I had the bypass line in my hand and was thinking something like ?Home free now. Don?t even have to think.? I was in clear water so I should have been beside the line in higher clearance. I had my hand on the line and the line forced me into the silt. When Kim came out of the silt out she told me I was an idiot. I couldn?t exactly argue.
Speaking of idiots. Towards the end of the dive as Kim?s tanks got lighter, her manifold started hitting her in the back of the head. She didn?t know why and she didn?t tell me about it until later. You remember I said that she was having trouble with reaching her manifold and that she geared up sitting on the ground? Guess who forgot to hook up her crotch strap.
I swear we will do better next weekend. And once we have regained ?caver? status we will be sure and not let it lapse again.
Stats:77 minutes @95 FFW plus 29 minutes to deco and exit

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