The whole week felt like a total blur at this point. My dive buddy and I had mixed emotions about starting the final day of GUE Fundamentals. We learned so much in such a short amount of time, and we had made many new friends, it was definitely sad to know we had to leave soon. None-the-less we still had one more day of diving. The last day we were at Troy Springs.
Troy is a small park located just Northwest of High Springs. It’a also a popular swimming hole with lots of local “attractions” not wearing enough clothing when they should…and I’ll leave that to your imagination. We got there early of course, and the routine of gearing up, analyzing tanks and moving spare gear down to the waters edge was old hat by now. This place has a steep ramp that zig-zags back and forth from the parking lot to the water and Mer happened to have a hand truck that really helped with our extra tanks. The overall mood of the group was good. I could tell a difference from the day before. Our new team of 3 was clicking a little better and My dive buddy and I Felt more confident in our abilities.
Mer gave us the usual briefing by walking us around the site while explaining some history and other interesting factoids of the area. She told us that there was a Civil War wreck of a steam boat called the Madison just a few hundred yards from the spring and if the water was deep enough we would go see it. It sits in a really shallow part of the river and it can be tough to get there if the water is low. The basin of Troy was pretty deep. I want to say max depth maybe 60ft but I’m not totally sure. The vis is more greenish and a little more difficult to manage stops with less visual reference, when compared to some of the other crystal clear springs we have been in all week.
We geared up and headed down to the water. It was pretty hot that day and the cool spring water was a welcome feeling. I don’t think my undergarments had actually fully dried all week but they kept me warm, so I didn’t really care at that point. The goal of our first dive was to tour the basin then go see the wreck if possible then work on skills. We did our GUE EDGE and headed down. The basin is pretty cool and there is some flow from the spring at the north end and you can see where it pushes sand up into a pile. We spent about 5 minutes swimming around the walls of the basin to just get familiar with the area. Then we made an easy ascent up the the basin rim and swam up river to the wreck. The water level was really low and the wreck was in maybe 3ft of water, so it was pretty difficult to enjoy it with the current. We circled the wreck and swam back up stream until we found a slightly deeper spot in about 7ft of water to work on skills. Mer wanted to see us do some kicks, so she laid line in a square about 20x20ft and we were told to do different kicks at each side of the square. We kicked around and around the while Mer was in the center directing us. She would motion with her arms which kick for us to do. Flutter kick then hold at the corner, helicopter turn, frog then hold at the corner, helicopter turn then modified frog. We then did back kicks from the center of the square. It was fun and it felt a little like we were in a parade or circus with Mer as the ring master. We ended the dive after about 40 minutes.
For our next dive Mer and Stretch descended to tie off an SMB to a log and they put bolt snaps at 20 and 10 feet for us to use as reference points. She wanted us to ascend in formation and do the 20 and 10ft stops while running drills. Because we had only used about 1000 psi on the last dive we had plenty in our single tanks to do the second dive. We formulated our dive plan and descended. I think we spend the first part of the dive looking around the basin but I honestly can’t remember. When it was time to end the dive, we started our ascent from about 30ft and things were going pretty well. We were in position around the line when Mer gave me the “You S-Drill” and pointed to My dive buddy. This meant that I needed to do an S-Drill with My dive buddy. No problem I thought. I gave My dive buddy the “You Watch Me S-Drill, You Out of Air” signals. So My dive buddy immediately signaled out of air. Well almost automatically, I grabed the hose near my primary reg and the reg was out of my mouth on it’s way to My dive buddy. The problem however, was that when My dive buddy signaled out of air, I had just exhaled most of my air out of my lungs. I didn’t take a breath from my reg before I handed her my primary. On top of that, I still hadn’t broken the bad habit of blowing bubbles the whole time that I didn’t have a reg in my mouth (Thanks to PADI). When I put my backup in my mouth I found that I had basically no air to clear the reg. No problem, “I’ll just purge it” I thought. Well somehow I must not have purged it all the way or inhaled before all the water was out of the reg and took a breath of about half air and half water. There I was coughing and choking on water at depth on my last day of fundies. “Wonderful I’m sure I look like a total fool” I thought. My dive buddy realized what was going on and actually didn’t even put my reg in her mouth. I’m not sure if she thought I may need my primary back or what. None the less It took me a few seconds to stop coughing. Surprisingly my depth didn’t really change all that much. Once I stopped coughing we continued the S-Drill and proceeded to do our ascent. My dive buddy ran deco and called the stops while sharing gas from my reg. I was initially the deco captain but I think since she figured I was already stressed from choking on water that she would just do it. We hit the surface and I wasn’t really freaked out or anything, I was more pissed off at myself for messing up. What I should have done was started my S-drill a lot slower. Mer had told us all week that drills tend to get faster. And faster sometimes means sloppy, so it’s ok to go slow and do it correctly. I didn’t go slow and I paid for it. I did however have some awesome teammates that maintained position and were totally aware of what I was doing, and that was great. I was still pretty pissed at my self for that dive though.
My dive buddy and I were on the bottom 3rd of our tank at this point, and needed to change to our second tanks, so we stepped out and did that. I believe Braxton, Stretch and Mer did some skills while we were out of the water. Finally Mer had us come back into the water for our last two dives. Our next dive \ was to work in the shallows on holding formation and doing skills. I think as a team we had drifted apart some during the previous dives and we needed to be better about holding position.
We surface swam over to the spot where she had laid the line for our kick drills in 7ft of water. We did our GUE EDGE and for this dive we were going to spend time in formation around 1 fixed point while maintaining control of our buoyancy in just a few feet of water. Mer said she was going to have us do some more S-Drills, and I thought that it would be good since I messed the last one up. And in my mind I figured we’d each get one or two, then do other skills. I was wrong. We descended to the bottom and got into formation around her reel that she had planted firmly in the silt. There was not a lot of room for error in such shallow water while maintaining buoyancy, without kicking up silt. Mer began giving the S-Drills. We each did a few to the buddy beside us in a circle while fighting the current and fighting for position elbow to elbow.
As two people were doing the S-Drill the other was supposed to work on maintaining position around the reel. We did lose position a few times, but as we did more we got better and better. We also got closer to each other, which we learned was much easier for positioning. This all went on for about 5 minutes and I figured we’d do something else. Nope, more S-Drills. We proceeded to do them for nearly 30 more minutes and I lost count how many we each did. The whole time however, I was able to get the muscle memory down. I remembered to slow down and do all the steps with purpose. Sometimes we would travel to a near by rock then back to the reel and sometimes she would have us just stay on the reel. If this was an 80’s action movie, this dive would have been in the montage with some kind of cheesy music playing in the back ground. Mer finally ended the dive and we ascended. I joked about stopping half way (3ft) and tried to make everyone hold the stop but nobody did. On the surface I think I said something like “Ok I think I’m tired of doing S-Drills”, half joking but more serious because I was totally done with them.
After the great S-Drill montage of 2015, we surface swam over to where Mer and Stretch had the SMB tied off. For this dive, Braxton needed to do some skills like backup light deployment and probably a valve drill or two. So we did our GUE EDGE and descended down the SMB line. We stopped and stabilized at 10, 20 and 30 ft on the descent. Once on the bottom, My dive buddy and I hung out next to a log while Braxton did his skills in front of Mer and then she signaled for us to get into formation around the SMB line. We held formation much better this time. Elbow to Elbow. There was still a bit of flow coming out of the spring and we had to use each other to help with positioning. We started the Ascent from 45ft. My dive buddy was deco captain on this dive and given my track record with the ascents I was feeling just a little nervous on this one. As we approached the 30ft stop I found that I wasn’t having issues at all. We stayed at the 30 foot stop for a few seconds before Mer looked at me and gave me the “You S-Drill” and pointed to Braxton. Really, another S-Drill Mer! Despite my look of disgust, I thought, “Now was the chance for me to redeem myself”. I proceeded to start the drill with Braxton and did it slowly this time. We did bobble up and down a few feet because when I cleared my backup reg I blew just a little harder then normal to be sure I’d not suck any water in. This caused me to drop some in the water column. Once we stabilized, My dive buddy continued to run the ascent. She gave us the level up signal and we leveled up to 20ft. My dive buddy had us hold these stops for about 1 minute. Next was the 10ft stop and we held that for about 1 minute as well. At this point I wasn’t really even thinking about the stops since I was making sure I didn’t mess up the S-Drill. We finally hit the surface and Braxton handed me my primary reg back. We joked with each other about whether or not my gas was good enough for Braxton and Mer asked us if we wanted another dive. Both My dive buddy and I were pretty tired and we opted to end diving for the day and thus it was our last dive of Fundies. Dive#141 was certainly the epitome of what we had been working towards all week. We all worked as a team, and had a great dive. The ascent and descent profile was in another league compared to where we had started on Monday and we both felt pretty satisfied with it.
Braxton, Mer and Stretch did one more dive while we got out of our gear and started packing the truck. I remember being pretty quiet and just reflecting on the whole week. It felt good that it was over but also humbling. By the time My dive buddy and I started breaking down our BC’s, everyone else was coming out of the water. We all finished packing gear and chatted for a few minutes before heading back to EE.
Once Back at EE, Mer and Stretch had a quick conference to discuss whatever it is that instructors discuss behind closed doors. Then after about 10 minutes She called all three of us into the training room for the debrief. Mer checked our understanding of the lecture material from the week, while going over answers to the test. Both My dive buddy and I had passed the written test but that wasn’t the thing I felt we would struggle with anyway. Finally Mer asked if she could do our evaluations together. This is the point where she tells us how we did with the skills and where we have room for improvement. I’m not going to go into too much detail here because it’s one of those thing that you just need to experience. However I will say that we all passed. Braxton got his Tech upgrade and My dive buddy and I got our Recreational. There was a brief time during the week when I worried about passing, but honestly it was such an amazing week of learning and growing that I wouldn’t have cared if I didn’t pass. We were better divers.
The Last thing we needed to do before we parted ways was to pick our team name. We had been teasing Braxton about being a Ginger the past few days. But he gave it right back because My dive buddy is also a Ginger. Also, I had tried to scuba bomb Mer by Rick Rolling her before a dive a few days earlier, (Rick Astley is a Ginger). Our fate was sealed and we decided that we would be Team Ginger. It seemed fitting. Team Ginger was born, and we all exchanged congratulatory hand shakes.
After the debrief, we settled up our tab with EE for gas and various other odds and ends that we got throughout the week. Braxton needed to head down the road so we said our good byes to him. My dive buddy and I stopped over at the GUE head quarters to get a few T-Shirts and then made some arrangements for dinner with Mer, Stretch, Cora and anyone else that wanted to join us. We hadn’t seen much of Cora all week except the few moments we’d been in the shop and we wanted to do dinner with her and her husband before we left. I called The Great Outdoors and got a reservation for 6.
Once we arrived at the Great Outdoors more and more people joined us until we had at least 10-12 or more divers all sitting at this long table. My dive buddy and I sat across from each other while conversations of great cave explorations were happening all around us. The stories were fascinating. Stretch and Forest were discussing a water collection mission at Manatee springs while Cora’s husband was talking about his day of cave diving. We met one of the guys from Light Monkey and Todd Kincaid from Project Baseline stopped by for a few minutes. My dive buddy and I were grinning from ear to ear just soaking it all in. We had no idea what half the conversation was about but everybody was so nice and they even stopped to explain some of the stuff that we didn’t understand about cave diving. It was an amazing end to an amazing week. After drinks and food we all said our good byes and we made our way back to the Divers House. It was late by this time and we were super tired but we had just had one of the best weeks of our lives.
Once back at the house, we packed the truck with all of our clothes and gear, because we would be getting up at 3am to drive home. Finally we went to bed. GUE Fundamentals was over but we would do it again in a heartbeat.