It was day 6 and we arrived at the front office of Ginnie Springs just before 8am. We waited a few minutes for the staff to open up but we were the only ones in the parking lot. We quickly checked in and everyone there was very nice. They gave us our “Cave 1” arm bands and we headed over the the devils eye and ear parking lot.
Ginnie Springs was the first Florida spring we ever laid eyes on. Something about that place soothes us. It is just so beautiful and calming. When Mer told us that we would be diving Ginnie for our next dives we were excited. Finally we would get to see the some of the secrets that Ginnie holds.
Ginnie springs is a privately owned facility located just off the Santa Fe River a few miles away from High Springs. There are 7 different spring vents on the property but only two are really open for cave diving. The Devils Ear and Devils Eye are the main cave entrances. The Devils spring system is a first magnitude spring, which gushes over 64 million gallons of water per day. Another cool thing about the spring, is when tannic water from the Santa Fe mixes with the clear water flowing from the ear; you get this amazing rainbow effect if you are looking up from inside the cavern. There is also a place called “The Ballroom” which is a very popular cavern dive. The bottom of The Ballroom does actually have a cave but it’s sealed of with a metal grate to keep divers out. Apparently it’s a very silty cave and would only invite problems if divers were allowed in there.
There are few places on the planet where I feel as mellow as I do at Ginnie during the winter offseason (not so much in the summer, because all the crazy college kids are there). The sun was coming up on the Santa Fe and the warm water was steaming like an inviting bath.
Mer briefed us on the next few dives and gave us some important tips on how to dive the high flow caves. It certainly helped us get a mental picture of what to expect. However she was careful not to spoil it for us. I think some of the fun of this class has been the sense of exploration. The “new for us” experiences that we had were just mind blowing. My dive buddy and I came up with strategies on how to get into the cave based on Mer’s tips but but were really just going to see how it went. Aside from the dive plan, just getting into the cave for the first time was probably going to be our real challenge.
We began our dive and I was the lead. We swam over to the entrance of the Ear
and we could feel the flow coming out of the cave. I had to dump nearly all the gas from my wing and sink slowly clearing my ears. I wiggled past a log that was wedged in the rocks and made my way down towards the narrow opening. I was careful to make sure that My dive buddy was close behind. The flow got stronger and stronger as I neared the bottom. I found my primary tie off on nice rock just before the opening of the cave. It was at this point that you really feel the full force of the flow. It was incredible. After finally finding my way into the cave the flow dropped rapidly and I found myself sinking like a stone. I had to hammer my inflator, but still ended up crashing into the bottom. Fortunately there is very little silt because of the flow. My dive buddy popped through the entrance right behind me just as I was making my secondary tieoff. We collected ourselves and began looking around the cavern. The ear is named the ear because it resembles an ear canal. The gold line starts about 60 feet further in and we started making our way towards it.
Once we reached the gold line half swimming and half pulling our way into the cave, I made the tie off. We both paused for a moment and looked around. We were in a section of the cave called the Gallery. The water was so amazingly clear and the rooms were huge with a combination of white and dark limestone.
The formations in the cave were spectacular. I’ve seen my share of cave diving videos on Ginnie but nothing prepares you for seeing it first hand. The gallery is like a long hallway with boulders strewn around. The ceiling is probably 30-40 feet high in places and has domes every 10-20 feet or so. It reminds me of a cathedral. The more experienced diver can easily find places to get out of the flow and spend much less effort swimming up stream, but we were unable to really do so. We did get out of the flow some but it was still a lot of work to make our way to what is known as “The Lips” The lips are a narrow opening that goes around a corner. One must use the “Pull and Glide” technique to make it through because the flow is so strong. My dive buddy and I made it just past the lips when we hit turn pressure. So We turned around and headed out. The flow out of the cave makes it effortless to head towards the exit. You are truly flying. We came out of the lips and there’s a small eddy that spins you around like a race car sliding side ways. You fly past the big boulders and around columns. Of course always keeping an eye on the line. Before we knew it the ride was over and we were back at our reel. We made our way back up to the ear and out of the cave. What an amazing experience.
My dive buddy and I did subsequent dives switching off and on with leading and running the real. Each dive allowed us to work on new skills. Once we got a little more proficient we made it past the lips to what is called the key hole and to the beginning of a section called cornflakes. It was all just so overwhelming and beautiful honestly. I feel like I could dive that same tunnel 200 times and still see something new each time. On one particular dive I almost found my zen for the first time. I came close at Orange but nothing like Ginnie. My dive buddy was working on a skill with Mer and my job was to chill on the ceiling in the gallery for a few minutes. I concentrated on staying very very still and just tried to process what my situation was. I was out of the flow, up in a dome just watching My dive buddy do her thing. The water was so crystal clear I could see every little detail on the floor, even from 30 feet above it. You really do get a sense of being on another planet in there. To put it in perspective; I was in a cave full of crystal clear water, chilling out on the ceiling, under the Santa Fe River. Another way to put it, is that I was in an underground river under another river finding my happy place. It was possibly the most peaceful thing i’ve ever done. Once our diving was done for the day; both My dive buddy and I were smitten with Ginnie. We were certainly tired but it was worth it. We both need to work on our technique for high flow caves but that will come with more experience.
Cave class was really shaping up to be just a ton of fun and more so then we both expected. We struggled for sure on stuff as I mentioned earlier, but the reward of that struggle was to see the Florida underground with our own eyes.
We ended our day with the normal tank fills and gear cleaning.