Cave 2 has been a different class compared to other GUE classes we have taken. The challenges were there, the struggle with new skills were there, but the learning was different. Mark and Mer gave us the tools to make good decisions underwater; in a positive and controlled way. Of course there are a number of ways to deal with a situation. Some of those ways are better than others. Cave 2 was all about making a bad situation better, and being smart about it. The reality of this sport is that people make mistakes and equipment fails. You just need to be prepared to deal with the bad and hopefully it’s just a minor inconvenience, instead of a snowball of bad decisions. it’s also really important to note that our experience with the class will most certainly be different than another class experience. The neat thing about GUE instructors is their ability to custom fit a class for the team. You won’t do the same dives and you won’t have the same schedule. It will be what they feel is best for you as a diver.
We met everyone at Ginnie at around 8am. Today would be a stage dive into the eye. Mark asked us what we wanted to do for the dive, and both Tina and I had discussed just running up the main line (the gold line) to see a rock feature called the maple leaf. If we had plenty of gas left over after seeing it, we would take a right into an area called the Big Room and continue down that tunnel for a while until turn. The dive to the maple leaf alone, is actually a fairly easy dive, no jumps, no navigation just follow the main line in until you see a large rock feature that some say resembles a maple leaf. It’s about 900 feet in. We have dove Ginnie almost 50 times and have never seen it. The maple leaf is a landmark and we just wanted to see it.
As we were gearing up, the sun came out and steam was rolling off the water like smoke. The water is always crystal clear, 72 degrees, and with the Sun out, it looked really pretty. After carrying our stages and deco bottles to the water, we got squared away in our gear and hit the water. We planned a stage dive, with O2 for decompression. We decided to go in the Devils Eye entrance because of the logistics of Deco in the flow is easier in that entrance. There is a nice area at 20ft in the Eye that we can get out of the flow and tuck under some rocks for a few minutes while we do our deco. Since this was our 3rd stage dive ever, we still feel very awkward with all that gear on us. Even just clipping the bottles on at the surface is a chore. Although it does seem to getting slightly better. I have to remind myself that each time we add new equipment, it’s always a learning curve.
After the normal dive briefing, we were under way. I ran the reel into the eye and we dropped our O2 in the first big room at about 30ft. From there we continued on down hill to the gold line. It’s a bit of a squeeze with a stage on. I tried to keep the stage from banging the rocks as much as possible but I did some. I made my tie in and we continued on into the gallery. We’ve been in this area so much that we know it pretty well however, now we had the stage and it just felt cumbersome. The extra drag is noticeable and you can’t weave your way around some of the rock features as easily. Based on our previous experience we had calculated that we would drop stages in the room after the lips at a depth of about 60ft. This was a good place to drop them too, and just as we predicted, I hit my drop pressure right about in that exact spot. Now we had roughly 1100 psi to use to get to the maple leaf. So we made our drop and continued on through the keyhole, down around the park bench and up the tunnel to the mud flat.
I was a little anxious and was breathing a bit harder than I normally would. I think it happens in class where you just get to the point that you start to anticipate something going wrong and every little thing gets your blood pressure up. I really couldn’t relax. This is why the instructors like Mer and Mark will tell you it’s important to go have a fun dive as soon as possible after class, to get the equipment failure jitters out. We made our way up the main line past the mudflats and finally after a small duck under, you come out into a very large room. The walls are dark and you really can’t see the other side of the room with your lights. Suddenly I felt very small. This was unlike any area in Ginnie that I’ve ever seen. Out of the darkness my light illuminated a rock sticking off the side of a large tooth like feature protruding from the ceiling. It was the maple leaf. It was bigger than I expected. I guess I was thinking it would be the size of an actual maple leaf. But to me it’s about the size of a beachball. I can see why it’s called the maple leaf though; It does sort of resemble one. Anyway, I wasn’t quite at turn pressure but we had reached our main objective, so I thumbed the dive. I think I just needed an easy dive. I feel like both Tina and I were on the same page with that too. Yes we could have taken the jump to the Big Room but we saved that for another day. Part of my love for cave diving is the idea of discovery. I would much rather take a dive and go super slow, looking at all the little details than speed through the cave and miss something really cool.
On the way out I was able to chill out some. I was a bit disappointed with my gas consumption but on the last day of Cave 2 training, when you know you are probably getting some complex man made failures, it’s hard to relax. Of course the failures came and we handled them mostly right. It’s a different feeling than Cave 1 for sure. We have learned to deal with things in a way that we don’t rush and feel the need to immediately get out. It’s hard to train your brain to say: “Ok I’m in a water filled cave, 700 feet from the door, 100ft deep and something just went wrong; lets fix it here”. But throughout this past week, Mark and Mer have done just that for us. Ginnie slowly pushed us out of the cave and we picked up our stages where we left them, and continued into the gallery where we did some more skills. From here we made our way out of the cave.
Mark did his debrief, always with positive feedback and also what we could have done better. Of course we had some things we needed to fix. I’m still crappy on my flutter kick but I’m now on a mission to get that thing fixed. We also misdiagnosed a valve failure and some other minor stuff. So from there we needed just one more dive to tighten up our deficiencies. instead of changing tanks we decided to do a thirds dive on the gas we had left. This gave us about 800 psi for penetration.
For our next dive we went into the ear and decided to go into a new area called “The Lips Bypass”. This would be a fairly tight area that we were told is fun to shimmy and squeeze into with doubles on. It’s fairly close to the mouth of the cave so we would have plenty of gas to get into the tunnel. We started our dive and dropped our oxygen at the sign in the gallery. Then we swam to the ceiling of the gallery towards the lips. There are no markings on the main line indicating the jump for the Lips Bypass, so I spent a little time looking around for where to go. Mark did a good job describing it before the dive, but once you are in there, it’s tough to figure out exactly where things are. After probably a minute of not seeing the jump, Mark turned on his light and circled an area indicating where it was. The Lips Bypass is to the left just before the lips. I tied in a jump spool to the gold line and ran it low under the lips to keep it out of the way of other divers. Tina followed and we made our way into a very narrow area. The first little restriction is neat. You actually have to to figure out exactly how to get the doubles through it. If you are too low or too high, you wont’ fit. We slowly made our way through the tunnel and I’m still not seeing the jump (line indicating that this is another passage way). I was spooling out my jump spool and got to a point where my jump line ran out and I was still no where near the passage line. I was in the middle of an area that I couldn’t tie off to anything. “Ok, I can keep going or turn around” I thought. Well We both had plenty of gas still, so I asked Tina if she wanted to keep going, and she did. I pulled out a second jump spool and tied into my other line, basically linking the two together. It wasn’t pretty but it worked. Then I continued down into an area that was low and tight as I tried not to dust out the rooms. Finally I saw the passage line and Tied into it. Tina and I squeezed past another restriction and into a room large enough for both of us to turn around. At this point, I thumbed the dive. We both still had gas but with the restrictions I figured it would just be better to have more gas for the exit, since it would take us a bit longer to get out. It was really cool. We felt like explorers. On the way out I actually got stuck for a few seconds while I was spooling up my jump but I just remained calm and wiggled around until I found the way I could get through. We quickly made it back to the first jump spool. In an effort to save time, I asked Tina to switch me places as I dealt with the spool I had in my hand, cleaning up the line and putting it away, while she could wind up the other one. This went very smooth. The exchange took a few seconds and we made our way back to the lips. At this point we switched places again and made our way out of the lips bypass. Mark gave us one last thing and we managed it as we should. The dive ended with deco on the log in the Ear.
We still had a little gas left to play with and so we did shallow water skills that we needed to tighten up; mostly like kicks, and this went ok. I was pretty tired at this point and I was a little disappointed that my kicks were not as good as I know I can make them, but I can keep improving on that. Finally we got out of the water. It was nearly 6 hours from the time we started this morning and it was getting late, so we quickly packed our gear and met back at EE for the class debrief and test review.
Back at EE, we sat at the back table in the map/training room and had our debrief, went over the test, and had a chance to give and receive feedback. We’ve been here before. You always get to this point wondering if you did well enough to be given the keys to the cave kingdom, or if we might need some more time. Both of us were pleased to hear that we passed the course and we all exchanged our thank you’s and congratulations. We made some dinner plans with Mark and Mer, since this is our tradition with the other classes. A post class celebration if you will. Finally we went out in front of Extreme Exposure to take a picture with everyone. Team Thunder Shirt had a cave 2 card.
After our photo, we ran back to the house to let our pup out. Then back to high springs for dinner. Dinner was at the Great Outdoors, and it was so nice to have a relaxing meal, chatting about adventures, hearing stories and passions. This is why we keep coming back to high springs. The evening went well into the near closing time of Great Outdoors and we all said our goodbyes. It’s always bitter sweet to end a class. I really enjoy the learning process. Fortunately there are a ton of classes left in GUE that we can take. Not anytime soon but eventually.
As I sit this evening and reflect on the week of diving that we had, and the path we took to get here, I’m really glad we began this journey a few years ago. It’s funny to think we just did a cave 2 class. After fundamentals, I was pretty sure that we wouldn’t cave dive but here we are. Our bodies are sore, we are mentally tired and we are somewhat sad that it’s over. Today was our last day of training for Cave 2. It has been so much fun diving with Mark and Mer, learning and growing. Mark is a fantastic instructor and we greatly value his insight and mentorship. Meredith has been there from the beginning and really without her, we wouldn’t be here having these amazing adventures.
Below is a video of Ginnie we made almost a year ago, heading out of the cave. Many of the areas I described above are in it. @1:35 Park Bench, @3:26 is where we dropped our stages, @4:25 is coming back through the lips. The rest of the video is through the gallery.