2016 Year In Review-A New Year Underwater and Underground

As we celebrate the New Year, Andy and I headed back to Wes Skiles Peacock Springs State Park in Live Oak, Florida. We decided to revisit the Orange Grove cave system as our first dives since our Cave 1 certification. The basin, with a surface-cover of duckweed, is just as beautiful as the caves that lie below.

Our day began at 5:00 am as we filled up our ute before heading north. It would take three hours to get to Live Oak. Andy’s 104s needed gas so we stopped at Cave Excursion for a quick fill as it was only minutes away from our destination. We arrived at 8:20 am and quickly made our way down to the water to get reacquainted.  Orange Grove basin is ~60 feet of crystal clear, blue water. There are actually two cave systems one stacked on top of the other. As the lower cave gets deep quickly with technicality outside of our training, we explored the upper system.

I ran the reel on the first dive. Andy did a wonderful job securing the line behind me. Together our line from open water to the overhead environment was taught and secured away from line traps or other divers. The path in the cavern is all rock. The plus side is that there is no silt to kick up, but the down side is that there are very few tie-in spots. It took ~7 minutes from the surface to tying into the main line. Our trip into Orange Grove began at a depth of roughly 60 feet.  This particular cave reminds me of a multi-level car garage. It feels as though we continue to travel up and to the left, as though we are looking for a place to park. In between there are beautiful straight passageways with unique limestone walls that have been worn away over time. We hit our turn pressure around 650 feet of penetration. The light flow gave us a gentle push on the exit. We left the reel in to be collected on the next dive before making our way back into open water.

Orange Grove

After a 15-minute surface interval we recalculated our gas, checked our MDL to make sure we had plenty of time left and,  then  began our second dive. I once again lead into the cave. Andy decided that he would shoot some Go-Pro footage during this passage. As I wasn’t running the reel this go, we made it to the main line in just four minutes. We were only 100 feet into our dive when we saw our first troglobite of the day, an albino blind crayfish. A little further the sweetest little catfish came to say hello. We made it ~750 feet before turning our dive. According to the map, we were on the incline directly before the “T” at the area called “Distance Tunnel.”   Once back at the main line, I collected the reel that would lead us back to open water. Andy and I met at the surface with huge grins once again on our faces. It’s hard to believe we are now cave divers. It is hard to explain the feeling I get once we begin our dive underwater and underground. I have enjoyed our dives in the past, but there is something unique and mysterious about cave diving. If you would have told me a year ago I would be in love with our new underwater environment, I would have been skeptical. There is just something about swimming through what the incredible Jill Heinerth calls “the veins of Mother Earth.” I simply cannot wait until our next dive.