John and Kim and I made a trek to Madison Blue this Saturday and then on down to Peacock on Sunday. We did six cave dives so I won't bore you with all of the details of every dives, but I had such a good weekend that I thought I would post some of the high points as well as the low point. We arrived at Madison Blue Springs on Saturday. The spring is about 10 miles east of Madison in North Florida. Admission is $16.05 each and air is $4.28 ($8.56 for doubles). The spring has a small basin, an interesting cavern with two entrances, and thousands of feet of cave passages. Saturday started on a high note as we arrived at Madison Blue and met Sapien, Mermaid, and BillB. We all talked a lot on surface intervals and made new friends. BillB is a very experienced cave diver and proved to be a wealth of tips, insights and hints about this cave and others as well as cave diving in general. I am going to tell this out of order (because it is my story and I can tell it any way I want to) but our best dive happened on Sunday at Peacock Springs. I want to thank BillB for his advice on this dive because without that, this dive would not have been the fantastic success that it turned out to be. Peacock is a State park, and the entrance fee is only $5.00. There is no on-sight air, but there is shop right up the road called the Dive Outpost that will fix you right up. Our best dive of the weekend was a 2800 foot circuit (1400 in, 1400 out) that lasted about an hour. Before the dive I carried Kim's rig down to the water while I was still only wearing a swimsuit. A diver in the water said "No Wetsuit?" My immediate BS reply was "I'm a Canadian diver." In a perfect Canadian accent he says "Oooh, I'm from northern Minnesota, Ay?" Before he could even finish his sentence I was laughing hard and had to admit what I was really doing. I usually lead, but for this one we let Kim lead. The reason is that success would depend on Kim's air consumption. I figure you are most efficient when you get to go at a pace that is comfortable for you, and that if Kim led, she would set a comfortable pace for herself instead of feeling rushed to keep up with me. As we entered the water, we were very uncertain because the vis in the pool was 3 to 4 feet. No need to fear. As we descended below 20 feet, we hit at least 150 foot vis in the cavern. None of us knew which direction to go to tie off to the main line, but down seemed like a reasonable guess and sure enough, it started almost immediately at the bottom of the cavern. The cave is made of huge arches and vaulted cathedral ceilings. The limestone is a startling chalk white that reflects your flashlight to easily illuminate massive areas of the cave at one time. These high cathedral arches soar 30 to 50 feet above the floor as they quest for the surface. At a penetration of 450 feet, we could see the blue sky through a tiny opening way above our heads. Kim momentarily lost sight of our goal and started to rise up to the beautiful blue opening so high above. Happily BillB had warned us that the hole was small and surrounded by dirt. We could use it for an emergency, but if we went up there we would disturb the silt/dirt and ruin the vis. I told her NO and touched my gap reel while spotlighting the mainline we needed to jump to. She quickly took the hint and ran a line from the line we were on across the gap to the line we wanted to be on. At this point we also recalculated thirds because in a emergency, we could always divert to this pretty blue hole so far over our heads. We continued on from Pothole Sink (the blue hole I mentioned) towards Olsen Sink. We knew we had to go another 1000 feet and it would be a race against Kim's air consumption. The cave continued to offer big beautiful rooms as well as pillars and holes in the walls. Also there were lots of rooms so wide that you could not see all the way across them. Five hundred feet from pothole we hit the butt-to-butt arrows showing that we were equally distant from two exits. As we got closer and closer to our goal I could see Kim checking her SPG more frequently and I knew that she would call the dive on thirds any second. At 900 feet she made a funny gesture and I knew that we were turning just short of our goal. I was wrong. The gesture was excitement as she dove under a low hanging rock and could see the light from Olsen! We had made it! A 1400 hundred foot trip with plenty of air for the return trip. We made a 3 minute safety stop and surfaced into Olsen. We all laughed and congratulated ourselves while recounting the high points of the dive. We did this for over ten minutes and every computer we carried (four between us) logged this as two dives. Later we all decided that we hadn't left the water and hadn't gotten more air and that this was really one long dive. On the way out, back at Pothole, Kim once again indicated that she would like to go up to that blue hole in the sky. I admit that it did look enticing, but I couldn't figure out why she still wanted to go up. After the dive we all realized that John and I had told Kim we wouldn't go up, but we hadn't told her why and she hadn't been standing there when BillB told us why.
The low point of the weekend happened on our third dive of the day at Madison Blue on Saturday. We had all agreed that the coolest thing we had seen in Madison was a room called the Monkey Room. We had gone through a bunch of small twisty side passages to get there. I was studying the map that was at the air-fill station and in my infinite wisdom (read stupidity) I had spotted a better way to get back there again. I reasoned that my new way was shorter and more of the dive would be in the main passage with only a short stint on a small side passage. When we got to my "shortcut' I tied a gap reel and started in. This side passage was slightly bigger than the other one but it had a silt floor whereas the other had a rock floor. Also the other passage had been very interesting and fun. This passage was like an obstacle course in that you had to constantly be paying very close attention to buoyancy, trim, and correct finning to avoid raising a silt cloud. About eighty feet back the tunnel and line plunged down into a small opening. This is where everything went to pot. When I went into the hole, I should have grabbed the line off of the top of this opening and held it down under my body. I didn't. I just went through arched my back ... and got my manifold tangled in the line above my head. Now here I am in this hole with silt sloping up in front of me and silt covered rock sloping up behind me. The hole is small enough that my legs have it entirely blocked and I know that no one can come through to untangle me. The string is right on the ceiling so I can't lift it above me (although I do grab it). I come up with a plan that is totally repugnant to me. I will have to settle into the silt to get loose from the line. My plan worked just as I envisioned it. I was free but I had raised a big silt cloud. I got out of the silt cloud and went ahead about thirty feet so that if Kim and John came through, they would have clear water to move into. Then I turned and watched the hole. As Kim entered my mess, I saw the silt turn from black to brown to burnt orange to orange to yellow but just as it was about to turn white (which would mean she was in the clear), it turned orange then brown then black. Kim had gotten stuck in the hole and then backed out. She had the line in her hand because she was entering a silt out. So she didn't get tangled in the line, but the hole was small and she couldn't see how to move through it because of the silt. (I got through because I could see). Meanwhile John had seen Kim and I disappear into the silt hole and assumed we were both in clear water on the other side (half right). So he dives into the hole and gets smacked by Kim's fin. He had the proper head-down trim when he entered the hole, but when he got smacked, he jerked back and put his fins in the silt. As I went back towards the hole from the other side, I was in clear water but when I got about 20 feet from the (expanding) silt cloud, I put my hand on the line and headed in. Now I expected to go about 20 feet in total silt out but then come into clear passage, but that is not what happened. On the way in, we had been very careful to not stir the bottom. Now we didn't even know where the @#$% bottom was. Also I had figured that at least John was in clear water, but it turns out our big stupid silt cloud was moving forward just as fast as we were. Meanwhile BillB and his buddy Jim had seen our gap reel leading into a passage that they knew to be a particularly bad one and they had just parked there in the main passage in case we needed assistance. They said they could see us coming because there was a giant silt cloud rolling down the passage towards them. I picture our entire group being just like the Peanuts character named Pigpen. As I was just about to leave the silt cloud, I finally saw someone else's light. (Kim's fins had been the only buddy contact I had in quite a while). I assumed it was John, but when I got within a foot of this diver I could see that it was BillB. He shot me an OK and all I did was nod, because I still had a death grip on the line, and my light in my other hand. I then told his friend Jim not to go in because it was silted out. He very solemnly replied, "Understand, silted out, OK." Later I got a good laugh as I realized he should have very sarcastically replied "No s#$t Sherlock. What was your first clue." It took about twenty minutes at the surface to sort this all out and BillB's perspective was critical in this process. Well this is already long so...
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