I did a 1300 foot penetration at Twin Cave this weekend. 1300 feet is about 300 feet farther than I have ever penetrated before, so to me this was a really big deal. My friend John, my wife Kim and I went to Twin cave this weekend. Twin is the third cave in Merritt's Millpond in Marianna Florida. I don't know why it is called Twin but I will speculate. Twin could refer to the two entrances (even though one is so silted up it is useless). I would like to believe that it is called twin because there is a very big cave at a depth of fifty or so and another very big cave at a depth of ninety or so. To see a map of Twin (made by my cave instructor Pat Watson) go to http://home.tampabay.rr.com/mblitch/cave/twincaves.htm
As we were pulling our boat into the water, I noticed an alligator about fifteen feet off the shore. (Man I love living in Florida) Kim had been having allergy problems all morning. As we were gearing up she did the smart/prudent thing and excused herself from the dive.
The entrance is a small keyhole with silt spilling through it at a slight angle. In most (clay) silt you could pull yourself along if you didn't mind reducing the visibility to zero. This stuff was organic and offered no resistance whatsoever, making it very important to not wave a hand through it. To get in without silting out, you need to have a head down trim, good buoyancy control, and use a very light kick with knees bent. I confess that I briefly put my light in this stuff as I ran the reel under a rock. The cavern zone has several interior walls that have many holes all the way through them. These walls resemble giant limestone lace. I think that if this cavern had better natural light (the small openings mean there is almost none) it would be well known as one of the most beautiful. There are two large holes in the floor, either of which drops you straight down twenty feet to the cave.
The main north-south corridor lies at a depth in the fifties and is known as the subway. In addition to the normal trogolophiles (American eels and catfish) this cave also has white crayfish in it. At a penetration of about 400 feet, there is a large hole in the floor that drops down to 70 feet and a corridor that leads off to the east. We zoomed on over this hole on the way in but dropped down for a look see on the way out. At about 500 feet I noticed a couple of holes in the ceiling with a connecting tunnel between them. I went up into this tunnel above the tunnel and came down behind John (I was leading). He looked at me with that quit screwing around look, so I took my regulator out of my mouth and grinned at him.
At 1000 feet of penetration we went over a bottomless pit. This was a huge pit dropping down 50 feet and swallowing our lights in inky darkness. On the way out, this was where we actually hit thirds, and so we felt justified in going down into it for a look around. We dropped from fifty to 98 (I could have gone another 6 feet or so) where two different lines went off to the east. It was right around here that was the scene of our only mishap on the way out. I noticed another of those tunnel-over-the-tunnel deals and I (now in the rear) thought I would go through and pop out of the ceiling in front of John. I was concentrating on mischief instead of what I was doing when I felt a yucky squish on my right elbow and I knew I had put my elbow in silt. Luckily there was nobody behind me because I looked back to see what I had done and there was a very nasty looking cloud about eight feet wide made by this one screw-up.
Back to telling this chronologically rather than linearly.
At about 1100 feet, the ceiling got close to the floor. The floor was that nasty clay silt and it had many scars in it from where other divers had not successfully threaded this needle. There was something very disconcerting about being in a place where others had obviously silted out badly. I decided that if I silted out, I would turn the dive. I was worried that it would take us longer to go out blind on the line than it had taken us to get in. In this low silty area there where no fish, but I saw two diaphanous salamanders. These guys were shaped like normal salamanders but they looked like they were made out of jellyfish material.
After we cleared this low area, we came upon another bottomless pit and I knew we were at about 1200 feet of penetration. This pit seemed very foreboding for several reasons. There was something very disturbing about the crazy slant of the main line as it plunged down and that the main line didn't go forward any more and that we couldn't see the bottom (hence bottomless). Also the very fact of being 1200 feet from the entrance was weighing on me. Down in my bones I felt very disconnected from the surface because of 1)the distance, 2)the obstacle of the low passage we had just cleared, and 3)I couldn't be 100 percent sure that John hadn't left a silt trail behind him. I took comfort from looking at my SPG even though I knew what it said. It was the only evidence I had that suggested it would be no big deal to get out (I still had 2300 PSI). I knew that John had that same we're-not-in-Kansas-anymore feeling. When I asked him if he wanted to go down the pit just for a look, instead of his usual exuberant yes, he held his thumb and index finger an inch apart.
I-want-to-go-down-and-look-a-little was very clear. But what wasn't clear was did he want to go down a little, or look around a little, or did he have very little desire to go down and look.
At ninety some feet, there was a giant passage running both east and west. I saw the floor, walls, and ceiling as being made entirely of silt. It wasn't until eight hours later that I realized how silly this was and that I was projecting my anxiety into the way I saw the cave. Then something weird happened. John gave the up thumb (in a cave this means let's go home, not let's go up). So I stuck out my thumb. Then John thumbed again, so I thumbed again. Then we both thumbed. We had about passed our comfort zones, and it was time to get out. I know it would have been comforting at this point to have a pair of Ruby Slippers that I could click together while softly repeating There-is-no-place-like-home. But that is funny because since then I have been wanting a pair of Limestone Slippers that I could click together while repeating
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